Tag Archives: kids

Summer – Lake George

Our first trip to Lake George turned out better than expected.   For the first few hours we followed our original plan to finally relax, do nothing and enjoy the view.    But the breathtaking scenery and fresh mountain air inspired us to go out and try new things.

Even our dog got out of her comfort zone and swam for the first time.  Not through her own free will, but she did it and did not complain.   It took her less than a few seconds to figure out what to do, and then she just stormed to the shore like a professional athlete.  The second time she was swimming even before we put her in the water, with her eyes half closed, she moved her paws with an incredible speed.  It was hysterical.  We should have put it on YouTube and get a million hits.

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Summer – New York Renaissance Fair

How would I describe the Renaissance Fair? Enchanting, fairylike, full of weird people. The place where the inhabitants of Chekhov’s Ward No. 6 would feel at home, because they would share it with the grandmas with wings and the flower headbands, the mermaids with naked “oversize” bellies, the princesses with tattoos, the robin hoods, the musketeers, and the classy ladies with the parasols drinking beer from the plastic cups. And then this peaceful grandma with the butterfly wings would step by the knife/sword shop, admiring the weaponry, its superb sharpness and craftsmanship, and discussing how she liked to share her passion for swords with others.

I entertained the idea of renting a costume and doing a face painting for a while, but was not supported by my family. My son commented on the price, followed by an expression saying: “Ye. OK. But I will pretend I don’t know you.” He did not really get into the atmosphere until later. Eating the gigantic, smoked turkey leg on the grass under the tree, than washing off his hands in the nearby fountain, was not his idea of having a good time. The portable “privy” did not get him excited either. His Royal Highness preferred the more sanitary conditions, people who look sane, and activities that are planned and attended on the scheduled times. The term “comfort zone” has a very specific meaning for him. Too bad the Medieval Torturer, the huge man covered in all black including the square headpiece covering his whole face and carrying the range of the torture tools including a scary-looking axe on his back, did not know about it. The giant confronted my baby boy. He took the “No Soup for You” T-shirt that my son was wearing too personally. Should Larry David knew the repercussion, I am sure that episode of Seinfeld would have never been created. But it was too late. My son tried to answer his verbal attacks by the sentences carefully build out of the fancy “SAT Prep” words he learned in his English class. He, obviously, tried to win the torturer over with his intellect, but it did not work. He forgot that plenty of people in the 12th century were beheaded or burned for being smart. The Medieval man kept repeating that he did not understand anything my son was saying, and reached out for his axe. His fair lady came to my son’s rescue, and begged her man for mercy. After this brutal encounter, my son loosened up, and decided to enjoy life, while he still could.

The shops with moccasins, hats, pantaloons, scarves, skirts, ponchos, dresses and pottery lined up the tiny streets. The shoe maker measured the customer’s foot; the blacksmith made metal; the cute girls in corsets, scooping their tight waists to accentuate the cleavage, carried single roses in the baskets on their shoulders; their long full skirts sweeping the dirt roads. It was hot, and a little muggy. So we decided to trade the bench seating around the arena for the “grass” seats in the shade under the tree. The knights on the horses were about to start the fight. As they were charging the crowd, my younger son became restless; he wanted to seat on my lap, otherwise he could not see. Then, he wanted to take pictures, and to do many other things, none of which included just sitting calmly and enjoying the show. His dad could not help but notice that, unlike his own son, our 3-year-old neighbor was quietly playing with his wooden axe. While I started saying that the neighbor toddler had a different last name, set of genes, etc., he ran after his friend and bunch of other kids with his axe threatening to behead them all at no time. I let my son to sit on my lap.

I started seriously thinking about purchasing a gaze hip scarf covered with the golden coins, generally used for the belly dancing; especially after my husband promised to forgive me things if I did. I tried to clarify if he would forgive me everything and anything. He said:” Depending how good you will dance.” So, as soon as I do something that I should be forgiven for, I would invest the money into the most luxurious hip scarf and the belly dancing lessons.

Certain items of women clothing sold in the Renaissance shops could also be a better and cheaper replacement of a family therapy, making husbands, previously angry with their wives, to overlook the differences in spending habits, cooking/cleaning disasters, relationships with the in-laws, and overall make them better spouses and fathers. Looks like these ladies with parasols knew exactly what they were doing.

