Friday, October 30, 2009

The kid gets the knife

Pumpkin design -- with poor crated puppy as onlooker (he couldn't stop barking outside).

Carving solo. (I decided, after cutting the upper lid off the pumpkin myself, to let 5-year-old Will do everything else himself -- gutting, face design, and yes, carving, but with one of those relatively harmless pumpkin kit carvers.) We wound up with a giant-eyed, teeny-mouthed pumpkin, but Will loved being in charge and I was quite satisfied with my role as pumpkin seed roaster.
When mom won't let you carve the pumpkin, at least you can play in the guts.
After-dinner guitar lineup.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Digging through the dress-up drawer

Will has donned his Spiderman costume so many times over the past year that for a moment, as he was pronouncing that he was going to be Spiderman for Halloween this year, I was almost certain that he’d gone as Spidey last year too. But no, he was a knight -- a costume that required only a tiny bit of effort to compile with some dollar store acquisitions.
Each year, I get less motivated on the homemade costume front, so when Will opted for a costume already in his dress-up drawer, I admit I was happy to consent.

Then we dug up a homemade tiger costume worn by Will a couple years ago and Owen was excited to go as Tiger. So, no work for me this year.

We got dressed up early for a Halloween playdate yesterday, and Spiderman developed an instant affinity for Tiger’s tail.

Here are the Spider-Tiger duo in action with Spiderman flexing muscles and casting his webs and Tiger practicing his deafening roar.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Here come the terrible twos

Today in preschool Owen earned his first two “time-outs” of the year after refusing to come to his teachers for a diaper change. (He preferred to play and was loud and liberal with his use of the word “NO!”.)

I realized I haven’t been coaching Owen well for this moment since I generally tend to respond to Owen’s “no’s” in these sorts of situations with a matter-of-fact “Yep, it’s time to change your diaper” as I sweep him off his feet and offer him a book to look at while we both endure the chore. I don’t make him walk to me on his own.

So tonight at dinner we talked about why it’s important to listen to your teachers, who ALWAYS get to set the rules (more than moms, in my book), and who have to deal with 12 kids in one room who all need diapering in Owen’s case. Owen practiced saying “Okay, Miss Caroline, you can change my diaper” in a cheery voice and he sounded quite polite.

Will and I talked during Owen’s nap about how we can both model being polite and not shouting “No” around Owen at home. And at dinnertime Will started gloating about the fact that he hadn’t ever been put in timeout in preschool (I remember one less than glorious moment when he got that punishment for a far more heinous crime than Owen committed when he was also a strong-willed boy in a 2-year-old class, but I decided not to bring it up). Then looking into Harvey’s crate, which sits beneath our kitchen table, Will said, “I’m always good. I’m a lot better than Harvey.”

And it’s true. With his jumping and mouthing and generally destructive puppy habits, Harvey earns time-outs in his crate or outside about 15 times a day. They're survival time-outs for me; Harvey rarely learns from them.

Hopefully Owen will fare better.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Remembering Nana

We are up in Toccoa this weekend to attend the wedding of one of Rob’s oldest childhood friends. Today after the boys took a journey with Papa to goats on the roof for some goat-and-chicken-on-roof viewing and ice cream consuming, we visited Rob’s mother’s grave.
Today while Rob and his dad walked down to the cemetery office to discuss questions about the grave marker we are ordering for Nana (it has taken a while for us to feel ready to deal with these sorts of important details), I stayed near the grave site with the boys.
Will and Owen collected fall leaves from a nearby tree, searching for reds, oranges and yellows that they thought were especially beautiful and placing them carefully in the floral arrangement at Nana gravesite.
“Would you like to say anything to Nana?” I asked them.
“I two,” Owen said, holding up two fingers.
“I love you, Nana,” Will said and blew her a kiss.
“I love you, Nana,” Owen said.
Then Will ran off to collect more leaves and asked me to start reading the names on other grave markers nearby. We calculated the ages of each person when he or she had died and Will left a few individual fall leaves for people he’d never known.
Not long after we’d looked at the grave marker of a woman who had died at age 98, Will told me, “I want to live until I’m one hundred and two.”
Later he asked me if I still remembered Nana. I told him I remembered her well.
“Do you remember Nana?” I asked him.
And without a pause he answered, “I remember Nana. I’m going to remember her until I’m one hundred and two.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Seatbelt for the dog

One of the conditions upon which I agreed to bring a puppy into our house is that we would not have to get a great big car just to accomodate our new dog. So when Harvey outgrew his small crate that barely fit in our passenger seat, we decided not to go out and buy a stationwagon and just graduated him to a doggy seatbelt instead. He is unusually well-behaved in this thing, for the 15 minute test drive we took in it en route back from PetSmart. In fact it's the best method yet for letting Owen actually hang out with the puppy we got for his birthday without getting knocked over in the process.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fashion schmashion

On Wednesday, one day after I realized that Owen had completely outgrown his old tennis shoes, I took Owen on a rare non-grocery store shopping trip and we bought these slightly brighter, slightly bigger shoes on the right to replace their worn-out twins on the left. It wasn’t that I planned to buy poor Owen, who only owns one pair of tennis shoes at a time, the exact same pair of shoes. But he was really excited to see his own shoes on the shelf and they happened to fit him best.

