Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Suspect Story of Santa and M's First Day at Preschool

M started preschool at the beginning of this year, before he turned two and a half (M is very aware that he is "two and a half" now and proudly attest to his age to all and sundry lest they suspect he is only two). My mother was taking care of M throughout the work week and was quite recalcitrant for M to spend half a day out of her care, but M vociferously requested that he start. We thought he was ready for the social interaction as well as thought it fit that he be immersed in the Reggio method and the Kimochi-inspired emotional learning of our preschool.

Unlike L's first day at preschool, I declined to stay and thought it best to leave after drop off, calculating that my stay may cause disruption to L's routine and consequently, to M's day. I also didn't want to impress upon M that I was going to stay as a routine. We spoke about him going to preschool and that I would leave and come back, but admittedly didn't read the numerous books and watch numerous shows about preschool as I did for Luca's prep. I had mistakingly thought that M, having picked up L with his grandmother daily, would already have a certain sense of comfort about L's preschool that he may have been confused by a general impression.

The morning of M's big day, L, M and I had circle time. I instructed the boys to sit "criss cross apple sauce" while we discussed preschool. I had L inform M about the day and drew what L said. Then we went over the drawings. M would be dropped off, "push us out", go the potty and wash his hands, do "free play", have "circle time", go to the park, have more "circle time", eat lunch and his grandmother would come pick him up. M was excited. I thought I had everything under control, but I had neglected to mention that his brother was on a different schedule to him. Big mistake.

M proudly walked carrying his lunchbox and shouting that he was now a big kid going to school. When we entered preschool, he scuttled inside the gate before we came through and for a few moments we lost sight of him. L eventually found him in an "experience tent" where he had happily inserted himself in a group of children, playing with tiles and sand. L immediately took charge and pulled M away, instructing him that the first thing to do was to go potty and wash his hands and that then he could have free play before circle time after that was done. M happily complied and they walked hand in hand to the bathroom. When they returned, they "pushed" us out the door, laughing and ran off before we finished pronouncing our farewell.

The morning having succeeded my expectations, I was surprised to hear that M's first day was rather difficult. He had an accident (and in fact reverted to having accidents throughout the first week), cried incessantly when he was taken to the park and sternly told me that I abandoned him and that if I did so again he would cry.  All day. "You left me, mama. You left me and I cried and cried and cried for you." That battered the beats of my heart. The following morning M informed me that if I left him at preschool, he would cry "all day" for me. For a moment, I wavered and thought that we had made a mistake sending him off so young, but I resolved to continue. During our route to preschool, I asked M why he didn't like going to the park, when he loved the park. He informed me that he was afraid of holding the rope, because he couldn't hold an adult's hand and he feared being hit by cars. The following day, I informed the teachers of his fear and they were appreciative of this new information which they immediately resolved. That day, while M continued to admonish me for abandoning him, he also informed me proudly that he "held the rope."

By the end of the first week, M stopped having accidents and stopped crying. The teachers figured out that M was put into a panic when he went to the park because he was physically separated from his brother. This was my mistake. I had prepped M that L was in the grade above and would undertake different projects and be with a different teacher, but I had declined to impress that M would also be physically separated from his brother and would go to the park at a different time. The teachers figured how to solve this problem too. They printed out a photo of our family and put it around M's neck, telling him that no matter where he went, his family went with him and that if he missed our family, he could look at his picture. This did the trick. M now is excited for "go" days when he and his brother go to school. M is so comfortable in preschool now that his gushing teacher informed me that M made her day by going up to her, hugging her and professing his love for her. Well done teacher! I stand impressed. M no longer cries, is excited for school and has made friends. M's teacher told me that he now comforts his friend, J, who cries for his parents, by telling J not to worry and that his mummy and daddy will pick him up after lunch. When J stops crying, M heralds this new ebulliently to all and sundry. M was ready!

One of my friends, a mother of boys, had informed me when I was pregnant with L and found out I was having a boy, that I would experience a deluge of love from my boy, which was unlike any other experience. She was right. Our boys love to profess their love for our family members, but L has entered into a phase in which he emphasizes his love for me. "Mama, you have the most beautiful eyes and you teach me so much and I will dream about you all night, about all my loves for you, which go to the end of the universe and back." Ineffable. "Oh, and I love you too daddy" he says if my husband is around.

Despite his professions of love, L at 4, is beginning to recognize my failures as a human being. I am forgetful. That is, I have a keen long term memory, but my short term memory, respecting objects such as my keys, phone and wallet, is functioning at a below average rate. I too frequently employ technology to help me find these items. L rolls his eyes, "mum lost her keys again". The other day, when M asked me to write his name on his pillow, just like L has, L said "you better do it now mum or you will forget again." L has picked up my wallet and phone that I have misplaced throughout the house, numerous times now. They keep me in line.

