Work with me, please.

Strong Finisher

orange beltMae tested for her orange belt in Tae Kwon Do last Thursday. While performing an exercise called Second Form, whatever that is, she made a mistake.  She paused and started over.  The three classmates testing with her kept going.  She didn’t try to catch up with them.  She took her time.   I could she that she was concentrating hard.  She finished . Then, the entire group had to repeat the set of moves.  The second time, she did a great job from start to finish.  They all did.

Before going on to the next phase of the test, the Master Instructor praised Mae for starting over and taking her time.  He told her that he liked that she didn’t just stop.  He said that she’ll be a “strong finisher in life.”  I was more proud of her for staying the course than I was for getting the belt.

Mae told me a few weeks ago that she didn’t want to take the test because she didn’t feel ready.  She said she couldn’t remember all of the Second Form.  At first, I thought about asking the teacher if she could work with Mae a little extra.  I talked myself out of that.  Instead, I asked Mae what was the worst that could happen?  She wouldn’t get the orange belt, which would be disappointing and upsetting.  Then, life would go on.  I pointed out that she had several more weeks to practice.  I reminded her of the Fourth Agreement, always do your best.   She relaxed after our talk.  I did too.  The talk was as much for me as for her.  When she first said she was worried, a vision of a huge meltdown in the middle of the dojo flashed across my mind.  But I can’t save her from everything.  Failure is a part of life and learning.  I told myself that if she failed, I’d just have to be prepared to give her a shoulder.  So, it all worked out.  My Strong Finisher.

The whole week finished on a high note.  I went on a field trip with Jay’s class, which was a welcome break from the office.  I had Jay and one other mild-mannered kid with me.  Some of the other moms were envious; they had rowdy kids.  One mom told a kid that he wouldn’t be allowed to go on field trips in the future unless one of his parents came along.  Parents who are used to easy-to-manage kids have no idea.  Next time, I’ll volunteer to take him if he doesn’t have a parent on the trip.  Compared to my girlchild, he would have been a piece of cake.

When I went back to work on Friday, I had three deadlines and I met all of them, plus a slew of stuff that I wasn’t expecting to do.  But the absolute highlight of my week was that I found a pair of shoes on sale for $19.99 and went I to pay, I had exactly $19.99 in reward points.  Yep, I walked out with a free pair of shoes, no taxes, nothing.

This morning, I went to Jay’s school to help in the garden that the principal recently started.  I took my neglected gardening tools and gloves, meant for the garden that exists only in my head, and put them to good use.  I have neither vegetable nor flower in my own yard, but while my kids are in summer camp at the school, they’ll have an opportunity to see, touch and taste some of nature’s bounty and I’ll get some credit for it.  🙂

Today is Saturday, and I have nothing planned outside of the house for the rest of today and tomorrow.  That means we have no excuse to let our garage remain in its current crowded, unorganized condition.  So, that’s my tomorrow.  For now, Hubby found an Irish documentary that involves fighting.  I like Irish stories and he likes fighting, so we have a date.

Winding Down

It’s been so long since I’ve been here! The clouds are breaking. Work has lightened up, at least for now. We have a new staff member, which I hope means that my workload will stay reasonable. Homework is decreasing as the end of the school year gets closer. Whew! I’m convinced that 3rd grade has been harder on me as a parent this year than it was when I was a student myself some 30 plus years ago.

20130522-072907.jpgI finished my cake decorating class. If grades were given, I would have been lucky to get a C. For the last class project, my cake leveler broke and I was unable to get the nice, smooth surface I wanted. I made cream cheese frosting, which the instructor recommended against. I’m a hardhead.  I could not bring myself to put butter cream icing on a red velvet cake, and I didn’t have time to make two frostings. I took my chances. As a result, my frosting was too soft to make the pretty flowers I saw in my head. At least the cake tasted good (or so I was told). You couldn’t tell by looking at the final cake, but I actually learned a lot.  I need practice, which means that I need to bake, which I haven’t had time to do. Well, this weekend I will have time as well as a reason to celebrate. Yesterday was the birthday of Albert, Jay’s favorite stuffed puppy. Albert has birthdays every few weeks. Jay decides the theme and plans the party, including the type of cake and how it should be decorated. He gave Albert three birthday gifts yesterday, including a sleeping bag that looked like a sock. So, we’ll top off the celebration with a special cake for Albert.

