Thursday, November 30, 2006

Story time from Joe-Henry

"Once upon a time, there was a little chicken on the farm and he went "Bock Bock". One day, he wanted to learn the alphabet, so he went "BOCK"! And the farmer said "OH there! You'd better not hurt my old ears!" So the little chicken tried to spell it by his own self, but then cow came by, and he teached him the alphabet. And then, they both learned it together. The End."
By Joe-Henry


Parenting requires you to have your eyes open all the time. When they are babies, you watch them breath, when they get older you watch them climb and crawl and fall down, and do your utmost to prevent major injuries. As they get older though, this watchfulness requires more finesse, and less active (or at least less obvious) intervention.

A couple years ago, when my son was in preschool, he was deathly afraid of a boy in his class. He would cry every day when I dropped him off. I couldn't figure it out for months. Then finally it came out, and we told his teacher. She was of the belief that my son needed to deal with it. He needed to use his words and say what he needed to say to this boy. And he couldn't do it. He couldn't put his finger on why this boy scared him for the longest time. So he continued to cry at drop off. Every. single. day. It wasn't until he had a substitute teacher that it happened. With her help, he named it and conquered it. She noticed him clinging to me and asked what was wrong. He told her he was scared of this boy. And when she asked him why, he said "because he makes mean faces at me in his heart". His teacher and I looked at each other, and she said "well, I'll go talk to him right now". I'm not sure that she said anything to him about my son, but she walked over and talked to him. And my son knew he had an ally, someone he could go to when I wasn't there, someone who would help him learn to keep himself safe. I was and am, so grateful. But the thing that stuck with me was what my son said about this boy. He made "mean faces in his heart". He was mean to my son. He did it carefully so as not to get caught or called on it. At four, he knew how to do this. I eventually witnessed it for myself, and I did call him on it. Rightly or wrongly, my mama instincts compelled me to say "I saw that. Knock it off." But as my son gets older, and enters the world of elementary school, where mama's interference might just make things worse, I'm left trying to sort out those feelings on my own.

I volunteer in my son's classroom one day a week. It's a priveledge and an education. I'm there for an hour or so, doing whatever the teacher needs me to do. I love his teacher - she is completely and utterly present for these kids. She's not gooey at all, and has enough years of experience (and kids of her own) to know how to deal with 18-20 five and six year olds, but not so many years under her belt that she has hardened into one forced set of rules and regulations. She is learning with them and from them, and she has eyes not just in the back of her head, but everywhere, it seems.
Most of the time when I'm there, I do testing. Although I don't know if they call it that, it's more of an assessment. I hate the thought of "testing" for kids so young, but at this point I believe it's more of an indicator to see where the kids are and what their particular needs will be. I get that, and I can wrap my brain around it and stand behind it. And even though my heart aches for those kids who apparently don't have the parental guidance to know how to count past 7, I don't worry for them. They are in good hands. They will have help and caring instruction and encouragement.

But I do worry for this one boy. This child is tall for his age, and full of something more than just piss and vinegar, as my parents so quaintly put it. Every time I've been in my son's class, he's been willfully mean. To me, and to the kids around him. He's disruptive and violent and knows how not to get caught, and I wonder what's happening at home and worry that he's being hurt or neglected, and I worry for the kids that are in his path, and those that are just watching. Ugh. But mostly, I worry that his rage will grow with him, and become even more destructive. The teacher is on him and watches his behavior closely. She does what she can, and doesn't give anything away emotionally to give him any power. I know the school is aware of him - I trust them, I really do. That is a comforting feeling, because even though it's only a half mile away, my son is there and I'm here, and I'm sure other parents know what I'm talking about.

My son is much better now at dealing with behavior he doesn't like in other kids. He's found the power of his voice, and is confident that he'll be heard. It's a wonder to witness, and I'm grateful to see it. And yet...

I'll keep my eyes open, keep watching, just in case.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

days without a map

I woke my boy up a bit early today, just in case it took us a while to head down the hill to the bus. In case it was a bit icy, as was predicted. He dutifully slurped down his oatmeal, after drawing a picture in his class "Birthday Book". His teacher sends home a bag of 4 sweet birthday books, plus another book with blank pages, so the birthday kid can draw a picture of his favorite story. Nice idea, right? But as I thought about it, it meant that the kid had a birthday and was given MORE homework. (This is kindergarten, so the homework is pretty easy, but still, the volume is daunting for a six year old). Anyhoo, I digress.

