Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Recording Reflex

Our 18 month old has erupted with language. When he doesn't effectively pronounce a word, he becomes frustrated that we don't understand what he says and this has led to some tempestuous encounters. Following in the footsteps of his elder brother, water ("voda" in Serbian and "nero" in Greek, which are the other languages spoken at home) eludes him and we understand his intention more from the context and fury of his intent rather than from his somewhat mangled attempt at pronouncing the word in one of the languages spoken at home. Since the three words for water used at home do not appear to be difficult phonically (with the qualification that "nero" may be communicated without rolling the "r"), for after all M, as L before him, annunciates all the necessary phonics perfectly in other words, I have begun to speculate that the wiring mechanism of early language may prevent some connections during periods of stress or excitement. When my sons ask for water, they don't appear merely parched, but as if they've been exiled in the desert and just spotted an oasis. We can perceive this as adults too, for aren't we at times so impassioned and overwhelmed that we may not grasp the right word so that our surroundings become ineffable and our lexicon is reduced to a succession of emphatics and insertions of onomatopoeia?

Social media has brought amazing benefits (for instance, we face time with the grandparents regularly and the children can develop a sound relationship with them despite the geographical impasse)  but it has also somewhat corrupted our experience. Every time M says a new word, such as the name of his best bud yesterday as he ran towards his house, or the construction of a simple sentence, we brim  with pride as parents and are relieved at one less communication kerfuffle. I also have a keen desire to share my joy with the grandparents, whom I know would appreciate to see it.  Even without Facebook and other social media, I nevertheless have fallen prey to the posting reflex, posting pictures and videos to the grandparents on a shared stream. The reflex is not only to share, but to record. I have by far fewer pictures of my childhood from my parents than my kids have of theirs. This of course has its benefits, but I also wonder of the corrosive effect of having an itch to record every ebullient experience. Was it really proper of me to record my increasingly exasperated 18 month as he yelled "pasta" while earnestly rummaging through the pantry for his favourite, rotelle, and then proceeding to throw it in front of me to effect his purpose (on a side note, M loves to direct- if I ask if he wants me to read a book, he always says yes and then rattles of which books and in what order before proceeding to bring them to me)? We wouldn't think to record our spouse, or anyone for that matter, in such a manner and yet we record some delicate moments of our children (for I believe I am not the only one). We also lose some of the magic of the moment.

The other day M, who like L, is an earnest drawer and likes to form scenes on the sketch pad as if creating a mandala in a meditative trance, drew a definitive figure of a fish. I gasped and asked if it were a fish to which he responded in the affirmative, beaming with pride, "da, fish" (he had been at the Academy of Sciences the entire day with his grandma and it seems was inspired by his adventures at the aquarium there). I could discern the body, the fin and the tail of the fish and my pride percolating to a boil, I reached for the phone to record M with his drawn fish. Later I pondered why I didn't simply enjoy the moment with him - in an attempt to record it, I failed to really enjoy it and I might have deprived him of his own enjoyment.

We must resist the pervasive recording reflex...

Attached to the recording reflex, is the need parents have (attributing our idiosyncrasies to others) to affirm their kids' milestones which also has a somewhat corrosive effect. When M turned 17 months and started counting to two, utterly flabbergasting us when he interrupted our count, we became so excited that we started counting anew so that he would repeat it. M refused to do this, as he does at times, keenly aware that he must assert himself against such parental transgression. Kids are not pets that you teach tricks to and it may be somewhat disrespectful and exploitative to elicit a display of your child's latest milestone, as if we were merely tracking tricks.

