Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Growing Pains....

Remember that show? Remember when Kirk Cameron wasn't crazy? Those were good times.

Neither here nor there, though.  This post is about my kid's legs.  And the mystery pains plaguing them.   The pains that kept him up half the night last night (according to him; of course, from my perspective he slept all night, so the reality is possibly somewhere in between).  He started limping last night--unable to recall any traumatic leg event from earlier in the day which might have caused the pinching pain behind his knee.   There was much heavily whispered "Ow"ing at every move; whispered to ensure authenticity, but whispered loudly to ensure maximum attention-garnering, naturally.

So we looked at his legs--compared one knee to the other, examined the back of the knee for any sign of injury, swelling or foul-play.  Nada.  A perfectly proportioned, unbruised, unscathed knee.  Veritable patella perfection, front and back.

We offered ice; he declined.  I offered Advil; he declined.  The coping mechanism of near-constant complaining and limping prevailed for the rest of the evening.  It was fun for the whole family, really.

This morning, he suggested from the warm cocoon of his covers that he stay home;  you know, because of the pain.  I admit I was tempted, because the warm cocoon of my covers was calling me and it would have been so easy to just crawl back to bed.

But mystery leg pains don't come with fevers, vomiting or copious amounts of green snot, so as a responsible parent, I just couldn't bring myself to give him the day off for "leg pain."  Not that I don't believe his leg hurts; I do.  But his leg's going to hurt at home just like it would hurt at school and last I checked, leg pain is not one of your more contagious ailments.

On the way to school (which he agreed to with only minor screaming and kvetching after all), I told him I'd make an appointment with our chiropractor for after school.  Turns out having a chiropractor for your kid is a super convenient way to cure him of all kinds of issues.  I'm a fan of chiropractics in general, but for a child, its like a magical process of fixing every little thing.  Whether its placebo or real, I don't care---behavioral problems?  Take him to the chiropractor.  Leg pain? Take him to the chiropractor.  He asked me this morning how his back being out of whack could lead to his knee hurting and we spent the entire drive to school talking about the nervous system and the brain and the spine--he can't wait to get to the chiropractor's today to ask her all it.  And he seems to have totally forgotten about his leg pain.

When we got to the school play ground, I asked two of his friends to take good care of him today because his leg hurt and his sweet friend Bella, a fellow 1st grader, showed him a technique of rubbing the skin below her pinky fingers with her thumbs and said "this sometimes helps with growing pains.  And sometimes it just makes my fingers tickle."  His friend Jack, a 2nd grader, said reassuringly, "I used to get growing pains all the time last year when I was in first grade."  Apparently in 2nd grade, the growing pains go on hiatus?  And clearly the concept of "growing pains" is not foreign to these kids.  Bella later suggest, authoritatively, that Ethan might in fact be going through a "growth snurt." And then I died a little bit from The Cute.

Ethan hopped dramatically down the hall and into the class.  I carried his bag for him as an excuse to meet his long-term sub and explain the leg issues--and I kind of felt like an ass asking her to keep an eye on him and sharing his fears that his friends would tease him if he limped, and chuckled and threw out the phrase "growing pains" and "I'm sure he's really fine, but...."  Thankfully she looked at me like I was only a *little* crazy, and not the full-on lunatic that I am.

So we'll see how he does today with the growing pains and whatnot.  His teacher did tell me that they're taking a "history walk" today (a what?!) so I'm sure I'll hear all about how excruciating that was.      

Let's just all hope that these growing pains usher in the age of an Ethan who weighs more than 40lbs, so we can finally get that kid in a regular booster seat.  Having to endure the "why are you still in that baby booster seat?" questions from his friends is getting to be a bit much for his ego.  Here's to hoping he's in a regular booster by age 7.  Bring on the growing pains!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Homework success...just in time for vacation. Also? Golf.

Its the little victories, people.  Like the fact that cutting Ethan's math drill into strips and hiding them around the house lead to an enthusiastic completion of the exact same worksheet that took two hours the week before.  And the fact that the promise of a treat at the end of the week & the ability to make a smiley face on a white board after completing each homework assignment was all I needed to offer to get the kid to come home, drop his back pack and sit down at the dining room table for 30 minutes each day.  Clearly I forget what its like being 6 years old. Thanks for reminding me, interwebs.

Of course, we met with this moderate homework happiness just days before the beginning of ski week (or, for those of us who don't ski, "Cabin Fever Week"), so that did nothing for our momentum.   Hopefully come next Monday, Ethan will remember the feeling of satisfaction he got from the Star Wars Lego set completing his work and getting a taste of academic accomplishment.  Add to the mix that we were informed before vacation that his class will have a substitute for at least three weeks upon returning from vacation, and I think we've got our work cut out for us.  Super!

