And Then There Were Water Beads…

“Hey, want to be Doctor and Nurse again for the kids’ science fair night?” I asked a friend a couple weeks ago. A few days later she sent me directions (so thankful) for creating a demonstration of blood using water beads as the red blood cells, ping pong balls as the white blood cells and pieces of red foam to be the platelets. Looked easy enough. Amazon delivered the supplies a few days later and I left them in the box until they were needed.

Chomping on some salad a couple hours before heading to the science fair, I pulled up the instructions on my phone to start getting ready. “Hmm…water beads….” I opened the box and read their instructions. “Soak in water for 6 to 24 hours.”  &!@$!!! But then I remembered many science lessons by my mother when I was young about the power of heat and soaked those tiny pellets in hot hot water!!  It was amazing to watch them grow!

Hours later, my friend and I were swamped by kids coming to play with our bucket of “blood.” Kids would stand there for 5-10 minutes just letting the little beads roll through

Bucket of “blood”

their hands. Some were semi-interested in learning about blood, but really, they just wanted to squish beads between their fingers. We even encouraged all the parents to put their hands in and the expressions on their faces were priceless. We witnessed awe, delight, relaxation, and sheer surprise that the beads weren’t “slimy.” I stood there as a perfect spokesperson (for Amazon!), “Don’t you think you need some of these in your house?” “Wouldn’t it be so relaxing?” “Excuse, Mr. Principal of this school. Don’t you think you should have a bucket of these in the office next week for the kids as they work on their PSSAs? A chance to relax and de-stress while they are filling in endless bubble exams?”

The entire next day, Super Tall Guy sat on the couch running his fingers through a bucket of water beads as he watched TV. I’d turn and see him letting them slip around his hands, squishing and squeezing them. I thought about how wonderful it was to see my boy who often has so much trouble regulating his intense emotions sitting so calmly and relaxing with this sensory stimulation. It seemed like a perfect item.

Except that all “perfect” things, in a household of boys, have a downside!  You can order a pack of 15,000 tiny beads and still have fights over even division of items among three boys! You can give all the warnings you want about keeping them in the buckets (and even outfit all the containers with snapping lids) and still you will find them all over the floor. (The vacuum worked, though!)

 

I don’t know whether I love these things or hate them. It’s only been 48 hours, so the jury is still out on whether these are a “helpful” experience for the boys. I can keep you updated.

But I can tell you that I haven’t ordered the “water bead gun” yet on Amazon and I sure haven’t informed the boys of its existence!!

 

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Believe Me: I am Smart

It was just another rough weekday morning. The same nasty tones and words. The same tomfoolery. The same old problem of too much grumpiness, not enough independent motivation, and plenty of hurt feelings before the day gets started.

I am working so hard on the concept of “respect,” but it sure is a tough one for me and these boys. The morning quickly disintegrated into my eldest yelling, “Stupid!!” at me, and I had had enough! “Don’t you ever call me or anyone else stupid!” I exclaimed (for the millionth time).

“Actually, my dear,” I continued after one of those long dramatic pauses, “I am one of the smartest women you will probably ever meet. My IQ is in the gifted range. I not only have a college degree, but I have a PhD and an MD. On top of that, I still take evening online classes and do a lot of reading. I am a doctor and the head of an organization [small, small one…but we’re not going into details]. I am a very smart woman.”

I don’t think I’ve ever said those words out loud. I know it though. I’ve seen my resume. I’ve been told I’m smart. I’ve been told smart women are intimidating (though that doesn’t seem to apply to one’s children!). But I’ve never actually built a case for my boys about how smart I am. It doesn’t seem right to brag.

And I’m not sharing here to impress anyone, it’s just that it struck me that my boys are under constant pressure to compare themselves to the opposite gender. They learned, “Boys rule and girls drool” around the age of three at the day care center. They happily proclaim “girls are so bossy and annoying” and “girls are stupid and weak” as they progress through elementary school. They hear people say “Don’t let a girl beat you” in sporting events, as I overheard just this week. They have so much peer influence trying to make them feel superior – on top of the natural self-absorption of this age range!

