Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Our Little Bigfoot Hunter

Christopher is obsessed with Bigfoot.  He conjures up plans to catch the Bigfoot he insists lives in the nearby forests.  The name Bigfoot used interchangeably with Yeti and/or Sasquatch.  It doesn't matter the Yeti's homeland is purportedly in the Himalayas or Bigfoot/Sasquatch supposedly exists in the Pacific Northwest, Christopher is convinced his nemesis lives right here in Michigan.

He's been obsessed with Bigfoot/Yeti for a couple of years now.  The first time I rode  Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom four years ago I told the boys how I came face-to-face with the Yeti who lives on the mountain. Really, it's just a white screen onto which a black Yeti shadow is projected, but, hey, in typical Disney tradition, I told the Yeti story in a more "magical" way.  Christopher asked approximately 1, 746 questions about said Yeti for the next several weeks and told everyone within earshot including bank tellers, grocery store clerks and passers-by that his mom braved Mt. Everest and a real-life Yeti.  He couldn't get enough.

Months passed without mention of the Yeti and just when I thought the Yeti fascination had finally waned, out popped another question.

A couple of years later, Nicholas's Little League team had a season-ending picnic at a nearby park.  A bunch of boys, including Christopher, went for a walk in the woods where Christopher was convinced he saw Bigfoot tracks.  The Bigfoot/Yeti fascination was in full-force again with more track sightings and walks through other forests uncovering, according to Christopher, indisputable traces of his existence.

Fast forward two more years and the Bigfoot fascination has reached monumental proportions.  Not only is Christopher convinced of Bigfoot's existence he has hatched a plan to catch the perpetrator.

Christopher has spent the better part of this school year devising a plan with his 2nd-grade buddy of how they are going to catch this villain.  They have come up with a very detailed, meticulous strategy that includes spyglasses,  trip wire, a very large net, rope and a flat board.  Once Bigfoot is safely tied up and secured on the board, Christopher plans to go directly to the news stations with his find.  Well, first he will show his teachers and friends at the school and then he will go directly to the media.

When I talked to Christopher's teacher during parent/teacher conferences she said Christopher has hard time paying attention in class.  He stares out the window or watches the clock countdown to recess.  Well, is it any wonder?  Bigfoot is out there and he needs to be stopped!

I wasn't thrilled with some of Christopher's report card marks and his math scores leave a lot to be desired but my thoughts on how to address this with Christopher changed when he wrote his very first story about Bigfoot. 

He cut out squares of paper, stapled them along the left spine, created his title page and wrote two chapters, along with corresponding pictures, about escaping the Bigfoot who tried to capture him and his friend Johnny. His story, by Christoper J. Murray (he included his middle initial for his "author"name), used words like "Johnny shrieked" and "I raced up the stairs" to describe his scary predicament.  He put a tremendous amount of thought and effort into his story, including quotation marks around the dialogue. He would like me to take his story and pass it around at my next writer's conference. How stinkin' cute this that?!

Christopher doesn't really care about 2 + 2.  He can't be bothered learning about parallel lines. Should I scold him because he has so many red marks on his math test or should I congratulate him on his 100% spelling tests, mile-long reading log and killer stories? 

I would rather nurture his creative side.  I know he has to learn to add and subtract and multiply, and he will because he's capable.  But, I would rather listen to him describe his Bigfoot escapades and read his skillful stories.  It's fascinating.

Christopher is on the road to uncovering his true talents and potential. I'm so glad I'm along for the ride.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I Yam What I Yam

I like to have a plan.  Unstructured or unplanned are not words spoken with any frequency in my vocabulary. I wouldn't spontaneously decide to go outside and fly a kite anymore than I would stick a hot needle in my eye. If it's not on the calendar, it ain't happenin'.

Do I wish I were a little more impulsive and more flexible? A thousand times over, yes. But, my routine brings a sense of peace to my life. I need peace in my life. So, maybe in another life I will be less rigid and more spur-of-the-moment, but for now "I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam."

I have to accept my idiosyncrasies because try as I might I can't change them. I also have to accept that my kids have idiosyncrasies of their own.  They may never understand my compulsion for schedules and order any more than I will understand their own sometimes endearing, sometimes quirky traits.

Christopher is loud.  He also likes to talk.  Nonstop.  The kid is the energizer-bunny of conversation.  Unless he's asleep, he's talking.  To ask  him to be quiet or to stop talking is like asking him to recite the dictionary in Spanish.  He doesn't know how.  His conversational skills serve him well, however, with his friends who are eager to sit and listen to Christopher talk about anything and everything and laugh while doing it.  At a recent school party several parents told me how their children come home after school sharing stories of Christopher's conversations and comedic talents. They think he's a hoot.  Even though my precious son can be exhausting sometimes, I'd rather have a child who talks incessantly and lives life with his kind of zeal than one who is quiet with the personality of a rock.

Nicholas is a pack-rat of the worst kind.  He cannot throw anything away. Ever.  I certainly don't understand his need to keep every button, piece of tape, broken pencil, orphaned game piece or other hundreds of thingamajigs, but they are important to him.  He's allowed to keep his "stuff" as long as it's put away in drawers, containers or on the shelves behind closed closet doors.  He has seven dresser drawers only three of which are used for clothes!

Sometimes Christopher tries to be quiet but it doesn't work.  Sometimes Nicholas tries to part with his things but it's too hard. Sometimes I try  to be less rigid, like on our recent trip to Walt Disney World and then I fall back into my old habits.

In past trips to Disney, I had dining reservations made months in advance and daily schedules planned to the minute with accompanying maps to make sure we arrived at our destination on time.  I would print a vacation-week calendar labeled with park transportation options, confirmation numbers, extra magic hour schedules, resort amenities and how much time we could fit in at the pool.

