Thursday, June 30, 2011

What if?

I was reading a conversation on Facebook (again), and it ended up talking about guns. A woman was saying that she was considering getting a gun for home defense and wanted to make sure it was safe.

First, people came on saying things that I have always assumed to be true: make sure it has a safety, and store it unloaded with the safety on. Don't keep it within easy reach, but in a gun safe. Made sense to me.

But then people came on saying things like, "What if your home was invaded and the guy was in your bedroom before you realized it? Would you have time to open your gun safe, load the gun, disable the safety, and fire before it was too late?"

One woman said something along these lines: "I have a tall fence around my house and three large guard dogs. But it would be so easy for someone strung out on drugs to climb my fence, shoot all three dogs, and break into the house before I was aware. For this reason, I have a gun with no safety which I keep loaded by the bed."


I just don't think it's very likely that someone, even someone who wasn't high, could shoot three dogs before any of them bark to alert you. All you need is enough warning to grab the gun and ammo and remove the safety. It doesn't take long. It seems to me there would be time in between the crash of them breaking your window and when they start up the stairs to grab the gun and be ready.

But home invasions are very unlikely. They're even more unlikely if your house has a fence and dogs and the other houses on the street don't. Of course, this is assuming there isn't someone specifically out to get you. If you are involved with the Mafia, perhaps you had better take more particular precautions.

What's more likely is a kid reaching into your bedside table and pulling out the gun. Or, as one woman described, a teenaged family member snooping around and firing the gun. Luckily, in her case, no one was hurt. But it's still worth the trouble of practicing gun safety. Home invaders, if you're very unlucky, might be in your bedroom once in a whole lifetime. Your kids will be in there a lot more often.

I guess what I'm saying is, you can't spend your life thinking about the "what if." These rare situations, which we tend to believe are common because they're always happening on TV, are not statistically likely. I've already mentioned before that kidnappings are rare -- and the statistics are inflated because most kidnappings are by a non-custodial parent, not a stranger. But so are most far-out, terrifying dangers.

Not that we shouldn't protect ourselves. I don't see a problem with owning a gun or with practicing other safety measures. But we should focus on the likely dangers -- gun accidents, drowning, choking, car accidents, and the like, which are much more frequent.

And then, once you've assessed the risk and taken appropriate steps, you have to let go. Trust that you have done what you can, that your guardian angel will take care of the rest, and go to sleep at night. I know it's easy to be consumed with fear when you watch the news and read the papers -- which only talk about things that are the exception rather than the rule. And we love our families so much, it scares us to think anything could happen.

But if we're living in fear rather than simply living, it's time to relax. So much of what happens is out of our control, but it's no reason to panic. God knows the day and the hour that we will die, and nothing will happen that he does not permit for our benefit. I truly believe this. And so I focus on living, rather than continually asking myself, "What if?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My first playdate

Would you believe, I'd never been on a real playdate before today? I did have a friend with a baby I would go and see sometimes ... but our babies were too young to play. And I went to a story time once, but I didn't talk to anyone. So today was my first "real" playdate.

A playdate is a weird thing. Sometimes you know the people, sometimes you don't. You just show up with your kid and try to socialize. Only if you don't know anyone, you don't know what to say. You know that you have one thing in common with them -- you both have kids. But you have no idea if their kids are like your kids, if they do the same thing with theirs as you do with yours, and if they share any of your opinions at all.

Sometimes, when I'm hanging out with my "real" friends, I feel bad. Two of us have babies and the rest don't. I feel like all this talking about babies gets too much for the non-baby-having friends, but I do like to talk about babies! So, off to the playdate to meet new mom friends!

Except, when I'm with those people, I suddenly lose the desire to talk about nothing but babies all the time. I wish we had something, anything, else in common. Or that we could talk without interruption. Just when the conversation's warming up a tiny bit, your kid wanders off to go to a different part of the playground and you're stuck butting your head in on a completely new conversation -- one that you have no idea how to join.

Okay, I admit, I'm not very socially savvy. I get self-conscious whenever I meet new people. But the situation really is awkward. I mean, what do you say to start out? "Hi! I have a baby! I see you also have a baby! Umm.... " *crickets*

My general fall-back is to talk about myself. I mean, I know nothing about you, but I know about me, so I'll just yammer on about what we did this morning and hope desperately that you will jump in about your morning. But then I fear I sound self-centered. However, what some other people do, the "drawing-out" technique, where you sit and interview someone else about their life ("So, how old is your kid? What does your husband do? Have you been to this playground before?") always seems so awkward to me.

By the end it did get going pretty well. We talked about the trouble of bringing babies to church (if only everyone just accepted that kids make noise! Can I get an AMEN?) and just as we were leaving (naptime was imminent) the topic of midwives made me perk up my ears. Of course that was interrupted by spotting my kid as he climbed the big toy and tried to go down the slide, and fending off the much bigger boy who kept pushing him out of the way or going down the slide on top of him. But that goes with the territory.

I mean, it is all about the kids' social life, right?


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Heed those garden warnings!

My kid is a pirate. With underwear on his head. And his shirt on backwards. Yeah, I'm that kind of mom.

I'm not one for following advice. When the gardening books said to double-dig my tomato beds, till in compost, and put bone meal in each hole, I just broke the sod and stuffed the tomatoes in. (With my second set of tomatoes, I added some old stock bones in the holes, but it doesn't seem to have made any difference.)

Here's a bit of advice I read about fall planting. "Fall planting is great," the books said, "but watch out that you don't get heat exhaustion doing all that digging in midsummer."

Oops. So I guess breaking sod at 2 pm on the summer solstice isn't what they meant? I wore long pants because of the mosquitoes, shoes and socks because of the shovel, and a dark shirt and my hair down because I am dumb. It reached 90 degrees that day and the humidity was high. After about 15 minutes, I had a bad headache and my stomach was upset. But I didn't feel hot, so I just kept going until about five minutes later the baby came out of his shady spot and started crying and being clingy. So I figured he was overheated and so I took him inside, where we put ice on our heads and guzzled water and ate salty pretzels.

