Lily

Moment Moment Moment

Saturday, May 14th, 2011 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment

I love my NPR. In the car, it’s pretty much solid NPR all day long, unless it’s Car Talk or one of the guest-oriented programs has someone on that I’m just not into.

But NPR creates conflicts—namely, that all of my kids consider themselves, as conversationalists, way, way, WAY more interesting than even the most fascinating NPR story. And so should I, right? They will only be young enough to want to share with me, for a 25 minute drive, their vision of what our house would look like as a farm, with illustrations, for a little while.

I try to at least not acknowledge that I’m only half-listening. I do want them to talk. I’m glad that they talk. I enjoy it all in the abstract and in the idea and in the retelling. I’m just not good at enjoying it in the moment.

This morning, though, I brought Lily to a birthday party half-an-hour away (the perils of country living), and she felt chatty. And happy. And Lily is so often singing her complaining song that a happy Lily is something to be seized and subtly rewarded with as much love and attention and affection as I can pour on, in the hope that she will finally conclude that it’s better for her and for everyone else if she manages to moderate her fierce storms of misery when things don’t go her way.

(Unfortunately, personal experience suggests she’s got about another thirty-plus years of learning to go before that idea takes hold.)

And NPR? NPR was offering a story of runaway teens on the streets of Hollywood. Interesting? Oh yes. But what is a story like that for, if not to remind you to seize the moment with your own sons and daughters? What else can you possibly do?

I turned off the radio.

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The Parenting on Track Car Playout

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off

Last week, I described the plot my friend Mimi and I laid to get my three littles to STOP MAKING ME CRAZY in the car.  How did it play out?

So far, so damn good.

I’m always a little embarrassed when these very simple things–courtesy of Parenting on Track–work over all the far more complicated strategies I’ve tried, and for the car, I’ve had more than a few. Let’s see, there were the stars that I took away for fighting or screaming. The countless times I’ve pulled over. The kids sent to their room when we got home. The times I’ve actually left the car until they stopped. None worked in the long run.

Granted, we’re not to the long run now, but I’m optimistic. Even a return to the removal of the privilege is EASY compared to all that stuff.

In truth, they got off easy–because after imposing “five days” on Tuesday–we were saying I would release them Monday, Tuesday for Lilly and Rory who blew it–on Saturday I forgot, and sent Wyatt home from skiing (around here that’s the equivalent of sending him home from the park) in the car of the very same friend I plotted with in the first place, to play at her house. (Some “friend!”) Rory wasn’t there when he left, but when the rest of us went in to lunch, eventually (after a rather embarrassingly long time) some kid or another noticed he wasn’t there, and said, “Where’s Wyatt?” “Oh, he went home with Trevor (Mimi’s son).”

Rory slapped her chicken finger down. “But you said we not ride in anybody else’s car until MONDAY!”

Oops. I’m very impressed by how quickly she caught me, though, and how that proves how well this was working. I have no doubt now that she totally got this. Lily chimed in, and I apologized, and released them both, too–with the caveat that if they don’t act in my car like they would in a friend’s car, it’s another five days.

And so far, as I said, so very very good.

I’ve been thinking about why this works. I’ve always said I couldn’t possibly parent without bribes and threats: wouldn’t even want to try. What this is, it strikes me, is bribes and threats inverted. I’m requiring that they bribe me. I’ve had good luck with threats, actually, but only because I’ve been very willing to carry them out–and that’s like this, only with a whole ‘nother painful step. Picture this: Wyatt slugs Rory in the car. I tell Wyatt, “do that again, and you can’t ride in anyone else’s car for five days. Same goes for all of you.” Now, I have to remember this and enforce, which I’m usually good at–but say Rory is the next transgressor. She’s punished. No one else is. That feels much more unfair. Plus, say the behavior wasn’t a hit, but a scream, or Lily’s patented I-won’t-let-you-get-into-the-car move. That wasn’t in the threat! But it’s just as bad. Maybe worse, from a problem-for-me point of view (and it’s all about me, right?). Eventually, it would work, or they would all grow out of it. Something.