It's a sickness, I know. 

So, this year I decided to not have a schedule.  We would arrive at the parks with no set itinerary and no accompanying map.  The horror!

I survived.  I'm not saying it was easy because I had a slight anxiety attack at the Animal Kingdom when I realized we would miss Finding Nemo-The Musical because we decided to spend extra time in Asia and DinoLand U.S.A.  However, if I had my military-precision schedule in hand, Christopher would have missed the chance to ride Primeval Whirl, his first roller coaster.  We would have missed the chance to ride the Dinosaur ride twice.  Nicholas and I wouldn't have bonded over Expedition Everest as many times as we were able.  Besides, we made it to the Festival of the Lion King and Flights of Wonder shows on time so all was good. 

Even though I left my vacation week calendar at home and pretended to have a schedule-free week I still had us at the parks on time for Extra Magic Hours. We still managed to get to the transportation stations on time and in order.  I still managed to get everyone to the shows we did plan to see at the Animal Kingdom.  We also got through Epcot and Magic Kingdom hitting every one of our favorite rides and shows and then some.

I may not have had a piece of paper to keep track of our schedule but my mind was constantly calculating just the same.  Try as I might to be spontaneous, I still need some order.  I still need a plan. 

I yam what I yam.  And so are you.  And that's what makes us unique.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How Much Do You Want It?

The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. - Randy Pausch

We've never kept up with the Joneses and we aren't about to start now.  But, as my kids get older the amount of things I say "no" to seems a bit overwhelming.  It's amazing to me how my sons' friends get just about whatever they ask for and I'm left to tell my kids, "nope...not gonna happen."

Nicholas wails because he says he is the ONLY kid without an iPod Touch.  He is the ONLY kid who never had a DS.  He is the ONLY kid who doesn't have Osiris high tops. I know it's not true because I do have friends who won't buy their kids iPod Touches or Osiris high tops, but we seem to be in the minority. 

I don't care how mean my kids think I am, I have no intention of giving into whims and raising ungrateful kids.  If Nicholas wants an iPod Touch he's going to have to work for it.  We created an allowance schedule and put a price tag on odd jobs he can do around the house, like raking leaves or helping his dad clean the garage.  I sat down with him to show him just how long it would take to earn enough money to buy an iPod Touch.  If he earns his allowance every week he will be very close by his birthday.  We told him he could use birthday money to put towards his purchase so in all likelihood he could have a shiny new electronic toy in April.

The only caveat is he can lose allowance money by talking back, being mean to his brother, not doing as he's told or balking on his chores. So, you can see the conundrum.  He could earn the money but it won't be easy.

That's the point.

Nothing worth having in life ever really comes easy, does it?  We adults have to work for what we want.  We don't get handed shiny new electronic toys likes it's Christmas every day.  Name brand clothes and shoes aren't dropped on our doorsteps like we have fairy godmothers who grant our every wish. We need to go out and earn money to pay for things.  If we don't earn the money we don't get the things.  It's pretty simple. 

Nicholas thinks I'm mean because I won't buy him "stuff."  So be it.  We've had many discussions about wants vs. needs and the value of a dollar.  These lessons aren't learned overnight and I know I will keep repeating myself until even I'm sick of hearing my voice.  But, I also know that he will appreciate an iPod Touch he earned the money to pay for far more than he would appreciate one I bought it for him.  It's not easy always saying no and always being the bad guy, but it's my job to make sure he grows up to be a productive member of society who can support himself and not someone with his hand out asking, "where's mine?"  He will have to learn as I learned, as my parents and grandparents before me learned.

When Nicholas is really mad and says things like, "yanno, it's a real disadvantage to have parents who think they're perfect" I just smile.  He's mad and anger is a great motivator. 

If something is truly worth having, Nicholas might get mad enough to break through those brick walls and find a way to earn it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Two Days Off This Month

So, school just started this month, right?  My kids have already had two days off!

Tomorrow is one of the two September days the students and staff have off.  Which means since school started they have only had one full week of school.  I looked at the calendar and October is the only month of the school year that has no days off. 

Here is how the rest of it breaks down:

4 days off

2 weeks off - Winter Break

2 days off

1 week off - Mid Winter Break

2 days off

1 week off - Spring Break

2 days off

I don't claim to understand teacher contracts or number of school hours required by each state for the school year or how many minutes a school day should consist of, but what I do know is my kids work better with a routine and so do I.

I know I have a hard time getting into a groove because just when I do my kids seem to have a day off from school.  If I'm having a hard time getting into a groove imagine how hard it must be for the students.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Sound of Silence

I remember this day last year when I boo hooed about Christopher starting school full-time and how quiet it was in my house with no kids home during the day.  Well, I still get teary-eyed the first day of school but I gotta say, this year, I welcome the sound of silence.

We had a great summer.  I can't quite believe it's over so fast.  But, during that 2 1/2 month hiatus from school I am with the boys from sun up to sun down and silence isn't something I can count on with any frequency.  If we go out somewhere with a crowd, it's loud.  Even if we stay home, it's loud.  At night, when everyone tries to settle down but one brother hits the other brother as he walks by and a fight erupts, it's loud.  In the morning when it should be quiet because, well, it's morning, one brother scares the other brother as he comes out of his bedroom and it's loud. 

This summer was loud.  But, today, it's quiet. 

I'm a little bit anxious because it's been so loud for so long I'm just waiting for a door to burst open with one of my boys spilling forth tattling on the other for rude behavior during the neighborhood kickball game.  I still need reminding today that the boys are back in school because it just doesn't seem possible that summer flew by as fast as it did.  Even though I miss the heck out of them already I am thoroughly enjoying my quiet time.