Mae is done with social skills training until the fall while the therapist takes a summer break.  I definitely plan to return to the social skills playgroup.   I had a nice, long talk with the  therapist during our last visit.  She talked about helping the kids recognize “unlikeable” behaviors that make it difficult for other kids to stay friends with them.  I’m convinced that there is value in structured play time with interventions or corrections as necessary, both in being corrected and seeing others corrected.  A teacher told me recently that kids need to see or hear something at least 17 times to master it or make it habitual.  So, I’m going with that.  The cognitive behavioral therapy is on hold because we couldn’t get a regular slot that worked for our schedules.  If Mae asks to go during the summer, it may work out better since we won’t have to worry about homework.

This weekend I’ll also be working on travel plans for a vacation in June.  Sooo looking forward to that!  The vacation, that  is, not the planning.

Spread Thin

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I would have written this post days ago were it not for Ruzzle, that addictive word game that has become my go-to mental break.

Work was on fire the past two weeks. I gave away hours of personal and family time in the evenings and weekends to keep up with the demands. I went to bed exhausted and woke up groggy and still exhausted.

Mae went back to therapy and social skills training last week, after a break of over one year. Overall, the school year has been great compared to past years. This is still a critical time. She’s made some friends and she seems to have a lot of fun with them . . . until someone doesn’t want to play tag. Then, the crying begins and then the teasing about the crying begins. Last week, she decided to give an upper cut to some boy who wouldn’t stop mocking her crying. She told me that night that no one likes or wants her anymore because they won’t play tag with her.

It’s the self-degradation and the hitting that worry me. I’m afraid that her classmates will stop wanting to play with her at all because of how she reacts when they want to do something other than what she wants to do.

So, we’re continuing to work on how to play what others are playing or learn to move on and play with someone else, and how to handle disappointments and disagreements.

Before tonight’s appointment, Mae said, “Today is a perfect day to go to Dr. [M]. I have a bunch of stuff to talk about. Last time, she did most of the talking. This time, I think I should do most of the talking.” And talked, she did.

I was unsure that more one-on-one therapy would be beneficial, but I’m glad we went. I think it’s good in the long run that Mae has a practice of going to safe places and people when something is troubling her. Unfortunately, we have a scheduling issue. Our choices now are 5 pm or 8 pm appointments. So, we’ll have to postpone more sessions until the therapist has different openings or I can change my work schedule.

Mae thinks social skills training is fun because she gets to play with other kids. The group meets on Saturday mornings, so the scheduling is working for us right now. She is the only girl in the group, which sucks. She seems to have more trouble playing with girls, and I was hoping for some practice in that area.

In better news, Mae and I had an awesome time for her birthday in NYC. It was a fun-packed two days. We got to do everything on our list and we made a new list of things to do on the next trip. We’ve already made a photo book, which is a birthday tradition, for the trip. She asked to add the captions this time, which took some letting go on my part. I had to tell myself, “She’s nine. Let her tell her story in her own words (and edit it before ordering :))”.

I started a 4-week cake decorating class. I didn’t do too bad on my first cake. The kids recognized it right away as an Angry Bird, and that’s all the validation I need. I thought it was much better than the “my family” foursome of mini cakes I made for Mae’s birthday. I thought Jay should have been easily recognizable with his two missing teeth and Mohawk. Hubby said that his cake should have had hair although he doesn’t wear any in real life. Oh well, I’m learning.

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20130325-213045.jpgIt’s not often that I feel my age. Having “young children” has helped tremendously. But, as Mae and Jay become older and more independent, especially Mae, I feel my “young parent” vibe slipping away.

