Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hooked? Eh, Not So Much

When I was a kid, I would ride my bike down to the sound, bait my hook and fish for whatever would be interested in eating half a worm. It was fun, a great way to hang out with my cousins and pass the time on a summer day, and it's what kids do.

Or did.

This week, I ran into another mom friend at the lake, who was there with her two children, a boy and a girl. Her boy was fishing, and the mom was telling me that they'd just gotten back from Alaska, where her son had been fishing with his grandpa. Ben had been watching the young fisherman, and seemed keenly intrigued. When a fish was caught, he was thrilled to watch the process of reeling it in, unhooking and releasing it back into the lake. The boy asked if Ben would like to try it.

"Sure!" he squeaked. I grabbed half a worm and started to show him how to bait the hook.

"Uh, no Mom, you do it," he said, backing away with a grimace on his face. Jacob was soon beside his brother.

"Jacob, you can try after Ben is done," I suggested, trying to include him in the fun.

"No thanks. I don't believe in killing defenseless worms. I'll just watch," he said, also backing away.

What the heck? Do they not make kids like they used to? It's not like they were girls in crinoline dresses, shrieking at the site of worm guts. They're boys for pity's sake!


I cast the line, handed the rod to Ben and we waited for all of 30 seconds. Then, he got a bite.

"Ooh! Reel it in!" I cheered.

Ben was thrilled as he pulled up a little sunny. Until it swung toward him.

"OK," I said, grabbing the line, "now let me show you how to hold him so we can get the hook out."

Needless to say, he wanted nothing to do with that part either.

I decided we would take it slowly, round up Dad in the coming weeks, take our rods, some hot dogs (for bait) and work up to the 'ick' factor as a family. Don't get me wrong: I'd love it if my kids grew to be environmentally conscious and caring about the animal world. But there are some things that kids just have to learn how to do, as rites of passage: ride a bike; swim; bait a hook, and remove a fish from said hook.

OK, I know I was a tomboy as a kid, but still. Am I expecting too much? Being overly nostalgic? Torturing my kids?

Insights welcome.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


You know how some kids, when they get hungry, get really cranky? Well, when Ben gets really hungry (as in, he's been watching cartoons so intently that he doesn't realize he's starving until I tell him to turn off the t.v. for the ninth time and come eat), he morphs into Satan's spawn. People tell me all the time how cute he is, and I tell them that it saves his life every day. They laugh. I'm not kidding.

Ben is a lover of structure. This is only a problem in summer, when schedules are more lax. We spend a lot of our days at the beach. But since no one ever wants to leave, we tend to get home later, eat later and go to bed later. All this sounds very relaxing, and it is, except for Ben.

Remember the movie The Exorcist? That scene where little Linda Blair's head turned completely around? That's Ben if he doesn't eat within an hour of waking up. Or when he has eschewed snacks and is waiting for dinner to be ready. I'll be standing at the stove cooking, and the conversation will go something like this:

Ben: "Mom, give me something to EAT!"

Me: "Excuse me? Ben, if you're hungry, eat a carrot. Dinner will be ready..."


Jacob: "Ben, I'll peel carrots for both..."


Me: "That's enough, Ben!"


Yeah, that I get.

Having seen his intense mood swings, I cannot tell you how much I dread his teen years, now that I know how vicious, loud and mean he can be when a number of factors all come together at once. It's like the personification of a perfect storm.

How can you live like that? you might ask. It sounds like insanity! Yes, it is like that, and we yell a lot at each other when things get out of hand.

But then Ben eats, brushes his teeth, reads a story with me and asks me to lay in bed with him a while before he falls asleep. I tell him I need to jump in the shower first--for 15 or 20 minutes--to wash off the sand from the beach. When I'm done, I hear him calling me. I get dressed and go into his room.

Ben: "Mom, what took you so long?"

Me: "I was just drying off."

Ben: "Oh yeah. Sorry I rushed you."

Me: "That's OK."

Then I'll lay down next to him, and as he starts to drift off, he says things, things that are like little, open windows that let me peek into his brain.

"Mom, I never want to get married. I want to live with you forever."


"Mom, is this real life or a dream?"

and my favorite,

"I love you Mom. You're the perfect mom. It's like you were made just for me."