Everyone always wants to know what you'll be doing when the kids go back to school.  I've got plenty lined up.  My to-do lists are growing. 

But, just for today, I'm enjoying the sound of silence.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Our Day in Detroit

We took the kids to Eastern Market the other day to spend some time rummaging around the six-block public market and pick up some fresh produce.  It's fun to see all of the different vendors selling their wares like vegetables, flowers, jams, kale salad or grass-fed beef.  We've been to smaller farmers' markets closer to home but nothing compares to the enormity of Eastern Market.

The boys were amazed at all of the graffiti and vacant buildings we passed along the way.  We saw beggars, prostitutes, damaged buildings and lots of trash.  It's embarrassing how much trash litters the streets.  It's a far cry from our manicured little subdivision in our uncluttered little suburb.  But, it's important every once in awhile to step out of our normal routine and shake things up a bit and the boys were a bit shook up by our trip downtown.

We decided to take them to Slows Bar-B-Q for lunch because its Yardbird sandwich is a finalist in the Travel Channel series "Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America."  A beggar on the street outside of the restaurant wanted to shake hands with the boys but they looked at me with a wide-eyed  "is this OK?" look of concern.  They didn't know what to do so I said they could shake hands and later Christopher asked me why I said they could talk to him when "he's a stranger."  I explained that they don't talk to strangers when I'm not around but it's OK if I'm standing right there and supervising the conversation. 

Our lunch was outstanding. We are definitely going back to Slows because the food was that good.  I would drive to Detroit just to have lunch at Slows.  It was packed at 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon so it's obviously earned its reputation.

When we left the restaurant the same beggar was on the street. He held out his hand again and said, "education" repeatedly to the boys.  They were confused and looked at me for clarification because they couldn't understand what he was saying.  He of course asked for money as we walked by but we told him to have a good day and kept on walking to the car. 

When I told the boys he was saying "education" they asked why.  I told them he was suggesting they stay in school and get a good education so they don't end up a beggar on the street like he is.  We probably should have given him money because the look on the boys' faces was priceless. His one word, "education," had more of an effect on them than any of my many parental diatribes about doing well in school.

It took some time for everything to sink in, but the boys were reflective of their day spent in the "D." They saw things they don't normally see in their neighborhoods.  They realized they live in a nice house and have nice parents who do nice things for them. 

When they get a little mouthy or are feeling a little entitled I think we'll take a little trip downtown to some of the seedier, more graffiti-laden areas to see how the other half lives.  I"ll get another chance to taste the best sandwich in America while the boys learn more about being thankful for what they have. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hard Work Makes It All Worthwhile

If I've learned anything in my 42 years on this planet it's that I value the successes for which I worked hard far more than any that came too easily to me.  While it's nice to have things come easy once in awhile, my brain isn't fully engaged unless I'm working hard to meet a goal.  I want my kids to experience that same kind of satisfaction knowing that through diligence and hard work they've attained something incredible. 

My boys are learning about working hard and reaching goals through their piano practice.  While they might not necessarily enjoy the practice part, they like the end result of playing their music for adoring fans through recitals, talent shows or competitions.  It takes quite a bit of discipline to get to that final phase of what looks like effortless playing.  Months and months of practice and lots and lots of tears. 

I give 100% of the credit for the boys' piano prowess to my husband.  He has, from day one, been the one to coordinate classes, push them to practice, work with their piano teacher, help them with piano homework and strategize their musical future.  He works hard to keep the momentum going and I'm witness to the fact that it's no small feat.

People ask me if my boys enjoy practicing piano.  I'm sure visions of boys running to the piano with smiles on their faces screaming, "Yippee, it's time for piano practice!" flood their imaginations.  Surely, the boys beg to practice piano because they've been playing for so long, right?


Just like any other 7 and 9-year-old rambunctious, energetic, boys, my boys would much rather be doing something other than practicing piano.  Like hanging over a pool of sharks by their toenails.  They fight, they argue, they throw temper tantrums.  Yup.  Temper tantrums the likes of which you've never seen.  But, their histrionics are no match for their Dad's persistence. 

If my husband had a dime for every time an adult said, "I wish my parents never let me quit practicing piano" he could have paid for their lessons five times over. When people ask us why we make our kids play piano it's simple.  Music makes you smarter.  Playing piano helps with creativity, math, attention to detail, focus, perseverance...and the list goes on.  Even though they don't want to practice I can see that sense of accomplishment in their eyes when that really tough piece of music starts to become easier.  When it starts to flow off their fingers.  When it starts to sound like it's supposed to. 

Nicholas is practicing Eleanor Rigby.  You know, the Beatles song.  It's hard.  He was convinced when he first started practicing it that it was too hard to learn.  He whimpered.  He balked.  But my husband suggested I put the song on his iPod so he could hear the way it was supposed to sound.  So Nicholas listens to the song on his iPod and he practices it on the piano.  He keeps at it.  He's still practicing.  It will take many months to learn this difficult piece of music. 

But every time Nicholas hears himself playing the dah-dah-dah-dah-dah of the first part of the song:

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice in the church where the wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

He hears it all coming together.

Even I stopped doing the dishes the other day and walked over to the piano because I was so impressed with what I heard.  I looked at him sitting at the piano with a huge grin on his face.  He knew he was nailing it.  He knew it sounded spectacular.  He also knew it took a lot of practice to get to that point. 

