Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Education of Mom

I know that knowledge is power, and I always try to be honest and forthright with my kids. As they get older, there is less I need to 'hide' from them about life, and they can process a lot more, provided I present it in an age-appropriate context. Why, then, am I having such a hard time with receiving the same treatment from Jacob's middle school?

Last week was the first full week of school. I worried about Jacob getting lost and being late for class; I worried about the strain on his back from all the books he carts back and forth from school; I worried about the bus ride with all the 13-year-olds and what he'd be hearing and experiencing, whether he'd be able to deal with it all. Thankfully, he calmed me with his own comfort level, sense of confidence and easy smiles. The first week ended well for both of us.

This week, the emails started from school. One day, I learned that a 7th grader had brought a pocket knife on the bus to show his friends, and had it in his locker at school. A conscientious student reported the incident, and the knife was confiscated, the student reprimanded. I'm sure the administration presented the context and sequence of events in such a way as to prevent parents from panicking, to convey the fact that everything was under control and that at no time were any students in danger.

The next day, we were informed that one of the staff members was recently diagnosed wtih Viral Meningitis. We were told not to confuse this with the more serious Bacterial Meningitis, which can result in brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities and, you know, death. Viral Meningitis, on the other hand, is "serious but rarely fatal in people with normal immune systems," according to the CDC.


OK, fine.

Yes, I know that pre-teens use bad judgment, and make bad choices, as they gear up to be really effective teenagers. And it's true that I would not have gone to the CDC website to learn all about meningitis had I not been given the link by the school.

But did I really want to know about these incidents, which ultimately presented no danger or harm to my own child? I'd have to say no.

Did I need to know? Probably.

I guess the good of it all is that I now have confidence in Jacob's new school administration to swiftly address issues that arise, and keep me informed about the details, as well as what I need or don't need to do about them.

But I also realized that I am going to have to ease into this new school environment almost as much as Jacob. We are both on the edge of tremendous changes that will, without a doubt, rock both of our worlds over the next three years. And it's going to take some getting used to.

So I'm thinking about not checking my email for a few days, just so I can go back to worrying about simple things, like whether his sneakers are getting too small, or if he remembered to put deodorant on after gym class. I want to revel in blissful ignorance of the world my baby is really going into each morning when he leaves me.

If only for a little while longer.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tooth And Nail

It happens every year. Yet, as with childbirth, I forget what it was like last time. This enables me to look blissfully forward to the beginning of every new school year. Cool weather, new crayons, quiet mornings. What's not to love?

Ask Ben.

Actually, don't ask him, because it won't get you anywhere. Like a good writer, he will show rather than tell you that he is not happy about the start of school.

I suppose some little part of my brain retained a memory shard of what starting school is like for Benjamin, because this year, when he was all ready to leave on the first day, he wanted to play cards with me until it was time to go. I said that would be fine, but then something made me say, offhandedly, "Ben, why don't we get our sneakers on too so that we're completely ready to walk out the door? Then we can play right up until the last minute!" He agreed and went to get his sneakers. But they weren't by the door. And they weren't in the playroom.

Or his bedroom. Or the living room. Or his brother's room. They weren't even in the bathroom, and I know because I looked through every room and closet of the house. Three times.

As luck would have it, I had put several pairs of sneakers by the front door, in various sizes, since Ben and his brother have a bad habit of outgrowing things when I'm not looking. After two tries, we found a pair that fit perfectly and had about five minutes left to play cards. Then off he went on his new bus, with his new backpack, to his new school.

At the end of a very productive day, I walked out to meet him at the bus stop. He looked OK as he got off the bus, but when I asked him how his day was, he didn't give me his big smile and trademark, "GREAT!" with a thumbs up. I figured he had a long day and a lot to absorb, so we went home for a special after-school snack of milk and cookies before checking out the homework situation.

"I just have to read for 30 minutes," Ben said.

"Great! Let's get it out of the way before dinner. What would you like to read?"

"Mom, I'm still hungry."

"OK, here are some apple slices. Now. Do you want to read in your room or here in the living room."

"Mom, it's my turn to feed Bailey."

