Saturday, October 02, 2010

10/2/2010 Shopping

There are few things I'd rather do on weekends -- or ever -- than shop, but today it was a necessary evil.

And not so bad -- I took Katrina to a toy store to pick out a birthday present for a classmate who's turning 4 one day before Katrina does. I figured it'd make picking something for her birthday easy -- whatever she picks for her friend and fawns over, I could surprise her with.

That plan failed completely when she instead played with much younger toys that were all boy-sorts of things: a parking garage, a rocket ship, a train set. Not that I mind getting her boy toys at all, but we already have so many.

As we were leaving, suddenly she cried out "Ooh Mommy, LOOK!" and rushed toward a display I hadn't seen yet,of jewelry and music boxes. Perfect! Which one would she pick up?

But no, instead, there was yet another baby toy with wheels that happened to be parked in front of the music box display, and she went right to it and pushed it around and laughed about the "snapping" alligators.

You can see the clothes she picks for herself aren't particularly princess-y either. Not that I need to push the girly-girl thing on her, but when it comes to birthday shopping, it'd open up a lot of options.

In the end, I decided to try to find her a stuffed horse that stands up -- now that's a girl thing I'm all over!

When we got home, she was a bird again.

Our family room sofa situation is awful and worsening. The awful ancient slipcover is disintegrating, and I don't want to spend one cent on a new one. It's really really really time for a new couch there. Usually emergency shopping is for more milk, not major pieces of furniture, but this afternoon, I went emergency-shopping for a couch.

I took the boys to a huge furniture store I've been to before, that has vintage pinball machines that work. They barely turned their heads while I worked on the finer points of legs, fabrics and arm styles.

(And didn't order anything, decisions tomorrow.)

And tonight, I ordered Halloween costumes. Turns out, has much the same things as on eBay -- but right away, for sometimes less money, and without the uncertainty of winning an auction. The boys both want to be Star Wars characters: Anakin and Luke Skywalker.

Katrina's already settled on being a clown, with a costume we already have (actually, a $7 eBay find that Julian used when he was 4) -- but my heart stopped when Gabriel said, "Wouldn't it be great if Katrina was Princess Leia?" Oh my GOSH, the cute factor would be over the top -- and that's one Princess I could stand!

But having Halloween costumes settled is one accomplishment I'm not messing with. I'm done shopping.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

9/30/2010 The Deal


EVERY day we hear another report from the CDC about his obnoxious behavior.

Part of the problem is that there was recently huge turnover in the CDC staff, so all the people who've known Gabriel -- and us -- since kindergarten left around the beginning of the school year. It takes a while to really "get" that he just doesn't respond to discipline measures as other kids do, and now he's older and faster and has lost whatever bits of intimidation he might have had from being the youngest.

Gabriel really, really, REALLY wants a book in this month's Scholastic order that has the plans to the Millenium Falcon. It's expensive for a Scholastic book -- $21 -- and is really just a pop-up with lots of spaceship pictures. I balked at this, and couldn't suggest he buy it himself because he's bankrupt (has lost allowance well into November), but decided this might be a good tool for improving his behavior.

So I told him: 4 straight days of perfect behavior at the CDC after school, and I'll order the book for him. That's quite a reward for what should be just normally expected behavior, but we're really starting at a deficit!

So today, the first day of the deal, Gabriel wouldn't come inside from the auditorium/library area where the 3rd-and-up graders stay after school. This forced the Director of the place, a new guy who's not exactly jovial or warm, to go in and chase him around to get him to move to the main CDC building. This sounds sort of funny, but it's infuriating. The Director is busy running a center for tens of kids and shouldn't have to put so much energy to dealing with one. I've had to chase Gabriel down too, and it's frankly sort of humiliating. And there comes a point in which you just can't deal with your kids by physically overpowering them anyway.

Gabriel being Gabriel of course wasn't contrite and didn't back down when I told him he'd lost the book -- indeed, full-scale war was brewing. So for practical reasons, I told him that after he'd done everything he had to do -- including starting some laundry -- that we'd talk about it.

