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My Own Mortality

At C'est Naturelle
Levi, like most kids, knows exactly what to do on a farm. He runs around and chases chickens!

It went like this.

Me: “I’m sorry you had a bad dream about the Dinotrux last night.”

Levi: “I don’t remember that one. I had a dream that you died.”

Me: “I’m sorry… ”

Levi: “And Daddy got married on a boat.”

Me: “Where was I?”

Levi: “You were dying a few years after I was born. And, I was getting a new mommy.”

Me: “Well, was your new mommy nice?”

Levi: “I don’t know, I hadn’t met her yet.”

Levi was so matter-of-fact about the whole thing. Like it was the most natural thing in the world for me to be dead, for Peter to remarry, and for him to get a new mommy.

I was surprised we were having this conversation. A few months ago the conversations were more in line with Levi pleading for me to not die, and that he was afraid I would. And, now suddenly for him to have this Zen like awareness of the changes of life was … interesting.

Mostly though, it’s made me reflect on my own mortality  I have sort of assumed, bad habits and all, that I’ll make it through to his high school graduation. That is, I plan to live to at least 49. I have some vague idea that I’ll be around to help coach him through the troublesome twenties. I am curious if he will have a partner and offspring of his own. I’m curious what they will be like, and if I’ll like them. I’m curious if we will be a close family into Levi’s adult years. I’m curious if we’ll be in the same city, or will Levi do as Peter and I have done and move across continents so that family excursions become the annual vacation.

Foam Core Art
Levi making his sign

I’ve never considered, seriously, that I won’t be around for those happenings. It’s not like my family is unaware of dying young. So, I don’t realistically count it out. Anything could happen… my poor habits could catch up with me, and I could become diabetic and die of disease related conditions. I could make a wrong turn or not pay attention when I’m driving and get hit in a horrible accident. I could be standing outside and a freak lightening bolt could zap me into nothingness. I don’t know when my number is up, but I’ve assumed it’s far away. I’m hoping my genes are more in line with my mother’s and that I live into my 80s.

I have plans for when I’m in my 70s. I’ll be retired. I’m going to move back to Portland (at some point we’re going to have to move out of Portland). I’ll get a nice condo-apartment downtown, either near where I now work or near the museum. My first volunteer priority will be as a docent at the museum. I’ll sign up to audit classes at PSU. I’ll take the streetcar or walk to the farmer’s market to get my weekly groceries.

But what if that is all just that… a dream. What if Levi’s dream is more a premonition. What if I’m dying more rapidly now than what I assume? What if I don’t make it until he’s in first grade? How does that change my view of things?

Operating under premise that I’ll make it into my 70s, I postpone crafts and reading with Levi. I pawn off walks to the park to Peter. I try to balance both Levi, Peter, and all my work and volunteer obligations. I choose to make bread and answer emails instead of chatting with my family.

But, what if I didn’t have this dream of time? What would I do?

I don’t want to focus on that what if. So, I think I’ll do as I’m doing… try, very hard to be present. I think this works 70% of the time, during the week. Focus on getting us ready in the morning, set Levi off to school, then, go to work. I can mostly focus on work while I’m at work, but household and parental things always crop up. After I work, I try to concentrate on driving, then getting Levi. Once I get Levi, we have two hours to ourselves. That two hours, though, is filled with a quick dinner between 6p and 7p. Then, it’s get ready for bed time. I try to have Levi in bed by 8pm, sometimes it’s just after – like tonight.

Is that quality enough? He can’t be up later than that or he’s miserable at school the next day. I do have obligations, no matter when my number is up, and I can’t work on an unknown.

So, really, what we’re left with is sadness over the concept. It makes me sad to consider that I might not be there to watch him grow. It makes me sad to consider I might not be able to be his advocate  It makes me sad to consider that some new mommy might be tucking him in and reading him books. It makes me sad to think there might be a different family getting his first pet and teaching him how to care for another. It just makes me sad. And, it makes me sadder how nonchalant he was about the whole thing, while at the same time I admired the zen like quality of this view of a new mommy.

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The Grape Passage

a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, top slice ...
Image via Wikipedia

All Levi wants lately are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We used our home canned jam a few weeks ago, so we had to get a supermarket supplement. For the second supplement, we chose grape jelly. Levi had an initial preschool protest, but afterwards he’s been asking for it. My husband and I will eat it, but grape jam is never our first choice. We bought it because it’s cheap. Yes, I realized, we have entered another right of passage: Grape Jelly.

