Phew! It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Our focus this summer is on FAMILY FUN TIME!

My goodness!  It’s been so long….(I know you’re not supposed to call attention to the fact when you’ve been neglecting your blog, but I can’t help it!)

Things have been rough here.  This is one of those situations where I have to consider my daughter’s right to privacy, and so I can’t share too many details, but suffice to say she has struggled with the school year in general, and the ending of the school year in particular, and it has taken all my time and energy to keep the family afloat these past few months.  Now that school has ended, my attention and intention has shifted to creating a relaxing, fun, family-centric summer for us all.

I feel like I’ve not only been neglecting my blog, but also my efforts to record the goings-on in our family and in our lives.  So much has gone on, so much time has passed….and I won’t remember any of it, because I’m so focused on simply getting through the days!!!

I don’t know that much is going to change by way of my ability to take some concentrated time to myself to post here in the foreseeable future, but I do want to make an effort to document our summer.  I’ve decided that I am going to try to build a Summer Fun! plog, or Pinterest log – I don’t know if I’m coining the term, though I’d like to take credit for it.  I will make every effort to check in here, but in case I don’t, please follow me over at Pinterest and see what we are up to!

Scary moments in parenting

anaphylaxis in young children

Image courtesy of Flickr user Rolf Larsen

Hello all!  It’s been awhile…life has gotten crazy busy these last few weeks, but I’m looking forward to things slowing down a bit in the next week or so.

In the meantime, please check out my essay that was posted over at The Momoir Project:

[Bess] was playing with blocks on the living room floor while I loaded the dishwasher in the next room. Her piercing shriek brought me running. I found my daughter lying on the ground, face swollen beyond recognition, desperately clawing at her sausage tongue. With that inner calm that people find in moments like this, I picked up the phone. I dialed 911.

“What is your emergency?” I was the picture of composure.

“My daughter appears to be having an allergic reaction and is not breathing.”

Read the whole thing here.

Kids say the funniest things

kids say the funniest things

At a birthday party recently, Harry took a moment out of the action to pose for a photo op. He thinks he's awfully cute.

So busy!  We were in Washington, D.C. for almost a week, and work has been crazy, and Bess has been sick…and I’ve had no time to write!

And there’s so much I want to write about, too.  Our trip to D.C. provided much food for non-violent parenting thought, I’ve finished two books I want to review (both novels, unusual for me), there have been some interesting articles and blog posts that beg commentary, and I also read Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams (it’s free, you can download it in every format imaginable here).  Alas, all those things will have to wait for another day when I have some free moments to put together a coherent thought.

In the meantime…more funny things my kids have said recently:

  • John: “Harry, have you brushed your teeth yet?”  Harry: “I brush my teeth on Thursday, Tuesday and Sunday.  Is it one of those days?”
  • Harry has had a cold, and whenever he sneezes he runs around the house saying “Snot alert!” which sounds like “Snot aloit!”  And then, usually, he wipes his snot on my shirt.
  • The other day, my mom put Harry in the bath and then went home.  When I started taking the toys out of the bath so I could wash him and get him out of the tub, he reprimanded me: “No, Mommy!  Oma (pronounced Oooh-ma) put those in here for FUN!”
  • Bess wanted Harry to get out of her bed, so she said: “Here’s the rule, no boys allowed in my bed!”  I thought this to be a most excellent rule.  But then she amended it to “No boys allowed in my bed except Daddy and Evan”.  Evan is her friend across the street.  This is a significantly less excellent version of the rule.  I suspect that we will have to revisit that rule in approximately ten years, specifically as it relates to Evan.
  • Harry asked me the other day: “Remember when the police came and Bessie was a little bit arrested?”  I still have no idea what he was talking about; I do not recall Bess ever having been arrested, a little bit or otherwise.
  • Over the weekend, Harry was supremely uncooperative and I may have become uncharacteristically impatient at a few points in time.  After he lay in bed for an hour chatting me up and I was desperate to go to sleep, I may have asked him in a less-than-pleasant tone to stop talking and go to sleep; the next morning, when I needed to go to work and he refused to put his shoes on after approximately seven hundred billion requests, I may have made my request a bit louder.  So Sunday night he had one of his epic meltdowns, spearing me with a hockey stick and throwing toys at my head.  When I finally got him to calm down, he said: “Mommy, remember when you yelled at me last night?  I didn’t like that.  And remember when you yelled at me this morning?  I didn’t like that either.  Now that we’ve had this little talk, I feel much better and now I am sleepy.”  And he rolled over.  And he went to sleep.

