During these scandal-plagued Olympic games, it seems appropriate somehow that the main thing my children are learning about Canadian patriotism is the importance of drinking beer.
"Drop your gear for beer!" my pastor chanted periodically Friday night, after the CTV coverage of the opening ceremonies began with a clip of the MuchMusic VJs lounging in a hot tub with bikini-clad twelve-year-olds while audience members competed in what appeared to be an impromptu stripping contest. The pastor and her family were visiting during the opening ceremonies and, luckily for us, the children had left the room just in time to miss the VJs doing "body shots" (though not in time to avoid seeing horrific footage of the fatal luge accident).
Refusing to learn from experience, I called my kids into the living room last night to watch Maelle Ricker compete in the snowboard cross finals. "I always cheer for Canada," Pie confided, snuggling in beside me on the couch, and as the four of us hooted and hollered at Maelle's gold-medal performance, Bub noticed something on the TV.
"Hey, we should get that Canadian drink!" he exclaimed, pointing excitedly at the screen.
"Is it Canada Dry ginger ale?" hubby asked from the kitchen.
"No," I answered. "It's the other Canadian drink."
I am a patriot, but even I balk at the idea of serving my six-year-old beer. I will, however, serve up pancakes with maple syrup, so we celebrated Shrove Tuesday last night with chocolate-chip pancakes and (uncharacteristically) a generous dollop of artificial table syrup. We are normally a real maple syrup family, purchasing our syrup from a local farm that offers hay rides and pumpkin tosses in the fall, along with sugar bush tours in the spring. But we laid in a supply of the artificial stuff this year because hubby was in charge of making French Toast for the Valentine's Day church breakfast.
It has been years since I've tasted fake maple syrup, and I was surprised at how good it was - and at how readily it took me back to the last time I'd tried it. "It tastes like camp," I told hubby on Sunday morning. With my first bite I was transported instantly to a dining hall full of kids chanting "Bea, Bea, if you're able, keep your elbows off the table! This is not a horses' stable, but a first-class dining table!"
So I shouldn't have been so surprised last night when Bub ran in excitedly, holding out his plate full of pancakes. "These pancakes are making my tummy ... are making my whole body remember what we used to do!" he spluttered. "We used to go to a Santa party!"
It was a few moments before I figured out what he meant. Two Christmases ago we went up to the local farm to have breakfast with Santa. It wasn't a great success - we were expected to huddle over our breakfasts in a tent heated inadequately by an electric space heater, so we bolted down pancakes with syrup and blueberry sauce while Santa did his best to whip up some enthusiasm with his jingle bells. It was a forgettable morning, at least until last night, when his first taste of table syrup called up the memory in Bub's tummy.
This was a first of sorts: Bub's first encounter with the phenomenon of sense memory, his first discovery of the way the present can suddenly be invaded by the past at the whiff of cloves or the taste of syrup on the tongue.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
During these scandal-plagued Olympic games, it seems appropriate somehow that the main thing my children are learning about Canadian patriotism is the importance of drinking beer.
Monday, January 18, 2010
"I don't want any more hitting," I lectured the children the other day, "and no more fighting!"
Bub agreed. "No body-checking either."
It was a surprising observation, not only because Bub is perhaps the only boy in this hockey town who refuses to learn to skate, but also because he has been past master in the art of body-checking ever since a few time outs three years ago taught him that a hand raised against his baby sister meant immediate loss of privileges.
"Do you know what body-checking is, Bub?" I asked him.
"Yeah," he replied. "It's when you check a look to see what your body looks like."
Sunday, January 10, 2010
The town I live in is full of hills. In the winter parents pick up their kids from school with a sled tucked under one arm, and when I'm driving home each day I see a row of toques lined up at the top of the hill. All last winter I felt guilty about the fact that my children have never gone tobogganing, not once in this snowy, hilly town. Over the Christmas holidays this year we were even invited tobogganing with friends and I turned the opportunity down, preferring to nurse my chest cold with a cup of hot chocolate by the fire. I had an iron-clad excuse, but I also knew the real reason for my children's tobogganing virginity: I am a chicken.
I am that hovering parent, the one who can so easily be blamed for her children's physical timidity. Mine are the children who cling to the wall at the skating rink, who look on aghast at the playground as other, braver children slide down the fireman's pole. I blame nature rather than nurture, but certainly if a parent can create a fearful child, it would be a parent like me who does it. While other parents sit chatting on benches, I shadow my children, leaping to pull them out of the way of errant swings and gasping when they step too close to the gap at the top of the jungle gym.
