Saturday, March 26, 2011

I'm glad I didn't bring my camera

The night before I visited the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps in Poland, I had a dream that Rube Larsen told me not to bring my camera.  "If it means enough to you, you'll remember it.  If you take pictures, the pictures become the experience." 

I thought my sub-conscious had an interesting point, so I didn't bring my camera.  I was there by myself, so there was no one to help me remember.  For how much this trip meant to me, it seemed a bit scary to not take any pictures.  But it also resonated with me enough to try.

Come to find out, dream-version of Rube was right.  I have the most crisp, vivid memories of everything I saw there.  Especially Birkenau.  Few people walk that extra distance to the camp and there are no shuttle buses. The camp is desolate and empty of people.  I was standing alone in the middle of a ghost-town concentration camp, only age 20, overwhelmed by the complexity of the human experience.  

I still remember the smell of the bunkers. The eerie quiet as I stood and stared at the crematorium.  The train tracks running through the camp.


I thought of that experience today when I forgot my camera for Jack's presentation for the end of the SEP class.  They'd worked for the last 6 weeks, 3 hours each Saturday, on their independent projects.  Jack has fallen in love with the computer program, spending hours at home tinkering with his creations. 

Major mothering-failure, I thought, not bringing my camera.   I felt terrible.

But ask me again in 20 years, and I can't imagine I won't remember his presentation with all the same bursting colors I saw it today. 

Oh goodness, the pride in him.

He's the youngest in the class, and one of the few who didn't have experience in programming before.  He also might have the least-equipped mother in the room, as I heard a few chatting about being programmers themselves.

Jack was 13th out of 14th to go, and I watched each child go up and present their project.  Most of them had taken existing projects from the web and edited them, or used the downloadable backgrounds and lovely-looking sprites to put together their project.

Jack, on the other hand, free-styled all the sprites with the paint-pen in Scratch. It's like when he did the science fair project and I was completely hands-off about it.  Quite honestly, it was the least pretty program in the room.  I knew how much he'd poured his heart into the creating and designing of it from scratch, with no help from anyone, and just hoped the room would be "supportive" of his non-glorious end result.

He went up to present on the large computer display at the front of the room, and I thought for sure he'd get nervous or go quiet at the front of everyone.  He didn't appear to be ruffled in the least.  

He started chatting with the room full of parents and grandparents, showing them how he set each sprite to have a different command.  One electrocutes other sprites when they touch, another one kicks the other sprites.  If they weren't such charming, sweet looking sprites, their actions might have been more disturbing.

Everyone loved it.

The crowd favorite?  His little free-styled French guy in front of an easel.  Wearing a beret, even.  When you do a certain command, the easel bounces up and down. 

My favorite part was how all his classmates gathered around his computer, begging him to show them what the other ones did.  He just calmly demonstrated each of them, not even slightly disturbed by the entire room watching him.

I cannot imagine experiencing more pride than I did for my son today. "Jack, do you know why I'm so proud of you?  Because you were yourself in there.  You created things from your own mind, you made a program you loved, and you just went up there and were your regular ol' self.  I really like that about you."

I feel a strange twist in my stomach when I think about how protective I felt of him before he went.  Why do I ever have that feeling about him?  I know it's because I care so much about him, and don't want to see him judged or feeling embarrassed.  But that's not who he is.  That feeling in me is meant for someone else, not for Jack.

He put his heart into that project, and he didn't care one whit what others thought of it.  That the crowd fell in love with his creativity was moot point to him.

I want to be more like that.  Just create from my soul and know that's enough.

I definitely did not need my camera for today.  I will remember his sweet little presentation forever.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Munchkin pictures

Tempting, but I'm not sure it's a long-term solution.

I gave Jack a crushing bear-hug and said: "What if you never grew up and you just stayed my baby forever and ever and ever?"

Jack: "Well, you could just wrap me in a bandage really tightly.  I'd still age, but I'd stay really small."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Playing the didgeridoo

Somewhere in the intricacies of my children are my most important lessons learned.  One of the biggest lessons on my mind this week: My children are not extensions of me.  I am actually fairly irrelevant in who they are...who they'll become.  I can shape their spirits for good or bad... I do believe that. 

But the core of who they are.  What drives them, what makes their eyes shine, what nourishes their soul.  That part has nothing to do with me.

I am just a vehicle that brought these persons here...changed their diapers and nursed them...and then drive them around town for playdates.

Yes, I gave Jack my mother's hair and face shape.  He has my father's eyes.  The physical traits, definitely.  We cobble together DNA and make a shell in which to house this new soul about to enter the world.