Watching people, especially such a diverse crowd, is a lot of fun. It proves that there is someone out there crazier than you are, which is always encouraging. On a second thought, I should’ve rented a costume. Or is this a midlife epiphany (as my son would say)? _1080199_1080261_1080237_1080297_1080344_1090040 _1080711 _1080583 _1080462 _1080405 _1080374 _1080306 _1080286 _1080268_1080372_1080497_1080597_1080351_1080558_1080939_1080739_1080707_1080602_1080198

viola

The Concert

My dog did not eat my son’s homework; instead she ate his tie for the concert.  Being a natural girl, she preferred the silky, designer, light blue accessory to a white, wrinkled piece of paper with the scribbles that you would need a magnifying glass and strong decoding skills to read.   Who can blame her?  She was home by herself with the bright toy positioned on the dinning chair right in front of her face.   It looked too delicious to be ignored.  She attacked it with the vengeance, so that by the time my husband came home only the half of it was left.

A few weeks before the concert my son’s conscience usually starts telling him that maybe it’s the time to start practicing.   He knows that it is the right, but very hard thing to do.   He had a very busy schedule, especially during the week, but pledged to spend a half hour Friday to Sunday working on these “fast notes” he was having trouble with.

He is also being eaten by guilt that we spent money on buying the viola based on his intention of practicing on the regular basis; but 8 months into the school year it is still gathering dust under the table in his room.    He practiced only once in this period of time, but it was enough to establish that he did not like how this viola sounded; the quality of the instrument was poor; he could not sustain his plans for practicing and, therefore, without further a due, the viola should be returned, so that at least part of the money could be recouped.   I debated that if he started practicing, the money would become well spent; plus considering that he wanted to continue the orchestra next year it made no sense to return it…  Finally, I agreed to ask about a trade-off while visiting Sam-Ash to replace the A string he broke during his only practice.   After staying in line for longer that his the one and the only practice lasted, and paying $7.50 for the new string (the work was covered by a warranty we purchased anticipating a lot of broken strings due to heavy use of an instrument) we were promised half the price if returned at the end of school year.  My son is thinking about it.

Now that we were clear on the viola situation and the practicing schedule, we could move on to the wardrobe.  The music teacher wanted to stay with the black pants and shoes, but to go “springy” on the top.   She never did it before, and in her own words “was using this year’s orchestra as the guinea pigs” to test how “the rainbow” musicians would look on stage.   The visit to the mall became unavoidable.

Looking for the shirt I asked neatly –dressed, ready-to-help salesmen to measure my son’s neck.     Panicking, realizing that he had nowhere to run, he gave me a killer look, virtually asking me if I was nuts.   Never shopping for the formal clothes before, he did not know that the shirt sizes go by the neck size and the sleeves length, that to look sharp the clothes should be fitted, and kept on the hanger in the closet, that the shoes should be polished, and the belt should match the shoes.  It also would not hurt to shave and to comb the hair.  Can I also throw in ironing and tying a tie, or am I asking for too much? There are certain situations, in which looking like a shmuck is not appropriate, and the concert is one of them.

Settling on the lavender shirt, picking the “right” tie was proven to be particularly difficult.  It was supposed to be plain, in a nice, bright color, and to match the shirt.   Plain meaning plain.  Even if there is some tiny line hardly detectable by a powerful microscope it is not plain.  All the final choices came with the price that even after a discount was still too high.  I don’t know why the ties cost more than a shirt or a pair of pants; what makes them so valuable. And they are way too expensive if consumed as a gourmet dog food.

While I was dropping my son off at school an hour before the concert the school called to inform us that there was a power outage and the concert might be canceled.  They would call a half hour before the concert to let us know.    Nobody called.  We went to the concert.  It was cancelled.  Rescheduled to the next day.  That was how the concert tie ended up on the dining chair.  What was the point to put it in the closet to be taken out again the next day?

The concert was a success in my opinion, sucked in my son’s.   I especially liked “The Sweet Child O’Mine” (Guns N’Roses) performed by combined 9th and 12th grade orchestras at the end.  He said that some people in the audience did not even realize what song was being played.   He did not play some of the fast notes altogether, trying to minimize the damage to the overall performance done by his horrible playing.  However, the pieces they did were way more difficult than last year’s, therefore, comparing to last year he improved drastically.  Mazel Tov.

