Thursday, June 13, 2019

Smoochie Butt

The past few days in SF have been wonderfully hot but my boys, being native to this temperate climate, have suffered through it. They were overjoyed to have their temperate weather back today, while I grumbled about freezing my derriere and wishing this city would grace its inhabitants with a proper summer (my husband misses the discernible seasons of the east coast, but there’s one frigid season I can readily live without). Growing up in Australia, I'm flummoxed that my boys consider a beach outing to be one in which everyone is garbed in hoodies and vests. 

The boys have been very interested in the concept of gravity of late and periodically like to drop a ball or a toy and then exclaim its cause-  “that was gravity”. We were discussing how energy is constantly transforming and that they are made of old stars, their elements completing the circle one day by returning to the stars. M in particular loves to run around shouting that everything and everyone is made up of atoms and that we are made from carbon, which he can recognize on the periodic table of elements.

L continues to question the world around him. Why do we have seasons? Why do we have tides? Why is there wind? Why do we have earthquakes? Why do volcanoes erupt? He and his brother in turn have also been particularly interested in the human body. Now they know a simplified version of the various bodily systems and that there are four blood groups, our whole family being the same blood type, the universal giver. Both L and M are mostly fascinated by the immune system (our little protectors!) and I remember being particularly fascinated by this important bodily system as a child (and continue to be). When M fell ill the other week, he declared in his febrile state with a strained voice, “The white cells are giving me fever to fight the germs, mama. I’m sick.” Then demanding I take this temperature (which I did). I remain guilty that a small part of me enjoys the time when they are sick because I get added cuddle time during this period.

L continues to want to be a marine biologist, L an astronaut. Every time he hears M declare his aspiration, L shouts, “not me, I’m afraid of heights” and then requests assurance that I won’t let M embark on such dangerous escapades as going to space until he is fully grown up. I assure him that this would not occur.

L has provided everyone in the family with nicknames. I am not in favor of my recently adopted nickname of "smoochie butt" nor am I in favor of the nicknames of various other family members christened by L, all with the same epithet (my father, for instance, is "planet butt").  L thinks this is raucously funny and so does his little brother, who has the worse habit of having a potty mouth whilst still using the potty. Our only consolation is that his expletives have been confined to Serbo-Croatian. Unfortunately, the language is rife with imaginative expletives so that phrases that would flabbergast an English speaker, for instance, a detailed description of how your nemesis keeps company with a hedgehog, are a natural course of colloquial exchange. M likes to sing all manner of pejorative descriptions of his mother, without understanding what he is singing except that it causes his mother some distress which in turn provides him encouragement to continue. My reaction faltered from the start. I burst out laughing. He was thus encouraged to continue. Next, I fibbed that he was informing me he never wanted ice cream, but he either didn’t accept this or didn’t care because he redoubled his efforts. Finally, I explained that what he said meant he didn’t love me and hurt my feelings, in a last resort to arrest his efforts, but this got me nowhere. I was assured he was going to sing his calamity out to all and sundry, but he has confined his cussing to our home. I suppose that is somewhat of a victory.

L has been playing more basketball and football (soccer) and we have let him watch the NBA Finals which he has expectantly followed with anguish and shrewd calculation. Due to basketball’s high scoring, following a game has been quite useful in L’s exercise of addition. How much is one team over the other? Are the Warriors winning or are we behind? For M, who has not yet reached the level of being able to figure the difference between 100 and 103 (which L also struggles with albeit he has no issue in recognizing numbers), it has served well to register two-digit numbers by identifying the various players. Number 30 was thus first registered by M, being a Curry fun. Allowing them to watch the finals has somewhat eased L’s burden of not being allowed to come with us to the Warriors game earlier in the year wherein he quizzed me why he had to wait until he was 8 (this seemed an appropriate age to me on the fly when I was excusing his absence, but I have admittedly not considered it sufficiently to make a qualified decision).

The other day I realized my days of coming up with less than veritable excuses are decidedly over. L had already decided that my answers to certain questions lacked verisimilitude and decided the best manner to put up a defense was to gather evidentiary support and back me into a corner. We were invited to his friends’ house for an extended play date. Not wanting to suffer our friends through the consequence of an M raging in their home without a nap, we decided to leave after M woke up from his daily afternoon nap. When L was dissatisfied with this answer, I qualified it with a fact of questionable accuracy, informing L that his friend was also asleep and was not able to play until later in the day. Later that afternoon, at O’s place, L asked O in front of me, “how was your nap today O?” to which O replied that he did not nap. L shot me a look and then calmly continued examining his witness. “What were you doing instead?” O shrugged, then thought better of it. “Playing” he said. “Playing” L repeated. “Did you hear that mum? We could have come before, because O was playing and not napping.” I declined to cross examine the witness.  

M continues to compose songs daily and to hum his favorite tunes (including encouraging his preschool class to hum the Imperial March en route to the playground) and particularly loves to make up different characters, such as for instance, deciding that he would be a robot for the better part of a day and to this effect, speaking in a robot voice (which was quite well done) of even tone and moving slowly, deliberately and mechanically.

