Sunday, August 30, 2015

best not scare her right away

I noticed tonight that Elliott's preschool letter requests a photo of him for the class bulletin board, so I went through the pictures I've taken of him this month, trying to find one that captures his essential Elliott-ness. (This phrase works so much better with his real name, incidentally, when it does not suddenly make him sound like a famous law enforcement agent.) I found lots, but decided most of them probably would make the teacher a little nervous.

You get three guesses which kid is my rule-follower and which one is my mischief-maker, and the first two guesses don't count.

I finally chose this next one, which felt like a fair compromise between Elliott in his native state and the cute posed photos everyone else will probably provide. (In the very next shot he's obviously about to throw the rock.)

I had a full day of hanging out solo with the kids today, and dude. Little humans are exhausting. My kids aren't even particularly challenging on the spectrum of children's behaviors, but there's just so much managing. And so much talking. Me talking, them talking. SO MUCH TALKING. We went to a hot rod show out at the fairgrounds, which was pretty great but of course between the three of us I think someone commented on every vehicle there. Then we went to eat at McDonald's where it was like hostage negotiations trying to get anyone to finish their food already so we could take our toys and leave. Then to the grocery where both kids insisted upon having a miniature cart to push. I told them before we went in that there would be no running, no fighting, and NO RAMMING SO HELP ME, but then I had to micromanage them through the entire store because they kept "forgetting" the rules. By the time we got home no one was even being particularly bratty and I was all "EVERYONE TO YOUR ROOMS, MAMA IS AN INTROVERT AND NEEDS TO HEAR NO VOICES FOR THE NEXT TWENTY MINUTES." It was totally worth it for the day we had but DAMN.

This was my very favorite exchange of the day, for no particular reason other than it just struck me as so funny and so perfectly illustrative of their personalities. As we were leaving the fairgrounds, we drove past a property with horses.

Nico:  Look, horses! What are they doing?

Me:  Eating grass, probably.

Nico:  Or looking at rocks.

Elliott:  (with fist raised dramatically in the air) Ride! Da! Horsies!!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

get the child a twibbon

Recent times when Elliott was oppressed by The Man:

>> too young to attend kindergarten 

>> had to leave child-size shopping cart at the grocery 

>> not allowed to run amok at kindermusik class

>> too small to ride the big water slides at the pool 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Week One Report

We survived the first week of Kindergarten! Nico and I made it through the first morning drop-off without crying, though poor Elliott was quite upset that he didn't get to stay at school. He briefly recovered during our grocery trip when he realized that he got to push the miniature cart, but when we pulled into the garage back home he burst into tears and cried, "Teacher, me! Teacher, me!" I did feel a little unmoored with the whole afternoon stretching out before us and no Nico, so when Elliott took his nap I took one, too. I think it'll get easier as we get used to it, and Elliott's music class starts again next week also. Nico has been tired in the evenings, but overall no big complaints. He seems to like school fine so far, and reports that he has made a friend. I'm hopeful he has made a good choice in this friend (he sometimes has terrible judgment when choosing a kid to hang out with at camp / school) and it's a little humbling realizing I have to rely on his word that said friend is a nice kid, at least until I get a chance to volunteer for a class visit or a field trip and observe him for myself. His teacher has a really good reputation as being one of the best at the school, so that has helped me relax.

I'm glad I thought to ask the teacher at the open house the week before school what their preference is for the kids' drop-off routine. She said that parents could walk the kids to their classrooms Monday, Tuesday and maybe Wednesday of the first week, but that we should plan to drop him off at the front of school after that. (Teachers are stationed on the sidewalk and through the halls to direct traffic.) Elliott and I walked Nico to his classroom Monday and Tuesday, walked him to the gym (where kids gather before the first bell) on Wednesday, and dropped him off curbside on Thursday and Friday. On Thursday morning I felt a swell of pride watching him walk confidently up to the door by himself, turning to smile and wave at us just before he went inside. He's got this, I think.

Elliott asked to go to school / meet his teacher every day this week. If he could read a calendar, he'd be counting down the days until he gets to start preschool in September. A few weeks ago a friend commented that she was enjoying seeing him come into his own as a little boy rather than a toddler in his photos, and she was right - he's hardly looking like a toddler at all these days. It's both heartbreaking and wonderful.

Other stuff, in no particular order:

1. Nico's school uses an online point system to track the kids' behavior, which I guess is a good way to keep parents informed / involved. There's a website for it and also a phone app, which may end up driving my husband to distraction. So far I have managed to not refresh it obsessively all day long, only to get texts from him reporting loss or awarding of points. I do like that it includes a reason when a point is taken away - Nico lost one for talking out of turn and one for not following directions, which turned out to be talking when he was supposed to be listening / doing something else. I wish it explained what they were getting points for, because I can't tell when he's being rewarded for good behavior and when the teacher is just handing out base points for the whole class. I guess it doesn't matter either way as long as he's gaining more than he's losing. No homework yet, though we were told to expect two tasks plus 15 minutes of reading every evening, Monday through Thursday to "establish good habits." I suppose this is a valid goal but I gave it a little side-eye, considering I'm pretty sure I never had homework before about fourth grade.

