Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guest Post

"Dear Mom,
Thank you for your cooperation in the cancellation of my aforementioned weaning. I don't like incessantly screaming at you any more than you like hearing it.


Monday, February 21, 2011

True Story From My Public School Experience, or: How I Saved My House By Peeing My Pants

One day in second grade, I was sitting at my desk and suddenly I had to go. I was just about to ask my teacher, Mrs. Sparhawk, for permission, when another child raised his hand and asked if he could use the restroom - and was completely berated for not going during the regularly scheduled bathroom break, which was just a short while before. Like that boy, I did not yet need to go at that time, so I didn't avail myself of the opportunity. Big mistake. After hearing the other child get yelled at, I was now too terrified to ask. I tried to hold it. The harder I tried, the worse I had to go. Finally, I could wait no longer. I remember I was wearing a short corduroy jumper and tights - an outfit that did very little in the way of liquid absorption - and I could hear it loudly trickling onto the floor. I remember seeing kids' faces as they turned around in their seats and stared at me. I was then marched down to the office, and the secretary called my mom to bring me a change of clothes. I sat there, wet and uncomfortable and humiliated, for what seemed like hours. What was taking her so long? Finally she arrived with my clothes and with a story that made me feel much better about what had happened. She had left work to go home and pick up some clothes for me, and when she got there she discovered that the house was on fire! The fire had started in the chimney and just that one fireplace wall was burning yet. So she was able to call the fire department, and they arrived and extinguished the fire before much damage was done. If I hadn't had my accident, the fire would likely have progressed much farther before anyone noticed. So instead of being upset with me, my mom was overjoyed! I was a hero! I had saved the house!

What got me thinking about that experience was a book I just finished reading called "Dumbing Us Down" by John Taylor Gatto. He was a public school teacher in Manhattan for 30 years, who won multiple "Teacher of the Year" awards, and he wrote this book as sort of a whistleblower to the public school system about what really goes on in a classroom. He says that he teaches children emotional dependency:
"By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors, and disgraces, I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestinated chain of command."
and intellectual dependency:
"Good students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. It is the most important lesson, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. The expert makes all the important choices..."
As I read these descriptions, my mind instantly went back to my memory of this event. Thinking back on it from my current point of view as a parent, I am appalled at that teacher's behavior. I understand that in order to manage a room of 30 children, there has to be order and routine, but a person's biological needs can't always fit into a prescribed schedule. To berate and terrorize little kids for needing to use the bathroom at an inconvenient time for her - well, shame on her. I asked my mom about it the other day. I said, "What did you do? Were you livid? Did you give them an earful or what?" and she said she had no idea about the cause of my accident. Maybe I was too ashamed, or maybe I just didn't know how to put it into the right words at the time, but she didn't know about it until now.

I refuse to hand over control of my kids' education to the "experts." I choose to let my kids learn in an environment where they may attend to their bodily functions whenever their bodies dictate. I'm not saying that all teachers are bad, and I know they have an incredibly hard job... but not all of them are great. In the 12 years I spent in the public school system (I was moved up a grade in elementary school and therefore graduated a year early) I can count the "great" teachers I had on one hand. And whether a given teacher is good or bad, the deeply flawed system they must work under is unacceptable to me. Here's another illustration: at my local Barnes & Noble, there is a wonderful section of educational materials. There is also one shelf of books for school teachers, and one shelf of books for homeschoolers. There is a stark contrast between the two - the overwhelming majority of titles for school teachers are about managing children and keeping order in the classroom, and the ones for homeschoolers are actually about how to facilitate learning. Do I want my kids to be trained automatons who can mindlessly obey orders, or do I want them to actually use and expand their minds and enjoy doing so? For me, there's really no question.