Christopher will be getting his Beatles song soon enough.  He will cry and whimper and balk.  But we're not falling into the trap of letting our kids off the hook too easily.  Nothing worth having comes without hard work.  Cries of "I don't want to" or "It's too hard" permeate our house to the point of ridiculously high blood pressure.  Sometimes I want to scream, "fine, forget it!" because the hysterics are unbearable. 

In the end, however, we are doing our kids a great disservice if we don't teach them about goals and working hard toward an end result.  That's what life is all about and the sooner they figure it out the better.

The boys won't have to ask their Dad one day why he let them give up piano when it got to be too hard. Instead, the boys will thank their Dad for not giving up on piano and, more specifically, for not giving up on them.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

When Saying "Ain't" Is Worse Than Swearing

Christopher had  a less than stellar baseball experience this spring.  His Little League team was littered with attitude problems, the coach's head wasn't really in the game and he was stuck in the outfield for those innings when he actually did play.

The coach started off great, but lost steam in the end.  I had high hopes for the guy who began his practices and games with "hey, champ, you've got a great arm on you" or  "you're too talented to watch strikes go by and not swing"  turned into "I have nothing positive to say.  There were too many errors in this game to count," followed by a bellowing, "What's wrong with you?!"

Suffice it to say the team didn't get too far in the playoffs.  The kids weren't having fun.  The coach wasn't having fun.  The parents, definitely, were not having fun.

I wasn't the only parent who thought the season was wrought with problems so I don't think my version of how the season progressed is too off base.  It really was excruciating to watch.

At the end of one of the playoff games the coach proceeded to tell the kids how disappointed he was with every mistake that was made. During his post-game wrap-up he offered no positive reinforcement whatsoever.  One of the parents had enough and grabbed his son out of the group while yelling a string of profanities at the coach.

This parent told the coach he was the "worst effin' coach he'd ever seen."  He went on to say he "ain't never seen a coach do a worse job" and "my kid ain't never playing on your team again." I quickly scanned the group to see which of the 7 and 8-year-olds heard the offensive f-bomb because that was my cue it was time to leave.  I could see things were getting pretty heated so I grabbed Christopher and said, "let's go."

I wondered if Christopher was going to ask me about the expletive-laced language this parent thought was appropriate to spew in front of the kids.  I wanted to explain that his behavior and language was inappropriate and uncalled for.  I did not agree with the coach either, but there are better ways to voice a disagreement.

On our ride home we talked more about the coach's inability to provide any positive reinforcement and how Christopher would hopefully get on a better team next year.   I wanted Christopher to know that his experience this year was not normal.  He would have to try again.

When we got home Christopher told his Dad about this parent's outburst.  He explained how they lost their game and how the coach told his teammates how many things they did wrong.  He brought up how the father of one of his teammates started yelling at the coach.  I was bracing myself for his description of the f-bomb and preparing my speech about how disrespectful it was, etc.

But his description of the f-bomb never came.

Instead, Christopher told his version of the worst part of the tirade by telling his Dad, "you wouldn't believe how many times this guy said 'ain't'!"

Christopher Murray, future grammarian.  His English teachers are gonna love him!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Give Your Kids a Sugar Break

As you know from reading my blog my boys play sports.  If your kids play sports you know all about the dreaded "snacks" passed out at every game.  I would like to put the person who started the idea of parents providing team snacks via a weekly snack schedule in the same room as the person who decided it was a good idea to provide birthday party gift bags and beat talk some sense into them.

My definition of a snack and other people's definition are vastly different.  Cookies and potato chips aren't what I would consider a good way to fuel my kids' bodies after a baseball game.  Protein?  Yes!  Trans fats and thank you.

But more than the food it's the drinks that get me all riled up.  Powerade, Gatorade, juice...whatever else is available in cute little packages perfect for cute little hands.  It doesn't matter that these drinks are full of crap, they sure do look cool! 

Kids don't need Gatorade.  Are you with me?  All the parents out there buying into the media-hype over sports drinks need to sit down and read the labels of the drinks their kids are consuming in mass amounts. I know the marketing/advertising is genius but, seriously folks, I don't know many kids who sweat hard enough to need a reason to replace electrolytes.

I wonder if people even know Gatorade's history?  You can read the info on the website, but basically Gatorade was created to replace fluids and electrolytes University of Florida players lost through sweat from vigorous exercise.  The researchers created the drink for grown men in Florida who lost fluids from hours of intense, heated, exercise.  Grown men.  In Florida.  Engaged in vigorous exercise.

Not elementary school kids in Michigan.

Obviously, it's important to replace fluids lost during exercise.  Guess what replaces fluids and is free of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and synthetic dyes? 

Water!  Who knew?!

My kids are at the right age to buy right into the media-hype over sports drinks.   I mean, they play sports so it kinda makes sense they would feel these drinks are made specifically for them.  Nicholas sees advertisements for Gatorade's new G3 Recovery series of drinks and says,  "look mom, it says it contains protein!" or "it has fewer calories than regular Gatorade!"

We sit down together and go through the list of ingredients including the artificial sweeteners (added to reduce calories), the artificial flavors (added to, well, add flavor) or the synthetic dyes (added to make a pretty color!) and talk about what the artificial ingredients do to our bodies.  We have lengthy discussions about what good we are doing if we drink something with synthetic dyes in an effort to hydrate?  We may hydrate but we are harming ourselves in the process. It makes no sense.

I have these conversations so my kids can make educated decisions about their health.  Are they listening to me and engaged with every word I say?  Heck, no.  Do they still want to drink Gatorade after we discuss the icky ingredients?  Of course. 

But, I'm  providing them with the tools to learn how to read a label and make good nutritional decisions.  It may not be second nature now but it will come in time.  Habits are created by repetitive processes.  We will keep talking about ingredients and labels.