I complained to my mother, “Grape again?” My husband quietly loathed the addition to his peanut butter sandwiches. There is only so long one can do cheap when it becomes over bearing and the better cost option would be simply to not purchase it.

I grew up detesting it while it was in school lunches, on the weekends, during the summer. Rarely, we’d have strawberry, a delectable treat with which to decorate our peanut butter and white bread.

Then, I found myself purchasing my own groceries on a limited budget, like when I sold books door to door. Suddenly, I was buying the awful jam myself, willingly because it was the cheapest! I had tipped the line from grumbling about what my parents put before me to grumbling about what I provided for myself.

I wonder, often, about how food affects us and how it shapes us. Whenever we visited my grandmother, there was no grape jelly. Instead, there was a wide variety of home preserves. I recall strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, mixed berries, and cherry. Sometimes, even blueberry jam. Never, not once, do I recall Grape Jam/Jelly being offered at my grandmother’s home. The peanut butter was different too. The peanut butter, while stored in the cupboard, was often tipped upside down. And, it had the oil still in it! My mom would purchase Jiff or its economy equivalent. So, this peanut butter that required stirring was almost culture shock.

What amazes me, as an adult looking back, was this rustic way of living was what my mother grew up with, and like many of her generation, abandoned. Now, a skipped generation later, I find myself relearning the things my mother took for granted. I bake my own bread, 90% of our meals are home cooked from scratch, and I work towards preserving summer in jars for seasonal eating throughout the year. Occasionally, though, we run out of those goodies and a trip to the grocery store is in order. It seems Levi will not escape this Grape Rite of Passage.

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Setting Expectations

Fixing Bicycles
Fixing Bicycles

This concept, I find very interesting. In some instances, expectations are clearly defined by the type of event it is. You are invited to dinner, the expectation is that you will consume dinner. If you go to an interview, there would likely be an expectation of questions asked and answered. Some situations are less clear, like if you were going to some sort of information summit – you might not be clear on what type of information is to be received or what would be relevant to your every day life. As a parent, I am even more amazed at how I feel like I need to set proper expectations. Sometimes I remember, and sometimes I forget simply because I assume the expectation should be obvious. But, to a four year old? Probably not.

Today, I needed planner-page refills. I use Franklin Covey‘s system. I love it. I have used it for going on five years now. I happened to start my system in July, so April is my time to fill up on planner pages. Like my cousin Jodi, I too enjoy a good handbag/shoulder bag. Franklin Covey has a rich supply of these too.  I find myself perusing their website pages, often, trying to decide which new theme or bag would suite me. There is a retail outfit between work and home. Sometimes, I like to stop in and see if the bag I’ve been coveting digitally will work as the real deal. This means examining the cut, the size, the stitching. This also means transferring the planner and perhaps the wallet and a few other purse staples into the bag to see if it will fit all my stuff I cannot live without. If I’m coming home from work, this means taking the kiddo in tow. This often means taking the kiddo with me because the shop has restrictive hours for our schedules.

I have, on occasion, forgotten to cite the proper expectation. Parenting, though, is both training for child and adult. The store is spacious. There are many shelves, tables, and of course bags. Lots of things to click and turn and look at. It’s both amazing for adults and children. It’s especially amazing for a child who likes to crawl under, run around, or open things. Momma rarely gets a good browse in when the kiddo is in tow — unless the husband is also present to navigate the kiddo curiosity. Sometimes, I have set the expectation, but the space, the things to look at, the things to touch – it’s all too much for the curious kiddo. Usually, the clerk politely stands behind the counter, posture getting stiffer, mouth tensing. “Hmm,” thinks my brain, “she thinks my kid is out of control! Please don’t judge me! He’s not always like this! It’s just this store …..”

Today, we walked in. I am at least a week overdue from refilling my planner pages. I really wish they’d have them printed and ready six months before my year is up. I am much more comfortable with 18 months worth of planning instead of a mere 9-12. Alas, it could not be so this time – our vacation took precedence too. Today, was the day. I work from home one day a week, which means four-9s and one four hour day at home.

I said to Levi, “Okay, how do we behave in the store?”

He said, “Uhm,” looked down with focus, “like a Big Boy.”

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “And, what does that mean?”

“Uhm, no running, and be quiet, and, and, and, no running.”

