My Funny (but really somewhat disturbing) Valentine

The Boy surprised Cute Husband and me this morning with a book he had written. We knew he had been working on it, and he even let me read the first chapter, but I didn’t get to see the finished product until today.

It’s too good not to share, but in case you’re wondering why I titled this post the way I did, just keep reading through Chapter 3. (Don’t worry – it’s short!)

(I am transposing the work exactly as it is written, so errors and omissions in spelling, verb tense, and punctuation are intentional. The emoticons are also intentional.)

The mom and the son was in the house

The son played.

the mom used the hose.

the dad died?

he got shot!

at worck 😦

he wint to the hospitl!

chapter 2

The mom and son was at the pet shop!

the son and the mom was looking?

I wat this puppy 🙂 the son saed

they washt tv

chapter 3

I wat to wach tv the son sed

the mom sed no!

Please

no? if you ask me onw more time no more tv for the rest of the week the mom sed.

I didint do that 😦

the end

I’m thinking maybe this could be more of a performance piece. If I can convince him to do a live reading, I’ll record it and put it up on YouTube.

But on a different note, do you think it’s too soon for me to send him to therapy?

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On writing and parenting

I tweeted something I thought was rather profound this morning:

My feelings on writing are a lot like my feelings on parenting: rewarding when good, painful when bad, but oh so worth it!

These last few months have been somewhat challenging with The Boy. He’s been pushing boundaries, as children his age are wont to do, and it can be is taxing. Some days are better than others, but days that don’t include at least one fit or argument are few and far between. He questions just about everything, and he wants things done his way. As a result, there’s a lot of frustration for everyone.

If she was still here, my mother would remind me that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

But when things are great, they’re awesome. This morning, for example, he was practicing guitar and doing a great job of it. His biggest struggle with guitar practice has been counting, and it probably will be for some time. Last week, I made a deal with him that he would play “Jamaica Farewell”, the song he’s working on right now, at least three times a day during practice if I wrote the numbers under each measure.

“Jamaica Farewell” is a tricky song, only in that there are combinations of eighth notes and quarter notes and quarter rests and half notes and ties and flats… It’s not an easy song for a five-year-old who just picked up the guitar about ten months ago. (Okay, it’s not an easy song for a five-year-old. Period.) As such, you have to count. And thank God, he finally got it today.

I’m extremely proud of him, and I’m especially proud that he is persevering. I’ve had to regale him with tales of how he overcame resistance as a younger child and kept trying until he succeeded (the First Steps story is a current favorite) to prove that no one succeeds right out of the gate, and I’ve also had to remind him that I gave him a $300 acoustic guitar for Christmas based on the condition that he agreed to continue playing guitar until he was nine years old. (It was a three-year extension on the initial deal, based on one year for every $100 I spend, which I think is fair. It also gets me out of potentially shelling out $10K for a guitar in the future because he’d have to play guitar for 100 years to pay that off.)

Anyway, that’s a glimpse into part of my parenting life.

My point is that writing isn’t much different for me, only I’m kind of parenting myself. There have been (and will always be) times when I’ve wanted to take everything I’ve written and burn it. (Okay, I’ve actually done that before. But they were journal entries from junior high and high school, and I don’t think those should count.) I’ve gotten really attached to characters but haven’t been able to weave a story about them. I’ve come up with ideas that I haven’t been able to properly flesh out into something coherent. I’ve written pages upon pages upon pages of, well, stuff, only to find that it rambles needlessly and has no real point.

And I’ve wanted threatened to kick my computer or Townshend* my laptop, and I’ve begged myself to please let me take a day off from writing, promising to work doubly hard the next day (and then holding myself to it). And I behave exactly like my five-year-old (Apple? Tree? Not far!) when I get frustrated with the blinking cursor or the meaningless plotless mess before me.