You might want to know if I allow them to drink Gatorade when someone else brings it as part the after-game snack?  The answer is yes.  Sometimes.  We don't buy Gatorade.  It's not in the house for a quick grab after school.   They don't drink it after every practice or game.  And, let's be real, we all eat and drink things that aren't always the best for us.

So, we all agree to live by the very simple motto, "everything in moderation."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

You Shouldn't Get a Trophy For Showing Up

Our family is knee-deep in Little League baseball and I'm loving every minute of it.  I love watching the mile-wide smiles of boys who hit the ball over the short-stop's head for the first time.  Or watching the kid who caught his first pop-up wave to his mom and dad in the stands.  Or watching my own son give me a thumbs-up when he tagged the runner out at second.

Most kids learn a tremendous amount from the start of the season to the final game.  We don't recognize some teams that our kids played in the beginning of the season by the time we see them again in the playoffs because they have improved so much.  Nicholas's team went to the championship game the very first season he played because his team consistently improved. 

Some kids never see a championship game and Nicholas was lucky enough to experience it the first time around.   His team went to the championship game again the following season for the same reasons.  They played hard, learned a lot and applied the techniques taught by the coach. 

Unfortunately, his team lost both times (the second time by one run...ouch) but they were thrilled for the opportunity.  They know they gave it their all and that's all that mattered. Both teams received a trophy for competing in the championship game.  One for the champions and one for the runners-up.  Nicholas's trophies are proudly displayed in his room. 

Christopher is enjoying his first year of Little League and is also learning valuable lessons about the game and team sports.  When I received an email from one of Christopher's coaches asking if we wanted to order trophies for the kids my first thought was "what for?" 

The league presents trophies for the two teams who compete in the championship game.  The regular season isn't over yet, so why are we even talking about trophies?  Our Little League experience so far has been 1) make it to the championship game and 2) get a trophy.  If you aren't in the championship game, no trophy.  Pretty simple.

I am so vehemently opposed to giving trophies and medals and ribbons just for being on a team.  Please, people, stop the madness.  By people, I mean parents.  Please parents, stop coddling your kids and whispering in their ear that they are all winners just for showing up.  Please stop suggesting that even if they don't make it to the championship game they can still get a trophy.  

Life is all about success and disappointment.  If my kid's team doesn't make it to the championship game this year he will be disappointed.  I will be disappointed, too.  But we will talk about how he worked hard, improved his game and learned valuable lessons.  We will talk about how disappointment helps us learn about how to do things better or different next time around.  I will let him feel sad. 

I will not offer him a trophy just to make him feel better. 

To be a winner you have fight your way to the top of the pack.  Through blood, sweat and tears you have to earn the right for that trophy. Just being on a team doesn't earn you any rights. 

Let's leave the trophies for the teams who earn them.  For the rest of the teams, better luck next time.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Love Thy Neighbor?

I've written here before about my neighbor who thinks my son is too loud when playing outside.  Yes, she still thinks he's too loud.  And, yes, she still yells at my son to keep it down. 

Imagine my surprise when I read a Dear Amy article in the Detroit Free Press from a woman who was "very annoyed by the noisy kids next door (boys who are 6 and 8)."   Here is the posting in its entirety with Amy's response:

Dear Amy: We are very annoyed by the noisy kids next door (boys who are 6 and 8).

They play basketball for hours seven days a week, while bouncing multiple balls at once, often with several friends. There is screaming, yelling and a yappy dog.

My husband has asked the parents several times for the noise to be lowered a bit, and things would get better for a day or so, but then it ramps back up again. The mother said we are the only neighbors who have complained. She said, "My kids deserve to play for a few hours every day."

We're at our wits' end and hope you can suggest how to get through to these people. -- Neighbors of the Not-Neighborly

Dear Neighbors: Your neighbor kids do deserve to play for a few hours every day.

If you lived on a highway you would have to tolerate traffic noise. You live cheek-to-howl with little boys; noise will definitely happen.

You should ask this family to agree to "quiet hours."

The comparisons in this story are kinda eerie.  I wondered if my neighbor posed as a married woman (she's not) to write this article?  If not, then I guess we aren't the only ones with a complaining neighbor. Or loud boys.

My boys were the same age (they've since turned 7 and 9).  The like to play basketball with friends (although not seven days a week).  There is screaming and yelling, but no yappy dog.  My dog barks, for sure, but isn't yappy.  We've been asked to lower the noise and my neighbor is also the only one who has complained about my kids. 

Weird, huh?  No, not really.  There is nothing weird about boys playing outside and being loud.   Normal, yes.  Weird, no.  

I agree with Amy's answer that "noise will definitely happen."  It's damn-near impossible to tell a bunch of boys to keep quiet.  The same might be true for a bunch of girls, although I wouldn't know. Our backyard is full of boys.

Our other neighbors don't seem to mind the noise.  Most people just like to hear the sound of kids laughing and playing.  

Someone named James responded to the Dear Amy article from Not-so-Neighborly.  Here is his response:

Dear Amy: "Neighbors of the Not-Neighborly" don't like the sound of their neighbors' kids playing outside.

After my own kids grew up and left home it was much too quiet around here until my neighbors' kids started playing basketball. I loved every minute of the squealing, yells, shouts and bouncing balls that I could hear coming from next door.

Now they are grown, too, and it's too quiet again. Perhaps these noisy kids can move next door to me and make my day again! -- James

Dear James: I'm with you!

I'm with James, too.  The sound of my kids' laughter when playing, whether it's surrounded by screaming or yelling or not, is still music to my ears. I, like James, will miss the noise terribly when the noise is gone. 

