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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

Maestra,

Autumn is having a little trouble letting go of the tank tops and shorts from her summer wardrobe. Rather than continually fight to get her to wear something more weather-appropriate, I’ve told her she can wear what she wants as long as she can sit outside in her outfit of choice for five minutes. She’s very stubborn, and you will see her today in a tank top and skirt.

I’m sure she will become more agreeable as the days get colder, but until then I will be packing an extra warmer outfit in her backpack.

Thank you,

Heather N-

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Autumn has started to pay more attention to the physical differences in people.  I’ve wanted to write about this for awhile because a) she’s a girl b) she’s my girl and c) she recently called me “fat” for the first time ever.

I knew this was coming. Once Autumn was introduced to the preschool environment and a much larger pool of different shapes, sizes and ethnicities than she had ever seen before, I knew she’d eventually figure out I’m a pretty big woman.  Even though obesity has sort of become the unfortunate norm these days, I’m still the largest parent I’ve seen since we started her at the preschool.

So she called me fat. She said it matter-of-factly in a strictly observational tone and I thought, “Okay, there it is. That wasn’t so bad.”  And it really wasn’t. I told her yes, I am fat but that it’s not polite to say that to someone no matter how true it is.

I may let my kid watch too much TV and I may display my temper in front of her a little too often, but one thing I’ve made sure to never do is criticize my appearance in her presence.  For one, I don’t want to be responsible for building the foundation of an unhealthy body image.  Yes, I am a large woman but repeatedly calling myself such in front of my daughter would be just as damaging as if someone like Heidi Klum did the same thing.

The other thing is that I don’t need, nor do I desire, the kind of validation one seeks when she utters the words “I’m so fat” out loud. There’s really only one way to respond to that statement and that’s why women say it. They want someone to tell them it isn’t true.

But in my case it is true.

I was feeling pretty good about how I handled this thing and I thought the conversation with my daughter had come to its natural conclusion until she said, “Jacob told me, ‘Your mom’s not pretty’ and I got mad at him because you are pretty!”

You should have seen her face. It was as if Jacob had told her Santa Claus wasn’t real. And knowing the kind of kid this Jacob is, he most likely will be the one to detonate that bomb and destroy the innocence of his friends some day.

I have to admit it was awesome to be able see myself through my daughter’s eyes.  She thinks I’m beautiful and I couldn’t  love her more for that.  But there was also this other feeling, this little emotional punch to the gut knowing the Santa Claus killer was out there talking smack about me.  How many other kids were telling my daughter the same thing?

Still, I glared at Autumn and said, “Who cares what Jacob thinks? I certainly don’t and you shouldn’t either.”  We went on to discuss why people say hurtful things and how it shouldn’t matter as long as we feel good about who we are.

There was a part of me that knew what I was saying was crap. The ideology behind it was true enough, but I know very well what she’s in for in the years ahead.  My after-school-special postulating might work now while she’s very young, but eventually the voices of her peers will become louder than mine and she’s going to start picking herself apart.

Maybe that’s why the conversation was that much harder the second time around. Last night it came up again as I was putting Autumn to bed.  We were roughhousing a little bit and she said how some day she’ll be strong enough to flip me off her back like I do her.  I said, “You’ve got a lot more growing up to do before you’ll be able to do that,” to which she replied, “Yeah, because you’re fat.”

This time I got just a little pissed off because, hell, I’ve lost 60 pounds since October. Why can’t she notice that?

So there we were, launching into another discussion about the delicacy of making remarks about a person’s appearance.  It was rough. I found myself stopping and starting, fumbling over my words and trying not to sound like a fool as I again explained how some people might construe the world “fat” as being hurtful.

I think what was so hard about this was that I wanted to explain the negative connotations of calling someone “fat” without implying that being fat is some sort of character flaw.

Because it’s not.

Being fat is not ideal. Being fat is unhealthy. Being fat is unpleasant in many, many ways and can make life very difficult, but it’s not the hallmark of a sub-par human.

Not everyone raises their kids to believe that. I know because I’ve run into many of those kids over the years.

I have no doubt this is going to come up again, and I do hope that eventually Autumn will recognize my weight loss and see it as something positive born out of desire to improve my health rather than a desperate attempt to fit in with the soccer moms and the PTA crowd. But this may be one area in which I’m not great at communicating with her because I haven’t talked to her about the weight loss at all. I haven’t wanted to explain how being fat isn’t healthy, which in turn makes me unhealthy. She’s not a worrier by nature, but four year-olds don’t have the capacity to put things into perspective.  Their little minds are completely unboxed and their imaginations have no barriers.

Lately Autumn has taken to telling us she needs to work out. She’ll hang off the chair and do one or two push-ups before collapsing on the floor.  This irritates Nathan to no end.