Parenthood is as difficult as rewarding - how do we know that we are really practicing the best form of pedagogy? We have been following the positive discipline approach, which on the whole works wonders. My elder son responds very well to a timer, for instance. When he refuses to do something, instead of barricading ourselves into a brawl, we simply physically move him away from a danger/temptation or to where he needs to be. Affirming what can be done rather than stating what cannot be done has also worked wonders for both our sons. Rather than saying "no pinching", we have found that sanctioning "touch nicely" and showing what that means has slowly effected a gentler response from our piccolo pincher. One place where positive discipline has not aided us and where we have gone back to our earlier tools of time out, distraction and bribery, is food. Our elder son can be quite picky at the dinner table and no amount of speaking calmly gets the broccoli down. I have resorted to bribery in an effort to increase the green quotient of my son's diet. Indeed, bribery works, and works too well. It effects your limited purpose, but it entrenches you within its method so that you find your kids expect to receive some tangible benefit in the proper exercise of their appetite. L is an expert negotiator and liberally offers deals for his vegetable intake. There needs to be a better way. Positive discipline does not advocate forcing nutrients down and its authors have pointed out that children's own subconscious eating habits tend to provide them with sufficient nutrients. I have noticed that my picky elder son will refuse strawberries one day as if he were certain they contained cyanide but will gorge on an incomprehensible number the next. Perhaps this is the right approach, but whether it's my Southern European mindset or no, I can't help but think that this allowance is somewhat of an abidcatfion of my parental duty.

It is amazing how different my sons are. My elder son is a gentle, artistic soul who while socially enthusiastic and extroverted, has certain trepidation in the physical realm. "Oh, that's dangerous mama" he resolutely replies when I try to coax him up a ladder at the playground. My younger son, conversely, is an intrepid adventurer that has resulted in wonderful experiences and attendant injuries. All you can do sometimes as a parent is nudge. My older son needs a nudge to take a leap. My younger son needs a helmet.

The other day when I was picking L up from preschool, one of his schoolmates was recounting all the different classes his parents took him to - karate, soccer, swimming  - there was one more I can't recall. Apart from playing Playball at school and starting swimming lessons soon, we haven't signed L up for any sports or other activities. This doesn't mean he hasn't experienced any of it, for instance, we play football (soccer) with him and teach him how to kick and I teach him yoga and meditation, which he earnestly attempts and has enthusiastically adopted, but I wonder whether we are providing sufficient guidance not being professionals in either arena. A multitude of lessons on the other hand is problematic, and not only due to the monetary complications if done concomitantly, but the temporal limitations. If my son goes to preschool full time and a number of lessons outside of this time, when do I get to see him? What is the correct formula in providing access to all these varied experiences and providing sufficient time to simply be with your children? If your child is not participating in all these extra-curricular activities, in lesson form, are they missing out? Perhaps there is no right answer...

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Big Pinch

For the first time in life I took full advantage of cold and flu remedies as I fell deleteriously sick with a crippling cold a few days before we set off for a SoCal road trip. L had been asking for nearly a year to return to Lego Land. When we informed him Lego Land was near San Diego and there was an amazing zoo there, we henceforth heard pleas to go to San Diego. So we complied.  By the end of the trip, I was faring better but had infected our sons.
It was L's first new year's eve, on the cusp of his contagion. M was already in a worryingly febrile state, moaning in his sleep. We informed L that as we were New Yorkers (we'll always be New Yorkers), we would celebrate by watching the ball drop (mind you in my decade of living in NY not once did I entertain the idea of being a frozen sardine in the set up enclosures around the ball drop) we would watch the ball drop and celebrate the new year. He seemed excited, albeit not entirely sure of what was occurring, except that it involved him getting screen time. He confirmed he was still going to be 3. So we entered the new year in enchanting Santa Barbara, with two children about to be strangled by a sickness that ensnared them for nearly a fortnight. A cacophony of coughing
with intermittent screaming, crying and the emitting of copious amounts of mucus (followed by another interlude of screaming and crying) accompanied our ride back home. It was eventful, to say the least.

Something nasty is prowling around. I was poorly, but my kids were worse. M was also teething at the same time and refused food for nearly a week, which put not only an impasse in my weaning plans (from twice a day to once) but reversed our progress so that I was back to nursing him four times a day. We kept L from school for a whole week. He asked to do his usual reading lessons but as his brain was besieged by the vile virus, he forgot some words and started being anxious so I eschewed reading lessons for simply reading books until he fared better. On January 6, L was back to reading form and read his first sentence! I love cars. I was so proud.