Adopt a senior, you won’t be sorry

Touch of Grey

This week marks the second anniversary of the day Touch of Grey (Grey for short) came home.  We had lost our dog Sarah in December 2009, and we were still mourning and weren’t ready for a new dog.  But Chryssi, who came from an abusive home and can be anxious and – ahem – confused under ideal circumstances was not adapting to her life as an only dog.  She was depressed and lonely without her fearless leader.

So, when John showed me Grey’s picture in the paper… naturally I immediately jumped in the car drove through a snowstorm to see him.  He had been in a shelter for five months and had pneumonia, so we met in the warmth of the lobby.  When a chihuahua came through the door, got all up in his face, and started pitching a Napoleon Complex barking fit, you could just about hear Grey (tipping the scales at 100 pounds) laugh.  “Seriously?”

I’ll take him!

The shelter manager said he was five years old.  John said eight, at least.  My vet thinks maybe ten.  When people learn his story, they invariably respond with something along the lines of, “What a charitable and kind of stupid thing you have done for this old, decrepit dog who is going to get cancer and die, probably next week!”  (Maybe that’s not exactly what they say, but it’s what they mean.)  But I think I’m a lifer with this senior dog thing.

Shelters are not comfortable for any animal.  But they are especially uncomfortable and even dangerous for senior animals, with their aching joints and aging immune systems.  Many people think that if an animal is in a shelter then something must be wrong with him, but that is simply not true.  Companion animals often end up homeless after a death or divorce.  Sometimes an animal simply becomes an inconvenience to her person and gets dumped.  Animals who get lost and are not wearing identification cannot be reunited with their families.

That’s what happened to Grey.  He was wandering around wearing an electric fence collar but his microchip was outdated and his first family never came for him.  He had obviously been well-loved; he has had knee replacement surgery, and he knows tricks including speak, sit up, and roll over (not easy to teach a dog of his size!).  He came to us a ready-made family member, house-trained, well past the chewing/nipping/scratching stage, a mellow yin to Chryssi’s neurotic yang, and a perfect family dog.

His flaw?  Cats.  You can teach an old dog new tricks, but it isn’t easy.  A younger dog would have eventually learned to peacefully co-exist with the cats (particularly considering that every feline encounter has left him bloody).  But Grey has not adjusted and we have had to take steps to keep everyone safe and happy.  In my opinion, managing his cat chasing has been much easier than dealing with puppy nonsense, though I’m quite certain the cats would strenuously disagree.

Of course, there’s the obvious drawback: We will have to care for another dying dog within a few years.  Old dogs tend to have more problems, and it tends to cost more to keep them healthy.  But there are no guarantees with young animals either, and if you are lucky old age will still come.  Yes, Grey is stiff in the winter, and yes he gets ear infections easily and gets rid of them only with great effort.  But when you compare a few courses of antibiotics with the cost of obedience school, chewed furniture, ruined carpet, lost sleep, and all the rest…I would (and most likely will) do it again in a heartbeat.

Talking to kids about race

photo courtesy of flickr user voxefx

I have a guest post running today over at Humane Connection on talking to kids about race.  Head on over and check it out:

What I said was: “Shoshana is one of the girls who has very dark skin. She played ‘The Two Grenadiers.’”

“Oh, yes!” Bess said. “I didn’t tell her, but I will the next time I see her.”

Was that the right thing to say? I don’t know. It felt right at the time. Or at least it felt less inappropriate than the alternative. What I said is absolutely accurate. Shoshana’s skin is darker than my daughter’s Mediterranean complexion, just as my daughter’s skin, inherited from her father, is darker than my northern European shade of pale. In one sense, it is as simple as that.