L was a champ at getting his vaccines. I had informed him about what they were for and discussed the etymology of the word "vaccine" being from vache while telling him of the grand tale of Edward Jenner's discovery, minus the risk he took with the eight year old boy. L was happy that he was going to be inoculated against numerous diseases. Yet when he saw the needle, he became very scared. The nurse was fantastic. She had previously given L and M their vaccines and I knew she was the best on the roster as well as the kindest and was thankful when she came out with L's forms. She focused on L's reward, upping the ante to three stickers and pricked him quickly. L was a champ and even the nurse was impressed - he didn't cry and thanked her. However, in a couple of hours, he had a slight fever and the pain in his arm was intense. I went through our breathing exercises with him and our mindfulness exercise of saying goodbye to our pain, as the waves washed it away. L was not convinced. "That's just my imagination" he countered. "This is real pain." I asked him where he thought pain came from. L pointed to his arm. I pointed to his head. "All pain comes from the brain" I told him. "Hence, if you can control your mind, you can control your pain." L digested this for a moment, and as he calculated his response, he stopped crying. "What's a brain?" he asked, interested. I told him it's where all our thoughts came from. I also told him it's where unconscious directives occurred, such as for instance, when we need to swallow our food, which we don't actively think of, our brain is nevertheless directing the action. L seemed satisfied with that explanation and patted Jumpy, his stuffed toy orca's  (his "stuffy") head. "Do orcas have brains?" I nodded. "Even bigger brains than ours." L clutched his arm. "But why the pain?" I explained a skeletal structure of the nervous system, noting the reason for pain. "Pain is good, it tells us when things go wrong - for instance, the pain of something being hot, before it burns us." L was following, nursing his arm, his breathing deeper and slower as he processed this new information and thought less about the pain. "However, as this is a very important function to keep us safe, sometimes it is overused. Our brain doesn't know this pain should not be a warning, so it keeps sending the signal. We need to tell your brain not to worry. We need to tell your brain we've heard it, that we know of the pain and that it's OK. Are you ready to tell your brain it's OK?" L nodded and we went through the mindfulness exercise of saying goodbye to his pain, visualizing the waves taking it away. The following morning, L, who had before his mindfulness exercise tendered such a tumult in the tub that he had a standing bath with his shirt and jumper still on, thanked me for helping take his pain away.

M is an amazing drawer. When he was barely 18 months, he proudly drew a fish and I saw a distinct fish shape on the page. M continues to be an enthusiastic figurative drawer. L is also interested in drawing, but he is a far better sculptor. L creates fantastic and realistic creatures from lego, blocs and tiles, while M has mastered the pen better. Several months ago, however, L started coming home with amazing drawings. "That's you, mama, and that's me and were are happy together" he would say. I saw distinct, happy figures. L's hand had immeasurably improved. L started coming home with more and more drawings, telling me he loved to draw for me and enjoying my praise. One day, my husband had a pile of drawings in hand when he picked up L from preschool and informed me that L's girlfriend, who loved to draw, was fond of drawing for him in school. I looked at the drawings and noticed the mark of the same hand. "L, who did his drawing?" I asked. "N" he responded. I pointed to the fridge. "And who did that drawing?" He didn't blink. "Me." I squatted down to his level. "I love your drawings and I love that you love to draw. May you please draw this for me now?" L hesitated. "It's difficult" he said. "Very tricky" he related. "How about we do it together?" After that, L stopped taking credit for N's work.

We don't keep up the Santa tradition at home. All the presents last Christmas were from us. Perhaps this is denying our kids a part of our their childhood. However, L and M don't seem to favor Santa. When they saw a person pretending to be Santa, they were afraid. If we deconstruct the Santa story, it's not as appealing as it's readily sold. Firstly, all the toys are made by elves under Santa's direction. There is no mention of payment and no mention of Santa chipping in to do the work. Essentially, an old, fat, white man is in charge of directing "little people" that slave for him. Not only is he mistreating elves, but Santa somehow has taken it upon himself to measure our morality and pronounce whether our behaviour for the past year was good enough. To that measure, he has apparently violated our privacy, because he knows what we are thinking. Then, violating customs laws and infringing upon numerous trademarks, Santa breaks and enters into our homes and takes our food (lest we forget to leave out his treat). One can only imagine what abuse the poor reindeer endure to circumnavigate the globe in one night. L also finds this story suspect : Why does Santa only wear one outfit? Aren't cookies unhealthy for you? Do reindeer really fly? If so, where are their wings? How can so many toys fit in one sled? And why are they called reindeer and not snowdeer? 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Seismic Sentiment

Last month in the Bay Area, we had a spell of miasma as the smoke from the fires lingered over us until the rain fell nearly two weeks later (a deplorable yet far more fortunate circumstance than for people much nearer to this vicious fire). It was melancholic and then maddening to not be able to breathe freely outside. It fell worst on the boys, who are used to spending much time running around outside. After a number of days our boys were not satisfied with the various indoor activities around the Bay Area, looking longingly outside at the treacherous air they could not breathe. They remained dissatisfied with all the various activities we did at home, reading books, playing with Play-doh, puzzles, Picasso tiles, Tegu, Lego, trains, with increasingly elaborate tracks - because as fun as these activities are, they are not physically intensive. Our yoga practice is calming, but also not the most physically intense. As the longest part of our apartment is the corridor, we decided to hold sprints and the boys raced up and down continuously for an impressive period before they became tired enough to feel satisfied to sit back down.  The boys came up with a jumping game, in which they took a stool next to their bed and leapt from the stool onto the bed and then somersaulted a number of times on the bed and then ran down to start the process all over again. I finessed their obstacle course by adding a cushioned tunnel slide from their bed down to the floor, which opened into a small maze made from sitting their “stuffies” in a curve to the basketball hoop, where they had to finish the course by shooting into it. The boys loved this course, even though they kept to the rules as much as they breached them. However, as the days wore on, we leant on increased screen time (thank you Planet Earth and Blue Planet!), which was at day's end, the only thing that could calm them down. They understood they were getting away with something and they owned it. It was a grand day when we went up the coast and ran around outside, breathing the rejuvenating fresh air. It is really is all about the simple things.