Also, last week was the sugar-coated Valentines Day extravaganza in Ethan's class.  They did things like play Valentines Day Bingo, create Valentines cards by gluing conversation hearts onto construction paper (I can't tell you how many kids tried to eat the conversation hearts off of their cards--complete with glue--after they finished them; nor do I care to expound upon how many kids ate the conversation hearts out of the bowls after their classmates had pawed them repeatedly, looking for just the right sentiment of "U R the best" and "U R my honey pie" to glue to their papers. I can only imagine that every child in that class is at home right now, stricken with plague.  ::Shudder::)

Ethan made this cookie:

and actually ate it.  I didn't get a picture of the cookie consumption because I was too busy calculating the grams of sugar and the counting the different artificial food dyes my child was ingesting.  And figuring, based on those calculations, exactly how terrible of a mother I actually am.  Then I remembered he weighs 40lbs soaking wet and Valentines Day happens once a year, and I let it go.  Ahhh, the power of rationalization!

Also, my parents were visiting last week, which means we watched a lot of golf.  Even the cat watched a lot of golf.

And just so we could say we did more than watch golf on TV while we ate snacks on the couch, we actually got in our cars and drove down to Pebble Beach.  To watch people play golf in the flesh, while we ate snacks on the terrace.

Husband and Ethan trying out the latest in golf hat fashions in the pro shop. 

I'm not sure if Ethan's playing golf or baseball here, but whatevs.  

The shmancy lodge on the 18th green. 

Hey there, classy guy. 

Oh look!!! People playing golf! (photo courtesy of Ethan)

We sat outside with the sun burning holes in our brains while we waited for the slowest waitresses ever in the history of waitressing to bring us $20 plates of beets and goat cheese.

Then Ethan and I took a walk down to the green, where we took pictures of ourselves and golf carts.  Like you do.

When we walked back to the deck to see if our waitress had emerged with the fancy appetizers and beverages, Ethan took the camera from me and began what I can only imagine will be a long and illustrious career as a portrait photographer.  Look out, Annie Lebowitz.

One can't venture down to Pebble Beach without at least racing at breakneck speeds (i.e. 35mph) through 17-mile drive.  So we did, stopping at the most touristy and crowded spots to ooh & aahh at the  site of trees, rocks and tons of bird poop. 

The GPS thought maybe we should stop...you know, before we drove right off the cliff and into the ocean...

The lone cypress--which really looks like two lone cypresses, which wouldn't make it lone at all, now would it?

My dad pointing out otters or sea lions to Ethan.  Although, given my dad's history of erroneously identifying marine life, it was probably just a surfer. 

Waves being all crashy and whatnot.  

"Bird Rock" which was actually lousy with sea lions (hardly a bird in sight), bellowing at each other and generally disturbing the peace.  

Afterwards we drove home and I'm pretty sure we watched more golf.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Waterboarding Homework

I'm not a fan of extreme interrogation or torture techniques.  That being said, I think putting enemy combatants in a room with a couple of first graders and their homework might work just as well, or better, than partial drowning or sleep deprivation.

Yesterday afternoon found Ethan and I sitting at our dining room table, locked in a battle of wills over a sheet of simple math problems (think "4+5=").  This is math that Ethan mastered in kindergarten, thanks to my superb parenting skills an iPhone app.  No number on the page was higher than 10 & none of the answered equalled more than 10.  So pretty much, the absolute easiest math Ethan will ever encounter in his academic career.  Math I know he can do.  Math I've seen him do for over a year.

The issue yesterday wasn't the equations themselves (although there were all kinds of laments like, "I don't knooooooooow the answers!!! I can't do it!!!!"), it was the fact that this particular assignment was a "drill."  The point of the assignment was to solve the 50 simple equations, getting as many correct as possible, in 10 minutes.  Each Thursday, in class, they take the timed drill and if they get a certain number of problems correct, they move on to the next drill.

Let me start off by saying, I hate this assignment.  It reeks of standardized testing training and joyless rote memorization. It represents just about everything I loathe/dread about the public education system in this country right now and why I didn't want to send him to public schools in the first place.  I dream of emailing the teacher and telling her, "Dear teacher who I know is just doing her job,  from here on in, Ethan will not be completing this ludicrous waste of time math drill bc his father and I are philosophically opposed to math drills and all drills and anything that sucks the joy out of learning and deadens our child's innate curiosity.  I know you have to prepare him and his classmates for the absurd state testing that will determine whether or not you get to keep your job, and I don't believe that everything has to be super! fun! and creative! all the time in the class room, but the pressure to complete this entire page of equations in 10 minutes makes the numbers swirl around on the page in front of my kid's eyes, the answers fly from his brain, and within 5 minutes, he is crying under the table and I am pulling my hair out, trying to find the balance between enforcing your assignment and the knowledge that I am destroying my child's love of learning with every passing minute. So from now on, the 6 year old doesn't participate in timed drills as assessments.  Sincerely, Ethan's Mom (and probably every other mom in the class)."