For now, we will continue to let our kids be kids.  That means playing outside with wild abandon.  

Running, jumping, swinging, laughing, screaming, yelling, fun-loving, happy...noisy, boys.

Friday, April 6, 2012

To Err is Human

My kids are on spring break this week but I thought spring break was next week.  I had it written on my calendar for next week.  It was on the calendar, why would I question the dates?  I write the entire school year worth of events on the calendar so I know what's coming up.  My calendar said spring break was next week.

Oops.  Spring break isn't next week.

My calendar mistake was a doozy because I decided last minute to have a birthday party for the boys over break.  Long story short, I didn't have it in me to search the stores for birthday presents trying to find something they either want or need.  They don't want or need anything.  They have bikes.  They have Wii games.  They have books.  They have toys.  I didn't want to buy something just to buy something so we decided to throw a joint birthday party at Planet Rock and that would be our present to the boys.  They get to have a party with their friends, I get to call it their birthday present and everyone has a good time.  Win-win!

The only problem was I planned the party for next week, on April 11, because I thought it was spring break.  Remember, the calendar?  I polled my kids friends' parents to see who would be around over break to make sure they would have enough attendees.   Only, I didn't give exact dates.  I just mentioned the party would be on Wednesday of spring break.  So, everyone was go.

My one friend said her kids had dentist appointments on that day but would change them so her kids could come to the party.  Great!  I texted another friend who said they would be back from vacation on April 4th.  I found that strange because spring break was from April 9-13, why would they be coming back on April 4th?

I didn't pay attention to that text and kept up with my preparations over the next few days.  I confirmed with Planet Rock.  Picked a time.  Bought invitations.  Filled out invitations.  Addressed invitations.  After awhile I texted my friend again, just to confirm her son could attend on April 11th and she texted back again saying, again, they were coming home on April 4th.  Why was she telling me about April 4th when spring break is from April 9-13?!!

I decided to pick up the phone to find out what was going on and when she answered I told her I was confused about her dates.  That's when she told me spring break was from April 2-6. 

No, it's from April 9-13, I said.  It's on my calendar.  Written right there in black and white. 

No, she said, it's from April 2-6 because they made plane reservations to fly to Florida.  She was certain it was April  2-6. 

To say I was confused would be an understatement.  How could that be?  How could I have written the wrong date on the calendar?  How is this possible?

Ugh. I made a mistake. I goofed up.  Big time.

I panicked because I made all the reservations, addressed invitations, confirmed with everyone else and no one said a word about the date.  My friend who canceled her dentist appointments?  She knew spring break was from April 2-6 but all I told her was the party would be on the Wednesday of spring break so she didn't even realize I was talking about April 11.  Do you know how hard it is to reschedule dentist appointments? 

I immediately contacted everyone by email asking if I changed the party to Thursday, April 5th would they still be able to come?  I redid the invitations.  Crossed out dates and all.  I called Planet Rock to change the date. I rescheduled my other appointments.

I slinked down into my chair and cursed myself. I was so irritated that I screwed up my own calendar so bad (keep in mind it wasn't just the party planning...everything else I planned had to be changed to accommodate the kids being home) and screwed up my friend's dentist appointments!  I haven't managed to stop beating myself up over that one, yet.

What's so funny about this story is that I console my kids all the time when they make mistakes. 

"It's not the end of the world," I say. 

"You are allowed to make mistakes.  You're human.  It's how you learn." I affirm.

"Don't be so hard on yourself," I console.

When it comes to other people making mistakes I am ready and willing to offer a pass because making mistakes is part of life.  It happens. 

To other people.

Unfortunately, I'm not as willing to give myself that pass when it happens to me.  I beat myself up for my mistakes for far too long.  Ridiculous, I know.

But, my friend who had to change her dentist appointments, again, brought it all into perspective for me.  

Being the nice person that she is, she told me, "Kim Murray, I think I like you even better now.  I'm so glad to know that you make mistakes, too, just like the rest of us.  You can still be my friend!"

Thanks for the pass.  It's exactly what I needed.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Men Are From Mars and Martians Don't Listen

As the only female living in a house full of Y chromosome individuals, it's becoming more apparent to me that I need to understand (appreciate, maybe?) the differences in how men and women communicate. 

Men do not have as many verbal centers in the brain designated for language.  It's true.  According to Dr. Oz, "Women's language centers are bigger and they perceive and use language using both left and right sides of the brain. Women have higher level of activity all around, particularly in the frontal cortex, the executive center of the brain that anticipates consequences. Women also have larger hippocampus, the area of the brain that is the center of memory and emotion.Women's language centers of the brain are bigger."

Men have low attention spans and don't remember details.  "They rely more on spatial and mechanical things (hence the garage) and less in things that require words."

Okay, okay, I get it.  Women like to talk.  Men (and boys) don't. We are able to multitask and remember details, both good and bad.  Men don't remember stuff like we do.

When I ask the boys about their day I get shrugged shoulders.  I've tried asking open-ended questions so as not to get one word "yes" or "no" or "dunno" answers.  Instead of "how was school today?" which usually results in a one-word answer (fine) I try to ask questions like, "what was the funniest thing that happened at school today?"  Sometimes I get a funny story, but mostly it's "dunno."

When the boys have assemblies at school I usually don't hear about it from them.  When it's Red Wings day or Crazy Hat day we are searching frantically for a t-shirt or hat about 10 minutes before we have to leave for the bus stop because they just remembered.  Or they finally remember when we are at the bus stop surrounded by kids in hats.  They have lower attention spans, remember?

When I talk, the guys in my house don't always listen. They hear me but don't necessarily listen or absorb what I'm saying.  They hear the whaa-whaa-whaa like Charlie Brown's teacher. 