And we can see parallels in personalities, like how much Jack's personality mirrors my dad.  But maybe it's like reading a horoscope, in that you can find similarities anytime you're looking for them.


I do know this:

When I envisioned parenthood, I really thought I'd see some reflection of myself in my child.  I'll admit, I had this picture of teaching my children about the things I love.  Because since they're 50% ME, won't they probably share some of my interests?

And then along came Jack.  And truth be told, I think he's hard-wired to become passionate about the VERY things with which I can't help ONE BIT.  I figured I had until junior high or so before I was baffled by how to help my children.  Elementary math, sure.  Reading and writing, no problem. 

His current passions are Russian and French, and my only contribution there is knowing how to count to 10 in bad French.  I speak some Spanish, and he's planning to drop that language at co-op to "learn later."  Okaaaaay.  There goes his mother's only window for assistance.

And now, he learned about computer programming in his robotics class, and spends hours making things in the Scratch program.  He asks these incredibly aware questions, like: "How do I make a command to change the background from this option to this one, after I make a command for this to explode when the meteorite touches the rocket?"  And I had to hunt for awhile just to figure out how to save the damn project. 

Computer programming is as foreign of a language to me as Russian is.  Really.   I am going to have to outsource so much of this child, and we're just starting out.

In all honesty, each of these new hobbies does give me a bit of a jolt.  Because it's re-defining for me what a parent is supposed to be. 

I never set out to control my children, pre-determine their paths, pressure them down avenues they didn't want to go.  That's not my parenting struggle.

But in my interest in supporting and creating a foundation for their interests, wanting to be some type of homebase in their life, it's an odd feeling to see that I'm (in so many ways) crowded out of my 6-year-old's skill set.  When I look down where he's heading, I see this trend growing wider and wider.

I didn't want to be the parent just writing the checks to someone else to parent my child...and yes, I know...finding someone to teach him computer programming isn't exactly parenting core elements.  I still get to teach him cool setting up a tent, how to navigate in a foreign country, how to hide spinach in meatloaf.  There are a few things I can teach along the way.  :)

Jack is trailblazing my mothering self...creating how I mother and how I see my role.  And I am so grateful to him for being so strikingly dissimilar from me.  Because the ones that follow him, there's no adjustment period.  If Andrew decides to throw himself into playing the didgeridoo at age 5, I'm emotionally prepared.

And I now know how to go on Craigslist and beg for someone to teach my child something for which I have no skill set.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Who needs a car DVD player, with this in my backseat?

I carry paper and pen in my car, because I never know when my children will say memorable things from the backseat.  These are my notes from the 30 minute drive to co-op this morning:

Simone (2): "Daddy went to work to make money for us. So we can buy sunglasses." [long pause] "And spoons."

Jack (6): "Vowels do some amazing things.  Isn't it cool that just a few letters help us make an infinity of words?" 

This after he was reading a tissue box, and noticed that "ss" in the middle of the vowels says "sh." "Like 'tissue' and 'Russian.'"  In all my years, I never noticed this.

Andrew (4): "Whoa.  When I was three, I thought a pickle was a vegetable." 

I guess somewhere along the way, he heard anything with seeds are fruits?  But there was no context.  This statement stood alone; we weren't even talking about fruits and vegetables.

I love these kids.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Umm...not Christmas or your birthday?

Jack's science teacher told me today that she went around and asked all the kids to tell their favorite holiday.

Jack's response: "Chinese New Year."

I found this humorous (does this kid ever do anything normal?), but even more so when I asked him about it.  "So I hear your favorite holiday is Chinese New Year?"

With about the most soulful sentiment imaginable: "I sure do love that holiday."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The way to his heart is through a smoothie

Andrew loves smoothies.  Gina jokes that he reminds her of Lord of the Flies, because of his fruit adoration.  Gnawing his mango during lunch. :) Whenever I take him out, that's what he asks to get: a smoothie.

After swimming, I took him shopping at Heritage to pick up a few things. I had a coupon for a free item at the cafe, so we stopped and got smoothies for both of us.

The absolute, utter contentment on this sweet child's face is indescribable.  Never mind that he'd had a nearly identical smoothie for breakfast too.  He just sucked that smoothie up like pure love was coursing through the straw.  Eyes aglow with joy.

In the car: "When YOU were a little girl, did YOU get smoothies with your mom?"

