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Archive for October 2011

The best I can

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My son is a great kid. He is funny, smart, full of great big ideas and great big hugs, and he has an insatiable appetite for those who march to the beat of their own drummer. This love of his for the wacky, the oddities, the misfits, is quite heartwarming on the playground. If there is a disabled child to be found, my son will seek that kid out and will not rest until that child is smiling.

That said, my son is also physically aggressive. No bones about it, if there is trouble brewing I can rest easy knowing that my son is smack-dab in the middle of it all, throwing punches and taking them straight in the face without a flinch. He came by this tendency naturally; at 23, I can’t think of anything I love more than the adrenaline rush you get from seriously walloping someone. I had six years of martial arts lessons in my teens and loved every second of it. As soon as we can afford it I intend to resume lessons again. I can’t fault Darren for what I know to be a natural predisposition toward violence; it simply is what it is. I am not proud of this aspect of my personality, but I also realize that I am not responsible for it. I am only responsible to see to it that my happiness doesn’t come at the cost of someone else’s safety. I’ve learned to pour my excess energy into harmless channels and I believe that Darren will eventually find healthy outlets for his pent-up aggression as well.

But what to do in the meantime.

He will hit another child for hitting him.

He will hit another child for moving their hand like they might hit him.

He will hit another child for spitting.

He’s hit kids for making mean faces, being too loud, being too quiet, sitting in the chair that he wanted to sit in, for disobeying the teacher, for disobeying Darren, and for running away from him when they realized that they were about to get hit.

He is very tall for his age, but does not have the maturity to go with that extra strength. And, take it from someone who knows, this kid can pack a punch. He’ll leave a mark. I’m just glad that he hasn’t discovered how to kick because his feet are nearly as large as mine already. I can only imagine the devastation he could wreck upon society if he learned how to harness those babies!

And so, here we have it. The story of the last year of my life: a hot-headed, impetuous, stubborn, young mother trying to teach her similarly-dispositioned child to solve problems with words instead of hands, to respect other people’s right to go about their lives without fear of violence and to find healthy outlets for very unhealthy levels of angst.

I do not have this down. I do not know what to do. I talk until I am blue in the face. I act out puppet shows. I play games with Darren where he wins points for accurately identifying expressions of emotion in others. When a problem arises, I take the time to help him rehearse his apology, deliver it to the victim and then return to tell me what he said and did to help the other child feel better. It is hard work, and I am at it all the time, day in and day out…and I have nothing to show for it. His preschool teacher has taken me aside to offer tips for ways to begin addressing his aggressive tendencies at home. I heard myself make a sound somewhere between a choke and a snort at that word “begin.” Believe me, I know that I’m not getting anywhere…but don’t think for a second that it’s because I haven’t tried, haven’t tried that special right thing that will work for him, haven’t tried consistently, haven’t, haven’t, haven’t…

I have. And do you know what I’ve realized?

I’ve realized that I’m not the one doing the hitting.

Day in and day out, I model appropriate behavior for my son to follow. I explain the facts of life to him in terms that he can understand; hitting hurts, it is never okay to hurt someone, and to have a friend you must be a friend.

I know from personal experience that I could do more. I could end this problem in no more than a week if I were willing to spank my son, break his will and force him to obey me out of fear. That was how I was raised, and I know that I could get the instant results that everyone (myself included!) seems to want. But that is not how I want to be, as a parent or as a person.

Darren will mature over time, and eventually he will learn to harness his impulses whether or not I am present to drag him off another kid and sit on him until he cools down. He will find out, one way or another, that I am not lying to him when I say that violence is isolating. I’d like to see him learn these lessons sooner rather than later, obviously, but one way or another the lesson will get through to him. Beyond learning to control his temper, however, Darren will learn something else: that I do not lie to him. That I love him. That I want to protect him. That he can trust me to tell him the truth, to give him the best advice I have and to see him through thick or thin.

One way or another, we are going to get through this, and many other things. Together.

Written by GRSeim

October 31, 2011 at 5:12 am

10 things about Darren, age 3 and 3 months

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1. Your love for all things wacky is beginning to wear in me now that you are picking out your own TV shows. Fishtronaut, Team Zoomie, Wonder Pets…oh god, make it stop, just make it stop!

2. Also, please stop: spitting in my face, farting on my pillow, rubbing your boogers on my clothes, licking me for attention and splashing pee on my floors. Too much! Toooo muuuuch!

3. We bought you an incredible bed with a slide off the side, and we set it up in our bedroom, but you refuse to sleep in it. I don’t mean to seem unaccomodating, but I am really ready to reclaim my bed. Really, really ready.