Apparently that didn't do it, though, because by evening I felt way worse. Maybe it didn't help that I kept thinking it had cooled enough to go back to digging and then being driven inside 10 minutes later feeling yucky again.

I can say, though, that the bed in question is in a great spot! It is seriously NEVER in the shade!

By the time John was home and was kind enough to take over all the toddler duties (and the dinner duties, AND the dish duties -- what a guy) I was a mess. I took a shower to cool down but I still felt lousy. Right before bed I threw up. Blah.

Not quite sure if the heat did ALL that or just set it off, but I've learned my lesson. No gardening in the scorching sun. Not for non-heat-tolerant, northern-European-descended, Seattle-raised me. (P.S. For the record, I'm quite sure I'm not pregnant; we all know you're wondering.)

So here's how much I got done:

Not a whole lot. I planted eight green beans, two near each of those string trellises:

The string was a friend's idea. She said the beans won't be able to climb the fence itself (and I definitely agree). I decided to angle the string from the fence to the middle of the bed, because the ground right up against the fence is steep and filled with gravel from the neighbors' driveway.

In other news, I've got some help with the yard:

Or rather hindrance. I hope he's this in love with the mower when he's big enough to push it.

Poor guy took a faceplant on the sidewalk last night. He was holding a stick and wouldn't let go of it to catch himself, so he scraped his lip on the pavement! Daddy and I both kind of freaked when we saw the blood pouring from his mouth, but a popsicle quickly made it better. (This is our test: if it's not solved by a popsicle, then it's serious.) But the scrapes still remain:

Poor thing. (Those aren't scrapes on his chin, though; they're muffin crumbs.)

You better not mess with Skid-Marks Marko.

I've got some oregano sprouting in a container. Somehow direct-seeding hasn't worked for me so far, so I took the safe course. But the container's outside, because it's much warmer and brighter out there than in here. I also planted some thyme the other day, but it's not up yet.

My beefsteak tomatoes have some yellow and brown patches a few of on the lower leaves. I'm not 100% sure but my gardening book says it might be verticillium wilt. So I turned to "what to do" and got, not in so many words, "Guess ya shoulda planted resistant varieties, sucker!" So, it may be too late for the beefsteaks. However, the Cherokee Purples seem unaffected, and those were the ones I want to do next year anyway.

And a last, unrelated topic -- sewing. Lately (that is, in the past several months), I've done two sewing projects. First, I turned my favorite pair of jeans into a skirt, because they had a hole in the knee.

It's very simple to do this: just rip out the inseam and a bit of the fly seam (so you can overlap it) and stitch in a triangle from the bottom part of the legs. In my case, I used the whole rectangle from the lower legs and pleated it on the top to make it fit -- I wanted a really loose skirt that was good for gardening.

And then there was this, the other day. I call it the Hair-Pull Horse. It was an attempt to give the baby something to pull on besides my hair.

As such, it's a total failure. He is undeterred in pursuit of my hair. He has a serious obsession with the stuff. But he does like playing with the horse and shaking it by its tail, so I guess that's something.

Now, to wait for my green beans to pop up! Actually, two have already ... I'm so excited. Watching plants grow just thrills me to pieces. I can't believe I had to wait till I was 25 to realize I love gardening.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Teaching to the test

I've been thinking a lot lately about teaching (now that I'm no longer teaching, ironically). When I was a teacher, tests were one of those necessary evils I couldn't stand.

Here's why. Before I started my first year of teaching, I was tutoring. I taught remedial Latin to three kids who had failed previous years. I decided to do them each one-on-one, for an hour a day, for four weeks. At the end of it, I could easily see that they had mastered their previous problem areas. I watched them translate, had them recite noun and verb charts, and had them explain to me what various grammatical concepts were.

Each kid asked near the end, "When is the test? When will I know what grade I got?"

I told them each the same thing, "When I am confident that you know the material, you won't need a test. I will give you an A and you can stop coming. But until you know the material, you're not getting out of here."

They were all pleased to hear it, because they'd all been doing well and were happy not to have to study for a test. It just seemed obvious to me that, working on-on-one with them, there was no need to have them write anything down because I could easily tell how they were doing.

When I started teaching in the classroom, there was no way around testing, though. I knew how a few vocal kids were doing, but what about the quiet ones around the edges? I would ask them questions and they would just look scared. Sometimes they'd answer and sometimes not. But either way, I felt I didn't have the time or attention to focus in on each individual child and find out how they were doing. Hence the tests. I had them really frequently so I would know right away if anyone was falling behind.

But you can't just test. In my ideal world, I'd spot-test: quick pop quizzes with two or three random questions from the day before. Then I'd know what they got and what I needed to reteach. But kids hate that, for one thing, and for another the grading would take forever (I saw 120 kids every day).

So I gave quizzes every week. I told them what would be on them and reminded them to study. Periodically there would be bigger tests, though I made the quizzes worth more, cumulatively, than the tests because I think day-to-day effort is more important than an end-of-quarter cram session.

But invariably, in the middle of a lecture I thought was interesting, I would here these six awful words:

"Will this be on the test?"

I hate those words. With a passion. I'm pretty sure every teacher does. It basically implies, "If this is not going to appear on the test, we don't have to listen."

My goal was to teach those kids to read Latin (or, in the case of grammar, to write good English). Their goal was to pass my tests. There was no earthly way I could make my tests really test those skills -- and certainly no way I could help them study for a test that did. I could say, and sometimes did, "STUDY EVERYTHING. You're going to be translating/proofreading and will need to know everything."

Can you guess how that went over?