Mae turned 9 today.  I gave her a bathrobe and a book about girls’ bodies for her birthday.  She requested a robe because she’s now self-conscious about leaving the bathroom undressed after a shower or bath.  I told her that the book will serve as a reference as she notices changes in her body.  We talked about menses and what she should expect when her cycle begins.  It wasn’t my intention, but I freaked her out a little.  She imagined walking through the school hallway leaving a trail of blood behind her and kids slipping in the blood.  She said, “Mom, you’re scaring me!”  Heck, it’s scary for me, too!  In a different way.  I assured her that all of this stuff is normal and there are lots of women at her school who can help her.

Last week, my mom sent Mae two birthday outfits that I thought were a little mature, including a pair of jeans with studs down the side of the legs and another with bold, glittery swirls down the side. Mae loved the outfits. She told me that she would wear one to skate night because she most definitely could not wear her school uniform. She used to care so little about clothes (other than refusing adamantly to wear dresses and skirts).

I’ve avoided certain styles (curse skinny jeans!) because I think children should dress and look like children, not mini adults. But, I said nothing about the new clothes, just looked and listened helplessly.  Hubby takes her side on this issue, putting me in the minority. He’s the one who took her and Jay skating and she told him she wants to begin buying her own clothes. He told me that she’s not a little girl anymore and her clothing and hair should reflect as much. Today, he gave her a Target gift card for her birthday and told her she could go clothes shopping.  I guess she can’t wear jeans with embroidered butterflies and flowers forever.

I knew this phase was coming and something about this number 9 makes it more real for me.  There are nothing but double digits after this and more stuff to get scared about.  Waaaa!

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. . . because one screen is not enough.

My eight-year old Mae is a bit birthday obsessed right now. It started on March 1. Shortly after she woke up, some of her first words were, “Can we celebrate my birthday all month long?” Her birthday is March 25. That’s a lot of build-up. She caught me off-guard; we haven’t done month-long celebrations in the past. So, I said, “Uhhh . . . make a list of things you would like to do for your birthday and then we’ll see.” (I have found that asking for a list is a great way to get the kids to leave me alone about something. It buys me valuable time to think. I also secretly hope that after the list is made, they will come to their senses and realize how greedy/unreasonable/unrealistic they are being. This hasn’t happened yet.)

There was one thing I already knew Mae wanted for her birthday. Back in January, she asked if she could take cupcakes to school. She had discussed it with a classmate whose birthday is the day before and they agreed that their moms should bring cupcakes. Then, I met the clasmate’s mom on a field trip. She and I talked and agreed that we would grant their request do as we were told. Since then, Mae has said to me at least twice that she wants cupcakes but they should be cookies instead. I haven’t figured out what this means, and I’ll sort it out closer to the date.

Meanwhile, I’m planning an overnight stay for her and me in New York for the weekend after her birthday. She is super excited about this, and I’m getting hit with all kinds of questions about what we’re going to do in the city. Yesterday, though, she said to me, “we’ve been talking a lot about my birthday, but we haven’t talked much about presents. Am I still going to get presents from my family and friends?” I began my annual spiel about how birthdays are not about presents.

Me:  Birthdays are about celebrating life and spending time with family and friends.

Her:  I know, I know. But, present control is important.

Those are her actual words: “present control”.

I don’t even know what that means. She continued talking about presents. I heard more words coming from her in the back seat but I can’t tell you what she said. I was asking myself over and over, “Did she really just say “present control”? Then, my mind went to how hard I’ve tried to emphasize people and relationships over things; gratitude; not taking things for granted; and all that good stuff. And, lo and behold, she’s trying to implement “present control,” whatever that is.

Three years ago, when she turned six, she had a birthday party and we asked the guests to bring a gift for the children’s hospital in DC instead of for Mae. A few weeks later, she and I delivered the gifts to the hospital. That was too long ago, and it’s time for another attitude gratitude shift.