But then it starts to gel. And that’s when I feel all those same emotions that I felt when I first saw The Boy hold up his head on his own or heard him say his first word or watched him take his first steps or realized he could read: pride, joy, excitement, and (I hate to admit it) relief. There’s always that possibility that maybe, just maybe, your child will fail at something. And there’s always that possibility that maybe what you’ve written isn’t worth reading.

But when it clicks – really clicks – and I hear him playing “Jamaica Farewell” in a way that the tune is actually recognizable or when a friend’s daughter demands the next chapter of my WIP because she needs to know what happens next, all of that pain is totally worth it.

Until you have to go through it all over again.

Definition of TOWNSHEND: to pulverize something by repeatedly crashing it into the ground; most commonly used in reference to a guitar

A different perspective

Cute Husband took The Boy to Legoland on Sunday, primarily to look at the new Star Wars Miniland (but also to see some of the holiday stuff that was out).

The Millennium Falcon at a September press conference.

As soon as they got home, Cute Husband said The Boy made a beeline for his Lego sets and began recreating his version of Hoth. Indeed, when I got home from the post-NaNoWriMo dinner that night, he showed me how busy all of his Lego minifigures, his Star Wars Galactic Heroes, and even his green army men had been there on the Ice Planet.

What Cute Husband found especially interesting, though, is that The Boy has a very different view of the Star Wars universe than we do. In his world, Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader, and Darth Vader has always been Luke’s father. Naboo, Tattooine, Hoth, Coruscant, and Bespin all have equal billing in his mind. Gungans are nothing new, pod racing is normal, and a double-ended lightsaber is unique, but totally normal.

Of course, in a few years, we will take The Boy to see the next installment of the Star Wars saga. (It’s only good parenting, after all.) There, we will all be introduced to new characters, new planets, new stories, and new villains.

And I can’t help but wonder if he’ll have the same sense of awe when he sees the early previews that I had when I first saw Darth Maul activate his double-ended lightsaber. Or will he have the same feeling that Cute Husband and I have, that there is a pure Star Wars universe that existed pre-1999 and everything that came after it tries really hard but is just not as cool?

I really hope it’s the latter. And I have to admit that Cute Husband and I enjoying the view of the Star Wars universe from his perspective, even if I don’t think Naboo is as awesome as Hoth.

And that’s the end of that

I was at a birthday party tonight for one of The Boy’s classmates. I’d met the birthday boy’s father before, and the birthday boy’s mom and I had corresponded via email, so I was looking forward to going. The Boy, of course, was super excited about the party and talked about it non-stop on our way home from his morning guitar lesson.

The thing about these birthday parties, though, is that you will inevitably meet another mom who, for lack of better conversation, will ask, “Do you have any other kids?” or “Is he your only child?” Sometimes, this is a question posed by someone I’ve already conversed with for a while and with whom I’ve established some common ground. And to those people, I’m happy to say, “Yes, and that’s good enough for us!” A quick laugh later, and we’ve already found something else to talk about.

But then there are those moms (and sometimes dads) who brag about their other kids’ accomplishments and then ask if I have any other kids. To these parents, with whom I have little in common and who are generally not people I want to invite to lunch during the week, anyway, I’ve discovered the perfect response:

“Oh, The Boy is our only child, and we are so very grateful for him.”

It’s a true statement by all accounts. The Boy is our only child. Cute Husband and I are, indeed, very grateful for him. What others may interpret, of course, is entirely up to them. But I’ve discovered that after giving that response, no one asks why I won’t have another. And I can enjoy the rest of the party in a judgement-free zone.

Craft Time with Mrs. Caines – September 2012

So way back in September, I stumbled across some cute crafty things while researching ideas for the craft I planned for December. (Yes, I’m a planner. Leave me alone.) And I found this:

Food Wreath from DLTK

Cute, right? And since the themes for September included Nutrition, I thought it would be a really cute craft to do with the kids!

(I also found a Very Hungry Caterpillar printout that could be colored, laminated, and used as a placemat, but I just printed those out and gave them to the teachers to do in class.)