But this? They all earned the privilege at the same time. (I kind of planned that–they were so bad so often it was easy enough to nail them all at the same time, which I guess might have worked with the threat too–but then there’s so often a single WORSE transgressor, and delivering the same punishment is not good. I just planned to have them all ask for the privilege on the same day, one way or another, and be denied it.) Now, they can lose it separately–but that will feel much more fair. And it’s not a punishment. It’s a loss. It’s not grounding, not a “consequence” but something just that little bit different. And it clearly makes sense to them. Of course they can’t hit their friends in their friends’ cars, or prevent their friends’ younger siblings from getting in the car. I mean, who would do that? It’s so obvious! And, “click,” they get it.

My life is so much better now. Thanks, Vicki (who I know swings by here occasionally, although I haven’t yet emailed her to say howdy. I will, I will!)

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The Right Choice for the First Grader with Homework

Thursday, September 9th, 2010 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment

Lily has officially been a first grader for a week, and she is exhausted. Exhausted to the point of after-school sobbing, exhausted to the point of incoherence. This afternoon I was on the phone, making plans with a neighbor for her little girl to come over and play with my youngest three while her older kids went to soccer practice, when I was interrupted by a wail of misery from Lily, who was emptying her lunch box.
“AHHHHH! NOooo! Ohh NOOOooo!”
I assured my neighbor that everything was fine and hung up pleased with my plan and turned the surprisingly still sobbing Lily.
“There’s MUSHED UP CEREAL in my LUNCHBOX!”
Lily took cereal and milk for snack and evidently left the remnants in an insecure container. It’s a new lunch box; I could understand the crisis. I’ll clean it, I told her. Don’t worry!
Then I told her my plan. If she did her homework quickly, I said, her friend would come over!
I expected great joy, but Lily, who’s always known herself better than most kids, sobbed harder. “But I’m SO TIRED!”

I called the neighbor and cancelled. We’ve been going so hard, all summer long, and the kids have always been so up and ready for the next thing, that Lily took me by surprise with what proved to be the beginning of an afternoon of solid crank. I cuddled, I sat, I provided a tasty snack, but eventually the inevitable happened, and Lily ended up sobbing in her room (she called me a “poopyhead).”

Which was perhaps the best thing for her. When released, she was wiped and repentant and sat on the couch for a while.

“Why don’t you get your homework folder,” I suggested, “and I’ll help you with anything you need, and we’ll make the biscuits for dinner together?”

“Just us?”

“Just us.”

And we did.

FIrst grade is clearly exhausting. As for the homework—it has to be said that Lily longed for homework, and this homework is very clearly just a placeholder for real homework later in life. We’ve bought into this school, a slightly old-fashioned one that believes in making the tests and drills and classic learning fun, rather than replacing them with new methods that may be more entertaining, but proved, at least in the case of our oldest, not to be as effective, and so while I find first grade homework ridiculous, I’ve decided to buy into the philosophy behind it. A child, the thinking goes, who learns to sit down every night and prepare for school the next day in first grade will be a child who can do the same more easily, even once the work gets harder. We see the truth of it in our fourth grader, applying himself right now to slightly more serious homework (largely devoted, this year, to organizing oneself and planning ahead).

So my attitude towards the homework (which took the form of a color the shapes page and six very simple math problems) is as follows: she needs to sit down and do it, but that’s all. I’ll explain, if she needs it, but I’m not going to correct it, or insist that we go over it, or worry about it in any way. It’s important to do it, but at this stage, her teacher should see exactly how she does it, not how she does it with my help.

And my attitude toward the exhaustion, now past, is even simpler: thank goodness I took a firm stance on after school activities! Lily has a piano lesson, which I consider a part of a basic education, and that’s it. I called today to enroll her in a Saturday morning gymnastics class, and they said it was full. Isn’t there anything else that would work for you, they asked. Nope. I knew they had after school offerings for her age group, and we weren’t doing it. No Saturday class meant no gymnastics this fall. I also turned down a friend who thought she could join them for swim team (three afternoons a week!) or soccer (only one weekday plus Saturday!) and even myself was tempted by a clay art class…but no. No, no and no. And I’m so proud of myself now.

They found room for her in the Saturday morning class anyway. Sometimes, if you hold out for what’s best, good things happen.

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We are on Vacation!

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off

We are on Vacation!

We are on Vacation!,
originally uploaded by kjda.

So of course, we are at Starbucks. You could say that is like going to
Paris and eating at McDonalds, but I don’t think Dallas is really
known for it’s local coffee. In fact, as far as I can see, it could be
known for the abundance of…Starbucks.

KJ Dell’Antonia
sent from my iPhone

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