Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Playground Politics

I don't really feel like I can label myself as a parent. 
I'm not an Attachment parent. I'm certainly not a Playful parent, and absolutely not a Helicopter parent. I do lean towards being a Free Range parent at times. I'm not a Mama Bear or Tiger Mom. I guess I can describe myself as a This-World-Is-Big-Scary-And-Demanding-And-You-Need-To-Start-Practicing-Now parent. I encourage taking on responsibility as a member of the household. ("No, it's your lunchbox. My hands are already full. YOU can carry it into the house.") I encourage trying to solve problems independently first before requiring parental mediation. ("Did you ask her to share the markers with you? No? Then go ask.") I kiss boo-boos, but don't allow them to become the end of the world. ("Oh, that's quite a scrape, I bet it hurts! Did that happen because you were running downhill in flip-flops again? Yeah, maybe you won't do that next time.") So I'm not all over my kids at the playground. They generally behave well enough for me to keep my distance, and I make sure they're in my sightline, even if that is too far off for me to actually hear what they're saying.

Urban playgrounds are a wonderful place to practice maneuvering in our big scary world. There are kids of different ages, races, languages, socio-economic backgrounds, and parenting philosophies. Boston has some truly world-class playgrounds, and in the summer, some of them have great fountains and water features. We met up with friends at one of our local sprinkler playgrounds on Monday. And experienced a unique parenting "opportunity." 

HeyMama, MeToo, and their best friend Rockstar were playing in the water with 3 buckets we brought along. We moms and Rockstar's baby sister were sitting in the shade, a good 30+yards from where the girls were at that moment. MeToo came running up to me. Something was up. She told me that someone else took one of the buckets, and wouldn't give it back. I looked over, and sure enough, a little boy had one of the buckets. "Did you ask him to give it back?" (The standard question.) "No." (The standard answer.) "Go tell him nicely that you brought the bucket, and you'd like to have it back." MeToo ran off. Now, I'm willing to step in as needed, but I want the girls to learn to use their words for negotiating these situations. When they're in good moods, they can be quite successful with one another, and especially with other friends. They use the word "please". They really do ask nicely. They suggest sharing, turn-taking, or trading, depending on the appropriateness in the situation. It's a delight to watch. When it works. 

Well, I watched MeToo run back to the boy. I watched her try to ask for the bucket back. I watched the boy drink water from the bucket. Then spit it in her face. She moved back. He spit again. She ran. He chased her, spitting water at her as she tried to escape. The words were not going to work today, no matter what she said. Now, I want my girls to be independent. But I also want them to EXPECT words to work. And have the expectation of justice. So I knew that it was time to actually get involved. I hauled my pregnant butt off the ground and met up with MeToo, who was pretty upset. I coached her on how to try again. I held her hand and walked up to the little boy. She tried talking to him. He ignored her. So I tapped him on the shoulder. He ignored me. He had a friend with him, who did notice me and talk to me. "She said 'please', " he told me over and over, referring to MeToo. Because even he knew that asking nicely and saying "please" actually deserved a response. I tapped the perpetrator on the shoulder again. I kindly asked him to give the bucket back. And refrain from spitting. He sulked. He gave it back. And ran off. 

A mom standing nearby commented that she and a few other moms had been watching the whole situation go down. They were wondering if they should intervene. The girls had put the bucket down, so he reasonably picked it up to play with. But his aggression made it too difficult to get back. The moms who noticed the situation were not the moms responsible for the boy. I noticed the situation from over 30 yards away. I was physically confronting the boy, even touching him by tapping him on the shoulder. But no adult responsible for him appeared. If I found another parent addressing my child, I'd be sprinting my giant belly across that playground. Especially if any physical touching occurred. I'd be more concerned about whatever my child had done wrong than what that parent was saying, but I'd be all over that. I was surprised that no one showed up.

