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Archive for the ‘Mommyhood’ Category

Parenting is one of those forays into societal norms that never ceases to fascinate me. Many adults, though not often the ones with whom I associate, feel that children, if allowed to watch television or listen to music, should be limited to those media deemed by others as being “age appropriate.” If a kids’ channel says it’s educational then by gosh and golly, it must be so. Only someone who gears all his/her music towards children can make music appropriate for young ears thusly propagating a whole marketing strategy geared towards telling parents what their kids should watch or listen to and how all other songs or shows are not “age appropriate.”

Generally, I let him play around with a lot of different media – music, video, movies, television shows, books – to let him see where his interests lie. Some of the media are not what many would call “age appropriate” for a three year old. Most mornings, he and I will sit for a half hour or so and play around on YouTube. Sometimes, he wants music videos so he can watch musicians perform. Sometimes, he watches weird little learning cartoons. Some mornings, he decides that Potter Puppet Pals, Nyan Cat, and Annoying Orange are the only way to start the day.

During a recent snowy morning, we popped “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” into the Xbox for some background noise while shut in the house. Our general philosophy was that if he’s going to watch The Mysterious Ticking Noise by Potter Puppet Pals, then he needs to recognize that those weird looking little puppets are NOT the real Harry Potter. I’m an anti-poseur on that count. If he’s going to identify the characters, the purist in me feels he needs to recognize them for what they really are instead of the parody to which he became accustomed. For two hours, my extremely active three year old sat mesmerized by the characters and the plot. We made him a little wand (and by “we”, I mean, “me”) out of a toilet paper roll covered in duct tape. We taught him “spells.” He spent the rest of the afternoon running around the house yelling, “Wingardium Leviosa!”

Several people have commented recently that “wasn’t that a little old?” or “Wow, you let him watch that?” In many instances, I just said, “Yup.” In some instances, I started to make my case for why Harry Potter is appropriate (or at least Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets) for the under 5 set. As a parent, I think long and hard about the things to which I subject Monster, and therefore, myself. A lot of little girls Monster’s age watch Disney Princess movies like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. Upon analysis, truly, Harry Potter is no scarier than these movies and certainly contains better female role models for my kid.

Let’s start with Disney. I’m not truly averse to Disney, certainly not the classics. As regards the feminine role models, I can place them in their socio-historic context and find a way to explain things like the girls who need boys to take care of them. I find it annoying more as a cultural movement perpetuated by the Disney Corporation to make money off dresses and dolls. As an example of the old school artistic process of cartooning, I kind of love them. Sleeping Beauty, in particular, is a visual favorite. The artwork, reminiscent of medieval tapestries, always gives me shivers and a sense of connection to history. However, let’s do a quick analysis of some imagery.

Everyone remembers the three little fairy godmothers who fight over the color of Aurora’s dress. However, most people probably don’t really focus on the battle between the prince and the dragon Maleficent. Beautifully drawn, but frighteningly brutal.

Looking at these pictures, the dragon is meant to be frightening and threatening. The colors in the first picture, the dark outline with the bright eyes and the gaping fanged mouth, are intended to incite fear for the life of Prince Phillip. The darkened outline gives the sense of impending doom. In the second, the gothic nature of the picture alone with the dark blues and blacks illuminated by the bright green fire, are intended to create a contrast to show the power and fury of the dragon. The dragon’s stance, towering menacingly over Prince Phillip, shows the contrast in size and power of the two characters. These dark images fit within the context of the art but also can inspire fear in a small child. The movie is rated G.

Ostensibly, the deaths and themes of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are more disturbing for small children, at least theoretically. The MPAA gave Chamber of Secrets a PG rating. However, taking a quick look at some of the scariest images from Chamber of Secrets shows that the Basilisk is truly no different than Maleficent the dragon.

Yes, because this is live action and not strictly cartoon, the images appear more lifelike. However, the basilisk has several similarities to the Maleficent dragon. The head is shaped similarly. In the first image, the basilisk leans menacingly over the hero attempting to kill him. In the second image, the gaping fanged mouth and bright yellow eyes seethe with danger and doom.

The images, though nearly fifty years apart, employ the same general fear inducing characteristics of dark blues/blacks for the background and bright yellow/green for the eyes to highlight the danger coming from the beast. They show a murderous beast towering over a diminutive hero. They both utilize the same visual cues to try to arouse a sense of fear in the viewer to highlight the hero’s bravery in light of overwhelming deficits.

There’s an argument to be made that for small children the difference between cartoon and live action makes the difference. This difference makes it more difficult for young children to separate the fiction from the reality, as they have yet to distinguish the concept of people doing things for pretend. However, watching any movie with a small child means that an adult should be watching, at least for the first viewing or two, to make sure the child is not scared and to explain why what happens on the screen is not real. With great parenting comes great responsibility.

Thematically, both of these movies deal with a coma like sleep/paralysis caused by the antagonist. Both incorporate frightening themes of jealousy and sacrifice. Both have heroes killing beasts and violence between the characters. The themes that cause horror in both movies are the same. Perhaps Chamber of Secrets includes more blood or more visual wounds. However, thematically, the two are the similar.

The difference, in understanding why Chamber of Secrets can be appropriate for a three year old, involves the additional lessons that Harry Potter as a more contemporary movie exhibit. Harry Potter’s friends are not bumbling fairies. They use magic, true. However, they also problem solve thoughtfully. They show compassion for each and for people they do not know. They discuss the causes and effects of the actions. They accept consequences (Ron’s mother sending him the Howler for “borrowing” the family car). If watched responsibly, Harry Potter can be used to help a preschooler understand relationships and decision making.