And yet…in another sense, it couldn’t be more complicated. It isn’t accurate to pretend that the difference between Shoshana and Bess is melanin-related in the same way skin color differentiates Bess from me. To imply otherwise is insincere, and unfair, and disrespectful. It is easy for me to describe Shoshana that way, given that I am speaking from a place of relative privilege. I cannot even begin to imagine all the ways in which people of color do not experience the world in the way that I do.

I’d love your feedback, either here or there.  How do you talk to your kids about race?  How do you teach them about diversity, especially if you don’t live in a particularly diverse community?  What kinds of words do you use?

Hockey Hugs

The bunny team scores to go ahead 2-1 over the domino team!

It’s been a rough few days.  As I mentioned in my last post, we lost a very good friend on Wednesday.  While coping with my loss and sadness, I have been maintaining contact with his family, forwarding dozens of messages of condolence, setting up a memorial gathering at the rink, and lots of other little things.

One of my tasks was to find grief counsellors to come talk to CP’s current team of eleven-year-olds.  Let me just say – HOLY COW were these women amazing!  They are the people who go into schools when there has been a traumatic loss – when a student has overdosed or committed suicide or otherwise died suddenly – and they sure know what they are doing.  I was utterly astonished at how they were able to get the kids talking – and pre-pubescent boys are not a population known to be particularly communicative – and to help them express their concerns in a fairly short amount of time.  The counsellors also spoke with the parents in a way that was kind and compassionate while advocating strongly for the boys and their needs  during this difficult time.  I was thoroughly impressed, and immensely grateful.

And now I am thoroughly and immensely drained.  Watching these boys process their grief, cry openly, support each other, and talk about their confusion and regret was undoubtedly one of the most painful experiences of my life.

I have an ambivalent relationship with youth sports.  I view the competitive nature of the endeavor as a necessary evil or revolting, depending on the day.  The parents can be mean, pushy, heartless, unreasonable, overprotective, manipulative, and on occasion even violent.  Of course they are not all like that, not even most of them, but unfortunately a few bad apples…you know.  It can be exhausting, frustrating, disheartening, and occasionally sickening.

But yesterday I was reminded of one of the positives.  These kids are put onto a team, and they may not necessarily like each other or have much in common, but they learn to tolerate each other’s differences and value each other’s strengths and respect each other in the service of a larger goal.  Seeing them passing the tissues, offering supportive pats and hugs, and being vulnerable together in their shared grief for their lost friend was a powerful reminder of this.

Harry loves hockey.  He watches the games with rapt attention and loves to play at home.  His current favorite version is the bunny team playing against the domino team.  Basically, he sets up the bunnies and the dominoes on the floor, they score and celebrate, and then they leave the ice so the Zamboni can come out.  I think it is funny that he sees the game in this way, since scoring is such an infrequent – though admittedly exciting – occurrence.

But recently I’ve noticed that it’s not just the scoring, but the celebrating that really appeals to Harry.   He loves when all the players on the ice share a hug after a goal is scored rather than the goal-scorer pumping his fist in personal glory.  Instead of calling for “group hugs” in our family, he gathers us together for “hockey hugs”.  The team element of the game, the shared experience, is what really captures his imagination.  I am grateful to Harry, and to CP’s players, for helping me to see the importance of community this week.

Now, if only he could get hockey parents to see it that way…

Today is a sad day

1983

I have promised myself that I will make every effort to post here five days a week, and I have done pretty well for the last, oh, week and a half.  :)

But today I dont’ feel much like posting.  Last night, a very close friend of ours passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at home.  Coach Pierre coached my husband as a fifteen year old (see their team photo, CP is on the far left) and now, almost thirty years later, coaches for him in our youth hockey organization.  He was passionate about the game of hockey and was indefatigably dedicated to the young people he coached.  He required nothing less than 100% effort from them, and in return he gave 110% to them every single day.  He taught them about hard work, dedication, and perseverance and though he may have been demanding, every single child emerged on the other side as a better hockey player and a better teammate.  He was kind, well-loved, and fiercely supportive.  John and I loved him dearly, as did our children.