I recently read an article written by the mother of a frequent perpetrator:
She described an afternoon at the playground with her son, who has behavior issues, including violent outbursts. She described the "bullying" parents who came to report to her about the aggression inflicted upon their kids by her 6 year old son.

My first "real" job out of college was teaching at a school for children with autism and severe behavior disorders. I have seen truly violent and explosive kids. I have helped restrain them until we could ensure the safety of the other kids in the class. I have witnessed the heartache, frustration, and exhaustion of their parents. I have seen the mountains that these parents have tried to move to help their children. So I definitely had some sympathy for the mother writing the article. But only some.

The problem is, there are too many children at playgrounds who aggress NOT because they have a psychological disorder, but because they have parents who aren't supervising them adequately. I wasn't going to make a big deal out of MeToo getting water spit at her by the little boy. ("Oh you poor poor thing! What did that nasty little boy do to you?" - heck NO!) But I also wasn't going to allow her to be a quiet victim, either. It's hard to know why other kids hit or spit just by watching them from a distance. Do they have a diagnosis? Or are they just punks?

At my teaching job, when we took the kids out into the environment, we took the utmost care to ensure that the outbursts of the kids could not affect other children in the community. Our students needed the chance to learn to behave appropriately, but not at the expense of other kids' safety. 

I agree with the author mom who described the approach of the other parents as harassing and unhelpful. If I saw a child hit my girls on the playground, I'd be right there in that moment. I'd first try to coach them through a confrontation. "You hit me and that hurt me. Please don't hit me again." I'd encourage the other child to talk through it. Or maybe even apologize. And if the other child didn't, I'd ask him/her to point out their parent. Or start yelling "Whose kid is this?!" until they showed up. Then I'd go ask them to help orchestrate the confrontation between the children. Tattling 30 minutes after the event is pointless. The kids have moved on. Parents need to, as well. But aggressive children, including the one in the article, need the chance to hear about the harm that they're causing. They also need the chance to make amends, like we have to do in the grown-up world. They need the chance to receive forgiveness. They can help teach our other children about what it is to lose one's temper and feel really sorry about it. We all do it at some point. We need to practice giving and receiving forgiveness for it. 

I'm sorry that the boy in the article with the behavior problem didn't get that chance. And I'm sorry that the boy at our playground didn't really get that chance, either. And I'm sorry that the author of the article sees herself as a victim. Because she's absolutely not.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Ticked Off

We returned yesterday from a great few days spent camping. We did a midweek trip to Nickerson State Park, on the Cape. Other than a few rainy evenings, the weather was pleasant - warm and sunny, but not too warm. The girls loved playing at the amazing playground, swimming at the pond, and riding their bikes. A few campsites away was a family with two little girls about their age, and they had a blast playing together. Our sites were on a dead end, and they could run races, play ball, and ride bikes uninterrupted for hours. 

But there was one little issue - the bugs. Ok, so bugs are to be expected when camping, I know. But poor MeToo was a mosquito magnet. Her little body is covered with welts, despite wearing long pants and bug spray. And they really swell up and look ugly. Poor kid.

But at least the ticks didn't come after her. They loved the dogs. Despite applying tick medication, the ticks still found their way onto the dogs. We found most of them just crawling around in their fur, with no evidence of actually latching on. This is a good thing. Because most of them were deer ticks. And we're in Lyme Disease territory. 

If you're not afraid of Lyme Disease, it's likely because you don't live in New England and just don't know how ugly it can be. If caught immediately, a course of doxycycline usually does the trick and you're good as new. If not, it can become a chronic condition of lingering and mystifying symptoms. Our pastor's wife inexplicably lost her vision for a little while. Thankfully it came back, but the doctors had no other explanation for it, other than that Lyme Disease can do funny things. 

We keep finding ticks in random places. In the reuseable grocery bags we brought along. On our bathroom floor. Needless to say, I'm washing EVERYTHING that came on the trip, regardless of whether it actually got dirty. I'm waging war against the ticks. They just scare me. And I'm not usually squeamish about bugs.