We tromp down the hill, careful to avoid anything remotely "icy" looking, but there isn't anything. Not that the roads are dry, but they aren't slippery either. We get to the stop, I peer down the street, and see... nothing. No kids. Damn, we missed it. Back up the hill, grab my purse to get my keys and drive him to school. The car doesn't start, so I get my portable charger (in my front seat - I'm always ready for this because it happens a lot, and eventually I'll get it taken care of, but not until they mail us a copy of our extended warranty, because we can't find it after our move last spring).
Sorry. Another digression. I used to be able to sustain a thought, but parenting pretty much shortcircuited my brain, so now it's free to roam.

Back to the story: The car starts, we wait long enough for the windows to clear, which is pretty quick. We drive the half mile to school, and there it is. The big yellow sign in the turn around. "No AM Kindergarten today". What the...? So I drive home, with my son squealing like a happy little pig in the backseat, because this means he gets to play with trains ALL DAY. Well not all day - he'll have to come with me to the gynecologist while I get my exam. Yeah. That should be fun. For everyone involved.

I call the school, still under the impression that this was a posted "no AM kindergarten" that just wasn't on my calendar. It turns out that no, they just didn't have it because of the weather. WHAT WEATHER? Of course they know better than I do, they've dealt with this weather longer than I have, but I still have to wonder...

Oh, wait. As I write this, I look out my window and see BIG FAT FLAKES coming down, drifting gently into our backyard, settling on the hood of the red plastic car that my boy is now too big to drive. Is this cosmic, or what. When I start to feel smug, like I know what's what, I'm shown, gently, that I don't. Joe-Henry just came downstairs and said "Mom, I guess they DO know about when there shouldn't be school". Not chiding me, just reminding me, sweetly, that I only THINK I'm in control.

Hopefully, I'll make it to my doctor's appointment, son in tow. He'll have a backpack full of quiet toys, and he'll charm the staff in the waiting room (he's amazingly patient and great company), and I'll be there in another room. Tense, my feet in the air, hoping to make it home before it snows anymore. Or I won't make it there at all, roads being too "icy" to travel in the first place.

These days never turn out like we think they will, do they? That's the gift of parenting. You can have as many maps as you think are necessary, but in the end, you'll wind up travelling an unknown road. It can freak you out if you let it, or you can take a deep breath, and keep your eyes on the road you choose, open to the new adventure. Who knows - maybe you'll wind up somewhere warm.

Monday, November 27, 2006

new adventure

It snowed here today! For about a half hour, and it is very cold out right now. I went out and finally finished up some work in my garden. After the snow, the sun came out and it was beautiful. It was such an exciting thing to take our little boy, our California boy, right outside his front door, to see the snow come down. Of course it didn't stick, so there was no sledding, or building of snowmen, but still. It was another peek out at our new adventure. Of course, talk to me in February, when I will be wondering if it will ever be bright and warm here again. But right now I'm grateful for the warmth of my family and our sweet little home.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Last night as I was snuggling my son during our nightly ritual (I will lay next to him and we'll read books or talk, and I'll stay til he's asleep - I know a lot of people disagree with this, and if you're one of them, say what you will, I'm still going to do it), we were discussing the movie "Shrek". He had just received it for is birthday, and even though we'd seen it before, we watched it last night because a) there was no school today, and b) we'd missed the time for the movie showing in town. We were laughing about Donkey and he was saying that when Shrek and Fiona kissed he felt shy but happy. Then he said "I want to marry you when I grow up, Mom. Even though you'll be really old." I laughed, and told him that he'd most likely marry a girl his age, and when I said this, he started to cry.