Moreover, unlike some of the events in Sleeping Beauty which involve passivity on the part of the main antagonist Aurora, Harry Potter teaches activism. At every turn, Harry, Ron, and Hermione take action to make Hogwarts a better, safer place. They try to exonerate Hagrid and find out the truth about the last time the Chamber was opened. They showcase curiosity and bravery. These lessons are ones that can be used as teaching tools. When children love a story, they want to act it out. They want to pretend the things they see. Choosing to let my child watch a movie focusing on using intelligence and valor to solve problems allows him to re-enact these kinds of traits and potentially learn to bring them into his real life.

For these reasons, Monster watches Harry Potter. He has become an avid fan of the most recent incarnations of Dr Who. He fills his world with aliens and magic. He wants Amy Pond and Hermione Granger to hold his hand and take a nature walk to MyGym. Yes, this is screen time. However, it’s screen time that allows a child to experience a world full of wonder and imagination. I will keep trying to read him the books until he’s ready for them. Giving a child a way to enter the world of fantasy and creativity is appropriate at any age, even if it’s a three-year-old watching Harry Potter.

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Tina Fey’s Prayer for a Daughter has hit the Internet by storm. I may not be as funny or smart or witty. However, boys deserve something, too. I don’t want to pray for Monster. I just want to give him some life rules to live by. Here are the Ten Commandments for My Son:

1) Thou shalt not be an ass. No, really. If you bully or treat others condescendingly or mock peers or adults, you want to find a cardboard box to live in for the next ten years. Being respectful to others is respecting yourself.

Corollary: Thou shalt learn appropriate use of snark. No one should ever be too nice. People who are too nice are fake. Be true to yourself without being mean to others. Yeah, I know. It seems to break The First Commandment. Life is full of conundrums. Learn to negotiate the gray areas.

2) Thou shalt listen to thyself and only thyself except when listening to thy Mother or Father. See that thing called a curfew? Yeah, that requires listening to thy Mother or Father. See that thing that says, “Drink ALL.THE.BEER and do ALL.THE.DRUGS”? That requires listening to thyself. Make your own decisions. Make them with forethought. Listen to the little voice in your head when it speaks. Mostly, it knows the right answer. Except when it doesn’t. Then listen to that other voice. Remember that the voices are ok unless they’re telling you to commit a homicide. Then seek professional help. Do not pass go. Do not collect anything.

3) Thou shalt not wear a banana hammock. Or anything vaguely resembling such body wear. Just say no. There is no gray area for this one.

4) Thou shalt be whoever thy wishes without recourse unless said recourse involves non-civil rights based law enforcement. Look, your mama’s an attorney and covering all the loopholes with wood putty. Deal with it. Be a drummer. Be a lawyer (ok, don’t be one of those…that likely breaks the First Commandment). Wear pink. Wear blue. Wear my high heels. Wear Converse Chuck Taylors. Be who you want to be when you want to be that person.

Corollary: Do not be yourself at the expense of disallowing someone else to be him/herself. That violates the First Commandment. Always remember the First Commandment.

5) Thou shalt not fear failure. Failure is the mother of all success. You cannot achieve success without understanding your limitations. Learning what makes you unhappy, whether it be academic or work or relationships, will allow you to further understand what brings you joy. Do not wallow in failure and seek it out. However, do not run from its potential.

6) Thou shalt do things thy parents should not now nor ever know about. Do things about which you know we would disapprove. Don’t tell us. Do not break the second half of the Second Commandment. You will not always agree with our ideas or our decisions or our choices. As long as you do not break the Second Commandment, explore new ideas and experiences. Make sure to stay within the boundaries of the law and keep the First Commandment in mind. Be your own person on your own terms. Just remember that while we love you, there are some things that remain in the realm of Too Much Information. If you wouldn’t tell your mother? Don’t.

7) Thou shalt not shave or wax thy chest for fashion. No. Really. I promise you’ll regret it. Yes, hair grows back. However, really. No. Just don’t.

8 ) Thou shalt paint and sing and read and run and skip and jump. Be active. Be creative. The two are not mutually exclusive. Be a baseball player who sings opera. Be a poet who runs a marathon. Think outside of society’s rules for gender or socioeconomic status or educational background.

9) Thou shalt not expect the world to support you financially for your whole life. By “the world”, I mean thy Mother and Father. Learn responsibility and learn the importance of self-sufficiency. Learn that making minimum wage at 16 makes you more likely to want to make more than minimum wage at 26. Learn that you are the sOn and not the sUn. The world does not revolve around you. Learn that being supported does not mean being carried. The advantages that thy Mother and Father try to allow you to experience are so that you can become the person you need to be. They are not provided. They are earned based on your ability to appreciate them and not take them for granted.

10) Thou shall feel loved, be loved, and give love. Freely. To whomever. Without recourse.

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I’m a geek. Let me throw the bias out there for you straight up. However, in the last few months, I’ve been debating and discussing what constitutes a “gadget” with a lot of people. The news has also been discussing the evils of technology on families and children. The issue that I have been debating in my head is what technology actually rises above “gadget” to become useful and thus empowering to present and future geeks (and the population as a whole).

A few years ago, I bought myself the iPhone 3G. I love my iPhone. I mostly used it as a conglomeration of calendar/music/email. Once Monster  started seeing me on it, he wanted to play with it more and more. When the iPhone 4 came out, Mr. A and I jumped on that bandwagon like a pack of wolves staring down an Omaha Steaks truck. With that, we decided to try downloading a few apps for Monster. This is where the discussion of gadget versus geekery comes in.