They're pretty tiny, which makes them even scarier. (Shudder) Anyway, the trip was great, and definitely makes up for the fact that I have a ton of laundry and cleaning and inspecting and dog-washing to do as a result. But I'm still a bit ticked off.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Crimes Against Chard

A crime was committed at our house this week. 

Theft and vandalism were committed in our very own garden.

It certainly wasn't me that ate the chard. The stems are my favorite part. I wouldn't leave them behind like this.

There was some evidence left behind, though.

Bambi and his gang are apparently active in our neighborhood. 

Retaliation is illegal in MA. Well, the kind of retaliation that leaves you with venison sausage, at least. 
The dogs came home from a walk to find him at work again and showed him who really owns the garden. What a cheeky bloke, browsing mid-day... There was evidence he was starting to target the tomatoes, as well. 

This means war, Bambi. 


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Achievement, Ambition, Empowerment, and Contentment

Whew, that title is full of some big ideas.

I've had a few conversations lately that have stirred my mental pot, especially around those big ideas.

At work the other day, I overheard a lunch conversation that started with this: "if you could snap your fingers and have a new career that didn't require you to start all over with school, what would you do?" Most of the women are older than me. And most couldn't imagine having a different career. Me? If I could snap my fingers to a different career? I'd run an international aid organization of some sort. I know, kinda random. I'd love to have the organization and management skills to change lives through charitable giving. Don't get me wrong. I love my career. It allows me the other things I value in life: a marriage and family. But I occasionally wonder about a life full of international travel and saving people from starvation and disease.

I was lucky to have a visit recently from a friend who moved away a while back. I'll call her Janey, to protect her identity.

We stayed up late drinking wine, and she told me about the possibility of a career turn that would involve 3 intensive years in a fast-track nurse practitioner program. It would be an amazing career move. And a physical move. It would also create insane demands on her and her family. Did I mention she has 2 young children? It sounded terrifyingly overwhelming to me.

She discussed how tedious her current job was, and the general boredom she felt in her career. The concept of her current job sounds amazing. But yes, the details of her job were a bit mundane and repetitive. Yet it's a good job, and allows her to work from home. This is handy when you have 2 young kids.

We were both the recipients of world-class educations and the encouragement to be whatever we wanted to be. We were taught that we shouldn't settle for boring jobs. We should never accept the status quo. We should feel empowered enough to reach for whatever we wanted, no matter how difficult.

But now we have kids. And mortgages. And a tenuous sanity to preserve.

So I had to ask myself:  What's the difference between settling down and just settling for something less?

And then:  What model of achievement should I be presenting for my daughters? And what should I be teaching them about ambition, and empowerment?

I'm starting to think that our focus on women's empowerment is becoming a double-edged sword.

(WARNING: If you get squeamish about medical details, are looking to avoid description of birthing, or just generally want to avoid incidents of TMI, skip down to the next part with bold font!)

I was reading a post on my local mommy group website where a mom was inquiring about hypnobirthing as a way to avoid tearing during birth. I took the hypnobirthing class. I used the philosophy to have 2 unmedicated births. I tend to think of it as a good strategy to get through birth without unnecessary medical interventions. It never occurred to me that one could PREVENT themselves from tearing during childbirth. Doesn't that kind of depend on the size of your baby and your general skin elasticity? But there are those out there that encourage women to empower themselves to have exactly the childbirth experience they want. So if you don't want to tear, you can work hard enough to find a way not to tear. Wow. That's a lot of pressure... What if you DO find a childbirth technique that promises to help you avoid tearing. But you tear a little anyway. Does that mean you're a failure? I'm content to see tearing as a possible (and likely, given my prior experiences) side-effect of the birthing process. You get a few stitches, you use witch hazel pads and a peri-care bottle for a week, and you move on. Does this mean I'm too content with the status quo? Should I feel more empowered to demand the birth I want when Little Miss makes her grand entrance in a few months? But I don't want to feel like a failure when the midwife pulls out the needle and thread...