4. Potty training. We have been potty training you for five months now, and you still refuse to use public bathrooms. Please, son, please. I am too poor to keep buying you pull-ups. It is time to give them up.

5. “Count me! Count me!” you cheer…and everyone around you must immediately stop what they are doing and begin counting. You made me count all the way to and from preschool the other day- 28 minutes round trip, but I wasn’t allowed to reach the number 100 until we got home or (as we discovered) you’d cry in disappointment and demand that I start over again at zero. Oye.

6. You’ve taken to scratching my back as you fall asleep at night. LOVE.

7. The way you interact with the world around you is changing by the second. In the past you have always resisted doing anything that might be draw attention to yourself or otherwise put you at risk for embarrassment. Lately, however, I’ve seen you sing along with the radio, make goofy faces in public and volunteer for special classroom jobs at your preschool. I love that you’re starting to take those risks and reap the subsequent rewards. 🙂

8. Preschool. Oh lord, it’s worth every penny just to see your face light up when I mention it. You’re the second youngest in the class, and the only kid who hasn’t been in a drop-off situation like this before. You really hit the ground running, though, and I can see you soaking up every second of it. It makes me so happy to see you interacting with the others, particularly the teachers, with so much confidence.

9. Houston, we have MORE THAN ONE FOOD GROUP! I can’t even tell you how happy it makes me to hear you ask for seconds on fresh broccoli or peaches. You tried a chicken burrito today and admitted that it was yummy! I thought I would break down and cry, really. My days of making pizza dough by hand every day are behind me.

10. It’s hard to believe that only a few months ago you were so obstinately stuck inside your own head that I was worried about autism. You have blossomed into a social butterfly, literally over night. You collaborate on everything, beg for playdates and want to kiss everyone who walks through our door. I know that growing is difficult and I don’t expect you to grin and bear those growing pains alone, but I treasure every glimpse I get into the person that is you, the you that isn’t overwhelmed by weaning or developing social skills but is simply able to be. I am in love with that person, kid; I am so glad that you are in my life.

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Written by GRSeim

October 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm

This can only end well.

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Written by GRSeim

October 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Posted in Future Feminist

Under whose thumb?

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I overheard a conversation on the internet recently about the effect Disney princesses (and the deluge of complementary messages a young girl in our society is enveloped in growing up) might have on our daughters.

As I recall, it went something like this:

Person 1: “Personal responsibility, personal responsibility, personal responsibility, if you don’t like it don’t watch it, why do you hate everything that is fun in life?”

Person 2: “What is so fun about misogyny and crappy cartoons, and why do we have to reinvent the wheel every time someone has a daughter, what’s wrong with asking for a future for our sons AND our daughters?”

Person 2 went on to illustrate her point from the perspective of hyper-masculinity:

“If a child watched movies about serial killers on a daily basis, and dressed up like a serial killer multiple times a week, and every one of his/her toys were decorated with serial killers on it or to assist him/her in pretending to be a serial killer, and his/her shirts said things like “I’m a serial killer” (like shirts that say ‘diva’ ‘princess’ etc)…if that child was told on a daily basis by all of society that their value was in their power and level of violence (the way girls are too often told their value is in their looks)…then yes, I would venture to say that that child would grow up being more aggressive than needed, and could turn violent.”

I thought this was an interesting point, because we do indeed have a case study that backs her theory pretty nicely. There is a bizarre subculture out there that systematically promotes and rewards violent behavior in their young men.

Many of those young men grow up to be suicide bombers.

Maybe Person 1 is right, and comparing terrorist propaganda machines to Princess Sleeping Beauty Barbie push-up bralettes is apples and oranges, but I’m certainly not taking the chance with my own daughter. We’ll find our own fun and magic in reality.

Written by GRSeim

October 25, 2011 at 8:01 am

Solitary Confinement

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Sometimes I am too tired to write. Other times, I am too tired to keep it all inside.

I met a mom well over a year ago who had a little girl just slightly younger than my son. She seemed nice, we hold similar religious and political beliefs, she only lived a mile away from me and we both had plenty of free time…but for some reason, we just couldn’t get our friendship off the ground. We tried play dates, walks, family dinners, everything. Something would inevitably come up that prevented us from getting together. Eventually, we resigned ourselves to the realm of wistful Facebook friends, both wanting to connect and build those meaningful relationships that are important for children and their parents alike, but somehow unable to make it happen in real life.