I am working to counter that. I intentionally try to stop myself from making gender-based generalizations. I try to model truth and goodness, strength and kindness, integrity and faith, and the importance of hard work.

The other night, Super Tall Guy and I chatted before he fell asleep. He mentioned that a neighbor boy said he couldn’t do something because his mom just lay on the couch most evenings. Super Tall Guy pointed out, “You never just lie around on the couch, Mom.” I agreed. “Yes. It’s important to me to take care of you boys and the house. I do some work in the evenings many times so that I can be available during the day when needed for you guys,” I replied. “But I do take the weekends off, don’t I?” I explained (thank you, Netflix!). I’ve learned so much from my incredibly industrious amazing mother and other strong women role models in my life. My goal is to show my boys the value of hard work and respect for the work that others do. My goal is to show them that women can and do make tremendous contributions to society.

I try to find examples of equality through picking movies wisely that show women “saving the day” and not just men all the time (loved Frozen for that!). I have read “Paper Bag Princess” numerous times to the boys. I look for books with strong female characters. I try to be intentional.

There are so many things that these boys of mine are going to learn by looking at my example. There are so many more things that they will learn from peers and social media and entertainment and the culture around them. And there are some things that I just need to say out loud so they understand. Mommy is smart!

Just maybe….some day… maybe they will listen!

 

 

 

 

Parenting: The Science/Art of Prediction

When the boys were young, the day care center parking lot drove me crazy. Young kids are short enough that drivers cannot see them when backing up and every time I picked up or dropped off, I worried that a kid would be hit by a car in reverse. The new video technology is helping but it doesn’t guarantee anything. Kids in parking lots still stress me. This past weekend, the younger two helped me go grocery shopping. They eagerly unloaded groceries from the coveted “car-driving” cart into the back of our van. Without thinking, I stepped to the side of the van to put the “don’t-want-it-smushed” bread into the front seat. Then I heard a man yelling. The car beside me had started backing up at the same time that The Little Guy had decided to move our cart backwards to take it to the corral. The man’s yells stopped the driver moments after she had already bumped into the cart and into my son. He was fine. He was protected by the cart and by his angels. But the woman was in tears and I was in disbelief. I had failed to be there. Failed to predict my son’s movements. Failed to predict the driver’s movements. Failed to protect from harm. Lifting up thanks as we drove away, I reviewed the situation with the boys trying to reinforce safety.

Parenting, it really boils down to one’s ability to predict. Science or art….hard to tell.

And this starts early, shortly after the mesmerizing awe of the newborn look and smell. Soon, the parent is desperately trying to predict the infant’s sleep cycle. If the baby falls asleep at 9:00 pm, do you predict he or she will wake up at 11:00 and therefore there’s no reason for you to get to sleep yet, or might the little cherub sleep until 1:00 am and you can delight in at least 2-3 hours of peaceful rest. After a night or two, or a year or two, you realize there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to a kids’ sleep cycle and you might as well give up trying to predict anything!

The toddler years are the nightmarish, desperate attempts at predicting the Tasmanian devil’s every movements. Is she too close to the steps and about to tumble down? Is he going to flush that Match Box car down the toilet or is he just happily driving it along the bathtub rim? Is she likely to choke on that piece of food? Is he going to bump his head on the glass table or duck just in time? Apparently at this age, unpredictability is the only predictable aspect of parenting.

You feel like you have a sigh of relief as they enter into the school-age years. Now they can dress themselves, feed themselves, sort-of toilet themselves, and sometimes even entertain themselves for practically an hour (if some electronic device is involved!). You start to feel smug and almost have empathy when you see the bedraggled parents of toddlers chasing kids down the grocery aisle. But then you rapidly realize that there’s a whole new level of prediction which is further complicated by trying to predict interactions with and influences of other children as well. “I’m sorry your friend just blocked you from Minecraft chat. It wouldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that you just blew up his carefully constructed building, would it?”

It’s a brain-spinning nightmare, really. The more experience you have with kids, the more adept you get at this game of parenting prediction, but really there is no level of perfection that any parent could ever attain. My life is full of little moments of failing to predict kid behavior (scribbles on walls, broken TV sets, holes in the bedroom doors, plumbing emergencies for toy extraction) interspersed with near constant mental energy trying to predict larger and more consequential situations.