“Yes.” I said. After so much repetition, so many times of trying to set the expectation. He got it. He is getting it. Oh, the light. I see the light. And, the kid did all right. He wasn’t perfect, by any stretch. But, compared to the last time we were in that store, he was leaps and bounds improved.

Growing up is such a fascinating thing.

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Parental Gray Areas

Levi's 4th Birthday

There is so much in parenting, for me, that is a gray area. Even when it comes to time outs. I live on the fence in many other areas of life, so why not in parenting too? Yes, we have our rules. Yes, we implement boundaries. We are known as the stricter parents in our small circle of friends. Regardless, I find this constant balancing of when to say yes, no, and tomorrow, very interesting and especially challenging.

We just got back from vacation (more to follow on that front). We visited family, friends, and especially cousins. Levi has three. A new baby girl, an almost three year old girl, and a four going on five year old boy. Reyna, Owen and Levi spent at least 6 days interacting, 3 of which were full days. Levi loves his cousins. He got on especially well with Reyna.

Levi got to know his grandparents even more. His Grandma Lasley was like a permanent playmate. She played trains, legos, and toured her yard with him. How much fun is that? Your own personal playmate, dedicated to you, giving you undivided attention? All these people fawning, gushing, hugging, loving you – and then you come home.

We flew in last night. We were more or less settled at home by 9pm. Levi fell into a deep sleep in the 20 minute ride from the airport to home. He was so dead to the world, when Peter got him out of the car – he didn’t move or fuss or cry – or anything. This is an unusual feat. When I went to wake him up this morning, he sternly spoke, “Close the door!” Close the door? What? Usually this bug wants the door open. It was then I made my decision. We are staying home.

I did not tell him of my decision for a little bit. First, I consulted with the husband. Second, I continued to ready myself. I approached the small fry again, only to find similar disdain.

He’s four. He’s not thirteen. “Buck up and go on with life” is a lesson we will layer on. Now, is not the time. He’s been with his cousins twice in his entire life. I can still count on one hand the number of set visits he’s had with each grandparent. He’s four. When I was four, my grandparents were a staple in my life. We spent so much time with my cousins they were like extended siblings who simply lived in another house.

Yes, it was our choice to live across the country. But, my dear four year old doesn’t have to completely pay for our choices. So, enter Parental Gray Area. I chose to play in the gray line. I forgot to tell one person I wasn’t coming into work today, too, while in this gray area wondering if I was making the right choice. Family comes first, though. No matter what.

I find this gray area ironic since in many ways I like to or wish I could see things more black and white. So many things are clear. You cannot hit another person to express your frustration. That will get you a time out. There are ways we behave in the store and there are ways we do not. You will be removed from the store (when parental choice, that is the both of us are in the store) if you do not behave correctly. There is a way to behave at the dinner table, with friends, at school. If Levi chooses to deter from this path we’ve laid out, there will be consequences.

I do not believe this is corporal punishment. I believe this is an education into how the world works and a protection of my sanity. I cannot be the parent who coddles and manages and is gentle all the time. I try. I do. My husband asks me often if I am okay likely because I have the same guarded game face on all day long. Keeping opinions in check. Keeping thoughts in check. Giving the benefit of the doubt. Putting myself in the others shoes.

But so many things are not clear. Life is a negotiation. He needs to learn not to hit, to use his words, to be polite, etc – but all in one sitting? Learning is like peeling the layers of an onion or studying art history. You see the big picture first, then you spiral down until the details blur and clear up before your eyes. Putting myself in another’s shoes. Putting myself in my son’s shoes. Four. Missing all the glory of the last two weeks. Not understanding vacation times, job obligations for his parents, and why his visits were so short.

In these shoes, it was not fair for Levi to go to school today. Shocked, sad, frustrated that he could not visit longer with his cousins for circumstances beyond his control and perhaps his understanding. The gray area won out.

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Potty Training

Little Levi Sunshine
Peter reading a "Little Miss" book to Levi. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I blamed the frequent night-time urination for the reason we stopped using cloth diapers. But, in retrospect, I think it might have been the poop.

I hate poop.

Let me repeat myself.


Hate it. Really really hate it.

If it’s dried out in a bag labeled “steer manure”, I can dig it. A bag of bull shit is good for the tomatoes.

But poop, that you have to clean off with your hands, or a brush which in turn you need to clean off the brush with your hands. And, where do you put it all? It all doesn’t float all nicely in the toilet. Oh no. You have to scrub it. A lot. You have to treat it. You have to soak it.