When I'm on the verge of losing my marbles because one of the testosterone-laden members of my family says, "you never told me that" I scream.  I scream because I did tell him that.  Of course I told him that.  I would remember telling someone that because I have a bigger memory center, remember? I'm all about the details. I would definitely, positively remember telling him that.

Sometimes I talk to myself.  At least I know someone is listening.

This is why I love going out with my girlfriends.  We have the best conversations.  We talk details down to the color of the third stripe on someone's blouse.  We go off on tangents, come back, circle around other topics, and are never met with confused looks or dazed eyes.  I never hear, "you didn't tell me that."

So, before I lose more marbles I will have to understand that the men in my house will not remember what I told them.  They will not offer up details.  I will have to ask more than once.

I won't ask "why isn't anyone listening to me?" anymore because chances are pretty good they didn't hear what I said.  They weren't listening. 

I might as well get used to it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why I Hate Birthday Party Gift Bags

I would like to know who started the ridiculous phenomenon known as birthday party gift bags.  Who decided it was a good idea to reward guests with trinkets, candy or other gifts for coming to a birthday party that has already been established as a fun-filled, cake and ice cream loaded whoop-de-doo affair?  Birthday parties by definition are fun.  Birthday parties by definition have birthday cake.  Why, oh why, is it necessary to give candy or other gifts to the guests who have come to celebrate with the birthday boy or girl?  Why?

I'm sure the parent who started this ridiculousness probably celebrated 1/2 birthdays or went so far as to give each kid a birthday gift on his sibling's birthday so no one felt left out.  The idea that anyone other than the birthday boy or girl deserves a gift is mind-boggling to me.

What started as an, I'm assuming, innocent gesture of reciprocity has turned into an ugly, my-take-home-gift-bag-had-more-crap-than-your-take-home-gift-bag conundrum.  These gift bags have gone from one or two trinkets related to the theme of the party to an over-the-top bag full of junk. 

Not just any junk, but junk from China.  The last two gift bags I went through included candy that was made in China.  MADE IN CHINA!  I know people really want to get the most bang for their buck, but c'mon.  Is it really worth the few dollars in savings from Oriental Trading to compromise your kid's and his friend's health by giving him candy made in a country whose food safety standards are sub-par at best.  Seriously, if it's made in China it's not going into my kid's mouth.  That includes candy, straws, Dracula teeth, etc.

The trinkets in the gift bags break after using one or two times.  The reason the trinkets are cheap is because they aren't made very well.  So, what's the point of giving a gift bag full of trinkets if the trinkets don't even last?  Are we so accustomed now to giving these ridiculous gift bags now that we simply fill it with inexpensive junk just to fill it?  Is the sheep mentality at work here against our better judgement?

Christopher had a bowling birthday party last year.  Each child received one or two bowling-related items like a ring or some stickers (notice I said one or two), but I spent more time on the pictures I took of Christopher with each of his guests. I used simple photo-editing software to frame each picture with a message like "Fun Times" or "Best Friends Forever" and sent the picture along with Christopher's thank-you notes.  I don't think anyone missed the candy or cheap junk. 

If you're filling a gift bag just to fill it please understand that I'm not alone in my irritation and I, like many other parents, simply throw the stuff away.  Again, just to be clear, if it's MADE IN CHINA, we do not consume it.  So, even though you saved a few bucks at Oriental Trading, you still spent money on items that ended up in my trash can.

Plenty of options are available if you really do feel the need to give a gift bag.  Google "alternatives to birthday goodie bags"  and many terrific suggestions will appear.

Non-candy or Chinese-junk related ideas.  How refreshing!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Happend to Good Old Addition and Subraction?

I hate math homework.  Ssh.  Don't tell my kids. I am their biggest cheerleader when it comes to anything homework related and I usually do a sis-boom-bah routine equivalent to "you can do it , you can do it, just put your mind to it!"  I try to be optimistic even if it comes off as a little annoying.

But lately I've been biting my lip until it bleeds to keep from screaming, "what on earth are they teaching you in school ?"  These newfangled math lessons are so foreign to me that I shake my head and mutter, "huh...what?"  I don't get it.

Have you ever heard of touch points? Students count forward and backward touching each number at specific points.  The number eight has eight touch points for example.  So, the student learns where the "points" are on each number and touch those points to add and/or subtract numbers.  If you are adding 3+8 you would touch the number three on each of its three points and then continue touching (counting) the eight points on the number eight to reach 11. 

When I asked why not just use your fingers the boys said, "we aren't allowed to use our fingers!"  As far as I know, humans with digits have been using those digits to count since the dawn of time.  Apparently, touching the points on a number somehow makes learning math easier because of its multi-sensory approach. 


I was confused on some of Nicholas's math homework when he was estimating sums.  He had to do about two more steps than I thought was necessary but he was instructed a certain way so he wouldn't veer from that instruction one iota.  When I offer an alternative, it's always met with "but that's not the way I was told to do it!"  Fighting ensues...

Remember when we had to memorize our times tables?  We literally had a table with the numbers 1-10 going across and down and we had to memorize all the multiplication numbers.  Now they use fact families.  Little triangle thingies that help students multiply and divide a "family" of three numbers.  Not only can they multiply but also divide those numbers on the same triangle thingy. 

Everything seems so new.  Yes, it's been (too many) years since I had to learn this kind of math, but I'm feeling so inadequate.  Even if I know how to do something, nowadays it's taught a different way so my kids won't listen to me if I try to explain how I came up with a different answer.  Even if my answer is correct, I cannot coerce the kids into learning the way I came up with the answer if that's not the way they were taught in class.