Sleep

My son is finally asleep.  Turned to the wall with his nose dipped in the pillow, he is half covered.     I feel a sudden urge to wrap his naked back and green boxers in the blanket, to smell his hair, to kiss his soft cheek, but I am afraid of waking him up.

The road to sleep is long and thorny.   It has always been like that.  In any age.   When my older son was little, he wanted me to stay in the room until he fell asleep.   When his eyes were at long last closed for a while and he started to snore, I knew it was time to make a move.  Trying not to breath, I would carefully close my book, and slowly get up from the chair.  I prayed that the carpet would not screech when I step on it.   It took some planning to tiptoe out of the room without making a single noise, not touching anything, not making a chair squeak.  But the minute I finally got to the door, silently high-fiving myself in my mind, I would hear: “Where are you going?  I am not sleeping yet.”   Then there were two options – to leave the room and let him scream for another hour or more, or to come back to the original position and attempt another escape in 5-10 minutes.  Quite a few times I fell asleep and woke up in the middle of the night, just to get undressed and go back to bed.  I made sure all of the essential tasks were done before his bedtime in case I fall asleep or get too relaxed to move on.   I knew it was wrong and counterproductive.  You suppose to tack your child in, say good night and leave the room to come back in the morning. I knew I was sending my kid the wrong message, spoiling him and causing potential long-term psychological problems.  He is supposed to learn to self-sooth and not be dependent on his parent.  But I also liked to relax at the end of the day, didn’t like to hear him screaming for an hour, and simply wanted to be near him for a bit longer.

Knowing that I should do housework and/or spent time with my husband after my child goes to bed rather than “wasting” my time sitting idly in the kid’s room raising a cry-baby, I wanted to change this dynamic.  I tried different approaches as advised by various experts in the field:  crying out, leaving the room for a few minutes with a promise to come back, bribing, motivational speeches, bed-time stories.   None of it worked as promised.   The crying would not stop till after midnight, nor would it become shorter in the upcoming days; fairy tales would be read until I lose my voice, bribes would never be worth the effort.  Overall, the falling asleep would last even longer than before, except now I was much more tired and aggravated, getting an alarming thoughts of hitting my head against the wall with my bright-red blood splashing all over, blaming God for failing me at the time of need, killing a random stranger for no apparent reason, or hitting my husband, because he was the only one nearby.   My toddler clearly had much more perseverance and determination than I did.  Somehow I gave birth to a super human, who was never tired or sleepy.  The problem went away when we stopped trying.  Luckily, in spite of my selfish parenting, he can sleep on his own for the past 11 years, and is a self-sufficient and a self-reliant person.

Last summer my 8-year-old saw something on the U-tube and was scared to sleep by himself in his room.  This time I was determined not to give in.  But I did.  He was terrified, even though there was nothing scary in the clip that he watched.  He was hysterical, shaking in fear, begging not to leave him alone.  My heart was breaking; what kind of mother I was to let my child suffer like that, to abandon him when he needed me so desperately.  I set in his room reading an iPad until he fell asleep, wondering if I was falling into the same trap all over again.

Again I referred to an experts’ advice.  They suggested to move out of the room slowly, and gradually to move out of his sight.  That way the child would feel secure, while learning to sleep on his own.  The next day we agreed that I would sit in the hallway, but he would still see me.  Over the next few months I kept moving further and further away from his room.  I sat on the carpeted floor with a pillow behind my back to make me more comfortable, reading my book, sometimes sipping my tea or snacking on the fruit, wondering if I went completely insane.  Other normal parents would not even think of doing something like that. They are getting stressed and over-worked, and then complain about how hard their lives are and write books about it.  So, they tack their “good sleepers” in, say good night and ran to do all of the gazillion things that need to be done after the children are in bed.   And here I am- a mother with a full-time job, a house, two kids, no help from anybody, sitting in the hallway waiting for the fourth grader to fall asleep.    I am either lazy or insane, or both at the same time.

When at last I came out of his sight, he kept asking me every minute or two if I was still in “my spot”.  I would say:”Yes.  Stop asking me!”, only to be asked again the moments later.  I finally moved to the arm-chair in the living room.    It was comfy and soft, and I could watch TV from it. 