M has a wry sense of humour. He has discovered the joy of practical jokes and is religiously devoted to his new pursuit. The other day, he brought me to quite a panic. We were playing with marbles and for as long as M has been playing marbles, he has received a lecture from me about the danger of putting marbles in his mouth (I supposed I received what I deserved). While we were playing, M looked at me with apparent shock and said “mama I ate a marble”. I froze in panic and assessed my distressingly calm son.  I asked him to open his mouth and as I inspected it, he informed me in a garbled fashion that it was already in his tummy. I decided we had to run to the emergency room and as I took his hand to leave the room, he opened up his first and revealed a marble in his palm. He erupted in a smile and shouted "just joking mama!" with unbridled glee.

M has also taken to pulling faces and chases laughter from us and even strangers.

M self imposes time out. While L needs attention when his downstairs reptilian brain takes his rationality hostage, M revolts against it. L cries and tells me he “doesn’t know how to calm his body” and we sit and do mindful exercises together, breathing deeply and imaging his sadness sailing away. This does not work with M, partly because he is younger and partly because M’s personality is different. L never self-imposed time-out. When M gets overwhelmed, he runs away and says he is going into time-out. It’s a big mistake to follow him because he becomes aggressive and shouts at you to go away. Trying to discipline at this time abjectly fails. After repeated escalations from trying to follow M when he is in this brood, I decided one day to give him his requested space. I watched him in his room, sitting by himself. A few minutes later, M ran out of the room, giggling, as if nothing had happened. Now we know that M understands when he is overstimulated and needs to calm down and how to achieve this and we know to let him handle that. 

M knows what he wants. He had not been wearing diapers in the day for a long time, but admittedly, we erred on the side of laziness and gave him diapers when he slept at night even though he was waking up with a dry diaper to avoid the laundry effects of any accident. One day, my two year old looked at me with outright disgust and said “No, mama, I am NOT wearing diapers. I WANT UNDERPANTS! I am a BIG BOY.” Embarrassed, I apologized and retrieved his underpants for him. That was the end of that. No more diapers! Woohoo!

M disapproves of my appearance. He is constantly coming up to me and shaking his head. “Mama, let me clean your glasses” he asks gently and then proceeds to take my glasses and to diligently clean them with his shirt. “Better?” he beams, proudly assessing his work as I nod, satisfied yet perplexed because my two year old had noticed something I had not - and I was the one looking through the glass!

L informed me matter of factly the other day that he wanted to be an earthquake when he grew up. I asked why and he said he wanted to shake things up. I decided this was a good metaphor for his personality, but he was thinking in literal terms. A few days later, L volunteered he wanted to be an orca. Later still, he informed me that he had changed his mind and wanted to save orcas. L is obsessed with orcas at the moment. I gave him a stuffed toy orca, whom he immediately adopted with love and named “Jumpy” and he has now learnt quite a lot about this grand, intelligent mammal. L is amazed at how well they coordinate with each other, the strong family values in their matriarchal pods and is incensed that people have imprisoned orcas in pools. L wants to see orcas the right way and I informed him we will go up to British Columbia and see them from a boat in their natural environment. L continues to want to be a marine biologist focused on orca protection, but he also has cautioned me that he may change his mind, which I’ve advised him is a good thing to keep open. 

L is asking many questions I am unprepared for and is realizing his mother does not know everything to evident disappointment. The other day, L asked me why flamingoes stand on one leg. I told him I did not know and that we would have to look it up. He appeared quite concerned that I didn’t know the answer. I explained that are so many things to know, that we cannot know everything and that was why we have different people take on different jobs, so that they can increase our collective learning by their extended particular learning. I told him some people study flamingoes every day. The important thing was not to know everything, which was impossible, but how to access knowledge when you wanted to. He seemed satisfied with this and asked me how we would discover the answer to this question. I told him we would look it up, which we did by using a search engine online. In a few minutes, we discovered various theories, including thermoregulation, but the most persuasive theory was that flamingoes have a passive mechanism for standing when they have one leg up next to their body, so that this action is unconscious, whereas standing in a bipedal fashion involves active muscles. L was pensive for a few moments, digesting this fact. Then he seemed satisfied, concluding that flamingoes are made differently to us, because it was really difficult for us to stand on one leg. Indeed.