So I ended up testing the kids with a lot of charts to fill in, a lot of fill-in-the-blanks, a lot of matching. And that's all very well. Those are great learning exercises and they do show me what the kids know. But they're not the end goal. Being able to ace a test doesn't mean you know Latin (or grammar, or anything). And yet those kids thought it was their goal.

At exam time, those kids did what all high-school kids do: made study guides, swapped them around, and memorized everything on them. Then they went into the classroom and wrote it all down on my test sheets. Questions that made them think, apply themselves, have new ideas, use skills -- very few did well on these. Questions that had them repeat what they had memorized -- most aced those.

Then, every single one of those kids walked out of the room and promptly forgot at least half of what they had known. Don't tell me they didn't -- I have been a student too! We called it "deciduous knowledge." It's the stuff you cram and don't remember later.

I don't exactly have an answer to this except my perennial answer -- homeschooling. But I guess it's important to add that you can homeschool without taking advantage of any of the opportunities homeschooling gives you. When you are one-on-one with a student, you don't have to test. But many parents do anyway. Why? For practice? Then fine and good, so long as the kids realize that. But if every unit ends with a test, and the only way to assess their progress on the unit is with a test -- I personally think that's a really bad idea.

Yes, honestly and truly, I think learning works better with no tests. Too bad I could never figure out how to bring this belief into the classroom.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Toddler sleep

I think sleep is probably the #1 thing parents obsess about when their children are small. Followed by eating, and then probably pooping. You know -- the essentials.

Marko has been sleeping so well lately that I'm incredibly proud of myself! Though I think the things I've done are only a small part of the reason, and his readiness is the main reason.

The thing you have to understand is that he has always woken up in the middle of every nap. As a newborn, he used to cry every 45 minutes while he was sleeping. I would peek into the room, but he would just squirm a little and resettle, every time. It was just the way he would pass from one sleep cycle to the next.

At night, he never did that so much. You may remember that from 8-12 weeks old he often slept through the night! But then something happened ... I think mainly our trip to visit my family, as well as him not gaining weight as well ... and the next thing you know, he was waking up 1-3 times a night. For almost a year.

Also, he stopped resettling himself in his naps. Instead of whimpering a little with his eyes closed, he would wake up crying, then cheer up and just play in his crib. But he wouldn't go back to sleep unless I went and nursed him back to sleep. It was 45 minutes of sleep, 15 minutes of rocking, 45 minutes of sleep, 15 minutes of rocking, 45 minutes of sleep, forgetaboutit -- even if he was still tired, there were only so many times he'd go back to sleep. This wasn't helped by my efforts to keep him awake at times when he was tired so he wouldn't sleep "too much" in the daytime. I didn't realize newborns sleep a lot and can't stay awake very long!

We coslept for awhile, particularly in the cold months. That was one way to keep him asleep for a whole nap. But I, as an adult, didn't really want to sleep as much as my baby did, so it led to a lot of awake time stuck in bed. I hoped, though, to train him to sleep more soundly by sleeping with him, and then transition to letting him sleep alone once he'd gotten the hang of sleeping through a whole nap.

Moving helped a lot. First off, his room is pretty quiet and we don't have to be in and out of there when he's sleeping. Second off, it's dark -- we bought a blackout curtain so it's very dim, even in the daytime. For the last few weeks, he's been having a "real" nap more and more often -- that is, he sleeps two or three hours at once, then toddles out of his room happy as a clam! You can't imagine how happy this makes me. I can take a nap, take a shower, or mow the lawn without being terrified he'll wake up halfway through and need to be put back to sleep.

Sometimes he does wake up and make some fussy noises. But I've learned to delay going in by half a minute or so. Usually he resettles himself without trouble. The funny thing is that these cries sometimes seem very real and loud, but he doesn't seem to actually be awake. He's just hollering a little to himself as he readjusts his position. You know I'm not one for leaving a baby to cry, but I've found that if I go in at this time, he gets more awake and requires a lot of help to go back to sleep, whereas if I leave him, he quiets down in under a minute. I think it's just a step on the process of learning to go back to sleep on his own when he wakes up.

Another breakthrough that has made me unspeakably happy is that he sometimes sleeps through the night. One morning about three weeks ago, I woke up to find him toddling into my room and climbing in bed with me -- at 6:30 a.m. I realized I hadn't seen or heard him since I put him down at ten the night before! I have never been so happy to be woken up before. Now he does this maybe once or twice a week. It's not yet a habit, but he's slowly getting the hang of sleeping through the night.

I think the main reason he is beginning to sleep through the night is that the techniques from The No-Cry Sleep Solution are beginning to pay off. Basically, the goal of NCSS is to get your baby to go to sleep with as little as possible -- in other words, not while nursing, being rocked, roaming the neighborhood in a stroller, etc. Because if the baby always goes to sleep with these things, he'll need them when he wakes at night, too.

The problem with this is that babies don't just lie down in their beds and go to sleep on their own. Instead, you slowly change your existing bedtime routine into something better. In our case, I changed from nursing and rocking him all the way to sleep; to nursing him in the rocking chair for half the time and in his bed half the time; to nursing him in the rocking chair, then nursing in his bed, then unlatching him as he's almost asleep and patting his back till he drifts off. Which is kind of where we are now, about half the time. The rest of the time I'm roaming the neighborhood in a stroller. But it's a start. It amazes me the way he will sometimes stop nursing on his own and roll away from me to go to sleep!

I know most mothers of 14-month-olds already have their kids sleeping through the night. In fact, they probably rely on tucking them in at the same time each evening with a stuffed animal and not seeing them again until morning. I still struggle over bedtime: he just seems tired at different times depending on the day, and sometimes I have to walk him all over the neighborhood in the stroller before he finally surrenders to sleep. But I'm still proud that we've made so much progress.