"OK, but then come on up and read while I start dinner."

He came back upstairs. "Mom, I have to go to the bathroom."

I was beginning to see a pattern. When I pressed him, all the tension of the day came out. Shouting, tears, demands, refusals and, of course, an 'I hate school!' to make sure I got the point.

Needless to say the reading never got done. Whether it's because Ben feels like he has to be as smart in third grade as his brother is (even though his brother is in sixth grade), or if he misses me or just doesn't adapt to change easily, he fights the routine of the new school year every September. Perhaps it's a combination of things, but he is so stubborn that when he makes up his mind about something, he makes it up 100%. There is no in between for Ben--no flexibility--which means the rest of us have to be extra flexible to help him ease into the new situation.

And I was very proud that I remembered this on the first day of school, rather than after a week of battling with him. I was able to talk to him about it, give him extra love and attention and be a bit more flexible myself, which is no small feat.

Miraculously (coincidentally?), the missing sneakers turned up right by the front door some time before dinner, but no one knew where they came from. Maybe it was a sign that Ben is loosening up a little, and will adjust to school after a few days this year, instead of a few weeks. Or maybe I'm just being blissfully optimistic again.

Until I know for sure, maybe I'll just keep his shoes under my bed.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Alternate Universe

My husband and I like to joke about our kids because Jacob looks just like his dad and acts just like me. Ben, on the other hand, looks just like me, but is in every other way like his father. That is, happiest when he is eating or doing some kind of physical work or play.

So it's not surprising that Ben's most interesting revelations come when he is out, say, hiking in the woods, which is where we were today: Mom, Dad, Ben and Bailey dog.

"OK, Ben," David said. "You're the leader. What does that trail marker say?"

"It's red, Dad, but I'm not the leader. You're the leader."

"Why am I the leader? You're the cub scout."

"Whoever is first in line is the leader," declares the scout.

By now, the dog is way out in front of all of us, having a field day with all the unfamiliar scents in the woods. "Uh oh," I say, "Bailey is first. That means we're in trouble because he's color blind. I hope we don't end up on the wrong trail."

(Silent pause)

"Mom," Ben says speculatively, "what if dogs see the world the right way, and we're the ones seeing it wrong?"

My eyebrows go up. "Oh, you mean like seeing the world in color is what makes it so complicated, and seeing it in black and white the way dogs do is really the better way?"

"Yeah," says Ben.

"That's a very interesting theory, Ben! Then maybe we SHOULD be following Bailey." David and I look at each other, thrilled at his fascinating thought process.

"Yeah," Ben clarifies, "unless he chases a squirrel!"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Expanding Palates

Tonight, my husband brought home a lobster to share with Ben for dinner. Ben, who had never seen a live lobster in his kitchen before, proceeded to quickly go through the five stages of assimilation:

1) Whoa! Dad, is that alive?!?

2) Jacob! Come see this lobster! It's alive!!

3) Can we pet it? Hey, we can keep it in the old fish tank!

4) Wait, we're going to eat it? Aw, poor little guy!

5) Wait, lobsters taste better than crab? Yum!

Ok, I made up the part about there being five stages of assimilation. But still, you can see how his thought process goes.

Jacob, on the other hand--the one who won't bait a hook because he "doesn't believe in killing innocent worms"--was appalled on more levels than I could count. That Dad had brought home a live, gigantic, bug-like creature (when he knows how much Mom hates bugs); that he put it on the kitchen counter; that it had beady eyes and moved when he petted it; that Dad was going to kill it; that Dad and Ben were then going to eat it. Indeed, it was almost enough to kill his own appetite. Until he found out he was having steak.

When I asked Jacob if he was at least going to try the lobster, he said, "Mom, it's cruel to eat animals!" It was at this point that I pointed out where steak came from. That is, an animal much softer, warmer and with bigger and sweeter eyes than a lobster.

"OK," Jacob conceded, "it's cruel to eat animals after you pet them first."

I wonder if he's going to be a lawyer or a lobbyist when he groes up. One thing I can be sure of: he definitely won't be a vegetarian. Unless he's a farmer.