Anyway, I thought DLTK’s images were a bit too simple and wanted to provide a lot more variety for the kids to color. So after scouring multiple sites looking for black and white clip-art, I came up with my own coloring pages.

I let the kids work on the project in stages, but in hindsight, I probably could have had them all coloring pages at the same time. Once they colored in the pictures, I used my nifty circle punch to quickly cut out the circles and let the kids glue the pictures to paper plates (I had already cut out the centers).

It was a bit harried because I had to rush to get it done, but I think they turned out pretty cute and led to a lot of discussion about the kinds of food they like to eat. And a lot of the kids asked to take pages home with them.

Some of the finished products.

So September’s Food Wreath craft to coincide with the Nutrition lesson went well, I think. Up next: December’s Penguin Diorama craft to coincide with lessons about the Arctic.

Stay tuned.

Mean Mommy Award – I’ve still got it!

I was told this morning that I am a Mean Mommy. And odd as this may sound, I did a happy dance inside because it was affirmation that I’m doing something right.

The Boy woke up this morning before 6 o’clock with a nosebleed. I was able to get him to lie back down in bed and rest for a bit longer, but I doubt he actually went back to sleep. At around 6:15, he bounced out of bed and was ready to start his day. (I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as eager to crawl out from beneath my warm, cozy covers.)

Since he was up so early, I took advantage of this and encouraged him to get dressed and have breakfast. And since we didn’t need to leave for school for a while, I also suggested that he practice guitar to get it out of the way and give himself more time to play when we get home tonight. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly), he agreed to practice.

We began with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Since this song is now all about practicing chords, I’ve been taking it easy. On Monday, I had him practice the first line of the song. On Tuesday, Cute Husband worked with him on the second line. On Wednesday, it was the third line, so this morning, I had him work on the fourth line.

Now, for readers who don’t play guitar or haven’t seen the music for it, the beginning of the song (before you get to the chorus) is fairly easy. There isn’t a whole lot of strumming, though you do need to change chords at the beginning of almost every measure. So this morning, I was really only asking him to play three different chords (D, Dm, and F) and strum F six times.

As you may guess, he pushed back. And I pushed back harder. And I won, but at the cost of being told that I was mean.

[sigh]

Once he played the fourth line three times, I let him play the melody lines once through before moving to “Minuet in G”. He can read the music and play all the notes, and he does quite well playing the first half of the song with the correct rhythm, but he struggles with the rhythm of the second half. And so I drilled him on that. And he didn’t like it.

So he pushed back. And I pushed back harder. He threw down his pick. I calmly gave him a new one with a firm reminder that throwing it one more time means losing all gaming privileges for the day. He played. I corrected. He sulked. I reminded him that practicing was non-negotiable. He told me he was mad at me. I accepted this and pointed to the music. He played well, paying close attention to rhythm this time. I praised his efforts, and he unplugged his guitar and put away his pick, pouting all the while.

I don’t like making him mad. I don’t like hearing him tell me that I’m mean and that he doesn’t like me. I don’t like when he runs away from me when I try to give him a hug.

But I do know that he lashes out when I’m firm with him because I’m making him do something he doesn’t want to do. And I also know that in a few months’ time, when he’s playing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” for fun because it’s an easy song for him compared to “Hotel California” or whatever song he’ll be working on then, I’ll remind him of this morning and he’ll roll his eyes and say, “I know, Mom.”

And that’s when I’ll know I’ve done my job.

Practice, practice, practice

I’m listening to Cute Husband take The Boy through his drills on the guitar. Tomorrow will be The Boy’s fourth guitar lesson, and while he has improved dramatically, I can still hear him struggling a bit as he practices E, F ,G, F, E, F, G, F, E over and over again. These are important drills, and Cute Husband and I both know this. These help him build finger strength and get accustomed to moving his fingers along the fret board. It’s tedious, it’s kind of boring, and, no, it’s really not much fun, but it’s necessary.