M has a fastidious nature, which is exemplified in his precise contraptions (rockets being his current object of favour) and in cleaning the house. Every few days after his bath, M asks me whether he can clean the sides of the tub, which I allow and wonder whether M’s eagerness to clean is due more to his fastidiousness or my domestic neglect.

Despite my instruction on positive discipline and my attempt to adhere to its dictates, there are times when I resort to bribery and threats, particularly when I am faced with resistance at the dinner table or bed-time. A few weeks ago, I careened off my positive pedagogic approach and caved into catastrophe. After a series of failed confined decisions (which usually work a charm), I turned to pleas, and after my boys had breached the bastion of my bribery, I resorted to threats. More distressingly, I resorted to threats that I would not keep, and the boys knew it. M was the instigator. I turned my focus on him.
“If you don’t go to bed right now, M, I will take you to sleep outside in the crisp night air!” I raged.
My boys redoubled their resistance. M shouted “it’s not open mum! The street is closed! You can’t take me outside! Look at that stop sign” and L shouted “you can’t take my brother outside! You can’t do that to him! It’s dangerous!”
I knew I had decimated my chances of victory. If I didn’t proceed with my threat, I would not be taken seriously. If I proceeded, then- well, I hadn’t factored that far ahead. I abdicated authority and called in their father, accepting defeat. It was a sorry sight.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Sipping Snow, Cuddling Kimochis and the Smooth Move

The other week my four year old applied his learning in a manner that was most unexpected and unfavorable. A few days before my mortification at his swimming lesson, I decided to teach my four year old son about boundaries, in particular about other adults crossing “touching” boundaries with him. I told him he needed to tell me right away if anybody crossed those boundaries. I told him that even mummy and daddy can’t cross those boundaries. He was silent and seemed to be digesting the information. I decided he was perhaps too young and we left it at that. A few days later, I realized, unexpectedly, that he had indeed processed what I was saying.
L was at a birthday party on Sunday afternoon enjoying running around and trampolining. When the birthday cake came out, he ran to me with a bunch of broccoli and said “I’m eating my healthy food so I can have the unhealthy food after” he beamed, pointing at the birthday cake. All was going smoothly. When it was time to leave, L was visibly exhausted. I know now I made a mistake and deserved what followed next. L’s evening swimming lesson (finally we were able to switch to a morning!) had always been an issue, but this day in particular was difficult because L was not merely recalcitrant but actively resistant. I pushed him because I decided he had missed too many lessons already. I used my authoritative voice and demanded he get in the pool and splash. When the stick approach failed to work I resorted to bribing. I told L we could watch rocket launches and rover landings after dinner. I told him we could eat pizza for dinner. My efforts were fruitless. Still, I pushed on, and in a pugnacious manner, took him to his class. Once L was in his swimmers, begrudgingly holding his goggles, I held his hand and had to push his (naked) shoulder to lead him to the pool. He abruptly stopped, turned and shouted “Mummy, I don’t like when you touch me like that when I’m naked!”

I stood, arrested and mortified. I thought of having to explain to the police or to child services what exactly my son could have meant. As I was pondering my pernicious predicament, my son, assessing my defeated expression, erupted in a victorious smile and surreptitiously said “I am not going in that pool.” My embarrassment fueled into fury. “Oh yes you are” I said with an admittedly unmotherly tone and pushed him all the way to his lesson. Later that night I explained to my son that his accusation could have resulted in his mother being taken away. When he looked avidly distressed and was on the cusp of a cry, I toned it down and realized that my entire instruction on this topic, was ill advised. Back to the drawing board…

M is learning about “love” and that there are different types of love. M and L adore the film “Wall-E” and in that film Wall-E and Eva fall in love. M has some slim understanding of “romantic love” but he knows that Wall-E and Eva have a love like mummy and daddy and not like mummy and M, for instance. M adores making up songs about Wall-E including his hit, “Wall-E goes crunch, crunch, crunch!”

My favourite song by M was a song he composed about his brother a few weeks ago. M was inspired when L did not share a treat I gave them after lunch- chocolate milk. I bought one for them to share, to minimize the amount they would have. L went first and embarked on his own Greater Anatolian Project of a certain upper riparian state. L decided to divert all the resources to himself, leaving only a trifle for his brother, along with some of L’s introduced pollutants. M was highly dissatisfied. After a moment of meltdown, M managed to calm himself down with his breathing exercises and was inspired. Soon we heard M debut his new song. “I drank it all, I left none for my brother, oh, I drank it all, I left none for M! I drank it all, I left none for my brother, oh, I drank it all, I left none for M!” L was displeased but my husband and I were convulsing with laughter. M felt victorious.

M loves to jam with his dad and play guitar. He also loves to draw and paint. The other day I was immensely impressed with his abstract expressionist piece which was in my gestural style. I proudly showed some friends, and some of them thought it was mine (which led me to wonder whether my son was indeed an artistic prodigy or conversely whether this said more about my own abilities). I adore M’s paintings and intended to frame this one in particular, pride of place (“straight to the pool room!” it would be, had we had one), but before I could, M reminded me to do so. “Mama, please put my painting up” he asked. “I made it for you” he reminded me, learning early, it would seem, how to utilize guilt to his advantage.