(OK, you squeamish readers can start reading again here.)

Do the current messages in our society really help us? "You can have it all! Get your career established first. Travel the world. Then when you're financially secure in your early 40's, have kids then." And "Don't settle. You CAN have a career! And a marriage! And kids! And fun leisure time!" And so women wait so they can have it all! And then they have to struggle with infertility, because a 30 year old body bears children more easily than a 40 year old body. The realities of biology don't change because we've suddenly become more empowered. Skin stretches, and then sometimes tears. We start our lives with lots of eggs. Most of the good ones are gone by our 40's. The limitations of a 24 hour day aren't swayed by successful women encouraging us all to do more, be more, achieve more. There are only 24 hours. We really can't clone ourselves to simultaneously attend a work meeting and a preschool dance performance. 
Or maybe I'm just not empowering myself adequately...

I brought up the topic to a wonderful group of moms from my church. They're smart, they're successful, they're kind, and they're wise. They're my grounding force in the face of the questionable advice provided by society and my local online mommy group. Once a month, we share food, wine, support, conversation, and prayer. Because we know our limitations. We need each other. And we know that there are just aspects of life we need to turn over to a higher power.  But we discussed my questions. 

Not one of them thought we could "have it all". According to them, we have natural seasons in life that demand and allow our energy to be directed to different areas. We have marriage partners with whom we give-and-take to make our family work well together. Our careers are just part of the picture. We have priorities that truly are more important. Like our marriages. And our children. When you sit with a group of women that include some who have buried children, it somehow becomes perfectly reasonable to shape your life and aspirations around those of your own children. It all falls into perspective. 

Of course, perhaps our expectations would be different if we could all afford to hire out parts of our lives - childcare, shopping, cooking, cleaning... Have you ever noticed that women to talk about "having it all" seem to have their own staff? Or at least have mothers living nearby who are willing to do those things for free?

We discussed the concept of "vocation". Martin Luther (the Reformation guy, not the civil rights guy) discussed vocation as a gift from God. Both bankers and blacksmiths have the ability to serve God in their jobs. They have the task of being the best banker/blacksmith they can be, in order to help others and fully utilize the gifts that God has given them. There is no such thing as a lowly or exalted job. There is just OUR job, and we need to do it well to give glory to God. You can be a wonderful 7-11 cashier. You can be a wonderful nurse. You can be a wonderful CEO. You can be a wonderful street sweeper. They all give glory to God! 

You can be a wonderful wife and mother. These are also vocations. Think it's not important? Imagine losing your spouse or child for a moment. Yeah, they're pretty important. Imagine not being around to teach your children what love is about and to prepare them to go out into the world. Imagine your children not having a mom. Yeah, the job is pretty important. 

So I'm thankful for the perspective my friends bring. I'm thankful for not needing to live up to the expectations of society. I already have some pretty big jobs on my plate. I'll stick with those and let others battle the angst of their "empowerment." I think I'll just pray for the power to do my own jobs well.

Hope you have a great week!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Spinach and Self-Righteousness

Spinach and self-righteousness. They don't really have much in common. 

Except that my day was full of them.

The day started with the self-righteousness. The Sundays in June are when our church does its yearly Vacation Bible School (VBS). We don't have enough stay at home moms and retired ladies to host a week of daily activities like we did in my church growing up. So we do it on Sunday mornings, in lieu of Sunday School. I'm helping in the craft room this year, following the instruction of a master crafter and helping young children produce her genius craft ideas. (This year, we're making a suit of armor. We did the belt last week and the breastplate today. It's pretty amazing to see what even the 3 year olds can do...)

We were in the middle of our largest class, when one of the little boys suddenly threw up all over the place. He hosed the floor, the table, and his brother. The room was full of mom helpers, so we were all over the situation. Except that we couldn't locate his parents. They dropped off the boys and left. (Sunday brunch perhaps?) And none of us actually knew his parents or how to call them. And the boys didn't know their phone numbers. 