Meanwhile, 17 month old M's vocabulary is exceptionally increasing and he has begun to use simple sentences "me too", "no more" etc. The other day I was stupefied when on providing him his requested cup of milk, he thanked me! "Thank you" he repeated, beaming. My three year old (or rather my threenager), recognizing my astonishment, remained unfazed. "He's just saying thank you, mama. Don't you know? M says that now" he explained.

M has also picked up L's habit of asking "why" recursively. M is usually satisfied with the initial answer, if not the follow up. L, however, who has been asking "why" for numerous months, well before he was three, is an astute and tenacious interrogator, that may grill you for hours. Sometimes the timing of L's interrogation could not be worse and I resist the urge to provide dismissive answers as I want to encourage his questioning and his appetite for knowledge. I favour providing very detailed answers until L is satisfied or until I run out of answers and start asking him questions.
"Why do you think, L?"
"I don't know"
"I don't know either. We have to look it up."
"So we can find out the answer."
"Do you want to know the answer to the question you asked me?"
At this point, he usually submits. "Yes, let's do it."

I noticed L was having trouble with two-digit numbers so I thought of a way to help him understand them, which thus far, seems to be effective. I told him every number beginning with 1 is in the teens, from 11 to 19. Every number beginning with 2 is in the twenties and every number beginning with 3 is in the thirties (our counting stops currently at 39). Look at the first number and you'll know whether it's 1-10, 11-19, 20-29. Then cover it with your finger and note the second. Take 17. If it's a teen because it begins with 1. Take out the 1 you have 7. So with 1 in front and it being a teen, its 17. This seems to have worked, albeit he has trouble with the numbers that are termed outside of the pattern (ie 11, 12, 13, 15). L is also mastering small addition and subtraction by utilizing small objects passed between the four members of our family. I find the tactile component aids in his understanding. You have 4 cars. If you give 1 to mama, how many does mama have? 1. And how many do you have? 3. If you give 1 more to mama, how many does mama have? 2. How many do you have? 2. If I give 1 to M, how many does he have? 1. If you give 1 to M, how many does he have? 2. How many do you have? 1. If M gives you 2, how many do you have? 3. And if I give you back 1? 4 ....and so on.

We love our preschool. L has really grown in his emotional intelligence. However, there are a few ill habits that he is picking up from other kids, which goes to show you can only shield your kids so much. The first is the mispronunciation of L, which he pronounced perfectly before school. Now it's "elow" which we are attempting to correct. The next, we suspect, is picking up pickier eating habits. While he still eats his veggies, if there be any "green" on his pasta or pie or any other non-vegetable dish, he will notify us of this indiscretion and demand it be rectified. We now have to fix his meals so that this offensive colour is absent. During our first parent-teacher meeting, we were told he likes to survey a room and take it all in before deciding on an activity to partake in and that he likes to be the leader of the group. We were also told he loves to make up songs and make jokes. That came as no surprise as this is how he is at home. He is of course much better behaved at school than at home. For instance, we were told he was a wonderful sharer. That was great to hear, because at home, he refuses to share his toys with M, wanting instead to choose an activity for M and then forcing M to do that activity rather than what he is doing which has led to physical altercation and subsequent parental intervention. Although L is the elder, M is tougher and invariably, it is L who comes crying if we don't intervene first, for whatever reason, claiming that M is pinching him (which of course all starts because L attempts to wrest a toy from M's hands).

The boys share a bed and a room now and go to bed together after their joint bath time, which has made life easier. They kiss and cuddle and play well together, save for the scuffles they have intermittently over sharing toys.