And of course there's a bit of pride knowing that I'm proof that you can cosleep, nurse to sleep, go to your baby when he cries, and it won't be forever. Eventually all children do learn to sleep on their own -- it's up to you and your child when that will be.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Fathers' Day, Daddy!

That's not me with my dad, but it might as well be. My sister Juliana and I are like twins born 20 years apart.

I posted about my mom for Mothers' Day, so I'm sure you are all already jealous of me for having such a great mother. Little do you know ... I also have a great dad too. I am doubly blessed and really do credit my parents for any good I end up doing.

My dad isn't as touchy-feely as my mom is. If there's a love language that involves Princess Bride quotes, that's the lingua franca of our family. But my dad has always been a treasure trove of wisdom, gathered from his own parents, from movies, and from his life experience. From my dad, I learned such gems as these:

*Do or do not. There is no try.

*Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.

*Thou hast not to like it, thou hast only to do it.

*I can't believe people pay me to do a job I enjoy so much.

*Whether you're happy or sad is up to you.

*I will always be proud of you as long as you do your best.

Of course, my dad is more than a list of aphorisms. He's also a pretty neat guy. He's got scads of interests and has been ready and willing to pursue them. In everything he does, he gets his foot in the door and then does his best -- his real best -- until it pays off.

He's also very smart, of course, and likes getting extra degrees. He's always got to be involved in a million things ... something I, as a complete homebody, didn't inherit. I like to think I got some of his smarts, though.

My dad's lesson has always been a very simple one: Be a hard worker and a person of principle, and things will work out. They have for him -- despite many moments where it seemed they wouldn't -- and they have for me.

Of course none of that means being dour or humorless. I could listen all day to my dad's jokes, stories, movie quotes, and so on. He loves to have fun. He believes that how you feel depends on how you decide to feel, and he decides to be happy.

For a long time, I thought I was nothing like my dad. He seemed like he was from another planet! But now, as I find myself striking up conversations with complete strangers, arguing politics with experts, reading up on topics I know nothing about, and yes, quoting Star Trek, I realize that I've got a lot of my dad in me after all, and not just on the outside. That's a pretty great thing.

Thanks, Daddy, for being a great father and a great example.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book review: Free Range Kids

The last book I read on my reading binge last week was Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry by Lenore Skenazy. I definitely liked it. The style was really enjoyable to read (if I'm going to spend my time reading a book, I demand a good style) and very matter-of-fact. Skenazy expresses at various times the wish that you're reading the book with a cup of coffee or smooshed out on the table, and I liked that. It felt like a conversation.

I also mostly agreed with her ideas. Skenazy was called "America's Worst Mother" for allowing her elementary-school son to ride the New York subway by himself and writing an article about it. When I heard her explain it, it really didn't sound so bad. Her son had ridden the subway with her tons of times and just wanted a chance to try it by himself -- for a short distance -- in a familiar area -- in the daytime. Fifty years ago, no one would have given that sort of thing a second thought!

But what about crime? Well, Skenazy has statistics for that. Crime has gone down a ton since the nineties, and is at levels similar to the seventies. So the objection, "Well, when we were kids, that was fine, but no way kids can do that nowadays," doesn't really hold water.

Lest she seem careless, she does include a section on what to fear and what not to fear. Child abduction is something not to fear. Sensationalized news stories and graphic fictional shows give us the impression that it happens all the time, but Skenazy tells us our child is more likely to be struck by lightning. Twice. On a Tuesday. Or something like that (I had to give the book back to the library). Are there things you can do to avoid abduction? Yes, teach kids not to go off with strangers. But never letting your child go out of your sight till they're 18 isn't necessary.

Something you should be afraid of is water. Drowning is a big killer of kids! So she urges supervising children around water and teaching them about water safety at the earliest possible age. She also talks about car safety and choking.

So, the likely objection people would raise is this: Sure, the chance of something bad happening in x situation (say, letting my kid play in the front yard while I'm indoors) is vanishingly small. But there is a risk, and I don't take risks with my child's safety. I can just make them come inside if I have to be inside. We should never, ever, take the smallest risk with our kids.

Skenazy's answer is, there's a risk on both sides of the equation. If you let your child play outside, there is a vanishingly small risk that he will be hit by a meteor or abducted by a random passerby. But if you bring him inside all the time, there is a large risk that he will play video games instead of playing outside. This can cause obesity. More importantly, he will think he is incapable of being outside by himself. He will fail to learn the independence he will eventually need.

So Skenazy isn't being cavalier about risk. Instead, she's taking calculated risks for a clear benefit -- teaching her children to be independent and confident. In fact, she says that the risk-avoidance of today's modern parents shares some of the characteristics of obsessive-compulsive disorder: parents check and double-check any conceivable safety risk because it makes them feel they are doing something and helps alleviate their constant fear. We live in fear that something could happen to our kids, and we make ourselves feel better by keeping them indoors, throwing away their Halloween candy (do you know there has NEVER been a report of tainted Halloween candy? EVER?) and double-checking every single thing they do. It's no way to live.

Now, I haven't really dealt with this on any large scale. Skenazy describes New York parents who won't let their children do anything -- to the point of freaking out if kids on a playdate leave the other parent's house (with the parent along!) or making long lists of safety regulations based on imaginary scenarios that never happen. (An example she gave was the "bus safety dad" who told all the kids not to buckle the waist straps on their backpacks. Why? The child might be too slow getting off the bus, and the bus driver might not notice and close the door on their backpack, and the child would be too panicky to remove the strap, so they would be dragged for blocks along the road by their backpack! Has this ever happened? Of course not!)

So she advises such parents to start slow. Let the children bake a cake on their own, messing it up if necessary. Let them answer the phone (and show them how). Let them walk home from the bus stop instead of picking them up. Let them ride their bikes the whole way around the block. (I got fired once for letting the eight-year-old I was nannying do that, in a safe area. It just seemed okay to me, and I did shadow him the first time he did it to make sure.)