The tantrums. Oh, the tantrums. This child would see one of our phones and start shouting “CHOOCHOO! CHOOCHOO!!” so that he could play his Thomas the Tank Engine game. The first game he loved was a “tilt the phone” game to move the train. However, since this seemed to amuse him when we played it, we started downloading other apps. We downloaded a small piano app. We downloaded a Thomas puzzle and matching game. Monster started to figure out what to do to make the games work. He began to…learn. After a few months, we finally decided that, as long as we monitor what apps he has on his “phone”, we would retool my old iPhone so that he could play games on it without bothering us.

A lot of news articles, recently, have discussed the evils of using phones to entertain children. The media loves sharing how children spend more time playing games than learning how to tie their shoes (of course, if kids were still using velcro sneakers like we did in the 1980’s, maybe this would be surprising). Studies have been coming out in the last six months focusing on young children and smartphone use. Debates have been springing up with mothers about what is an appropriate gadget for their children.

People’s decisions for their own families are their business. However, the term “gadget” has been bothering me. Recently, on my mothers’ discussion board, a debate sprung up about a 6 year old and an iTouch. A lot of mothers, not all but many, argued that these phones and machines are gadgets. Others stepped into the debate discussing how a smartphone has more technology than a desktop computer in the 1980’s. The discussion got me thinking, “at what point is a cell phone or a tablet no longer a gadget but a useful piece of technology that will overtake what we adults currently consider to be necessary technology for our lives?”

Before we retooled Monster’s phone, we thought long and hard about the goals we had for him. Yes, the phone is a magical tantrum remover. Yes, in a restaurant, it can keep him entertained long enough for us to finish eating. Yes, we love that he’ll play a game for twenty or so minutes at a time. However, while these are useful tools for us, what do they do for him? We thought carefully about what we wanted Monster to “get” from having his own “phone.”

1) Education. All right. I’ll start with the one that most parents care the most about. Monster loves doing puzzles and memory games on the phone. He will sit and do puzzles for twenty or more minutes moving the pieces across the screen. This is a child who, if he doesn’t fall off a table by the age of three, is most likely going to still end up having a concussion countdown, a la Varsity Blues. He’s never still. I can tell when he’s fallen asleep because that is the point at which his fingers finally stop fluttering and he is absolutely.immobile. Doing normal, non-digital puzzles normally involves throwing the board and watching the pieces bounce around my hardwood floors, in a rather noisy manner. This is a child who would never be able to control himself from overturning every card in a traditional memory card game. The digital versions of these learning games has enabled Monster to focus his attention on the mental skill without the distraction of the “OHMIGODTHERE’SSTUFFTOTHROW!” aspect of the traditional games.

2) Experience. For me, this is the number one goal. As technology progresses, it will continue to become smaller. What we consider microtechnological “gadgets” now may one day become the essence of an adult workforce. When I was in elementary school, people worried that playing games like Oregon Trail were going to dumb us down. “Tech ed” in my middle school days involved programming a lathe to make a keychain. It involved learning basic Logo. As computers became more prevalent, I found myself woefully unaware of the impact they would have on my future. I had an email account as early as 11th grade. However, I did not fully understand the educational value of the internet until I was 18 and in college. Today’s world revolves around understanding and effectively using technology. Businesspeople use smartphones to stay in contact or to work remotely while commuting on a train or bus. Tablet computers are rapidly becoming the new way to conduct business and be effective in a global market. The technology that our children learn on will be far outdated by the time they are adults. Understanding how to use and evolve with technology will better prepare them for their futures. To me, this is the key. As technology continues to simplify user interface and miniaturize, it will become even further integrated into the workforce on that level. In twenty years, the workforce may have flattened such that you never truly see the people with whom you work. To deny my son the experience of being comfortable with technology is to inhibit his potential in the long run.

3) Independence. We have uploaded different apps, music, and video to Monster’s phone. I love that he wants to play puzzle games. I don’t mind that he wants to listen to Yo Gabba Gabba music ad infinitum. I’m mostly ok with him watching the two Gabba episodes that we uploaded to the phone when he does not like what we’re doing around the house. However, he also has the option of playing some video games (we have a Lego app that basically involves tapping the farm characters to make them talk) or listening to the other music (music from his music class, Linkin Park, They Might be Giants). He has the opportunity, within the boundaries we have set, to make his own decisions. The fact that he feels he is making his own decisions gives him an element of control over his life. Yes, I have warned him on the fifteenth view of his Yo Gabba Gabba “Talent” episode in a row that the phone will be taken away if that is all he does with it. The phone isn’t available at all times. I take it out and put it away (surreptitiously of course) throughout the day. However, he does not realize, yet, that I still have control. In fact, he very often will play quietly for a while and then go play imaginary games with his trains. This is not inhibiting his creative play. It is supplementing.

4) Exploration. The three points above lead to this one. Exploration, to me, is the heart of intellectual curiosity. Allowing Monster to have the freedom to explore certain technologies and within those contexts different music, ideas, and languages (yes, we have a Spanish app on there and a math app too!) allows him to choose his interests. This exploration, to me, is the heart of learning to be a curious human. He is trying new things. There are apps or music or videos that he will try and decide he does not like. There are others that he keeps going back to explore further. He is learning that he can try something and decide whether he wants to continue to explore it further. He is exploring math, reading, music, and imagery. These explorations may seem minimal given their format. However, as someone who spends hours a week with young people, the exploration is the key, more so than the format. He is learning that following his interests will give him greater opportunities. To me, this is one of the most valuable aspects of letting him have a “phone.”

