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10 things I will miss about you (or already do)

Birthday number 11 is in the books, and it's is really just starting to sink in how much time has gone by, and how little time there is left (hopefully) with my little one here at home. Parenting is a hard job. And I don't mean hard as in back breaking. Sure, it is that sometimes, too—The diapers, the sleepless nights, the endless preparation of meals and washing of laundry—but in the end, it's not those things that are hard. No, parenting is hard because if you're doing it right, what you're really doing is spending about eighteen years of your life making yourself dispensable.

When Calvin was little, just a tiny infant I wanted to lose my entire day in, my parents both imparted to me a wisdom that I have held close ever since: from the very first moment, parenting is about letting go. Letting go so they can take their first steps, letting go when you drop them off at their first class or for a first play date, letting go when they take the car out the first time, then when they go to college, and all the little moments between. And each time you let go a little more the space between your heart and theirs lengthens just a little more, pulling first uncomfortably taut, and then, hopefully, slackening again to a comfortable normal. And if you've done it right, in the end neither of you will need those strings at all to exist in a comfortable orbit. 

But the growing up and the letting go happen so gradually most of the time that it's easy to not notice the little changes, and there are many lasts that have already passed us by without my noticing or documenting them. That's life. It can't all be documented any more than it can be stopped or held onto. In the end we're left with memories, and sometimes not even those, but the ones we keep close help us through the letting go and the moving on.

(1) The way you said "squirlul" and "elephlant" until you were three or four.

(2) The crazy face. It was a really crazy face.  

(3) The way you cuddled when we read together. We still read together, but you're past cuddling now.

(4) You singing along with me when I sang you songs like "Leaving on a Jetplane" or "You are my Sunshine" before bed at night.

(5) The weight of your body curled against mine when I carried you. The last time I did this was five years ago. You'd fallen asleep in the car on the way home from somewhere, and you were already too heavy for me, but I knew it was a last chance and I took it.

(6) Your tiny voice. It's growing bigger ever year.

(7) The way you blow me kisses when I drop you off somewhere, not once, but several times, as you walk away from the car to whatever activity awaits.

(8) Our prolonged goodnight exchanges between floors. It started with the simple "goodnight, I love you", repeated by us both, but grew to include air kisses and a variety of other phrases called out after I was already downstairs from putting you to bed. It might be a stalling tactic, but then again, it might just be sweet.

(9) The way you carry(ied) your blanket everywhere. Literally everywhere a number of years ago, now just everywhere in the house.

(10) The way you read: in just about every position (rightside up, upside down, sideways, on the floor, on top of the couch...) but not any one of them for long.



It's the most wonderful time of the year. 

I remember conversing with my mom about Christmas sometime back when I was a newly minted parent. She was imparting to me that holiday's dark secret, kept by all parents alike: Christmas is hard work for parents. This should have been obvious, of course. Though we all talk about the magic of the season like it's a seasonal trait, the way snow belongs to winter and rain belongs to April, in reality it's more like Santa Claus—something that must be made, or at least brought out. The lights don't string themselves, the cookies don't bake themselves, the gifts don't suddenly appear, perfectly thought out and wrapped, ready for Christmas morning.

My parents have always made the magic of Christmas something vibrant and tangible. Traditional foods, decorations, songs, and activities elicit an almost Pavlovian response of Christmas cheer. But making all of that happen is truly hard work, and now that I'm one of them, a parent, that is, I'm fully aware of just how much work. How much back-breaking, spirit crushing work it sometimes is to make getting a tree in cold slushy weather fun, or to find joy in wrapping gifts for the child throwing an unrelated tantrum upstairs, or to go to the store yet again for even more lights because yes, that string you just bought last year is already broken. But the best of times are just an attitude adjustment away, and cold slush can be fun if you decide that it is, so the most important job is to decree the magic in everything that you do. Because no, it's not like snow in winter, it's more like radishes in spring: plant it, nurture it, and watch it grow. (And you can't actually count on snow in winter anymore, either).

We spent this past weekend, or week, really, Christmasing (for the amount of work it takes, it ought to be a verb). We strung lights, inside and out, we swapped normal dishes for santa ones, we stuck a tree in the corner and covered it in trinkets collected from all over the world. We listened to carols, we played carols. We made ornaments to gift to others. Boxes were carted up and down the basement stairs so many times the cat lost count. The dog is over this santa fad, why is her dinner late? And, finally, I sewed new socks and we hung them by the chimney with all the care our tired limbs could muster. We worked, but we also worked at having a good time, because sometimes your best times are just an attitude adjustment away. That's where the music, and the wine, comes in.


Day 65: loved


Things about which we do not speak: frustration

It is easy to believe, even for long stretches of time, that this life we've created is charmed and perfect. We love what we're doing, what we're exploring and researching, the books we're reading, the topics we're delving into. In part, that's the point. Homeschooling allows us the freedom to make that happen.

But the truth isn't at all that simple.Even the things you love become tedious at times, and that old adage, about anything worth doing or having is worth working for, is true.