But if you and your kids are ready and confident, she sees no reason to stop children from walking to the park, picking up a few groceries, or riding public transit alone. It depends on their age and maturity level, but she says you know best what your kids are capable of doing. Unfortunately, the world is full of nosey Nellies who will panic at seeing a 10-year-old unattended. There was a time when a 10-year-old could babysit his younger siblings, and now it's considered a shock to see one a block from home without a parent! So she gives advice for dealing with well-meaning strangers and even police who try to stop kids from going out by themselves, even including a "Free-Range License" which states, "I am a Free-Range Kid. I have permission to be here, and my mom knows where I am. You can call her at ___________."

Here in my own neighborhood, the disease of panicky parenting clearly has not set in. A gang of kids from about 12 down to 3 is always playing in the street. Sometimes there's a parent on one of the stoops. The rest of the time, presumably they're keeping an eye out the window. The kids aren't a nuisance -- they just ride their bikes, pogo sticks, and scooters up and down the block till the street lights come on. They seem to enjoy themselves, and they're certainly not playing computer games or watching TV all day.

But occasionally I do see a bit of it. A few weeks ago, when I was still working, I was hanging around with the baby on the church grounds. It's a nice little garden that fronts on the parish school, and isn't near the street. The baby started wandering away from me while I was grading. I was curious to see how far he would feel comfortable going (he goes back and forth between clinging like a barnacle to my legs and dashing for the street without a backward glance) so I stayed put. He went about 30 feet away and stood near the door of the school, picking tiny flowers off the bushes.

Part of me wanted to go hover over him, because I know that's standard practice. But I stood (or rather sat) my ground because I wanted him to be comfortable not having someone hang over him, and because I knew there was nothing dangerous near him. But every single parent who went into that school was shocked. "Where's your mother?!" they would ask him, looking everywhere but where I was, right in view on my bench. I would wave and they would move on, still exclaiming, "I thought he was here all by himself!" But finally, one mom just scooped him up and carried him into the school! I dashed after her and reclaimed my bewildered kid. She had thought he had been left out there by accident.

I took Marko back to my bench and stood him up near me again. But he burst into tears and refused to go play anymore. He had to be held. He had felt safe 30 feet from me, in my sight, and it had turned out that it wasn't safe, because a stranger had picked him up and taken him away from me. That confidence he had had was gone. It made me sad.

My mom, too, has had an obstacle to free-range parenting herself on the Army post where she lives. She likes to let the younger kids (seven and five, and sometimes the almost-three-year-old) play in the front yard while she homeschools the oldest and watches the younger ones from the window. People were really nice about it and would talk to the kids as they played. But there may have been a complaint, because soon there was an order handed down from above: "Children must be seven years old to play alone outside. Children under seven must be supervised by an adult who is outside with them."

It disappointed the kids not to have that excitement of being grown-up and getting to play outside by themselves. It also made my mom's job a lot harder, having to worry about what to do with the younger kids during homeschooling time. And there's no real reason for it, because it's an Army post. You need a host of paperwork to even be allowed on base in the first place! My five-year-old sister is quite capable, especially with her brothers around, of understanding the instruction to stay in the yard and not go anywhere. If one of them were hurt, another could easily run and get Mom, 20 feet away. But this order, handed down by someone who doesn't know the kids, keeps parents from making their own decisions about what their kids are and aren't ready for.

That just makes me mad.

I do think this book helps the situation. Skenazy gives 14 commandments that help parents trust their kids a little more while still keeping them safe. She also recommends worrying less.

So what didn't I like? Well, she's kind of down on parenting books. It seems a silly attitude, especially because her readers must be okay with them, since they're reading one! She basically says they are just trying to make you into an uber-parent, telling you that if you do everything right your child will turn out better. The example she used, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, supposedly will make parents feel bad because if they don't respond to tantrums in the prescribed way, their children will end up in therapy. And that's not at all the point of that book -- it's about getting better cooperation out of your toddler now and making parents' lives easier. Like I've mentioned before, not everything you do for your kids is about forming the adult they will someday become -- some of it is about dealing with the child you actually have now.

I admit it -- I'm a parenting book addict. I know that some are ridiculous or put a huge amount of pressure on parents. But some are a really useful resource when you're looking for ideas to add to your parenting toolbag. So I couldn't help but leap to their defense.

Other than that, I thought it was a great book and am interested in letting my child grow up a little bit free-range. In our neighborhood, that should be pretty easy!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blue flowers, opinions, and a toddler

Things have been kind of crazy around here, as you probably guessed from my infrequent posting.

First off, John got diverticulitis and was hospitalized. It wasn't terribly serious but he did need IV fluids for a couple of days. The hard part for me was trying to visit him in the hospital while the baby climbed all over the place and tried to pull out his IV line and pushed all the buttons on his bed. I never got to stay long, which was sad for me. And the baby was just heartbroken that Daddy wasn't around. The first night Daddy was gone, Marko had an epic meltdown at bedtime. Nothing could calm him; he howled so constantly as to hardly take a breath. This isn't usual for him at all! So I muscled him into the car and headed to the hospital with my screaming kid. At one point I said, "We're going to see Daddy!" And he instantly stopped screaming, instead just whispering, "Da da da da da," the whole way. It was adorable. And after a few minutes of snuggling with Daddy, he fell asleep before we were even out of the hospital. That's a kid who needs his dad around!

The one big blessing in all this is that my friend Meredith has been staying with us while she looks for a job. It was SO nice to have another pair of hands and someone to talk to so I didn't go nuts. Being a houseguest of a mom with a toddler should be on the list of corporal works of mercy.