So it was with an acute sense of my own absurdity that I bundled my children and their sled into the car this weekend, not at all convinced that we would all return alive. I had purchased the most cushiony sled I could find, an inflatable tube with plenty of hand-grips. If we hit a tree in such a contraption, the worst that could happen is that we would bounce. Our choice of hill was based not only on proximity to our house but also on an informal risk-assessment: no danger from street traffic, no fence to crash into - only a not-entirely-frozen river at the end of a reassuringly long straightaway. The hill itself was streaked with tracks, all of which ended at the foot of the hill.
You know where this story is going of course, so I will reassure you at once that nobody ends up in the river. That's only because my husband tried the sled first and managed to get his boot into the snow in time to stop our friction-free inflatable tube from zipping lightly and easily right into the water. After that, we posted him at the foot of the hill, where he never failed to catch the sled before it could careen over the riverbank.
No, the danger in this story is not from the river's icy waters but instead from my son's belief that it would be fun to intercept his sister in the sled about halfway down the hill, while hubby and I hollered, "Bub! Get out of the way!" from our positions at the top and bottom. Grinning mischievously and ignoring our cries, Bub moved steadily into the path of the oncoming sled, which cut his feet out from under him and catapulted him into the air, head over heels, feet flying, until he finally made contact with the ground cheek-first.
He jumped up quickly, doing the silent scream, his jaw moving up and down in astonishment - but at least it was evident that he had not broken his neck or back, contrary to all probability. A dad who was with his kids on another part of the hill yelled "Oh God!" and sprinted over there to scoop him up while I stood dazedly rooted to the spot.
"I'm injured!" Bub gasped finally as he struggled back up the hill. He was more frightened than hurt, and the most regrettable thing about the entire incident, really, is that I didn't have a video camera with me. But the whole thing reminds me of that Alanis song everybody liked to dismiss so scathingly a few years ago: "Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly. He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye. He waited all his whole damn life just to take that flight, and as the plane crashed down, he thought, 'Well isn't this nice.' Isn't that ironic? Don't you think?" So yes, maybe technically that situation is more sucky than ironic, but it certainly feels like irony when your most absurd fears turn out to be absurdly prophetic.
Monday, December 28, 2009
"When I grow up, I'm going to be just like my Dad," Bub told me yesterday. "Except ... I'm going to cook a lot quicker. That way I don't have to wait for my food."
Bub has been thinking a lot about the future lately. He's worried that when he's a grown-up he'll have to eat grown-up food instead of his current diet of breakfast cereal, baloney sandwiches, peach yogourt, and peas. Totally uncomforted by my assurance that food tastes different when you grow up, he finally relaxed when I pointed out that grown-ups don't have anybody to make them eat stuff they don't want to. (This, I find, is one of the major perks.) He plans to name his first son Ben, though he had to alter his ideas somewhat when we informed him that the baby wouldn't be coming out of his tummy.
Pie, too, has become increasingly aware of the decades stretching out ahead of her. We watched Up yesterday and after witnessing the montage of Carl and Ellie's marriage she looked at my tear-streaked face and said quietly, "They were doing so well! And then ... they weren't."
For her, the long years ahead are doubly poignant because she will have to live them without the help of her dearly departed soothers. On Christmas Day, we packed them all up into a Ziploc bag and handed them off to her newborn cousin. We've been talking about this day for months and though she seemed ready, I wasn't. Pie is four and a half. She is approximately twice as old as most children the day their parents decide they're old enough to give up their pacifier habit. But Pie's addiction has been kept in check: she uses them only in her bed - so, at night or during the day when she is troubled enough to curl up with her dolls and comfort herself with a few drags on her soother. She has an overbite and a lisp - both slight, but evident - which may or may not have been caused by her extended oral fixation, but in the end I've been reluctant to require her to give up something which creates so much comfort and so little harm. What is there in my life that offers the same kind of payoff with so few calories?
Christmas Day, Pie stoically handed over her bag of soothers with little sign of distress - until bedtime. Then the tears came. Not a tantrum, no anger or sulkiness - just deep, heart-wrenching sobs. She has made it through the night without a soother before, on occasions where we've forgotten to pack them, but this night was different - this time, it was forever.
I wonder how many of our griefs are like that, the payback for our knowledge of time. If we lived in three dimensions we would still suffer from momentary pains and discomforts, but how much true suffering is contingent on our awareness of the future? As I sobbed my way through Up yesterday I reflected that the melancholy in that film is attached almost entirely to the passage of time. Time is simultaneously the most mundane and the most startling aspect of life. C.S. Lewis argued that the jolt we feel at the passage of time suggests that we were created for some other condition. None of us have ever known a static existence. Mutability is the most omnipresent, unavoidable aspect of our lives and yet we never quite get over the shock of it.
