Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Parenting 101



I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve come upon the treatment for all that ails parents. The cure-all. The only discipline strategy you’ll ever need.

First you need to write a list of all the things your children could possibly do wrong. Since I’ve only just recently discovered this approach, there are plenty of things I didn’t write down, that I should have.

Here’s how my list, years ago, should have looked:

1. Wear underwear. Especially if you’re wearing a dress. And going to a birthday party.
2. Don’t make a giant otter pop out of other otter pops and leave the kitchen a sticky mess.
3. Don’t put nail polish on your eyelids
4. Don’t plug up the shower to create a “pool” and cause water to drip into the family room downstairs.
5. Don’t pull down your pants in a city park even if you are a boy and really need to go.
6. Don't eat four string cheese sticks one after another just because you are four years old.
7. Your curtains won't hold your weight if you use them to propel yourself onto your bed. You will only rip out the curtain rod and make a hole in the drywall.
8. Putting pillows on the landing will not necessarily protect you from injuries after jumping from the top step.

Silly me. It didn’t occur to me to teach these things to my children. I was busy working on please and thank you and don’t hit your brother. If I’d sat down and made a proper list of all these eventualities, maybe we could have avoided them.

I should have thought up every possible impolite thing they could think to say at someone else’s house.

Don’t say, unprompted, “It’s OK, our house is messy too.” Or, “Is this ALL there is to eat?”

So I’m sure you get the idea. You need a list, and it should be a long list. Really use your imagination; try and get inside the peculiar workings of a child’s mind. You might even want to ask your child for help with the list.

Next, sit the little monkeys down. Read them the list. Information is power. I’m sure if they know your expectations, they will follow them. Never again will they be able to say, “I didn’t KNOW. You never TOLD me to put my clothes in the drawer. I thought I was SUPPOSED to stuff them under my bed.” Never again.

Now this should work. If it doesn’t, you could always do what the mother I observed at the park the other day did. She was exasperated (and I’ve been there) and told her child that if he didn’t come RIGHT NOW, he was not going to go to Disneyland. Your child may be smart enough to realize that you already have the trip planned and are looking forward to Pirates of the Caribbean yourself. They may call your bluff.

But it may work.

Friday, July 13, 2007

License for Laziness

There are two types of people that live here. There are people who are sun worshippers and complain about the clouds and wish it were just hot! The rest of us shrug our sweatshirt wearing shoulders and wonder what they’re talking about. This weather is great. Usually every summer there’s a little hot weather though. We just had three days of heat.

When it gets hot here. It’s not as hot as other places in the country. But still. When it gets humid here it’s not as humid as other places in the country. But still. When you are used to gliding along in the seventies, nearing one hundred degree temperatures is a shock to the system. I try to trick my house into staying cool. I carefully shut all the windows and curtains first thing in the morning and leave the house cave-like until night when it’s cooler. My house usually wins the game. The other night it was 85 degrees in my house at 10:00 p.m.

The first day of the sultry weather Mark had a Dr. appointment at 4:00 p.m., just when the house temperature was creeping up high enough to make us whiny. So the whole family took him to the Dr. It’s air conditioned there. Adam took his laptop and everyone brought a book to read and away we went. After the Dr. we went to the bookstore. Usually on errands I am impatient and hurry everyone along because I have THINGS TO DO. That day I didn’t. I had no interest whatsoever in hurrying back home. The bookstore is air conditioned. And it’s a bookstore. Let’s stay. After that, I dropped off a library book and we went out to dinner.

Things were cooling down by the time we got home. Not a bad evening altogether.

The next day was really hot. That was the day we approached 100 degrees around here. It was too hot to do any of our regular work. We sat in front of a fan and read and then Emma drew pictures of mermaids and Braeden lay on the floor and watched Matlock while I read to Mark and didn’t even mind that he was pressing his warm little body against mine. He seldom takes time in his running around schedule to let me read to him. It was too hot to run around or ride bikes or clean out the kitchen cupboards, which is the next thing on our list so we just didn’t. We sweated it out in our sweltering house then stopped for a leisurely grocery store visit and went over to Adam’s parents’ house. They have a big shady backyard. It was above 90 degrees in what had been shaded all day. We turned on the sprinklers and were in our swimsuits and ran through the sprinklers. Do you know the last time I ran through the sprinklers? Neither do I but it was marvelous. I felt nice and cool and sat in the shade and read my book while the kids continued to frolic. Our friends the Jorgensens joined us, then Adam came on his way home from work and we cooked hamburgers and the kids intermittently ran in the sprinklers and brought us raspberries from Grandpa Linn’s bushes.

Another nice evening.

Yesterday was starting to cool down and we felt a great deal of hope. We packed up the car and went to a lake in the mountains. It was in the upper 90s there but the lake was frigid. Adam’s parents and some cousins were there too and everyone else swam and Adam’s dad and I sat in the shade on our camp chairs and enjoyed the view. We were both born in the desert and aren’t as enthusiastic about water as the rest of the family. There was a nice breeze off the lake and as soon as the sun went down, so did the temperature. We cooked hot dogs and drank cold lemonade.