Once John gone back, he had with him a prescription for some heavy-duty antibiotics. I'm not in favor of antibiotics, but we really had no choice -- he had already had them by IV in the hospital. Unfortunately this particular drug has a looooong list of side effects, including paranoia and panic attacks. (Who thought this would be a good idea?) And, of course, the one side effect all antibiotics have -- killing all the helpful bacteria that live in your body. Can't wait till he's off those. I'm going to go play doctor on him again (poor guy) and feed him all the probiotics I can find.

Having Meredith around has kept me busy. We've been walking to various places in town, visiting flea markets, and gardening. It sure keeps me from hanging fire when John gets home and asks me, "What did you do today?"

On Sunday we had a gigantic party for some dozen people. There was a "guys' day out" of canoeing on the Shenandoah, and a "girls' day in" which involved making pie and talking about the guys (of course). Meredith shared her piemaking wisdom (she sure knows how to make crust) and we filled up the shells with good things. We made one that was just sliced peaches and nothing else (it was amazing) and a lemon chess pie. Both were fabulous, but the peach pie was also beautiful.

Next time, though, the girls need to get a chance in the canoes. I really miss canoeing -- haven't done it in over a year.

Yesterday I was all set to blog and got myself in a cat fight instead. How do things like that happen? I was in the middle of a rather pleasant and respectful debate, I thought. The blogger had asked the question what people thought about husbands who forbid their wives from wearing chapel veils and dressing modestly. My take was that husbands can't make their wives dress immodestly, but if they have a problem with their wives always wearing ankle-length skirts or full-time kerchiefs, it's a pretty reasonable request. You know -- there's a balance to be struck. I tried to be very considerate of this woman, who does wear ankle-length skirts and kerchiefs most of the time, by saying that there's nothing wrong with dressing that way, but a husband might prefer not to draw attention or have people assume that he is the patriarch of a restrictive sect because of the way his wife dresses. It just doesn't seem fair to me that he has to deal with the flak from his wife dressing in an unusual way, but he gets no say at all in whether she dresses that way. Of course I don't think he should order her around, but it's a reasonable request for him to make and one I would have no trouble conceding to.

The blogger said that she believes it would be a sin to go into a church with her hair uncovered because she has been given a special calling by God to cover her head.

I said that I didn't think it could be at all sinful to enter a church in this situation, because the Church has removed the requirement for women to wear veils. It's a nice tradition, but you don't have to do it.

I think that was around when she transformed from a reasonable sounding-woman and went completely ballistic. First she said she didn't care what I thought. Then she wrote a post saying she'd lost her temper, but just LOOK at what her commenters (mostly me) were saying. (Followed by a misinterpretation of everything I'd said.) I realized I had offended her and wrote a very long comment on that post saying that I was really sorry I'd offended her, it was the last thing I had intended to do, that she is certainly free to wear what she wants, that I was sharing another viewpoint from someone who had seen the harm that too-strict dress codes could do, but I really didn't believe she was in any danger herself, that I was going to bow out of the discussion because I saw that I had given offense, etc.

Then I found she had written a whole post dedicated to me and how awful I was. Apparently I had been apologizing to a post that wasn't the latest one ... the latest one was a diatribe about how horrible I am, how unfairly I had treated her, and how she had been having a bad day and I just came along and made it worse. Again she misinterpreted everything I'd said (oops) and told me I was no longer welcome to subscribe to her blog and was blocked. She would appreciate it if I never spoke to her again.

Thirty people pounced on that post telling her, "The devil is attacking you because he knows you're doing the right thing," and telling me that I'm a troll, I just like to hurt other people, that I hate Amish people (huh?), etc. Her husband leaped on saying, "I know Sheila. She is that crazy woman from every guy's past. The woman who on a first date looks very promising and by the second date is flinging monkey pooh while howling like a banshee. The words 'stark raving mad' begin to come to mind."

He doesn't know me. He has seen my comments on his wife's blog. I don't think any of those comments sound banshee-like.

At that point I was out of the whole thing; I've been blocked and there's nothing left to say. Meredith tried to defend me and got her own post lambasting her. So, it's over and I'm trying not to obsess about it. But of course, you see that I am.

I do try. I took forever to write each comment, reading it and re-reading it and editing and explaining so that I wouldn't give the least offense. I tried to make sure this lady knew that I wasn't criticizing her clothing choices, but simply saying that a husband who requested his wife make different choices wouldn't be out of line. Because she asked what people thought. (John tells me I should NEVER listen to a blogger who asks for people's opinion, because they never really want it. Maybe he is right.)

And yet I somehow managed to give offense. Would I have written differently if I'd known she was having a bad day? I don't know. Maybe I would have just not said anything at all. I kinda think that's the only solution ... the only other commenter who shared my viewpoint was also asked to leave.

Maybe I'm just not as tactful as I think I am. I rarely get into these fights, but it has happened -- not as badly -- before. I enjoy a good, respectful debate. I guess my problem is expecting a good, respectful debate when I'm not likely to be in one. I mean, you don't go to someone sobbing over a personal tragedy and try to have a "respectful debate" with them. There are places and times for these things. I was clearly in the wrong place, but I guess I didn't see the signals. Maybe I should have -- this woman has posted rants against people before, but it always seemed like they were nutcases. I guess they were probably just people like me, trying to state unpopular opinions respectfully, but failing to communicate their ideas in a way that would not give offense.

I feel that action is required on my part to stay out of these fights. John says I could continue arguing with whoever I wanted if I had a thicker skin. But I just don't like the feeling that I have offended someone, ruined their day, made them unhappy. And yeah, I admit that I don't like being called a howling, poo-flinging monkey. Since it's a total stranger, it shouldn't sting, but it kind of does. I guess I am thin-skinned. Yet I'm not sure I want to be any different.

So far, the only action I've taken is to unsubscribe from a few blogs I disagree strongly with. I only read them because I am curious about the opinions of people I disagree with -- but I'm always tempted to jump in and argue. And it isn't really fair to follow a blog that you KNOW has a certain opinion, and then get involved and say they're wrong about everything. It's like wandering into a gay bar and shouting to the whole room, "Let's all support traditional marriage!" You're going to get tarred and feathered! So ... I'm going to avoid that.