L is asking more difficult questions about society and people for which there is no right answer, at least not one that could you easily relate to a four year old. One thing I like about my boys’ preschool is the acceptance of diversity and the celebration of various cultural and religious traditions. The other week was Hanukkah and L made a beautiful menorah which we proudly displayed at home. L asked me why we didn’t have menorah at home. I hesitated, deliberating over an answer about different traditions and different cultures in an effort achieve an answer that was equally respectful of our tradition as of the Jewish tradition and also not to diminish either or culturally appropriate a foreign tradition. My husband interjected and answered in a far simpler fashion, targeted at L's fondness of Christmas trees. He provided L with a simple and false dichotomy. “Both are beautiful, but some families have menorahs and some have Christmas trees. We have a Christmas tree.” Of course this is incorrect, many families have both, but L preferred his Christmas tree to the menorah and that was the end of that. As L grows up, this answer will not be ineffective nor appropriate. I have resolved to be able to better articulate information so that L grows up respectful of all cultural traditions (and when developmentally appropriate, to understand the interaction between “culture” and “power”, such that many “cultural” traditions around the world and throughout history have really been the result of power dynamics, such as men controlling women). 

M is very considerate of others when he wants to be. The other day I was recording my human rights podcast ( at home (the acoustics of my contemporary glass office space are a disaster for recording as I found out through trial and error) and he was informed that he had to be quiet because of it. M was told that if he were loud, it would be recorded and ruin the interview. M understood this and took this task on with rigour. M whispered while he was getting ready to go outside and continually reminded everyone else to whisper  -"mama is recording" he admonished them. When L was very sick and went to bed early last week, before M fell ill too, he knew his brother went to bed earlier as he was not feeling well and he had to continually remind me that my voice was increasing in decibels as we read and played quietly until it was M's bedtime. "Shhhh mama, L is sleeping."

A couple of months ago, L had his blood pressure tested for the first time. I was not expecting it and I did not prepare him for it. Big mistake. L was horrified and his blood pressure reading, while still within the normal range, was at the edge of the range. The doctor explained that children required three separate high readings to be diagnosed with high blood pressure to ease my concern and while I knew L was panicked, a second reading when L was calm became priority. I easily inveigled L's stuffed orca, "Jumpy" to aid me in my plan. We played doctor at home, with L being Jumpy's doctor, and we used this experience to learn about blood, why we measure blood pressure and the nine major bodily systems. When we returned to the doctor, L understood that reading blood pressure was important, but he remained concerned at the discomfort. Fortunately our pediatrician played along with Jumpy and we had Dr. L check Jumpy and Dr. L went through his usual routine with his otoscope and stethoscope ending with taking Jumpy's blood pressure, which was alarmingly low. I then asked whether Dr. L could take my blood pressure and we then asked L if he wanted to get his done. L was excited and thankfully, not nervous. He had a normal reading.

 SF has morphed into one large mucus ball with a terrible respiratory virus adopting the Christmas spirit and spreading its cheer around the city. My boys were in bed for a week. A few days of L becoming increasingly worse brought me to a panic. Not being a doctor, I noticed a wet cough, a low grade fever and an incarnadine line below his eyes and feared the worst. Fortunately my feared diagnosis of pneumonia was way off. The doctor laughed and told me that the crimson line shocks many parents but is simply the result of mucus build up and that L's lungs were clear. He suggested an expectorant. 

There are two effective and natural expectorants that I use. The first is marshmallow root. You have to get the root, not just tea bags. Simply put in the root with diluted water in a 1-4 ratio and leave to set in your fridge for about 12 hours and then drain the syrup. Take a spoonful every 4 hours. It's sweet and children love it. The second is to spread a small drop of Siberian pine oil on your chest (this is also a great anti-inflammatory and works well for joint pain). 

Language development fascinates me. Both boys continue to answer in English, yet sometimes, for seemingly no reason, M decides to speak Serbian. This is usually directed at his father, who perplexingly asks me what M is saying. M also likes to translate, so he will run around and say what objects are in both English and Serbian. While he still has trouble with some letters of the alphabet, I noticed he can sightread four words, his name, "MAPS", "MARS" and "STOP".  These words are comprised of letters he can recognize. I had not taught him reading yet, as we are still mastering the alphabet, but he enjoys listening to L's lessons. I've recently started to format lessons so that both can participate rather than having one boy directed at another activity while I work with the other. For instance, L has recently been working on recognizing and understanding numbers to a 1,000. When L has 936 to recognize, we break it up for M so that M is only focused on the 9, 3, 6. For letters, M is asked to read out all the letters and then L has to read the words of the sentence. In that way, they both learn together. 