Our drive back to Seattle afforded us something we don’t see every day when we’re surrounded by trees…the sunset. I can’t think of words enough to describe it. The sky was red and orange and the mountains were glowing purple and every few minutes it would change into another glorious display and we’d say, “Look at THAT!”

Today is overcast although it’s supposed to be sunny later. Our house is 69 degrees because we slept with the windows open. Our marine air conditioning is working again. And I’m glad. We’re back to the rhythm of our summer days.

It’s not always the heat that throws us off kilter. Last winter there was a big storm and we lost our electricity. When we lose our electricity we lose our heat but we don’t lose our gas fireplace. I was reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my kids at the time and we felt a certain kinship to them as we huddled around the fireplace all day. There were of course differences. We flipped a switch to turn on our fire and Pa and Laura had to twist hay into sticks to burn. Also when we closed up our rooms to keep the heat more concentrated, there was not frost on the nail heads like there was in Laura and Mary’s room. In very Ingall fashion though we did our schoolwork by the fire. We had our silent reading time by the fire then I read to them by the fire. It was really pretty great. When you don’t have electricity, laundry and vacuuming are right out. You can't check your email and our cordless phone didn't ring. So we read. The house was just starting to get pretty cold when the electricity hummed on and the heater fan started and we were happy down to our cold toes.

For as uncomfortable as we were either time, it wasn’t terrible. A change is as good as a rest and sometimes being a little miserable means having a little vacation. And who doesn’t like that?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Morning in the Garden

Mark: Is this crab grass?
Me: Yes.
Mark (using scissors, his favorite garden tool): Am I cutting it?
Me: Yes.
Mark: Does crab grass grow?
Me: Yes.
Mark: Did you know that crab grass is where we get seaweed?
Me: I didn’t know that.

Mark: I’m talking to my friend bee.
Mark: He’s looking for honey.
Mark: Can I talk to bees?
Me: Yeah, you can. Do they talk back?
Mark: Yes. But I can’t hear them. All they do is bee.

Mark: Do you hear that?
Me: No.
Mark: What is it?
Me: I don’t know.
Mark: It’s the sound of the flowers drinking.

Mark: Why do we even live in this house with such an old TV?
Me: I don’t know, Mark.
Mark: It’s not funny, Mom.
Me: I know, Mark. I’m not laughing.
Mark: You were.
Me: Sorry.

Hot Soapy Water

If there is someone who epitomizes the puritan work ethic, it would be my grandma. And she taught my mother.

My mom goes non-stop. When I gave birth to Mark and my mom came to visit us, there wasn’t enough for her to do in cooking for us, keeping the house clean, reading stories to Braeden and Emma and doing our laundry. I was so overwhelmed by these tasks that I couldn’t see straight but she had Adam drive her to the craft store so she could pick up some handwork to keep her busy.

It’s not easy having someone like that for a mother. You start to kind of feel like a loser. I also was never too happy growing up that my mother had such a penchant for work. Every year we “housecleaned”. This was separate from Saturday cleaning which we did every week without fail. This was different from “morning jobs” which we were supposed to do every morning…vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms. This was housecleaning and it was intense. We moved everything. This meant unearthing all the things I’d stuffed under my bed and in the corner of my closet when quickly cleaning my room every Saturday. I wasn’t always popular when it was time to houseclean my room. Housecleaning also meant scrubbing. My mom would instruct us to get hot soapy water. And it had to be hot. If it wasn’t, we had to dump it out and try again.

We got hot soapy water and rags and we scrubbed the ceiling, the walls, the furniture, everything that didn’t get out of our way. I say we but I’m pretty sure it was mostly my mom and she was having us “help” to teach us to work. I don’t know that we really contributed all that much.

See, I’m a mother now and I do the same thing.

I used to think my mom was a little bit of a lunatic. Certainly her values were skewed. Why would anyone choose to do such backbreaking work? No one made us do it and—besides my bedroom, which really benefited from the good cleaning—it was sometimes hard to tell it had even been done. Worse, my mom seemed happy about it. She would say, “I can tell a difference.”

And now I too can tell a difference when I’ve moved everything, steam cleaned the carpet, wiped everything off with hot soapy water. My kids think I’m crazy. “Why are we DOING this?”

Yesterday I filled the kitchen sink with hot soapy water and instructed my children to clean the tables and chairs and kitchen stools. They’re becoming a little resigned to the task and didn’t complain too much. The doorbell rang and Emma’s friend Eshna wanted to play. Emma told her that she couldn’t until she was done cleaning. Eshna offered to help. Braeden, in oldest child fashion, explained, “We do this every summer. We clean.” Eshna, of Indian descent with a faint British accent, said in her gentle way, “We never do this at our house…but our chairs aren’t dirty.”

They probably aren’t. She’s an only child and the picture of politeness. I can’t conceive of chaos at their house and it’s hard to imagine our house without it. We’re a family that needs hot soapy water.

The one thing I can’t get over is the smell of wet wood. I think it’s the negative association of scrubbing walls in the log house I grew up in. I detest it. I was cleaning a wood bookcase with my children and the wet wood smell filled my nostrils and I said, “Oh, I hate that smell.” Braeden said, “It’s not bad.” Emma said, “It smells clean.”

And so the hot soapy water legacy marches on.

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