L has been pondering about life, the universe and everything, though not in that order. The other week he asked me if we would all die. I told him yes. He asked me when we would die. I said we never know when we will expire and that’s why we have to enjoy every moment of the gift of life. I also told him that it’s usually when we are much older and that he needn’t worry about it. L seemed satisfied with this response. Later, he asked me, “why do we die? Why are we alive?” I digested his question as he examined me. I first told him I was immensely pleased that he was ruminating over these important metaphysical issues and that I hoped he would continue to do so. I next told him that for all of humanity, we have wondered why we exist, wondered what is life and what is death and apart from some nebulous understanding that that the two are intertwined, that we have come up with some theories, which some people call “religion” but that nobody knows the answer. I next told him that death gave meaning to life. Life’s inherent  vulnerability and seeming termination made it more precious. In this way, death gives meaning to life. As to what the meaning is, nobody yet knows (and even religions admit that, because to have faith is to acknowledge that you don’t know, but believe). I divulged to L that I suspected that not knowing the meaning of life was perhaps the point. “Maybe each of us has to create our own meaning, our own ‘why’” I told him. L enveloped himself in his thoughts after that, digesting this perspective.

This winter we went to Tahoe and it was the first time the boys would remember snow. They gasped at houses enveloped by snow and had an insatiable appetite for it  - figuratively and literally. At first M had trepidation as he walked on the snow, but slowly, and through eating it, he developed comfort with his surroundings and began to stomp across the snow. L became an avid sledder. We made a snowman with our friends, with tiny branches for arms, cherry tomatoes for eyes, a carrot for a nose and used sultanas to trace a smile. We had snowball fights. We even got caught in a snowstorm. M was too young to remember Tahoe in the summer, but L was aghast to see how the environment changed. This was a great lead-in to seasons, which he had previously only abstractly perceived. When we arrived and went to get snow gear for the boys, we were choosing boots and a jacket with L when we heard M’s unmistakable cry penetrate across the shop. My husband and I looked at each other in cold panic. M came running up to us, accusing us through cries. “You left me!” he screamed. “You left me alone! You never do that again! That’s dangerous!” Indeed in our panicked rush to obtain gear, we thought that M was behind us as we were trying L’s boots and jacket on, but he had found the company of a blue elephant, named her Ellie after her eponymous ancestry, and had dragged Ellie back to us in order to unleash a well-deserved tirade on our parental slight. We vehemently apologized to M and he nodded his forgiveness, if deciding to end on an admonishing note “You never do that again.”

We moved recently and the move was as distressing as exciting for the boys. At first the boys understood that moving meant we would move away from their school, their baka and their friends and they were aghast and ready to stand against us, even as they understood it was a pyrrhic victory. We sat them down and patiently explained that we were moving nearby and that nothing else would change. They would go to the same school, they would be as close to their friends, and even closer to baka. Yet, they were distressed. When we started to pack away their books and toys, L and M, began to cry. “We don’t want our stuff taken away!” L cried. I explained that we were packing up all our things to move them to our new home. Everything, including us, was moving. L and M were relieved. “We thought the new place wouldn’t have our stuff!” L exclaimed. I realized this was a major slight on my part for not having impressed this sufficiently on them. After that, the move was smooth.

In order to aid the boys in calming their bodies, I am utilizing Kimochis. Every day we take out the Kimochis and discuss the feelings we experienced that day. L, being nearly two years older than M, has benefited from this exercise more. It has aided L in articulating his feelings, but also in being more comfortable in expressing his feelings. For instance, the other day, L picked up a “sad” Kimochi and said that a boy hit him in school that day. I asked why he thought that happened. “I think he wanted to stay at the park.” I asked L why that boy would have hit him for that reason. “I think he was just angry.” I told L that sometimes when we are angry, it is hard to control what we do and that we sometimes hurt people without meaning to. L agreed. He said that the boy was later sorry. I picked up the “grateful” Kimochi and said that I was “grateful” that I could speak with L about his feelings and that L controlled his body, as difficult as that was, to not hit anybody else. I then picked up the “proud” Kimochi and said I was very “proud” of him. L then put down the “sad” Kimochi and informed me he wasn’t sad anymore. Instead, he picked up the “loved” and “happy” Kimochis and told me he now felt loved and happy. I encourage everyone to use Kimochis or some other similar device to help children understand, articulate and think about their feelings. Being able to appreciate what we are feeling is an enormous aid in development – whether we are kids or learning about this as adults. Assessing our feelings uses a different neural path and this distance allows us to gain control over our feelings. If we are assessing our anger or disappointment, we can take a more neutral stance and understand the root causes behind it. It allows our brains to switch from feeling frustrated, for instance, to thinking about being frustrated, and in that manner both to acknowledge the feeling we are experiencing as well as dissipating its force simply through changing the chemical-neural cocktail that we sip.