Then there was a relapse, and we went back to square one.  Once, after I came back from work, I found him on the iPad in his bed.  Carefully removing the earphones, I laid next to him.  We snuggled and started to joke around about everything.  He asked me to tell him the story about how I was little.  I told him about the movie I watched about “the invisible man” when I was his age, and how scared I was to go to sleep.  How my parents left me to babysit my sister and I was paralyzed with fear waiting for him to break into my apartment, even though technically I could not see him, because he was invisible.  My parents were not around, and I had to find the way to calm myself down.  My older son screamed and demanded dinner, but we were too deep into the conversation.  Finally he gave up and joined in, telling us about his scares and how he fought them.

My fourth-grader confessed that he was afraid of a criminal getting into his room in the middle of the night and attacking him.  We discussed the probability of this happening.  His room was on the second floor, so the criminal would need to get through the door (which beeps due to the alarm), go up the stairs, and pass a few rooms without being noticed.  This is impossible.  But maybe he could use the ladder and come through the window.   My son tried to open the windows, but could not because they were locked.   Plus there was a light in the backyard, which had a motion sensor.  So as soon as somebody walks in the backyard, the light turns on.  It works of the solar panel, making it impossible to be turned off by a person.  Therefore, we established without a reasonable doubt that, number one nobody could get to the backyard unnoticed, number two getting to his room that way was nearly impossible.  But he was still not convinced.   Even though one part of his brain was proving that his fears were baseless, the other part told him otherwise.  The other part was making his heart race, and his body shake in panic.  The other part was winning the fight.  I got back to spending my evenings on the floor in the hallway, scratching my head what to do next.

He was not allowed to watch anything on the internet, or play any even remotely violent video games; he had been reading before bed; we practiced breathing techniques and counting to relax and fall asleep faster.  Should I take him to the therapist?  I consider it a last resort, because, in my opinion, in dealing with the children “the wrong” therapist could do more harm than good.  What works for one child may be detrimental for the other.  But my son being dependent on my presence to fall asleep was not a solution either.

As usual the solution came out of the blue.  One day my son declared that he would feel safer if Maya (our dog) slept in his room.  She is very protective of her family, and if the stranger approaches our house starts barking uncontrollably.   She would make him feel secure and keep him company.  She could scare any criminal and make the intruder drop his hypothetical weapon and run for his life.  We moved Maya’s bed to my son’s room.   The going-to-bed routine has been expanded to him announcing “Maya sleep”, after which she proudly marches behind him to his room with her tail and ears up.   She proceeds to her bed, lies down and watches him while he reads.  If she tries to get up or barks, “the commander-in-chief” stops it instantly.

He still wants someone to sit in the chair in the living room, aka “the designated spot” once he announces that he is done with the reading and ready to go to sleep.   He would tell everyone good night and “are you in the spot” about 25 times.   But the overwhelming fear is gone, and he falls asleep in no time.  I pick in the room and see my two babies peacefully snoring.   Life is so simple when they are asleep.

procrastinate

Procrastination 101

“Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the "last minute" before the deadline.” Wikipedia
 “Suggest children tackle distasteful tasks first so they feel a sense of relief. Starting is the biggest hurdle; help children take small steps to get the ball rolling”- Tip#5 out of 15 provided by Karen Stephens – the author of early care and education books and  a frequent contributor to Parenting Exchange
“Set the right atmosphere. When physical labor is needed, lively music can rev up everyone’s tempo. However, music or television during homework is a distraction to be avoided” – Tip#13

I am sure Karen’s children are very hard-working; they do all their chores, immediately after creating a “to do list” and breaking the task into “manageable parts”, but before jumping on the couch with the remote in their hands.  Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about mine.  My reward system failed miserably, because unless I offer something within a six figures range, the reward is not worth the effort.  “To do” lists or any instructions I am offering only take up the time that could be used for relaxation.  The sense of relief from doing a chore is insignificant in comparison to playing Minecraft with a bunch of friends on an X Box.

I call my older son a master procrastinator.  My younger one is not far behind. Once, I pointed out that if procrastination were an Olympic sport, my children would compete for Gold and Silver.  They said that it would not work, because then the Olympics would never end.

