The Bee had social studies homework tonight that detailed a scenario where kids from a school solved a problem at their school (needing a new playground). There were different paragraphs outlining the various steps they took to solve the problem (having a meeting, moving a petition, the city council voting to build the playground), and the assignment was to match up each paragraph with a picture of people doing what was described in the paragraph (hey, this is second grade, people).
At the end, each child is supposed to “name a problem that your school needs to solve.”
The Bee’s answer?
“One problem is that some kids do not like it.”
I’ve been trying to digest this story from today’s NY Times magazine for the past day. I’m not really sure how I feel about the assertion that a healthy sense of entitlement makes for better students, for one. It’s good to know though that all the arguing we’ve been doing with the Potato lately is improving his vocabulary. That kid is sure to get an 800 on his SATs (if, in fact, the SATs are still given 14 years from now).
The Bee does go to a fairly diverse school, both racially & economically. One thing that interested me about the article was the purported effect of middle-class versus working-class parenting styles. It has been my experience that it’s the kids of working-class parents who have unstructured time in the afternoons–in our neighborhood, it tends to be the working-class families, more than the middle-class families, who have a stay-at-home-parent. However the middle-class kids aren’t all playing three sports a year or learning the violin–they’re at the after-school program, with my kid. And while that program is more structured than just being on your own for three hours, it’s not an academic program in any way–usually it’s just playground time with adult supervision and a snack. In bad weather, they hang out in the school multi-purpose room and play games. The Bee and her two best friends have spent much of this fall writing and illustrating little books every afternoon.
Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to have the kind of time to make my kids overscheduled. As it is, I often feel guilty due to their (particularly the Bee’s) lack of organized activities. This year is the first year that she’s done an after-school sport, and the only way we can swing that is because landisdad is still out of work. When she was in kindergarten and I was telecommuting every day, I was able to sign her up for an after-school art class, but she hasn’t been back since then. I’m going to sign her up for that class again this winter, and endeavor to work at home more often, but even then I am sure there will be times when she misses it.
On the other hand, I don’t think I did a single after-school activity until I was in third or fourth grade, so maybe it’s a symptom of my cluelessness that I think she should be doing more now. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a couple of women I work with–one who has kids and one who’s thinking about it. The one who’s thinking about it was asking us how we balance things. The other mom said, “you just feel like you’re failing at everything all the time. And then you get over it.” That’s pretty close to how I feel about this subject.
If you have older kids, when did they start after-school activities? Did you feel like you were constantly juggling when they did? If younger, when do you plan to start? What kinds of things do you want them to do, or are they interested in? Do sports and other activities make kids less self-reliant, less capable of creative play? Or are they useful outlets for their energy & creativity?
The Potato is in a very challenging phase right now. While the Bee has begun moving into a more mature phase, the Potato has jumped headfirst into a bout of ‘no,’ ‘why?’ and outright defiance.
While I admit, it’s somewhat difficult to be called ‘dummyhead’ fifteen times in a row, there is something easier in this Potato-phase then when we were going through it the first time with the Bee. I can see it now as a normal stage of development, and I can see that, though it’s painful to live through, it won’t last forever.
Besides, if I weren’t the world’s meanest mommy, where would I be?
There are times when the Potato calls me “the meanest person” in a very sincere voice, and I find it hard not to laugh. But those times have gotten farther between, and my outright annoyance with him is winning out more often. It’s not every day that I feel so hopeless about it, but I’m really not looking forward to this long, rainy weekend. I can tell we’ll be telling the kids to go run around in the basement a lot.
All right, enough self-pity for today. Hope you all enjoy a lovely Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by family and friends. And to those who arrived here searching for a new sweet potato recipe, sorry, we’re fresh out.
Sadly, we had to have Panda put to sleep today. We were all able to visit him and say goodbye, then my FIL took the kids into the waiting room (where they wrapped up Mr. Bear in gauze bandages), and landisdad and I stayed with him till the end. It was really the best thing at this point–he was so weak he couldn’t even hold his head up. We’re all still a little shell-shocked, since the onset was so quick.
Our vet couldn’t have been any nicer or more humane about it, even to the point of opening especially for us on Sunday. I guess in the greater scheme of things, it’s only a little tragedy when an animal dies, particularly an animal who had such a wonderful life. But it feels like a big tragedy to our family now. In the end, of course, the Potato didn’t understand enough about death to really know what just happened–my worries about his reaction came to naught. But the Bee distinguished herself, showing enormous compassion and sympathy.
