Friday, October 02, 2009

10/2/09 Two bits

No shave yet, but my two bits got a haircut tonight. First I took all three bits to a noodle/stew place for dinner, though not before the boys let out a little energy.

Not enough though. Dinner out with my children was little more than an exercise in food waste and parental humiliation. Katrina threw a tantrum and started to strip, and the boys came up with one thing after another to be admonished for. In general I don't like to give generic instructions like "behave," I like to be specific. Like, "stop blowing milk all over the table through your straw." But then I'm just shooting out "don't this" and "stop that" sentences rapid-fire, one after another, with the boys laughing and completely ignoring me. Then they started pushing each other and making a huge rumpus while I was up at the counter paying. I kicked Gabriel out, while a sympathetic waiter gave Katrina a gumball. Great.

Katrina surprised me with relatively cooperative behavior during haircuts, mostly wriggling around in the waiting area.

After haircuts, the boys got lollipops, which I snagged. No lollipops in the car anyway, but on the way home I told them they'd been so badly behaved in the restaurant that they could have their lollipops the next time we went out to dinner and they were good. I was really mad and meant it, and they didn't argue.

When we got home, Julian started in on the same old rigamarole about putting his lunch away. "It's SOOOOOOO muuuuuccch wooooooorrrrrrkkkkkk...." he complained. He threw himself on the floor with his daily foot injury and complained again. I told him he got one warning: if he didn't put his lunch away immediately, I was throwing away his lollipop. "UGGGGHGHHHH...," he rolled his eyes. "I don't HAVE to do what you say." I threw away the lollipop.

I was spurred by conversing with mom friends last night, including one who is unconflicted and unambiguous in doling out consequences. In theory I try to be too, but somehow it always devolves and escalates. Maybe I'm not being crisp enough in informing of circumstances, then icily carrying them out. Maybe even my boys will get the message if they think there is absolutely no alternative, and the only way they'll think that is if I think that.

Julian got the message, all right. He wailed and screamed and threw a huge fit over the lost lollipop. Here's a 20-second sampler of what went on pretty much until bedtime (over an hour), on his first trip up to his room, before things got bad.

He's shouting "LET ME OUT NOW!" at the top of the stairs, and keeps retreating because he sees the camera. Later, without the camera, he got much more aggressive to me, and destructive, on his way to his room.

I sort of enjoyed it, actually. For the first half-hour, anyway.

I sent him to his room so he could scream out of earshot, but he'd either come down unauthorized, or meet my criteria (no crying for 20 minutes) and start all over again and get sent back up again. Three times and that was enough. I told him to stay in his room until bedtime. Pants-down spanking if he opened the door.

No wonder I try to avoid these battles. They're loud, disruptive to the whole household, incredibly draining, and last all night. And they accomplish nothing. I can say with 100% certainty that it will not end with "and he never did it again." Julian will be right back in business tomorrow with major resistance to even the tiniest imposition on his time.

Can I be clear and consistent and calm every time? Can a little patience and compromise avert these blowouts? Or does it only fuel later ones? Do I want robotic, compliant children? Actually, yes. Do I have it in me to create that? Doubtful.

At least Katrina and Gabriel were fine when we got home. Katrina enjoyed her lollipop and started playing with her sign alphabet, so I tried asking her to show me some signs. I have no idea if these are right, because the only other person who could confirm was busy screaming his head off in his room.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

10/1/09 3 Cs & 3 Ys

Coffee, cheesecake, company.
Yak, yak, yak.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

9/30/09 Schoolkids

God. What a horrible night. I hope I can describe it in a few sentences and then be done with it, but history doesn't support that.

I left work early today to pick the boys up early, and Dave left work early too to pick Katrina up, later. This was engineered entirely to give me some concentrated pre-dinner Katrina-free time to work with Gabriel on his book report.

Big backfire. He resisted, refused, complained, made faces and rude remarks, and only infuriated me during the entire hour and a half I'd so carefully planned to work with him. I insisted he sit in a chair in the office the whole time, and went back and forth between checking on him to see if he was ready to work, and just ignoring him. I've had trouble getting him to work before, but not for this long.

It ended when at 5:30 when I ran out of patience and time and said, "I'M DONE." And I had to be, it was time to make dinner, clean up lunches, make tomorrow's lunches, and brace myself for Katrina's arrival. Then he finally relented and said he was ready to cooperate, but it was too late. I insisted he sit there and work on it himself -- I wasn't about to let him blow it off and go play. He wailed for over an hour, sitting in that same chair he'd been in since we got home, saying he couldn't. He alternated between getting angry with me for not helping, to pitifully crying saying he didn't want to repeat 2nd grade.

