Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Library memories, childhood books, and parental censorship

My parents did a lot of things right when it came to raising me and my brother.  I certainly didn't think this when I was a child, a teen or in my twenties, but LAWD I think so now that I am bringing up my own children.

One of the things my parents did, specifically my mother, was take us to the library.  I distinctly remember selecting books at our local branch, which was also the library at the nearest public high school.

I had a habit as a kid of reading the same books over and over again at the kitchen table when I was eating.  I guess I couldn't handle eating and reading something new that required my undivided attention, so when I wanted to snack I would pick a book I knew backwards and forwards.  (I'm STILL not terribly good at this as an adult).

One book I read repeatedly was Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade.


I had to do an online hunt for this book this morning because I could remember the premise and the cover but not the title or author.

There were 3 other books that I read constantly:

Then Again, Maybe I Won't (middle school)



Jimmy Reardon (high school)


California Dreamin' (college and older)


I suppose thinking about my own childhood reading makes me think about what I "allow" my own kids to read.  N is reading the Harry Potter series now; she is on Book 3.  She started the Divergent series, but took a break to focus on Hogwarts.  I make her read award winners periodically, but otherwise I try to let her select things she would like to read.

This is the Language Arts teacher in me, I guess.  I know my mother never asked what I was reading.  I think she just wanted me to read.  Seeing her read and taking her to the library was how she modeled what she wanted.

It can be a dangerous thing to too strongly censor what kids read, ESPECIALLY if the parents have never read the books in question.  I've seen this happen, and it makes no sense to me.  If a parent HAS read the book and thinks it is inappropriate, I have no problem with their decision.  But to censor a book simply because of what one has heard, or even from a book review, is thoughtless, in my opinion.

Take Anna Karenina, for example.  Someone who has never read this book and only read blurbs might just think it is a book about a Russian slut.  They might automatically write it off their list because it is about a woman who commits adultery.

Anyone who HAS read the novel knows that the entire book uses another character as a foil for Anna Karenina; a man who spends the entire novel in a constant state of moral consideration.  A man who ultimately chooses a much different path from Anna and not only survives but endures, thrives, finds a measure of peace that Anna never was able to attain.  He is a man who chooses God, who chooses hope and belief.

Of course, a certain amount of age-appropriate censorship is normal.  I won't allow my 5th grader to read The Great Gatsby.  It is too adult for her.  I would never condone my child reading any of the Fifty Shades of Stupid of Grey books.  But I have read the first one; it was terribly written.

Sometimes censoring stuff only makes the draw that much stronger for a kid.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas a year later--G and his sensory issues

We are 15 days into December 2014, and it is markedly better than last December.

G has been in OT for almost a year.  He has a year's worth of maturity behind him.  He and I did a few months of CBT together last winter and spring.

He isn't crying before school every day, commenting on his coat itching and his sleeves bothering him.  He isn't hitting me.  He isn't a complete wreck of nerves about what gifts may come.

This isn't to say he is "fixed."  We are managing him better.

He knows what gifts he is getting from Mommy & Daddy.  He knows the general category of what he is getting from his Nana/Pa and my brother/sister-in-law (a board game & a video game figure). I had him make a list of 3 items for Santa, and I told him that Santa said he would get all 3 items because they are small.

We've had to take as much of the surprise out of Christmas as we possibly can without ruining it for N and M, who are much, much easier going and happy with whatever they get from anybody.  Who don't get freaked out by the idea of Santa coming into the house.

I have had to let go of whatever I think I am "supposed" to do with him and just modify as I need to.  If peeling the skin off a red pepper means he will eat some red pepper, I will do that.  Eventually, he can peel the skin off himself with a knife.

It hasn't been an easy road, but I like being around my kid more.  I can appreciate all the great things about him better than I could twelve months ago.  He sat this morning for over a half hour putting together a Lego set--completely focused, completely quiet.  He didn't get frustrated, or if he did, he managed and kept at it.  He didn't fall apart.  That is huge.

I am able to accept that he is going to awaken every day at 6:00 and start talking from the instant he gets up.  We started him on melatonin in October, which we give him Sunday through Thursday nights, and that has made a tremendous difference for both him and me.

He is a super, super smart kid.  His IQ test showed him as average or slightly above, but I know from his questions that he is a deep thinker.  On the way to Nana and Pa's house yesterday, he asked about the number infinity (his second go-round on the concept of infinity).  He keeps trying to grasp what it is and how would a person know if they had gotten there.  How many 7-year-old kids know that infinity is a mathematical concept and attempt to grapple with it?