As for what else I can do, I'm at a loss. I do try very hard to be kind and polite when I comment anywhere. But I don't really want to give up ever disagreeing with anyone. That's one of my favorite things about the internet -- trading ideas with people who don't think exactly the way you do. I don't come on here just to be patted on the head and told I'm wonderful, or to do the same to others. I'm happy when someone likes something I wrote, and when I agree with someone else, I often chime in to tell them so. But if someone disagrees, I like them to say so. Through discussion, we often both come to a deeper understanding of the truth. That's a wonderful thing.

My friend Heather disagrees with me on many religious and political issues. But that's part of what makes her such a valuable friend -- instead of parroting the same things all my political allies say, she gives a thoughtful criticism that helps me see the other side. It's thanks to people like that that I don't subscribe to any party, but rather try to see individual issues. Traditionally "liberal" issues like caring about the environment, it turns out, are important to me as well as traditionally "conservative" issues, like reducing the size of government. I wouldn't part with my friends who disagree with me for all the world. Without them, I'd have a much harder time realizing when I'm wrong.

I'm not really sure where that leaves me. I'm open to advice (promise I won't jump all over you!).

Here's a picture of a flower:

Anyone know what this is? It randomly sprung up in my yard. I thought it was a dandelion until the spiky part sprang up. Its lower leaves look like big dandelion leaves, but the top is quite different.

The baby, by the way, has been completely adorable lately. He's learned to turn around, walk backwards, throw a ball, and say lots of new words (bacon, up, ball, truck, milk, outside, inside). None of them really sound like the actual word, but he's trying. Sometimes I have to guess a little bit ("hot? hat? out?") but he's pretty good at letting me know when I've got the right one.

He LOVES to climb. On anything. All the time. He climbs on the chairs and tries to get onto the table. He dashes around the house to climb the (dangerous) back steps. He has finally figured out how to climb on the couch and get the kitty. Seriously, he can't be left unattended for one second. I have no idea how I'm going to do anything once Meredith leaves.

In the end, I am extremely happy with my life. I have great friends, a family that loves me, and a blog I enjoy (with readers who are always kind and insightful). So I guess it doesn't really matter if people call me names on a part of the internet where I never even go.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pretty, happy, funny, real

round button chicken

I decided to try participating in this linkup for once. I'm terrible at linkups because I always forget to do them on the right day. But this has always been one I particularly like.


There's a birds' nest in our fruit (might be plum) tree. Anyone hazard a guess as to what kind of bird this is?


Real tomatoes beginning to form, at last!


Meredith has been visiting us this week, and Marko seems to enjoy the extra company.

See, the kid has an obsession with hats. And we couldn't find a hat. So he grabbed whatever he could find and started begging "HAT! HAT! HAT!" Can't say no to that ... so we didn't.


This poor tomato is being attacked by some vicious bugs! Well, I got rid of those bugs, and haven't seen any more of them. Thank goodness.

You can go over to Like Mother, Like Daughter to see more things that are pretty, happy, funny, and real.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

25 years

Today is my 25th birthday. I'm now a quarter century old! I can rent a car, adopt a cat, and be generally considered a responsible adult. (My opinions on "responsible adulthood" being pushed back to 25 are another topic entirely!) I am halfway to thirty ... that's a sobering thought.

Where have those 25 years gone? Let's see.

As a baby, I specialized in eating and sleeping. Apparently I also enjoyed snuggling.
When I was one, I lived in Virginia. Before I turned two, I was baptized and have been a Catholic ever since.
When I was two, we moved to Mississippi. I had a lot of cats.
When I was three, I tried to flush a diaper down the toilet (my earliest memory) and traveled through California to Washington State. I remember Texas. It was very empty.
When I was four, I lived in an apartment with a view of a highway (I loved watching the lights at night) and learned to read. I watched Star Trek every night. Then we moved to our first house.
When I was five, I slept with a stuffed cat named Tiger (and continued doing so for many years after that).
When I was six, I got my first pixie cut and was the flower girl in my aunt's wedding.
When I was seven, I received my first communion and lost my two front teeth.
When I was eight, I was best friends with the little boy next door and enjoyed playing X-Men in our yards.
When I was nine, I started public school. At first I liked it, but then I didn't.
When I was ten, I changed to a private school. I did not like it.
When I was eleven, I was still in private school and got picked on a lot.
When I was twelve, I campaigned to be homeschooled again, and got my wish. I even got homeschooled friends in the mix, which was awesome.
When I was thirteen, I sang in a choir, made friends with a boy for the first time since I was eight, and kept a detailed journal.
When I was fourteen I went to boarding school, but I kinda broke all the rules.
When I was fifteen, I was still in boarding school, but I started doing everything exactly right, as best I could. I also had a baby brother.
When I was sixteen, I got kicked out of boarding school. I went to Bermuda and Victoria, B.C., as my family's free babysitter. Let me tell you, it's the best way to travel. Free, and lots of fun.
When I was seventeen, I took community college courses and found them much easier than I had expected. Physics was way fun.
When I was eighteen, I went to college and fell in love.
When I was nineteen, he liked me back.
When I was twenty, I went to Rome.
When I was twenty-one, I got involved in college life (finally) and sang in an amazing choir.
When I was twenty-two, I taught Latin and grammar at a small school, lived with a roommate in our very own apartment (!), got engaged, and missed John.
When I was twenty-three, I got married.
When I was twenty-four, I was a mom, and liked it.
When I was twenty-five, I ...

Well, I guess time will tell what I do with the next twenty-five years!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

"Let kids be kids"

Have you ever heard this phrase? I have, and it's always in situations where I don't like it.