“You’re four years old for cripes sake!” he says. “You don’t need to work out!”

But she sees me work out. She sees me leave and come home a hot mess from my time on the elliptical. She thinks she needs to exercise because I need to exercise. She pays attention and wants to emulate me, so I have actually taken the time to explain that grownups have to exercise because we work all day and don’t get recess anymore.

I hate having to tell her things like that. It makes me feel like the Santa Claus killer.

So how I’m going to end this is by asking for your thoughts. I think I need some other voices to chime in and I’d love to hear how others have addressed the mine field that is body image, self-esteem and teaching our daughters to respect and appreciate physical differences.  Sometimes I get the sense it’s all “kill or be killed” out there and that’s not really a world I want to send my kid out into.  Some girls are given armor and some are given ammunition.

Others are given boys.

Lucky bitches.

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When I was a kid, there was one day every year that I dreaded like none other. As it approached, the bile in my stomach would rise, my palms would sweat and I had no other wish than for the ground to open up and swallow me whole. If there was ever an antithesis to Christmas, that day was it.

Track and field day.

I do not come from athletic stock. In fact, I would bet that in the days of hunting and gathering, my ancestors were the large, lumbering folk who were frequently eaten by predators. That I am here today to tell the story of how much I loathed physical activity pretty much proves that the process of natural selection isn’t really about survival of the fittest.

Because I was not fit.

And at no time was this unfitness more gloriously showcased than during track and field day.

I really couldn’t tell you all the activities my gulag of an elementary school forced me to participate in every year. All I remember is the running. Oh, how I hated the running. I could do the long jump without humiliating myself too much and I even managed to score a third place ribbon in the soccer kick one year.

But the running, it killed me.

The sprint or the dash or whatever they called the hell that is forcing my legs to propel my body forward at unnatural speeds left me gasping like an 80 year-0ld asthmatic.  And I was always dead last. The stereotypical fat kid pulling up the rear.

I mean seriously, couldn’t they tell by looking at me that we were just wasting everybody’s time?

But no, those were the Reagan years and they took physical fitness very seriously.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t just say no.  I had to participate.

In fifth grade I participated with every other fifth grader in the district in a huge track & field event at the high school. I don’t remember anything about that day. I suppose if I were to dig deep down into the recesses of my subconscious, I might be able to pull up random snippets of agony and mayhem reminiscent of a Lady Gaga video, but it’s probably best for those memories to lay dormant.

Of course this aversion to running and every other form of exercise did not serve me well in the long run and I eventually found myself weighing over 350 pounds.  Now that I have matured, dropped some of the weight and have overcome a debilitating knee injury, I am thankful to be able to do any physical activity at all. I revel in it, actually, and hope to some day incorporate running into my fitness routine.

But that problematic history with track and field day still exists, so you can imagine how I felt upon dropping Autumn off at school last Thursday and seeing these words posted next to the door as I left:

FIELD DAY WILL TAKE PLACE TODAY IN THE SOCCER FIELD NEXT TO THE SCHOOL.

I froze for a second and stared at the sign, a mixture of relief and pity brewing just underneath the uneasiness I felt at seeing the words “FIELD DAY.”

I was relieved I’d had the foresight to send Autumn to school in sneakers instead of the usual flip flops. Even though the school emails a calendar to parents every week, I don’t always read it and tend to miss things like returning books to the reading bus, which in turn leaves me driving through town on my lunch hour with two Dora books in the front seat and no idea where to actually deposit them.

The pity came from a deeper place, and as I read the sign I couldn’t help but think, “Dang, girl, your life is going to suck now. Innocence lost and all that. I have a space on the couch reserved for you.”

Don’t get me wrong, I really want nothing more than for my child to love activity. She has all this energy that lately has been funneled into driving us crazy, but I’m pretty sure she could physically excel in whatever sport tickled her fancy. It’s just that she’s my kid and that alone serves as a pretty significant handicap.  I don’t always lead by example, you know.

But get this.  The girl I picked up from school that day had a medal hanging from her neck.  Ok, so every kid wore a medal and that medal was probably purchased at the dollar store, but it was a medal nonetheless.

“What did you get that for?” I asked.

“Soccer!” she exclaimed.

Dang. Apple. Tree. Even if your skills are mediocre, it’s still awesome to see your contribution to the gene pool.

“And did you run in any races?” I asked, looking to see if that seed had been planted and taken root.

“Yeah, and I won!”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yep. And then we raced again and I won again and we raced again and I won AGAIN!”

“Wow! You’re pretty fast!”

“Yep,” she said, and though I doubted the veracity of all her claims, I did have to admire her confidence and enthusiasm.

The girl likes to run.

Thank God.

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My daughter starts kindergarten in three and a half weeks.