Its not that I don't think kids need a healthy dose of positive academic stress, or that I think they shouldn't feel some sense of competition as a motivation to push themselves to achieve.  I was the first runner up in my elementary school spelling bee.  I entered essay contests in middle school.  My college roommate and I used to sit down at the kitchen table the night before a paper was due in our senior Shakespeare course, all of our separate notes and outlines piled up in front of us, eyes on the clock, waiting for the minute to round out, and the shout "GO!"  We'd write out 15-20 page papers feverishly into the night, competing to see who finished first, and then we'd wait with baited breath for the professor to return the graded papers, to see who "won" and got the higher grade.  *cough* nerds *cough*  I like some healthy competition and academic pressure--it always pushed me to do my best.

But my kid is not me.  And he's not a senior in college, or in middle school, or even 6th grade. My kid's got anxiety issues and a low level of self-confidence academically.  He is not competitive; he is a frustrated perfectionist who doesn't quite have the know-how to reach perfection.  He can do the math problems.  But he won't unless he knows he can get them ALL correct.  And he knows (or at least believes) that he can't get them all correct in 10 minutes.  And so he spirals into hysterics.

Husband and I have tried to convince him that sometimes its not about getting everything right, but somehow he is wired this way; and that wiring, combined with the wiring that makes him incredibly stubborn?  Makes for a long evening of homework that *should* take 20 minutes.

The larger part of me feels for him & wants to throw the assignment in the trash and tell him to go outside and play.  He's six, for the love of G-d.  But there's a part of me, the part that follows rules and feels the intense need to fall in line with what is expected of me (and thereby my kid), that digs her heels in during homework time and convinces me that its the principle of the thing.  The kid has homework.  Its work he CAN do, and I've told him its time to sit down and do it.  And if he does it without making a whole production, it will be done in 20 minutes and he can have the rest of the afternoon/evening to play.  So really, its my job to make sure he gets it done--even if it means two hours of hysterics and defiance.  I certainly can't back down--what is that teaching him?  In my opinion, a six year old shouldn't have to do rote math drills for homework; but my even stronger opinion is that a six year old shouldn't run the house.

And so, I feel stuck.  Taking away privileges doesn't phase him.  Its like The Crazy has to run its course, however long it takes, and then he sits down and gets it done.  After the hours (literally) of losing his mind over the math drill, he sat down and got it done in under 10 minutes.  And he got them all right.  And then he put away Mr Hyde and turned back into Dr Jekyll, pleasant and happy as could be.

Its not just the math drills, which, with my own fear & loathing of mathematics, I can almost understand.  The other day, we went (or he tried to go) 10 rounds over a simple coloring-in assignment.  His hand hurt.  He was too tired.  He was hungry.  He needed help.  We didn't have the right crayons.

Oh. My. G-d.

I know the explanation is likely simple.  Combine his anxiety issues with his need to control the situation in the face of all the changes he's gone through in past month, add in a typical 1st grader's resistance to give up play time for more school work & its easy to understand, from the outside looking in, why we're dealing with this.  But holy hell--in the moment, it feels like I'm trying to reason with a drunken monkey. Which I realize kind of makes me the bonehead in the situation.  And around and around we go....

So if the Pentagon is interested, I've got a torture technique to offer up--a 10 minute math drill with a 1st grader or 'fess up.  I'm guessing if they can round up a bunch of 6 year olds like mine, its only a couple of days before we have this war on terror locked up and put to bed.  (And lets not get started on bedtime these days....)

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

In Which I Gush About John Irving....

So this past weekend was beyond lovely.  My flight across the country started off with a plane that was only 1/2 full, so from San Jose to Chicago, I got an entire row of seats to myself and there was much expanding to fit the space and spreading out.  I read and came >this< close to actually taking a little nap (said the girl who has never been able to sleep on a plane; even overnight flights to Europe are sleepless , eye-burning experiences for me)

Unfortunately, my couch-in-the-sky to Chicago totally spoiled me for the rest of the flight because from Chicago to New Hampshire, the flight was completely full & I spent the two hours smushed up against the window, contemplating the structural integrity of the double paned airplane window glass.  It just so happens that being sucked out of an airplane window at 30,000 feet is my absolute LEAST preferred way to go.  Thanks to the miracle of modern cinema CGI, airplane catastrophes (thanks, LOST) have ruined me for stress free air travel.