For example, currently I’m trying to predict the likelihood that a guy who goes by the name James will continue to use my address as a meet-up point for people trying to sell electronics on an app. When they arrive, he approaches and then runs off with their item. Within minutes, he has it up on the app for sale. The local police seem unconcerned and apathetic. My neighbors seem to consider it “interesting.” Property management seems to be pondering what to do. I seem to be the one stressed that victims will eventually get fed up with “James” and come storm my townhome. The question is, will I and the boys be home then?

So, here’s my conclusion. There’s no way we as parents or as humans could possibly predict everything that would befall our kids or us. We get better with each experience, we rely on family and friends to lend advice, we pray and we hope, and that’s the best we can do.

For now, I’ll predict that my boys are going to be really excited about an upcoming surprise and that the first winter snow that is falling tonight. That’s about as much as I can predict. And that’s good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Doing Your Job: A Scooter Story

Not only does Mr. Ornery love anything with wheels, he loves anything that doesn’t involve someone telling him what to do. This, of course, means that he does not appreciate the four-walled brick building called “elementary school” in which he is sentenced to six hours each day.

Last week when I picked him and the Little Guy up for their check-ups, Mr. Ornery skipped and jumped in the beautiful sunshine and said, “Yay! Thank you, Mom, for rescuing us from juvie!”

So, to encourage a better attitude during the school day, his teachers place great hope in a “behavioral chart” on which he receives a “star” for “following directions,” “staying on task,” and so forth. Mr. Ornery thinks this is a stupid piece of paper. Because I am also hoping to encourage him to shift more interest into academics, I recently decided to connect his behavioral chart with a monetary reward.

That he understands. As his allowance and earnings crept close to $40 one night, he came running upstairs to me hiding in my bedroom and exclaimed, “Mom, I can order a scooter now. Quick, get on Amazon. Please, please, please let me push the buttons and order the trick scooter.”

And so we did. Oh, how exciting it was.

This is all we talked about for the next forty-eight hours. “My scooter is coming in two days.” “When will it arrive?” “When is it going to be Saturday?” “Is it Saturday yet?”

And then the day arrived. We looked up “track package” on Amazon. It was to arrive by eight o’clock. We went to soccer and returned home right afterwards to see if the package had arrived yet. No. We out to play for a few hours at a friends’ house and returned home. No package yet. We had a late night soccer tournament and drove home at 9:30. “It’s got to be there,” Mr. Ornery said excitedly as we drove. “It definitely should. It definitely should,” I agreed, “but I would never say 100% on anything.”

Crushed. The boy was crushed.

No package on the door step. Checking Amazon, I saw that the USPS delivery person had marked, “Unable to deliver due to no access to the door.” What?!!? There is an 8-foot slab of cement patio in front of my door; that is it!

Nothing blocking the doorway (except an old scooter!)

I was on the phone with customer service pretty quickly (while walking the dog so that the boys couldn’t hear my intonation) to inform them of such foolishness. I was on for a long time regarding my displeasure at the clear lie of the delivery person, the fact that USPS would not be able to deliver again until Monday, and the sadness of my 8-year-old who had been waiting so eagerly.

The agent asked to speak to my sad child to ask him if they could send him a toy. “What would you like?” she asked. “A mini rocker,” he requested. I laughed. He wants a $300 “mini rocker” or “Fatboy” BMX bike. He wasn’t going to get that for free from Amazon, but they gave him $20 credit.

As Mr. Ornery lay quietly in bed that night venting his displeasure and sadness, we talked about how disappointments come in life. We talked about patience in waiting for the next opportunity. And we talked about the importance of doing one’s “job” to the best of your ability. The delivery man clearly did not do his job and gave a fake reason. We spoke of how people rely on each other to do their jobs. When you don’t, there likely is someone who will be sad or disappointed. We talked about school being the current “job” that Mr. Ornery has and it’s important for him to do his best at his job. We talked about how I try to do my best in my job. And as he drifted off to sleep, I thought about how challenging the job of parenting is, when the days are long and the years are short and you never really know how well you’re doing at this job. But I sure do know that my boys depend on me to try to do my best at this job. Their life, their love, their future depends on this job.