I told one of my co-workers this yesterday and she was all “Nuh-uh! Already?”

I know.

Our district tests for kindergarten readiness in the spring. Not all districts do this and I consider us very fortunate that ours takes kindergarten placement so seriously. Of course parents can do whatever they want regardless of what the assessment suggests, but I was hoping it would be one more tool at our disposal to help us make the best decision for our child.

Secretly, though, I was hoping the assessment would make the decision for us.

The assessment took place last March at a local church. The children were handed off to the evaluators while the parents sat in a room and learned about the assessment process and what skills they looked at when determining placement.

All the while I listened I was hoping the results would be clear. Autumn is only two weeks from the cut-off date to even be eligible to attend kindergarten this year and would most likely be the youngest in her class if that’s where we decided to put her. Nathan and I discussed it and decided that if the test was inconclusive, meaning she could go either way, we’d give her another year and put her in pre-k.

But the test wasn’t inconclusive. As I sat down with the evaluator, a very nice teacher from one of the elementary schools, I was handed a piece of paper with the evaluation results laid out in a grid. On the left side of the paper were the skills that were tested; fine motor, gross motor, language, reasoning and whatnot. The top of the grid broke down how well the child tested in each category and the teacher pointed out where the child needs to be in order to handle the standard kindergarten curriculum.

Autumn tested at or above kindergarten readiness in each category, and at the bottom of the page where it asked the evaluator to note her recommendation, she had written “kindergarten.”

I was just about to issue a triumphant fist pump when the teacher lowered the whammy.

“While she did test ready for kindergarten, she would also do very well in pre-k.”

Emphasis on the very well.

The teacher went on to say that pre-k serves as an opportunity for children to continue to learn and grow before entering the big bad world of kindergarten and that Autumn would only be that much more ready to tackle elementary school if we gave her another year.

I didn’t get the sense that she was trying to push us towards pre-k, mind you. I think she was just trying to reassure us that pre-k was an option if we decided we wanted to wait a year. In the end, though, I signed the paper indicating we agreed with the initial assessment.

Of course the process wasn’t over. The assessment was on Thursday. Final placement would not be determined until we called the district the following Monday. We were given the weekend to sit and think about it, and since I happened to have a conference scheduled with Autumn’s preschool teachers in the afternoon that Monday, I decided to show them the results of the assessment and gather their input before calling the district.

Both of the teachers said they had a hard time making a recommendation. They each said Autumn is very smart but that a year in pre-k would help her become more of a leader.

“Kindergarten is not what it used to be,” said one. “Learning through play is crucial to child development and pre-k would help her build the skills she’d need to really excel in kindergarten.”

So here we had three teachers telling us Autumn was academically ready for kindergarten but that pre-k was the less risky option that would allow our child more time to be a child. It’s a practice called “red shirting” and many parents do choose to hold their children back a year. My parents did. Since my birthday is a week after Autumn’s and since Nathan and I live in the same district where I grew up, my parents were in the very same situation 34 years ago. I tested ready for kindergarten but the evaluator suggested pre-k. And so that’s where I went.

Now this is the part where being a parent sucks because these kinds of decisions are the ones that have the potential to have repercussions years down the line. Will she fall behind academically because we pushed her before she’s ready? Will she be that much more immature than her peers? Did we take away her childhood a little too early?

And, of course, will she hate us because she’ll be the last of her friends to earn her driver’s license?

I really wanted this to feel right. No matter what we chose, I wanted to know we’d made the best decision for our child. But it just wasn’t happening. No matter which way we went, there was an even balance of pros and cons that left me with a nauseating sense of uncertainty.

This is my child. My one and only child. I don’t want to make the wrong decision.

On the other hand, I also don’t want to play it too safe. I don’t want to limit her potential and I do want to challenge her.

I was not challenged. Even now, when faced with a challenge, I tend to look around it rather than through it. I procrastinate. I defer. I’m passive and a little bit lazy.

Would any of that have changed if I’d not gone to pre-k? Who knows? I’m not saying my parents made the wrong decision. They made the best decision with the information they had at the time. But I know my parents. They are not risk-takers. They never have been.

So maybe it was with a little bit of defiance that I signed that paper and later called the district indicating our desire for kindergarten placement. Both Nathan and I are prepared to give her that little bit of a push neither of us ever received.

I’ve had five months to think about this decision, and as we get closer to the start of the school year, my doubts have started to dissipate a little. I don’t think I’ll feel entirely comfortable until we’re on the other side of this first year, but even then I may still wonder if we did the right thing.

Our little home is in for some big changes within the next few weeks. It’s going to be an interesting transition and I have no doubt I’ll spend that first day of school weeping at my desk and wondering how this girl

turned into this girl.