5) Sense of connectivity to the adult world. I do a lot of work on my mobile devices. I teach online classes. I stay connected to my students throughout the day. I send and receive business emails on my iPhone and iPad. Monster sees this throughout the day and wants to be like mommy. For him, having his own “phone”, even if it has none of the actual connectivity of mine, gives him a sense that he is like the adults. He is far more gentle with his phone than with any of his other toys. He does not throw it (normally…) and is careful to put it down gently. Rarely does it end up hidden or on the floor. He already understands that treating it poorly will make it go away. While we have taught him this, his desire to model adult behavior has made this lesson easier. He is far from an adult. However, all children wish to model adult behavior and this allows him to do it.

For us, and I do not deride others for their decisions, allowing Monster to have a “phone” has fulfilled various different objectives. We discussed whether this was being “indulgent” and decided that the overall benefits outweighed the spoil factor. Besides, the old phone was sitting around gathering dust for three months before we even entertained the thought. For us, this is something that was not done to alleviate tantrums (although, I won’t lie, it does help quell the screaming). It was not done so that he could “keep up with the Joneses.” It was done so that we could give him various options that he may not otherwise have.

Many adults – my age and older – do not understand technology. They find that the new technology is nothing more than a “gadget.” To that I say, no. Regardless of decisions made for children, I argue that much of the technology that people see as gadgetry is the future. In the late 1980’s, cell phones were considered gadgets. Today, people feel that they are indispensable. Twenty years ago, computers were viewed differently than they are today. Twenty years from now, smartphones or tablet computers will be viewed differently than they are today. As the workforce moves towards a service society and as people find that they can connect using digital media, a societal shift has begun, and will continue, to occur. People will always feel the need to connect face to face on some level. However, as more cost cuts take place and as technology continues to evolve, society and business will continue to evolve with them. I feel that I would be remiss in educating my child if I did not acquaint him with his future world. I teach him letters, numbers, and colors. However, to ignore the world that he will enter as an adult would be to do him, in my mind, a disservice. To those who say “pfffft” to smartphones and tablet computers, I counter, “what did your parents say about laptops, the Internet, and email?” As technology evolves, so will the world. Today’s “gadgets” are tomorrow’s indispensable technology.

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Milestones, in Mommyland, are the yardsticks by which we measure our children. When did your child first smile? When did your child first crawl? What was your child’s first word? When did your child take his first step? These are all well and good; however, what about those milestones that you know you’ll always remember? Let’s be honest, there’s a segment of the mommy population (and you know who you are) who will more fondly remember baby’s first curse word used appropriately than will remember baby’s first mama.

So, in honor of those alternamoms, I’ve compiled a list of “Alternative Milestones”.

The first poop of Epic Pooportion. You knew that there would have to be a mention of poop in something like this right? I mean, it’s pretty much what the first year of raising a child is about. However, I can still remember bring Monster to work with me and having given him prune juice the previous day. I should have known from reading others’ discussions about the marvelous poo-power of prunes. No, I thought I was better than that. I thought that I was above it all. I should have known. Let’s just leave it that the Pooplosion of 2009 has never since been equaled, and certainly not equaled in my current place of employment.

The first time your favorite music soothes your savage beast. I learned that my child was awesome one day within the first few months of his birth. He’d been screaming all day. After five hours of nonstop, ear-bleeding screams, he finally managed to calm down while listening to The Clash in a bouncy chair. My child loved punk rock! Who would have thunk? It was a moment of desperation wherein I hoped for nothing more than loud music drowning out his noise. However, surprise of surprises – it calmed him down! He still loves it.

The first time your kid head bangs. No, really. There’s nothing quite as awesome as watching your kid sit in a car seat and throw his head forward and back to rock music. ‘Nuff said.

The first time your child recognizes art that he likes. Ever since Monster was little, he’s like Magritte. Go ahead, think I’m crazy. We found a bunch of “Touch the Art” books and other books that have paintings by artists. Magritte’s Imagination was the first book he would sit through when he was around 9 months. Now, if he sees the “Hello Van Gogh” book, he’ll say “Va gooo va gooo” and he tries to say “artist.” He asks for these books on his own. He has favorite paintings in them. The local museum has a Magritte painting. When he looks at it, especially when he saw it the first time, his face held a look of recognition.

The first time your child recognizes a character from Star Wars. Oh, come on. You know you want your kid to recognize Yoda. Don’t we all? Do or do not. There is no try.

The first time your child puts himself in time out on his own. Apparently, time out is such an expected response to many of the various demonic activities undertaken by Monster that he will do something, look at me, and walk over to the time out corner. Yesterday, he actually said “tiii ouuuu”. I can’t figure out if it’s great that he knows to do time out or horrible that he does the little demonic action anyway.

The first time your child becomes so attached to an article of clothing that he has to wear it inappropriately. I believe that somewhere I have a picture of Monster in his ChooChoo Boots, shirt, and diaper just because he wouldn’t wait for me to put his pants on.

The first time your child dances to music. Music is huge in our house. I’ll be honest. Most of my kid’s alternative milestones revolve around music or popular culture. However, the first time a child dances to music and understands what he’s doing? It’s a moment of pure magic. Rapidly followed would be the moment your child sings to a music video. Sadly, Monster’s first was “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga. Maybe it wouldn’t be my first choice, but I’ll take it.

