Monthly Archives: August 2008

Having “the talk”

            As a good, liberated, twenty-first century parent, I am dedicated to being honest with my children.  I answer their questions fully, providing just as much information as necessary without telling them more than they need to know.

            “Mommy,” he asked again.  “How does the baby get in your belly?”  The fact that we were returning to this question indicated to me that I had not answered it adequately last month.

            “When a daddy and a mommy love each other very much, he puts the baby in her belly.”

            “But, Mommy.  How does he put the baby in there?”

            The answer to this one I am sure I had read in a magazine in some waiting room once upon a time.  “The daddy gives the mommy a very special hug,” because really, there is no need to discuss alternative positions with a child who is just turning four.

            A persistent child who is just turning four, it would seem.  “But, Mommy.  How do you do the special hug?”  Believe it or not, at this point I was getting a little too flustered to focus on wiping down the counters.

            “It’s a special hug only grown-ups know how to do.  When you are older, you’ll learn how to do it, too.”  Like when you are twenty-five.

            How much you wanna bet we’ll be returning to this line of questioning again?  Maybe next time he’ll ask his father.

To my student

            It was close to my bedtime, and I was just reading a few updates on Facebook.  A little window popped up.  I had no idea that one could chat on Facebook, but apparently she did.  It was almost one in the morning on the east coast, but she was still at work, and she decided to reach out and touch someone.

            I had not heard from her much in recent years.  She has grown older.  She has a life filled with work and graduate school and all around making a difference.  She organizes conferences and advocates for women.  She is in business school now, for what specific aim I am unsure.  Like I said, I have not heard from her all that frequently in recent years.

            But, once upon a time, we meant a lot to each other.  She was in my first ninth grade English class.  I was a 23-year-old teacher, sure of myself but in way over my head with five classes and thirty kids to a class.  She was smart and hard working and nowhere near as grown-up as the other ninth-grade girls seem to be these days.  Mature, yes.  Grown-up?  Not as much.

            We spent fifty minutes together each school day, but we also spent hours together after school.  You see, she was a talented actress, possessing a stage presence that belied her young face and pleasing demeanor.  I cast her as the lead.  She rose to the challenge.

            She never asked for an extension on a paper, even if it was due two days before the play in which I was directing her.  She rarely earned a grade below A-, and I was not an easy teacher to get an A from.  She knocked my socks off, but she also taught me a lot about being a teacher.

            She gave me confidence that I could positively influence a young person.  She taught me that the things I said in a classroom mattered.  She encouraged me to care about my students.

            Mine was a one-year appointment, and even though the school offered to extend, I followed J to D.C. when he graduated.  I lost touch with most of those students over the years.  She and I remained in contact.  We talked a lot through her high school and college years, visiting now and then when I was back in Philly.  She came to my wedding.  She went to an excellent college.  Something terrible happened while she was there, but she rose above it.  She graduated and went on to own her life in a way a little girl from modest means is not supposed to.

            She would probably tell you that I made a huge difference in her life.  She is generous like that.  I will tell you that she has made a huge difference in mine.  I am no longer a teacher; I may never be one again or I may go back.  But she taught me that a teacher can do a lot for a young person, and the young person can return the favor. 

            That’s why my kids’ teachers will never get a scented candle or a coffee mug from me.  They will always get the respect they deserve, even if I disagree with them.  And I will support them by teaching my kids to treat them right.

            She told me the other night as we chatted on Facebook that she reads this blog every day.  I didn’t know because she never comments, but it doesn’t surprise me.  That’s the kind of support we have always shown each other, even if nowadays she’s too busy changing the world and I am too busy raising kids for us to be in touch very often.

            So, leave her a comment, if you would.  Or, write a note to a teacher who rocked your world once upon a time.  Or, say thank you to your child’s teacher when you drop him off at school.  Because together teachers and students are a beautiful thing.

Down the rabbit hole

            Calcium is the bane of my existence.  For over two and a half years, I consoled myself about Zachary’s picky eating by saying, “At least he gets plenty of milk.”  All that matters, I told myself, is calcium, and he was a milkaholic.

            And then he went on the wagon.  It was sudden and it was complete.  One day, he just stopped drinking milk. 

            Sure, he’ll drink chocolate milk.  And he’ll eat Trix yogurt.  And chocolate pudding.  In other words, he’ll take milk products that are cleverly disguised with hills of sugar.