It really struck me: is this really too hard for him to do himself? He certainly believes it is. Is that because he's so used to getting help that he really can't? As objective as I can be, I lean toward option #1, as I'm quite confident that no second-grader is doing this project without significant parental help.

And today was the easy part: no more drawing. Just writing, the "I Think" section in which he's supposed to write a 5-sentence paragraph on what he thinks about the book, and if he'd recommend it to someone and why. Second-grade moms: could *your* second-grader do that without help and supervision? More importantly, would they?

I was so furious and upset, and conflicted. A big mixture of irritation at his resistance, frustration that we'd worked so hard on this already and are so behind, anger that we have this project imposed on us by the school, resentment that I'd missed so much work and life at home to work on this...yet still some disappointment that my allocated time to work with him alone was shot.

Why can't I just let this go? He's going to have to fail sometimes, and we're going to have to let him. But in 2nd grade? No. He's too young to see the bigger picture and care about the consequences. He'd just as soon flunk out of school, he says. And what consequences really are there for a 2nd-grader who turns in a half-complete book report?

Maybe because I was such a spotty chronically late student, I just can't stomach seeing it all over again. It's one thing not to do well because you just can't (like drawing), but it's another not to do your best. Or is it because I feel like the teachers will judge me?

Dammit, can't this just be a stupid book report instead of a gateway to over-self-analysis and reliving the low points of my own studenthood?

The pre-dinner Katrina-free hour wasn't lost though. Incredibly, I found myself doing yet more "preview" drawings and making suggestions on another book report, though this time with a far more willing participant: Julian. He had a "story sequence" to do: Draw the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Once again, I found myself suggesting a scene in the story to draw, drawing it myself on a piece of paper first, outlining a box on a separate paper for him to practice drawing in, showing him how to draw specific things....and I stink at drawing! This drains me!! I'm tired of drawing!! But Julian finished his whole "story sequence" tonight and is ready to turn in his homework.

I'd planned to attend a Back To School night at Katrina's preschool tonight, then go back to work to make up for time lost today. I left for the preschool exhausted and filled with angst. Gabriel had defiantly refused dinner during the 20 minutes we alloted him, then was back sitting in the office chair, alternating between wailing and demanding help, as I walked out the door.

It was sort of a relief to have somewhere to go, and be forced to stick to my guns. I'm glad I went, it was actually very interesting. Once again, other parents asked far more questions about the "curriculum" (they're three!) than I can ever imagine caring about, and asked about how to reinforce schoolwork at home. They're three!

But it was interesting hearing what they learn about, as that explains a lot of what Katrina sings or does, such as sign language. Julian's been learning the sign alphabet from the CDC, and I thought she was picking up some of that from him, but it's from preschool.

I learned that my contrarian little tantrumer is a model citizen at school, very inquisitive, very very interested in letters and numbers and shapes, and very focused and serious when she does her work. This is an example of her tracing her name. I'd never have believed it if her teacher hadn't told me that she does this entirely herself, with no help at all.

I was also relieved to hear that she draws a lot on her own. Oh Lordy, please let her hold onto that at least into 2nd grade.

I can be proud of Julian and Katrina as students today. 2 out of 3, not bad.

But Gabriel...arguably the one with the most potential (I know I'm not supposed to say that), but the most difficult to tap, with such extraordinary but such polarized abilities. He's so remarkable in so many ways, I just can't stand to see him do so poorly on something that's well within his reach. I know I have to get over that. It's going to take practice.

I called Dave as I was leaving Katrina's preschool and asked how it was going. Gabriel was brushing his teeth, ready for bed. Will he work with me if I come home now, instead of going back to work? Yes he will.

So I came home and found Gabriel waiting for me. Tired, but finally, finally willing. We spent a productive 15 minutes writing a draft of his 5-sentence paragraph, based on notes he'd already taken in a previous session. (Note to self: other parents do drawings for kids; don't do the writing for them just because that's easier for you!) Another 10 minutes and he'd have completed the final draft and had the report officially done. If only he could have done this at 4pm instead of 8pm, we could have spared many very trying hours for both of us today, and practiced his presentation. But that's life with Gabriel.

