Kindergarten Hell

We are in Kindergarten Hell.  My sweet, charming little Mooch left on the first day of school with a mere wave and what walked off that bus was a fib-telling, tantrum-throwing, rule-hating little demon, packed inside the shell that once was my son.  What the hell.  Where did my sweet, polite child go?  He went to Kindergarten.

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First there was the meanness to little Zook (whom I have no concern that he can hold his own) then there was the tantrum at soccer.  Soccer.  All was kosher until I whip around to seem my child (or what was once my child) stamping across the soccer field in the middle of the game sobbing and screaming.  The screams were barely decipherable (my hope was that they were completely indecipherable), the tears were flowing, arms swinging wildly in the air.  I hate soccer!  I hate my team!  I hate it!  I hate soccer- and my team! Sob.  Sob.  Sob.  After about 10 minutes of rolling, kicking (not at the soccer ball), drooling and snotting on the sideline, he finally was able to tell me what had offended him to this extent: He hadn’t yet scored a goal.  Really?!

There’s been meltdowns over the order of tooth brushing, nightly book choice, “wimpy” [insert item of clothing or footwear here], getting out of bed in the morning and into bed at night.  We have had hitting, pushing, pinching, throwing and fist-pushing (pushing your closed fist into someone’s stomach without the quick force of a punch- but with the same outcome). We have had arguing over meals and drinks and I’ve answered questions like Why can’t I have cookies for breakfast? Everyday.  (Which reminds me, I totally need to do a Things I Wish I Could Say Part 2…)

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My rationale is that he’s balking at his now-structured day, learning not only about numbers and letters but also about bullies and meanness.  Hearing new words and phrases, new jokes and insults- and trying them out at home.  On us.  There have been a couple times in the last two weeks that I have looked into his eyes, pleading with desperation… Please send my sweet innocent boy home to me!  Tonight, as I was tucking him into bed, he seemed sad.  What’s up Mooch?  How’s school?  Good. Is there anything you’d like to change about kindergarten? Silence and then…  Sometimes at Morning Meeting, the kids tell me to scooch over and I don’t have room to scooch.  Emma told me to scooch.  And I scooched.  And then Henry told me to scooch back.  But I had no where to scooch back.  Tears stung my eyes, my throat had that hard lump in the back.  As my Mooch looked down, he picked a chip of paint that had dried under his thumbnail… I didn’t have anywhere to scooch.  And then he leaned into me.

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So much is happening for him right now.  New friends, new rules, new words, new routines, new, new, new.  And he’s having a hard time catching up.  And I know he’ll get there but right now it’s really hard.  Hard to know what to ask and how to respond, when to talk and when to stay quiet, when to play and when to listen.  I can see that his behavior over the last two weeks has been a cry (okay, screaming tantrum) for direction, support and extra attention.  So that’s what this Mama needs to provide.  My dear Mooch, I will help you through this.  And you will learn how to be a kindergartner; I will learn what you need.  And we will conquer Kindergarten Hell.  Together.

Peace, Mamas.

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Love is Free

I’m going out on a limb here but I think everyone should have an opinion on something.  If you don’t have an opinion you can’t really be relevant.  So here goes.  I had a conversation with someone today about parenting.  But I think it goes deeper than parenting.  Read on.

A man disclosed to me today that he was struggling terribly with his sixteen year old son.  The child is in an alternative school setting as he was removed from a traditional school setting due to violence and complete disregard for rules and authority.  It’s true that traditional school is not the right placement for all children however, I feel strongly that the school failed this child.  Nevertheless, the child has been exhibiting violent behaviors, cutting and most recently drinking.  The father stated that he came home to find his son sleeping and when he awoke him, he found that he was heavily intoxicated.  I asked how he had disciplined his son to which he responded I gave up on discipline a long time ago.  My wife doesn’t back me up and if we can’t be a united front, it’s never going to work so I just stay away from it.  Me, probing: Don’t you feel like he was testing you? Like he wanted to see where your hard line was?  If you didn’t draw the line at drinking, do you think he may push that line further the next time?  Maybe… maybe.  But he was so sick, I don’t think he’ll do it again for a while.  He already smokes.  And I know he’s gettin’ into pills too.  Ah, what can you do.  Kids.