Though I joke about the tough moments and the challenges Ben throws at me, it's moments--and comments--like this that actually save my life every day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Feed Your Head

There is a scene in Pixar's Monsters, Inc. movie when Boo, the little human girl, is returned to her bedroom after her big, scary, unexpected adventures in Monsteropolis. She runs giddily from toy to toy, handing each one to Sully, her monster friend, to share all of her excitement of being back among her own things. It's a great scene, and I saw it play out in real life this weekend when Jacob returned home from sleepaway camp.

Gone for a week into the woods with the Boy Scouts, he hiked, went whitewater rafting, picked blueberries at the top of a mountain, swam in the lake, and did all those outdoorsy, boy things that boys do when they camp in the woods. No phones, computers or video games. No nagging mom or annoying brother. It was a 10-year-old's version of Heaven.

Until he got home. Tired, dirty, happy to be back in 'civilization' (i.e. where the microwave is), he moved from his books to his LEGOs to his piano to his Pokemon card collection to his video gaming magazines as if he'd been gone a year. He read the whole week's stack of newspaper comics that we'd saved for him. He played with the dog. He watched SpongeBob.

I've always been fascinated by Jacob's interest in, well, everything. Since infancy, he's been a sponge, soaking up everything from math to computer animation, from science to singing solos on stage. His interests are wide and varied, and he manages to balance them all. After a week of feeding his physical, outdoor, nature-focused self, he came home to feed his head. Reading, writing, playing piano, building with LEGOs. He did it all, and all before he'd been home for two full days.

He seems more mature than he did when he went away. I wonder how much of it is a new perspective on his place in the family, having been away from us for longer than he's ever been, and how much of it is a new perspective on himself. Perhaps it's a bit of both, having learned how to feed all of his passions, body and mind, and find contentment at home when he was through. Even with a nagging mom and annoying brother around.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Summer Slide

Summer is that carefree time of year when kids dream of doing nothing for days on end, and parents can sit around thinking of ways to make them work. After 10 months of cramming their brains with more information than they'll ever be able to use in one lifetime, my sons are ready to bike ride, play at the lake, swim with friends, play video games and veg out. But I have to be careful, apparently, to avoid the 'summer slide.'

It sounds like a water ride, like something fun. In fact it's just a term crazy, type-A parents developed to describe the actual relaxation of their children's brains over the summer months. Fearing their brilliant offspring will forget everything but their first names once they're out of school, parents send their kids to tutors, summer classes, and have workbooks out for daily summer drilling.

I, on the other hand, prefer to give my kids ways to think outside the classroom that's actually fun. Figuring out what animals the clouds look like. Helping me measure ingredients for making cookies. Stirring the Jello in the hot water and pontificating on what makes it melt. Picking out dinner recipes and then calculating how much of each ingredient we'll need if we are cutting the recipe in half.

This led me to start thinking along other lines, and I came up with what type of food each of my kids would be. Ben, who will throw a tantrum when told he can't have a milkshake with his cupcake, will--if ignored--tell me minutes later how much he loves me while making a ridiculous face in my rear-view mirror. Or he will yell at his brother for taking his magazine in the car, and then when Jacob says "I'm bored," will suggest they fight. Then he'll close his eyes and wave both hands up and down like he's ready to have a slap-battle all by himself, making his brother and me burst out laughing.

So I would say that if he were a food, Ben would be a sweet and sour meatball.

Jacob is a bit tougher. He doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve the way his brother does. He'll walk around looking pensive, but ask him what's on his mind and he'll say 'nothing.' He's a big fan of bland textures and flavors, but has days when he'll burst into song, or try a new food or task without being asked. There's a lot more to him than meets the eye, and I'm always walking a fine line between over- and under-estimating him. But he's also very even keel, without the illogical outbursts his brother subjects me to on a daily basis.

Yes, I decided, Jacob is a plain donut with strawberry jelly inside. Average looking on the outside, but hiding much more than you'd expect on the inside.

OK, so I guess we're doing more 'thinking outside the ice-box' than really getting creative. My kids' brains may slide this summer, but at least they'll have lots of fun stories to share when they go back to school.