Saturday, June 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Henry

Dear Henry,

You turned two a few weeks ago. The fact that I am writing this letter only now says so much about what it is like to parent you. Patience is one of your strengths.

You have been called a people pleaser. A follower. Even "the happiest kid I have ever seen!" by more than one. All of this makes parenting you so enjoyable.

But it's funny. Often, people tell me that you are so happy as if they are complimenting me. Congratulating me on what a good parent I am. And I can say this with great conviction: You came this way. Besides a bout of early colic, this is just your nature. You have always smiled at everyone, flirted with those around you, looked outward for congratulations after each new accomplishment.

My job as a parent might be to teach you that you don't always have to make everyone happy. That it is okay to be different. That you might make some people mad sometimes, but that it isn't your problem. These are things I'm trying to teach myself.

At two, you love having your toenails painted, wearing hear clips. You love shoes and clothes with lots of color. But these little quirks, these little things you do only to please yourself, might be not last. You might realize, at some point, that most little boys don't paint their toenails pink.

And then I hope I can help you to find some other way to express who you are, only for you. Because I don't know you inside out, and you might surprise me, but I think that you are a follower. You are concerned for those around you. You want to fit in. And this external focus is delightful, but I hope you never lose too much of yourself.

I hope you can keep the pink and purple in your life.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Farewell, Steiner

Luke is finished with his second year of Waldorf preschool, heading for public school next year. We have found a place to live in Columbus that has half-day kindergarten, and that is what we have decided Luke will do. And I have to say, it feels really good.

Gone are the days of furtively distributing spiderman fruit snacks after we have distanced ourselves by two blocks from Luke's school. Goodbye to forbidding certain movie-themed clothing from Luke's school wardrobe. And a big farewell to Rudolf Steiner's reincarnation, gnomes, and early weaning!

Don't get me wrong: I love feeding my children wholesome, organic food; I believe in very limited television; I think simple toys are often the best.

But I'm tired of feeling like bad junk-food-pop-culture-plastic-superhero mama. And because Luke is who he is, I always felt like his teachers were asking, "What caused him to pretend he was shooting with that lovely driftwood? Does he watch TV? Does he stay up late? Does he eat chocolate?" And, also because Luke is who he is, he has a categorical knowledge of all things superhero, soda-pop, and weapon-oriented. And I'm sure he talked about this stuff at school.

So my feeling now that Luke is done with this school is one of relief. And I think he feels happy, too. When we visited his friend Anna's more mainstream preschool the other day, he watched very closely. I think he is eager to go on to the next phase of his education. And I'm eager to find a place where I can feel more comfortable with my moderate parenting style, one that values outdoor play with rocks and sticks, but that simply can't justify forbidding a spiderman fruitsnack now and then.

Friday, June 08, 2007


I'm thinking a lot about educating kids right now. Actually, thinking might be the wrong word here. Obsessing is more like. You see, I've reached this critical point in my firstborn's life where he is the age for kindergarten. The issue can no longer be avoided.

I sent Luke to a waldorf preschool after having visited precisely one preschool, the one that he attended. I didn't agree with some of the philosophy and practice, but those teachers really seemed to love the kids. And there were those great organic snacks. Here's the thing: I didn't think it mattered so much what kind of school Luke went to for a few half days a week, so long as he got to play a lot with a lot of different kids.

But now we are facing the prospect of sending him to public kindergarten, which, where we are moving in Columbus, as in so many cities now, is full day. That is usually around six hours per day, five days per week. And most of the school's websites focus on "achievement" and "independence" and "standards." Of course these are not bad personality traits and goals--but perhaps not so essential for the under-ten crowd. And as I picture my barely five-year-old in such a structured environment for so many hours per day, I feel simply stricken with disbelief.

I truly don't believe that it could be good for him to spend so much time away from us at such a young age. I just don't. I know that it is good for many children, and necessary for many others. But I'm just talking about my Luke. My Luke who still has difficulty separating when he goes to the school that he has gone to for two years where the teachers love him and the teacher/child ratio is 1:7. My Luke, who is still very, very attached to his (somewhat odd) habit of "cuddling daddy's earlobe" or (odder still) "cuddling mommy's mole."

In the most recent issue of Brain, Child magazine--which, I should add, is the most balanced and interesting parenting magazine I have ever read, one that I read, cover to cover, as soon as it arrives--there is an advertisement for FasTracKids. This program, the ad promises, will "build communication and speaking skills, promote leadership and personal growth, and teach the application and transfer of knowledge." There is a picture of a girl, probably about Luke's age, giving a presentation with a microphone. This program is for children ages 0-6. Perhaps if children attend this program they will have the skills necessary to start a company with as clever a name, a company that, as the ad says in fine print, has "franchise opportunities available."

Compare this with the kids in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, written in the 50's, that I am currently reading to Luke. They go to school, sure, and their parents certainly don't agonize over what school they will attend. All of the children go to the neighborhood public school. But school is really just an afterthought. The real drama occurs after school, when the kids wander home together in packs, eat large slices of applesauce cake that their moms bake, and spend the rest of the day building clubhouses, forming "neighborhood clubs," and being cured of their bad behavior with Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's magical medicines. 0-4 year olds are certainly not attending school or educational programs. In one story, the baby is dressed in his "ski suit" and put out to play in a playpen in the yard on a cold winter's day while his mom works inside.

Now this is not intended to be a 50's nostalgia post--and certainly the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books don't bode well for women in many ways--but my point is this: I'm stuck in a position where I'm struggling to manufacture a childhood experience for my kids that was standard in the 50's. I want to be able to send them to the local school that all the neighborhood kids go to and that is just fine. I want kindergarten to last half the day and to be about playing nicely. I want Luke and Henry to run around the neighborhood, to spend lots of time outside, and to while away the hours building forts and hauling rocks.

I'm just trying to figure out how to make this possible. I need Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and some of her magic: time travel powder, or urbanizing suburbia pills, or, well, I don't know. Even just some make up her darn mind juice would do.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Another Botched Parenting Moment

So last night Craig was giving the boys a bath while I made dinner, when Craig called for me in an urgent voice. When I got to the bathroom, Craig told me that Luke had something to ask me.

"Why are testicles important for making babies?" Luke asked, blushing slightly.

And then Craig and I started giggling.

What are we, sixth grade boys in health class? Come on.

And what was up with Craig pulling me into the middle of this? I didn't know what questions had come before this, what information Craig had already supplied.

So then we stepped out of the bathroom and conducted a whispered conversation. Another shining moment in our parenting history, to be sure.

I told Craig that he should answer the questions that Luke asks as simply and directly as possible. Play it cool. Don't give more information than Luke asks for. Apparently, this is what Craig had tried to do, but Luke kept pressing the conversation until Craig wasn't sure what to say.

So I went back in the bathroom, and answered as breezily as possible after that ridiculous series of events, "Well, a baby is made with a sperm and an egg. The egg comes from the mom and the sperm from the dad. The testicles help make the sperm."

"Why does the baby only grow in the mom?" Luke asked.

"Because the mom has the uterus, remember, the special place where the baby grows?" I replied.

"Why didn't God give men uteruses?" Luke continued.

"Well, Luke, that is a really good question," I responded.

And then that was enough, and Luke went back to splashing in the bath.