The other day my intentional parenting went out the window and my inner reptile took control. M had been playing piano and L and I were putting together a puzzle that was not developmentally appropriate for M. M switched from the piano to drums then he took up a large maraca and started to shake it. I watched him out of my periphery to ensure he was not holding it in a way that would lead to him hitting himself. He seemed to know what he was doing and he needed to learn this lesson, in any case, so I went back to L's puzzle. When we were about to put in the last few pieces, M's maraca crashed upon L's forehead. I would like to write that I calmly responded to the situation, a model parent. Rather, I stood up shaking, shouted at M that we don't hit and aggressively took his arm and stormed him out for a punitive time-out. I told him he hurt his brother for no reason and that he should think about what he did, my voice shivering through shouts. I went back to console my elder son. It was not a model moment by any means. I failed to teach a lesson and rather displayed a tantrum, the opposite behavior that I wanted to model. There are situations in which our reptile takes over and we lose patience, with the world, with other people and our kids. We also require calming methods to reintegrate our brains and our ability to coherently think outside of the shackles of our emotions. This is far more difficult for children, who do not have developed calming skills and who are overstimulated, with a brain full of cranes and construction crews fiercely developing it. I decided I needed to apologize to M. I went up to him, who was crying and not welcoming of my return and apologized, informing him that I overreacted because I was upset that he hit his brother. I explained that mothers experience the physical pain of their children, so that when he hit L, it hurt me. I had shouted in pain. I asked him how he felt. M said he felt "mad". I asked him why he hit L. "Because I was mad" M said. I asked him why he was mad. M shrugged. I asked him whether he wanted to help us with the puzzle. M responded that it was too difficult for him. I asked him whether he felt left out that L and I were doing something that he couldn't and that he got mad because of it. He nodded his head. He wanted attention he admitted. This was of course my mistake from the beginning. I should not have undertaken a puzzle that was developmentally inappropriate for M, at least not unless M was sitting with me and he could participate by watching us at work (which he has enjoyed before, feeling proud when he connected a few pieces that I laid out in front of him to "find" and "match"). I should have noted that M's choice of musical instrument might have been problematic. I've learnt from this experience but I'm probably going to keep making mistakes. 

We all mistakes, it's what type of mistakes and how we remedy and learn from them that counts. At least that day I hoped I modeled that while we all make mistakes, it's important to recognize when we do and to remedy them. M apologized to L and explained he felt left out. M asked L to play with him. L had finished the puzzle and he hugged M back and asked him what he wanted to do. The boys were happy and racing cars down their self-made track a few minutes later. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Brother Club

L has taken to telling me stories before bed and when we wake up, usurping my position as the yarn-weaver in the family. They are usually concerned with disaster relief. This morning, an earthquake flipped the Golden Gate bridge upside down, but a "super rescue plane" flipped it back right side up and then rescued all the cars and people in the water. It was another hard day at work for the "super nice" rescue plan, the unnamed protagonist in L's stories of late, that saves people each day from various natural disasters that befall our city. One of L's favourite narrative lines is "and then something happened" with a sincere emphasis on something, to entice his audience into wondering what it could be next as he dramatically pauses to amplify the anticipation. 

L certainly loves to put on a show. We have been told by his teachers as well as our friends who observe him on the playground when we are not there (apparently he is more modest around us) that he takes the lead and loves to dictate activities. I’ve exploited his need to win and be first to achieve some short-term ends. For instance, attune to L’s need to be the fastest boy in school, I’ve notified him that the boy he believes to be the fastest is so fast because he eats all his vegetables, yoghurt, fruit, meat et. al.  and goes to bed on time for a restful night’s sleep. This has worked a charm. If L pushes back, I employ this device and my short-term gain is achieved. I wonder however whether I am unwittingly supporting a character trait that has discernible unfortunate features. I don’t want L to grow up into an adult that is solely focused on winning at all cost, which not only puts an insurmountable amount of stress upon him and doesn’t allow him to enjoy any activity he pursues, but may potentially lead to animosity and self-recrimination. Parenthood is always a delicate balance of achieving short-term gain without impacting long-term consequences. I've come to the realization that I need a new vegetable incentive. Fortunately, L has rediscovered his love for veggies and I haven’t had to employ any device in a while. 

At L's birthday party last weekend, he announced to everyone before his cake (which he directed to be bright blue) was cut that he loved them all and thanked them for coming and for his presents. This was shortly followed by a request to open his booty, which I denied and explained this was an activity he could look forward to when we returned home. L immediately proceeded to pronounce the party over while my cheeks blazed incarnadine in front of the flabbergasted crowd. 

When we returned home, L attacked his booty somewhat ferociously and serendipitously he received two exact same packages of cars and a flat bed which were favored and which avoided volatile fraternal relations that otherwise would have inevitably led to either me or my husband obtaining another to ensure continued familial peace. 

Turning 4 has been accepted by L as if it were an ontological difference, which has been somewhat brilliant in consequence - dressing himself for instance, but at other times extended far beyond reasonable measure, such as his insistence that he have a later bedtime or ride a motorcycle. Instead, he received a bike and a helmet (blue of course) and is learning how to ride the less dangerous and more environmentally friendly way. 

We’ve been surprised by L’s sensitivity recently. My husband thought it a grand idea to show a film he loved as child to L, involving a boy navigating a space ship, which had the unintended consequence of a deluge of tears, as the narrative revolved around a boy separated from his family. L's empathy towards the boy in the story and his fear of losing his family were palpable. My husband was particularly shocked at L's reaction, remorseful of his choice. He hadn’t even remembered that part and merely remembered the boy's interaction with the sentient space ship. You can’t control what part of a story, whether a film or a book, a child will focus on and how they will understand it. The other night, when L was in a particular brood and didn’t not want to bathe, he told me “you shut your mouth”. I started, flummoxed that my 4 year old had so rudely spoken to me. I asked him where he heard such language and he said from me! I asked when and where he heard me say that and with glee he explained that I had read Yertle the Turtle and that Yertle had yelled at the dissident Mack at the bottom of the turtle heap to shut his mouth. This time my husband was able to roll his eyes at my discerning choice of literature. I had thought Yertle was a grand didactic narrative and did not notice this language at all. And yet, what we gloss over, is what our children may attune to. We’ve learnt to be apply more discretion in our choice of narratives. 

