Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wish List

At our house, when you do something that is particularly difficult for you (get ready for school on time, for example, or poop in the potty) you get a star on your star chart. When you reach the end of the row, you get the special plate at dinner, and when you fill up the whole page you get to choose a really special activity, like a visit to Tractor Supply Company to sit on all the tractors or a trip to the paint your own pottery studio.

Recently I noticed the following list in extremely large print on the easel in the playroom:

Get a hool hoop!
Go to the podre!
Go to the lake or pool!
Be a car rider aftr scoo!
Go to Dansing Bare!
Sleep in.


At the top of the list is a large 28, which is the number of stars Lucy still needs to reach the end of her chart.

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone's wish list looked a little more like this?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

School Spirit

Every Friday is School Spirit day at Lucy's school. Why? I ask you. There are no teams to support. There is (thankfully) no rival school against whom to compete. As far as I can tell, school spirit at Old Forge Elementary School consists entirely of wearing purple and gold, the school colors. Not purple and yellow, mind you. Apparently this is an important distinction. So where does the average kindergartener get a purple and gold outfit? Ah - glad you asked. Her mother buys her a school tee shirt at the beginning of the year and she wears it every Friday. Of course, they don't tell the mother this until after it's too late to order school tee shirts for this year and her child is the only one in the class without one because she (bad mommy) thought a five-year-old didn't need a school tee shirt.


So now Lucy has, courtesy of Goodwill, approximately ten different outfits in varying shades of purple and yellow (no gold at Goodwill), none of which are quite up to snuff but all of which get quite a lot of play. So that's fine. But wait, there's more!

Every week, the class with the most school spirit (how they measure this no one even attempts to explain) wins a trophy. They get to keep the trophy in their classroom for the whole week, until a different class wins it on the following Friday. Now, I would love to tell you that the children see this for what it is: a misguided attempt on the part of adults to get children to care about something which is essentially meaningless. But, in fact, the kids eat it up. They want that trophy. They want it so much that Lucy's teacher felt compelled last week to "help" the class win the trophy (they hadn't had it all year). First she sent home a note asking parents to dress the children in purple and gold on Friday. Then she made each child an Old Forge crown to wear and painted all of their faces purple and gold. Which is really sweet, from a certain perspective, and really disturbing from a different perspective, and you can probably guess which perspective is mine.

They won. They were thrilled. Shows what I know.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Potty Mouth

I’ll give you one guess as to which child’s teacher called last week to say that the child was using words that do not belong in school. Hint: it’s not Lucy.

Now, it’s true that we have a pretty liberal speech policy at our house (hey, we’re academics), but I must tell you honestly that hearing the preschool teacher recite the offending word onto our answering machine gave us pause. No, that’s an understatement. We were horrified. Our rule has always been that there are certain things grownups may do that children may not. Drink coffee, for example, and operate power tools. Saying certain words falls into this category, and although it is never OK for anyone (child or adult) to call someone else a name, it is OK for an adult to use “grownup words.” The list of grownup words is actually pretty short – we let our kids say some things that other parents might not – but the word on the answering machine is definitely on it.

My extremely grounded friend Kittybelle, a former teacher educator whose opinion on such matters I find invaluable, tells me that a fascination with potty words is completely developmentally appropriate at Ben’s age. When she taught preschool, she says, children would routinely sneak off to a corner of the playground to whisper them to each other. She finds this both unavoidable and, probably because her children are adults, amusing. She said to tell Ben that it’s not a preschool word and he shouldn’t say it at preschool, and then to drop it. Which we did, seemingly successfully – as far as I know (and I think I would know), there have been no repeat incidents.

But this brings me to a broader question: why do we care if children use these words? I have been thinking about that since it happened. With the coffee and the chainsaw, there are obvious health and safety issues governing the restrictions we place on children. With words, the issues are far less obvious, but I have come to the conclusion that they are no less (well, maybe a little less) important. Children are dichotomous thinkers – right or wrong, yes or no. Sharing: right. Hitting: wrong. Water: yes. Beer: no. There is no nuance, there is no context. They’re learning those things, sure, but it’s not there yet. Yet language is all about context and nuance. Witness a recent exchange between Ben and me:

Ben: Mommy, what does “speechless” mean? [a word I must have used in a conversation with someone else while he was listening]
Me: Ummm… it means… you don’t know what to say.
Ben: Oh.

Me: How was playing with Liz? [a new babysitter he hadn’t met before]
Ben: At first I was speechless, but then it was fun.

You might argue that this is a problem with my definition (and you might be correct), but the point is that the different shades of meaning are still lost on him. Does it mean that or not? Yes or no? I guess what I’m saying is that, while the choice is between yes and no, grownup words are a no. Once he can handle sometimes, we’ll see.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


It’s time to talk about Lucy’s little brother. At age three years and eight months, Ben is very nearly Lucy’s exact complement. This is to say that, with the exception of the fact that they share the same fundamentally loving nature (and, of course, much of their genomes), he is everything she is not and vice versa.

Witness as exhibit A their respective entrances into the world. Where Lucy was literally dragged into the world by a gaggle of eight or ten medical professionals (I lost count) after 26 hours of labor, Ben arrived less than an hour after we walked in the door to the hospital. His birth was very nearly attended by zero medical professionals, as the extremely alarmed nurse had run out to fetch the doctor and they returned barely in time for the whole catching routine. From there, you can extrapolate to find pretty accurately the kind of children they are today.

While this is no doubt fascinating from a child development standpoint, it is somewhat unnerving from a parenting standpoint. It means, among other things, that the time we’ve invested in learning to parent Lucy is more or less worthless when it comes to Ben. When Lucy misbehaved, we learned to speak firmly but gently to her, without raising our voices, because if she suspected that we were in any way displeased she would burst into tears. To Ben, on the other hand, firm, gentle reprimands are tantamount to permission to continue. He’s more the 1-2-3-Time Out type, if you know what I mean. To say that Lucy is easier to discipline than Ben would be like saying that arithmetic is easier than differential calculus.

On the flip side, here are Ben and Lucy after I got their bikes out yesterday for the first time this spring:

Ben: My bike! My bike! Thanks, Mommy!

[Hops on and pedals/scoots across the grass, topples over, laughs, hauls bike upright, climbs back on, scoots away]

Lucy: Oh. Um. I’m not sure I remember how to ride my bike. Can you help me?

Me: Well, sure. What do you want me to do?

Lucy: Make sure I don’t fall.

Me: OK. You want me to hold it for you?

Lucy: Yeah. And hold me, too.

[I hold the bike steady with one hand and let her lean on my other hand as she laboriously climbs on.]

Me: Ready?

Lucy: No!! Don’t let go!!!

Me: OK, calm down! But how are you going to ride with me holding on?

Lucy: You can walk with me.


Lucy: OK, go.

[I start to walk forward, pushing her along while she clings to me with one hand and the bike with the other]

Lucy: That’s too fast! I’m gonna fall!

Me: No, you’re not, I’m holding on, see? You can’t fall.


[We inch forward a little farther]

Me: How about if I give you a push?

Lucy: No!!!

And so on. Eventually, of course, she rides the bike and has fun, but I think you see my point. Some things are easier with him, and some things are easier with her. I’m sure there’s a lesson in that, but I’m too tired to figure out what it is. What I really want to know is this: when do we get to the part that’s easy with both of them?