Things often come easily to Calvin. Over the years it has become increasingly clear that he expects this, and when something isn't as easy as he expects, he becomes frustrated quickly. It's a common reaction for bright kids, but it's hard to watch. My go-to response has always been to applaud his struggle and use that old adage about the greatest things requiring greater work, but it usually falls on deaf ears. And why shouldn't it? The more I've thought about it, telling him that the things he struggles with are worth more only negates all the things he's learned easily in the past. And aside from nobody wanting their knowledge demeaned, the truth is that it's a lie, and kids can see right through lies.

And there's another important piece to the puzzle, too, the piece that adds color to the overall picture. Our feelings, our emotions, add color to our lives, and frustration is one of those emotions. In telling my son that he should revel in his struggles and award himself for hard-won feats I'd hoped to aleviate his frustration and avoid what is ultimately a painful and frustrating experience for myself as well. But that's the wrong lesson. Frustration is part of life. And while I'd like him to learn how to successfully work hard for his achievements, and to self-reward, it is just as important to me that he learn how to be frustrated and self soothe, or calm, then move forward.

So over the past few months we've changed our approach to frustration. It started with admitting that I had been wrong, followed with the admission that we all get frustrated (as if he hadn't seen me deal with frustration myself), and ended with what I hope will be the ultimate lesson: that the frustration matters less than what you do with or after it. But frustration response is habit forming, and it can take time to change bad habits. Around here our go-to response to frustration has been negativity, like grumbling, physical outbursts, or even giving up. So we introduced positive and negative jars: in the face of frustration, when we choose to respond in a positive way a pin goes in the positive jar, and vice versa. A positive reaction can be laughter, a reframing of goals, or simply walking away, but most importantly, it can come after an initial outburst, because expressing frustration is okay.


Parenting lessons from a psych major

Calvin had an interview today with a psychology student at the university. We’re on their list of people who will obligingly come in and participate in developmental psych research projects for which Calvin is the perfect age. We’ve been called a handful of times and happily participated. Each session starts the same way, with a little play time together in the reception area, followed by Calvin and the researcher chatting in a comfortable interview room while I sit behind a one-way mirror in an observation room, surrounded by recording and sound equipment.

I have always found the process—the questions, and Calvin’s answers—fascinating. They’ve had a way of teaching me at least a little something about my son, myself, and our relationship to each other and the world.

Today's project had to do with children’s perceptions of choice. Calvin was shown images of a set of computer generated boys and given a description of a specific trait for each one. Sean, for instance, was “a very good reader”, while Max was “not very nice”, and so on. As the researcher passed through the set of about ten boys, each with his own unique trait, she asked Calvin why he thought the kid had that trait. I found myself alternately giggling and cringing throughout the conversation.

“Sam is very nice. Why is Sam very nice?”

“Because he wants to make friends.”

“Max is not very nice. Why is Max not very nice?”

“Because he doesn’t like the people around him.”

Most of Calvin’s answers about why Sam, Max, Charlie, or any of the others might have these traits had to do with their own actions. According to Calvin, for instance, Sean was a good reader because there were so many great books around that he really wanted to read. I loved that answer, and all the others he gave of his own accord.

On a second pass through all these characters, though, the researcher asked Calvin how choices may have impacted their traits. That second pass was a little iffier.

“Carl is very good at sports. Do you think Carl’s choices have anything to do with why Carl is very good at sports?”


“On a scale of one to ten, how much do you think Carl’s choices effect Carl being good at sports?”

“Ten, because he chooses to practice or not.”

In fact, Calvin thought choice greatly impacted all the children’s traits.

“Charlie is very tall. Do you think Charlie’s choices have anything to do with why Charlie is so tall?”


“On a scale of one to ten, how much do you think Charlie’s choices affect Charlie’s height?”

“Ten, because he eats healthy foods.”

Clearly we haven’t done enough work in the science department lately, I thought. A third pass through the characters was about how environment affects their characters, and a fourth pass was about genetics. That fourth pass was the spottiest of all.

“Charlie is very tall. Do you think Charlie’s genes have anything to do with why Charlie is so tall?”

“No. Zero. Not at all.”

In fact, as far as Calvin was concerned, genes had little to do with any of the boys’ traits. Time to touch on genetics in biology, eh?

Or maybe not. I asked the researcher about it after they were done, and she told me that almost all the kids had answered the height question similarly. Height, in most children’s mind, was directly linked not to genetic legacy, but to choice. Why? Because from birth we have reminded them to eat well so that they can grow up big and strong. It’s so ingrained in our parental culture almost all parents say it to their children at one time or another. On top of that, in our house we have been very purposeful about teaching choice and consequences, so why wouldn’t Calvin link the two—eat well, grow big and strong, it’s all a matter of good choices, right?

It's a fascinating consequence of accidental parenting, one without repercussions. Simply an "Aha!" moment. I hope they call us for another study soon because I can always learn from little lessons like these. I really like "Aha!" moments.