The first time your child recognizes a rock n roll band. It’s a toss up here between Beatles and Abba. I’d like to say it’s Beatles. I really think that Abba won by a nose. Even better? Abba taught Monster about the fundamentals of “moneeeey”.

The first time your child makes the “devil horns” heavy metal sign. Ok, I admit. I missed this one. Mr. A insists that he looked in the rear view mirror and just saw a little hand with index finger and pinkie sticking up while listening to the Dropkick Murphys. I’m going to have to give this one to him since I’ve been working on it for three months. I’ll be damned that I missed it though.

The first time your kid says, “Tattoo.” I think that about sums up the alternative awesome in a nutshell.

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Before going forward, I have two very different comments to make. I love work. I love my job. I sit down to do prep for my semester, and it does not feel like I’m working. Also, I love being a mom. I love my kid. I actually, 90% of the time, enjoy being around him. These two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they often come into conflict.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be giving up my summer “freedom.” This is, by definition, much with the excellent. There will be the additional income. There will be grownup time for mommy. Teaching, to me, is less like a job and more like an intellectual adventure. Sitting down to prep my classes, I feel less like I’m doing work and more like I’m engaging in a puzzle. How do these ideas fit together? Why do they matter? How do they impact the students? Is there a way to get the students to not hate my class? I long ago gave up having an ultimate goal of getting kids to like my classes. I teach mostly classes where they have to be there since the classes are required. I pretty much shoot for “not hating” and if I get some who enjoy the class for its own sake, then I call it Epic Win. I figure, with required courses, hitting a goal of “not hating” is pretty much the same as “liking” and if you get it all the way to actual enjoyment then you somehow managed to hit the bullseye. It’s not like I’m aiming low. I’m realistic. They aren’t ever going to love my classes as much as I do since, well, they’re not me. However, I digress a bit here. I love my job. I love that I get to teach young people and help them try to see the world in a new way. Hopefully. I rarely feel, except when grading because while I love to read their papers I hate the assessment that goes with it, that my job is a burden.

I love being a mom. I do. I complain and mutter and occasionally there are days where I want to sit in a dark room and cry (ok, or maybe I want to go to an isolated island and drink fruity drinks with little umbrellas all alone by myself…y’know, same thing). However, those are more my own frustrations and stresses than actual problems with the kid. He’s pretty good, mostly. When he’s not, there’s usually a reason. I love that I get to see the world in a new way and that I get to help teach a small person to be the best person he can be. In this way, being a mom and a teacher are very much the same. Being a mom has been the most amazing teaching job I’ve had thus far. I love watching how his face lights up when he says, “Mommmiiieeeeee!!!!” and runs full tilt towards me. I love watching him learn new words. I love the fact that he now knows six Star Wars characters, among them being Boba Fett and Han. He’s a cool little kid.

However, over the next few weeks, I have to work on balance. Balance, for a lot of working moms, is the hardest thing in the world. I won’t lie here – I was super excited that someone else, aka childcare provider, would be taking care of helping me to do the mundane things like learning letters and colors. I like being the one who gets to give him the “fun adventures” of going to museums, reading books, and playing without the responsibility of making sure he “knows stuff.” My schedule this semester means that “school” is not fiscally responsible. Ok, so that’s a new responsibility that I really need to figure out. Also, at 18 months, the Monkey is getting ready to lose his morning nap. Morning nap time has always been my “Work Time”. Afternoon naps, very often, are times for snuggles and mommy naps. So, morning nap is probably my all time favorite part of the day in a lot of ways.

Suddenly, after a year and a half of routine, my routine is about to go FUBAR. I am not great with change. In fact, change is sort of like some kind of demon that sneaks up on you, spits fire at you, laughs and then runs away while your skin melts off your body. Yeah, told you, I hate change. This particular change is causing a different sort of anxiety. Up until now, I have pretty evenly been able to partition my Mommy Me and my Work Me. However, if this child is up all morning and I have things to get done, these two are going to be intersecting in a different way. I can leave him alone in a room for a half hour or so at a time. Sometimes. Assuming that he’s not angry at my leaving him alone. Last time that happened, I came out of the bathroom to find him feeding treats to the dog one-by-one, very seriously and meticulously. It’s no wonder these dogs are getting fat. However, I can keep an eye on the fact that he hasn’t brained himself while paying attention to work. I can also work at night.

However, for me, I like to segment my life. I’m much more comfortable with boundaries. I think, as a kid, that I was the kid who had to separate the food on the plate so that the different foods wouldn’t touch. God help anyone who put gravy (ohthehorror!) on my mashed potatoes. This explains my current conundrum. I like being able to segregate my different responsibilities. I like having an easy way to say, “OK, this is Mommy Time. Then there’s an hour or so of Working Time. Then we have some more Mommy Time.” Being able to separate out these different responsibilities gives me a sense of calm.

Now, however, I am about to embark on that all-too-common problem for moms who do a lot of work at home. How do I balance what is right for my child with what is right for my work with what is right for my husband with what is right for myself? To date, this balance has had some moments of disconnect; however, for the most part, I have been able to find a balance. Balance is the key. Unfortunately, it is not like being on a scale of justice with a right and a wrong. It is more like being in that riddle about getting the fox, chicken and corn across the river. There may not, as in the riddle, be a single way to cross this river. However, sometimes it feels like it. I know there is an answer, but I cannot see the answer from where I sit.

Sometimes, being at home as a mother is the hardest work of all. I want to see myself as I did before Monkey came along. This does not mean that I do not love him. It means that my redefinition of self has been a long and difficult road. It means that, for some reason, sending him to a child care provider implied a sense of “work” that was separate from home. It made me a working mother. Now, I have to work at being a mom.