Friday, December 04, 2009
I am inundated right now with angry emails from students who are convinced that their essays have been badly misgraded by their T.A.s and that I should upgrade them to a minimum of 70%. Somewhat more polite - and yet simmering with unexpressed rage - are the emails from students with marks like 78% or 83%, who want to know exactly how they lost those marks and how they can improve. So there is a certain amount of poetic justice in the dismay I felt when I opened Bub's first report card this week and saw a mixture of B's (in math, science, and social studies) and C's (in visual arts, writing, and oral communication), along with one A- (in reading). I scanned the marks and morphed instantaneously into a caricature of my least likeable students. Why is he getting C's in written and oral communication when he has a diagnosed communication disorder? What exactly has he failed to grasp in math and science? Most importantly of all, what is that MINUS all about in reading???
I've become a little complacent about Bub lately. The aspect of his academic performance I'm most familiar with is his reading ability, and there he seems almost preternaturally strong. This time last year he couldn't recognize all the letters of the alphabet and now he reads fluently, expressively, and with evident enjoyment. He may get a bit daunted with chapter books, but he can work his way through any picture book with ease.
The minus, it turns out, has to do with his ability to make inferences and personal connections. He grasps the content of the books he reads, but when it comes to puzzling out characters' motivations, or the likely outcome of events, he struggles.
So last night when I was reading to him and Pie I decided to throw in a few questions. We were reading about a mouse getting ready to go outside in the snow. The mouse put on his long johns, and then his parka. He put on a toque, and a scarf, and five pairs of socks. In each subsequent illustration he got rounder and puffier until finally he donned a ski mask and prepared to head outside.
"Do you think he's feeling warm right now, or cold?" I asked.
For once Bub was the first to answer, and as he was opening his mouth to speak I suddenly knew what he would say. "I think cold," he answered.
"No," Pie interrupted, sure of her ground. "He's warm!"
Indeed, the very next sentence dwelt on how very uncomfortably warm the mouse was, all flushed and sweaty under his comically excessive piles of clothing. Pie got the answer right, and she did so because she approached the question using her capacity for empathy: she imagined what it would be like to wear all those layers of fleece and wool and knew she would be warm. Bub, on the other hand, went by a sense of association: hats and mittens are cold-weather clothes, and when we have them on we're often still cold, despite the protection they provide. His answer wasn't the one I was looking for - it wasn't the one that accurately predicted the next sentence of the story - but it did make a certain kind of sense.
It was easier to target Bub's language deficits when he was missing whole parts of speech from his vocabulary. Now, what we're working on is that lapse of time between question and answer, that moment when his brain darts around in the dark, looking to unearth the words that can bring his thoughts into the light.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Tuesday is my early morning these days. While the rest of my family is sleeping I am up, fully clothed, munching my Life cereal over the morning paper. Bub found me that way this morning and asked in astonishment, "Are you the only one here? Did you get up and come down here all by yourself?"
When I confirmed that this was, indeed, the case, Bub replied, "Well, you have me now. So you don't need to be alone anymore."
Bub's new favourite expression is "I don't mind." He uses it in situations where he might be expected to mind a great deal: taking medicine, turning off the computer, letting Pie have a turn with the Leapster. It's as though the turn of phrase has revealed to him a whole new weapon in his arsenal of response. He could let out a shriek of rage OR ... he could simply choose not to mind.
Not minding has its advantages. It promotes serenity. There is a beatific quality to Bub these days, as he explores his newfound Zen. All around him may be chaos but at the centre is Bub, not minding.
"You know what it's called when you don't mind things very much?" I asked him the other day. "It's called being easy-going. And you know who else is easy-going? Your Dad."
"You mean Daddy's going easy-going, just like me?" Bub asked in delight. He seems to sense that in not minding he has found an unexpected form of power, a power that is not about getting but about letting go.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Pie: We went for the Terry Fox Walk today!
Hubby: Do you know who Terry Fox is?
Pie: He runned and runned and runned and runned, but then his neck started hurting, and he had to take medicine ... and then he died.
Bub: I think it was from drinking the medicine!
Pie: Or maybe it was because of all that running he did.
Bub: But wait. He was running so that other people wouldn't have to get sick. That's why he's a hero.
