Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who's Packing?

Ben is a very physical kid, always has been. He's a sensory learner: show him how to do something and he'll do it and remember how forever. But give him written or verbal instructions and the outcome could go either way. He also loves to move. Running, jumping, gymnastics, wrestling with the dogs, wrestling with his dad, wrestling with his brother (much to his brother's chagrin) all make Ben happy. This is why we decided to sign him up for wrestling last week.

Before this year, he was too young to be able to handle an evening class, but this month we felt he was ready and in need of just this type of sport. He's been there three times now, and seems to enjoy it more each time. I'm thrilled because I know he'll be good at it; his brother's thrilled because Ben has another outlet for his energy. No more living room Half Nelsons.

In yesterday's class, the kids did an exercise without their t-shirts. As they took off their shirts and lined up against the wall, one of the moms near me remarked, "That kid has a six-pack."

"Where?" asked another.

"There, in the sweats."

"That's Ben. Hey, your son has a six-pack?" they asked me.

"Um, yeah. I thought every skinny little kid his age did."

Apparently not.

I'm not really surprised, I guess, knowing that Ben does push-ups and pull-ups on any piece of furniture that will support him, just for fun. Backs of chairs, coffee table, piano bench--nothing is off limits. And I had to admit that, standing next to the other 5- to 9-year-olds, he looked pretty cut. I also had to admit it was strange.

Hopefully, Ben will stick with the wrestling, using his strength and outstanding physique to intimidate his opponents. But knowing Ben, if that doesn't work, he'll tickle them and tell jokes until they collapse on the mats.

Either way, as long as he's enjoying himself, I won't care. Though I do dread his teen years, when no doubt all the girls will start calling once they see his six-pack.

"What, this old thing?" he'll tell them nonchalantly. "I've had this for years. Just ask any of the moms."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

There's A Ninja In My Kitchen

My pre-teen has become obsessed with ninjas. He watches them on television, reads books about them and even dresses like one (well, on Saturdays anyway). He folds origami ninja weapons and ties knife-carrying cloths to his calves. Maybe this all stemmed from his love of sushi or an introduction to anime and manga cartoons. Whatever the source, it has spread to my kitchen.

I know little about the lives of ninjas--things like what thread-count their sheets are, who does their laundry or if they keep pets, for example, are not readily apparent in the books or movies about them. But assuming they were like most non-eating, non-sleeping, non-laundry-washing cartoon characters, I considered my kitchen pretty safe from a ninja invasion. This was fine with me, as all those sharp little stars and swords would surely wreak havoc on my new cherry wood cabinets. 

But all that changed this week when, on break from school, my son picked up a copy of The Manga Cookbook at our local library. 

Suddenly, he's dressed in full ninja regalia and following me around asking if we can make Onigiri and Nikumaki, and I'm thinking they are characters he saw in a book and wants to draw. "Sure, Jacob. You know where your drawing tools are. Go for it." 

"No, mom, they're  dishes. Manga dishes that you eat."

"We don't have any mangoes, but I think there's an avocado in the fridge."

"No, mom, MANGA. It's ninja food. Please?"

He handed me something that looked like a softcover comic book, and I was skeptical. But when I flipped through it and saw (translated) recipes for rice balls and meat and vegetable rolls, and ingredients like pork and asparagus, string beans and carrots, I decided to seize the opportunity. I may not fully understand the magic of manga or the draw of anime, but if it will get my pickier kid to eat vegetables, I'm willing to give it a try. 

"Sure, Jacob. We can make some of these this weekend," I offered. "But you need to eat them when we're done."

"Duh, Mom. Why else would I want to make them?"

"Fine. But you have to wear an apron over your uniform, and *I* will supply the knives."

I waited for him to balk, but he just smiled. At least I think he did. It was hard to tell with the ninja mask on his face.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You've Gotta Be In It To Pin It

A librarian friend recently told me about this new site called Pinterest. Knowing that I spend far too much time on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, she knew I'd be as fascinated with it as she was. But Pinterest isn't about socializing, not really. There's no talking, poking or games, and very few words. The site is a bunch of virtual pinboards where you can post pictures. Pictures of what, you ask? Practically anything. I've often referred to the site as crack for the visually inspired.

What's so interesting is how much more I think Pinterest says about who I am than my Facebook page does. Sure, on FB I list my interests, favorite artists, post pics of my family and make jokes or comments on other people's statuses. But those things are easy to do or not do. You can be as hip, fun or reserved as you want to be on FB, and what you post says a lot about the type of person you are.

On Pinterest, it's purely visual. And you're not limited to the boards/criteria that Pinterest dictates. You can create a board, call it whatever you want and pin whatever you want on it. I've seen boards that only have pictures of teapots or vases. Others have just shoes. Some have pictures of tropical vacation sites, or pictures of the European countryside. I have one for geeky book stuff, one for humor, one of architectural designs I admire, one of craft projects I find inspiring, and one of different outfit styles I like. But the other day I stood back and looked at all my boards together and thought, "wow, when you add all these together, they really show people who I am."