However, you can only shield your kids up to a certain point. The other day, L was playing with M and L and their police cars and L was indulging in a narrative in which the police car was taking people to jail. I was stupefied. Where did he hear that from? I asked him what jail was. “Oh, that’s were adults go for time-out.” I stood riven with indecision while I internally debated whether I should explain the inherent problems of our mass incarceration system that structures and perpetuates a criminal underclass or whether to let it go. I decided to leave his view of it for now as I couldn’t think of a better explanation that would be digestible for him. 

L is now asking questions we are not prepared for. The other day, walking to dinner, L asked, “where do babies come from?”. I believe my husband and I fumbled out a very nebulous and amorphous answer involving a mummy and daddy and good intentions. L didn’t seem very accepting of our sub-par answer, but luckily we were saved by ramen as L was too ravenous for his dish to further prod us on the issue. I know this question will come up again and I’d like to be prepared with a less than accurate biological answer but one that is not exclusionary and takes into account the various, wonderful families around us without resorting to storks....

M is very intent on cleaning when he is not racing around the house with his train, which he informs to all and sundry is the super fast Shinkansen.  So much so that when he pees, he takes his potty and dumps it in the toilet and flushes, all with undue pomp and grandeur. He is somewhat less pompous about dumping the remainder of his food in the compost, but he has continued to earnestly do this with a satisfied smile. M is also very fond of drawing what is on his mind. He’s drawn family portraits and various scenes, including Curiosity landing on Mars. Unfortunately some of his grand art is displayed on book covers, walls and our couch (fortunately with washable crayon - a necessity for any parent). I suppose if you are earnest in cleaning, you have to make mess initially in order to enjoy cleaning it… 

M is also very fond of making jokes, which he inevitably concludes with "M made a joke, M is funny" in the event his audience needed proper direction as to the merit of his humour. One joke he made the other day, when were counting, was to repeatedly state, "ocam, croissant" (ocam is eight in Serbian, croissants are one of M's favourite treats). L thought this was hilarious and took it on too. It was 4.30 am so I was not as receptive to M's humour.  

M is very excited to begin preschool at his brother’s school. When M is being particularly obstreperous these days, I’ve pulled out the “teacher L” card. M knows very well that Teacher L is the Director of L's school and is “the All-Powerful-One”. I have “called” her on several occasions to purportedly retract M’s admission on account of his behavior. M has quickly towed the line. The other day, we were having a stand-off over certain cereal spillage which M insisted that I clean up. I gave him a kitchen towel and told him to get to work as he made the mess. He resisted. I informed him that at preschool, just like at home, we have to clean up our own mess. This last time, as soon as I picked up the phone, before I even “spoke” with “Teacher L”, M grabbed the towel and began to clean it up. “I’m cleaning mama! I’m cleaning!” he announced his compliance earnestly, one concerned eye on the phone. 

The other day, M asked if he could buy his brother, L, a present (a Blue Angel plane). I was astounded and wondered whether this was simple gratitude or whether M had calculated that as there was only one Blue Angel in the house, with two, he would be able to duplicate his time with the one we already had. Either way, I was impressed. I told him he could, but that he would have to obtain some money, which he would have to work for. M was happy with this deal. So this weekend I am going to be directing some earnest below minimum wage child labor in the home. 

The boys thoroughly enjoyed Halloween this year. They decided they were going to be Batman and Superman, but when the grand day came, Superman had an identity crisis and decided he would rather be Batman just like his elder brother. This led to some costume crisis management (fortunately we had an extra Batman cape around) but was resolved before the big “Halloween walk” which my husband corrected me is called “trick or treating”. This is not very accurate. I’ve never seen anyone hand out tricks - whatever happened to a good juggle? Perhaps the kids’ candy ferocity has led to the abandonment of any tricks. I was astonished at how expertly they weaved through crowds to amass their booty. By the end, L was discerning, picking his treats to ensure he received the ones with the most chocolate.The boys directed me to craft a Curiosity rover costume and their dad to be a rocket, because they correctly calculated I needed to be launched to Mars. I crafted my costume with the boys, which resulted in an iterative process, in which I would paste one aspect of the costume together only for M to use his engineering skills to reverse my advances as if he were simply intent on obtaining trade secrets for a competing company. In the end, I was pretty pleased with my rover endeavour, only to realize as I walked that she was very fragile and that Curiosity appeared more and more like Opportunity.

After Halloween, we ended up with bucket loads of sugar that the boys never eat and that we didn’t intend for them to. Yet, they remember they have it, they worked for it, and were adamant to recoup their efforts. Fortunately an astute parent clued us in on their parental trick. Offer educational presents, such as lego, Tegu, Picasso tiles, in exchange for candy, and your kids, being able to employ their candy as currency, feel satisfied in their efforts and trade (and we are relieved they are not digesting any of the nuclear-resistant ingredients that comprise modern candy bars). 

