Friday, January 29, 2010

Field dog

Photos to accompany Wednesday's post. We're all feeling better about Harvey's new life as work dog, rather than pent-up backyard puppy.

He wishes he could drive the jeep though.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The return of Harvey

So I haven’t been speaking of our now 8-month-old hyper lab-spaniel puppy Harvey much on the blog of late – and that is in part because his fate with our family was in limbo for a bit. Rob’s dad was gracious enough to watch him for a full month -- from Christmas break well into January -- and he even toyed with the idea of keeping him since I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by our big-dog-little-kids combo.

During my time away from Harvey, I began to feel such peace with our family life without a dog added to the mix – especially a dog that couldn’t safely co-exist with the kids and thus spent much of his time banned from the house and feasting on our deck as a way to deal with his puppy frustrations. I was wracked with guilt and short on sleep.

So when Harvey returned, it felt like an ominous thing to me – a weight returning to me as much as my sweet puppy coming home. But Rob is determined to make a good life for us and our dog, and so far we are all doing amazingly well together. Rob is working double time to make sure that my days and my domestic chores aren’t lengthened by Harvey being here. It’s field season for Rob at work, so he’s bringing Harvey with him to work most days, where he gets to ride around in a jeep and frolic in the woods while Rob collects data. Harvey comes home worn out and happy to lay on our deck.

The boys are still nervous about Harvey – and rightfully so. He’s not aggressive but he’s big and he plays hard and he’ll knock over an adult in a heartbeat. And that still makes me a bit uneasy, but I just keep the boys and Harvey in separate spaces unless Rob's here to help me manage safety issues.

The boys were watching the tail end of the PBS show “Martha Speaks,” the other day and it included a little video segment with a girl playing with a puppy as she spoke these words to end the show: “The best part of having a puppy is you have someone to play with.”

I sighed to myself, looked at Will and Owen, and said, “Should we go play with our puppy?”

“Maybe when I’m 15,” Will said. “He’s kind of big.”

But Will is enjoying throwing tennis balls to Harvey, under close supervision from us, and this weekend when we took Harvey on the leash, Owen in a stroller, and Will on his bike to the far end of Lakebottom park, Harvey came to the rescue. It was a longer ride than we’d ever asked of Will and the last uphill leg of the return trip had him worn out. So, in spite of my initially nervous protests, Rob tied Harvey’s leash to Will’s bike and then held it himself with the fierce grip of a father determined to keep his son safe. And Harvey became a work dog, pulling our tired boy home on his bike. The next day we tied him to the front of the double stroller and let him pull the boys home a bit that way. And while I would never recommend these nutty tactics to anyone, I somehow trust Rob to carry them out safely – and the boys are thrilled by Harvey, the sled dog. Harvey seems to love the role too.

As we ate dinner the day of that too-long bike ride, Will asked us: “You know what one of the funnest things in my life happened today?”

“What?” we asked him.

“Riding my bike with Harvey.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Strange lunch ideas, from the kids

I pack the strangest things in Will's lunch these days. He begs often for lunchables and I explain to him that I think it's too much packaging to throw out for just a few crackers and (processed) cheese and lunch meat. But I do try to respect his wishes, within the limits of our kitchen cupboards, when it comes to packing his lunch and we wind up with kind of strange sandwich fixings. One of his favorites is melted cheese and deli turkey (we get that natural nitrate-free stuff) on pita bread with salsa, sour cream and avocado. It's kind of a strange combo, invented by him, but I'll admit I kind of like it myself.

Last week, though, when he begged for a peanut butter, jelly and cheddar cheese sandwich, I was feeling skeptical. But since he was certain he would like it and he's been not too excited about plain PB&J's lately, I decided to give it a go.

"How'd you like your sandwich?" I asked him after school.

"Delish!" he said with a smile. Next time he wants me to throw in some raisins.

For snack today, he crumbled crackers into cottage cheese, added a dollop of salsa and declared it delectable.

As long as it's relatively healthy and gets eaten, I guess I'm just going to let him keep concocting strange foods.

What secrets do you have for keeping your kids lunching without lunchables at school? Or are you a lunchable lover?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The terrible's, take two

It’s all so eerily familiar. At age 2 ½, little Owen is coming down with a case of the terrible twos. A few years back, Will was a little sicker with the terrible’s, I’d say -- a little more distraught at the fact that I had to buckle his seat belt for example and a little more likely to cry about it for 30 minutes instead of Owen’s five minute maximum. But Owen is breaking out the screaming fits for little things here and there – having to wear shoes in to preschool, not getting to pour more oatmeal into the pot for cooking and the list goes on and on. He’ll lie on the floor and start to kick and scream and get red-faced. But this time around it feels much easier for me to remain calm and aloof.