His next question was, "If someone was hanging at the bottom of Earth and let go to float into space, what is the first thing they'd hit?"  He knows that gravity keeps a person on Earth, but he is fascinated by space, by direction, by the lack of direction in space.  He asked whether if someone cut the earth in half at the equator whether the line would be vertical or horizontal.

Driving while being questioned like this seems somewhat more dangerous than being intoxicated.

I am better able to appreciate his sweetness.  He asked if we could buy Santa a special box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and leave it for him on the kitchen table.  When I suggested we just leave him one of the doughnuts that we will eat on Christmas morning (from another bakery), G got teary at the prospect of not being able to do his idea.  "I just want to do something really special for Santa to thank him," he said.  And so Santa will be getting 2 Krispy Kreme doughnuts in a box because I can't crush that instinct to be both sweet and thankful.

G is still maddening.  Persnickety and complex.  The snowfall in November was a nightmare getting him into his winter clothes that first time, but it was better the second time later that day.  He experienced some sensory issues on Halloween, but it wasn't a full-on battle.

Getting a handle on his sensory issues and giving him (and us) tools, with the benefit of time, has made a tremendous and positive difference.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas is not a holiday for minimalists

On a typical Christmas Day I spend the hours wandering around the house searching out clear plastic bins in which to store all the new crap.  Newly opened gifts don't sit under the tree for very long.  By mid-day, preferably, they are put into their new homes.

Christmas is, without a doubt, the bane of minimalists.

This year I have been trying to keep from spending all of Christmas Day in a fit of anxiety.  I have, therefore, spent the entire month in a perplexing state of both buying new stuff (because I have to) and unloading lots of old stuff (because I want to).

If I had my preferences, every adult in both mine and D's families would forego gift-giving.  We would get together to eat, watch the kids open gifts and chat.  And every adult would be limited to giving each child only.1.gift.  But that isn't going to happen, so I go buy stuff for gift exchanges and try to accept that my children will be lost in a pile of stuff from grandparents, aunts, uncles and Santa.

At the same time that I've been shopping, I have been throwing out stuff that is either outright junk or stuff I don't truly love.  Earlier in the month our neighborhood had a bulk pick-up so I tossed baby bed parts that I had thought, "Maybe some day I'll become a carpenter and up-cycle something completely cool."  

After 17 years, we shipped our first Christmas tree to Goodwill.  We bought it for our first married Christmas when we had zero furniture and 3 fewer children.  It was huge, and over time simply didn't fit into the space.  A number of years I didn't even put limbs on the back and held the bottom down with hand-weights to keep it from being quite so huge.  I felt like 17 years was a good run for a tree, so didn't mind spending $100 for a smaller tree.  I also donated tons of Christmas items that had been given to me over the years; things I didn't love.

I've gone through toys and clothes and pulled aside things the kids no longer touch or wear and have them in the basement, ready to be sorted and priced for the spring consignment sales.  This week before the kids are out of school I'll be going through their bedrooms and desks, pulling aside precious items of half-written on paper, rubber bands and other things that qualify as trash in my book.

It is terribly difficult for me to reconcile within myself what Christmas should mean with what Christmas actually is.  My long-standing issues with Christmas date back to my childhood, so I think it is mostly a personality thing, although the materialism of the holiday worsens every year.

I think I've decided that my favorite holiday is the 4th of July.  No gifts.  No madness of grocery shopping for pumpkin-oriented items and stuffing.  No overabundance of candy and rabbits and plastic eggs.

Simply getting together, eating, playing outside.  The only downside is the humidity. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Introversion as a result of motherhood? Or aging? Or busyness? Or medication?

When I was younger, I definitely skewed more extroverted.  I felt like I needed to be around other people for energy, in order to thrive.  I was neither comfortable nor happy when I was alone.  I didn't know what to do with myself if I was by myself for very long at all.

D told me tonight that I have become an introvert, which I found surprising, not because I hadn't thought it but because it is obvious enough for someone else to notice.  I tire of people so easily now and really welcome nothing but silence when I have moments to myself.  By the end of the day, I find myself saying, "I really need for you to stop talking to me," to both D and the kids.  My ears simply can't listen anymore.

I'm not certain whether this introversion is a function of motherhood.  Perhaps being with one or more of my children for all but 9 hours of the week for over a decade will do that to a person?  Perhaps because I am being talked to I am simply worn to a sensory nub and require quiet to decompress and revitalize for more chatter the next day?  