This change in perception is difficult. It means that I have to resegment my life. It means that I may have to compromise something – time with my son, time with my husband, or time for myself – in order to create a sense of work and mother balance. Until now, I have found this balance through the ability to create a routine in my days. My routine involved spending time as a mother, spending time as a teacher, spending time as a wife, and spending time as myself. My days had a definition to them. This definition created a time in the morning as a mom, a time in the morning to be a teacher, a time in the afternoon to be a mommy or teacher, depending on the day. A time at night to be either myself or a wife. Sometimes, a little bit of both.

Now I find that within the course of a day, I have to choose between these roles in a very different way. Do I choose to push being a teacher aside and take time away from being a wife or myself in order to be a mommy? Do I push aside my son’s needs in order to fulfill my work and self roles? How do I create this new balance in this new world? Of this, I am unsure. I know that I will be able to find a balance. I have no doubt. I love the snuggle time with Monkey during the day. I know that some day soon, he will say “No Mama” to things like cuddling and snuggling. Sometime soon, he will be too old for his mommy. Sometime soon, he will do more than assert his independence, he will be independent. Sometime soon, he will see me as someone he loves, but not as someone he needs for emotional sustenance. However, at the same time, I need to remain myself. I need to be true to who I am, what I love, what I do, how I think.  Just as I doubted my ability to be a mother prior to having Monkey, I feel myself doubting myself now. These are the same doubts but in a different venue. They will, eventually, come to the same end.

For the first time, I feel that I need to work at being comfortable in my role. I need to work at being at home with my role as a mother. I need to accept that the choices I make involve not only myself, but also Mr. A, Monkey, and my students. I need to find a new path for myself. I need to find a way to create a balance. I do not know what the pivot point is right now. This is not a see-saw. This is not a scale. This is not a situation where one side obviously can weigh more than another, or where there are, in fact, simply two sides. This is life. Life means working at being comfortable with yourself. Life means understanding that sometimes, what you know in your heart – that you can do things – seems to be insurmountable in your mind. Sometimes, worrying about limitations is the precursor to solving the problem.

I am working at home for 10 hours a week, at minimum. I am working outside of the house for 6.5 hours a week.  I am a stay at home mom for 33 hours in the working week. However, I am working at being comfortable in this role, once again. I am working at reminding myself that work – regardless of where or what it is – is still work. I cannot pretend that this is easy. I cannot pretend that it is something to which I can find an easy answer. I can, honestly, say that I am working at staying at home with my roles – all of them. I can, honestly, say that I am working at staying at home with myself. I can, honestly, say that I am working at staying at home with motherhood and work and life. Honestly? This idea of staying at home with things is more work than any of the other roles I have. However, it is work that will make all of us better people. I can at least say that this knowledge makes all of the work of staying at home and working at home- physically and mentally – worth it.

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Seriously. What happened to childhood today? Tonight, talking to a friend of mine, I got freaked out. No lie. The Kid is 17 months (almost) old, and here I am tonight, spending the evening researching none other than..homeschooling.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a fan in the long run. I won’t lie. I’m about to probably get slammed with spammable comments for this. However, the homeschooled kids that I knew in college? Kinda…well…weird. A little with the unsocialized. I’m just saying that my personal experience is one that I think made for occasionally sheltered children who didn’t really understand how to interact in society.

However, I have decided that there might be a really great purpose for homeschooling – Preschool. In today’s society, we have suddenly decided that being a small person with a intellectual curiosity does not matter. What matters, apparently at the age of 3, is being in a classroom and learning. Learning is apparently never done outside of that single, multi-child room. I’m not saying it doesn’t have a purpose. I’m lucky. I get to work on a flexible(ish) schedule and spend a lot of time home with Monkey. For people who are not as lucky as I am, I feel that preschool is the perfect solution. I’m not gonna lie – my schedule for the Fall freaked me out because ohmigodIcan’tsendkidtodaycarebecauseitcoststoomuch!!!!!! That meant that I really need to do more than lie on the couch and watch television with him. I really have to start getting him to learn things like colors and letters. Wow. He’s almost 17 months, and I’m freaking out about getting him behind. I totally expected school to take care of this for me. I expected to drop Monkey off a few afternoons a week and be perfectly confident that someone else was doing all the work.

Then I got my schedule. My schedule, for the records, rocks my socks off. I was thrilled with it, y’know, professionally. It was the personal aspect of being home all day long with Monkey that freaked me out. I realized that I have to be responsible for him learning. For him being an educated kid. For him going from baby to toddler to, potentially, something more some day. Wow. The responsibility.

So, back to our story. I’m talking to my friend tonight, and she’s freaking out. They’re moving up to Boston and started researching preschools and discovered that the local public preschool costs $7,000. Now, I don’t know the details, but I did see her freaking out. I’m assuming there’s a reason that the local public school preschool actually costs money. The privates apparently cost somewhere in the range of $9,000. Holy great costs Batman! All of this to learn colors and letters? Are you kidding me?

This got me thinking about the purpose of preschool and the potential, at different ages, for it to be effective. Here’s my theory, for what it matters. Preschool should fulfill the following objectives:

1) Teaching a child independence. Some kids are pretty parent-centric. If a child screams every single time a parent is hidden from view, even in the same room? That child might, potentially, need a place to learn the idea of independence. Monkey couldn’t care less about me half the time. If we go to the playground, he’s suddenly a little starving orphan child. He has no need for me. He just up and wanders away to the nearest child or adult. Sometimes he gives them gifts of handfuls of sand. Sometimes, he’s mooching food. Either way, my general existence is tangential to his. Apparently, this is a child who doesn’t need to learn further independence.