I remember, back in the worst of Will’s tantruming days, reading Harvey Karp’s advice (from “The Happiest Toddler On The Block”) for mirroring your toddler’s frustration by getting down on their level and trying to vocalize their frustrations with the same level of rage they seem to be feeling (“Owen is mad, mad, mad…. Owen wants to…..” hitting fists on floor for emphasis. Then following up with a more soft-spoken explanation of why they can’t have the thing that you totally understand that they want.) It never worked with Will, and with Owen I’ve never even bothered to get down to that furious, primal, power-hungry level.

It’s so much easier for me to just recognize that this will pass, and remain calm and unaffected by Owen’s frustration, to give him less of an audience for it. Sometimes I cart him off to his room and ask him to come out when he’s feeling ready to be happy with us (typically he follows me out once or twice in tears, so he has to be returned to his calming place a couple times before he decides to stay and calm down). All in all, I’m thinking if this is as terrible as the twos gets, it will all be very survivable. But if you see me calmly carrying a screaming, red-faced kid in the parking lot, you’ll know what we’re up to.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Paper doll chains on MLK day

On the heels of my belated reading of the "Nurture Shock" excerpt about talking with kids frankly about race (see my Jan. 10 post), here comes Martin Luther King Jr. day. Will and I talked about who Martin Luther King Jr. was and what he believed in; we looked up photos of him online; and listened, by chance, to excerpts from his speeches on NPR.

Then I cut out some paper doll chains. It's a very simple task, but I must admit that I had to look up how to fold and cut them here. We had little chains of four dolls and bigger chains of two. Will drew brown- and white-skinned girls on the two-doll chains and then decided he wanted to make a sign for them to hold. So he cut this out and wrote his message: "Be nice to people even if they have a different skin color." All his idea, other than my cutting of the paper dolls.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

William’s Unabridged Dictionary

Our latest entry:

alonesick adj (2010) 1: when you’re lonely at home.

What words have your kids invented lately?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Help for Haiti

I’ve been so glad to hear about the millions of dollars that people have been giving – much of it in the form of $10 text donations -- to help with the relief effort in Haiti. It’s nice when technology makes it convenient to do the right thing.

Today Will and I took some time to look at some online images from Haiti. We talked about what earthquakes are (and the fact that we are not in a place where earthquakes are likely to happen), looked at before and after images of the presidential palace before and after the earthquake and viewed an American Red Cross photoessay of the Haiti earthquake. We found Haiti on our globe and noticed how relatively close it is to Georgia. I asked Will if he would like to help the people in Haiti and I let him punch in the numbers to text our donation to the Red Cross relief effort.

Hope you’ll join us in chipping in, if you haven’t yet already. You can donate $10 to Haiti relief by texting “Haiti” to 90999.

Other places to donate

Doctors Without Borders
Oxfam America
YĆ©le Haiti

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sibling diplomacy

We had a minor breakthrough today on the resolving disputes front. Finally, Will remembered my suggestion that when Owen hits him, he can take the high road and let Owen know that he will not tolerate hitting (as opposed to just hitting him back or yelling out in his whiniest voice, “Mom, Owen hit me!”). I often remind Will that he is teaching Owen with his actions.

Will strode proudly into the kitchen and recounted his victory in diplomacy.

“Mom, Owen hit me, and I didn’t hit back” he told me. “I said, ‘Owen, you do NOT hit me. You can either go into another room or be nice.’ And he said, ‘be nice.’”

I congratulated Will on his cool-headed diplomacy and Will returned to the living room for some peaceful play. Of course an hour later he gave Owen a whack on the back when his little brother frustrated him and, since I witnessed the whack, suddenly I was the one intervening again. But hey, I’m going to focus on our progress for the day.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Talking about race with kids

I finally stumbled on this Newsweek article entitled “Even Babies Discriminate” from September. It’s an analysis by “Nurture Shock” authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman of how many parents avoid talking with children explicitly about race in spite of the fact that children begin to recognize racial differences at very young ages. (One study demonstrated that even six-month old babies will stare longer at pictures of people of a different race than their parents.)

