Fridays are show and tell at school and Jack is always searching for just the right thing to take. He bounded down the stairs with a carefully crafted diamond made out of Legos.
"Jack, didn't you take a Lego creation last week?" I said.
"What can I say? I'm a Lego geek!" he replied.
"Hey, I'm the Lego guy in this family!" Josiah quickly shot in.
My own childhood started gushing in my head the way it does in certain moments of parenting. Everything you have ever thought or felt as a kid is all right there in a flash of a moment. Sometimes this can be painful and we start doing all kinds of projecting but other times it feels more like an opportunity to educate. If ever there was a teaching moment, this was it.
I told them a story about how when I was little I watched my sisters and whether I realized it or not, I gave everyone a job or a label.
Jennifer was a dynamic writer.
Kristen was the smart, witty one. (and she took amazing pictures)
Katie was the charming baby of family who could do anything really.
I told myself all those jobs were taken and I probably shouldn't even try to do any of those things.
"But mom, you ARE a writer AND you take pictures now!" Josiah said perplexed.
"I know and so are my sisters, but it took me awhile to figure out I could." I said.
The "awhile" part was an understatement, try 10-15 years really. What I discovered was that I came from an entire family of creative writers. While each person has their niche, we are each amazing in our own ways and sometimes those abilities intersect. Oh, how I wish I had known this from the beginning. I wish I had never been so afraid to try. So now I do the work of pulling off the labels.
"So I'm wondering if it's possible that there is more than one Lego expert in this family. We would be like a super Lego family, or maybe we are a big jumble of all kinds of things, artists, thinkers, builders, dreamers, you know?" I proposed.
"Yes! That's it, we can be everything!" Jack said.
I wonder if in an effort to encourage our children's individuality we sometimes shut or close off potential interests. Do you struggle with this as a parent? I know I do. How do you handle the labels flying around your kids? Share with us in the comments.
Here's the scene: Three little boys on one side of the street (aka the Lemonade Boys) spend an entire afternoon setting up a lemonade stand. When sales are slow, these savvy salesmen take matters into their own hands. One boy runs up and down the street, knocking on doors, with offers of a lemonade delivery service, while the other two refine the made up recipe to accommodate the rush of new orders. Their $2 till is suddenly overflowing and the Lemonade Boys are in business. Their net profit at market close? Well over fifty dollars.
Fast-forward to the next day: Two lovely little girls on the other side of the street (aka the Lemonade Girls) set up a beautiful lemonade stand bright and early. They have been planning this for months and see nothing but success in their future. Meanwhile, the Lemonade Boys have plans to take their business to the next level, but there are some labor issues. They have suddenly acquired a manager in one super-bossy older sister. It takes two hours to settle their dispute, end the picketing and get back on track, only to realize they have competition across the street.
This was not in the plan.
Negotiations ensue. A merger is discussed, but the Lemonade Girls will have none of it. They spy coercion, unfair distribution of profits and a whole lot more hassle on the production line. No deal. Discussions come to a abrupt halt.
The Lemonade Boys and their now demoted sister/manager have no mercy. They will crush the competition! They will slash prices! Add a new product line (Betty Crocker brownies)! Form a street team for guerrilla advertising!
The Lemonade Girls are clever, however. They have already instituted an aggressive marketing campaign an hour earlier. The boy with the bike privileges is already making the rounds, spreading word of their one time lemonade sale far and wide. The Lemonade Boys don't have the budget for that, so warlike tactics ensue. The Mother Regulator has to step in and abolish the advertised recording which is being broadcast at high volume from a battery operated speaker in the driveway.
No worries, the Lemonade Girls are outpacing the Lemonade Boys 3 to 1. Careful product development, marketing and an excellent customer service experience prevails. The girls are ahead of the game and showing no signs of remorse over the proposed merger. Sales are off the charts!
The only fallout is the neighbors who feel dazed and confused by the onslaught of messaging coming at them from every available channel.
"It's like a war out there," the lady with the poodle reported. "Yesterday it was fifty cents for a large, now it's a dollar for a large? I don't know who to buy from or what to do."
In the end, the Lemonade Girls netted $64 while the Lemonade Boys happily split their $28 profit four ways. The Mother Regulator thought this was a free market success but there was some dissent from Commissioners on both sides of the street.