Or maybe it is a function of having a busy life?  Because of the kids I feel like I am always running errands or planning something or taking someone somewhere, so I relish any time I get at home, inside, where I am not around tons of other people.  

Or maybe it is a function of being medicated and having my thoughts not drive me crazy?  Maybe having a quieter, less worried mind has made it easier and more pleasant for me to spend time with only myself?

Or maybe this is just what happens as a person gets older?  
Or maybe it is a function of being married to an introvert for 17 years and picking up habits?

Some time ago, I took a Myers-Briggs test and was smack dab in the middle between extroversion and introversion.  Perhaps how much I lean toward introversion changes depending on how much people/chatter time I've had?  

I think because I like to chat with people and am pretty approachable and friendly, people automatically put me in the extroversion category and might be surprised by the notion that I'm moving more towards introversion.  

But introversion doesn't mean a person doesn't like to talk;  I'm not shy; I just find that talking too long....or being talked to too long....sucks my energy; wears me out.  Makes me feel like I need to go away and recharge with silence. 


Thursday, December 4, 2014

I'm a yeller when I'm yelled at first

Our financial advisor gave me a brilliant piece of advice I've tried to remember (and I've probably blogged about it).  He likened parenthood to investment.  

If you put money in the bank or investments, and you consistently do it, then on the rare occasions when you have to take money out to buy a faulty water heater or some other hardship, it isn't such a big deal.  

Same with parenting.  

You make "deposits" into your relationships with your children and then, on those occasions when you completely lose.your.sh*t., you have plenty of good feeling in the relationship bank so it isn't such a big deal.  

Today, I made a big OLE FAT withdrawal from the bank that was precipitated by M screaming his head off in the car and kicking the side door and window of the minivan.  Of course, I was the evil mother who made a 5-minute errand to buy his preschool teacher a gift card after picking him up in carpool.  Call CPS!  Mom made me run an errand!

I know all the parenting books and articles and manuals say, "Don't yell at your kids!  You'll scare them."  

But here is what I think, and the parenting experts can bite it:

1. I don't yell first.  I give options.  I talk calmly.  I try to ignore.  But when I do these things and get a giant stinking pile of psycho-kid-behavior launched directly at me, I can and will go ballistic on my children.  

2. While yelling at my children, I am very clear to point out that the reason Mommy is yelling is because they launched a giant pile of stinking psycho-kid-sh*t at me, and perhaps, if they had not done so I wouldn't feel like I'd give a zillion dollars to NOT BE AROUND THEM RIGHT THIS SECOND.

3. While yelling, I also take away a privilege.  I want them to understand that in addition to being disrespectful (or downright dangerous if they are doing this crap while I am trying to drive, as M was today), they made me angry, and so their tantrum didn't get them anything they wanted at all.  It made me mad, AND they lost a privilege.  

4. If we don't occasionally have mass blow-ups, we miss the opportunity to talk about what a dreadful thing it is to have blow-ups.  Today, M said "I'm sorry" (something he has never done), and I said, "I'm sorry for yelling," (something I have often done).  (When it comes to setting a marriage example, D and I are not yellers at all.  We get annoyed at each other, of course, but we don't raise our voices or call names or do any of that stuff.  I'm not sure if built-up resentment is better, but somehow we've managed to stay mostly happily married for 17 years.)

I don't say any of this to condone it.  It sucks.  I wish I could remain calm and reasonable.  My patience only goes so far.  Maybe because I generally keep my "parenting" bank account with my kids pretty full, I don't worry that they will fall into piles of pathetic rubble when I yell.

What I do worry about more is that if I pussy-foot around them, talking calmly and not showing a  "true, real" response, they will think it is perfectly ok to do whatever the heck they want around mom.  Push my buttons and drive me crazy, and I'll just take it smiling.  And should they ever do this kind of stuff around someone else, that someone else who doesn't love them will bash their teeth in.

I don't necessarily think a kid knowing "The only reason I am not strangling you with my bare hands is because I really do love you, but you will NOT treat me like a piece of crap" is a bad thing.  

I'm sure this will be good fodder for my "Mother of the Year" speech.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I remember when underwear for Christmas was a horrible gift

When I was a kid, we had a next-door neighbor whom we called Nana.  I remember she would buy us Christmas presents every year.  I also remember the feeling of disappointment because she would buy us underwear.  No kid wants underwear for Christmas.  From anyone. Under any circumstances.