 L is not the only one being pinched. Possibly because M never had a bottle, pacifier, lovey nor any other thing to comfort him save for nursing, M developed a habit of pinching when trying to settle into a sleep. He now knows how to say pinch and when we say "no pinch" he smiles and  implores us by politely stating "pinch" before he continues inflicting his attack on our arms. We keep deflecting him and engaging him in this earnest debate, but the pinch has not got the point. Passo x passo...

Behind the Beard

This Christmas our 3 year old and 17 month old had a bonanza from Santa which they thoroughly rampaged, pillaging the contents in a merciless scorched earth policy, which made us wonder as to the wisdom of presenting toddlers with a cornucopia of gifts they are too excited to enjoy.

My husband had to act quickly to save Christmas when in my febrile state, through a cacophony of coughing and through a veil of matted hair and tissues that covered a deluge of streaming snot, I commented on the origin of a particular present that had ensnared their attention. "Mama's making a joke" he said, at once achieving a paternal smile while smiting me with his stare, which I thought quite an admirable feat. Indeed, hubby had diligently worked at indoctrinating our kids into this merry myth, including by leaving out a glass of milk and a plate of cookies, prudently drinking and eating Santa's treat (after all, his Corpulence could do without).

My husband and I, albeit we are both passionate Balkans to the detriment of our neighbours and the peaceful enjoyment of their abodes, have very a similar mindset, manners and share the same values. On what is now unfortunately and somewhat embarrassingly a controversial issue in the U.S.,  such as whether to provide your children with the benefits of modern medicine and perform your civil duty to the fellow members of your society by vaccinating your children and maintaining herd immunity, we didn't need a debate. We were also both opposed to pacifiers/dummies (the mischief is in the name! - admittedly due to some nursing mishaps our first used one periodically for the first two months) and adhere to the positive discipline approach (which admittedly at times we each fail at, resorting to our Southern European familial traps). Santa, however, was a topic that never even came up, even to laugh about. My husband had grown up with a firm Santa tradition and while he had wondered whether my Communist upbringing had included such a capitalist day (after all while his preschool was merry with the music of Ring Around a Rosie, mine abounded with songs against fascism and freedom to the people- that had mean hooks and were extremely catchy- but I digress) I had told him several stories of my quite inebriated maternal grandfather heartily taking on the role of Santa each year and decided that was good enough for him.

So here we were, presents apart, a Christmas tree glowing unease as our kids tattered paper with glee in a gluttonous frenzy, presented with the first real kerfuffle in our pedagogical partnership. I ran through my objections internally and did not find sufficient resolve to warrant action one way or the other. If my husband hand't brought up the tradition, I didn't know whether I would have (there were after all pleasant aspects to the story of a merry traveller dispersing presents worldwide) and my elder son's schoolmates had already been indoctrinated. Inoculation against his Corpulence would be tough. If I managed to unmask the myth, my toddler would surely disclose this to his schoolmates leading to possible excoriation from their parents. I did love a good fight.... but was it worth it? I looked at my kids' excited faces and decided to abide by the myth in due service to their smiles (at least momentarily).

"Yes, silly mama, it was bought by Santa!" I exclaimed, to which my husband quickly retorted his correction. "Oh, mama is on a roll with jokes this morning - Santa doesn't buy stuff, his elves make stuff " my husband affirmed. I acquiesced in this assertion but later told my husband away from small and earnest ears that I had to further analyze my views on Santa for the following year. He has disfavoured dietary habits, appears to defy all labor laws in his employment of the elves who appear to work around the clock without breaks in occupational hazard, his reindeer indubitably have workplace injury from having to fly such weight non-stop across the globe and I remain suspect as to whether he has adequate workers' compensation in place, has no diversity in the workplace and a firm ice ceiling, with no record of any elf being promoted from labour to a managerial position, infringes intellectual property with impunity, defies all custom laws and is a chronic trespasser. It was no wonder that on seeing his nuono dressed up as Santa (the first time he had seen his Corpulence), L ran to me, his eyes wild with the beat of fear as he shivered a hug around me.