Sunday, December 21, 2014

It Should Be Like Riding A Bike: A Parenting Confessional

This is my third time parenting a preschooler so I ought to know better.  I have already experienced the remorse and shame of expecting too much of too young a kid, but somehow I tend to forget these lessons.

Porter's class was performing Christmas songs in the chapel for all the parents.  We were told they ought to wear Christmas colors.  I pulled out a red polo for him the night before, let him sleep in a little bit too long the next day, and lost all grasp on preschool reality that morning when Porter had other ideas about what to wear and eat and how quickly to get out the door.

I remember taking far too seriously what Andrew wore at this age.  It reflected on me, I thought.  I wanted him to look groomed and cared for, and he wanted to wear dirty tracksuits.  I died on hills in battles that injured him, too.  I felt so bad about this and thought I had reformed but I guess when it comes to a program with photos involved I slip back into old ways.

Porter wanted to wear his Marine Corps t-shirt.  Its red.  I deployed some reasonable tactics to dissuade him but none worked.  We were going to be late so I gave up and told him to wear whatever he wanted, I did not care, and I didn't anymore.  But I had already planted seeds of doubt:  I had told him everyone else would be dressed up, that he wouldn't look nice stuff like that.  That was ok to do, but I was mad and that made him feel upset.  We got in the car and I spent the drive scolding him for making us late (when I ought to have awakened the four year old kid earlier).  He often looks at the bright side of things, noting that "its better than being dead" about most negative consequences, and tried to do the same here ("at least we won't miss it!") but I was having none of it.  We arrived and I hurried him into the chapel where the program was well underway.  I walked him all the way up to his teachers--he was obviously nervous at this point to be late and in front of a room full of parents, but I just kind of deposited him.

As soon as I sat down with Claire I felt instant regret that I had once again taken something way too seriously.  My typically confident, joyful little crazy man looked a little stooped of shoulder and nervous as he tried to sing with his class.  He wasn't even smiling.  The whole point of all of this is that he have fun and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment and I had made it about me.  All I wanted now was for him to feel good up there, to smile.  So I began acting like a different kind of crazy person, waving  my arms around and even daring to loudly whisper his name to get his attention.  I gave him big smiles and thumbs up, which he returned.  He started to look more confident and happy.

Then another little boy, just turned four and until a month ago the only child in his family, began acting a little silly.  He spotted his mom and all he wanted to do was leave the stage and sit with her.  She wanted him to remain and it turned into a big struggle ending with him crying in her arms while she told him how disappointed she was.  She was right next to me and I wanted so badly to tell her that it didn't matter but I knew I would just sound judgmental rather than so fully empathetic with her plight.  So I stayed out of it, but I wished there was a way I could tell her that we can't expect too much.  That some kids aren't ready to perform for us, that all we want for them is to find security in figuring out who they are.  That its ok if they just want to sit on the sidelines with us, so long as they are happy there.  There will be so many years and opportunities to venture further when they are ready.

Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe its good to have certain expectations in the context of public performances and also to enforce them, and maybe there are lessons kids need to learn that I am failing to see in these situations.  But for me, I know that when I am acting from a place of thinking about what others think of me or my kid or from fulfilling a personal parenting fantasy vision of what I think "ought" to be happening or what the other kids seem able to do, I am generally not going to end up handling my child well and things will probably end up in tears and frustration on both ends rather than laid-back, easy happiness.  One look at Porter's uncertainty and nervousness told me all I needed to know about what really mattered when it came to the preschool singing program.  If we were late, if Porter were wearing the slightly wrong shirt, well, at least we weren't dead.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How did it get late so soon?

How did it get late so soon?
Its night before its afternoon.
December is here before its June.
How did it get late so soon?

The first line of the above poem was the title of Will's (first ever) violin concert this evening.  It was my reward to take him while Brigham took all the other kids to Andrew's scouting event at church, so it was a relaxing and enjoyable experience for once!  As I ran across the campus to retrieve a bow from the teacher's room, something about the high 60s weather and the early darkness and the loud familiar noises of an elementary school basketball practice filled me with a strong sense of the past.  It struck me earlier today while on the phone in the backyard (to be sure not to rouse Claire from her nap) that it was so strange and surreal that the school secretary was referring to me when she said she had a "mom on the phone" asking about violin practice that day.  I am a mom and everyone else somehow thinks this is normal and natural.  But I feel just like I did when I was ten.  So tonight, walking through the schoolyard alone in that weather, with those timeless noises of elementary school basketball and the feel of the evening I had a few moments to think about how life really does just float by without us always noticing.  

Will did a great job.  It is only his second week of being involved in this violin group so he was pretty out of the loop on what he was supposed to be doing tonight but he just rolled with it in that easy way he has.  He told me tonight that he wants to learn to play the piano and drums, too.  I love his eagerness to delve into everything.    

Today Claire and Porter and I went to have lunch with some other moms from church.  Porter played so nicely with the host's toddler, chasing him and being a sweet big boy playmate to him.  Claire joined in while clutching a huge stuffed snowman and was happy and giggly so long as no one threatened her possession of the toy by looking at it.  I experience thoughts just about every day that my life here is so nice in many ways but it is hard to fully enjoy it bc my sisters and their kids are absent, as are a few of my closest friends and their kids.  The people who populated my days in Virginia.  I am not naturally inclined to spend time with other people, but I am making a goal to go out of my way to go outside of my comfort zone these days.  

