Monday, June 29, 2009

Mercury Rising

In the same way that Jacob has always made everything easier--parenting, fun, learning--Benjamin has always made things more difficult. I don't mean to say that it's intentional. It's just a fact.

Many years ago, a friend made a comment to me about having children. He said, "the first one turns your life upside down. The second one turns it inside out." When I think about how incredibly accurate that statement is now, it strikes me as both funny and sad. For how many of us are able to stand on our heads with relative comfort and ease? We gain new perspective, experience new feelings and see the world in a whole new way. Yet how many of us can turn ourselves inside out and say the same thing? Right.

As a baby, Ben cried a lot, slept very little and the rest of the time wore a frowny face. By the time he was a toddler and we started branching out into the world again, dealing with our new dynamic, he was sleeping better and eating and smiling more. But somehow, he still made things difficult.

The Sunday before the last Thanksgiving for which my sister-in-law and dear friend would be alive, Ben came down with a fever. Not a low-grade-maybe-it-will-pass, maybe-he's-about-to-have-a-growth-spurt, maybe-he'll-be-better-by-Thursday fever. It was 104, the kind that stops him in his tracks and removes his appetite completely. For Ben to stop moving and eating, he's got to be really sick. The fever persisted, yet I held out hope that it would run its course. On Thursday morning I finally had to concede that I was staying home with Ben, and sent my husband and older son off to Thanksgiving dinner without us. I cried all day.

Things have gotten much easier with Ben since those days, though I wouldn't call them a breeze. We can actually make plans now and do things as a family more often than not. For that I'm thankful, and it helps me forget those tough, early days.

This weekend, my dear father-in-law passed away after a long illness. The funeral is this morning in less than an hour. Family members and friends will converge on my in-laws' house with well-wishes and hugs soon after. Why, then, am I sitting here writing on my blog? Because yesterday afternoon, Ben developed a fever.

Yes, I'm upset that I can't go to the funeral, sad that I am at home when my place is with my family. But one of the many things my father-in-law taught me was that each of us is just a piece of the bigger picture. We all play a part in building the future by caring for each other and by teaching and nurturing the next generation. In my mind, my place is with my husband and mother-in-law today. But in Ben's mind, my place is with him. We each need to be comforted, but Ben needs it more.

We will lose people we love. That is inevitable. But parts of them will live on through the rest of the family, because that's what family is. A continuation, a legacy, of love and life. And that is why I'm here.

Thank you, Jack. We love you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Generation Moi

OK, so maybe 10 years old is a little young to be given the job of Person In Charge of the World. And maybe it's unfair to expect them to have true global awareness and be thinking of others when hypothetically asked what they would do with such power. But I was pretty disheartened to read what the 5th graders who are graduating from my son's school had to say on the topic, and it's likely because I was hoping for more.

If I Were In Charge of the World...

"I would cancel school; I would make playing video games an every day holiday."
"I would make video games cost less; I would let kids get paid for going to school."
"I would make a holiday where you get free video games; I would make recess all day."
"I would make a national Video Game Day; I would cancel school."
"There would be more video games; there would be grades no lower than a 'B.'"
"There would be a 2-hour subject where you played video games."
"I'd make homework a myth; I'd let us learn to play video games in school."

"I would put a mall in everyone's house; I would make recess all day."
"I would make the school a mall; I would end school early."
"I would go to the mall every day."
"I would turn the world into a mall; I would buy one million things."
"I would make every store an Abercrombie."
"I would make all things at the mall free; I would make summer longer."
"I'd have a mall the size of Boston."

Can you guess which were the boys and which were the girls? Can you see my concern over the direction these kids are heading? Can you believe how many examples there are?

Granted, there were some standouts in each class who wanted to cure all diseases, stop animal cruelty and end global warming and world hunger. But they were few and far between.

I guess my complaint is that these kids are on their way to middle school next year. Isn't that kind of a big deal? Shouldn't their parents be teaching them about the world, how to understand important issues, the responsibility that comes with power and the idea that they can change the world someday?

I know, I know, they're only TEN. But they already sound like self-centered, materialistic teenagers. Why? How is this happening? Someone is feeding these passions they have, and from the sound of it, it isn't their teachers.

Some may say it is my fear talking, my worry that my own child will sound like this next year. I prefer to think of it as a wake-up call. For all of us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good Cop, Bad Cop

I used to rail against parents whose kids would break the law, do something to hurt someone or just be plain old bratty in public, while they stood by and let them get away with it. "If you don't make them take responsibility for their actions, how will they ever learn to change them?" I'd squawk. Consequences, consequences.

Well, today I was called an enabler. At first, I was indignant. But then, as I considered the situation, I realized that it wasn't as black-and-white as I had first perceived it.

Jacob claimed yesterday to have "only a little" homework. What this means in 'tween speak is 'I have a ton of homework, but in only two subjects.' So once he started it after dinner and worked on it until bedtime without finishing it, I informed him I'd be waking him early to get the job done.

When the morning came and he suddenly had a mysterious stomach ache and his jaw hurt, I said "nice try. You're still going to school" and made him get to work. But after 1/2 hour of working over breakfast when he still hadn't finished, I told him I would drive him to school (rather than make him take the bus). This would buy him an extra 30 minutes of time in which to finish the work.