            Orange juice with calcium is not an option because he needs to get his iron supplement in his orange juice and calcium and iron inhibit one another’s absorption. 

            His brother is not much better.  He’ll drink a little milk, but for a two-year-old, he’s pretty unmotivated by dairy products.  He has only about eight things he does not like to eat, but included among them are yogurt and cream cheese.  He gets enough calcium through broccoli and tofu – if he were an adult.  For a toddler, he’s not doing such a great job on feeding those bones.

            Thank heaven at least Benjamin likes macaroni and cheese.  Zachary, on the other hand, will eat the cheese at school but informs us that the cheese at home is different.

            We are down to Kraft singles in grilled cheese about once a week.  We’ve been giving Zachary calcium supplements and praying to the cheese gods.

            Who apparently heard our prayers.

            In the last five minutes of our drive back from Family Camp, Zachary began to give me instructions.  Detailed instructions.

            “Mommy,” he said.  “You need to get me cheese like the cheese they have at school.”

            Dazed from five hours in the car, I responded, “OK, Zachary.”

            “It needs to be the square kind, not the flat kind.  You can get it at the grocery store near our apartment,” referring to the temporary housing we moved out of a few months ago.

            “Yes, sweetie.”

            “And you have to cut it in squares.”

            “What color would you like this cheese to be?” I enquired.

            “White.  No, orange.  No, can you please get the white cheese and the orange cheese?”

            Now, I have been fooled before.  I have gone to the store and I have purchased something I thought he wanted, only to find out it differed in some imperceptible way from the item that had been requested.  So, I suggested that perhaps he could join me for this shopping trip for the specific cheese he required.

            Big mistake.  For the rest of the afternoon, all he could talk about was going to the store to buy cheese.  Finally, the next morning, J made it to the store with him.  They bought the cheddar.  They brought it home.

            And the children ate it.  A lot of it.  Till we were almost out of cheese.  “I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole,” I told my husband.

            Yesterday, Zach ate more cheese.  So, I returned to the store.  I bought more of the exact same cheese.  I am skeptical about whether it will actually pass muster, but I figure I have to try.

            For the children.

I wrote this last week but didn’t get to post it for one reason or another.  No one will be shocked to hear that Zachary has ceased to express any interest in cheese.

Whatever became of day camp?

            Zachary will not be returning to day camp next week.

            Just when we think we are imagining how complicated he is, just when we wonder why we ever worried, something happens to remind us that the only reason he seems to be thriving is because we have carefully arranged his environment to suit him just right.  He is like an orchid growing in Madison, WI in January.  He can do it and be stunning, but nobody had better go messing with the temperature in the greenhouse.

            We had planned on three weeks of day camp because the child does not do well without structure and other children.  He is grumpy and moody, pretty much a giant pain in the ass, actually.  But, this week, his first week of day camp, it was clear that Zachary without structure for the next two weeks is far better than Zachary at day camp.

            It is a good little camp, but it is camp.  It is not about sitting and learning in a small group of kids his age, like school is.  He likes the school environment, party because we chose a school that keeps things structured and stimulating without being overwhelming.

            Days spent surrounded by hordes of older children doing gross motor activities all day long?  Apparently not his thing.

            It was a replay of three years ago in daycare.  “He’s doing great,” they tell me, and from their perspective, I can see that.  He is a trouper, and he tries to make the best of a situation he is supposed to be enjoying.  But this is not a child who has accidents, and he was.  He was leaving camp red-eyed and bleary.  Even picking him up early yesterday, he was in tears.

            “People were being unkind,” he told me.  “I like the activities but not the friends.”  That was all it took.  I informed him that Friday was actually the last day of camp.  I am cool with lying to my kid when I have to.

            So, he is back at camp for a final day today so that he does not feel like a quitter.  His one friend from school is there for her last day, too.  But, I have told him that I just signed him up for the one week.

            Again, again, we are reminded that he is the kind of child who needs exactly the right environment.  Of course, all kids do better in a setting well-suited to their personalities, but this child needs to be in the kind of group that allows him to grow at his own pace.  I guess the cost of two weeks of day camp is cheap compared to other ways we could be reminded of this.

            So, Zachary will not be returning to day camp next week. And days like this take it all out of me, because sometimes I prefer the fantasy that life will be easy for him.

Defense of marriage

Chani wrote a fabulous post about this topic yesterday, and my response was way too long for a comment.