Pie: Yeah. He's our hero.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
With university classes set to begin next week, I visited my new classroom yesterday, a soaring cathedral-like space with stained-glass windows and a balcony. For the first time in almost ten years, I will be teaching in a large lecture theatre, so I wanted to scope out the space ahead of time. I had Pie run to the back of the room to test out the acoustics, which were perfect: a four-year-old's murmur carries effortlessly. I'm hoping that will allow me to speak without a microphone - I hate using microphones almost as much as I hate PowerPoint, overhead projectors, and even whiteboards. My classroom, I noted with pleasure, comes equipped with a good old-fashioned chalkboard.
I have sound pedagogical reasons for avoiding technology in the classroom: the darkness alone has a soporific effect and although my students would love more movie clips, I have found that five minutes of video footage have the power to erase whatever impression the students' reading may have made on them. Even if the whole point of the movie clip is to show the profound alteration of meaning produced by a few apparently superficial changes, in the end, students always write about the movie on the exam, thinking they're writing about the book.
My defense of low-tech teaching is well worked-out, but the truth is, I avoid technology in the classroom because I'm afraid of it. I like the security of knowing that everything I need for my lecture is printed out in black and white, securely fastened to my clipboard. The idea of fumbling about with rewind buttons and remote controls in front of an impatient audience of 200 students is enough to make me panic. I got an email a few minutes ago letting me know that my classroom has a video-data projector and a USB port, and it's enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.
Luckily for Bub, his Grade One teacher is a bit less technophobic. On the way home from his first day of school yesterday he actually volunteered the information that the board in his class is a computer board, and when you touch it, the pictures move, and when the teacher types into the computer, the words go up on the board! Bub is enchanted. They had math class yesterday with numbers floating down the screen and the kids had to decide whether they were even or odd. When quizzed, Bub demonstrated no ability whatsoever to distinguish between even and odd numbers (and how do you even explain that concept to children who don't yet know how to multiply or divide?), but he is more excited about school than I had dreamed possible based on my own recollection of Grade One as a lot of sitting around in desks and doing work. If there is one way to get Bub interested in school, it is turning the whole thing into a giant computer.
This boy loves to learn.
I have been imagining the first day of school for months now, picturing a cool, sunny September morning, with children and parents crowded around the class lists posted in the schoolyard and Bub kitted out in his running shoes and backpack, ready for his first day. For once, it all played out exactly as I had pictured it. Bub stood at the front of the line, following his new teacher into the school without hesitation or a backward glance. After the students filed in and the doors closed behind them, Pie and I stood there for a minute in the sudden quiet, as if waiting for something else to happen. Next week, it will be Pie's turn, but for now, the two of us are rattling around the house on our own, enjoying these last few days of relaxation, but asking every so often, in a burst of curiosity, "I wonder what Bub is doing?" He has stepped into a world that is his now. I can peek into his classroom and do my best to figure out what goes on in there, but from now on, most of what I know about his world will be what he chooses to tell me.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Bub: Mama, click on the one you want! Cheerios...
Or a glass of milk!
Me: Um, Cheerios?
Bub: (encouragingly) Try again. Click on another picture.
Me: A glass of milk.
Bub: Try again. Better luck next time!
Me: How about some Special K?
Bub: Correct! You got the right answer!
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Occasionally, I have that dream where suddenly my teeth start falling out. I clutch my mouth, trying to catch them and force them back in, horrified by the sudden, unexpected loss of so necessary and useful a part of my body. I've been told this is a common nightmare, and I've always assumed that it is a haunting reminder of our mortality, our sheer helplessness in the face of our bodies' slow and inevitable decay.
This, roughly, has been Bub's reaction to his first loose tooth. He was morose and subdued all day Sunday, but our first hint of the reason for his mood came during dinner, when he bit into a pickle and suddenly let out a wail of anguish. His bottom middle tooth was tilting wildly back and forth, and Bub was grief-stricken at the news that it was going to come out.
"I love my teeth!" he wailed. "I need my teeth! I just want them to go back to normal!"
Adult attempts at reassurance proved to make matters worse. "I lost my teeth when I was your age," hubby assured him. "And look what I've got now!" Bub took one look at his giant grin and let out another shriek of despair.
"You know what's worse than losing your teeth?" my father-in-law asked. "Losing your hair!" Bub quickly raised a hand to his head and tugged on his hair to make sure it was still firmly rooted, tears tumbling down his cheeks. It was a half hour at least before he could be calmed sufficiently to choke down a bit of applesauce for his supper.
Like everything about Bub, this reaction seems both unusual and eminently reasonable. He is concerned less about the pain or inconvenience of the missing tooth than about the broader implications. His comfortable, friendly body, so apparently stable and unchanging, has betrayed him. He does not fully grasp the meaning of death, but he is glimpsing its hideous visage every time he wobbles that tooth with his tongue. Mutability and change are his enemies already, but now they are hitting closer to home, an invasion that is deeply unsettling. When I look at his tear-stained face I find myself thinking of cultures without dentistry where the loss of one's teeth (in old age rather than youth) means bidding a final farewell to food.