"Um, was it really necessary for there to be TWO lemonade stands today?"
"Why couldn't the Lemonade Boys have waited til another day, so as not to rain on the Lemonade Girls parade?"
"Don't you think it would have been better to emphasize friendship over competition?"
Needless to say, the Mother Regulator faced a rigorous peer review and may or may not retain her right to oversee fair practices in the lemonade market next season.
What say you, Grownups from the Real World? Are we in danger of creating fantastic business people who have lost the art of living peacefully with their neighbors? Or is all well that ends well in love and war? What would you do? Nix the stand, wait for another day, or let the free market reign? Your unfettered opinions solicited in the comments below.
The kids came running off the bus after their very first day of school. Their little feet barely hit the pavement before they began talking about play dates and video games. These are not things a mother wants to know about the first day of school. I let them ramble on until it was time to go in different directions from our favorite neighbor friend.
K: We'll see you tomorrow morning at the bus stop!
Him: Nah, Miss Kristen. I'm not going to school tomorrow.
K: But Buddy, tomorrow is a school day.
Him: Not every day is a school day.
K: But tomorrow is.
Him: I don't think so. Anyway, I'm not going tomorrow.
I laughed and walked away. I could see how the adjustment to school is going to be different for everyone.
K: How was your first day of school?
K: What did you learn?
Ethan: Nothing. And there is NO homework.
K: It was the first day of school. I don't think that is going to be the norm.
Ethan: NO HOMEWORK!!! We don't have any.
K: Did you make any new friends?
K: Not even the girl who sits beside you? I forgot her name. What is it?
Ethan: I don't know.
K: Did you play at recess?
K: Seriously? You are five. Are you going to give me any information about school? This was a really big day for you.
His father called a few minutes later.
D: How was it?
K: I have absolutely no idea. He didn't come home crying and he appears to want to go back tomorrow. For all we know, he could have skipped the whole day and just hung out under the bleachers, dealing black market Silly Banz and mainlining YooHoos from the machine. Eat! Dad wants to know what you did today.
Ethan: I just don't remember, MOM. But my teacher did say that we need to get our rest and if we wake up early, we should stay in bed.
I relayed this story to fellow mom of a kindergartener.
"God bless her and every teacher out there who says those kinds of things. BIG gift cards for her this year. BIG!" She turned around and yelled to the boys that it was time for bed.
And that, my friends, is the biggest change at our house since the end of the first week of school. Ethan wants to go to bed at night. We headed out a little later this evening to go to a birthday party and rolled back in an hour past bedtime. The boys took a quick bath and then everyone headed off to bed. Not three minutes later, Ethan and Nathan came wailing up the steps. The sound was deafening.
Ethan: MOOOOOOMMMMM!!!! Nate won't let me go to sleep.
Ethan: He says he won't stop crying until I read him a book. EVERY NIGHT he wants me to read him a book. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.
K: Nate. It is so late, Buddy. I'll read you lots of books tomorrow after Ethan goes to school.
Nate: I'm not going to stop crying until Ethan reads me a book (with steel cold reserve).
K: Oh my gosh, Nate. Ethan. Go to bed.
They both went wailing back down the stairs. It was 8:35 p.m. and you would have thought it was 1:30 a.m. Two minutes later it was silent. And I hope against all hope that they sleep in tomorrow. No use starting out the week tired. Even if we have no idea what he does at school.
The sibling relationship can be one of the most powerful in our lives. The road to growing up together can make you the strongest allies or bitter enemies, depending on the moment. I want, more than anything, when I leave this world for my children to have a tight bond with each other. While the road is rocky at times, I am learning some things along the way. Here are some ideas for cultivating sibling friendships.
Create opportunities for kids to help each other. Give siblings the opportunities to help each other in practical ways. Older siblings can help younger kids get dressed, get a glass of water, find their shoes. Younger siblings can deliver things, or even help an older brother or sister clean up a room.
It is important to invite younger kids to also do things for older children and not ask the older sibling to do more than their share. We wander into the land of asking our oldest children to parent when we rely on them too much.
These helping moments teach care and consideration for the other person.
Let them play crazy games together. There are often times when my kids are playing really loud, boisterous games all together. My instinct is to "bring it down" a notch or two but those are often big sibling bonding times. If they aren't bothering anyone and are safe, let them go and have all the family love to be had.