Graduate school was difficult for me: I'd been out of school for 5 years, and my math-avoidant undergraduate philosophy left me woefully underprepared for a graduate-level computer science program. I took extra classes, attended every T.A. session, got supplementary textbooks from the library, formed homework study groups, globbed off other students as much as I could and scrabbled every day to catch up. Who knew 2nd grade would be even harder.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

9/29/09 The Presentation

Whew. I'm exhausted. I got Gabriel from the CDC today as early as possible, which was still as late as 4pm, and set him about to work on his book report. With some breaks and a lot of reminding from me to stay on track, he got through two more big pieces of it, but was really burnt. Now we have just one more big piece, and his book report presentation, to practice. He also had regular homework to do tonight, and after that, I tried to get him to work a little on the book report presentation. He was so, so, SO tired. I felt terrible, and got him to do just a bare minimum (introducing the book).

It's staggering how much work this has been. There is no way possible a 2nd-grader could do this on his own. It requires far too much planning and summarizing and practicing presenting. We probably made it harder on ourselves with the book we ended up with, but still. I think the school needs feedback on how burdensome this has been, what a tremendous time sink it's been, despite the teachers' telling us how far along we should be on the project. It also hasn't helped that we had the "Star Of The Week" presentation today, either.

We're in the habit of arriving early to school anyway, so time was no problem. The boys and Katrina played on the kindergarten playground first. Katrina tried, anyway.

Then it was time to go to Gabriel's class, early to set up. (Another potential conflict with this thing about requiring parents at the presentation: I'm one of the few kindergarten parents who will leave my kindergartner outside class and trust him to go inside when the bell rings; most K-moms&dads see them inside. But since we had to get to Gabriel's class early, I had to leave Julian -- many K-moms won't do that.)

I asked Gabriel's teacher if I should interject if he started off on a tangent, and she said it's meant to be a family presentation, so, sure. But we hadn't practiced it that way, and most of my interjections ended up being corrections and reminders to look up and speak out. Not only didn't he like that, but it had no effect; if he repeated something he'd mumble it worse, trail his tone, and be reaching for the next item anyway. He wasn't exactly nervous, he was smiling and overall relaxed, but made no eye contact with his audience, and looked down the whole time he was talking, causing him to mumble, and his articulation is so-so to begin with. After he'd gone through describing his Big Bunny Fun Run trophy, one classmate asked him what that "medal thing" was for -- she had no idea! And I wouldn't have either.

He brought the house down showing how his Bear waves his arms and wiggles his tail though.

And, overall, I think he did pretty well; remembering most of what he'd planned to say, not going off on tangents, keeping each topic about the same length. If only he'd been intelligible, it'd have been perfect.

Speaking of perfect, Katrina was...well, perfect. I thought she'd be a big problem, but she mostly just sat with the class and looked at Gabriel.

Now if we can just get through the book report....

I took Gabriel with me to the CDC tonight, briefly, for a potluck celebration for a favorite CDC teacher who's getting married. He'd deserved the break. We rarely drive together in the dark, and on the way back, he said very sincerely, "Mom, I want to go to the city at night. I want to see the city lights, they're so pretty."

There are times he says things like that very meaningfully, like he's genuinely moved by the thought, and it floods me with warmth and love for him. Even something as simple as, "Wow, this is a really beautiful day," or while we were running a few weeks ago, "Those views are really wonderful, Mom" -- he really means it and he's just happily expressing his appreciation of something beautiful to him. It's a glimpse into his older self; his expression isn't at all kidlike when he says things like that.

He wants to see the Golden Gate Bridge at night, and I think he's earned it.


Monday, September 28, 2009

9/28/09 Book report

More work, work, work tonight. Right after getting home, I got Gabriel to sit in the kitchen with me and...

....wait, I must acknowledge how difficult this task by itself is. Walking in the door, Gabriel launches into uber-hyper mode: swinging his knapsack around, antagonizing Julian, pestering Katrina, laughing uncontrollably, running like crazy and basically being impossible. I give him transition time, but getting him to calm down is very, very challenging. This child is all about inert states.

But I succeeded, and we talked about the most important part of his book report: the "I think" section, in which he writes a paragraph on what he thinks about the book. We didn't write it, we just talked about it and I had him take notes. It was difficult to talk -- I was unpacking lunches, starting dinner, helping Julian with homework in a different room, and trying to keep Katrina out of the way.

But I was very pleased when he easily rattled off the point of the story ("Puss In Boots") on his own. His drawings may look amateurish and very basic -- no color even -- but I'll be able to say honestly that he did his best on this report and that he really knows the story. I'm fighting an urge to tell his teachers how hard he's worked, as that's too helicopter-parent-y for me, but I feel the temptation.