This most ordinary childhood rite of passage would be comical and endearing if it weren't so sad. After one joyful week of summer vacation, Bub is depressed. "It's a no good, very bad day," he announced this morning before dragging his feet to the breakfast table.
At swimming lessons, though, we finally caught a break. Less than forty-eight hours after the first wobble, Bub's tooth came out in the pool. Bub was thrown but cheerful, especially when we explained that the tooth fairy will still come, even though the tooth itself is somewhere at the bottom of the pool. The wobbly tooth gone, Bub's spirit is rising to the task of embracing the new, big-boy reality that these bodies aren't ours for keeps.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
"Stop following me!"
"I'm playing by myself. You're not my friend."
"Go away. I don't want you."
These are the phrases that punctuate Bub's play lately. Every so often I have to barge in and mop up the Pie's heartbroken tears as Bub flexes his muscles, experimenting with the newly discovered power of rejection.
It's a skill he's learned the hard way, in the piranha pool of the McDonald's PlayPlace Friday afternoon, when he spent half an hour playing enthusiastically, happily, with a pair of slightly bigger boys who plotted strategies to get rid of him, like telling him there was pizza at the bottom of the slide. "Pizza?" Bub exclaimed delightedly, and then raced down to gobble up the imaginary snack before rejoining his "friends," who I could hear grumbling, "Does he have to keep following us all the time?"
I looked on, paralyzed by the tunnel-structures that make direct intervention difficult, if not impossible. The younger of the two boys seemed friendly enough, but the older boy scowled at Bub, shoving him out of the way whenever he tried to join in. Bub took all of this as playful roughhousing, reacting only when the older boy turned to him and said, in a serious tone, "Stop following us. We don't want you."
"Oh! Sorry!" Bub replied immediately, scampering off to the opposite end of the PlayPlace. Moments later a howl of pain went up from somewhere in the bowels of the tunnel structure. "You stay away from me, you dangerous boys!" Bub yelled. When he emerged, clutching his arm, the younger boy confirmed that the bigger one had hit him. It's hard to say how Bub would have reacted to the "Stop following us" remark by itself, but the physical attack left no doubt in his mind. He had been rejected, violently, by dangerous yet compellingly powerful adversaries.
The post I would have written on Friday about this incident would have focused on my bewildering realization that motherly love doesn't actually help all that much in the face of peer rejection. Bub and I had been having a wonderful morning. He had been putting on a clinic in cute remarks; I had spent the morning exchanging amused glances with other adults as Bub received his Ice Age II: Dawn of the Dinosaurs toy with the words, "I'm a lucky man!" or greeted the little girl at the next table with the words, "I'm so happy to meet you!" Bub is a happy, extraverted child. His teachers rave about how polite he is; adults are invariably charmed by his artless optimism. Unfortunately, what works with grown-ups does not necessarily work with peers. Perhaps I should be teaching him to greet new acquaintances by pretending to fart on them.
As traumatic as I found Friday's drive-by bullying, I couldn't quite shake the glow from the rest of the morning, my gratitude and pleasure in the companionable little chap my grouchy baby has grown into. And it seemed startling, somehow, to remember how little my own pangs of childhood rejection were relieved by the balm of motherly love.
After three days of watching Bub process his feelings by rejecting his sister, I'm less interested in my own trauma than in his mysterious learning processes. Learning to recognize when you're being rejected is an important social skill. Even more important, perhaps, is figuring out what to do with that experience. Before my very eyes, my son has become ever-so-slightly less trusting, visibly determined to do the rejecting before he can be rejected again. It strikes me that the most magical and unlikely moment in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is not the owl mail or Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, but rather Harry's decision, after a lifetime of being bullied, not to join Draco's incipient gang of bullies but to befriend the underdog Ron instead.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
"You thrive on praise," my husband accused last night. It's true. There are few things I enjoy more than praise.
That's why I'm so fortunate to have a son who is not afraid to dish out a few wholehearted compliments now and then. After I helped him with something this morning he turned to me and said, "Thanks mom. You're really great."
I must have looked as pleased as I felt because he went on to elaborate: "You're really good at wiping bums!"
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
By the time I noticed the conversation, Bub was in what Bridget Jones would call full autowitter: "... and there's Guilmon, and Terriermon, and Renemon! And there's Kabuterimon and Megakabuterimon..." The recipient of this monologue about Digimon (digital monsters) was a girl who looked about nine or ten years old. As soon as she could, she extracted herself from the conversation and joined her brother on the swings, where moments later I heard the two of them trading "mons" back and forth. "That's so retarded!" the girl sneered.