So, today I’ll just share one of my favorite quotes, one that I have on my desk:

“You are unrepeatable.  There is a magic about you that is all your own.” – D.M. Dellinger

Coach Pierre lived his magic – working with children and teaching them his beloved game of ice hockey.  I hope that today, everyone who knew him, and everyone who reads this, will think about their own special gifts and make a point of sharing them with others.  The world needs your magic.

My word of 2012 (drumroll please)

This would be a good word of the year, but it's not the one I chose. image courtesy of flickr user libookperson

It seems that a number of the bloggers I follow are forging a new tradition.  They are not making resolutions this year (a practice that never appealed to me anyway); they are choosing a Word of 2012, words like “yes“, “edit“, and “focus“. This idea, to choose one word that has the potential to inspire and create intention, has captured my imagination.

Looking back over the American Dialect Society‘s list of Words of the Year (WotY) brings a sense of recognition and nostalgia: “tweet” for 2009, “metrosexual” in 2003, “chad” (as in hanging) for 2000, “Not!” in 1992, “google” for the decade 2000 – 2009.  It’s like turning the pages of your high school yearbook.  This year’s winner, “occupy”, seems a no-brainer: the word is brilliant shorthand for a complex idea that has come to capture public imagination.

Oxford Dictionary named “squeezed middle” the word of 2011 (significantly less compelling than “occupy”, and not even a word but two), and dictionary.com bestowed WotY honors upon “tergiversate”.  Yes, it’s a word.  ter-JIV-er-sate, to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.  Hold onto that one for a crossword puzzle, because I can’t imagine any other context in which it would be useful.

I see choosing a personal WotY as less of a resolution-making-type activity and more of an intellectual exercise in wrapping my mind around the complexity that is my life.  I already am painfully aware of the areas where I need improvement – but can I create a code word that can help keep me focused?  Can I find one word that identifies and teases out the underlying current that runs like groundwater through my being and springs to the surface through my many faults?

I have pondered and meditated, and I have chosen for my 2012 WotY: foundation.  The basis or groundwork of anything.  In a nutshell, what I need to focus on right now is laying the foundation for a healthy life.  I need to work on sustaining my mental health.  I need to take better care of my physical health.  Most importantly, I need to focus on living my message and building a healthy home for my family.

When I am not at my best (a euphemism for hypomania or agitated depression), I forget to make dinner, keep track of our schedule, and give the kids a bath and get them to bed on time.  This tends to happen when I am not eating well, exercising enough, or getting enough rest.  I jump from task to task without finishing anything, and I can’t focus attention when my kids want to tell me about their days, play a game of checkers, or read the next chapter of Junie B.  I am always scrambling but never really getting anything important done – because, let’s face it, those are the really important things.

This is not good for my children, and it is not the kind of mother I want to be.  I want our home to be a place of peace, consistency, solace, love, hugs, laughs, and fun, a place where my family feels cherished and cared for.  My personal code word – foundation – will remind me what is important, and to remember that laying a good groundwork will make everything else fall into place.

Helicopter? Tiger? Just a plain old worried mom

I miss this smile

Bess is still having some difficulties in school.  The problem, in a nutshell, is this: we have raised her to be respectful and kind in her dealings with others, and to resolve conflicts by seeking compromise and taking everyone’s needs into consideration.

As it turns out, not all children are raised this way.  My daughter is finding it very difficult to deal with people whose interpersonal skills are, shall we say, less evolved.

Her teacher is an amazing like-minded woman (I first met her when she joined my Attachment Parenting group a few years ago), and I know that she is supporting my daughter’s efforts to affably relate to her classmates.  But there is only so much that can be done.  After all, it’s half-day kindergarten ; they are only there for 2 1/2 hours a day.  She can’t control what her students learn in the other 21 1/2 hours.  Plus weekends.  Plus the previous five years of their lives, give or take.  Not to mention the bus.  Ugh, the bus.