I know these parents to regularly drop off their kids and leave. They don't attend adult Bible study. They don't attend the church service. They take advantage of some free Bible-themed childcare and bolt. And now, they were caught in the act. With a miserably ill son who just wanted his parents to come and take him home. 
"Maybe this will teach them." 
I was feeling pretty smug about all of this. Meanwhile, their poor son was lying on the cool brick of the church courtyard, because it felt nicer than the benches. When the parents finally returned, we handed over one sick son, one healthy son, and a bag with a vomit-covered shirt. And shot daggers with our eyes. Ok, I did. I can't really accuse anyone else of doing so. But I shot enough daggers for all of us.

I was feeling pretty smug and outraged about the situation until late afternoon, when my attention was taken by spinach.

BestestHusband planted quite a bit of spinach for me, and it was ready to come in from the garden. Some of the plants were on the verge of bolting, and we have a warm sunny week coming up. So I brought in this lovely arrangement of spinach.

I was washing the dirt and bugs out in the sink when I realized how grimy I was, too. The smug self-righteousness ("Hmmph. I would never leave my sick kids at Sunday School and sneak off.") that I was actively entertaining throughout the day was like the bugs hiding in the spinach leaves. The bugs were small and few in-between, but until I expelled them from the bunch, the spinach was not fit for eating. And the self-righteous thoughts that filled my mind were polluting me, as well. 

One of my current favorite Facebook pages is Sanctimommy. It's a satire page devoted to laughing at the self-righteous parents out there who look down upon other parents who don't share their parenting philosophies. I derive a great deal of amusement from reading some of the ridiculous and judgemental statements made by other parents, most of them indirectly directed at people like me. (You know, a parent who doesn't slavishly follow the trendy new parenting habits like constant co-sleeping, nursing past toddlerhood, attachment parenting, serving only organic food on a paleo diet, etc.) I figure they deserve my laughing, because judgemental people suck, and if you think you can judge me, then I can laugh at you. 

Except I was the sanctimonious one today. I was the one doing the judging. I suck.

The kids today at VBS were learning about the concepts of Law and Gospel, as they pertain to our relationship with God and the world. "Law" is our mirror, our curb, our guide. It shows us a better God-designed way to live. It keeps us on a path designated by God. It shows us where we go wrong. And it tells us that we will never be perfect. "Gospel" is about grace. It is the reassurance that God loves us anyway, and that Christ washes away our bugs and dirt to make us clean. We will always be full of bugs and dirt, judgement and smugness. But Christ's death and resurrection provides us with the cleansing we need.

And so I'm thankful for smugness and bugs. It's a reminder that I'm not clean, and never will be on my own. And I'm thankful for the Gospel, and the knowledge that faith will be what I need. Because I'm sure tomorrow will bring its own version of bugs and smugs. And my grimy nature will get the best of me again.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Domesticated Daddy

I knew BestestHusband was a catch when I first met him. He's spent the last nearly 10 years proving me right.

I worked a short day today, trying to maximize my childcare-free income opportunities while I still have the energy and time to do so. I got a few interesting iMessages today from home, including "Can you pick up some brown sugar?" and "Never mind, I found some."

I was curious as to why we suddenly needed more brown sugar.

I came home to find my answer. 

BestestHusband made rhubarb cake with the fresh rhubarb from our garden. 


Oh yeah, he's a catch.

Rhubarb cake, a la mode.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Nap Time Rebel

I have a certain 3 yr old who is tired. She went to bed late. She did not sleep in. She was whiny and obnoxious all morning. The child is undeniably tired.

And she's fighting her nap with all of her might.

So I'm sitting here in her room, next to her bed. So she can not get up. She can not talk to her sister, who's actually trying to sleep. She can not play with toys. She can not hang upside down off the side of her bed. She can only lie in her bed with her head on the pillow and let her body rest. That's the point of nap time anyway, right?

So I'll keep my vigil for a little while. But I need a nap too...