"So, you spend your Saturday afternoons hanging around the park bullying five-year-olds," I said to her. "Wow, you're so cool!"
Actually, I said nothing, but I prepared sarcastic remarks so that I'd have them at the ready if her mockery came within Bub's notice.
We were getting ready to leave church when Anna rushed out. "I have to say goodbye to Bub!" she cried, blonde curls bouncing as she leaned over Pie's carseat to tell him goodbye properly.
Anna is in Bub's class at school, a just-turned-five junior kindergartener, and when her mother asked her the other day about Marshall, another little boy in her class, Anna scornfully replied, "He's not my boyfriend! Bub is my boyfriend!"
At kindergarten pick-up the other day, a little boy came over with a skinned knee. Bub was most solicitous. "Maybe you need a Band-Aid!" he suggested. (Though not addicted to Band-Aids anymore, Bub is still a firm believer in their efficacy.) Devin thought he'd be okay without a Band-Aid.
"Do you know what happens when you hurt your knee?" Bub asked. "It turns into a scab, and then the scab comes off and it's all better!" This is recently acquired knowledge, applicable to many life situations. I'm pleased to see my son tailoring his knowledge-sharing to the needs of the recipient.
"High-five!" Derek hollers, running up to Bub as we exit the school lot. Bub slaps his upraised hand, and as we head toward the car we hear the thudding of running feet behind us. "Another high-five!" Derek shouts again, darting in front of us to get in one last farewell before we go.
All the professionals at Bub's placement meeting agree: he should go on to Grade One. He should be with an E.A. (emphatically), but in a Grade One classroom. I know that he is ready academically, though perhaps not behaviorally or socially. What bothers me is that most of Bub's friendships are with the junior kindergarten kids, who hail him as one of their own. The SK kids are kind, but warier. They notice his quirks, whereas the younger grade is too young and inexperienced to care.
One rationale for moving Bub up a grade is that keeping him back only delays the inevitable: eventually, his peers will all be old enough to notice that he's different. A more optimistic rationale recognizes that Bub is rapidly closing the gap between himself and his peers: it would be senseless to hold him back because of a few mild quirks that he is rapidly overcoming. My concern is that he falls somewhere in between these two interpretations, that he is capable of fitting in but would do so much more easily if he were the oldest kid in the class rather than the youngest.
If I knew that another year of kindergarten were the right thing for Bub I would fight for it, even against the advice of his teacher, principal, and resource worker. But I don't know - so I signed on the dotted line, agreeing to a placement in a Grade One classroom. I even bought the official graduation t-shirt. The propaganda has already started in the classroom - the SKs are being groomed for next year, for the big leap up into the world of desks and worksheets. So far Bub thinks it sounds a lot like camp. I haven't yet told him otherwise.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
At Bub's IEP meeting last week, his kindergarten teacher remarked that he's a boy who speaks his mind. "He's very logical," she observed.
Naturally, I was delighted by this statement of the obvious. I adore logical men, and since that meeting I've been newly aware of the logic of Bub's thought processes. He employs deductive rather than inductive reasoning: instead of observing particulars and then establishing general principles based on his observations, he makes categorical statements and then applies them to particular situations. There is a certain freedom in this approach: Bub's reasoning usually works to his advantage since he's the one making up the rules. But there's also a startling verisimilitude in many of his broad, absolute statements.
"Moms don't have privacy," he observed yesterday when my ability to get him a glass of milk was impeded by the fact that I was on the potty. "No privacy for moms!"
I've been listening more carefully to his words as he's recovered from the uncanny silence produced by the flu bug that swept through our house last week. Both children succumbed within a few hours of each other, and for two days the only sound in the house was the murmur of countless TV cartoons. Awake or asleep, feverish or not, the children simply sat limply on the couch. Only when they began to recover did I realize how much their presence in the house is normally signalled by sound: Pie began to sing tuneless melodies under her breath, and Bub resumed his habitual commentary.
"I'm not sick!" he insisted, even though the milk he drank had made a prompt and unwelcome reappearance. "Sometimes I barf when I'm sick, but sometimes I'm not sick, and I still barf!" His conclusion was false, but, as hubby observed, his argument displays a remarkable ability to resist syllogistic reasoning: sickness leads to barfing, but barfing may or may not indicate sickness. A causes B, but the presence of B may or may not indicate A. (In reality, of course, the reverse is true: You can be sick with or without barfing, but if you barf, you're definitely sick.)