And now, I think fondly on the underwear from Nana because I would LOVE to get undergarments for Christmas.  Like a new, well-fitting bra.

They say adults lose their ability to feel joy or magic, but I disagree. I simply think the things they find joyous and magical change.  Like underwear.  Or a new dishwasher when theirs doesn't work anymore.

D's family does a Christmas gift exchange every year so, for any of them who might have my name and might read this blog and might need this information, here are some suggestions of things I could use:

1. a new bra, which no one will buy me (so a gift card to Victoria's Secret or anyplace that sells nice bras would be fantastic so I could apply it toward a new bra.  I haven't purchased a nice bra for myself since pre-nursing....so almost 11 years ago.)

2. tall socks (the older I get, the colder I get, so I wear tall socks all winter long.  Including to bed.)

That's it.

I did order myself some new Old Navy long-sleeve t-shirts because most of mine are stained, have holes or are stretched out (and have a new life in my pajama drawer).  I called my mom (who, like me, abhors shopping) and said, "Want to give me some of these shirts for Christmas?"

As soon as the weather turned cold, I bought myself some new house slippers because my previous pair, which N had given me before M was born so I'd have something nice for the hospital, were falling apart.

All of this discussion of practical, boring Christmas desires reminds me of why I am such a terrible shopper.  I am so practical that it sucks the fun out of shopping.  I always think, "Is this useful?" rather than, "Is this a great gift?"

For example, one of the best presents I got for Christmas one year was a pair of rain boots.  I would have eventually bought myself some, but I would have stewed over the purchase because rain boots, while not a luxury item, aren't necessities either.  But I use my rain boots a lot.

The only time when "Is this useful" and "Is this a great gift" coincide is when I buy teacher presents.  I always, always buy gift cards, and I try to buy to locally owned restaurants or find out where the teachers get their hair done.

Ok, I have really bored myself to death by writing this post.  I just better stop.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It is easy to find God in the Bible; elsewhere....it takes analysis

Again this year, I have had someone "complain" about the texts I've selected for my cottage school students.  This time, however, it is from a student; one of my 10th graders.

It is a difficult tight-rope to walk, selecting novels for homeschooling families, because while most kids are definitely more immersed in secular culture than I expected (all the boys in my middle school class play the aggressive video games or at least know about them), there are some students who seem more sheltered.

When I select texts, I look at whether they are award winners (Newbery, Pulitzer, Nobel), whether they are considered classics, and whether they are taught at other Christian homeschooling entities.  I then consult with my directors for final approval.

Everything I teach is from a Christian world-view, which isn't too terribly difficult to do given how all of them deal with ethically/morally difficult concepts: revenge, murder, betrayal, pride, infidelity, suffering, discrimination, etc.

After I learned about this student's moral problems with The Great Gatsby, I spoke with my middle schoolers and 9th/10th graders about my favorite class from college, a course called Theology in Modern Literature.  We read texts in which characters question God (Walker Percy's The MovieGoer) or struggle to find God within the suffering of life (Albert Camus The Plague).

I asked my students to consider the poor choices of characters they've read about (either last year in my class or this year):
Frankenstein--acting like God
The Count of Monte Cristo--seeking revenge; acting like God
The Odyssey--murder, mayhem, infidelity
To Kill a Mockingbird--racism, gossip
Medea--murder, revenge
The Great Gatsby--infidelity, drinking to excess, manslaughter
Maniac Magee--racism
Nothing But the Truth--outright lying or mismanaging the truth
Hatchet--divorce, infidelity

I then asked them to consider whether all of these poor choices made in these books are also made by people from the Bible.  The answer was a definite yes.

One student said, "Yes, but the Bible tells us not to do those things."  And I agree with her.  It is easy to know what God wants us to do if we read the Bible.

But I asked whether any of the secular texts we read encourage us to engage in these behaviors?  They do not.  They, too, serve as lessons of the pain, discomfort, and moral conundrums of poor choices.

God is in these texts, serving to help us understand other people's choices, their judgments, their weaknesses.  We have to work harder to find God in the works, and that is the point of the tools I give them for analysis.  We have to really think about our beliefs, about world beliefs, about what is right and wrong, what is compassionate, how Jesus would react to these characters.

And that, I think, is what living in the real world is like.  Life isn't black and white.  It is, most of the time, full-on gray.  Complex, difficult, forcing us to really think carefully about our beliefs and how we are going to choose to live.

Reading the Bible is good, but sometimes it causes us to too easily think and act in platitudes, to forget that in real life finding God is not obvious or easy.