For instance: "Don't expect your children to clean up around the house. Let kids be kids."

Or, "Don't encourage your children to care for baby dolls. They're babies themselves! Let kids be kids."

Or, "Don't give children any responsibility. Let kids be kids."

I hate this. The very nature of being a child is about learning to be an adult. Kids love to pretend to be grownups. They blossom when given responsibility. They enjoy tending dolls, or if they're lucky, real babies. They don't complain that their childhood is being taken away. They are proud. And when teenagers, especially, are given real work and real responsibility, they are happier and get a chance to prepare for adulthood. Teenagers don't say, "Let me be a kid." They say, "Let me be an adult."

Here's where I would like to see this phrase used instead:

"Don't advertise to children. Let kids be kids."

"Dress children in age-appropriate clothes. Let kids be kids."

"Give kids unstructured time every day. Let kids be kids."

"Don't encourage romance at a young age. Let kids be kids."

"Use clean language around children, and don't let them watch violent or inappropriate shows. Let kids be kids."

Those are some things I could get behind. But keeping kids in a box to shelter them from the good things grownups do, the things we would like them to do when they are older, is just keeping them from learning how to grow up. Let kids be kids, but don't stop them from trying to be the best of what adults are either. That's part of being a kid.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Non compost mentis

That would be Latin for "garden crazy"!

Time for a garden update! We had a week of torrential rain, and then a week of broiling sun. It's put a real dent in our playing-outside time, but the plants mostly weathered it fine. Our clayey soil is pretty good at soaking up all the water and releasing it slowly for the plants -- as long as it is well covered. Otherwise, it erodes in the rain and bakes into a brick in the sun. Next year, I'm going to figure out something with mulches or cover crops to avoid any bare soil, if I can. Bare soil is a real problem here in Virginia -- if once you clear a patch or kill a patch (by too much traffic or putting a kiddie pool on the grass) -- it will take a looooong time to repair. I'm slowly working on the bare spots in our yard, with mixed success. I think by the end of the summer the yard will be almost all covered, in the front at least.

The tomatoes are my star crop, the only one I spent any serious effort on. That is to say, I bought seedlings and started some of my own rather than just dumping seeds in the ground and calling it a day. I think the tomatoes really appreciated the water.

This one's my star:

This one is showing I should pay a little more attention to my plants. It grew out of its tomato cage during the rainy week and I didn't see it until it was too far out to easily put back in. I think I'll just let it be -- what do you think?

I've had a lot of these tiny black bugs on the plants. I don't know what they are; they have little wings but just sit there on the stems. I hosed them off yesterday, which got rid of most of them, but they're already beginning to return.

My sage plant, bought at the farmers' market, is showing my lack of foresight. I just saw it, thought "well, I love sage" and bought it. Only it tastes really bitter and not like sage at all. Turns out, it's Russian sage, which isn't actually in the sage family, and is an ornamental. I'm not big on ornamentals, I want stuff I can eat. Does anyone know if you can eat Russian sage? Or does it remain bitter whatever you do?

Here's the pot that is supposed to contain oregano. I don't know what all these seedlings are; from what Google Images found for me, they might be oregano. Or not. Some of them were definitely dandelions and clover, so I pulled those. But what about the big ones on the edge? Might those be oregano?

Don't let it discourage you that my oregano hasn't come up. This is the pot the baby prefers for digging and dumping water. Those seeds have been drowned, parched, pulled, and mostly lost. If anything does come up -- anything worthwhile I mean -- it will be a miracle.

This should be thyme, but might not be:

And this is definitely cilantro -- those leaves give it away.

My green beans have definitely failed. The rain was the last straw for them -- they were devoured by slugs or something. Probably slugs; I found a ton around my tomatoes and spent ages picking them out, but didn't even look at the green beans till the sky had cleared. Oops. In any event they were doomed from the start: that patch, which promised to be at least partly sunny when I built that bed in the spring, is completely shaded now.

This is the alivest green bean. Sad. No point in replanting them here; I will have to wait till I have another sunny bed dug, because this was clearly the wrong place for them.

The raspberry plant, in the same bed, isn't growing that well either. I may try to move it next year. This year, it looks like it might give me four raspberries or so.

Check out my compost pile. We've been getting the Sunday Washington Post in error, so after reading the comics and doing the crossword, we shredded and composted it. I hadn't intended to compost newspaper because of the ink (I don't know what's in it, and wanted to keep my pile natural), but it was becoming just one big mess of kitchen scraps and a bit of grass clippings. That was getting stinky and attracting flies. Ideally, a compost pile should have more "brown" waste (dry leaves, wood chips, paper) than "green" waste (grass clippings, kitchen scraps), but I have very few sources of brown waste at this time of year.

Our backyard is proving to be a tough beast to handle. We have a little (safe, inexpensive, and environmentally-friendly) push mower that is not really equal to the task. To be honest, it might take a machete. The yard is full of tree roots and truly evil dandelions. I didn't know before that dandelions could look like this:

I mowed it last Friday, and was pretty much swarmed by the bugs whose habitat I was destroying. I got blisters, too, and was completely beat by the time I was done. Sooner or later, that lawn is going to defeat me, I'm pretty sure. It wants to revert to jungle. Nature abhors a vacuum, a monoculture, and (here in Virginia) navigable back yards.

As usual, the baby loves to be outside. We have to watch out for sun and mosquitoes, though. It's boiling hot from ten to about three, and in the evening we get eaten alive. I'm going to try putting garlic on us, and eating some -- I hear it helps. I know back in Seattle, I got bitten a lot less when I'd been eating garlic ... but these Virginia mosquitoes are big baddies compared to the mild-mannered Seattle version, so I'm not sure that will be enough to faze them.

I do have to think of something, though, because this kid loves his outside time. So do I -- despite the heat and the critters, I sure love watching him play.

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