When I picked up the boys at the CDC today, Gabriel was sitting on a couch with three other boys, all of whom are 2nd-graders, and whose parents were likely raised and educated in India (not completely certain, but a safe assumption given their names and moderate accents). I asked what they thought of the book report (a grade-wide assignment), and they all chimed, "I'm DONE!" I asked what they thought about the drawings, and one boy smiled and said, "My Mom did them for me."

Parth's very sweet mom told me she and Parth (a kindergarten classmate of Gabriel's and his best pal at the CDC and a terrific kid) worked all weekend -- and she insisted he do it all himself -- and she's very relieved it's done. Her eyes widened too at the effort.

I'm perversely happy that the Indian moms gripe just as much as I do about the work (if you detect an inferiority complex, you're correct; it hearkens back to being an inferior student at a superior high school), though I think they're less likely to push back at the school about it. I plan on griping to the teachers about the excessive drawing -- a very, very time-consuming task for kids who aren't so inclined, and one that adds little to the purpose of a book report. Some drawing, sure, but not as a central component. Drawings are a great way for drawing-ers to earn a extra credit if they want, but a tough way for non-drawing-ers to meet the bare minimum.

(As I type, he's supposed to be working on another drawing. It takes him a while to get started....right now he's staring at the paper, repeating robotically, "COLD butt. COOOLD fart. BUTTTT. FAAA-AART." Just in case anyone was wondering about the poignant ponderings of a child.)

And then tonight, we did the final run-through for Gabriel's Star Of The Week presentation. Nice thing about being 7: no self-consciousness. If the itch strikes, no matter where it is, you scratch it. At some point, boys learn boundaries. Meantime, Moms crack up and try not to coach, "Umm, sweetie pie, speak up -- and don't scratch your balls."


Sunday, September 27, 2009

9/27/09 Work weekend

I think next weekend I'm going to feel liberated. This weekend, I've felt crushed under the weight of Gabriel's "Star Of The Week" presentation next Tuesday, and his book report and presentation due Friday. Ironically, preparing him for his 10-15 minute (that's long!) Star Of The Week presentation will make helping him with a 1-2 minute book report presentation much easier.

But the book report difficult. He has a ton of drawing to do, and all drawings of characters, and it's so, so hard for him. I'm doing everything I can to make it easier for him, like drawing the characters myself first to give him a model to follow. Tonight he was having such a hard time and was so frustrated that he started crying, and it's not the first time. Last week, after working on his book report all afternoon, he still had homework to do, and was so tired and burnt going over spelling words (that he knows) that he started to cry too. He doesn't whine or drag his heels or complain that much, he's really trying but it's just so hard. Gabriel is such a tough kid that when he cries out of frustration, it is heartbreaking.

Tonight we got through one more of the onerous drawings by me drawing it on another paper, and him following me, line by line. He keeps asking what the heck a book report is for, and my answers ring hollow when so much of the time and effort has been put into drawing.

Much of our effort has been good, though. We read the book together page by page, and I had him write a sentence or two summarizing the events on those pages. This took two 1-hour sessions on two separate days to complete, and in the end we filled up both sides of a paper with sentences. He just didn't understand the story until we did that.

Then we went through those notes and picked out the five scenes he has to draw, and summarized yet more to get the captions. I helped him pick the main characters to draw for the Characters page, and showed him how I'd draw them. I got him tracing paper and suggested that he trace the character from the book's illustration first, just to get some practice.

I showed him very basic drawing techniques (talk about the blind leading the blind!), like that a cat's nose is an upside-down triangle, or to draw eyes as ellipses first, then fill in the pupils to give the face expression. We're not talking anything remotely resembling art here, but he's never really been into drawing, and never people or characters or animals, so this is really hard.

And then there's Star Of The Week. This isn't so hard to do, but it's a lot to practice. I've had him write down, then rehearse, what he'll say about his family members, his sharing items (four of them), then things he likes to do with photos (BMX biking, ice skate, piano). Tonight he practiced in front of all of us, but clearly public speaking isn't something that comes naturally to him. He goes off on irrelevant tangents, looks down, mumbles, covers his mouth, picks his nose, or just spaces out.

Actually, there are good sides to all this. He is learning to speak in front of a group better. We're spending a lot of concentrated time together, and his behavior toward me immediately after we've been working together is markedly different. He's relaxed and wants to just hang out and talk to me. Despite the hard work, I think he likes the attention and working together. And he does know the classic story Puss In Boots very well now!

Another plus is that I got a rare family photo of all five of us for his Star Of The Week presentation, then a few shots of all three kids. Katrina was unusually cooperative, though that was because she wanted to hear the camera's self-time beep.

I think Gabriel and I deserve a big reward next weekend, a homework-free one!