Parenting

Surliness and the Seventh Grader

Daniel started 7th grade (OMG!) in person last month. I must confess that *I* may have been tad bit excited for it. In person! Not virtual! Maybe actual education and learning will be had! Getting back to routines! To be fair, Daniel was excited to return too, so lest you picture me doing excited pirouettes around my house after I dropped him off…well, you’d be correct.

But wow was it difficult returning to the grind and routine of school. What are school supplies? I have to pack a lunch? We need new clothes! School starts when? Where IS the school? That last item is not exactly an exaggeration. Last school year – sixth grade – would have been his first year in middle school, and we were unable to tour it in the spring of 2020 due to that little thing called COVID. Last year was spent virtual, and I think I personally went inside the school twice. Things are SO weird, but I don’t have to tell you all that.

We went to Meet the Teacher night as usual, and Daniel loved his teachers and the classrooms (seriously, they may have been the nicest, cleanest classrooms I have ever seen). I did have a moment of amusement because his Homeroom and English teacher listed the books she was reading, and I was stunned to see she is reading a novel by someone I know from the fanfiction realm. I sidled up to her and whispered, “do you know she writes fanfiction? She’s really good.” She did not know this, so I have sent her some links. Reeling them into the fandom one link at a time…

So here we are about to start week 4. It’s going well. Academically, things seem good, but the school has also continued with the limited/no homework policy, so I usually have no idea what D is working on unless he deigns to share. Like last week he rocked social studies, so I heard about that. Otherwise, it’s pulling teeth to get information. But from the teachers I have heard from, they like him a lot and appreciate his enthusiasm. I’ll take it. I’ve always wanted nothing more than for him to do his best, and after the last 18 months, if he is enjoying school and actually learning, that’s all that matters.

Socially…well, we all know middle school is hell. If middle school had been a concept when Dante was writing The Divine Comedy, I’m sure there would have been an entire level of hell dedicated to middle school. And with good reason.

Daniel was disappointed that a few of his closest friends from elementary school aren’t in any of his classes, but he does have a few other former classmates, so he is slowly (slowwwwlllllyyyy) getting over that disappointment. He hates gym, but who among us did not hate gym? He feels bad because he cannot do a push up, and I’m promising to help because one of my weird splinter skills (along with serving a volleyball) is doing push ups.

My child is a bit surly kind of a misanthrope. He informed me recently that HE is a man and the other students in the school are children, and he will not associate with them because they are less mature. OKKKK. I’m not sure what his definition of a “man” is, but this is where he and I butt heads because I want preciseness in language, so I do a lot of saying, “you are legally not an adult! There are laws about this!” I know this surliness is typical, but yeah, the next few years are going to be GREAT. And damn. I know I’m an introvert and joke about not liking people, but come on! I’m sort of proud, yet appalled? We have a lot of conversations about what is means to be polite socially even if you loathe the people around you. Sometimes our conversations – like much in the last 18 months – seem very surreal.

Ultimately, I spend a lot of time telling him that yes, middle school is hell and everyone is an asshole. Just do the best you can and ignore the ones that get on your nerves. That somehow seems like good advice (based on painful experience) and insufficient? I’m always reminded of a Teaching Fellows summer seminar I went on junior year. One of the keynote speakers was a middle school teacher and basically said this:

The students won’t like you or listen to you or their parents. They will only listen to their peers. They don’t care about school. But other than that, middle school is great!

Way to sell middle school!

We’re getting by. Yes, it’s only 4 weeks in, but I’m grateful he is back in school and that the district has a mask mandate (fairly red county and controversial, so I was pleasantly surprised). It is disconcerting to receive calls almost every day from the school about the latest positive COVID case. I told some friends that “deep disinfection and quarantining” is the COVID version of “thoughts and prayers.” And I’m grateful Daniel seems to be enjoying it or at least dealing with it. I’ve had the joy of experiencing afternoon pick up, and holy shit. I cannot believe how early people line up. I’ve taken entire meetings via Zoom on my phone on several occasions as I have waited to pick him up.