When I came home from the vet yesterday, to tell landisdad and the kids that Panda’s prognosis was incredibly grave, but they wanted to give him one more day, she made me the following note:
I wrote a story about you. I think you are the best mom and woman in the world!
She also read “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” to her brother. I think we’ll be having a funeral later in the week, which may confuse the Potato, or maybe not. The Bee still remembers the funeral we had for our last cat who died, but she was nearly four then. There were certainly more than ten good things we’ll be able to come up with to say about Panda.
This week has been sort of a roller-coaster.
First, we had a great parent-teacher conference with the Bee’s teacher. The Bee continues on her road to academic stardom, having received the best report card in her class. The Bee, tough on herself as she is, expressed disappointment about getting only an ‘S’ in gym (as opposed to an S+, which is what she got in her other special classes). Landisdad and I told her how proud we were of her, and how happy it makes us to see her doing so well.
On the down side, though, it looks as if our beloved cat Panda is in renal failure. I spent a couple of hours last night sleeping on the couch with him, and he was utterly miserable. Landisdad and I took him to the vet this morning, and they’re keeping him through the weekend. It’s hard to see him suffering so much, especially since the onset of this illness has been very abrupt–he only started acting sick on Wednesday. It will be hard for all of us if he’s dying, but I worry about the Potato most of all, both because he hasn’t experienced the death of a pet yet, and because he just loves Panda so much. Panda sleeps in our upstairs hallway nearly every morning, so the first thing I hear when I wake up is the Potato coming out of his room, saying “Pandeeee!” and giving him a hug.
Last night, as she was getting changed into her pajamas, the Bee had trouble closing a drawer on her dresser. She calmly re-opened it, pushed down the clothes that were sticking out, and closed it. She didn’t get frustrated. She didn’t hit the drawer, or call it stupid, or vent her anger on it in any way. She just saw a problem, saw the solution, and fixed it, calmly and unemotionally.
It was one of those rewarding moments that made me realize how much she is growing up, and also how incredibly long that process takes. I almost wanted to thank her for closing the drawer calmly, though it seemed slightly ridiculous to thank her for something any adult would do automatically.
For every parent out there who is struggling with a willful toddler or preschooler (and we’ve got one of those in our house), let me tell you that your efforts to teach them peaceful ways will pay off. Metrodad wrote recently about his daughter’s transformation into a diva, and I know that others in the blogosphere are struggling with the heady demands of a little person who suddenly needs everything to be done in a certain way (chichimama, I’m looking your way). Last week, I opened the wrong door of the Potato’s daycare, and he threw such a hissy fit that I had to carry him to the car.
It’s taken seven years to make the Bee into a person who won’t scream with frustration at every snag in life. Frankly, it’s a process that’s not over yet, and I’m sure I’m jinxing myself by even mentioning it here. Tonight, there will probably be a meltdown over the fact that her socks are inside out, or something equally ridiculous.
I haven’t done anything important in my adult life for seven years except stay married to the same guy–no job has lasted that long, I haven’t lived in one place for that long, I haven’t held office in an organization–nothing. There’s nothing else I do in life that takes so long to show results, be they good or bad. When do you actually know that you did a good job as a parent? When your kid gets into college? When she gets married? Makes a million dollars? Have kids of their own? Discovers a cure for cancer? Can you ever really be sure?
It’s an unearthly feeling, to know that you might never know the answer to that most important question. You have to find clues wherever you can, and take on faith that those clues are adding up to something bigger. The Bee’s drawer-closing incident was more than just a drawer to me–it was a clue that landisdad and I might actually be doing something right.
Last summer, the Bee went to day camp at a local kids’ science museum. As part of the tuition for that camp, she got to participate in a free sleepover this fall. Unfortunately, there were only three dates offered, and the first two were the Fridays right before the election, so we ended up going this Friday.
I’ll say in advance that, having missed about a gajillion hours of sleep in the past week and a half, I wasn’t really looking forward to the idea of sleeping on a floor. But I promised the Bee, and we haven’t spent a lot of one-on-one time lately, so we went. And oh, was it painful!