Bronson and Merryman talk about the fact that white parents who imagine themselves to be progressive embracers of racial and cultural diversity are uncomfortable talking openly with their kids frankly about the subject and assume their children will be “color-blind.” When discussions of race do emerge, these parents talk vaguely about how “we are all equal” or “we are all friends” – and there are rarely specific mentions of race. Meanwhile, kids spend these early years making generalizations and categorizations on their own – with no help from their supposedly enlightened parents and teachers. And the result is a world where our kids may go to integrated schools but they segregate themselves nonetheless.

This is an important article – the kind of reading that has already prompted me to start talking more openly with Will. I still remember the day a few years back – Will may have been 3 at the time -- when we were walking around the track at the park and a young black man was approaching from the other direction. Will pointed, and said “There’s a basketball player,” with excitement. He was already forming categories in his mind, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t take the opportunity to have a long conversation with Will about his ideas about people of different races – and mine.

Today he and I looked at photos of different kids in a Parenting magazine and talked about skin color and how people of different races treat one another. Will said, “It doesn’t matter what your skin color is. We’re all the same.” I’m glad to hear that coming from him, but I’m still aware that I’m sending him to a preschool where all his classmates are white. I’m going to be more careful going forward about inviting conversations about race – checking books out from the library that feature kids and family of different races, including stories that talk on a simple level about oppression and struggle (see the article for why kids become more tolerant and empathetic when they don’t get a glossed over view of history – and why it’s important for kids to begin experiencing and forming ideas about interracial friendships before they hit second or third grade). Race may be a sensitive subject, but in our family we’re going to talk about it, and hopefully once Will enters kindergarten next year he’ll have the opportunity to live out his desire to be friends with kids of different races beyond some of the brief encounters he’s been having with kids at Lakebottom Park.

How do you discuss race with your kids? What observations from them have surprised you?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Big paper is fun

I'm going to make a habit of salvaging larger scraps of butcher paper from the recycling bin at preschool, so we can get in one more use with it before sending it off for recycling or perhaps even using it as home-drawn recycled gift wrap. There's something about a big piece of paper and and an invitation to do collaborative cutting and drawing that is irresistable for kids. Here are Will and his friend drawing a "city for Transformers."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Goodbye diapers, hello world

Today Owen had his first diaper-free day at school after a holiday of wearing mostly underwear. His only accident in the past week occurred in the seat of a friend's battery-operated riding jeep, a new Christmas acquistion that Owen was happy to pee in rather than stop for a potty break. I had it coming -- I put Owen on the thing about an hour after he consumed an entire sippy cup of watered down juice.

For the past couple nights Owen's been wearing underwear at night -- and today, Owen's teachers sent his diapers home. I've always been haunted as much by the waste of diapers as by the chore of changing them, and -- knock on wood, since regressions do happen -- I'm glad to be done with them.

In general I feel like Rob and I are rounding some kind of major corner as parents as we lose some of those baby duties and encourage the kids to do more and more themselves. Will makes pancakes for us on weekend mornings, the boys are starting the bath and climbing in on their own, sometimes they even clean up without our help at all. And I am finally finding just a bit of time to read at night. I was hoping this day would arrive. I'm basking in it -- no time to be nostalgic yet.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Resolutions with the kids

This year we considered New Year’s resolutions in the airport with our kids. I wrote Will’s in the back of his Spiderman coloring book:

1. Give away a lot of pictures that I draw for people.
2. Give kisses and hugs to people.
3. Help people get better in the hospital.
4. Give away toys that I don’t want anymore.
5. Try to be friends with a lot of different people.

Owen, always, the imitator said he wanted to “be nice to people.” This is a good goal for a kid who has a current bad habit of announcing “I no like FILL-IN-THE-BLANK” within near earshot of a person when we are first entering their house. Generally after spending time with this supposedly no-good child or adult, Owen will leave announcing that he likes him or her. I also suggested that one of Owen’s resolutions for the New Year, could be to share toys with his friends and his brother. He agreed, in theory, that this was a good resolution for him.

We’ve got little proof of our resolve so far, other than starting work on Will’s resolution #4 (and Owen’s #1 and #2) two days ago as we filled a bag with toys the boys don’t need anymore to be taken, along with some clothes and canned goods, to the Damascus Way shelter for women and children.)

My main resolution is to remain eternally calm and peaceful as I interact throughout the day with my kids, my students, my husband (who often gets to bear the brunt of any lurking irritability on my part). And I think I might like to start learning Spanish too.

Who’s got a good resolution to share – yours or your kids’? Maybe we’ll add one to our lists. It never hurts to aspire.

Happy New Year!