The first week of school, both water containers disappeared. Daniel was nonplussed (the current definition, not the definition I prefer). Then the second week, I saw his water container sitting on the bench outside the front of the school when I picked him up early. I guess it’s true what the say: “if you love someone (something) and set it free, if they come back to you it was meant to be.”

I’m all about signs these days, so I’ll take it in a water bottle.

Who Gets to Play with the Purple Legos?

This week is the last week of summer camp before D starts 1st grade next week.  He was supposed to end the summer as he started it with a week at Lego camp; instead, D is attending camp at our local YMCA this week.

These Lego camps are put on by a franchise that uses theme-based plans and kits with Legos for educational play. Blah, blah, blah…basically, the franchise running these camps is not sponsored by Lego, and these camps are not official Lego camps. These camps are being offered at one of the city parks and rec locations, so we signed up for the camp via the parks and rec summer camp registration site.

A little over a week ago, I received an email from the local franchise owner telling me that D could attend the afternoon session but not the morning session.  The afternoon session was on space.  The morning session was building and crafting with Lego Friends, including making jewelry and origami. I knew D would enjoy the space session in the afternoon, and I knew that he would enjoy the morning session with the Lego Friends theme (he has one or two small Lego Friends pieces). Yes, it was being marketed to girls but did not specifically indicate girls only (at least in the description I read on the parks and rec site). Needing coverage for most of the day since I work full time, I had signed him up for both sessions.

The session the franchise owner told me D could not attend was the Lego Friends-themed session.  He said that it was marketed to and restricted to girls only. I emailed back and forth with the franchise owner to be absolutely certain that he would not let D attend.  The answer was an emphatic no.  I was initially irritated because damn it, now we needed to figure out something for that final week of camp and we were getting ready to go out of town.  But I was also irritated because I have mixed feelings about the Lego Friends sets.  I get that the sets are a (misguided in my opinion) attempt to make Legos attractive to girls, but why do girls need cutesy Legos?  Why does Lego assume that the ordinary primary-colored bricks are uninteresting to girls? I played with regular Legos as a child, and I even had a Lego space set. And it does seem a bit insulting to have sessions on space, pirate ships, minecraft, catapults, etc. for the entire summer and then have one “girls only” session to introduce girls to Lego’s girl-themed sets.

Also, the other Lego sessions were open to any gender, and girls had attended the sessions D was in the first week of camp. Why couldn’t a 6-year-old boy whose favorite color is purple not attend the Lego Friends camp?

We decided to withdraw from both sessions, and I emailed both the franchise owner and the parks and rec representative about our decision and why we were so disappointed. A few days later I received a polite email from the parks and rec representative telling us that they had decided that in the future, the only Lego sessions they would hold would be those open to both genders. Victory? or screw up?

I have mixed feelings about the situation. I feel like I was trying to game the system a bit because really, I needed some place for D to go for the entire day and I knew the Lego Friends session was focused on girls. However, I really dislike the message it sends that girls need cutesy pink and purple Legos in order to be interested in building and engineering, and that boys can’t like cute stuff and girls can’t like kick-ass catapults. And it really struck me since this happened around the same time Target decided to remove gender labels in the toy section.  But this article makes good points that Lego Friends aren’t dumbed-down sets and how Lego’s traditional sets have clearly been targeted to boys.  If girls enjoy the Lego Friends sets, isn’t that OK? Does it have to mean anything more? What is a gender-neutral toy anyway? If we applaud little girls playing with the supposedly “gender-neutral” traditional Lego sets, why can’t a little boy enjoy playing with Lego Friends?

What do you think?

At least D is enjoying YMCA camp and in a few days, all of this summer camp mess will be over.