So we drifted on through the last year; her husband left her and moved overseas, leaving her to raise their little daughter alone. I found out about it through Facebook. I got pregnant, and she found out about it when I posted pictures of my new daughter…on Facebook. The friendship thing was not happening.

Last week, Facebook notified me that this lovely woman was celebrating a birthday. And, as luck would have it, she had her full birthday listed on her profile: she was born in 1988, just like me. We are both 23. We both have toddlers. We both got pregnant straight out of high school.

I emailed her, ecstatic. I felt like I’d found the missing link, solved the final section of Kryptos, found the match to every sock in the laundry pile. She replied, equally thrilled. We set up another play date. We met, in person, and had a great conversation. Our senses of humor click. We have similar backgrounds with church and homeschooling. Our ideas about parenting mesh well. Our kids get along.

“I can’t believe this,” my new friend laughed at the end of the afternoon. “I feel like we just threw the whole last year away by not hanging out!”

So why didn’t we connect sooner, I wondered. What held us back? What was unique about the two of us that made it so difficult for us get a friendship off the ground when we are both intelligent, friendly, funny women who get along with a wide variety of people?

I didn’t have to think about it very long.

It’s the shame.

It’s knowing that everyone who looks at you is looking down on you. Flushing guiltily when people assume that you are your own child’s nanny. Having to defend your life choices to every one you meet. The startled look on people’s faces when they find out that you’re pro-choice, the way you can always tell that they are silently tacking a “…now?” to the end of your statement.

I don’t have my birth year listed on Facebook. I don’t celebrate my birthday any more, in fact. I shop at L.L. Bean and listen to oldies and watch M*A*S*H* and try to blend in with the crowd. These weren’t conscious decisions at all, but over the last three years I have gradually learned to avoid divulging my age to people and instead play up the fact that my husband and I have known each other for twelve years. And it is excruciatingly isolating. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life, but very few of those people know anything about me. I am the Don Draper of motherhood, and, to put it youthfully, it sucks.

I wish I could find someone to blame, but I have to admit that I am part of the problem. I have met plenty of young mothers at my community college and rarely speak to any of them, assuming that they are just not my type. Some of them really aren’t my type; for some of them, pregnancy was inevitable, the bottom of a long downward spiral of poor judgment and an inability to self-govern. These women deserve loving, respectful support as they do the hard work of putting their lives back together, and let me be the first to admit that I rarely offer this kind of support to anyone. I can understand the hesitance to invite so much ambivalence and quandary into a life that is already full to the bursting with demands.

We aren’t all living in this kind of turmoil, though. There are women like me and my friend, who birthed our children out of a deep desire for motherhood. We are educated, assertive and determined to have it all, and are not interested in jumping on the sinking ship that is modern American motherhood. We don’t have answers, and we are undoubtedly in the process of making some awful mistakes of our own, but we love our kids, we make sacrifices, we struggle to maintain balance…we are mothers, just like all the other mothers in the world.

And it would be really nice if the rest of you would let us in.

 

Written by GRSeim

October 25, 2011 at 7:21 am

Smelly bottles

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I really enjoyed my project in Darren’s classroom today. I found some yogurt smoothies that came in very small bottles at the grocery store and couldn’t resist buying them -those bottles look so gosh darn versatile! 🙂

After my husband and sister finished drinking the yogurt for me, I cleaned the containers out, removed the labels and put a cotton ball inside each one. Then I added drops of some “smelly” things I had laying around the house: vanilla, lemon oil and rubbing alcohol. I also used tea bags for some of my smelly bottles. I made sure to make two bottles of each type of scent.

Once I had all the kids gathered, I let them smell one of the bottles and then told them to smell the others and try to identify its “stinky match.” The kids had a blast sniffing the bottles and trying to identify the scents!

If I did this activity again, I would skip the rubbing alcohol and opt for all nice smelling bottles. None of the kids wanted to get stuck with two bottles that smelled that yucky, and it caused some tension! The teabag added an interesting twist to the activity, though. The unique smell was difficult to identify, and that made it much harder for the kids to find its match!

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Written by GRSeim

October 5, 2011 at 4:07 am

Goddamn feminists

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Feminism can really ruin my day sometimes. Like last night, for example, when we all settled in to watch a cute little Bob Hope movie from the 1940’s and I ended up having to turn it off because unlike some people I see a big difference between romance and rape, and nothing appealing about walking the line between the two.

If it were just about career opportunities and sexual liberation, I’m not sure I’d have the energy to maintain my feminist ideals as a mother. But the truth of the matter is, while feminism may occasionally ruin my day, it has most certainly saved my life.

Written by GRSeim

October 3, 2011 at 11:21 pm