(Believe me, sticking to the guns about "no book" would have no effect except massive futile painful conflict. He won't "learn" from it and behave better next time. Other kids, yes. But we're not talking about other kids.)

So he turned cooperative and sweet, did everything he needed to do before bed, so then I wrote out a chart for 5 days, with "Morning" and "CDC" on each day. He has to get a checkmark for each time, a total of 10, to earn himself that book. Actually I'm going to change it to give some margin for error, because one mistake and the incentive is gone. I know, dear reader, you're thinking, one mistake and "that should be it." But you all know Gabriel well enough to know what that means. I think I'll change it so that if he gets and "X" instead of a check, that then he'll have to get two checks to make up for it.

I even offered him some help "remembering" to behave himself at the CDC, by writing on his hand "BOOK." I know it will fade or sweat off, but the act of writing on his hand seemed to make an impact, at least for the moment.

Dealing with the Devil, I swear. But this Devil turned to an Angel after this; even hugging and kissing me and saying, "See Mom, I like it so much better when we're like this."

Meantime, Julian and Katrina had a grand time together when they got home rushing out to put the (enormous) garbage cans away. Julian can handle them, but Katrina is sooo little! I give her credit for trying though. She is a total adorable ray of sunshine these days. I tried to get her to try chicken tonight, by saying that chicken is for big girls (which she thinks she is because of her upcoming birthday next week). She thought about this and said, "Well, I'm a little big!"

Julian didn't have the best moment before dinner. He wants to wear his wrist brace all the time, but he really needs to have it off to do some exercises, and to get his hand back to normal. He claims it still hurts, but we can't tell how true this is, as he'll cry out "OW!" if you faintly touch the other hand.

I ended up sending him outside to finish screaming and crying when he wouldn't quit demanding his brace back (tried to remove it for dinner), and then he got this awful bloody nose. That made for a graceful exit; I had a reason to fawn over him and give him a ton of attention. In the end, we compromised over the brace: we do some of the exercises the doctor gave him, then he could have the brace back for dinner. Whew.

It's so odd -- funny? -- that just as the hardest stage of life is pretty much done around here -- Katrina turning 4 really marks the end of toddlerdom -- that new hard stages of life are taking hold.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

9/29/2010 Imagination

Yesterday the Director of Katrina's preschool commented at how much "imagination" she has. This is a comment I hear again and again, from numerous sources. I have no idea what that means, based on my previous experience with kids' imaginations, which is pretty much none. But from what it seems to others, Katrina's being a new character every day qualifies.

It is truly adorable, that today she's a bird and tomorrow a butterfly, and that I have to flap my Mommy Bird wings with her on our way out the door. This is the sort of silliness I thought I'd dread as a parent, but it's totally charming.

So why is this so foreign to me? Julian will go along with role-playing if someone else starts it, but I've never seem him initiate. Gabriel -- not ever once. I can't begin to imagine him showing up in a costume with a new name and mythical quest.

My nephew Aidan is the polar opposite, always inventing whole worlds and complex relationships between people and animals and things. That sort of imaginative play-life isn't in Gabriel's DNA, and Julian's only shows up when prompted. So no wonder I can't tell if Katrina's just being a normal kid or if she really is imaginative. I'm told she is, and that's just great. If only I knew what to do with that, though I guess I'm doing OK so far flapping my Mommy Butterfly wings on cue.

Katrina found a toy that had been put away, slated for giveaway, in the garage. Miss Amanda did up her ponytails in little buns today, so cute.

Julian got his cast off today, though he still has a brace for a few weeks. He's complaining that it hurts, but it's hard to separate fact from fiction. This is where he's best at using his imagination -- he imagines he'll get more attention the more he says it hurts, but he loses credibility when he cries "Ow!" when we lightly place a finger on the uninjured arm.

And now it's time to imagine that it's 9pm (it's 11pm) and that I'm going to dream happily away for 10 hours and wake up surrounded by fresh flowers and a fragrant breeze and lay there for half an hour gradually welcoming the world of the awake.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

9/28/2010 The book report

Gabriel has his first 3rd-grade book report due Thursday.

Incredibly, this one has been nearly painless. He's done every step without being bugged or asked. Not entirely on his own -- the teacher puts in his daily homework what step they should accomplish within the next few days, but he's done it.