2. I went to my first PTA meeting on Thursday. I'm still not sure it's my kind of thing, but I'm pretty sure I'm their kind of sucker seeing as I'm considering volunteering to chair the family game night event because I felt bad that no one else offered. I can't decide if I'm hoping someone else beats me to it or not. Nico's friend Eleanor from preK is in his class, arranged by dual parental request for their teacher, so I texted her mom to see if she'd co-chair with me, and she said she would. So maybe it would be fun. Or maybe I'm crazy for even considering it.

3. I can't tell if it's just unacknowledged mental turmoil over my baybee starting school or if it's actually true, but I have felt a bit overly busy and disorganized lately. (One big reason I feel like maybe it would be nuts to take on this game night thing.) As much as I like and rely on having my whole calendar and digital life accessible through my phone, it's starting to not work for me as a reminder system to do things. First, I have started to ignore tasks and then forget about them. Second, the alarm going off all the time lately makes me want to throw the phone through a window. I used to keep a meticulous paper calendar / planner in the age before smart phones, and I'm thinking a return to some of those methods might suit me well. I tend to learn / remember things better when I write them out by hand (sometimes just writing a list is enough to lodge it in my memory, even if I don't look at the list again). After looking through several planners in various back-to-school aisles I ended up buying one at Barnes & Noble that I'm hoping will work for me. The cover is really dull / unappealing, so I might do some old-school craft projecting if I can find time this weekend. I'm hoping my slight guilt over spending $16 on this planner will spur me to be responsible about using it.

I also dislike how much time I waste on my phone in the evenings, and I truly mean waste - I will click through to facebook, twitter, my email, and my message board app and then continue cycling through them over and over even when nothing new is posted. It's ridiculous and yet I have done this for upwards of an hour on many occasions. Perhaps if I'm not picking up my phone every ten minutes to see why there's an alarm going off, I won't let myself get sucked into the time-wasting cycle quite so badly. I'm all for vegging out with some internet time, but this is not fulfilling or relaxing - it's just staring blankly at a screen and getting nothing out of it.

4. I'm setting up our annual blast of fall adventures, and it's making me eager for my favorite season to get here even though I'm also desperately wishing I could drag my heels and slow down time a little. Since we never get to travel in the summer because of my work commitments (and it's freaking hot anyway), we always try to get out and away and have fun once autumn arrives. We are hoping for two camping trips and a weekend away at a cabin, and we will all be extremely cranky if the weather ruins things for us. We haven't been camping in almost a year since both of our spring weekends got rained out and Nico and I are both pining for it. In looking ahead to these trips and in considering other hoped-for trips and requested visits, I am realizing how much having a kid in full-time school is going to cramp our freewheeling style. I feel like pouring one out for the days when long weekends were easy to come by and summer break lasted until Labor Day. Farewell, easy adventuring life! Don't abandon us entirely!

Reading:   X: a Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon

Playing:   some new mix CDs I got for Christmas in July from my friend Rachel. My favorite song so far:

Monday, August 10, 2015


Dear Nico,

It has been five years and nearly seven months since you were born, six years and some change since I found out you were growing from a hope into a baby, right there under my skin. Growing and learning with you has been the best adventure of my life so far. Today you start Kindergarten and it feels like the end of this great gig we've had going. I've felt vaguely morose all day, just like I did when you turned five. I'm certain I'll get over it and everything will be fine, but I am worried. Even though we've taken all the steps we felt we should to prepare you for this day, it's still terrifying to contemplate its arrival. I'm afraid you'll get your sweet heart broken, my beautiful boy, out in the big world.

At the same time, I'm eager to see what comes next and to meet the boy you'll become. I hope the universe is ready for the unleashing of your limitless curiosity. It won't always be easy, it won't always be fun, but this journey we're about to start is going to be pretty amazing, I think. And this time, you get to lead.