In general though, I’m glad to have a couple boys who at least for now, are willing to put up with the wardrobes I create for them with my occasional consignment store shopping – with the rare shoe store trip thrown in since I figure it’s best for their feet not to wear used shoes. I never find time to shop, and I don’t have to worry about lots of sparkly pink and purple flip-flops and polka-dotted hair bows with matching socks that all you moms of girls seem to keep a handle on so well. My boys generally have one pair of tennis shoes, one pair of sandals, and one pair of dress shoes at a time, and they never think to complain. And they have drawers full of second-hand pants and shirts, which I let them coordinate to their liking. This is why Owen can often be seen in his fading Cat-in-the-Hat shirt with shorts that may or may not match well. Occasionally I try to coach against a truly horrendous outfit combo, but most of the time my 2-year-old gets to dress himself.

And I like it that way. One less power struggle for all of us to endure. And you can’t quite say his mother dresses him funny. Or maybe you can.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Playing with girls

As it happens, most of my friends with children Will's age have sons. And most of the time when Will buddies up with someone at school, it's a boy. So for quite a while now, we've been having almost exclusively male playdates -- the kind where just one kid gets dropped off by his mom so I can get some chores done undisturbed while Will and his buddy run around in their spiderman costumes or some similar garb pretend fighting and saving the world. Sure they also pretend that they're dogs, go on fantasy camping trips, or build stuff with legos, or construct forts with sheets -- but we rarely break out the tea set and we don't even own a doll house.

We need some more girl influence in our house. So this week we invited one of Will's female classmates, Lucy, over for a playdate after we'd run into her family at the park and realized how much Will and Lucy enjoyed playing together. When Lucy first arrived at our house, Will seemed a tad jittery. He went straight for his ball basket and started tossing the football back and forth to himself as he made proclamations about his love for football.

"I don't like football," Lucy said, with a scrunched up nose.

"Hmm. I guess we don't have much girl stuff," Will said, looking at me and shrugging his shoulders, unsure of his next move.

That's when I jumped in with an offering of Play-Doh, butter knives and rolling pins to get things started. And from there on out, Will more readily accepted suggestions from me for play activites than he ever does. He and Lucy did easel painting, put on puppet shows and built forts with sheets. But Will also convinced her to play football for just a little bit, since Lucy admitted that she did like to be an Auburn cheerleader.

Long after she'd left, Will told Rob he'd like to get some Barbies for Christmas.

Here are a few quotes from our multi-gender playdate:

"The cheerleaders set the balls down, right?"

"I am NOT playing football."

"But it's 6:00. It's time to start the game. She can be a fan!"

"A girl is not a boy."

"And a boy is not a girl. And a boot is a boot."

Monday, October 12, 2009

From lollipops to jail time

A friend sent me a link to this Time article one day after I discovered that an easy way to get Owen to sleep in the car on a road trip (without having to listen to him fuss for 15 minutes first) is to hand him a lollipop around naptime and let him fall asleep with the thing dangling out of his mouth. Remove lollipop and sigh at the miracles of pacifying with candy.

I try to limit our consumption of candy to special occasions and to road trips that exceed an hour or so, when I definitely employ the occasional sweet as pacifier. (Usually it’s just to ward off excessive whining.) Doing it regularly though, is bad news, of course, and now there’s some research that says handing your kids candy on a daily basis is more likely to land them in jail.
The article cites Simon Moore, a senior lecturer in Violence and Society Research at Cardiff University in the U.K., who analyzed a long-term survey of 17,000 people born during a one-week period in April 1970.

Here’s an excerpt:

“That study included periodic evaluations of many different aspects of the growing children's lives, such as what they ate, certain health measures and socioeconomic status. Moore plumbed the data for information on kids' diet and their later behavior: at age 10, the children were asked how much candy they consumed, and at age 34, they were questioned about whether they had been convicted of a crime. Moore's analysis suggests a correlation: 69% of people who had been convicted of a violent act by age 34 reported eating candy almost every day as youngsters; 42% of people who had not been arrested for violent behavior reported the same. ‘Initially we thought this [effect] was probably due to something else,’ says Moore. ‘So we tried to control for parental permissiveness, economic status, whether the kids were urban or rural. But the result remained. We couldn't get rid of it. In other words, regardless of other environmental and lifestyle factors, like family-income level, parenting style or children's level of education, the data suggested it was only the frequency of confectionery consumption in childhood that strongly predicted adult violence. ‘ "

It’s not necessarily the sugar itself that’s eating away at the morality in kids’ minds, though. Moore hypothesizes that while nutritional intake may play some role, kids who get candy on a daily basis may not be learning to delay gratification, which may lead to poor impulse control in adulthood.