I read it over tonight to check it, and found that he'd done a really good job at the "Character Sketch," the "Summary" and the "Recommendation." Actually, he writes really pretty well. His handwriting is horrendous -- it's very very hard to read, but I find his choice of words to be pretty insightful and have a good flow.

Perhaps in part thanks to my dedicating some time to reviewing the report when we got home tonight, the evening went amazingly well tonight. It was downright peaceful. Julian set right to work finishing up his week's homework -- all he had left to do was to put 20 words in "abc" (alphabetic) order. Gabriel moans and complains and works himself into tears for over half an hour because he can't stand doing the same task, but Julian just tackles it quietly and gets it done in under 10 minutes.

In fact overall, most of the pain so far with homework is getting the boys just to sit down and do it. The struggle is in separating them from each other and from their irresistable little sister (and in Gabriel's case getting over the outrage at having to do it at all), but once they get going, they're both independent and competent at doing the actual work on their own.

So far, Julian's first-grade homework has been far, far, FAR easier to deal with than Gabriel's was; partly because the work itself doesn't require so much parent participation, partly because it's assigned weekly instead of daily, and partly because Julian is far more cooperative (overall) about doing it.

Despite today's success, it's staggering to think that there will be yet a 3rd to deal with next year. It's so overwhelming...I can't think about that now. I'll think about that tomorrow.


Monday, September 27, 2010

The Students

Tonight I gave the kids dinner and put them to bed, so Dave could work late and then attend "Back To School" night at Katrina's preschool.

This morning, the boys had given Dave a really hard time with getting in the car, by hiding behind the garage and forcing him into a stressful search to find them and get going. Our days are very tight, we have everything scheduled down to the last 5 minutes -- there's no room for that sort of nonsense in the morning. For me, every 5 minutes delay at home is another 10 in traffic. So Dave was understandably pretty mad. Another reason to give him a break from dealing with them tonight.

When I picked the boys up today, I got the usual story from CDC teachers about the trouble Gabriel gave them that day. I really am getting tired hearing 10 minutes of "parent communication" about his behavior every day. I have to respond to it and support the CDC teachers of course, I don't blame them at all, but his consistent difficult behavior is getting very tiresome. (Today it was not coming in to the CDC building from the library/auditorium area where the older kids stay, running from the teachers and messing around.)

At dinner tonight, Gabriel complained bitterly about how boring school is. He recently got a 3 out of 6 on a math test, which greatly reduces my sympathy. Of all things that come easy to him, it's the math -- a bad math grade means carelessness. He's not doing that well overall so far in fact, so I explained to him that if he really thinks school is boring, then when he gets perfect grades and has perfect behavior, then we can talk to the principal about advancing him to the 4th grade. That is a blatant lie, because I have no intention whatsoever of skipping him no matter how perfect his grades are. But I will take his complaints about school being "boring" more seriously when he takes it more seriously.

Julian, on the other hand, ran up to me at the CDC and announced brightly, "Guess what Mommy! I finished all my homework for the week!"

After dinner, I shamelessly used dessert as an incentive (bribe?) to get all 3 of them to write "I'm sorry" notes to Dave about their behavior this morning. Katrina really didn't deserve the same blame as her obnoxious brothers, she just went along with the hiding, but she was there, so I had her write a note too.

And to my amazement and delight, she tackled this with enthusiasm and, dare I say it, joy?! I couldn't believe it. She had no trouble writing this note at all.

I wrote the words down for her first, and helped her find the next letter so it didn't take all night, but it was clear she knew what the next letter was. Like most new writers, she needed help putting spaces between the words, but she showed surprising control of the pencil and great attention to the method of writing a letter, just as she's been taught. She was very focused, and most of all, very proud of herself. I couldn't believe it! I was very very proud of her too and praised her effort with total abandon.

Her brothers on the other hand....oy.

Gabriel loses dessert most days because of behavior, so he was pretty motivated tonight to write a "sorry" note with the promise of dessert. He grumbled, but the call of chocolate won out. OK.