Friday, July 24, 2015


Before Nico's car obsession came to light, I assumed that boys who were into super BOY things like cars and construction equipment were pushed to be that way by their parents. Then Nico woke up one morning shortly after his first birthday, latched onto a toy truck, and didn't deviate from that course until he was about four and a half. It turns out that some kids gravitate to gender norms without any nudge from any outside force. Before I had kids, I was pretty certain that I would be a cool liberal parent and not impose ridiculous gender-based expectations on my children. Once I actually had kids I found out that:

1. The default is easy, and I like easy. I also like boy clothes, so I have always put my boys in boy clothes.

If my boys ever begin to show a preference for girls' things, I hope I am able to help them embrace it. I once did not let Nico choose a girls' coat at the store (he was two) because I honestly didn't know what to do. I don't like girly things so I didn't like the coat in the first place. I stood there and worried what my husband and dad would say if their son / grandson showed up in a purple coat with a big fur ruff on the hood and I ended up offering Nico a black boys' coat instead. I probably lost my enlightened liberal card at that moment. Nico wasn't crushed or anything - he didn't really care all that much, and it was probably dumb to even ask a two-year-old or his opinion on coats - but I still wonder if I should've just bought the purple coat. I certainly would've gladly (gleefully, even) bought a daughter a black or blue or green coat from the boys' section. Why the hypocrisy, I had to ask myself in a small, not-so-proud voice.

2. Sometimes things come out of my mouth that I absolutely don't believe, just because I don't think about what I'm saying.

I am working on this. Example: a month or so ago in the car, Nico asked me why his mamaw (who is divorced) doesn't have a wife. Absentmindedly, stalling so I didn't have to explain divorce on the fly, also concentrating on driving, I started to say, "Mamaw wouldn't have a wife anyway, Mamaw would have a husband." Which is true, because his mamaw is straight, but also NOT the phrasing that I should be using with my inquisitive five-year-old since I would like him to grow up believing that anyone should be allowed to marry the person they love, regardless of sex or gender. Luckily my stop talking, dumbass! brain alarm went off and I caught myself about halfway through and awkwardly segued into telling him briefly that Mamaw used to be married and she isn't now, but someday she might be married again. That sometimes people aren't married to someone and that's okay.

3. Sometimes I react out of worry that Nico will be mocked or bullied for something that is out of the gender norm, and only realize afterward that I may be giving him the wrong message inadvertently.

While picking out school supplies, he initially chose scissors with a crazy pink and white print. Worrying about him being teased, I asked him conversationally "Are you sure those are the ones you want?" and he ended up changing his mind. Then I felt like an asshole because OF COURSE my son can have pink scissors if he wants and we already talk a lot about how pink is not only for girls even though some people think that it is and what is wrong with me that I talked him out of getting the scissors he wanted? I worry, though, about my sweet boy. I was mocked and belittled a lot (LOT) at school growing up and was pretty miserable because of it. Nico is already awkward and sensitive and a little bit weird, and my heart hurts thinking about him being made fun of...of course it'll happen - every kid gets made fun of at some point. I'm realizing, though, that it would be better to let Nico make his own choices and then stand behind him all the way than to guide him into something he wants less based on my fears of how people might treat him.

I will not deny that white cisgender male privilege exists, but it bothers me that there is less flexibility within the societal constructs of gender norms for boys versus girls. Most of Nico's playdate buddies are girls, and no one bats an eye when the girls play with Lego or wade into a creek in search of tadpoles or stomp through ankle-deep mud. Most of the adults I know applaud this kind of non-restricted behavior in girls, as they should. I ask myself a lot, though, how much does that go the other way? How much does that extend to boys being "allowed" to like pink or boys not being mocked if they are sensitive or cry? (I overheard the neighbor kid's grandfather gently counseling him that he needed to "toughen up" once after the kid came home crying because another kid ran into him or hit him. I thought to myself, the last thing that kid needs is to get tougher. If anything, he needs to be a little more sensitive.) I don't brook a lot of dramatics when it comes to things like minor injuries and insults, and have been known to tell my child that it's time to stop crying or to take it to his room. However, I will never, ever, ever tell him to "man up" or "be a man" or to "stop being a girl." I certainly hope for their sake that no one else ever does either.

Someone shared an article on facebook the other day arguing that parents need to stop using phrases like "he's such a boy" and "boys will be boys" to explain or excuse boys' behavior. At best it teaches gender restrictions / expectations; at worst it excuses asshole behavior. A few days after sharing the article on twitter and facebook and discussing how much the "such a boy" stereotyping is annoying, I took Nico to shop for school pants at Once Upon a Child. He was patient and good and tried on everything I asked him to, so I let him browse the toys afterward. He asked to see a few random things that I was not willing to buy, then I spotted a big, nice dollhouse on the very top shelf. It was tagged only $20, so we fetched an employee with a ladder to get it down for us. Nico was instantly enamored. I asked him, if I buy this, do you promise you'll try to play with it a lot and not just forget about it? Do you promise to share it with your brother? He said he would, on both accounts. He asked me earnestly, "Can you buy this with your own money?" He is learning that things cost a lot, and it takes a long time to save up dollars in one's piggy bank. I gladly paid for the house and we took it home. We didn't even have to say anything to Elliott - he spotted it immediately and came running with a toy rhinoceros who wanted to explore the rooms. Nico moved his beloved small puppies in next. I posted a photo of them on facebook snarkily tagged #boyswillbeboys #suchaboy #boymom and got a flurry of positive comments. I love that people loved it. The following day, the boys spent a good 45 minutes playing together with the house and their collection of plastic dinosaurs. Each day since we bought it, Elliott has asked, "House? Play with house?" upon waking up in the morning. I would dare anyone to tell me boys don't like dollhouses, that dollhouses are just for girls. I'm going to try really hard not to limit my boys as we grow together, whether it's pink scissors they want or purple coats.