2) Teaching a child the basic rules of society/socialization. Children need to learn the basics of acting civilized in society at some point. For the most part, small people are no better than, well, sentient animals. They live in a constant state of “ME! ME! ME! MINE! MINE! MINE!” Little people think they are the sun with the rest of us revolving as planets around them. It’s a developmental fact. Teaching kids the basics of taking turns, not stealing toys, and not hitting the kid who’s got the green crayon you want? These are commendable purposes of preschool. Monkey is in the process of learning these. He’s good at sharing, I’ll grant him that. However, he’s even better at sharing when he wants to trade something. Occasionally, he steals from someone else. Occasionally, he pushes/hits (mostly his mama). Occasionally, he’s the bully. However, I’m not convinced that he can’t be socialized using only play dates and other outside of the house activities. Hmmph.

3) The basics of letters/numbers/colors. At three, I think that the educational goal of preschool should be to help prepare children for the next level. If by kindergarten, children need to know what we all learned in first or second grade, then by three they really do need to have some of the basics we learned in kindergarten down pat. Fine. While I may disagree with that, I can accept it as a reality. However, for some kids, learning through interest might be best. Watching Monkey, I’m not going to lie – he is the type of child who learns best when he’s interested in the topic. Part of me starts to wonder – at what point do I start to kill his intellectual curiosity with the dictates of a curriculum established by others? When do I say, “Ok, you have to learn the basics of reading, writing and ‘rithmatic by society’s rules?”

As an educator, I can say that one of the worst aspects of teaching college aged students is that they tend to lack intellectual curiosity. In fact, my favorite class to teach is the research paper class. There is a certain joy to teaching young people that they can find a way to incorporate their own interests within the academic realm. Have we adults, pursuing test scores and maintainable standards, somehow smothered any concept of self-exploration within the realm of educational goals?

In discussing these ideas on one of my mommy boards, I came to a very significant conclusion. The academic objectives of academic learning at a young age instill in children a fear or an inability to use their own interests to explore ideas and fundamentals. For example, if a kid is in, say, a dinosaur phase, and the preschool class is only working on Fall, that child’s interests are smothered for the greater part of a day. In fact, given that so many preschools are four days and many are full days instead of half days, at what point is there a chance for a child to freely explore the world around him/her?

Yes, true, even those children whose parents invest a great deal in their interests do not have the option (since, y’know, they can’t drive and all) to do what they want, when they want. That’s understandable. However, at least in a vaguely parent-controlled environment, the child is able to voice an opinion regarding what he wants to do/learn. How different is counting dinosaurs instead of counting fruit? Is it really imperative for a 3 year old to know what a cornucopia is just because we associate them with autumn?

So, I researched. I was shocked to see that Connecticut has an extensive discussion of homeschooling methodologies on the CT Homeschool, Inc website. Yes, I read through all of them. Interestingly, I think that what I have determined is this: no single methodology is perfect for an entire life. For example, I’ll own to the fact that, at this point, without realizing it, I apparently live by the Charlotte Mason method. Who knew? Essentially, it’s the idea that parents role model and create an environment for learning. However, I think that as children grow older, the type of methodology that is appropriate can change. Do I think that only being a role model for my child is the best way to encourage education when he’s 7 or 8? Probably not. Do I think then that a more formalized curriculum is necessary to incorporate all different types of learning styles (aka the Multiple Intelligences model) and analytical processes (the Classical Method)? Yes.

My concern for Monkey is this: at what point does his love of learning and his curiosity have to be curbed by a classroom in order to make him competitive in, y’know, kindergarten? Do children at the age of three really need to be in a classroom setting? How does that keep them from not becoming disillusioned with the idea of school earlier? No matter how much creative curriculum a school uses, it is still a school. Sitting a child down a few minutes a day at that age to work on writing makes sense, as long as the child shows an interest. If the child is interested in other things, working on writing simply becomes another in a long line of boring activities that sucks the fun out of learning. Why are we, as a society, so intent on meeting standards that we wish for children to see no joy in the learning process? For that is what it is, a process.

Another friend recently posted about being upset about anti-intellectualism. This is where our society is learning this fear of intellectualism. Our society is teaching children that learning is a job. It is teaching those who have the most desire to learn that they should view it as a burden. Society often means well. We all want the best for our children. We all want children to grow up to be educated, productive members of society. We want them to be happy. We want them to maximize their potential. However, children cannot maximize their potential if they see no benefit to learning simply for the joy of exploration. By teaching 3 year olds that exploration can only be done with a confined curriculum and based on a predetermined set of lessons provided by adults, they learn not to explore, but to follow. Children need to be allowed to be kids. They need to get in the dirt. They need to take out the dolls. They need to explore their world independently. They do not need to be hand fed information to be memorized and learned. This makes them nothing more than intellectual veal.  They need to be trained to self-educate.

We do not have children in our society anymore. We have sets of miniature teenagers. We have disillusioned five year olds going to kindergarten seeing school as just one more “thing” they “have” to do. It is a sad commentary on our society’s view of education that it does not allow for intellectual curiosity. It is a sad commentary on our society that we cannot find the children in our world anymore because they are too busy being stressed out and being forced to learn based on how adults think they should learn. It is a sad commentary that the magic of exploration is replaced by the black and white of numbers and bubble tests and laws and regulations. Perhaps, at the core, this is the problem with education as a whole. By starting so young, we suck the joy out of it. At the core, we need to encourage kids to be kids. We need to let them have that childhood sense of freedom before we cage their minds and souls. They are not little beasts to be corralled.