Picking Andrew up from Western was another highlight.  While he was playing a dodge-ball-like game they have there, another little boy got really over-emotional and was trying to attack Andrew and other boys.  I loved watching Andrew handle himself in that situation.  He thought it was kind of funny and weird but he didn't get mad back or retaliate.  A few minutes later the kid reacted hysterically to being hit by the ball.  It was hilarious but my favorite part was that Andrew immediately recognized how funny it was and turned automatically to me to laugh together.  None of the other kids really got it or noticed, but I love that Andrew did.  He always has had a sophisticated sense of humor and I love that about him.  He mentioned that he wished he were a 5th grader so he could play school sports and I told him 5th grade would be here sooner than he knew.  It really will.    

So that was our day.    

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Like Riding a Bike

Porter has once again beaten Will to the punch in mastering a physical feat.  He can now ride a two-wheel bike.  I was raking leaves in the front yard today while Claire and Porter played in the driveway when I looked up to see Porter taking off on the bike.  He had false starts and fell a few times, but every time he got back up again wholly undaunted.  He didn't even need my help.  He was thrilled with himself.  More than being proud of him for mastering the skill, I was so proud that he kept getting back up every time he fell over.  I tried to emphasize to him that the reason he was able to learn so quickly was that he didn't give up.

Claire was pretty jealous and kept screaming "No! Mine! Bike!" variously but gave it up after a while and he claims of ownership turned to "Awesome!" after we ignored her sufficiently.

We had a picnic (or rather "picnic"--can it technically be a meal when very little is eaten?) on the playground out back.  Porter is so sweet with Claire and it occurred to me today as they were swinging side by side and smiling at each other that we will miss Porter a lot next year.  Sometimes I discount how much Claire's days will be altered by his absence since he does spend many solitary hours playing the game where he's Jack.  But I guess that happens more when I am not taking them outside.

Tonight we went as a family to Will's scouting activity at school.  We made a chocolate yule log cake together and he talked me into also making meringue mushrooms to decorate it with.  So glad I did bc they were easy and turned out awesome.  Was glad we once again won no prizes bc that meant we could bring it home.  It was a gorgeous cake and I too way too many photos of it.  All in all a fun and beautiful day.  My only thought today was that I would enjoy everything so much more if I had my family here to live life with.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

We flew back to Virginia for Thanksgiving this year. Aside from the flights themselves, the trip was wonderful. We flew out on Thursday night (arrive at midnight EST) and returned 10 days later on a 7 am Sat morning flight. During the trip we got to experience some snowfall/sleet-fall, spent lots of time with cousins and visited the zoo on a beautiful fall day and the natural history museum on a chillier one. The Friday after Thanksgiving, we braved the crowds to fulfill our yearly pilgrimage to see the Christmas trains at the Botanical Gardens. Afterwards we headed to the National Gallery of Art where we ate lunch in the Cascade Cafe for a thousand dollars and then dragged the kids away from the gift shop and through the actual exhibits. The boys actually did enjoy some of the war-oriented art and a painting depicting a young man being attacked by a shark while men in a boat attempted rescue. Apparently the painting was based on an actual event (the kid lost a leg). Claire managed to step into one of the fountain displays due to my lack of proper supervision but was pretty stoic about having a drenched leg in jegging. If it had been one of her brothers we would have needed police and ambulance assistance.

Thanksgiving itself was the typical chaotic scene of kids everywhere, parents trying to coax their young into eating, etc. I made two pies: cherry and pecan. The cherry, with its homemade crust and multi-step filling, was a labor of love and did not disappoint. The pecan was good, too, but even I preferred the cherry. Mom's butternut squash soup was delicious but we will never know how to make it since there is more butter and cream in it than she wants to admit. I also made rolls but since we had only one oven and some had to be frozen the night before and baked that day after the turkeys were out they were a bit of a disappointment to me. Katie's beast of a dog Milkshake only managed to eat one when she jumped up on the counter. Small price to pay for the reminder to keep food well out of her broad range. Brigham and I made sure to have the stuffing he loves so much and made enough to last for weeks. It probably got tossed by my carb-avoidant mom after we left. I realized not for the first time that I put way too much stock into how good the food tastes. We forgot to sing any Thanksgiving hymns until later that night (but we did it!) and I found myself thinking that someday when I had kids of my own I would dress them up as pilgrims and Indians. Yep. Maybe it'll be a grandma thing. I will be a great grandma after having practiced on my kids.

I had a few specific goals for our trip back home. I wanted to see friends, which I did; I wanted to eat with Brigham at Coastal Flats, where we both ordered the shrimp and grits; and I wanted to spend time in DC. Overall I would say I felt like we did a decent job of using the time wisely. It was hard to return back to Houston, but I felt a redoubled sense of determination to integrate myself and the kids as fully into our lives here as possible. At the wreath-decorating event the Mc2nd RS held the first Sat morning, I was reminded of how many wonderful people were all around me for so many years and it was so nice to see them again and I wished I had better taken advantage when I lived here. The same is certainly true anywhere, and I hope that it tears our hearts a bit to leave Houston someday, too. I am so grateful to the friendships I have forged over the years and am regretful about the ones I allowed to lapse a bit through inattention. It doesn't take much--a dinner once a year, even--to keep people in your life. Wish I'd figured that out a decade ago.

We arrived back in Houston at 9 am, trekked back to our house and immediately departed for our Christmas tree hunt. I am glad we chopped our trees in the past when we could bc that isn't happening here. We found a nice big one and had a lot of fun starting our Christmas season with getting it up and strung with lights. We have decorated it over intervening days but there are more ornaments and thus opportunities to capture attractive photos of the children with a real, as opposed to a phone, camera.

The one overarching feeling I had during the entire week in Virginia, though, was one of deeply noticing the absence of my dad. Something about returning after being away made me miss him even more. I think he would be really happy to know where we are all in our lives but I think he hates not being here for it. In a way I am glad that the holidays, and trips to DC or McDonalds or morning breakfasts at 7916, have all lost a bit of their savor without him because it keeps him with us a bit more.