I have been recently rejected from the recently established “Brother Club” not having the standing for membership as explained by my elder son to me. “Mum, you’re not my brother. Only my brother is my brother, and only he is allowed in the Brother Club. Oh, and me.” I was then told to leave them alone. I asked what they were doing. “Nothing” M responded with a shrug that I expected to see from someone a decade older than his two years. I was shooed out of their room and then they proceed to lock the door. Fortunately I was right outside and barged in before this occurred (of course I didn’t let them in on the screwdriver trick which allows me to enter at any time). They admonished me for trespassing into their private club. I notified them that they could close the door for their private event (after all I have a clandestine digital eye in there) but could not lock it. I could see from their glazed stares that they were not going to adhere to my direction. I explained it was unsafe, I could not get to them in time in case there was an accident and finally, that because of this, if they locked the door, I had to immediately call the police. L decided that the best policy was in fact to leave the door open, but direct me not to listen. Then they proceed to run to the bed and hide under the covers, making a blanket-tent for their first meeting amongst much cackling. So it begins. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Different Kind of Holiday

Holidaying with your kids is amazing. It's also not really a holiday. You can't simple lounge and enjoy sips and eats or promenade pensively, as you are on duty - in charge of engaging your children, supervising them and keeping them alive. The third day of our trip, for instance, involved recurring vomiting by both boys and we spent the whole day at home, except for a brief walk in the eve on the canal when they had recovered from their various eruptions and were set on adventure.

It was a wonderful, if somewhat taxing, experience.

When showing our kids the Parthenon, which they both admired vocally through intermittent exclamations as to how hot it was, one disgruntled individual commented that our kids won't remember any of their experiences and that it was a loss to bring them. It's always charming when strangers provide unsolicited opinions (which each pregnant person can attest to), particularly when they are so enchantingly depressing. Perhaps they won't remember. Or they may remember some parts, but what may seem quite inane instances, such as for instance, riding the escalator, which they could have done at home. I remember my grandparents took me around the former SFRY and yet my most vivid memories have to do with food - including a particularly tantalizing yoghurt in a beautiful wooden bowl which I believe I had somewhere in Macedonia.

Whether a child remembers an experience is not the point. Whether they remember it or not, it's nevertheless something they experience - and each experience widens their horizons and makes new connections in their wired minds. Our kids absorbed new smells, new sights and new languages and we were excited to see their wonder, which to some extent bounced back onto us. We are after all, all mirrors reflecting off each other.

My kids were impressed by the grand buildings, palaces, churches and gardens of the European cities we visited, but they were mostly excited about the transport we used. From planes, to trains to boats, to trams, my kids were happiest when a machine was moving them along. I've learnt you can turn any day into an amusement park simply by spending your time transversing the different modes of transport, and hopefully, using an escalator somewhere in there.

Their favourite mode of transport were the double decker buses in London. They loved it so much that we rode the bus just for the sake of the ride. We sat right up front and my boys began to excitedly ululate a nuanced narration of their trip. The passengers did not seem to appreciate that they were being provided a free guided tour of London from the toddler's perspective. So what's the 142 to Shoreditch like?

Crane! Crane! I see a crane ma!
Bus! Another double decker bus!
Clock! A big clock! That's a big clock mum!
Street sweeper! Street sweeper!
Duuuuuuup truck! Yep, that's a dump truck!
Construction site! Construction!
Double decker!
Crane! Crane! Crane!
Another double decker ma!

To help the boys remember, we started journalling - after each trip, they would draw what they could remember from their previous sojourn. I also encouraged retaining souvenirs of the trip. I think these exercises help cement the memory of their experiences and their digestion. This led to some added weight en route back as my boys have picked up my love of rocks (every time we go on trips, I stack on books and rocks to my husband's chagrin - and now I have two more partners in crime).

Our kids were notably stunned by travelling through five different countries, with five different languages and one that neither parent spoke (Hungarian, some words were the same in Serbo-Croatian, some similar but most were quite foreign and the kids were amused at my somewhat unsuccessful attempts to communicate with frazzled locals who invariably asked in perfect English if I could converse in it). This was a grand step forward. I had been explaining planets and continents, which they found exciting, but neither was much interested in learning about countries, not understanding what a country was (except Luca's gravitation towards Japan, which he understood to be the country of Shinkansen, robots, ramen and cartoons). The trip made them understand that other countries are where people speak different languages to you, eat different food and live in a different place to you and that cities are constellations of people within a particular country. L was very interested in why there were borders. I explained that countries want to know who enters and exists. When he asked why, I said that it allows them to better understand who is inside for them to more effectively govern. He seemed to take this answer as self-evident and I decided to not elaborate on the more stygian circumstances on the ground but leave him with this crimson impression.

There were invariably some cultural clashes on the playground. My kids would run up to play with other kids, excitedly gesticulating and loudly clamouring for some game in English, while befuddled natives would stare at them as if they were under attack and earnestly look for the aid of their parents. L, in particular, drew attention for his particularly Californian style, in which he runs manic around the playground role playing as a fire-fighter in various disaster situations, including fires and earthquakes. "You house is on fire!" he would yell at some unsuspecting child in his foreign tongue, and then proceed to act out pouring water on them, which considering the horror of their faces and that of their stunned parents and the stereotypes attributed to L's fellow countrymen, may have seemed as if his hose were rather a gun and he was stampeding his imperium about the playground in service to Manifest Destiny.