Insist they respect each other. While siblings in our family are not always going to like each other, they are expected to respect each other's bodies and feelings. In our house, that means no physical fighting of any kind and no name calling. I try to stay out of their arguments but if things are escalating I step in.
Simple steps like having them face each other, one person talk at a time and stating their needs clearly to the other person can solve most confrontations. When all that fails, my mom used to send us to our rooms until we worked it out. I think it mostly gave her a break from us.
Shake up the friendships. If you have more than two children, you know there are often children that seem closer to one or another at times. Pair up the two that need to grow their friendship. Take them out for an ice cream together or putt-putt golf. Giving them time and space together gives them the chance to discover new connections. Don't let age difference be a stumbling block; there is always something to do together if you look hard enough.
Look for acts of kindness. Start a Family Acts of Kindness list in your home. Invite kids to be agents looking for the next kind act towards another family member. You will be amazed how much goodness is already happening and how much more is invited in when you practice this list.
What things do you do to create and sustain friendships among the siblings in your house? What are your biggest stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them? Share your insight in the comments.
Here's a letter from a supersister who wonders how to help her kids feel confident in the face of fear. With her permission, I'm sharing it with you. I'll add my two cents, and then you add yours, okay? Let's give her a list of hopeful, positive things only the kindest, strongest parent would do in a situation like this:
I just left my scared first grader on her 2nd day of school, still so attached to me, me trying to make it ok for her, assuring her I'll be there at pick up and knowing that she's looking for some love on the play yard without her best friend. This morning we met up with a group of first grade girls that raced off down the street ahead of us moms. I whispered. "Do you want to run off with them?" She said no she wanted to hold my hand, be with me. How can I give her confidence to fly off and be free? ---S.
I think confidence is like a seed. It grows strong over time as we tend to its basic needs until it is time to sprout. Much of the needed process happens silently under the surface without us even knowing. Sometimes as parents we lose faith that something good is happening quietly when our kids struggle and so we panic, but nine times out of ten, we're surprised. Things do work out. Our kids do grow and change and step up to the next stage of things and everything is just fine.
Know this: Your daughter is collecting evidence from you about what she can expect from this growing process. If you can get to a place where you feel sure of her and her natural way of being in the world, she will, too. When my own stories of being scared or lonely as a kid are dominating my thoughts at times like this, I use them as a connecting point for empathy. I say, "Let me tell you a story." I say what it was like for me in a similar situation, how I felt and what the hard parts were, and then I say, "but it didn't last. I made a friend. Her name was Debbi Sloat. I got the confidence I needed. I figured it out. It's hard right this second, but tomorrow morning might be the morning everything changes. Let's see."
She might need an anchor to ground her--like a playdate with an acquaintance who goes to the same school. Or something simple and fun to share at lunch with someone she likes. Or a note in her backpack or her pocket reminding her it's just a matter of time before it works out just fine. But she'll get there. She needs to hear you say that out loud, I promise.
Let her know that her pace, though, is perfect, and that her way of getting ready to bloom is just fine. She can take her time because something good is coming--new friendships, new ease, new confidence. Her job is to wait for it and to reach out with your help, whenever she feels the tiniest bit of courage.
What say you, superparents? How do you encourage your kids to feel confident in the face of new situations that would be unnerving for anyone?
I'm a big speller in my house. I find it to be the best form of cryptic communication with my husband on most matters involving children. More often than not my children realize we are speaking about them but for some reason let it slide. Every once in a while someone will ask what we are talking about but normally that would require someone to actually stop talking to hear me speak. Luckily that never happens.
Ethan has started to catch on every once in a while and has learned to spell big ticket kid words like "ice cream" and "park" and "zoo." This has really brought me down. I knew this day would come but I was hoping it would last forever. In order to combat the imminent decline of our top secret communications, I have begun to spell faster.
Unfortunately for us, my husband has a mild case of dyslexia. These two are a horrible combination. Add to the fact that our generation uses Google for spell check (what's a dictionary?), my spelling has become a little shoddy. Long gone is my efficiency of being able to spell "acquaintance" in a snap like I could in the third grade. So now I'm misspelling fast.