Julian, Mr. Studious, had more trouble, being rude along the way, then writing the note, then adding "not" to "I am sorry." He lost dessert then and had to get ready for bed, but when he appeared with a new note that he'd written on his own, I conceded 3 small chocolates. Sounds permissive, but I really really really want to encourage contriteness.

I'm completely aware that these apologies are insincere and motivated only by sweets. But as I often tell the kids, "You don't have to feel sorry, but you do have to say you're sorry." It's true. Few apologies in life really are sincere expressions of remorse; they're mostly peacekeepers to move on. And that's fine. Asking a kid to really feel sorry is hard to define and impossible to prove anyway. But saying you're sorry is common courtesy, and is understood socially not as being literally meaningful, but as an important gesture. If the true motive is dessert, then so be it.

Gabriel. Remarkable natural ability in certain things, but so so so difficult. To many adults, not caring what other people think is a quality to be admired and striven for (and all teenagers say that but it's never true). But raising a kid who pretty much truly doesn't care what other people think is really freakin' hard. Social pressure and parental approval are crucial elements in interacting with and controlling -- did I just say controlling? -- guiding your children, and this is something we just don't have as parents. Gabriel is the most emotionally independent "normal" (and perhaps that should be questioned) child I've ever heard of.

I don't mean he's a total rock -- he does need me -- but that side of him is so much harder to reach than most kids. It still shocks me when Katrina bursts into tears in the rare instances that I raise my voice at her. This is where she and her tough-skinned thick-skulled brother really depart. It's not in Gabriel's DNA to cry in reaction to a verbal statement.

The only really consistent soft side to Gabriel -- and he totally has them -- but the only one that's frequently obvious -- is his unrelenting affection and adoration for his sister. I'm not just saying that because of the "awwwwwww" factor, it's really true. But a big factor as to why is because Julian takes the brunt of Gabriel's peer competition and interaction. Gabriel's hapless brother runs interference, if you will, for Katrina, wringing out Gabriel's need to pester and torture and push against, leaving him clean and fresh to be sweet to his sister.

Meantime, all signs so far are that Julian and Katrina will be the better students.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

9/26/2010 Weekend at home

Lots of calm time Saturday, largely because Julian was out of the picture voluntarily or involuntarily. Gabriel and Katrina built Legos together for the better part of the day. Always in the mentor-mentee role of course, but they were happy and proud of their work.

Later I went out to a mini-bachelorette party for one my longtime friends from motorcycling. It's pretty rare that just the women of this group will get together, so it was quite the treat.

I laughed to myself when I thought about how we knew each other. Linda, on my left, is the bride, just married Robert, who I've known as long as Dave and had ridden with almost as much. Next to Linda is Joanne, who I'd ridden with many times too, or rather, saw her taillight for a curve or too and then she was gone. Next to Joanne is Tammy, who did a monthlong trip to Alaska with Linda. Then Tammy and her boyfriend Tom, a pilot from Germany, sailed around the world for 3 years. Lee, in the foreground, has done many of the same trips I have but somehow we never rode together much. She's also done lots of backbacking and foreign travel and got me all inspired to do a trip to Peru based on one she did last year.

Sara hadn't arrived yet in time for this photo, but she's the only woman in the group that I've had more typical woman bonding experiences with, when we were in prenatal yoga classes together, and we both have preschoolers now. But Sara still rides these days, unlike me, sniff. I think only two or three women in the group don't actually ride themselves, but are adventurers on the back of their guys' bikes. Rubye is one of those, she organized this event and we've been friends for years -- and her husband Reid was one of my favorite riding partners. I'm not sure where I fit into that anymore...I was certainly one of the most active in my day, but now I'm the only one besides Sara with young children. (Tammy has two grown sons.)

Anyway, though the conversation will sometimes turn to motorcycle mechanics, it's still the girls getting together with the girls, and it was a great time.

Tough afternoon with Gabriel...punched Julian in the eye, then was troublesome and astoundingly rude to the point that I ended up not letting him come swimming with us. To implement that consequence, it meant leaving him home alone or no one went, and Katrina had really earned it.

I'd rather think about my time being a normal grownup around a fantastic group of women with whom our most common element is motorcycles!