Oh my goodness.  Yes!  I did.  Every time she took me to the mall for new clothes or what-nots, we would stop at Orange Julius and get a smoothie.  His question smacked me back about 25 years.  I hadn't thought of that in years. Walking through the mall, sipping my drink with my mom.  Spending time with her.  Remembering that feeling, how special it was to spend time with her, made me even more grateful that we've made conscious effort to get Andrew a lot of solo-time with us.

It's amazing to think that in 20-30 years, he might look back on these moments with me with that same soft recollection of childhood.  That I'm shaping the fabric of his early years. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Wearing stripes with plaid is easy"

My kids can wear costumes to the grocery store whenever they want.  Mismatched clothing, I struggle with that one a bit more. 

Maybe it's just a self-consciousness.  If my kid wears a Spiderman suit with a cowboy hat, it's clear the child dressed himself.  If the outfit just has no rhyme-or-reason, it looks a bit more like parental neglect.

That said, you've likely seen my children wearing mismatched clothing more than once, if you've seen us more than once. 

I pick my battles.

Today, I had Jack put out his clothes for co-op tomorrow.  He pulled out these maroon/black/white sport pants and an orange and gray T-shirt he loves, with a dinosaur on it.  I'm no fashionista, but they look horrible together.

Me: "Hey, Jack?  You can wear whatever you want.  But just out of curiosity, do you CARE that they don't match?"

Jack, looking mystified: "Huh?  Who says they don't match?  And.... is that even really important if they match?  I like them both."

Ummm...I guess not.  Considering this quote from Albert Einstein, I think Jack has much better company arguing his point:

“Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy.”

Loving babies...whether flesh or Made in China

Simone (2), is wearing a white knit winter hat, one high-heeled pink plastic shoe and another Croc, a pajama top, and nothing else (literally).  She picked up her baby doll and princess water-bottle, grabbed her pink plastic cell phone, and walked out of the room like she was going somewhere important.

"I'm going to get donuts for you.  If you need me for anything, like a hug or something, just call me on my phone.  Okay?"


Last night, as I was tucking her into bed: "When I'm older, will you take me to Paris?  Am I big enough for Paris?  Where is that house?"


She and I were playing catch with the wooly-ball from Alicia.  I pretended her doll was catching it, but the ball bounced off the doll's face.  I made fake crying noises on the doll's behalf.

My heart skipped a beat when I saw Simone's face.  Not concerned, not scared....just matter-of-fact that Her Baby needed comfort.  She came over immediately and scooped up that little doll in her arms.  Nestled her nose into the doll's face, and started whispering maternal little mumbles to her.

Be still my heart.

The most striking part for me was that she wasn't really playing pretend.  Of course, her baby was plastic....and the crying was coming from a ventriloquist.   But Simone was taking her doll-mothering role so seriously.

The softness, the sweetness in her comforting.  Somehow, it gave me some peace that in our ups-and-downs of parenting, my children MUST be feeling love.  If they can turn around and give it back to their baby doll with such sweetness?

I am so, so, so in love with this sweet little Simone in my life.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Neil deGrasse Tyson

I am supposed to be sleeping, but instead I am up alone, reading a biography of Neil deGrasse Tyson. I know I'll regret it in the morning, but I can't seem to shut down for the night. 

Earlier tonight, Steve and I were talking about education of our kids.  And how sometimes I wonder that if I follow my children down these paths, hoping for passion in learning above nearly anything else...will there be these huge gaping holes I left behind?

We don't do math worksheets, my child had to beg me to teach him cursive, but we send him to Russian classes.  They build intricate structures from scratch out of Legos, but I've never once sat down and formally taught them phonics. They just kind of stumble into reading by asking the questions. I know in part I'm spoiled, because they ask me to learn things, pummel me with questions, and have insatiable curiosity.  But still.  I'm not an organized teacher. 

Our educational path is so unconventional that there's no measure of how it's going.  We don't do public or private school, we're not really homeschoolers (in my definition) what are we?  They go to co-op two days a week, and Jack's SEP program at W&M, and we just do all sorts of non-quantifiable learning elsewhere. 

I tell myself that if you're passionate enough about learning, you'll fill in those gaps.  I wasn't a committed student.  School was a terrible fit for me. But at age 32, I'm unable to go to bed because I can't put down a biography of an astrophysicist from the Bronx.  Or reading every scrap of information I can find about immune systems and gut flora.  While the passion for getting good grades didn't happen until late college, that passion for information-seeking must be there.

When I think about what I want from my children's future learning, it really IS about passion.  It's not about having a conventional education, it's about having educational hunger and doing something they deeply love. 

That's why I love Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Seeing him speak, I could feel that he was in that profession not because it was the one his parents or society wanted...but because he couldn't keep himself away from it.  Like when I went back to graduate school, because I figured I might as well get credits for all the economics reading I was doing. 