Math was never my strong suit and I'm having trouble helping with some of the more advanced homework questions.  I can barely keep up with some data and probability answers and fractions are coming back...slowly but surely.

I am so glad the boys will be keeping up with their math studies over the summer with their math tutor.  She is wonderful and she teaches them what they need to know going into the next year.  She can help them with all sorts of new concepts.  And, they listen to her. 

We will reach a point soon where I can no longer help at all.  Like with Geometry.  Right Angles?  Quadrilaterals? 

I'm out.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

It's Time For Allowance

The time has come that I must close my wallet and begin asking my kids to take a look in their piggy banks to determine how much money they have to do the things they want to do.

I'm not a big fan of allowance for things my kids should normally be doing like taking out the trash or setting the table.  No, I won't be monetarily rewarding them for doing chores they are supposed to do as members of our household.  But somehow, someway, we need to start a list of things my kids can do to earn some money.  Not a lot of money, just some money.

When they come to me asking for bagel or popcorn money for school PTA fundraisers, I need to tell them to use their allowance.  If they want a bagel or popcorn they are going to have to want it bad enough to use their own money to pay for it.

We are also going to set up a system where they earn an allowance, but must take 1/2 of their earnings and put it in their savings account.  They will need to save 1/2 but can spend the other 1/2 in any way they choose.

I cringe when I realize my kids aren't really thankful for some of the things they have.  Sure they love and are happy with their toys and extracurricular activities but don't have any concept of how much those things cost.  It's time to start working for some of those coveted items that they simply "must" have.  They might learn like those of us before them that some of those must-haves aren't really worth the cost.

I am bracing myself for the onslaught of "it's not fair!" and "but Johnny doesn't have to pick up dog poop in his backyard!"  The best lessons for our kids seem to be the toughest to implement.  It's hard to work to stand tough and create consistent rules because it's not easy being the bad guy all the time.  My parents used to tell me, "you will thank me for this someday."  It's true and I do.

So, let's add something else to the list of things my kids will get mad at me for.  Why not? 

Here we go.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why Nonsense is Necessary

When you are at a loss for (or have forgotten altogether) what makes you happy, the common sentiment is to dig deep into the recesses of your mind to remember what brought you great joy as a child.  Chances are what made you happy then will still make you happy now.

Did you enjoy playing with trains?  You probably still do although you may not want to admit it.  Did you enjoy fishing, playing football, surfing, reading, sewing, acting, singing?  Any number of things we did as kids we did with wild abandon.  No societal rules telling us what is "right" or "wrong."  We just played and enjoyed our extracurricular activities. 

When I was a kid I loved to read poems.  Especially nonsense poems by Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear or Shel Silverstein.  My grandmother gave me a book called The Illustrated Treasury of Poetry for Children when I was 7-years-old.  I still have it and my favorite poems are still marked with paperclips from thirty some-odd years ago.

I took my old poetry book off the shelf not too long ago and started reading the poems with Nicholas.  He was having fun with the Limericks and I felt like a kid again.  A really happy kid.

Have you ever read Jabberwocky?  How could you read that poem and not have all sorts of fantastical dreams about the frumious bandersnatch?  It doesn't matter if you have not one clue about what a frumious bandersnatch is.  The words of that poem will take you on one heck of a wild ride.  Let your imagination soar. 

I still get lost in Shel Silverstein's words and wonder, where does the sidewalk end?  What do these kids know that I don't know?

When the boys were very young they received copies of almost all of Shel Silverstein's books.  The Giving Tree is an obvious favorite, but Nicholas and I especially like Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Light in the Attic.  We have fun reading the silliness and laughing together.  The best part is that for a few moments at the end of the day we can forget about our responsibilities and get lost in the make-believe worlds of some pretty incredible characters.

This is why nonsense is necessary.  In our structured, rigid, "right" or "wrong" world, we need a little nonsense to break up the seriousness of it all.  These authors made their life's work about nonsense.  Maybe we all need to find a little more nonsense in our own lives.

When Christopher was about 3-years-old we read The Owl and the Pussycat 3,645 times.  I kid, of course, but it was probably something close to that.  I even have a video of him singing the verse.  Hands down, my favorite video of all time.  But, back to the the story, how many times have you known an owl and a pussycat to fall in love?  Genius!

The boys received the book, His Shoes Were Far Too Tight: Poems by Edward Lear, for Christmas.  It's a wonderful compilation of Lear's most beloved poems of pure, unequivocal nonsense.  The book just came out in March of last year and as soon as I saw it I knew we must have it.  I think I was more excited about the book than they were.

Nicholas and I read the poems in the new book and laughed, as we do, at the silliness of it all.  We read The Jumblies and wondered together why their heads were green and their hands were blue?  No matter, they went to sea in a sieve and lived to tell about it!

We've reread that poem several times and Nicholas even did his book report on the new book of Edward Lear poems writing about and drawing The Jumblies.  He gave it 5 out of 5 stars!

What they say is true.  If you dig deep enough you will find what brought you great joy as a kid.  And, if you recognize and welcome the same joy as an adult, happiness is sure to follow.  I plan to add a little more nonsense to my life. 

When Nicholas asked to read Jabberwocky again the other night I opened my trusted poetry book to the  paper-clipped Jabberwocky page.  I wondered what other poems I had paper-clipped so Nicholas and I perused my poetry book to see what I had listed as my favorites when I was his age.

I should have known what I would find.  I should have remembered why I was so eager to get my hands on the new Edward Lear book.

There in all my old poetry book's dog-eared, paper-clipped glory was Edward Lear's The Jumblies. 

Nicholas and I laughed some more. Like mother like son.


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