Derek also has a communication problem before his second cup of coffee in the morning. When you wake up ready to go without coffee, it sometimes slips your mind that others are not so lucky. So when I wanted to rehash a middle of the night incident of getting up, I thought I would start out slow.
K: Did you ask him "w-h-y" that happened last night?
D: Why what?
K: Seriously. I was spelling.
D: But why would you spell "why?"
K: I don't think that my spelling "why" is the issue regarding why you said "why." I spelled "why" because I didn't want him to know what we were talking about yet.
D: But does "why" really give anything away by just saying "why?"
K: Probably not but now we'll never know.
The best part about the whole situation was that Ethan was standing right there and he didn't even blink in our direction when we were not-so-subtly talking about him. I'd like to think I have just numbed him by spelling all the time. It's clearly just a habit of mine to randomly spell and has no relation to my desired level of secrecy.
I spell with everyone in front of my children and I have come to the startling realization that my husband is EXCELLENT at mental translation. Who knew? In fact, I've been known to spell while out with my friends and not in the presence of any children.One of my friends recently asked me to never again spell in her presence because she cannot spell and it stressed her out. I should have asked her how we are supposed to talk about the children in front of the children because now I don't know.
And I feel a little bad about giving Derek a difficult time about not keeping up at 5:45 a.m. on mornings like this morning. Even if I don't understand why.
Even as just a little baby she fought sleep. The party girl runs deep in this one, she doesn't want to miss one single moment of living large to sleep. We have established lots of bedtime rituals over the years. As a result, we thought we'd share some with you:
Sing me a song. "Can you sing me a night song please?" she often requests. I love to sing, so this has become my singing-in-the-shower equivalent. I go through repertoires of The Beatles, old lullabies and hymns from my childhood. I often quietly sing long after she has fallen to sleep.
Read me a book. I don't think there is a person on the planet who doesn't love to be read to. I had a friend that read to her son every night well into his teen years. It was a connecting point for both of them and a nighttime ritual they always returned to.
Tell me your three wishes. My kids loved this little game we used to play when I tucked them in. Each person would say their three wishes for the other person for the next day, week or even for their life. It is a nice way to teach kids to think and hold nice intentions for the people they love.
Share a story with me. Storytelling is such a beautiful art. My kids love to hear both make believe stories and stories from my childhood. They listen so intently and ask questions like little sponges. It is a lovely way to connect to the past and share a little more of yourself. You can also tell stories together encouraging creativity.
Play highs and lows to recap your day. Highs and lows are a favorite in our family anytime of the day. Share the best part of the day (high) and the worst part of your day (low) as you are preparing for bed. I often am surprised by their answers. This little game often opens up other important conversations and offers insight on my kid's perceptions about things. It always gets us talking.
What are your bedtime rituals? Is there anything special you do to connect at the end of the day? We would love to know your ideas in the comments.
When my kids were preschoolers, we got through their anxieties with a very hands on approach. We made worry boxes, we crafted bird nests out of blankets and sheets, we sang songs sweetly in the night. Now that they are older, I'm finding their anxious feelings come out in more subtle ways and my old-fashioned methods just won't do. No one is that quick to discuss what's going on, and the differences in personality now are great. One kid will obsess; the other will hibernate. One blows up to blow off steam; the other shuts down or can't stop joking.
I've had to go back to the drawing board. Here's my new back-to-school list of mom-can-do when my kids are showing signs of coming apart at the seams:
Stay Positive. Madeleine repeatedly tells me that my warnings deepen her anxiety. She already can feel the consequences of making the misstep, she does not need me to remind her how much worse things will get if she doesn't get with the program. When I can honestly give her a picture of how good it will be because I know she can course correct, she is much more positive. If I can focus on the strengths she already possesses to address the problem, even better.
Be in it Together. Anxiety deepens when kids feel like they have to do everything on their own. It helps when I say to Carter, "Don't worry, I'll stick with you until I know you can do this on your own." This is especially calming when kids are overwhelmed by the size of the task or the scope of a new responsibility they are trying to master. You can give your kids the full weight of their responsibility without disconnecting from them emotionally. "WE" words really help.
Set Judgment Aside. Do you remember that anxious feeling you used to get as a kid when you knew you had done something wrong, and it was just a matter of time before someone found out? We increase our kids' anxiety when we pile on judgment or make it personal when we can be dispassionate about it and stick to the facts about what happened and how. They already know there's a problem; they don't need to feel like who they are is a problem as well.