It was amazing.

Since then I learned that Pinterest, with gajillions of photos on almost any topic you could think of, is run by a staff of 16 people out in California. That's why you need an invitation to join, I imagine. It's the company's way of putting a bouncer at the door to keep the site from becoming a fire hazard (read: potentially crashing). It's brilliant and, sadly, privately held.

If you are of a visual ilk like I am, I urge you to check it out. Especially if you have lots of time on your hands. Trust me: you'll need it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Au So Chic

First, it was the Tiger Mother, a Wall Street Journal article about the brilliance of the Chinese style of parenting. In continuing its efforts to educate and chasten American parents, WSJ most recently published a piece on why French parents are superior. I'm personally starting to think just about anyone would be a better mother than I. (How strange, when I've had so much confidence up until now. *cough* *cough*) So I've decided to beet the WSJ to the punch on their next piece. 

10 Reasons a Croissant is a Better Parent Than an American

10. Can flaunt a deep, golden tan without sending negative health messages to children.

9. Is light but doesn't hover.

8. Has staying power (mainly on the hips).

7. Its flakiness is a good thing. 

6. Promotes, rather than provides, indulgence.

5.  Is ΓΌber-rich for its entire existence.

4. One word: butter.

3. Is not very sweet, and doesn't need to fake it.

2. Able to conceal chocolate without guilt.

And the number one reason a croissant is a better parent than an American, 

1. It’s French.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

To Do: Laundry, Dishes, Worry

Anyone who starts off a story with, "when I was a kid," is immediately tagged as old. The very phrase sets them up for ridicule because it inherently implies that things today are so vastly different from what they were 'in the good old days' that not only are today's kids in dire straits, but there's no way of saving them. The speaker is always, surely, one of the last surviving members of a generation that safely grew to adulthood without dying, a fact purely due to his or her own wits.

That said, I have a bit of a dilemma. When I was a kid, my parents weren't really involved in my schooling or social life, at least not from middle school up. There was no such thing as a 'helicopter parent' in those days; moms worked, dads worked, and on the weekend they enjoyed time with their friends. We played in the neighborhood with cousins and friends, rode our bikes, delivered newspapers and did our homework. Was middle school fun? Ahem. Well, let's see. Smoking, being bullied, declining grades, cliques and math. No, I can pretty safely say that middle school was a thumbs down for me in every way. But I didn't report it to my parents. We didn't talk about any of it. In those days, it was my life to deal with and I just got through every day as best I could. Did I learn a lot? Eventually. Like, 20 years on I processed a lot of social rules that I guess I had internalized from those days. Did it do me any good during middle school? Absolutely not.

But I was no different from any other kid.

So why am I waking up at 5:30am worrying about my middle schooler? He's on the high honor roll every marking period. What is there to worry about? you ask. Oh, let's see. Is he still being bullied? Will he be all right when his best friend transfers to private school next year? Is he too stressed to learn anything academically? Does he feel like a total misfit? Are there things stressing him out that he's not telling me? SHOULD he be telling me? I'm on the PTA, I take him to chorus, all-county chorus and drama club rehearsals. I support him in the newspaper club as well as help to supplement his artistic and musical interests. Should I be doing more? Could I be doing more? Which all boils down to the same question that haunts every parent I know:

Am I a bad parent?

I have stacks of parenting books on how to raise 'tweens, teens, boys, exceptional kids and every other category you can think of to stick a kid into. Have I read them all? Of course not. Who has time? But I wonder if I'm letting my son down by not making the time.

I'm not a helicopter parent by any means. I'm available to my son and he knows it. I'm involved in his school and he knows that too. We talk, and he knows I love him. But I also have a life and interests of my own. What I'm doing for him *feels* like it should be enough. So why am I waking up in the middle of the night worrying?

I'm starting to realize, it's because I'm a parent. And parents worry. No matter how much we can control, and no matter how much we *can't* control and so force ourselves to let go of, we still worry. I'm almost 45 years old and my parents still worry about me. I'm starting to think it will never stop.

The best I can do to ease my own mind is to liken parenting to teaching my kid to cross the street. If I hold his hand and we walk together, he'll learn to look both ways. Eventually he'll be able to do it himself, with me standing there watching and worrying until he makes it safe and sound. If I carry him across the street every time, I'll never have to worry because I know how to cross the street. But by the time he's too big to carry, all he'll know is that I'm not strong enough to carry him anymore; he won't know how to walk across himself.

I suppose that's my answer. I'm not a bad parent until I stop worrying. Because the day I stop worrying is the day I stop caring.