Nevermind; I got to icy cold NH at midnight, having suffered no change in cabin pressure or "water landing," so it all worked out fine.  I celebrated by sleeping until 1pm the next afternoon.  Yeah, you read that right.  I slept for TWELVE uninterrupted hours.  I felt so good when I woke up, I couldn't even be bothered to be embarrassed by my utter slothiness. I faked a little bit of mortification, but really? Yay, me!

On Friday night, we headed up to Portsmouth to see John Irving speak at the Music Hall.  We started out at a little cafe that used to be called Cafe Brioche, but is now named something corny like "Breaking New Grounds" --get it, coffee grounds?  Meh.  My friend and I split a piece of some sort of chocolate salted caramel cheesecake thing and marveled happily at the number of people sitting in the cafe on a Friday night, reading real paper & ink books (we are both curmudgeony old biddies when it comes to the e-book).

Then we sauntered (well, as much as one can saunter in 20 degree weather) over to the Music Hall, which is this old-timey theater downtown.  Seriously, the old floor boards are worn and faded and the creek like an attic floor when you step on them.  At the bottom floor concession stand, we ordered glasses of wine only to find that there is a law in NH that one is not allowed to transport alcohol UP THE STAIRS at any public place.  Um.  So the usher had to take our glasses of wine from us and carry them up the stairs FOR US.  At the top of the stairs, she handed us our glasses of wine and told us to enjoy the show.  I'm not entirely sure what kind of mayhem is going to result in people carrying their own wine up a flight of stairs in a public place, but for a state whose motto is "Live Free or Die," it seems like a weird law.  I mean, this is a state that has a hard time passing seat belt laws and still doesn't require motorcyclists to wear helmets.  So....you can tear down the highway at 70mph on your Harley with nothing between your brain and the pavement but your own skull, but you can't walk up 10 steps while in possession of a plastic cup of merlot.  Okay.

Irving was amazing.  He talked about his new book, his old books, writing screen play adaptations (which he doesn't like to do because of how it corrupts the concept of the passage of time in his stories); he talked about how he has novels, written in their entirety, in his head, for years at a time before he sits down to write them.  He never starts to write the novel until the last line (and the several lines leading up to it) are fully written in his mind.  He told us about the book he's working on now--that's been rattling around almost fully formed in his mind for years.  He talked about the inspiration he finds in the 19th century novels of Dickens (one of my favorites) and Hardy (my favorite) and Melville (note to self: reread Moby Dick).

I was equal parts swooning and intimidated and jealous and in awe. Unfortunately, my friend pointed out that his voice sounded a lot like Christopher Walken's, so I might have been a little distracted at times, waiting for him to demand more cowbell.   He talked for about 30 minutes, then the NPR interviewer sat down with him on the stage and they had a James-Lipton-style question and answer session that lasted about another hour, maybe hour and a half.  When asked about the apparent autobiographical nature of his novels, he replied that while he is none of his characters, he does look to his life, to the people he has known and loved and that he is compelled to decide, for each book, how he is going to make those people suffer.  He talked about obsessions (if you read Irving, you know he brings the same topics and images into almost all of his books) and he talked about sex and sexual otherness and the role that concept plays in his novels.  He talked about sex and his characters a LOT.  Not surprising given that his latest main character is a bisexual boy growing up in Vermont in the 1950s.  Irving's books are often populated by characters who have "crushes on the wrong people," but In One Person kind of takes the cake.

He was funny at times, talking about how he is one of those people who is funny at the most inappropriate of times. And he was near tears at some points, especially talking about a friend he lost to AIDS, recounting how his friend had told him towards the end "don't come see me; you don't want to see my like this" and how, having complied with his friend's wish was one of the greatest regrets of his life.  "I should have gone.  Of course I should have gone," he said quietly, almost like he was unaware of the 900 people sitting in the audience.

I was so sad when it was over, but so grateful for my impulsive behavior two weeks earlier when I saw the post on my FB feed about the show, and dashed off a quick "GET ME A TICKET!!!" note to my friend, Tress and booked a ticket to fly across the country. Three thousand miles was a long way to go to sit in a room for 2 hours with a guy who wrote some books.  It probably seems frivolous and crazy to some people.  But for me, it was two hours of condensed and concentrated awe and inspiration worth every penny and minute it took to get there.