Yes, in retrospect, I think it’s the poop. The poop is why I changed to disposable. I wanted the sanitized throw aways where my hands didn’t need to get near the poop. Sure, I soaked the cloth diapers – but after we were in Michigan for 4 weeks, something changed. My patience lessened, and I just couldn’t deal with it. Either way, we were looking at a cost for a bigger investment in cloth or a more expensive, easier to budget cost of disposables. We chose disposables, and this retrospect thinking encourages I pushed it for avoiding poop.

Now, enter potty training. Today, Levi is four years and six weeks old. He began potty training in 2009. He was 26 months old when he started. Right away, he picked up on the mechanics. Unfortunately, the daily ritual daycare provided only lasted two months. Exponentially, from when he left daycare, his interest in going potty declined. Peter and I, perhaps, expect too much of our young person, and we wanted him to feel the urges to go and go, right away. He knew the mechanics, so what’s the big deal? Oh, how short our memories are.

Confession. I still wet the bed until I was in 4th grade. I am not sure of my husband’s potty practices, except that I do know we both go when we have to go as adults. The whole definition of being “potty trained” I find interesting. Especially wrapped in with when I stopped wetting the bed. What does fully potty trained mean? Going to the bathroom on your own 90% of the time, even if 80% of the whole is under the guise of peer pressure and constant reminders to go? Does “fully” mean when we’re in adulthood and 99% of the time we are without accident? What does it mean when we age and we’re back in diapers? Does “potty train” simply mean an adult isn’t burdened with wiping our butts? How far does this spectrum go – because it is a spectrum!

Well, Levi would fall into the he knows the mechanics, but needs to be reminded constantly to listen to his body. We’ve been reassured countless times by peers and his pediatrician that he will go when he is ready. After year 3, bribes (stickers, candy, chocolates, other rewards) are moot. We are heeding part of this advice. After one of these poopy-in-the-underwear incidents, I asked Levi why he won’t go in the toilet. I had to reword this query three times. He answered my suspicions: he likes being changed. I don’t know what about it he likes. If the poop is on his bum longer than a minute, he breaks out in these awful hivy, localized bumps. The only cure is diaper cream and a baking soda bath. So, I proposed a bribe. If it’s quality time he wants, there are a million ways in which we can have better, more interesting, more fun, and less gross quality times. The standard should be one book a night before bed. So, every time he goes potty at home (at school he’s dry all day and often comes home in underwear), he will get an additional book added to the nighttime ritual. If he poops in the potty: two. So, if he pooped once and peed three times in the potty, he’d get an additional 5 books for six books total.

It’s been working. Now, mommy and daddy need to be consistent in the enforcing of this bribe. Right away, the reasons bribes don’t work was showcased as he tried to exploit the rule. He peed in his potty and turned around barely having his pants pulled up to pee again, AND, then said, okay that’s two books! No… one full incident. What a concept to explain!

We are still with accidents, but again, this whole thing is a spectrum. If we can just help encourage the listening to your body so he can poop in the toilet instead of his underwear…. well, that’d make my day.

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Mantra – What?

Levi Cooking
Levi Cooking

Breathe. No, don’t fume. Breathe. I had to give pause tonight as I tried to find parking near Papa Murphy’s. I’m a rule follower. I just am. And, I do get irritated when others don’t follow the rules. So, tonight, I found myself being tested by all the little tidbits I posted about yesterday. How’s that for Karma?

7:21 am – We made it out of the house! We have a choice: freeway or a different way. I asked Levi which way he wanted to go because, one I think it’s good to give him choices, and two, it is a lot easier than explaining sometimes why we’re going one way over another. Sometimes he gets confused if we don’t go over x bridge and y road, so – if we give him a choice, then it makes the explaining easier.

7:26 am – “Where’s Rabbit?” Not in the car, that’s where. I look about, and we’ve been cut off by the dude I was able to pass with the traffic stop lights. You know, the things that make traffic drip onto the freeway. We’re stopped. We haven’t even approached the next exit. “Let’s go get him. Where is he? Is Rabbit in your bed?” Yes. Get off freeway at next exit. Drive home.

7:30 am – Leaving the house for the second time. We are going to go the different way this time. Primed the small fry.

7:36 am – We approach the bridge. This is good timing.

7:50 am – We arrive at the pass.

7:59 am – We arrive at preschool.