Where have all our children gone? Perhaps, by now, they never really existed at all.

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The Kid on: Painting

Mommies just don’t understand. Fingerpaints aren’t just about fingers. In all honesty, if you’re a mommy (or daddy but mommies seem to care more about the following issues), this post is meant for you. You see, mommies, fingerpaints are a full contact sport for us toddlers. If you’re not ready for it, then you shouldn’t start taking those paints out for us.

First, you have to test the vintage of the paint. This involves, yes, eating the paint. If the paint isn’t of the right vintage, it doesn’t matter if it’s a brand name or not; it’s not worth painting with. Everything we paint with – whether it’s food, water, or paint – has to have the right mouthfeel. Yes, that’s a technical term for all you non-foodies out there. The mouthfeel of the paint is part of what is important. If it’s too dry or too watery, it’s just not gonna work for us kids.

Once you have the mouthfeel down and have assured yourself that it is, indeed, a 2009 or better vintage, the next step is to try out the texture of the paint. Indeed, if it’s not the goopiest paint in the world. We want nothing to do with it. Goopy paint means a mess. Toddlers like nothing better than a mess. You’ve seen us pull all of our toys out. You’ve seen us chuck books around the house. You know what I’m talking about mommies. It’s all about the mess. If we can’t get paint on ourselves, our tables, and, mostly by accident, whatever object/canvas you give us to put the paint on, then it’s just not a great painting experience. As evidenced by the look of approval here, you can see that my mommy got a Goopy Approved paint for me to use. Sometimes, I’m so proud of how much she’s learned in the last few months that I could just pee myself…oh, wait…ummm…

Next, of course, mommies have to learn that the whole purpose of this endeavor is to smear as much goopy stuff wherever we can. If you think that we’re going to limit the paint to our fingers alone, you’ve got another think coming ladies. You really should understand. For us toddlers, life is about the senses. We’re a very hedonistic little group of people. In fact, we live for the stuff that makes us happy. We’re not going to stand by and let you ladies (or men, daddies) tell us to “stay clean.” Who wants to “color in the lines”? In our case as toddlers, perhaps, it’s a better point to say, “paint on the paper.” If we limit ourselves at this age, how will we ever learn creativity? What purpose does painting serve us if all we do is make something pretty that you would do yourselves? That’s right. We want to make sure that we smear and coat ourselves and everything else with as many colors as possible.

Now, those really industrious mommies out there (or, in the alternative, “not-too-smart” mommies) might want to try to expand our experience a little bit more. This means it’s time for full body contact. That’s right. If you give us enough space and a big enough work area, we can definitely make this a contact sport. Oh, you think I’m kidding? Well, at least my not-too-smart mommy was smart enough to try to protect something of that room she calls a “kitchen”.

That’s right. There’s at least three times the amount of protective paper as there is coloring paper. That’s probably close to the right proportion. Remember, we like a MESS. The bigger the better. If you’ve ever looked around our houses? There’s no way you can keep up with the tornado sweeping through – known as Toddler. Therefore, if you’re going to attempt something as epic as this, then you want to make sure that you give yourself a fighting chance.

Once you’ve protected the area, you can bring us toddlers over. Now, once again, I gotta refer you to that “fingerpaints are not for fingers” comment. Notice, below, how the knee is used to help smear the paint. Notice, again, that I’m really getting my back into things. This is a canvas bigger than I am. I cannot allow it to be left clean. That would be against The Toddler Code of Conduct. The Toddler Code of Conduct clearly states in Rule 475, Subsection 4, “No clean area may be left clean when there is an opportunity for destruction.” If you’re giving us paints and something that looks clean, you’d better be ready for that space to end up looking like a war zone by the end. If you’re assuming that we’re going to sit idly and gently move the colors one into the other in the hopes of creating something that coordinates clearly with your decor, you really need to hire yourself a nanny. No, we’re going to take every opportunity to make sure that every body part we have feels the goop. We want not just our hands, but our arms and legs to feel the goop. We’re going to climb across the paint. We’re going to walk through the paint. We’re going to make sure that we leave finger, hand, knee, elbow, foot, leg, and arm prints in our work.

Finally, you have to understand that a good painting session doesn’t end with what you mommies would consider the final product. The picture is not the product for a toddler. For us, we are the art. Remember, for us, the whole world is about “me, me, me.” C’mon, you know every toddler in the world learns “me” and “mine” as some of his/her first words. If you really think that we care about your piddly idea of art, then you’re wrong. You’re as wrong as a day without ketchup. We want to know what we look like covered in colors. You can’t possibly imagine that we don’t see all these amazing hues and not imagine what it would be like to be those colors. Mommies, really? You’ve been living with us for how long now? Really mommies. Think. Just. Think. This, for us, is the whole purpose of paint. Paint is not about putting it on some random object you give us. Paint is not for others. It’s for us. It’s an experience. It’s one that we all love. Maybe we don’t like it the first time. Eventually, though, we do love it. We love the gooshy feel. We love the pretty colors. We love the way that we get to explore multiple senses – taste, touch, and feel – all at the same time. For us toddlers, painting isn’t about the end product. For us, it’s about the experience, the journey.

So mommies, maybe in the future, you want to try to get a little paint covered too? C’mon. Y’know you want to.

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