I’m not sure I mentioned this before but I am a social worker.  At my past job, I assisted people experiencing homelessness with finding housing, obtaining medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment, creating resumes, repairing credit and provided support with transitioning from years in prison.  In my current position, I oversee a wellness program for seniors, people with disabilities and families who live in public housing.  I have seen poverty.  Motivated addicts, coached offenders, supported parents who have lost their children or are in the process of getting them back and made reports for them to be removed.  And what I can surmise from all this I have bared witness, what I can draw from these life events which may appear critical, is that they are chronic.  They are part of a chronic cycle that was learned, from one generation to the next.  Passed down like a quilt or a recipe, these cycles of abuse, poverty and drug use are to blame for the generations of dysfunctional behaviors which will follow.  These cycles are powerful.  This life we know is not fair to humans who are born into a field which is not level.  These cycles take such incredible strength to overcome that it can seem nearly impossible.

Sounds discouraging right?  That generations compounded by poverty will just continue over and over again.  Well here’s the kicker: Love is Free.  Love, patience and time do not cost a penny.  This man, sitting across from me today need do nothing more than to go home to his son and prove to him that he cares.  Tell him he loves him and that he’s not going to stand by and watch him give up on life.  The father has not been provided the skills to do this because his father didn’t give a shit either.  It’s a total cop out to say that but it’s true.  Love is free.

I am often struck by a quote from Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world.  Well here’s the change I wish to see in the world: I want it to be better for my kids than it was for me.  I want the world they grow up in to not have nuclear bombs, ethnic cleansing and genocide.  I want them to know only of kindness to humans and respect for this earth we share with plants and animals alike.  I want my children to recognize when a fellow human needs help.  And help.  I want them to find partners they love and make babies and love them.  Really love them.  No small feat.  But I would dare to wager that many, many parents want the same thing for their children.  Even the gentleman I spoke with today.  He is a good person.  He works hard.  He’s lost hope that his son can see and appreciate the wonderful things in this world.  Just as soon as he remembers how to care about those things, he can inspire his child to see them to.

So Mamas (and Papas) be that change.  I’m not a person who judges.  And I certainly don’t claim to have things figured out- and I very seldom give advice without being asked but I am right here and now telling you- begging you- to see that good in the world and challenge your children to find it too.  Because my kids have to live in this world with your kids.   And my grandchildren have to live with your grandchildren.  Be that change.  And love your children.  Give them your time.  Grace them with your patience.  It will not lighten your wallet but it will make our world that much richer.

Peace, Mamas.

The Beginning of Really Living

This evening, I was able to witness my lovely niece’s graduation from the eighth grade.  As I sat in the jam packed, sweltering gymnasium, clapping on cue, attempting to keep my husband from dying of hunger and trying not to gawk at the short skirts (dear lord!), it occurred to me: This is the Beginning.  The Beginning of Really Living.  These children will go on to become doctors who will treat me when I am old, they will become educators who will teach my grandchildren, they will become scientists, astronomers, mayors, bus drivers, business owners, counselors.  They will become parents who will raise children of their own who will one day walk across that stage and take a diploma in hand.  The Beginning.

After the diplomas had been passed out, the children stood, we clapped some more.  Husband is now convinced he may be fading further into starvation.  The principal announced his closing speech.  He spoke to his (now, former) students about going out into the world; he encouraged them to sincerely show gratitude to the family, teachers, friends who had helped them become the amazing young people they were today.  And then he asked his own daughter who was seven years old to come and sit with him and look at the class of 2017.  He explained to her that they had had some struggles with homework, tests, classes, teachers, each other.  But that they had certainly had a lot of fun too.  This principal, as he spoke to his graduated class, spoke as a parent.  Effortlessly and from the heart.  And not only did this group of silly, emotional, excited barely teenagers listen intently to every word which left the man’s mouth, his daughter did too.

As a Mama of a seven year old, I envy the opportunity to fully captivate my son in a lesson which may quite possibly last him his lifetime.  Have fun.  Be a kid.  School is so important.  When something seems to big you don’t think you can get through it, you always will.  Ask for help when you require it and space when you need it.  Our children are going to become powerful, inspiring, helpful humans.  And it is our job to guide them.  These students are on the cusp of high school where their new challenges will be peer pressure, drugs, sex and an array of  bad choices.  Like a new world of opportunity, these temptations spread before them as part of the landscape.  The choices they make as young adults, are shaped by the values we instill in them through their childhood.  It is so important.  It is so important.