These were not just quiet tears, but huge, gulping sobs that I was unprepared for. I asked him why he was crying, and he said, in that choking, gagging way you have when you're completely at the mercy of a huge emotion, he said "I don't want you to die, Mom! Don't ever leave, don't ever die". I quieted him, and soothed him and held him, and told him that hopefully we wouldn't have to worry about that for a really long time. I told him this: "Sweetie, the odds are that I'll live a really long time, and so will you, and we won't have to worry about this big feeling for a while." And after a ten minute digression to cover what "odds" meant (try it - it's hard), I admitted that I too, was afraid. I said, "I'm always afraid of losing you. I'm always afraid that something bad might happen, even though I know it probably won't. But it's just that I love you so much..." I trailed off. But that's the thing. It could happen. My son was born with a rare syndrome, called klippel-trenaunay syndrome, and it involves vascular malformations, as well as larger limbs and abnormal lymph flow. We've been lucky, and blessed that his involvement thus far is minor. But honestly, even without that upping our "odds", I would probably still live with that fear. Like any other parent that opens the newspaper or watches the news (I've limited myself - I don't watch the news anymore) and reads of some awful tragedy that's happened to another parent, I close my eyes and send them my heart, and feel horrible that I'm thankful that it wasn't us. This time.

Part of this too, stems from losing my own mother at a really early age. I was eight, and I don't know if I've processed it properly even yet. I remember distinctly her telling me she had to have an operation. We were washing windows on our french doors - I was doing the bottom half, and she was doing the top. I remember telling her I didn't want her to die, and she said "Oh, honey. I'm not going to die". And then, she did. Not from the operation, just from being sick in a small town, and not having adequate medical care. I think. That's what they tell me. I was eight, and my older siblings all have a different take on it. In a way, I guess I'm the lucky one, because her death, to me, is just loss. It's not colored by anything I can remember, like how she fought with my dad, or that I knew she was unhappy, or that the doctor was stubborn. For me it's just a childhood without my mother. I miss her, but I don't remember life with her that much. But I know life without her - It shaped everything. I got away with a lot, I never believed in my own goodness until years later, and now her loss informs who I am as a mother. It reinforces my need to tell the uncomfortable truth.

So I told him what I know from my own experience. Bad stuff happens all the time. I probably won't die for a long time, but I can't say that for certain, as much as I'd like to. We just have to focus all our energies in the love we share now. Store them away for later. I pray I'll be around to bug the crap out of him when he's a teenager. And I pray that he'll grow tall and strong, and bug the crap out of me, too.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I want to eat my child.

Not actually canibalize him, mind you, but he just turned six, and so he's particularly yummy right now. He gave me the idea to blog. (He and a friend) He blogs all day long, it's just not written down. He just spews forth his simple and profound thoughts regarding anything and everything. Busses, trains, smoking, kindergarten, war.... And he does it all with this merry, untroubled look on his face. Either that, or he's excited beyond belief that he solved it. He solved the puzzle of why people smoke. Or as he puts it "blow disgusting steam". He's beyond obsessed by it - he's so worried about anyone we might know who smokes, and their imminent and untimely deaths. He mourns them in his own lovely way. In advance. "I'll be so sad when they die. Don't they know that?"

Watching his focus as he plays with his trains or cars - wish I had that. Wish I could muster that, for say, the dishes or laundry. Because he's doing his job. And that's mine right now. So what am I doing blogging? Why do I sit at my computer, instead of loading/unloading dishes/laundry, making beds, happily humming while I concentrate all my love and attention on straightening the sheets on the bed? Because it's boring? Well, yes, that's partly it. I'm a procrastinator? Yep, that too. But honestly, it does give me some weird satisfaction to do it, to take care of my family in this way. But I also feel a need to connect with the world, to communicate and to help people. Not that my blog will help anyone, but I hope it might be a meeting place for other moms (and dads) to connect with each other, to feel less isolated, to appreciate what's in our heads so we can truly focus on our kids when we have the chance. Because it's flying by, this time. Before I know it, he will not want to tell me everything. Or, God forbid, anything. So let me get this muck out of my head, so I can listen to him, hear him and appreciate his wisdom and laugh at his jokes.

Last night, my son was playing with a select few of his trucks, trains, busses, and one of the lego people who drives the digger was out of his digger seat (with the hole in his bottom that helps him fit snuggly into his digger seat prominently showing) directing traffic. "Mom, isn't it great that he has two jobs?! He is so happy to be helping people". Then a look at me. We've had lots of talks about my going back to work. I've been fortunate to be home for him. I've done odd jobs here and there, but since our move to a new state last spring, being his mom is my main focus. He started kindergarten in September, and it's two and a half hours. That's just enough time to get the house picked up. (or not). It's not enough time to drive to a place of employment, get some work done, and get home to wait for his bus. Anyway, he said "I'll bet you'd like to have a job. I'll bet you'd be really happy to help people."

I would. I do. I am.

Time to go wait for the bus.