8:02 am – Sign small fry into preschool. Go to room, drop off bag, remove coat, remove lunch from bag. Realize we forgot his picture which he was able to bring home yesterday as a nice thing since he’s been having a hard time leaving preschool now that we’ve gone full time. Walk out of preschool, into car, get picture. It’s bent. “Why’s it bent?” questioned in a whiny voice. Is this something I can console? “We can fix it.” Leave small fry with “collection classroom.” None of his classmates, namely his favorite classmate, have arrived. Small emotional frustration as we try to navigate this stream. Small fry finding something to do. Go back to classroom, leave picture.

8:10 am – Seated in car, car started, drive to work.

8:13 am – Log into computer at work.

— WORK —

4:02 pm – Time check. Should I wait about 20 minutes so small fry is able to do whatever the next afternoon task is that he will enjoy in order to ease the trauma of leaving preschool?


4:16 pm – Watch goes wonky. My wrist, bent, must have reset it. What the… ? Reset watch.

4:28 pm – Call preschool, inform them I am about 10 minutes out, so they can give adequate warning to small fry that mommy is coming.

4:37 pm – Sign out small fry. Slowly approach classroom. Notice the room is rearranged. Children seated in circle on letter rug being read too. Scan room, fill-in teacher, regular teacher, small fry next to wall. Small fry looks up, immediate melt down commences. Regular teacher picks him up to console. Small fry kicks feet. Feet are near miss to female classmate. Small fry is scolded by teacher (rightfully so) reminding him to be aware of himself (in words he should be able to understand) and a reminder of where his feet were in relation to female classmate’s face. Small fry and I go to moved “library.” Small fry wants to stay at school (again). He is sad and frustrated. No further information revealed. Possible fact finding, picking up immediately after snack could be beneficial. Possible realization, whatever activity they are beginning he wants to continue. As we read our own picked library book (Mike Mulligan‘s Steam Shovel, Levi, this is one of Elliott’s favorites), I notice his neck is red. He is breaking out in hives. Realization: shirt is changed but pants are not. More fact finding. Shirt was soiled. This was the only replacement.

4:58 pm – Make doctor appointment, change from hive-creating shirt to Grandma knitted bicycle sweater. Relief this was the easy task. Able to leave, get small fry in coat, finish packing up belongings. Play with trains. Re-convey late morning arrival to front office. Pack into car, check in with husband, take “different way” back home.

5:40 pm – “Different way” traffic jam commences. Check in with husband. Desire to cook black eyed peas has gone. Order pizza for dinner.

6:13 pm – Arrive home, convey day to husband.

6:22 pm – Pick up pizza. Arrive at another traffic jam (in pizza parking lot). Park one block away since people cannot follow the rules (parking in no parking, entering lot the wrong way, and my favorite, parking in a bus spot after entering the lot the wrong way). Wait patiently in line. Get pizza. Leave. Go back to car. Breathe. Remember that “Mantra” post you posted yesterday? What were those things you coached yourself?

Life has a sense of humor.

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Daily Post: My Childhood Idols

A Hero is Part Human, Part Supernatural
A Hero is Part Human, Part Supernatural.

Suggested Topic: Who did you idolize when you were a kid?

No one. I always thought it felt silly to idolize someone on T.V. I wasn’t into sports, so why would I have a sports hero? In a class assignment, once, I chose my Aunt because she pushed herself through school as an adult. I guess that answer still remains, but I still like the idea of no one.

The no-one idea was given more credibility when I was in my early twenties. I was working at a not-for-profit (aka, non-profit) Health Maintenance Organization (aka Medicaid HMO) in Michigan. It would be considered a medium sized non-profit since there was over 50 employees. I smoked at the time, so I always got my federally-okay-ed breaks. Had to get my nic fix in. There was one gal who would often go outside for breaks, but not smoke. We’ll call her Suzette. Suzette was a saucy middle-aged woman who’s husband worked for another non-profit. My brain is telling me Red Cross, but it was more like a local Food Bank. His job was to pick up near-expiring produce from the local grocery stores.They were both very active, involved, citizens.

Suzette and I would regularly chat about family, life, work. One day, she told me how her eldest daughter got into trouble at school because she didn’t do a homework assignment to the teachers liking. The assignment was to pick a hero and write about the hero. Her daughter, who was maybe 15, picked herself. Suzette explained that her daughter wrote a very thoughtful essay on why idolizing others was silly and she’d rather look to herself to build herself up. The way it was explained, I thought it was fantastic. I find it ironic that our society, which sometimes claims Christian Morality – a tenant being there should be no idols (before God) – asks its youngsters to routinely identify and praise other idols! And here, this spunky teenager said NO and defended her claim – but she was chastised and punished for it.