She’s too busy during the week right now with homework, but during the summer, I hope we can find a regular volunteer activity that will help her gain a greater appreciation for what it means to have and have not.

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Jay’s teacher sent a note home last week asking for donations of tattered clothes and blankets for use as costumes. Her plan: have the kindergarteners perform a skit wherein they dress as slaves and re-enact escaping from slavery through the Underground Railroad.

Eeek. This whole thing would have slipped past me had another parent not brought it to my attention last Thursday. Sometimes, there is so much information that comes home with the kids that I simply focus on the homework and disregard all the other information. #parentingfail

Hubby and I talked about the teacher’s request and the skit, and I thought about it over the weekend. Finally, I sent a polite email to the teacher and the school principal saying that I had misgivings about the children portraying slaves. One can certainly learn about slavery without acting like a slave. I informed them that Hubby and I were not going to allow Jay to portray a slave. Other parents voiced their concerns as well in a reasoned, articulate manner (from what I can tell).

The teacher sent an apology email yesterday and explained that she had not intended to be insensitive. Her intent was to use the skit to celebrate freedom and human dignity. I believe her. And, for all I know, Mae participated in the same skit when she had this same teacher in kindergarten three years ago without Hubby and I realizing it.  We didn’t attend the Black History Month Celebration back then. #parentingfail

As it turns out, Teacher has been out sick for over a week and has been unable to fully prepare the kids. So, the skit is canceled anyway.  I’d like to think that she would have deferred to the judgment of the parents and canceled the skit based on our concerns. Slavery is an emotional subject still for a lot of people, and too complex for children so young to understand what weight their parents might feel from seeing them pretending to be slaves.  Even with an African-American in the White House and other outstanding accomplishments in every area of life, we’re not there yet.

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From time to time, I let myself out of food jail and cook something that I will likely be the only person in my home to eat. I love okra and I’ve been thinking for a while about an okra soup dish that I used to have at a West African restaurant in D.C. umpteen years ago. It was an ooey, gooey mess of okra over a whole deep-fried croaker. I think there was white rice too, and if not, there should have been. So, last night, I decided to try to recreate it, using as a starting point an okra soup recipe in a White House garden cookbook that my Ma-in-law gave me. To make the dish a little healthier, I opted for pan-fried trout and wild rice (well, to be honest, I would have cooked white rice, but I didn’t have any).

Normally, I would have cooked something else for the rest of the family. But, I was too tried, having left the house shortly after 9:00 am for an extended birthday party that involved building a bear, then food and play, then swimming; grocery shopping; and a trip to the dry cleaners.

I left it to Hubby to figure out what he and Dem Kids would eat. Wonderful man that he is, he pulled together some fries and nuggets, while I sat guilt-free on the couch with my little feast.

Sometimes, it’s ok to ignore people, the ones we love as well as others. I had practice last weekend too.

The longtime Dharma for Kids teacher at our Buddhist center left because her husband’s job relocated them to another country. Good for them, not so good for us. Now, parents are taking turns teaching each Sunday. My first turn was last Sunday. My luck, there was an 11-year old smart alec visiting for the first time. He was unhappy with his mom for leaving him with “the babies.” And, he didn’t try to hide it at all. I actually felt a little bad for him, until he started interrupting my story-reading every 90 seconds with questions that he thought were so clever but not. One of his questions was “If Buddha could see into the future, why didn’t he create a cure for cancer and HIV?” A better question would be “Why didn’t Buddha prevent cancer and HIV?” The other kids asked questions out of genuine curiosity or shared thoughts related to the story. That’s wonderful and welcome. I admit that I pretended not to see Smart Alec’s hand once, maybe twice. Let him drill his mom at home; it wasn’t my fault she made him come. By the way, this is further evidence that I could never be a teacher. But, otherwise it was a lovely class.

You can’t make everyone happy all the time. So, why not make yourself happy at least some of the time?

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