Why it's time to wean the 15-month-old

Because after going through two kids, my nursing bras are falling apart! I just put on one of my regular, comfy, pretty bras and it feels SOOOOOO GOOOOD! (Sorry if that's TMI). I gave Emmett a bottle before his nap, expecting a fight from him, but he was fine with it - hooray! Thank you boobs, you've done a great job of nourishing my babies, you are now relieved of duty.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Max learned to count to 100... and beyond

Every night at bedtime, we count. It started because he is always trying to get me to stay with him just a little longer, so I started saying, "Ok, I'm gonna go downstairs after I count to 20." I started going to higher and higher numbers, thinking that maybe listening to me would eventually help him learn to count. I'd go to 30 for a couple days, then 50, then 100. Pretty quickly, he wanted to participate in the counting too, and we started alternating numbers - he'd say the odd numbers, and I'd say the evens. I also started having him count by tens with me, repeating each number after I said it, thinking maybe that would help him remember which group of 10 came next when counting by ones. After just a few times, he had it down and could go from 10-100 all by himself. In the past couple weeks, he has completely taken over the counting and now does it all on his own, first going from 1-100 and then counting by tens from 10-100. It's one of my favorite parts of the day now, with him snugly tucked in bed and whispering the numbers to me... he giggles at my enthusiasm as I tell him in a loud whisper, "Yes! That's right!"

Last week we were at the doctor's office for Emmett's checkup, and Max was looking at the numbers on the blood pressure thingy on the wall. "Look mom - that's 100!" he said, pointing it out. I then pointed at the number 200 and asked him, "If a one with two zeros after it is 100, what do you think this number is?" He thought about it for a minute and didn't get it so I told him, "Two hundred." He said excitedly, "Oh!!! Two hundred!" So I had him count by hundreds with me up to a thousand. He thought that was pretty cool. Over the next few days we did that just once or twice more, and tonight he surprised me by rattling it off to me - I didn't think he'd remember to say "One thousand" instead of "Ten hundred" but he did!

See? This teaching/learning thing can be fun, organic, and quite painless. I know it won't always be, every single day, but I totally trust in Max's desire and ability to learn, and in my desire and ability to help him do that. It's not that I want him to know everything, but I want him to keep wanting to know everything. That's the goal.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Phone Call, Interrupted

Me: Max, I have to make a phone call and I need you to wait quietly and not interrupt me ok?
Max: Ok, mom. *leaves room*

2 minutes later:

Max: Mom, I need to tell you something.
Me: *sigh* Max, I told you not to interrupt ok - quick, what do you need?
Max: I love you! You're awesome! *grins impishly, runs away*

I guess I can't really be upset with him for that one! :)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rough day

After reading two fellow moms' accounts of having particularly challenging days with their kids, I feel compelled to share my own. Yesterday was a rough day. I don't know exactly why... it probably has something to do with being stuck inside for days on end due to our lovely Ohio winter weather - I think we are all getting a little cabin fever-y. Emmett (15 months) has been particularly fussy for the past couple of days, and I don't know what is bugging him and he doesn't know how to tell me yet. Usually I'm pretty good at figuring it out but sometimes I get stumped. Is he teething? Hungry for something specific that I haven't thought of? Is his dry skin itching him? Does he want picked up? (nope). Does he want put down? (nope). When I can't figure it out, he does this whine/cry/shriek thing that just digs into my brain.

And Max (almost 5), well, he's like a Labrador forced to live in a tiny apartment in a big city. He needs to go outside and RUN! But we haven't been able to play outside much in the past week, so his energy overwhelmed both him and I, and he was bouncing off the walls, climbing on me, begging me to play Wii, and incessantly screeching for no particular reason. (I call him my "recreational" screamer.)

On top of all that, I was trying to straighten up the house because we had family coming over that evening, and then I got an important phone call from my Usborne supervisor about a book fair we are doing next week. The kids were going nuts the whole time I was on the phone. It's like they have a sixth sense about which calls I most want to be uninterrupted for... and they go berserk. In hindsight, what I should have done was excused myself and called her back after dealing with them and finding something to keep them occupied. I finally ended up going outside and standing in the snow so I could get 5 minutes' peace to finish my conversation. When I came back inside I was seething. I tried to explain to Max that he needs to listen to me when I tell him not to interrupt. I intended to do this calmly, but instead found myself yelling. My default reaction to anger and frustration is to cry, so that's what I did next.

And then a funny thing happened. Both kids calmed down, came over and cuddled close to me, to comfort me. I am amazed that Emmett, my little baby, already has this sense of empathy in him. He kept hugging me, and pulling back to look at my face, and then hugging me again. We all stayed that way for a while, until the tension was diffused.

I felt awful for losing my patience with them and for getting so angry. Every now and then, these days just happen. I know that. But I am still disappointed in myself when I have one of them. I try to remind myself that - today is over, and it's behind me. Hopefully I learned something from it, so that tomorrow I can do better.