So that next time I want to give up.  Check out from being a parent for a bit, I will try to remind myself of just how important it is to be the most responsive, patient, loving and determined parent I can be.  Do I want them to see that Mama checks out when shit gets tough?  Um, nope.  They watch us.  They are witness to every fit of anger, ever exasperated sigh, every swear muttered under our breath, every eye roll, every snide comment and the negative energy that seeps from our pores.  We worry about violence, the media and video games but the truth is, our children see the ugly from us.  And that’s depressing.  But it’s also empowering.  Why?  Because we can control all of those things.  And that is freeing.

Tonight, this principal took the time to be a parent.  He showed his adorable, sweet little girl the good he was sending out into the world.  He told her about the wonderful things these students would do.  And all they would become.  As she stared up at him, shiny blonde curls falling around her soft pink cheeks, she became convinced that she would become one of these gifted, inspiring graduates one day too.  It begins with us.  This was a lesson for me.  Crazy breeds crazy but positvity leads to opportunity.  We can give our children that opportunity.  It’s worth it.  They are worth the investment.  This is the Beginning of the Really Living.

Peace, Mamas.

Mama Needs to Rally

Do you ever just feel like giving in to this chaos?  Like you are walking around in circles and into walls all day long?  Yeah?  Well join the club.  There are many wonderful things about motherhood.  And I do so adore my children.  And sometimes I want to throw them through the wall.  The whining is what’s been getting to me the most lately.  And with the end of the school year, I am feeling like I just don’t give a shit anymore.  Cub went to school twice this week with a jelly sandwich for lunch and guess what he’s having tomorrow… Sorry little dude.  Although he looks at this like a treat, I’m still feeling shitty about it.  I wonder what those lunch ladies think when the see what the kids have to eat at this time of year… Who else sorta gave up on packing a lunch encompassing the different food groups?  C’mon.  Where’s my slacker Mamas at?

The truth is I’m just tired.  Husband forgot to grab a key item required for dinner tonight so Mama had to stop at the store on the way home from work- along with 40,000 other Mamas whose husbands forgot shit too.  Do you switch lines when the competency level of the cashier is revealed or when you notice a handful of coupons in the customer’s hands in front of you?  Normally, I am not a switcher but my anxiety about getting home, dinner, showers and the bullshit that would greet me at the door got the better of me.  I made two bad switches before I realized it made no difference.  I was stuck in a suck line behind a suck customer and a suck cashier.  Great.  My husband calls while I am pulling out of the parking lot.  I can hear screaming in the background.  Shit.  The high point of my day came when my dear friend texted me to inform me that (thankfully her children are nearly as screwed up as mine or I’m not sure we could be friends) her son told another child at daycare that she smelled like a penis.  Boys. Rock.  And that actually gave me some of my energy back and lightened my mood a bit.

When I pulled in the driveway, I could hear the screaming of the “chase game” from the driveway.  Rally.  Dinner was nuts.  Zook is crying.  Why is he crying?  He wants a spoon.  Wait he wants a fork.  Wait he wants ice cream.  With a fork.  Ugh.  Unload dishwasher, load dishwasher, pick up the corn and rice off the floor.  At this point, I actually almost started to cry.  I think because I realized that there wasn’t a clean kitchen towel in the drawer.  And I knew there wasn’t one in the basket upstairs either.  And yes, it sounds trivial but the absence of the kitchen towel midst the crying and demands of Zook, the whining and arguing of Mooch and Cub and the fact that I still had so far, so far to go before the calm could set in, really, really started to get to me.  Suck it up Mama.  Rally.  Showers, screaming , soap in eyes (it’s the tearless kind for God’s sake!) clip 60 (yes, 60) nails.  Read an Elmo book.  God I hate Elmo.  Quiet.  Snuggling my babies with warm soft hands on my cheeks.  Almost there.  Lights out and done.  Breathe.  And good news folks!  We get to do it all over again in 24 hours!

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There are just not enough hours in the day- so cliche right?  So true.  I am barely getting by here.  Summer has got to come.  No more homework, no more projects, no more searching for library books or forgetting sneakers on gym day.  No more hunting for the perfect item for Share Day.  Oh sweet summer.  I think I am craving the serenity more than my kids.