The Boy is, for the most part, a good sport about practicing. He knows it’s important. He knows he has to do it. He also knows (partially because I’ve reminded him of this) that it’s the result of a choice he made. But what’s pretty cool to see is the pride in this child’s face when we remind him that none of the other kids in PreK at his school are learning to play the guitar. In fact, no Kindergarteners or First Graders or even Second or Third Graders at his school are playing the guitar. And this knowledge seems to push him to work that much harder.

It’s not easy, and there are times he just doesn’t want to do it. But he does it anyway (mostly because we won’t let him weasel out of it). And he knows that the more he practices, the better he will get.

At least he hasn’t lost his enthusiasm.

Hug a teacher today (or, How an afternoon as a “sub” made me so much more grateful)

Teachers who educate children deserve more honor than parents who merely gave birth; for bare life is furnished by the one, the other ensures a good life. – Aristotle

I have a tremendous amount of respect for teachers. I’d like to say that I always have, but, well, there were plenty of teachers I didn’t particularly respect when I was a student. So let’s just say that as an adult, even before I had The Boy, I developed this magnanimous level of respect for them and all they do.

The lower grade teachers, in particular, amaze me. First, they need to be able to control a classroom of children (some unruly, some needy, some dramatic), but then they also need to get said children to retain knowledge that may or may not be of particular interest to either party. Once you get to middle school and high school, you get to the teachers who specialize in certain subjects; those teachers can focus on a single discipline instead of multiple subjects. But even then, they work with older, hormone-driven, Angst-ridden pre-teens and teens. So I guess as a teacher, you kind of have to pick your poison.

Last week, The Boy’s teacher asked me to come to school today to stay with the kids while the teachers enjoyed their Teacher Appreciation Luncheon.

“I know you need to check with work, but just let me know,” she said.

Well, how can I say “no” to The Boy’s teacher? I mean, honestly. I suppose I could, but she wouldn’t ask me unless she needed me to be there, so I put in my request and made plans to work a half day today. And I have this philosophy about The Boy’s teachers: They’re my coworkers in the job of educating The Boy. Cute Husband and I can only do so much; we need to partner with his teachers to give him the best possible education.

When I arrived at school today, the kids were all sitting down, getting ready to have lunch. Ms. M and Mrs. G gave Sarah (another classroom mom) and me instructions and reviewed the basic classroom rules before they left for their luncheon. It was a lot like babysitting, only with 22 kids there (one of whom happened to be mine). I’ve been around everyone enough times to know who causes trouble, who lacks focus, who likes to be dramatic, who keeps to themselves, etc., so I had a basic idea of what to expect.

And, of course, I refused to show fear. I may only be The Boy’s mommy, but I think I’m pretty capable of managing a few other kids, too.

Lunch was, well, interesting, for lack of a better word. The kids are supposed to raise their hands when they need something, and they may talk quietly among themselves, but no one is supposed to get up and walk around without first receiving permission. And without Ms. M and Mrs. G there, those rules seemed to fly out the window.

Movie time was somewhat challenging. There was supposed to be a DVD in the player, but there wasn’t, which gave the kids an opportunity to be a bit unruly. Once I got the movie in, most of the kids settled down, but then the tattling began. I finally told all the kids that if they couldn’t work out their own problems, I’d start putting names on the board (which meant they’d lose a privilege the following day).

And then, of course, the DVD player froze because the disc was scratched. So I improvised and decided to read them a story. Not wanting to look partial (because I had already told The Boy in front of his classmates that I had no problems putting his name on the board if he wasn’t behaving, even if he is my son), I closed my eyes and randomly picked someone to select a book. (It ended up being Sarah’s daughter.) The Boy wasn’t happy; he wanted to pick the book. But thankfully, that drama didn’t last long.

So when Ms. M and Mrs. G returned from their luncheon, I was in the middle of reading to the kids. It was a story about seeds, and I did my best to keep it as entertaining (and informative) as I could. There were a few names on the board (not The Boy’s, thank goodness), but for the most part, everyone was really well-behaved.