            I have been married for seven years, and I have never really been tempted to dabble outside of my marriage.  Now, that may be because I have been perpetually exhausted by school and work and kids for those seven years, in which case we should look for me to start shopping around for an affair sometime around 2023, when I have finally had a good night’s sleep.

            However, I suspect there is more to it than that.  Monogamy was not a choice for me.  We talk about marriage as though it is elective, but the fact is that, like gender, it is a social construction we have reinforced time and again from the moment we are old enough to recognize that Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are raising their ducklings (Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack, and Quack) together.  Sure, we notice that plenty of adults get divorced, but that is supposedly a failure of the institution we all are very much invested in seeing succeed. 

            The fact is, I did not choose to believe in marriage any more than I chose to believe in shaving my legs, wearing clothing in hot weather, or admiring thin people.  It is just one of many traditions that I have absorbed as “right” because that’s what my society is doing.

            I have often pondered my willingness to fall in line with so many accepted norms of society.  Am I weak-minded and unable to think for myself?  If I had been around 200 years ago, I wonder, would I have just gone along with another of society’s “peculiar institutions”?  Or would I have had the imagination to realize things could be different?  

            I hope the answer is that I am able to think outside of the box when injustice is involved.  My idea of marriage is a smidge different from the one that I saw all around me as I grew up.  In my mind, marriage is exclusively between two adults who love each other and have chosen to be legally bound to each other.  Almost sounds like the prototype, except I can honestly say I ascribe no gender to those two adults.  Yep, I kicked off one aspect of the societal definition, but when I say that of course I support gay marriage, I am backing the institution all the more.

            If I were really able to think outside societal definitions, I would not even see marriage as a preferred state of being.  I would assume relationships are just as they have been built by the people involved, and I would have no judgment for polygamists, cheaters, and men who cannot commit.  Instead, I cannot imagine why those who are trying to bolster family values do not get behind gay marriage.  More people for the cause!  10% more of the population underscoring the value of marriage!  Woohoo!!!

            Yes, despite all my jabber about gender norms and not wearing makeup, I am a good, old-fashioned conformist.  However, I suspect that my lack of interest in extramarital nookie is deeper than that.  After all, nowadays, sometime it seems like cheating is a part of half the marriages out there.

            No, I like monogamy because it has been good to me.  My partner and I have grown towards one another.  We are tense, we are tired, we are moving way too often, but we are so much a part of one another that intimacy with anyone else seems absurd.  It just could not be like the intimacy we have, that is born of sharing a life so fully together.

            So, Chani asks if monogamy is natural.  I say, who the hell knows?  Probably not.  It is probably a convention that, like all conventions, serves some of us better than others. 

            As I sit here writing this, two little boys in bed, a little girl growing inside me, a husband across the country (where are you this week, babe?), and a picture of the four of us on the shelf in front of me, I can honestly say it has been pretty good to me. 

            It may be, however, time to start rethinking that whole absurdity of wearing clothes in hot weather.

I am guest posting over at Chicken and Cheese today.  Please click on over and see what I have to say, because I am beyond honored that she let me put my crap up on her site.

Mouths of babes

            Yesterday, Zachary asked me why I do not laugh very much. 

            I did not know what to answer.  I thought I was the type of person who laughed and smiled a lot.  Now, my child tells me I am not.  I know sometimes I suppress laughter so that his whirlwind of a brother does not see me laughing at his antics.  But I did not realize I had become a person who does not laugh.

            Is it just his perception?  I don’t know.  I know I have greater joy in my life now than I have ever had before.  I am a calmer, more balanced person.  I am less angry than I have ever been and it feels good.

            But, do the people around me know it?  Has my joy come at the expense of expressing mirth?  Does my husband know that he still makes me smile, despite the minutia of everyday life?  Is he seeing those smiles?

            I am far more patient with my kids than I was a year ago.  But do they know that I, too, have a sense of humor?  I don’t tell dirty jokes anymore; I have cut out humor at the expense of others; I try to be less sarcastic.  Has motherhood made me less funny?

            Have I lost something that was so very much a part of me?  Have I traded in my laughter?

           Or maybe, just maybe, the child was wondering why I don’t dissolve into hysterical laughter every time he or his brother puts a bowl on his head and pretends its a hat.  It’s entirely possible this was just the first of many times my kids will wonder why their mother does not have as refined a sense of humor as they do.  Bring on the fart jokes.