I did this because I've been there: work not finished, teacher to face, spring fever making me not want to do it, sudden, strange illness to get out of facing teacher, etcetera, etcetera. It doesn't happen every day, and it has not been a habit or a pattern.

Yet my husband and parenting partner protested. "You're enabling him. Let him go in with the work undone and answer for it. Why are you bailing him out?"

But I didn't see it that way. I saw it as poor planning and sudden regret. I didn't let him stay home. I didn't give him a note asking the teacher to excuse him. I didn't tell him to lie about it. Granted, I didn't tell him 'get on the bus and deal with it' either, but didn't I find a happy medium? I made him face the problem, but helped by giving him the time in which to tackle it rather than evade it.

Yes, kids need structure, rules and the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. But they also need understanding and a chance to fix mistakes if they can. This doesn't mean they won't still learn from the experience. It just means they'll learn that mom can be flexible and (holy cow) even helpful sometimes, and that maybe she'll be a good person to take my problems to when I'm older. Maybe she'll help me figure out how to solve them when I can't do it alone.

I don't know if that makes me the good cop or the bad cop, but if it means Jacob will be willing to confide in me when the REAL problems arise, I'll answer to whatever title you want.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Passing

In another of life's great rites of passage, this morning I had to tell my sons that the goldfish we won at a preschool event four-plus years ago, and who had grown to be five times his original size, had died.

Surprisingly, they took the news rather well. Jacob checked the empty tank to see if I was telling the truth, then said 'oh' and asked me to pass the cereal. Ben wanted to see the body.

Perhaps the novelty had worn off, or they felt they had graduated from fish ownership when they moved on to the bigger, warmer challenge of owning a dog. Regardless, I still harbored some guilt.

Nemo (nee Curly, nee Goldy, nee Mike Wozowski) had been sick for some time, showing signs of Ich (fish disease) which I treated with medicine. He had suffered through this before, and responded well to treatment. But then his tail began turning red, a symptom of too much ammonia in the water. I treated this with ammonia lock and water and filter changes. (Goldfish are notoriously filthy fish, and require extensive cleaning of tanks and changing of water and filters--caveat emptor). Yet no matter how hard you try, it never seems to be enough.

I didn't try very hard. I admit that I had begun to resent the fish after about two years when I had my living room re-done and wanted my sofa table back from beneath the 10-gallon tank we got to house the little sucker. Did I harbor a death wish for him? No, but let's just say that, with all the things that needed to be cared for around here, Nemo was at the bottom of the food chain. Which is why I laughed when I asked my husband to take care of the corpse this morning and he informed me he had put it in the refrigerator. (I think he feared it would clog the toilet).

The whole incident reminded me of the time I was 10 or 11 and my hamster died because I forgot to feed it. Repeatedly. Sure, he was cute and all when I got him, but hamsters are nocturnal (didn't know that), and he turned out to be quite dull. He hid under his wood shavings during the day and ran in his squeaky wheel all night. I named him Jack LaLune because all he did was exercise while the moon was out and sleep during the day so that I couldn't play with him. The novelty wore off fast. And as everyone in my family knows, don't mess with my sleep or you will be sorry.

I really believe Nemo is in a better place now, a place where they won't change his name every time a new Pixar movie comes out; a place where newspapers and crayon boxes aren't stacked up next to his windows, making him think that Donald Trump has bought the rest of the sofa table top and put up condos around the tank.

And if Ben has his way, Nemo will come back again in a different form, perhaps that of a frog. With my luck, it will be one of the tadpoles out on the deck that we recently rescued from the pool cover. Perhaps I shouldn't pack the tank up just yet.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Brave Thursday

Today was a banner day for Jacob. He competed as a finalist in the 4th grade spelling bee (ironically getting knocked out on the word "congratulate"). He got to have sushi for dinner (his favorite, because we were so proud of him) and played some great tennis at his last lesson for the season. All this put him on top of the world, it seems, because tonight after dinner, he called a girl. Who he likes. To ask her to the movies.

She said yes.

It was hard to sit here and look at his blushing, freckled face as he shyly gave his name and asked to speak to her. It wasn't just because he's my firstborn, my love, and the whole episode brought up flashes of his future social life--shaving, dates, proms, a wedding. And it wasn't because, though I know I'll always be his first love, I'm no longer his only love.

The hardest thing was, when he got off the phone, resisting the urge to tell him how cute he was. Because to me, he was cute. But to him, he was courageous. I am convinced by the bedside conversations about this girl that he and I have had for the last three nights that he has been thinking about this for a long time. Today was so full of achievements and high points that I really believe it fueled his nerves enough to help him make the call. So I didn't tell him he was cute, despite how much I wanted to.

I told him I was proud of him.

He will always be my little doll, but what he needs to hear now is that he's becoming my young man, that I'm here to help him however I can, and that I'm happy for him. Even if I'm sad to see my baby disappearing, and even though I am still compelled to do everything for him but force myself to let him do for himself. Because he is, and he can. And this makes me happy. Really.

These are tears of joy.