And I was so incredibly relieved to see the teachers return!

I’m glad I volunteered today. I’m glad I spent the afternoon with the kids and got to experience a few hours in The Boy’s teachers’ shoes. I’m also much more appreciative of all that they do.

So to all the teachers out there, thank you. Thanks for setting examples for children, for teaching them how to behave with others, for showing them how to be productive members of society, for daring them to be more than they ever thought they could be. Thanks for putting in the effort so many parents (like me!) are afraid to put in, for caring enough to discipline them, for teaching them more than lessons they’ll find in a textbook.

But most of all – and this particularly goes to The Boy’s teachers, past, present, and future – thanks for helping Cute Husband and me raise our boy. He is who he is because of the people who have reached out in some way to impact his life, and those include his teachers.

Conversational Gems: 2012 May 1

Scene: In the kitchen, at his breakfast table.

Me: Oooooh, C! I have a funny joke for you!

The Boy: What is it?

Me: Why didn’t anyone like to play with the crab?

The Boy: Why?

Me: Because he was shellfish!

The Boy: (deadpanned) That’s not a funny joke, Mommy.

Me: (laughing) Okay.

The Boy: It’s really not. I’m serious.

Me: (serious) Sorry.

The Boy: I’ll tell you a really funny joke.

Me: Okay. Go for it.

The Boy: Knock, knock.

Me: Who’s there?

The Boy: Banana.

Me: Banana who?

The Boy: Banana bun.

Level up! (or, Why the Gamer’s Mentality is not a bad thing)

Wednesday night at dinner, The Boy very proudly told me that he started working on the blue boxes at school. This is a very big deal. When students begin writing sentences, they start with the pink boxes. Once they master those, they can move up to the blue boxes.

“And after I master the blue boxes,” he informed Cute Husband, “I can work on the green boxes! Those are the hardest, but when I’m in Kindergarten, I’ll have to work on the green boxes every day!”

For better or worse, I realized that this is kind of how The Boy approaches learning. It’s like a game to him. You start out at the simplest, most basic level, then move up to different worlds or levels once you master those skills.

With his lessons, he has set his own goals. He wants to read proficiently because he’ll be able to play his Pokemon card game and read directions on his Phineas and Ferb games. He wants to practice writing sentences so he can move up to the green boxes. He wants to practice addition so he can move up to subtraction and ultimately up to division (“The line with the two dots on top and underneath it,” as he describes it). He wants to play the guitar well so he can learn a song and play it well. (And then learn more songs.)

He was like this even as a toddler; you could see what his goals were. He wanted to see over the top of our bed. He wanted the ability to climb onto our bed. He wanted to be able to open a door by himself. He wanted to be able to turn on the lights (and turn them off). He wanted to be able to run quickly, balance on the edge of the curb without falling off, and open the garage door. He wanted to be able to get water from the refrigerator, and then he wanted the ability to switch between ice and water. He wanted to reach things from the counters.

He just wanted to get to the next level.

I think the human brain is wired to want to level up. I think we get bored with complacency and comfort. I think we, as humans, need to continue learning and mastering skills so that we can at least feel like we’ve reached the next level, even if we don’t get a promotion or a raise at work.

Or maybe it’s just me and my crazy little family. Maybe The Boy was doomed to have this Gamer’s Mentality because both Cute Husband and I have it. But I know he has this mentality, and I can see it in the way he tenaciously attacks new challenges at school (and yes, his guitar). He approaches them in the same way he approaches a video game: he repeats a level over and over and over again until he finally levels up.

And then he moves on to the next level.

Because he does it at his own pace, he doesn’t burn himself out. The lessons aren’t too difficult for him, and he still has that enviable mindset that failure isn’t possible if you try hard enough. Just like you can beat the final boss in any video game if you try hard enough and log enough hours, you can master any skill you want if you try hard enough and put in the hours.

So maybe the Gamer’s Mentality isn’t such a bad thing, after all.