And then we waited another 48 hours until after school on Monday for the glorious scooter to arrive. I missed the joy while at work, but I did find out that the excitement lasted approximately 9.2 minutes until the glorious scooter was unusable — tiny ball bearings popping out of the handle connector.

Off went the glorious scooter back to Amazon….

Fortunately Target had one for sale!

 

 

Poverty as Seen By the 6 Year Old

The Little Guy was rapping in the back seat again. He does it often enough to make Super Tall Guy snap “shut up” more often than I like. I love hearing him play with words and sounds. I love listening to the boys experiment. And so I bite my tongue when I’ve had a long day and am tired of noise. And I shush the eldest to give space to the learning.

Last week, these were the words:

I got no money

I got no money

I got no job

I got no home

 

Help me

Help me

Please help me

Cuz I got no money

 

All I got is this piece of cardboard

Cardboard

All I got is cardboard

And I’ll recycle it

But can you give me some money

I got no money

 

Please help me

Won’t you help me.

 

“What does he know about poverty?” asked the ophthalmologist as I mentioned this song that was created on the drive to his 6-month eye check-up.

What does he know? We drove past a man holding a sign as we traversed a poorer section of town and I answered the Little Guy’s question.

No, he doesn’t understand the complexity of poverty. He doesn’t understand how people and institutions with power oppress over 45 million Americans. He doesn’t understand that kids go to bed hungry every night just miles from his home. He doesn’t understand that families don’t have running water and don’t play in the bathtub with goggles on their face any time they want to like he does. He doesn’t understand inequality and disparity. He doesn’t understand that the color of his skin will play a bigger role in how people approach him than the words that come from his mouth and the thoughts that come from his mind.

He doesn’t understand that life will beat people down. He doesn’t understand that the feelings of scarcity created by experiencing poverty in and of itself will alter the brain in such a way as to keep people in poverty. He doesn’t understand that the man holding the sign does not want to stand in the hot sun and humble himself to beg for money from people who might roll down their window and toss a couple dollars in his cup.

But he does understand that the man is asking for help. And there is something inside the heart of the Little Guy that hears that plea and responds to that plea. His innocence and youth allow him to connect on a real level with a man on the street, uninhibited by all the conflicting “science” of the “best” way to help people.

What I want him to understand about poverty is that it doesn’t have to be this way. What I want him to do is hold onto his heart and his innocence and develop the skills he needs to change the world.

“You really can change the world if you care enough.” ~ Marian Wright Edelman

Effective Immediately

“’Effective Immediately’ can be your team name,” replied a mom recently. I had just explained to her that I have this sense that any time I receive an email or a note in my mailbox from any “community” to which we belong that begins with the words, “Effective Immediately,” or “It has come to our attention…,” it can pretty much be assumed that my boys played some role in this new “policy.”

“Effective Immediately, children must now be supervised in the play area…” Community Pool.

“It has come to our attention that children are riding bikes in the street….” Townhome Community. Let’s be serious. It’s not really a street; it’s more like a parking lot road to the end of the row of townhouses. And it is already posted as “10 mph,” so maybe if you enforced the speed limit with the adults, there would be fewer near-misses of cars and kids on bikes.

My boys are not complete hooligans, but let’s face it, they are boys. They do enjoy removing large boxes from the recycling dumpster and building forts. They have been known to unwind a whole role of duct tape around a couple trees out back and then get distracted by the next game. They particularly enjoy careening down the slope of one parking area to see if they can keep the turn at the end tight enough to miss parked cars but not tight enough that they spill over onto the asphalt (smart guys). And they do march around with their shirts off and their Nerf guns in the ready position, like a reenactment of Lord of the Flies. They are boys – active, busy, exploring, socializing, negotiating, testing their limits.