 

The Incident at the Grocery Store

I said (on Twitter) I would post about our Tuesday night incident at the grocery store, but then I changed my mine because of some of the issues involved. But I cannot stop thinking about it and with a whole 48-hours distance, I’ve decided to post what happened. 

Tuesday night, Daniel and I were walking into the grocery store to buy cookies for a class project they were doing the next day. 

Suddenly, a voice behind me said, “Why did you stick out your tongue at me? And why are you making such ugly faces?” I turned around to see a man behind us. I bent down to Daniel and asked him if he stuck out his tongue at the man because I was going to tell him to apologize and then Daniel, who is going through quite a rude phase, said, “You’re going to jail” to this African American man. Let us all cringe at this unfortunate, poorly-timed comment.

The man replied, “oh I see you have been watching TV. That’s right…start them early.” Then he shook his head and walked past us.

I was in shock and fuming because this man had just called my child racist when in truth, he was being an asshole.

We bought the cookies and Daniel was helpfully acting up in the cashier’s line and wanting all the candy. The man was by the customer service desk, observing all of this. I looked at him as we were leaving and he raised an eyebrow and shook his head at us.

I should have let it go. Maybe I should have walked over and apologized for my child sticking out his tongue and try to explain he was being an asshole.

Instead I walked over and asked him if he had anything else to say to me. He told me that what else could he think when my child said things like that other than it must come from the parents. I tried to explain that Daniel is 5 and loves his Lego police set and that he would tell anyone to go to jail. He said I didn’t even apologize to him. I said I didn’t have a chance and that he doesn’t know anything about me. He says all he knows is what he sees, a mid-30s white woman with a child who knows hate.

Our voices are rising as you can imagine and Daniel, who doesn’t know what is going on, starts flailing an arm at the man. I drag him away and the man shouts, “see? You have a horrible-ass kid with terrible parents.” 

I shake my head and leave. 

I was pretty devastated after that and Daniel was upset too. That night he kept saying he was going to put that man in jail forever and all I can think is how that exactly what that man has to fear. 

I’m sorry it happened. I’m sorry that 5-year-old kids being assholes can be an unfortunate trigger. I’m sorry that this incident has shocked me to my core when as a privileged white lady, this is rare for me while likely a common occurrence for many others. I’m sorry it is a challenge taking my child out right now when he is too often rude, sassy and defiant despite my best efforts.

Mostly, I’m just sorry.

It’s Hard Out There for a Working Mom

This piece made the rounds last week. In it, Katharine Zaleski apologized for the condescension and outright disdain she showed towards her coworkers who were working mothers.  Her apology might have been more tolerable if it had come before she herself became a mother and realized that gee, it’s hard out there for working moms.  Zaleski has seen the error of her ways and is co-founder of a company that seeks to match women with work-at-home tech jobs.  Her piece rubbed me the wrong way because of her privilege that eased her decision to lean in or lean out.  The majority of women don’t have C-level positions at start-ups coming their way.  At the very least, I hope I wasn’t nearly the asshole she was to working moms in her office before I had kids.  And really, that’s the crux of it.  Was it really so difficult for her to attempt a modicum of empathy for those women? Was it really that impossible for her to think that maybe she might have kids someday and how would she like to be treated in the workplace?

One of the best responses to Zaleski’s piece was adamant in her refusal to accept the non-apology.  Anne Born notes that being a working mom would have been more bearable if just one person had backed her up or spoken up as she received comments and side eyes doubting her work ethic. By not extending any support, no matter how small,  women like Zaleski became just “one of the guys.”  And Born is writing about what she experienced in 1997, a time not that long ago. She concludes:

I worked with too many women like you, Ms. Zaleski, who reinforced that I was just a lesser version of the other women I worked with who did not have such tedious family obligations. Working women are worth less enough already without your help – or your apologies.

Sometimes I think that with all the media coverage of “leaning in” and telecommuting, we think that it is easier to be a working mom than ever before. This topic has been on my mind a lot, especially since in NC, children missed almost 2 full weeks of school due to snow and sleet in February and for many working parents, that time must be made up or vacation used.  Working from home is not permitted in all workplaces.

The truth is that it is still very hard to be a mom who works outside the home. It’s even more difficult if you need further accommodations.  I think that there is a perception that daycare and programs like after-school care make it easy to work 8-5 if you are a working mother. That’s true if everything goes to plan, but what I and several other women I know have learned, it is as fragile as a house of cards.

  • Think of the mother whose child qualifies for one of the few free preschool options available in NC. The problem is that while these preschools end when the school day ends, after-school care is not available for these students. The mother will need to leave work at 3:30 to transport her child to some other program so she is able to return to work in order to fulfill the hours she is expected to work. The logical answer would be to let her telecommute but sadly, her position classification makes that option unavailable. She also cannot take her lunch hour at that time because OSHA rules dictate that she take a break after 6 hours of work.
  • After-school care is a godsend, but imagine if you are a mother whose child cannot cope in the school-sanctioned program.  Maybe the child is acting out or just not coping well and on the verge of being expelled.  Maybe the mother can hire a student to transport her child home and stay with the child until after work or maybe, if she’s lucky, she finds an alternative program that will pick up her child from school and take her to a program that is more suited to the child’s needs.  While this mother will be relieved to find any option that works to keep her child safe and engaged while she fulfills her expected hours, these options cost money, likely more money than the school-sanctioned after-school program. These are also options that are likely more available in larger cities than smaller ones. What would be the answer for the mother who lives in a small town?
  • Maybe your child is in a small school that is perfect for your child’s needs, and your child is thriving, but the after-school program goes only to 4 PM.  Maybe in this case you have the ability to make up some of the missed hours, but you live in fear of a meeting being scheduled late afternoon and any hint that you might not be a dedicated employee who deserves the responsibility she has been given. You worry that coworkers view you as Zaleski viewed her coworkers who had children.

It is easy to say that these women should find other jobs that are more flexible, but the reality is that many workplaces are less flexible than you imagine.  After all, even Yahoo rescinded its telecommuting policy.  I work for the state and while there are drawbacks to being a state employee (flexibility being one), it has decent health insurance, paid time off and security. It is also one of the largest employers in my state. It isn’t that simple to go get a new job, especially when children are involved.

I applaud Zaleski for her epiphany (even if it is infuriatingly late for those women she worked with prior to having her own child) and her effort to make things better for working women through her new company. The problem is that her company will help only a small subset of working women: those with in-demand technical skills. What about the rest?  What about the factory worker or hourly office worker who finds herself walking a tight rope of child care and praying that the few options that exist will work for her family? What about those women for whom telecommuting is not allowed? What about women who have children with special needs or needs that mainstream programs cannot support but who still need to or want to work?

We still have a lot of work to do to help mothers succeed in the workforce.

 

 

#MicroblogMondays: Wiped

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I think this picture sums up our feelings about the weekend. Daniel was soooo full of energy & we were not. It would be nice if it didn’t rain for a while too 🙂

In other news, we are ordering new couches & a mattress! You know you’re adults when purchases like that make you happy 🙂

#MicroblogMondays: Snaggletooth

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We had been on loose tooth watch all weekend.  One of Daniel’s lower front teeth was so loose that he could bend it all the way forward (fun fact: loose teeth are disconcerting). We had the tooth pillow. We had been talking to him about losing teeth and the Tooth Fairy’s job.  We were ready.

Sunday morning Daniel bounds into the bedroom around 7:30 AM. “Mommy, my tooth fell out,” he announces calmly.  I squint and ask him if he has the tooth.  I feel something drop onto my palm.  A tiny, perfect tooth. High fives and hugs are exchanged.

At bedtime, we put the tooth pillow on the door knob outside his door.  He is so excited.  Jimmy and I change our mind about 14 times on what we want the Tooth Fairy to give him for his tooth.

Daniel’s tiny tooth is tucked in our safe, and we wonder how long it will take for his adult tooth, already emergent, to make its way forward.

There’s something special about that first lost tooth.

 

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Tooth Fairy pillow

 

Tooth and Loot

Tooth and Loot

#MicroblogMondays: the Gingerbread House

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A combination of cold rain canceling a much-anticipated holiday activity and subsequent, ever-present parental guilt led me to a snap decision in the grocery store over the weekend: we would build a gingerbread house with Daniel!  I selected a kit with what looked to be a simple house with a straightforward assembly.  It would be fun, right? A bonding moment! A holiday memory we would all cherish.

It took only 5 minutes for the doubt to creep in. I carefully removed the gingerbread pieces and the candy. I studied the instructions closely. It was cutting a hole in the bag of icing and treating it like a pastry bag that did me in. This was going to be messy. And take a lot of time and attention to detail. Could I and an excitable 5-year-old handle this project? And then I cut the slit too wide on the icing packet and had flashbacks to my ignominious cake decorating class. This type of activity is NOT a core competency for me! I am not crafty. Nope, not at all.

We managed. It was fun. And messy. Very messy.  Daniel consumed some of the decorations, but he took the craft very seriously and had a ton of enthusiasm. After an hour, we both looked at the house and declared it done. He wanted to draw. I wanted to do…something else.

I told Twitter that it would be my first and last gingerbread house, but now, a scant day removed, I’m thinking that maybe if we made a few modifications to the icing situation, it would be more feasible. And less messy. So maybe we can re-engineer this project for next year.

This is what memories are made of, right?

The kit and its potential

Our kit and its potential

 

 

Our gingerbread house

Our gingerbread house

 

 

 

#MicroblogMondays: Words

Daniel loves words right now. He asks me to spell everything. And we think he’s reading. If not 100%, he’s close. Very close. That amazes me. I feel like I’ve waited 5 years for him to read, yet now that he can, I’m awed at all that it takes to be able to read.

Today Daniel and I arrived home a little early, and Jimmy was sitting outside with his laptop. Daniel was fascinated and wanted to type words. The two of them played on the laptop for a while, Daniel intent on typing sentences.

It was honestly one of the most adorable things I’ve seen and a reminder of how quickly Daniel is growing up. He looked like a natural in front of the laptop screen.

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Starting the Day Off Right

We love our cats. Truly. But then you roll over at 4:30 and realize you’ve been sleeping in cat vomit. And then you are just starting to drift off when you hear the delightful sound of your other cat hacking up a hairball all over the bedroom floor. And then it is 6:30 and from the monitor, a little voice chirps, “is it morning? Can I get up?”

Happy Sunday! At least we had cinnamon rolls. And we needed to do laundry anyway.

A Few Parenting Articles

I know better than to depend on the Internet for parenting advice or solace, but I came across a few articles and posts this week that were truly wonderful.

First: this post about “that kid” from the teacher’s perspective. Lots of hugs: http://missnightmutters.com/2014/11/dear-parent-about-that-kid.html

And this post from a mother wanting to protect her daughter’s spirit while the world seems intent on crushing it: http://www.schmutzie.com/weblog/outside-voice-the-pain-of-wanting-to-protect-my-daughter

Next: kindergarteners, standardized tests and developmental readiness. It really makes me rethink what I want out of early-education: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/06/a-really-scary-headline-about-kindergarteners/

And for fellow boy moms, this post on what this mother has learned parenting boys. All true in my experience as well! http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/11/12/5-things-i-learned-about-raising-boys-so-far/

And saving my least favorite for last, this lady is pretty certain we’re parenting small children incorrectly and is out to school us: http://www.salon.com/2014/11/11/10_things_parents_should_never_say_to_their_toddlers_partner/

What is the best or worst thing you read this week?