Rally.  That’s what I feel like most of my life has come to lately.  I am so tired.  Stretched to the point of exhaustion.  And I know that’s the reason I yell and have a lack of patience.  I know it’s me and not them.  But (I am about to admit something terrible here) sometimes I feel like I just don’t want to care anymore.  Like I am just done trying.  I know I shouldn’t yell and sometimes in the moment, I even think Why am I yelling right now?  Stop!  Stop it, Mama!  But no.  I yell and spend the next hour feeling like shit.  That’s more the cycle I speak of.  More than the chores and endless whining from the kids.  It’s me.  Mamas (and the Papas) reading this who have toddlers and babies… I used to be like you.  Said I wasn’t going to yell.  Said I wasn’t going to lose my temper.  Read all those Zen parenting books and blogs.  And then my kids could talk back.  And that all went out the window.  This is a judgement-free zone.

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So where do we go from here?  We start over.  Tomorrow the sun will rise again.  The cycle might start again.  Or it might not.  I am not in control of their behavior.  But I need to be fully in control of my own.  And of my responses to their behavior.  Breathe.  Tomorrow I’ll be back on the wagon.  It won’t be perfect but as long as I keep trying to make things better.  As long as I keep giving a shit.  I can do better.  I owe it to them (and myself) to be better.  And that’s all I can do.  Rally.

Peace, Mamas.

Sunday Reset

Our week has come to a close.  The babes are sleeping.  The house is quiet.  For now.  During the last week, I yelled on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Thursday was rough.  Kids were crazy.  No one was listening.  I stepped on a Lego ship.  Need I say more?  Wednesday, there was a fight about homework (really with the math games?!  Is there not another way for him to learn less-than, more-than?  Whatever happened to the alligator eats the bigger number?!) and it ended with a thrown pencil, crumpled paper and then bed.  No one was happy Wednesday night.  No one.  Overall, I have to say that the week went well (aside from the above-mentioned incidents).  This week, I renewed my pledge to a rule I made about seven years ago: Commit to No.

The rule is pretty simple.  If you say no, commit.  Don’t give in.  If you can’t commit (or don’t have the energy and know that you’ll give in,) don’t say no.  Here’s the thing: You will actually say yes more.  If you Commit to No, you will have to evaluate everything in a different light.  Is this really a big deal?  Can I really commit to no on this?  If the answer to either of these questions is no, say yes.  

About a year ago, I read an article in one of those parenting magazines written by a dad.  You know, those ones that you read and think, Who the hell is this guy?  God, I wish my husband would read this…  Are there really dads out there who write this shit?  The article started out with the dad read something about what children remember the most from what their parents tell them.  The dad decides to ask his son what he hears him say the most.  The dad, expecting his son to say I love you or You are smart or Share!,  is shocked when his kid says the thing he hears his dear old dad-di-o say the most is No.  I re-read this about five time.  Why? Because my stomach had a sick ache.  I was sure my kids would say the same of me.  So sure, in fact, that I never wanted to ask them for fear that they would confirm my worry.  I say no all the time.

Why do I say no so much?  I have no idea.  Because I am lazy:  Will you put chocolate in my milk?  No. Can I paint?  No.  Because I am tired:  Can you chase us?  No.  Can we walk to the playground instead of drive?  No.  And sometimes for no reason.  Now Mamas…  I read back over the above questions and I am ashamed.  But I am being honest.  So please judge me quietly… And then look at all the questions you say no to.  Maybe you’re perfect and always tell your kids yes.  Or maybe you’re like me and say no too much.

Using the Commit to No rule, as I have for the last week, you I can guarantee that you will say yes more.  You will be required to do more, run more, deal with bigger messes and make a shit-load more chocolate milk.  But, your kids will be happier.  And they will do more of the things you ask them to do.  And you will yell less.  Committing to No will enable you to say yes more.  And it’s freeing.

I am definitely more tired at the end of this week.  All this saying yes-shit is exhausting.  But I didn’t yell nearly as frequently as I was at one point.  And my kids are happier.  And they did help me more, beg less, stop whining and… oh hell, they are still whining but I think they are whining a little less.  I think I am going to Commit to No again next week.  I want my kids to remember me saying Yes.

Peace Mamas.