I don't care what my children become, but I want them to know who they are.  And I want to give them the tools to find that out.

I loved one particular part of Neil's book.  On the heels of my conversation with Steve, this came at a perfect time.  His parents were not scientists, so they couldn't teach him the specifics of what he loved.  But they supported him in what he loved.  That's the model I want to have in my motherhood:

I must have had the first ever "soccer mom," except the activity wasn't soccer, it was after-school astronomy.  With my telescope, camera, and other observing accessories, I would drag both of my parents (separately and together) in and out of cars, up and down stairs, in and out of fields, and to and from the library, all in the support of my astrohabit.

I will not soon forget when I was building my wooden Saturn lamp in seventh grade.  My mother and I drove to at least six different hardware stores one afternoon just to acquire the necessary, but unusual, electrical conduit that threads pole to pole through the wooden orb.

Furthermore, most weekends we would visit one of the city's many museums, and my parents were always on the lookout for affordable math and science books.

My parents never told me where to go or what to learn, which ensured that my life's interests were pure.  To this day, my parents remain two of the most warm and caring parents I have known.

If only every child had this type of parents, no matter what the future career - artist, scientist, writer, whatever.  Love it.

Loving our doodleheads

There are things Steve can do in parenthood that I'm completely unable to do well.  Wrestle, for one.  After a few tackle attempts, I'm not sure what else to do.  I try, but it doesn't come naturally.  Watching Star Wars marathons without wanting to die of boredom, for another.  

And bigger things, too. He finds most joy in being gone at work, providing for the family. That nourishes his fathering spirit, to work hard for us.  I love my job and doing what I do, but I'd feel so much stress having the family depend on my income. That fuels him, to provide for us.  I really appreciate that about him.

I think what I value most in the co-parenting, though, is that there is another person in the world who loves these little sprouts as much as I do.

I love Steve for many reasons, and most of them pre-date children.  In fact, the only reason I really craved children (before meeting them) was that I wanted to make Little Persons with him.  It was my wifehood, not my motherhood, that drove that decision.

Children bring this whole new facet to marriage, in ways I couldn't have quite fathomed.  It's true that there are some days we run circles around each other...maybe even sharing space all day, like on the weekends, without really getting to sit down and talk.  And when we do, they're often conversations to swap notes about child-stuff.

Romance in the typical sense is definitely hard to find.

But what surprises me most in marriage and in parenthood:  How deeply connecting it is to love little persons with your spouse.  To see him become a father.  To know you can call him during the day and leave a voice mail with a Funny Kid Story, and know there's no way he could listen without laughing out loud.  How his heart melts at his daughter, coming into the kitchen with her sparkly-purse and plastic high heels. Watching him give piggy-back rides for the 1,235th time that day, just to hear them giggle.

That deep, aching, almost-painful love I feel for my children?  He's feeling it in the same depth on his end, about the same little doodleheads.

And when we roll our eyes at each other, across the munchkin-heads running screaming through the living room?  I know that behind our shared need for quiet and calm and wishing they'd just would take a bullet for those same screaming monkeys without batting an eye.

Loving these children with the man who helped make them really IS the most romantic thing we've ever done together.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The day my child became Russian

Oh my goodness.  Completely by accident, I just ran across this blogpost from when Jack was 4, when we watched That Russian Video.  We'd been in the library line and he added it to the pile, and I figured we might as well get it. At the library, "impulse purchases" are free.  How odd to see how far this fascination has come.  One Russian family camp, 2 years of weekly lessons with Olga and Natallia, and now registered for the weeklong immersion camp this summer.  I'm so glad I caught this moment in his life in writing...even date and time-stamped.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 2:39pm

So we've been talking about Russia today. Steve jokes about turning Andrew into a Russian spy, because he has an Eastern European look and his intonations sounds like Russian. Hard to explain outside of our family. We're weirdos.

Anyway...on a whim I showed them that movie from the library, about Russian children. Jack was blown away and decided he loves Russia. He wants to put a balance beam in our backyard. We made snowflakes out of paper today just like the kids in the movie. He wants to learn the Cyrillic alphabet.

Okay so far. But the disturbing part for me:

He decided for dinner he wants to eat: sausage, potatoes, tea, and...rabbit.

I'm not sure I can go through with this, even in the name of giving my children a global experience. I might sneak in some chicken for myself. I hear it's delicious, but I can't stomach the idea of eating bunny.

But I tried to be a good mom, so I asked Steve if he could stop and get some rabbit on the way home from work.