Okay, so, whatever, learning curve for the kid. But, in answer to this question. The only hero I claimed as a child was my Aunt because someone born after me was able to articulate better why I don’t believe in idols. We all have good things we can bring to the table, so instead of idolizing one another, why don’t we simply learn from one another?

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What do you mean he can’t listen?

Levi, Christmas, and Cars
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Some aspects of parenting feature “Duh” moments. Sometimes regularly. I can’t believe what a learning curve this is, and how amazing it is to watch, every day. Sorry, terrible twos don’t exist, but terrible threes, and frustrating fours (so I’ve been told), now that’s another story. No one can tell you. But, experienced parents can giggle and chcuckle when you (I) have these realizaitons.

Levi was 18 months old. I was trying to teach him to pick up his toys. Why won’t he pick up the green block, I wondered. Oh, right, he doesn’t know his colors! So very obvious to some, but not something I thought of until then.

What I knew:

  • He should start walking around a year to a year and a half
  • Potty training happens after two years old, but don’t push them because they’ll resist
  • Breast is best
  • Kids in cloth diapers tend to potty train sooner
  • A water birth, in theory, is more “natural”
  • He’ll start talking eventually, and he’ll probably say something embarrassing
  • At some point he’s going to push back
  • He’ll need a schedule, regularity

What I learned while pregnant:

  • He needs tummy time to learn to crawl, get stronger, and eventually learn to walk
  • Breast feed the kiddo until at least 6 months
  • There are these things called milestones!
  • There are an awful lot of recommended shots
  • He has a heart beat at 13 weeks, and boys tend to have faster heart beats in utero

What I started to learn that first year or four

  • Things are going to break and get messy
  • You’ll never imagine how many shirts you’ll change because you’ve been thrown up on
  • Life doesn’t go as planned
  • Kiddos have their own schedule, and we work to accommodate and ensure some regularity
  • Walking at 16 months is not late, it’s normal
  • He will get potty-trained when he’s ready, not necessarily when I am
  • Boys’ hearing develops slower than girls’ hearing

I want Levi to grow up to be compassionate, judicious, fair, have the ability to express emotions, be generous, handy (cook his own food and fix his own cars), independent, trustworthy, honest. He’s smart. We know that. We know he’s smarter than we are. So, I want him to put his brains to good use – fair use, responsible use.

It’s an interesting, humbling ride. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even if I look at parts of my historic single-life with some longing. There’s something heart-wrenching that fills a biological need when he calls, “Mommy!”

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Sharing is not Intuitive

MSU Old Botony
When I attended MSU, there was a "Butterfly Garden" behind this building. I had French in the building to the east. It was a 15-minute walk from my dorm, which I did twice a day, three times a week, generally by msyelf. I didn't even share walking! Image via Wikipedia

Levi, you have to share. LEVI, you have to share. Levi, please give a toy to the little girl. Levi, if you and Elliott cannot share, the toy is going to go away. You have to SHARE.

Sharing. Sometimes, a several times a day lesson. Sharing. Something that as adults we still struggle with. Sharing. Something we try to impart onto our children with barely a grasp of how to it when we’re grown.

This whole concept of sharing never ceases to amaze me, as a parent. I never thought much of it as a young adult except that we create rules to order sharing. For example, when I was a college freshman at Michigan State University, we had a roommate who created a bathroom schedule based on class schedules. She did this in the first day we were suite-mates. Little did she think of was when people skip classes, or in general life intervening to mess up this order. After about two weeks (maybe less time) the bathroom schedule was useless and we had to go back to knocking and asking questions (non-violent communication would have been helpful here!). We had trouble, as adults, sharing the bathroom. 5 women in one suite with varied classes, study styles, party styles, etc – and we couldn’t communicate our needs to use a schedule or not use one. We couldn’t share.

My husband and I own one gifted (that is free) television. We also own a few computers. One, I paid for several years ago. The other, the laptop, was paid for cheap then swapped for a better working model. We also purchased an eMac a few months ago, cheap, from Free Geek, a local non-profit that educates, reuses, resells, and rebuilds computers and their parts. Why do we have three computers in this house of three? Because we can’t share. My husband needs to look up his tools while I need to do food club stuff and check my email. We’ll even let Levi play with the computer, but he has a tendency to explore by deleting our settings, so it’s easier to not share and let him use this eMac.