I have vivid memories of arguing with my parents when I was growing up - usually about whether or not my best friend should be allowed to sleep over. My parents made the cardinal error of reversing their position in response to my
nagging compelling arguments, so I was both inventive and tenacious in my attempts to argue my way out of whatever unpleasant demands they happened to place upon me. I was aware at the time that giving in to a child's arguments was not widely considered to be an effective parenting tactic, a position that infuriated me. How was I supposed to learn how to develop airtight, convincing arguments if not by practising on my parents?
Those memories have shaped my own parenting: once I commit myself to a position I don't back down, knowing just how determined a child who scents weakness can become. But I'm delighted to see in Bub that fledgling instinct that the best way to get one's way is not through tantrums or deviousness but rather through head-on argument.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
It started in early December. Bub came sprinting up the stairs, howling in agony. "Part of my thumb," he panted, "it came OFF!" He held up his thumb, and the nail was split halfway down. I quickly pulled out a box of Batman Band-Aids and calm was restored.
Fast forward three weeks. The thumb is now perfectly healed. The nail has grown in, and Bub has even permitted me to trim it. It's time, I tell him, to stop replacing the Band-Aid.
I've been looking forward to this day for weeks. Bub is no fool. He knows that when he washes his hands, his Band-Aid is at risk for falling off, so he has become determined to avoid washing his hands by any and all means necessary, including not going pee ever again. His faith in the Band-Aid is also (naturally) tied to the Batman logo: if the Band-Aid falls off while he's at school or out Christmas shopping, no regular Band-Aid will do - on one outing I had to make an unplanned pit-stop at the grocery store to buy an emergency supply.
So when I announce that we're quitting the Band-Aid cold turkey, Bub predictably falls apart at the seams. His thumb is no longer injured, but it is cold. He needs the Band-Aid to warm it up (this from a boy who flatly refuses to wear mittens when he goes outside). I hold firm - it's time to move on, get back on the wagon and leave the Batman Band-Aid security blanket behind. Distracted by a strategically planned episode of Transformers, he appears to agree. It's several hours, actually, before I realize that he has snuck back into the kitchen, stood on a chair to get the Band-Aid box out of the tall cupboard, used scissors to open the packaging, and replaced the Band-Aid himself. It's an impressive feat of planning and dexterity, but it also means we are back to square one.
That was two weeks ago. We are now up to three Band-Aids. A scuffle with Pie bent back the fingernail on his index finger, and a slight scratch to his other thumb brought our total up to three. All these injuries are now completely healed, but the Band-Aids remain. At this point, I'm shrugging my shoulders and using it to my advantage. I just hope no one calls child services on me when they hear me threatening my son, "Do you want me to take off your Band-Aid? Well okay then - get into the car."
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
You need to be reminded - repeatedly - that you have presents to open.
You can change a transformer from robot to airplane in three seconds flat.
Each morning at breakfast you say, remorsefully, "I'm sorry I dumped out the Special K," even though that was, like, two days ago.
Happy birthday, sweet boy. Don't fly away from me too soon.
Friday, October 31, 2008
The boys come pounding up the stairs - five-year-old cousins, three months apart in age. "Where's Bub?" Jake's mother asks.
"Well, could you go ask if he would like a snack?"
Obediently, Jake trots downstairs, returning a moment later. "He said no."
"Bub's E.A. is all excited about these playdates," Ashley remarks. "I said, well, we've gotten together once." She pauses delicately. "I'm just worried because sometimes Jake can be a bit of a jerk. I wouldn't want Bub to count on this as part of his routine."
"Remember, there are three of you today," Ashley tells Jake and his cousin as they disappear downstairs, hockey sticks in hand. "Three boys. That means three get to play."
Pie pulls on my hand, tugging me downstairs to help her get an out-of-reach toy. The boys are playing hockey. An older cousin is the goaltender; Jake and Kevin are passing the puck back and forth, angling for their best shot.
"You missed!" Bub shouts gleefully, pouncing on a puck that shot just wide of the net. He's having fun. He doesn't notice that he's the only one without a stick, playing by rules of his own devising.
It's time to leave and Bub is hiding behind the couch, emerging only when a return visit is promised. Next week - same time, same place. Jack and Kevin are back downstairs already, having delivered their obligatory goodbyes.
"Thanks for having us," I say as we climb in the car. Ashley helps buckle Bub in.