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When Autumn was a baby, I would wish she could talk so she could tell me how she was feeling. Her second winter was the Season of Ear Infections and I remember being so paranoid that I’d miss the telltale ear tug or fever and she’d be forever hearing impaired because of my negligence.

Now that she’s four and has a pretty full vocabulary, the task of diagnosing her ailments has not gotten any easier because now I’m forced to filter out the drama. A stubbed toe is a broken toe. A hand on her back to nudge her forward is a push.  And is she asking for Pepto Bismol because she really does have a stomach ache or because it tastes like bubble gum?

Last night she came home from school with a little bit of a black eye. She had bent down to pick up something and smacked herself good on one of the tables. When I first saw her I thought she just had a dirty smudge on her face, but one of her teachers pointed out that the eye was still a little swollen.

Later that evening we decided to go to the university pool to cool off. We had some library books to take back, and as Autumn hopped out of the car to help me push the books through the chute, we became tangled up in each other and I wound up accidentally pushing her to the ground.

But she was okay. She didn’t cry and she wasn’t bleeding and she didn’t offer the usual accusatory glare that means she thinks I’ve mistreated her. She can be tough when she wants to be.

When we got back into the car, however, she let loose with the drama.

“Oh no. My leg is swelling.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Is it? We’ll take a look at it when we get to the pool, okay?”

“I really think it’s swelling, mom.”

I assured Autumn we’d triage her as necessary and then explained to Nathan how the teacher had made the swelling comment in regards to Autumn’s eye earlier. He understood completely.

Which is why we felt a little guilty when Autumn actually wound up getting sick after our swim.

It started out with a complaint about her throat hurting. We suggested it was because of all the squealing she’d done in the pool.  “But it really hurts,” she said and grimaced as we walked back to the car.  Nathan had just started to pull out of our parking spot when the throat complaints turned into frantic exclamations that she had to throw up.

When you’re in a car, you have to take puke very seriously.

We hadn’t even left the parking lot at that point, but Nathan stopped and I pulled Autumn out of her seat.  “If you have to puke, do it in the grass,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because this is where I park my car every day,” I said.

And within a minute I was introduced to the night’s hot dog and corn on the cob as she yakked all over the pavement.

Seeing your kid get sick is the worst because there’s nothing you can do to help. You can’t stop the flow of vomit, you can’t allay their fears of puking again (because they probably will) and you can’t tell them they’ll feel better when they’re done.  They’ll probably feel worse and all you can do is hold them.

So that’s what I did. I held my daughter as she was sick and then loaded her back into the car when we were sure she was done.  Just before I closed the door, she looked over at the puddle she had just created and asked, “Is that really where you park every day, mama?”

I smiled. “No, honey. That’s where Wanda parks.”

The ride home was a little dicey, but we managed to get through it without another incident and Autumn went to bed with a bowl nearby just in case she needed it.

Thank goodness she didn’t.

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I love you, Mom.

Thanks for coming over to my school. Thanks for coming over for breakfast.

I’ll bring you a flower. It’s a fake one. On paper. And it’s going to be real. It’s a dandelion.

I want to play cards with my SpongeBob ones after school with you. I’ll play with Molly when I get home.

Bring my dog a bone. Read a story to my baby. Read a story to my mom. Read a story to my dog. Play hula hoop.

That’s about it.

autumn

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Last night Nathan and I retired to the basement to watch the second half of Avatar with its death, destruction and tragic deforestation.  It was pretty loud in some parts and I was so completely engrossed in the story that I forgot about the load of towels I had in the wash.  I also did not hear what was going on upstairs while my heart was bleeding for the Na’vi.

After the movie was over, I went into the laundry room to load up the dryer when I heard water running somewhere in the house.  The sound was unmistakable.  I could hear the hum of a faucet and the rush of water running down through the pipes.  I went upstairs expecting to see Autumn awake and in the process of some water-related shenanigans.  Mind you, it was after 11:00 pm, a time when shenanigans of any kind are not tolerated. The kid needs her sleep.

And asleep she was. Sound asleep with half her body falling off the bed.  The bathroom door was closed, and when I opened it I discovered a running faucet, a sopping wet bath mat and a ruined compact of Physician’s Formula pressed powder sitting in the sink.

At this point your guess as to what went on is as good as mine.

I was livid. I had left Autumn in her room at 9:00, and given that some water-related shenanigans took place after I left her, I figured that faucet ran for at least an hour and a half.  An hour and a half of wasted water. Dozens of gallons of wasted water. And how ironic that happened while we watched a movie that is essentially a vehicle created to slap you in the face with its environmental conscience. Gah!

My inquiry this morning was for naught. I may as well have asked the child where crop circles come from or if Tom Cruise really is gay for all the answers she provided when I asked her what happened after I went downstairs.

She doesn’t know.

*Sigh*

Of course she doesn’t.

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