L takes rules seriously - particularly when they don't apply to him. He has yet to ride a bike (but his next birthday present will propel him into this activity) but is keenly aware that one should not ride a bike without a helmet. He is also quite astute at spotting people that ride bikes and motorcycles without helmets, after which he invariably proceeds to proclaim this slight to me. Having realized that I will not impose the rule on strangers, L took it upon himself, shouting after them they they forgot to put their on helmet. He has had a startlingly low success rate.

L and M both love the sea (particularly after L was satisfied with our multiple answers that there were no sharks inhabiting the waters of the Mediterranean), with L deciding that he didn't need his floaties and running into the sea until our invariable intervention (M was more cautious, assessing that he needed to be within centimetres of a parent at all times, floatie or no). After a while he understood he could go in up to his ankles and fetch water for our sand castle without any flaotie (which due to certain constructions impediments and architectural disagreements was left incomplete) and was satisfied with the imposed limit. 

The stray cats on Rhodes, a feature throughout Greece, caught the boys' attention. M, in particular, became their champion and at one dinner, after having asked why stray cats were skulking the restaurant tables, and having received all ill thought out response from his mother that they were hungry, refused to eat and proceeded to give his food to the cats. This resulted in a feline congregation around our table and none too satisfied wait staff, particularly when two members' of M's newly founded following began to battle over the morsels.

We managed the travel with relative ease, despite offering the kids no semblance of their usual routine. M developed in own routine, which included sleeping through lunch in his stroller. We had an arsenal of cars, crayons and paper which allowed us some relative peace at cafes to enjoy lunches and dinners, and the local wine, until invariably, they would begin to argue over the blue crayon, until we understood that such was its demand, that we needed one for each son. Everything was going grandly and were congratulating ourselves on travelling so well with our toddlers until our little one was assaulted by an onslaught of unfortunate concomitant circumstance - all his molars decided to pop out at once, he went through a growth spurt and he obtained a throat infection and its attendant high fevers. Even when M got over his infection, he was hardly eating from the pain of his protruding teeth, which advent he enjoyed heralding to all and sundry, clutching his chin and stating "new teeth coming". Overtired, hungry and in undulating, ceaseless pain, M had had enough.

M had chucked tantrums before. For months now they would begin with a spectacular shaking of his fist and a proclamation that he was furious - "I'm mad! I'm mad, mama!". However, we had never seen the spectacular horror of what he unleashed in the last few days of his rebellion. He attacked with a scorched earth policy that began with a frighteningly calculated violence. M would target vitrescent objects, menacingly prowling up to them and then threatening "I will break this!" before unleashing his demands. He wanted to go home. He wanted milk. He wanted "chocok" ice cream. "Now!" We were quite challenged by his behaviour. Any discipline resulted in physical injury. In the end, we were in earnest discussing whether to take our younger son to a child psychologist. Thankfully, when we arrived home, he was pleased and has returned to his former self. He has even kissed us and apologized for his behaviour. It's patently obvious to us now that we had dragged this kid past his limit and that he was not going to let us forget that.

The flights were not as bad as we feared. L enjoyed his headphones, pillow and near unfettered screen time and fell asleep for most of the flight to London from SF. En route back, he slept a while and otherwise coloured in and enjoyed his special flight license of screen time. M was more difficult, not being able to be diverted by the screen time (he had been sick and had enough before the flight and we had woken him at 3.30 am for it). M slept too- thanks to the inflatable pillows that allow your children to extend their seat so that they end up having a full bed were indispensable. En route to London on the American airline, the flight staff looked at us with relief, silently thanking us for the fact that our kids were sleeping (another choir took care to assault people's ears and we were simply relieved it was not our kids). Back from Paris, on the French airline, the French favor of bureaucracy led to a congregation of confused and curious flight staff conversing over what course of action to take over the unsanctioned pillows that had obviously caught them by surprise. I was on the far end of the four seats and could not hear what they were discussing to my chagrin but from their focused stairs and pained expressions I discerned that the conversation went something like this: we should allow it because there is no regulation that doesn't allow it. Ah yes, but perhaps we shouldn't allow it because there is no regulation that allows it! And so this went on for a few minutes until finally they reached a conclusion and left. A few minutes later, a stewardess came back with an ipad and asked if she could take some photos for later discussions. It seems that Air France may make a regulation on the issue, hopefully to sanction in favor of allowance.

What aided M the most, on the flight back, however, was yoga. Thankfully we had some more space at the back, being on a 380, and we went through our regular yoga routine, which calmed him down considerably. When I say "we" I should clarify that it was really M practicing, with me simply pointing him in the right direction for a particular asana. This led to some amusement from the flight staff and other passengers, partly due to the fact that M had minutes before raged an eruption that ranged about a 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index.

When we arrived back home and our circadian rhythms were all out of wack, I took the opportunity when we were up in the depth of the night, having breakfast and starting our day to explain (again) the difference between night and day, using our globe. Kids understand far better when you can show them how something works rather than attempting to explain them to in the abstract (and perhaps some adults too). It worked a charm.

We came, we saw, we survived. We were surprised that the next day after our trip, with the kids so happy to be home, that L thanked us for coming back home and in the very next breath asked when we were going to Japan.