Since September, there has been a marked difference in Bess.  She is becoming increasingly withdrawn and socially anxious, and is electing (begging) to forego many of her favorite activities in favor of staying home with us.  And this, with a gentle and devoted teacher, in a kindergarten classroom.  It is difficult to imagine the situation improving very much in the coming years.

And thus…we are seriously thinking of homeschooling Bess next year, and for the foreseeable future.  I was apprehensive about public school to start with, and I am underwhelmed by the outcome to date.  Bess has always loved being around lots of other people, and was thrilled with the prospect of having lots of new potential friends, all of whom live close enough for impromptu playdates (as opposed to her friends at her previous school, who all lived at least 45 minutes away).  Even she is coming to see homeschooling as a viable, even desirable, alternative.

But am I being “that mom”?

Am I being overprotective, sheltering her ?

Is this about me not wanting my daughter to grow up and go out into the world without me?

Are the changes I am seeing just part of normal growing up, or something more?

What are the risks of allowing things to go on this way, and are those risks acceptable to me?

By permitting her to stay in an environment that is not working for her, am I implying that I think what goes on there is okay?

Is there anything wrong with giving her more time to be a child, to grow up a little more before she has to learn to function in the cold, cruel world?

Wouldn’t she benefit from a little more time spent learning the values and interpersonal skills I want her to have?

Doesn’t my daughter deserve to live in a world where she is treated with respect and kindness, at least most of the time?

Is it fair for me to expect her to treat other people with consideration, and then send her out into a world where she will not be treated in kind?

Won’t she better be able to cope with the range of personalities that exists in the world when she is a little older, more mature, more confident, stronger?

Would I be depriving her of the opportunity to learn how to deal with all sorts of other people by picking and choosing the people with whom she spends time?

 Is it so bad that I have a different vision of the world I want for my child than most of the rest of the world seems to have?

Isn’t it my right as her mother – my prerogative, indeed my responsibility – to do everything I can to create the kind of world in which I want her to live?

Am I even asking the right questions?  Do these questions even have answers?

Twinkle, my little star! (a thinly veiled excuse to brag about my daughter)

She is posing for a picture here, this is not proper violin posture!

When I was in graduate school working on my M.Ed., I had a professor who was enchanted with the Suzuki Method.  Briefly: Shinichi Suzuki was a Japanese violinist who developed a unique approach to teaching children to play violin, and the technique has since been expanded and is now used to teach a number of other instruments as well.  You can read all about this amazing teacher and humanitarian in his book Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education.

The element of the Suzuki Method that appealed so much to my teacher was his emphasis on encouragement.  Dr. Suzuki believed that by giving attention to what you want to nurture in a child, those parts of the child will naturally grow and unwanted behaviors, ignored, will wither.

She liked to tell the story of how Dr. Suzuki’s students would observe him working with a particularly difficult or unskilled student and would wonder what positive feedback he would offer.  One time, he was instructing a young child who wasn’t doing anything right – the child had bad tone, had bad tempo, a bad bow hold, the whole nine yards.  The students laughed among themselves, convinced that this time, the Master would not be able to find a single positive thing to say.  But he did.  He told the child, “I really like the way you held your left foot.”  The child was positively aglow.  “Really?!?!?!  That’s exactly what I’ve been working on all week!”

(I must admit that before we started violin lessons, this story made little sense to me.  WHY on Earth would anyone care about someone’s left foot?  But now I know that posture is an important element of playing the violin, so this makes perfect sense.)

Dr. Suzuki called his method the “mother-tongue approach”.  Children learn to talk at their own pace by hearing people use language around them; similarly, the best way to learn music is not by reading music or being drilled on isolated skills.  Children taught using the Suzuki Method learn by listening to music and then playing the songs they hear, learning the technical skills required to play the instrument within that context.  Parents attend lessons and group classes (social learning is another important element of the method) and act as home teachers, guiding the child’s practice and maintaining a fun learning environment.

So, all this to say that my daughter, who has been studying violin for just under a year, had her first recital this past weekend, and she did great!  In case you want to see how she did – and you know you do – here is the video.  It’s short, just a minute.  Surely you can spare a minute, can’t you?