It’s such a balance as a parent between hovering over them to make sure they don’t get too banged up and letting them figure out who will be captain of the adventure crew versus who is picking up the trash; who steers the swivel cart and who holds on for dear life; who chooses the next activity and who follows along. They climb, they jump, they roll, they speed, they play (and apparently they have jumped off the roof of my sister’s house onto the temptingly waiting trampoline below too!).

To me, the generated “policies” and “notices” hint at the loss of the “community,” the “village,” that used to surround parents in the neighborhood. Instead of Ms. So-and-So down the street just yelling at my boys if they were doing something stupid, she now sends me a text and tells me what they did. Instead of Mr. So-and-So just grumping, “Get off my yard,” he complains to management and every townhome with a human under 5-feet-tall gets a reprimanding notice.

Is it a shift in people turning more inward and taking less responsibility over others? Is it a shift in parents being more protective and getting upset if other people encroach on their boundaries of parenting? Is it a lack of engagement or a calculation of potential liability?

I feel like I have to practically beg people to be my village. Yell at my kids – they’re going to listen to you more than to me anyway! I want my boys to develop independence and take risks, but also learn respect and responsibility. I want them to know that others have expectations for them as well and that there is a community that surrounds them and cares about them. As I search for a new home for us, I’m also searching for that community; one that is not reprimanding the parents, but actually joining in the difficult task of raising up the next generation.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe there is something to the Bottle-Flipping Insanity

The other night my older two boys sat in the hallway cheering and yelling and counting as they seemingly mindlessly twirled plastic bottles into the air. The bottle flip game. Every parents’ nightmare. Every teacher’s nightmare. Every coaches’ nightmare. If you work with kids, you are tortured by this new craze. There’s even an app for it – at least the app doesn’t involve spilled water or loud thunks or occasional property damage.

My constant diatribe fell on deaf ears. “Go pee, brush your teeth and get ready for bed,” I repeated endlessly. All they could focus on was whether they had “stuck it.” How many points the opponent had. Whether that flip counted or not. They were completely enraptured.

However, it didn’t take long for those bottles to be emptied out and thrown into the recycling bin by a slightly irritated parent.

You see, my boys flip the bottles in the living room. They flip them on the sidewalk. They flip them in the car. They used to flip them in the cafeteria at school, but apparently that’s been banned. Smart lunch staff! The game eats under my skin. It’s not just the noise, it’s the waste of resources that kills me. I already have a “thing” about plastic bottles, but to catch my boys cracking one open, pouring out almost 1/3 of the contents, and then leaving water bottles strewn ….everywhere….. It’s more than I can endure!

So in the manner of most things that irritate me about parenting, I try to consider what might be positive about this bottle flipping nonsense.

Persistence – If nothing else, the boys are learning to stick with something and work towards improvement since landing on the cap apparently earns more points than landing on the base. In general, nine out of ten times the bottle lands on its side, so they flip again.

Turn-taking – Social give-and-take is a constant learning need of the boys and although there’s usually a continuous argument throughout a “game” of bottle flipping, the boys are negotiating the rules and turn-taking.

Mathematics – Not only are the boys keeping score, but they are adding and comparing numbers. I’d love them to start calculating percentages, but that might be a bit too much to ask out of my 8 and 10-year-olds.

Self-entertainment – Teaching kids to be self-sufficient and able to entertain themselves is a constant struggle for parents. At least while bottle-flipping, they are not complaining about being bored or trying to spend time on an electronic device. And it is an activity amenable to a variety of environments, just not all the ones (like in the car) that the boys think it’s appropriate for.

Friendship – The beauty of this game is that anyone can do it no matter what the age or skill level. Thus, the boys can practice the skills of making new friends and initiating interactions with others by joining in this mutual activity or asking other kids to play with them.

Science – In essence, they are experimenting
with gravity, learning the differences in motion depending on weight or amount of fluid in the container, and learning about rotation of objects. I’m working to incorporate the lessons of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” though we haven’t gotten too far with that yet. It’s usually me picking up the bottles and tossing them in the recycle can.

In general, I’m trying to be a bit more patient with this fundamentally annoying game. Like all fads, I’m hoping it moves along soon….though it’s upcoming replacements (like the fidget toy) tend to be a bit more costly!