So there's a little piece of research to spook you just in time for Halloween.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Help them play

If you like to think about how young kids learn, this New York Times Magazine article (“Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?") is a pretty fascinating read. It examines the research, philosophy, and real-world classroom application of a Colorado-based pre-K and kindergarten teaching program called “Tools of the Mind.” I’d heard a little bit about in an NPR story last February, but this much more in-depth article has done more to impact my thinking as a parent and teacher.

Tools of the Mind advocates point to the fact that one of the most important determinants in a child’s future success in school is something called their “executive function.” As reporter Paul Tough explains, executive function "refers to the ability to think straight: to order your thoughts, to process information in a coherent way, to hold relevant details in your short-term memory, to avoid distractions and mental traps and focus on the task in front of you. And recently, cognitive psychologists have come to believe that executive function, and specifically the skill of self-regulation, might hold the answers to some of the most vexing questions in education today.”

The article points to how leading students toward fairly complex, extended sessions of dramatic play is one of the best ways to improve executive function and self-regulation. Research indicates that other more artificially, teacher-imposed attempts to directly teach or reward self-regulation and self-control prove mostly futile, but children given rich opportunities to engage in dramatic play perform much better on assesments of executive function.

But the thing that’s impacted me most through reading the story, and having just witnessed my mom playing everything from grocery store to boat-safari with Will and Owen last week, is the notion that we as adults can lead our children to play at richer, more complex levels. As teachers and parents, we can push kids to play in more dramatic, rich and sustained ways by modeling play, establishing scenarios when a child seems at a loss for what to do and asking children’s questions about their play that push them to think further about it. (In Tools of the Mind programs, students are asked to write down their plan for play at the outset of the day, bizarre as that might sound.) As a preschool teacher, I am reminded to attend to children’s play and help them plan and extend it a bit more. (I think I may start a play notebook where I begin recording our three-year-olds notions of what kinds of dramatic play they hope to engage in, partly so that I can track how that develops over time and help them think about how to play together in more sustained, collaborative ways.) As a parent, I’m engaging in a bit more story-telling while driving and at-home scenario-suggesting when one or both of the boys seems at a loss for what to do, while still resisting falling back into my long-ago role as perpetual playmate. Once the boys are engaged in play, I let them have at it while I enjoy my role as eavesdropper from the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dinner on the Farm

I’ve been enjoying dinner-making so much more now that we’re subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture group). I let the week’s produce dictate most of my meal-planning and we’ve wound up eating and enjoying more veggies than ever. I also frequently try out recipes recommended by our farmers, Jenny and Chris Jackson. Now I’m looking forward to going to their farm this coming Saturday for a fine dinner from the fields – prepared by folks with far more talent in the art of food preparation than me. Local hog farmers, Mike and Evie, will barbecue two heritage breed pigs while Pine Mountain caterer (and my good friend) Shannon Klein will ignore the fact that she gave birth to her daughter Lila less than a month ago and prepare a feast for lots of local food lovers to enjoy as they sit outdoors at long tables on the farm where the food was produced. There will be a large selection of pies for dessert -- and local artisans will be on hand selling their work too.

We’ll bring the kids and let them run around and gawk at the chickens and crops before sitting down for a fine meal too.

Here’s a few photos from the farm dinner we attended last fall. If you live nearby and don’t have plans for Saturday evening, consider coming out.

Time: 4-8 p.m. Saturday Oct. 10
Location: Jenny-Jack Farm Pine Mountain, 707 White Cemetery Road,

Pine Mountain, GA 31822Price: $45 per person; children 12 and under are free; children over 12 are $20.

For reservations e-mail by Friday.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Beach scenes

We spent a long weekend with my parents at Harbor Island, where there's no surf except at high tide and lots of tide pools to play in and shorebirds to watch. But we were drawn there because it's within wading distance (at low tide at least) of Hunting Island, S.C. -- still one of our favorite places to go because it's a state park where forests, dolphins, shorebirds and osprey still prevail over condos and beach-cruising cars.
Here are a few of our favorite things to do at both beaches:
hermit crab catch-and-releasing
wave braving
surfing without the surf
body surfing with grammy
treasure burying

bird and dolphin watching from the pier
And two parting scenes:

gulls in a row

loving chokehold

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dooley in the garden

As someone who both grew up making Colorado-to-Auburn road trips every other year to visit my grandparents and who married into a family fanatical about all things Bulldawg, it was something of an honor for me to get to interview Vince Dooley (long-ago Auburn all-star quarterback turned national championship-winning head football coach for Georgia). The subject of our interview was Dooley's intense love for gardening, which he discovered fairly late in life. The story is in today's Ledger-Enquirer.

Dooley, and Atlanta garden guru and radio show host Walter Reeves, will speak at a benefit Garden Gala for the Columbus Botanical Garden on Oct. 21.