Reading:  Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Playing:  Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants. This album is so great. I don't even turn it off after I drop the kids off in the mornings. Did you know that elephants are made of elements?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

quietly sniffing new crayons in the corner

I took Nico shopping for his school supplies this evening. I thought about waiting to see if there were any better sales two weeks from now, but then decided stuff was already cheap enough. I had to go to Walmart anyway to buy stuff for work and Nico was already with me, so it made sense to go ahead and get his things. I let him pick out muscle car notebooks and puppy dog folders and a light-up Cars backpack. I can't believe my baby starts kindergarten in a month. I'm trying not to be too dramatic about it, but it feels like a big serious End to this really great gig we've had going for the past 5 1/2 years. I keep realizing all over again that from August 10th on, he will only be able to go to Pump it Up and library programs and the creek on weekends or days off school. We'll only be able to have playdates on the weekends. I'm trying to stay upbeat because I don't want him to be nervous, but * I * am nervous. I'm worried kids will make fun of him for having a folder with a puppy sitting in a pink chair on the front or for having the wrong clothes or for loving Lightning McQueen. I'm worried a teacher will be sharp with him about his unending questions and quash his immense curiosity. I'm afraid standardized testing and common core will ruin his love of learning. I have no idea where to take him on the first day of school or if I'm supposed to walk him to his classroom or where his classroom even is. I need a letter with detailed instructions! Or something! HELP ME, SCHOOL. I am REALLY GOOD at following instructions, if you'll just give me some!

Elliott will start preschool about a month after Nico starts kindergarten. I don't think that has sunk in yet. He is beyond ready. I think I'll be okay since it's the same preschool Nico attended with the same teachers. They will send me a detailed instructional letter, and I already know where to take him and pick him up. I'm sure I'll be back here hand-flapping in a few weeks when I buy his school supplies. My little birdies, leaving the nest! I briefly considered trying to rearrange my work schedule so that I can be off in time to pick Nico up from school, but the only way to do that would be to give up my Mondays off with Elliott. As nice as it would be to see N at 3:30 vs 5:30, I quickly decided to keep Mondays. It seems more fair - I have had Mondays off as my hanging out with kid(s) day ever since I went back to work after having Nico. He got his five years of Mondays with me, and I think Elliott should, too. Once E starts Kindergarten, though, I think I will try to work out a different schedule. Somebody remind me in 2018.

I'm also having a quiet oh-shit moment because tomorrow I will be mailing in my application to start a chapter of Navigators USA (co-ed secular Scouts, basically). I needed five kids to start a troop and so far have had twelve ask to sign up. I like that Navigators is super low-key and self-guided, but I'm also freaking out a little bit because that means I basically have to make the whole thing up as I go. I think I am going to adapt the requirements from the old science and nature Brownie Girl Scout badges that I spent years teaching at my previous job, and see how that goes. Any time I start to panic a little, I remind myself that we only have to do one year. If everyone hates it or it's just no fun, we don't have to keep going. Of course I'm hoping it's great, or at least mostly enjoyable. I also remind myself that a coworker of one of my best friends is raising two girls by herself, works full time, and managed to be their Girl Scout leader and PTA president, so this shouldn't be that impossible. Right? I really, really need to focus and get some meeting plans written out for at least the first few months so I don't end up scrambling and half-assing it once school starts. If any of you have kids in Scouts, would you mind telling me some things that your troop has done that you have really liked? Also, would it be easier to remember if your kid had a thing that met every other week, or if it met on set weeks, such as always the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month, even if that sometimes meant having two weeks off between meetings?

And I believe I am going to send Nico to a sex ed class for kids starting in September. That seems crazy to even say. He is FIVE. But three women I know and like very much are certified to teach this OWL "lifespan sexuality education" class and it sounds pretty great. I recognize that for all my good intentions I am not well-equipped to teach my child all the things I want him to learn about sexuality and consent and respect and acceptance. I also like the idea of him learning things from appropriately-trained adults before he learns them from kids at school. I won't say the Harry Potter reminder is a downer, either. I suppose I shall report back if anyone is curious. I'd also love (LOVE) to hear about it if someone else's kid has taken this course.

Is that everything I'm quietly freaking out about today? I think so. Regardless, I should go to bed. I am teaching half-day nature camp all week, for one girl and twelve boys ages four through six. I suspect I will be very, very tired. Perhaps it'll be good immersion practice for being a scout leader.