We set an example, as adults, of separate toys, separate rooms for use, separate this and that. It’s no wonder, when we get our kids together, they too have a hard time sharing.

I think I get it now. Most parents will probably say, “Duh,” if they were to hear my realization – but sharing is not intuitive. We have to be taught, and continue to learn that lesson – to share. I used to believe we are innately good, and now I even question that. We are innately selfish, because we have to be. We have to cry when we’re hungry, tired, or need to be changed. We simply pass this pattern onto perceived needs, like playing with a particular toy. We have to learn to use our words through repetition and discipline. And, maybe, if we’re fortunate/lucky/disciplined, whatever, we’ll realize as adults that sharing isn’t so bad after-all.

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Time Out

Putting rabbit in time-out.
Sometimes Rabbit needs a time out to think about what he did wrong. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

A few people I know told me they tried them, but they didn’t work. After they told me how they used time outs, I didn’t hear where the consistency was in place. So, I would like to go through the steps we use as adopted from the aforementioned Ms. Jo Frost.

Your child commits his offense. Levi gets time outs for things like back talk, not doing what he’s told after he’s given three chances, not listening, throwing toys, attempting to hit, and a myriad of other reasons. Temper tantrums issue the aforementioned Go to your room!. But, how do we do time outs?

  1. A warning is issued. “If you throw your toy again, you will be put in time out.”
  2. After the offense is committed after the warning, we take him by the hand, and walk him to the time out spot. Do not yank. Do not pull. Lead him to the time out spot. Our spot is a kitchen stool then placed in the center of 1/2 of our kitchen.
  3. Get down at his level, tell him why he’s in time out. “You are in time out for throwing your toy. You will be in time out for 3 minutes.”
  4. Set the timer. SET THE TIMER. Time outs need real time, not imagined. Let your child get over the annoying beep, it’s there for a reason – to let everyone know time out is over. The timer is set one minute for each year of your kiddo. Levi is 3 and a half. His time outs are three minutes.
  5. When the timer goes off, promptly attend to your child. Here is where we diverge. We will either ask Levi why he was in time out or remind him. To practice understanding, I prefer to ask him first and if he can’t say why he was in time out, then I will remind him.
  6. Acknowledge the wrong behavior. No matter how we achieve the previous step, Levi has to acknowledge what he did wrong and recognize that he cannot do it again. “No throwing your toys.” Levi to repeat, “No throwing your toys.” If he cannot or won’t acknowledge the deed, he goes back in time out for three more minutes. He is thus warned.
  7. After he recognizes what was done wrong, he must apologize. Levi’s preschool teacher doesn’t like the forced apology, so to speak, because she finds they are mostly empty. I like him getting in the habit. He must make eye contact, and at least act like he means it. We have a kiddo with a fairly empathic temperament, so it’s usually clear that he means it.
  8. Hugs & kisses and all forgotten. After the apology is given, then you tell your child you love him and give him a big hug. The deed is forgotten, and as a parent, you do not bring it up again (unless it’s a reminder that you’ll get a time out for doing the deed again). But you don’t hold it over his head. You don’t bribe him for something he’s already been punished.
Supernanny, Jo Frost(R), at the Children's Mus...
Image via Wikipedia

We started using time outs when Levi was about 9 months old. We also started watching Supernanny before he turned 6 months. Breast feeding was a long, enduring process that meant Levi and I watched a lot of T.V. Supernanny became a family thing. Peter and I enjoyed it right away. It spoke to our boundary setting desires and was stern in a way that didn’t include harsher methods we grew up with. We found Supernanny to be incredibly tame by many standards. We appreciate her consistency for parents and children, alike. We differ from what she does on a few things, for example, we don’t see spanking as evil like many do today, when employed without anger. So many of my friends use the “He’ll grow out of it” reasoning for not setting certain boundaries for their children. And, yes, it’s more than two of you who’ve said that to me. Sure, it might be true, but seeing them so stressed is hard to watch. So, I’m writing this as an encouragement for more consistent boundaries for the whole family.

As a caveat, we also think Levi’s temperament has a lot to do with why some things work. We know we are blessed with a kid with a decent temperament, but from the start my husband and I have set boundaries, and we also know that helps. Try it. It works. Every household deserves sanity.

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