"Anytime," she replies, heartily enough that it takes several blocks before I realize that I can't breathe.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
In the pilot episode of My So-Called Life, Angela Chase dyes her hair red. "I know she did it to get a rise out of me," her mother insists, but of course that's not at all why she did it. She dyed her hair because she felt trapped inside everybody else's perception of her as the shy, quiet, yearbook-committee-joining good-girl. She did it because she felt that altering her appearance could somehow free her to be a different person.
Fairy tales are largely responsible for this fantasy, I think. Cinderella can be a scullery maid or a princess - it all depends on her gown and glass slippers. In "The Goose Girl," a maid forces a princess to trade dresses with her, and when they arrive at the palace, nobody questions their identity-swap. Even in "Little Red Riding Hood" the nameless heroine is less important than her defining attire. More accurately, perhaps, we might say that the heroine is her attire.
There is something intoxicating about the idea of recreating oneself with a simple change of clothing and, perhaps, hairstyle. My favourite stories have always been makeover stories: books like The Blue Castle or movies like Strictly Ballroom in which the dowdy heroine sheds her braces and limp locks and emerges as an independent, self-defined and compellingly beautiful swan.
Bub is not immune to the power of this fantasy. His favourite stories may not offer many make-up tips, but the common element is the moment of metamorphosis. For months after watching Brother Bear he would freeze in the middle of an activity, a far-away look in his eye, then turn slowly on the spot before announcing, in a hushed whisper, "I turned into a bear!" When his fascination with Brother Bear waned, the Incredible Hulk took its place. Bub was quick to recognize the link between anger and power, the way anger transforms mild-mannered Bruce Banner into a monster of enormous strength. The Incredible Hulk is not really a good story for small children. I'm just saying.
When we asked Bub what he wanted to be for Halloween this year, he answered immediately and decisively, "The Green Lantern." This response was surprising for a couple of reasons: (a) Bub rarely responds to questions about his preferences or about such shadowy, hypothetical future events as Halloween; (b) I'm not entirely sure who the Green Lantern is. He's a superhero, but is he one of the SuperFriends? What, exactly, are his powers? How did Bub become so well acquainted with him as to form a definite and unchanging desire to become him for Halloween?
"Did you cut the green shirt yet?" Bub asked hubby a few mornings ago. We exchanged glances. Hubby had told Bub about his costume plans, but we hadn't realized that Bub was actually listening. Not only was he listening, but he has become strongly attached to the idea. When asked what he's going to be for Halloween, his answer is always the same: "Daddy's going to cut the green shirt, and I'm going to turn into the Green Lantern!"
The Green Lantern costume has become something of a project for hubby. He has debated the various versions of the costume (Alan Scott vs. Hal Jordan); he has confiscated every round object from the kitchen in order to trace out the perfect logo. The costume is still very much a work in progress right now, but the bones of it are there: a shirt and pants in black, stretchy fabric; a green vest and matching boot-covers. When we showed it to Bub he stood stock-still and then breathed, "I love it!" He pulled it on, paused expectantly, and then his face fell. "I don't like this," he glowered. "I'm taking it off."
It's possible that Bub doesn't like the sensation of the stretchy fabric on his skin. But I think the real explanation for his sudden aversion to his Green Lantern costume is the let-down: he thought that the costume would allow him to transform, to metamorphose into somebody strong and powerful: a superhero. There's nothing more crushing than to pull on a new set of clothes only to find yourself unchanged: just a small boy dressed up in Nike workout gear and a shirt with holes cut in the sides of it.
Friday, September 05, 2008
I'm such a novice at this kindergarten thing. I'm the mom who forgets the hat and sunscreen, who sends a snack that requires a spoon, who arrives five minutes late for the second day of kindergarten because, as it turns out, fifteen minutes ahead of time is not soon enough to start bundling a four-year-old and a three-year-old into the car for a three-minute drive.
I can't even remember what those hand-out things are called, the ones the teacher sends home with forms to fill out and calendars of important dates. Take-home papers? That doesn't sound right. Do they have a name, those things?
I'm the mom who forgets to take a photo for the first day of school, who sends her son off in a t-shirt and denim shorts, forgetting until it's too late that there is supposed to be a ritual to this first day of school, even when it's just a half-day of kindergarten. (Especially then.)
I could have arranged Bub at the front door, with our unpaved driveway and unsodded lot as a backdrop. I might even have gotten him to put on his Cars backpack and say "Cheese!" But that photo would not have captured the look of glee on his face as he ran to do lunges with the other kids for their morning "exercises". It would not have caught his tone of voice at the end of the day when his E.A. said "See you tomorrow!" and he replied, "To have more fun?" A snapshot might have caught something of the new jauntiness in his step, the confidence of being a bona fide big kid. It could not possibly have reflected the full measure of my relief.