Monday, November 23, 2009

"This is more fun than TV!"

The twins had a birthday last week.  This will probably be the last year that we give them a party for ANYONE they want to invite.  Both invited their whole class.  T1 invited the Cub Scout troupe, T2 the soccer team.  We expected about 30 kids at this party.  It was absurd.  We booked an indoor playground (I know it's California and it was about 77 degrees outside, but still) for two separate parties with two separate cakes, snacks, paper goods, and goody bags (don't even get me started on the goody bags...).  We had light up Mickey Mouse ears for 50 people.

While all of this seems like a lesson in excess, it is nothing compared to the haul of gifts they got.  Gift cards, Lego sets, books, Barbies, science sets, and a marshmallow shooter (coolest toy ever. Really).  I mean, the living room looked like Christmas morning.

I marveled at how generous all of their friends were.  Way more than what their Christmas will look like this year.  And I wonder about the message associated with all these gifts.  While the kids were appreciative of what they received, I wonder if they will have a sense of entitlement at all gift-giving opportunities.  Will they expect extravagant gifts from their friends next year?  From us?  What about giving back? 

But something wonderful happened.  They began playing.  They opened Legos and built them.  They colored, they read.  T1 said, "this is more fun than watching TV!"  That's when I knew there was some redemption in it all.  If I can pay this generosity forward by raising self aware kids who want to explore their world instead of being told how to react to it, I'll be very blessed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Discipline -- Part 1

Okay, so I am thinking about some sibling squabbles that are ending up in fists and tears. The typical scenario is this: T2 tells T1 he cannot do something, or he is bugging her, or he is generally breathing in her sacred space. She tells him to leave her alone, he persists, she gets annoyed and yells, he gets frustrated and ultimately, because of his inferiority in the verbal skills department, as well as his upper hand in the physical skills department, he hits or kicks her. Dramatic tears ensue, I come running, he blames her, "She started it!" She cries, "He hit me!" Blah, blah, blah. Neither kid is hurt, really, so I usually sympathize with the hit-ee, scold the hitter, and then move on.

It occured to me recently, then, I wonder if this is how he solves his problems when I am not there. What about on the playground? Does he hit other kids, or is this just something that he saves for his sister? What is going on when I am not around? I did a little investigating. It is hard to get information about what happens at school from the kids who are there, you know? He claims that he never hits anyone at school. I have not heard from teachers or anyone else that he is, but I am not sure.

I wonder if she is as antagonistic with other kids at school as she is with her brother. Does she turn off playmates because she so much wants to control whatever game they are playing? Again, investigation is warranted. When we meet for school conferences, I am going to be like, "yeah, yeah, I know about the reading and math; how about their playground etiquette? How are they interacting with other kids?" (This is the main goal for 1st grade anyway, right?)

I made a new rule for at home. A consequence needs to happen for hitting. We need to have a zero tolerance for solving problems with violence. But I am certainly not going to single out the hitter. I think the hit-ee definitely has a part in this. So far, since I instigated the "time-out" rule for BOTH kids if hitting happens, no hitting has happened. What do you know?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Family Vacation -- an oxymoron

I heard once someone said a vacation is something you do on a South Pacific island or a Mexican resort. When traveling with kids, you're on a trip. There is nothing remotely vacation-like about it, other than the fact that you're eating out at restaurants. When you're with kids, however, the restaurants force an inedible kid's menu on children with the same 4 deep-fried, questionable chicken items on it.

Traveling with kids to visit family is an altogether different kind of trip. When we travel to visit my family who live on the same coast, but two, long states away, it's as if we went to another world, my kids think. They love seeing their cousins, their grandparents, aunts and uncles. They relish in the sleeping in a hotel and watching TV in the morning.

They get excited that they get to sleep in and maybe even get a day off from school.

I, on the other hand, find this trip to visit my family (which we do at least twice or three times a year) to be difficult on so many levels.

First, I hate, and I really do mean hate, being so far away from my family. For reasons that are best for everyone, I live in Southern California, and they live in the Pacific Northwest. Every time we go there, I long for them more and more. To just hop over and visit, or have my brother come by and hang out while I wash my car would be dreamy. Alas, it is never to be, so I feel like I have to cram in together time. Too much togetherness does not make for the carefree, happy days of my childhood that I think I'm trying to recreate. We just end up getting on each others' nerves.

Second, my mother is in a nursing home. She has a degenerative disease that has her wheelchair bound and unable to walk. (This trip, she held T2 on her lap in the recliner. This was the first time she has held one of my children since they were born. Damn, too, if I didn't leave the camera in said hotel room in the moment that I would have wanted to capture the most.) Nursing homes and small children don't mix, people. I think you get the picture. I wish that she didn't have this disease. I wanted my kids to have a grandmother who would babysit or take them to the park or walk with them. This is not what we have, so I have to take whatever time with her I can get.

Finally, the over-stimulated, TV-laden, junk-food haven nirvana that my kids find this trip to be is exasperating for me. While trying to create all the together time mentioned above, my kids get my shortened temper, lack of consistent discipline, and annoyance. Sometimes it's hard just to keep them moving forward. They, too, find each other intolerable after 16 straight hours together. Their short fuses combined with mine are a volatile combination.

And then, after 4 days, it's over. I'm back home and wondering how soon we can go back.

I was filled with a kind of ennui today as I went back to my routine. Something about the trip, despite all of its difficulties, is exciting, a way to escape the everyday. A vacation it's not, but I'll take the trip anyway, and many more like it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Did someone say group hug?

We had a cool "balance-affirming" moment this week.

Last month, I had to reluctantly sign up my kids for after-school care with the local parks and rec department. I thought I could cram my full time job into the 6 hours a day that my kids are in school, but I just can't do it. I was frantically ducking out of meetings in order to drive 21 miles on the freeway (God, I hope there's no traffic) to get there in time to pick them up. The after-school care means that there's a little less pressure on me, and I feel like I can do my job without people judging my "leaving early."

This week, the kids were at the after-school program on Monday for 8 hours because the school was closed for a "pupil-free" day. Not very "working-family-friendly." My meeting lasted until 5 pm, so my husband picked the kids up at 5:30, and I ran in the door at 5:50, threw an apron over my skirt and blouse, and started cooking dinner.

In a brief moment of passing, I stopped to hug my husband. My daughter came in the room and said, "I want a hug too!" She ran at us and grasped our legs. Then T1 came in. He wanted in on it too. "Family hug!!!" we all cried. And we picked up the kids (really not very easy, now that they're almost 7) and had a good long squeeze.

This was very affirming to me. This is why I do it. I really feel so lucky to have such sweet kids, and I sincerely recognize that luck when I spend a little time away from them. If I were home with the kids all day, which I also love, I don't think I would have appreciated them as much as I did in that moment. Likewise, I don't think they would have wanted to be around me at all anymore. I shared this story with my colleague at work the next day, and he said, "It's about balance. You're showing them that work matters, and they matter too."

We're taking a family trip this weekend when we'll be together 24/7 for the next 4 days. That's a different post altogether....