I’m not really sure when the whole ‘camping out at a museum’ thing started. The first time I encountered it was when we were looking for something to do at New Year’s Eve when the Bee was about 3, and noticed a local museum had a sleepover. My current conclusion, of course, is that if you have a three-year-old, you should pop the champagne at 10 and got to bed before midnight, because you’ll be waking up at 6 a.m., just like every other day, but I was younger then, and more naive.
The Bee had fun, although around about 11, she wanted to go to sleep, and we couldn’t do that until 11:40. But I made a strategic error when picking out our ‘camping spot,’ and regretted it all night long. Two factors (besides just sleeping on a floor) contributed to a hellish night for me. The first was a loudly snoring guy about four feet away–not that I had anyway of predicting that. The second, however, was preventable. We slept next to the ramp that led out of the room into the bathroom. The ramp that 10 or 15 Boy Scouts ran up and down about 40 times during the course of the night. Loudly and echoingly.
Yesterday morning, they woke us up at 6:30 (I know! even on my one day of waking up without a three-year-old!) and we got shuffled down to breakfast, served in the museum cafeteria. There’s nothing quite like sharing a cereal bar and an apple with 200 strangers. I’m not enough of a fan of humanity (especially when that humanity is largely under 10 and hasn’t had enough sleep) to have enjoyed that experience.
One of my favorite childhood books was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and participating in that sleepover made me realize that if I ever run away to live at the Met, I’ll have to do it on a night when there aren’t any school groups staying over.
Driving home with the Bee tonight, she picked up a piece of paper from the back seat and asked, “Mom, what’s a chant sheet?” Then she started reading it aloud in her most sincere, concentrating voice.
“What’s outrageous? W*l-Mart wages!” and “I don’t know but I’ve been told, (I don’t know but I’ve been told), W*l-Mart ain’t got no soul, (W*l-Mart ain’t got no soul).”
Landisdad and I about fell out of the car, we were laughing so hard.
There’s a famous quote to the effect that if you enjoy sausage or politics, it’s best not to watch either being prepared. I think there’s a grain of truth to that for almost any enjoyable pursuit–at least, that’s been true for all the ‘back of house’ kinds of experiences that I’ve had. I thought I’d unpack some of my least-favorite electoral boxes.
To that end, I present my Top Eight Pet Peeves About Field Campaigns (I was going to list my top ten, but I ran out of time):
- If you are the transportation coordinator who has to pick up 20 vans for GOTV weekend, all of which need to be driven by people with clean driving records who are 25 or over, do not start trying to find drivers on Thursday for Saturday morning. Additionally, do not wait to pick up the vans until 11:00 p.m. on Friday, even if the rental car agency is open all night. The people who are over 25 are generally cranky if they don’t get enough sleep.
- Putting three people in charge of securing housing for out-of-state volunteers virtually guarantees that none of them will secure housing. Calling total strangers and asking them to lend you a bedroom is not that much fun, and said three people will find many other tasks to occupy their time. Consequently, you will be housing those volunteers in a youth hostel that you found online. The volunteers may never return to your state, not even on vacation.
- If you are expecting over 100 canvassers at a particular site, make sure you have toilet paper in the bathrooms. ‘Nuff said.
- There are few smells I dislike more than the smell of thousands of pieces of newly-printed walk literature. Unless it’s the smell of thousands of pieces of walk lit that have been sitting in a rental van that was parked in front of my house overnight. At 6:30 a.m., it’s enough to make me gag. Or drive with the windows open even if it’s 39 degrees outside.
- There is no internet site or mapping software in existence that prints accurate maps and directions to and from turf 100% of the time. Rarely do the people who get accurate maps comment about how happy they are not to have gotten lost. However, the people who got the bad map will always let you know. Loudly.
- All campaign offices are filled with doughnuts. They’re also places where I need to kill a lot of time. While in normal life, I can occasionally resist the lure of a doughnut, I find myself drawn to them when I’m both nervous and bored.
- My cell phone rings so often that I think it’s ringing even when it’s not. Because there’s ringing in my ears. Did you hear that?
- 23-year-olds who think that because they work in D.C., they know everything about how the world works, and therefore don’t have to introduce themselves to people when they come in to your state to do work.
Of course, then there’s my #1 favorite thing about field campaigns: