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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Quirks

cafe with girls theo guitar movie 010

One thing I love about having four children is being able to compare and contrast their personalities. It was an enormous relief to me when my second baby was born being completely different than her older brother. He had been such a difficult, attention-needing, intense baby that I had seriously begun to wonder whether he was that way because of something I was doing wrong. Then along came Miss L, the complete antithesis to the screaming, colicky, unpredictable baby her brother had been. She was a sunny, easily pleased, predictable and mellow little personality who occupied herself very happily wherever we were, which was lucky, because I was still having to spend all my waking attention on demanding Number One.

By the time Miss L hit her toddler years, things changed. We went through a rocky patch when her Very Intense Need to Declare Herself as an Individual was acted out with or without external provocation. Like the time we were leaving the house and she insisted that she wanted those particular pocketless pants to have pockets. Or she wanted her favorite hat to be a different color. Or any variation on this theme:
Her: I THIRSTY!!
Me: Okay, would you like some juice or some milk?
Her: NO JUICE!
Me: Okay, milk then?
Her: NO MILK!
Me: All we have is milk or juice. Or water. Would you like some water?
Her: NO WATER!! NO JUICE!! NO MILK!!!!
Me: er….
Her: I THIRSTY!! I NO WANNA DRINK!!
Me: er…okay, well….here’s a cup; tell me when you want something to drink.
Her: I THIRSTY!! I THIRSTY!
Me: So, milk, water, or juice?
Her: Flinging the cup, beginning of flailing tantrum.

Me: Walking away.
Her: Following me.

Luckily, by that time, older brother had transformed into a lovely, reasonable and calm preschooler, baby #3 only needed to be fed and changed to be happy, and I was a seasoned enough parent to realize that none of any of it had much to do with me. Which is why by the time baby #4 was born needing to be held 24-hours a day, I did so without once worrying that I was going to create an over-dependency.

Now I have two daughters very similar in personality and interests, and two sons very similar in interests but quite different in terms of personality.

I still find it endlessly fascinating to watch them make their way in the world, to see how they react to things. Fascinating and sometimes, a bit boggling.Who, at 13.5, would choose to walk on her hands on the way home from having hot chocolate at the coffee shop? The older sister of the girl who totally gets why someone would want to do that, I guess.

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A friend just told me that her eleven-year old daughter was chastised for reading Twilight twilightminicoverin her grade 4/5/6 classroom, on the grounds that it is “inappropriate” reading material for someone of her age. Too much about relationships or something like that. I don’t know the whole story, but even hearing that little bit of it brought up some issues for me.

First off, I don’t think that it’s the teacher’s right or responsibility to decide for a child what he/she should be reading. I’ll get back to whose responsibility I believe it to be later, but for now, let’s just say that I don’t think it’s the teacher’s. I get that the teacher needs to control what enters her classroom, and that the teacher needs to be able to make and enforce rules for that classroom, but in my opinion, this teacher was overstepping her bounds by passing judgement in the way that she did. If the teacher didn’t want that book in the classroom, she could have asked the girl to leave the book at home or keep it in her backpack, and left it at that. No need for the heavy duty moralizing.

Secondly, what is with our culture’s deathly fear of sex and sexuality? (which is what I am assuming prompted this teacher’s hyperbolic reaction to the book). Why would we feel the need to “protect” teenagers from information on this topic? So what if they find out about what happens in a sexual relationship? What is there to fear in this? The more knowledge the better. The more they know, the more they are able to make informed decisions.

Thirdly, who is this woman to decide what this girl should or should not be interested in reading (or thinking about)? What right does she have to start passing judgements on that? If this young girl is reading this book, we should assume that she has an interest in it, and if she has an interest in it, who, other than she, has any right to have any say on that at all? I remember avidly reading all sorts of “series” types of books when I was a grade schooler, books that my teachers thought were insipid, badly written and lacking in literary value. One of my teachers once wrote on my report card that I read too many of these books and that I should branch out. This was the same teacher who expressed concern about me being “too close” to my best friend and who suggested I branch out in that regard too. Thankfully my mother ignored those comments, and I kept right on reading (and re-reading) books about girls in boarding schools and families with five children who had adventures, but her critical comments left me feeling a bit uncertain and even a bit ashamed. Which was a shame. And completely unnecessary. I don’t read books like that now, and reading them then didn’t mean that I was “wasting my brain” or destined to live an adulthood surrounded by trashy novels.

Going back to who should be responsible for what a child reads? My opinion? The child.

It has been my own experience as a parent of very early readers that children read what they are ready for. My nearly eight-year old could manage the Twilight book, but my guess is that she wouldn’t get very far into it before she lost interest. She’s just not developmentally ready to think about girls and boys and relationships, and so she would get bored and pick up a book about unicorns or magical cats. I remember reading adult books as a preteen and skipping over any bits that I couldn’t relate to, which in retrospect were probably sex scenes. I also remember a time when big boy R was eight or so, and delving into the adult science fiction/fantasy section of the library. He only read a part of one book before he decided on his own that he “didn’t feel ready” for those kinds of books. I don’t think that he was permanently scarred.

I have a lot more to say on this topic, but I am interested in what other opinions might be out there. I’m totally open to hearing dissenting points of view. Maybe I’ve missed something, or someone has a memory of reading something that totally freaked them out that they wished they hadn’t seen.

What do you think about an eleven-year old girl reading Twilight?

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My fifteen-year old son wants to go thrift storing with me tomorrow!

Update: Purchases: one (working!) projection alarm clock with am/fm radio
three matching dinner plates
one camping thermos
one stainless steel rack for purposes unknown
Total cost: $3.82

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valentine's day 2009 002

This is the first time any of the kids has managed to take me completely by surprise. Usually I catch wind of whatever they have up their sleeve long before it happens, or I orchestrate the surprise myself, giving one of them the seed of an idea, and then “forgetting” when the time comes.

I stumbled into the kitchen this morning to the sight of the construction paper hearts, and my eyes actually filled with tears.

Such exuberant love.

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As the Mood Turns

It’s amazing what a difference 24 hours can make.

Yesterday I was happy, calm, the picture of beatific motherhood.

Today, not so much.

After 3 hours at the hot and noisy swimming pool, and a crawling drive through traffic on streets that had been scraped down to an icy varnish by the overnight street cleaning crew, passing car wreck after car wreck, semi-listening to the kids in the car, but mostly trying to see through the whirling snow, being blasted by the heater which now only has two settings; off or inferno, and more than a little hypoglycemic from the lack of breakfast, I finally made it in the door, only to be faced with the kitchen we left from the night before. Cookie crumbs, 5 different containers of sparkley decorations, every cookie sheet we own. Mixing bowls, spoons, non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Breakfast dishes. Bread bag open, bread still sticking out of the toaster. Jammy knives. The newspaper, torn apart and left in sheets all over the table. Sink full of dirty plates, floor covered in the jam spots and plasticine lumps that I didn’t scrape up last cleaning day. Smeary windows, spotty counters, sticky floor.

Coats on the stairs, wet towel in the mitten basket, backpacks open and lying in my way. Lunch still to make. No room on the counter.

I went to check on the boys, and saw the state of the living room. Same as the kitchen. Papers, books, pens, board game bits, uncleaned rabbit cage, blankets, socks. One teenaged boy lying in the same spot I left him in three hours before, hair all sticking up still from his pillow.

I knew it was situational. I knew it was all perspective. I knew that the house looked pretty much like this yesterday. I told myself to get a grip, look at the big picture, but I could feel that anger bubbling up. I felt it coming on. The foulest mood ever.

So I did the only thing I could.

I sat all four of them on the couch and told them that I was in a horrible mood. That after lunch we would all clean the house, that I did not want to hear even one tiny peep of complaint, that I would be in the kitchen, but that if they didn’t want to be yelled at, they shouldn’t go in there.

Every time they came in, I glared at them.

They thought it was the funniest thing ever.

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Boiling it Down

My main goal as a parent is to be able to provide an environment for the kids in which they have as much freedom as possible to develop into the people they were born to be. I want them to feel safe, and supported and free to experience their internal worlds. I want them to grow up secure in the knowledge of who they are. I want them to know from the very depths of their beings that they are okay just as they are, that their true feelings are always acceptable, and that they don’t have to do anything or be anything to have value. I want them to be able to trust themselves.

I sat my older two down the other day and told them that it was very important that they understand that I do not care what they do with their lives as long as it is something that they want to do. I don’t care if they marry young or never marry or if they live in a basement apartment and collect cats or become investment bankers, or move to another country or have loads of money or have none, or develop an obsessive interest in Star Wars figurines or hoard things or live in a commune, as long as they are actively making those choices. I don’t want them hurting other people, but otherwise, it’s their own life to live. One of the worst things I can imagine is one of them unable to live happily because of their worry of What Mother Would Think.

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Photo courtesy of L, from one of her diving trips.

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Another negative aspect of rigid gender stereotyping is that some women, in their efforts to distance themselves from some of the more limiting expectations, end up denying a part of themselves.

I speak from personal experience. I was a real tomboy as a child, and I revelled in being a tough, wiry little kid. When adolescence approached, I was reluctant to give up that part of myself, and, because I saw adult women as being meek, I wanted nothing to do with being feminine. I saw it as an either/or choice. For a long time, I refused to wear dresses, shuddered at the thought of wearing makeup, and tried to remain a part of the boys’ club. I saw boys as having power, probably in huge part because of the very rigid gender roles in my family, and I wanted to align myself with them.

Eventually, I did sign up as a woman, mostly because I wanted a boyfriend, and that was the start of my losing voice.

I don’t think it was necessary for me to make the choices I did, and nobody forced me. I made those decisions quite unconsciously, and it’s only in retrospect that I realize what I did. It’s taken me the good part of two decades to embrace my whole self, the “good”, the “bad”, the “feminine”, the “masculine”, and to reconcile my desire to be pretty with my desire to be seen as an independently minded person.

Now that I’m a parent, I’ve been extra conscious of that struggle with respect to my own children.

L, age 12, has always been a tough cookie, and I’ve encouraged her to believe in herself, to make her own choices, and to think of herself as capable. She was a tree-climbing, pen-knife carrying tomboy too, who at age 3 wrestled some 6-year old boys to the ground when she mistakenly thought they were hurting her older brother.

She really identified with this tough image, and when she was ten or so, she told me that she would never wear a dress.

Which is when I started encouraging her to consider the idea.

I encouraged her when she started caring about how her hair looked, and we made a mother-daughter trip to the hairdressers. I began consciously expressing my satisfaction with “feeling pretty”, and began mentioning how much I enjoy being a woman.

I want her to enjoy, explore, and accept her femininity, and not feel as if her feminine qualities are weaknesses. I want to spare her from cutting off a part of herself.

I want her to be a whole person.

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