They have a right (even though it is not covered by a Constitutional Amendment) to relax before starting their homework.  The amount of relaxation needed depends on when I come home and make them do “work”.  I am using the term “work” loosely here, because things like cleaning out the plate, putting the dirty T-shirt in the laundry, practicing an instrument, taking the dog out, doing math, or anything other than using electronics fall under the definition.  Every “work” comes with a strict timeframe: practicing guitar – 15 minutes, violin – 6 minutes, reading for homework-30 minutes, putting the clothes in the laundry or cleaning the room– the speed of light.  When I ask: “Why 6 minutes?” My son responds: “This is what the teacher said.  You are not the teacher.”  I can’t argue with that.  The clock is being watched closely; because this is the time they would never get back. “Work” should be avoided; if impossible – done as fast as possible.  “Work” should only be performed if the procrastinator is well rested and has exhausted all efforts to continue the relaxation.  As Ronald Reagan once said: “I’ve heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?”

After coming home from school, the calculation is made as to how much time is needed to complete the homework for each subject.   Then the times are added and subtracted from the bed time, taking into consideration the meals and other activities.  The result is the homework starting point.  If at any point, the procrastinator decides that he has overestimated the time needed, the appropriate adjustments must be made.  The research paper should be split into the last few days before deadline evenly depending on the number of pages. This does not include bibliography, which should be done on the last day.

Studying for the test is always a huge variable.  But not for people who know everything.  My kids, surprise, fall into this category; at least, until I start checking.  Halfway through his freshman year in High School my older son said: “I never studied for more than 15 minutes for the test.  Now, I’ve just studied for 30.  Wow, I did not expect that level of commitment from myself!” His voice did not project much happiness.

When the procrastinator wants to keep up good grades, while doing sports and other extracurricular activities, it becomes a source of an inner conflict.  On one side, the procrastinator wants to do interesting projects, take on challenges, prove to himself that he is smart and capable, that he can pick the college (not the other way around) and be nicely compensated for the job he likes.  On the other side, he does not want to study for the tests, write pointless essays, read the books he would not otherwise pick, and, oh horror, learn the Italian vocabulary.  He wants to drive a nice car and travel around the world, but he can’t earn money for that without removing himself from the computer.  How to reconcile the burning desire to procrastinate with the daily requirements of various types of “work”?

The practice widely used in my house is to go to bed later.  For example, procrastinate until dinner time, eat, do homework, continue to procrastinate, then around 12am print out the homework.   If there are any after school activities or a sport- eat dinner, procrastinate, do homework.  If you are pressed on time- finish the homework on the bus or during lunch; but make sure the time allocated for relaxation is used for its original purpose.  Remember what your priorities are.  Even if 2 minutes of homework is left and the estimated time has expired -stop, procrastinate, than finish up.

Procrastination is an addiction.  The good part is that it is free, and does not have negative health effects, which also makes it a bad part, because it is very hard to fight.

There could be no rehabs or procrastinator’s anonymous meetings.  Since these methods can easily turn into another form of procrastination, it defeats the purpose.  One of the possible solutions my son met on the Health Fair in his school.   The name of it was a Life Coach.  My son asked the person: “What are you for?”  The Life Coach responded:”To help people achieve their goals.” “Why do people need YOU for that? Can’t they do it themselves?” asked my curious 9th grader.  “They can, but sometimes they need help,” responded the fairy godfather charging $200 per hour.

Since my kids can’t afford the life coach, I volunteer to do it for free.  My approach is not that scientific; I did not go to the Life Coach School, but it is based on an extensive experience.  I prefer a diplomatic solution (since all others are against the law).

Step #1:  Discuss the advantages of doing chores right NOW in a nice, calm voice – in particular: the sooner they do it, the sooner they can go on electronics

Step#2:  Repeat

Step#3:  Repeat

Step#4:  Discuss the advantages of doing chores right NOW in a very loud, angry voice – in particular: they are not getting their electronics until they do everything

Step#5:  Repeat

Step#6: Take away electronics

Step#7:  Check if all the chores are done.  Give back electronics.  Tell the kids how proud of them you are.

There has been some positive dynamic in this area.  My older son complains that he feels bad when he leaves stuff to the last minute.  Not enough yet, to do it earlier.  Well, baby steps…..  I know it’s not easy.