Switch it up. I'm learning to break up anxious moments by changing gears and suggesting a new activity we can do together. Right now I've been asking Madeleine to go for an evening walk so we can go to the store and get her favorite Japanese crackers for the next day's lunch. Just being together, joking around is helping her relax and be less intense about her adjustment to middle school. I do the same thing after we've had a big discussion about something where tensions were high. We all need reminders that it's not the end of the world if there are challenges, and we can still enjoy each other's company in the midst of our worries.
How do you light up worry at your house? What's on your list of things you can do when your kids are clearly anxious or stressed?
Ok, well, not yet. He will be going in a week, but that's right around the corner. I have been a little stressed out lately, because I'm worried about kindergarten. Ethan did not go to preschool this past year and for the last few months, I slacked off on working with him. I expressed my concern that Ethan's writing was a little shoddy and my mother nearly lost it.
"He is five years old, Kristen. It is kindergarten."
My mother really won't discuss this with me. I made a crack about Ethan's knowledge of physics being below a first grade level, and she nearly hung up on me. Her memories of children going to kindergarten involve kids learning to adjust from being away from home and the institutionalization of snack time at 10 a.m. She doesn't know that red shirting your kindergartener is all the rage.
Before you start looking at me with the wonky "she's one of THOSE parents," let me say that I truly could not care less if Ethan is the best and brightest in his class or if he has any chance at the Kindergarten Top Gun trophy. I am simply worried that he will show up at school and everyone else will already know everything, and he will be mad or frustrated that he is behind. Sick, I know, but it's better than wanting to hold him back a year so he can possibly be the biggest quarterback at high school twelve years from now. Those people are really crazy. I'm just a little crazy.
In the old days (pre-1970s), a child would go to kindergarten if he or she turned 5 years old at some point during the school year. In the 70s, school began implementing birthday cut off dates such as December 1 for admittance to kindergarten. Red shirting your kindergartener, or holding them back a year if they have a birthday on or around the cut off date for admittance to kindergarten, is very popular these days with upper middle class families looking to give their child an edge in school. It's a less common practice for people with less money because kindergarten is free and daycare is not.
Red shirting your kindergartener once meant holding your soon-to-be five year old back a year and starting him in kindergarten as an older five year old. But with school cut offs now rolled back to September or even August in so many places, parents are looking at their "young" five year olds with summer birthdays and wondering if they are ready for the stresses of all day kindergarten.
It is understood, of course, that nearly all of these children have gone to daycare or preschool. What about my friend Jess who couldn't send her son to preschool because it started at the same time her older son got on the bus for school everyday? No preschool, and he missed the August 1 birthday cut off day by two weeks. The school said she could test him in, but he had issues with upper case versus lower case letters on the test. Are you kidding me? She found a private kindergarten that starts AFTER her other son gets on the bus, and the school said she can retest him at the semester break.
Now there is as much as an 18 month age spread in kindergarten. Some kindergartens are still half-day while others are full day. Some have cut off dates of August 1, while others have cut off dates of December 1. Hasn't it gotten a little out of control? Even I should be smacked for worrying about the big ticket items like "will he remember his seasons."
I mean, it's just kindergarten.
It's that time of year. Why don't you join us in a little sidewalk love as our kids start the school year out? Invite your kids to be agents of happiness and hope on the sidewalks nearest you, then upload your pictures to the PBS Parents Supersisters Flickr Pool or tweet us a picture at @pbssupersisters. You can also leave links to your pictures and stories in the comments below.
His English is all but gone, just a few words here and there. He isn't sure how it happened exactly, but said he just can't remember anymore. Maybe it was his retirement this year, or no daily practice. But for whatever the reason, he is returning to where he started; the language that is closest to his heart.
As I try to jog my own mind and revive my Spanish, I wonder exactly how I am going to do the two week long visit. I pretend we are in an exotic land on a sort of linguistic adventure, even though it is just my kitchen. While I fumble through, my daughter seems to have no problem at all.
He sits beside her, and she brings him her beloved red boots. She climbs on his lap as if she's done it a million times before even though this is only the second time she has ever seen him in her short little life. He gently slides each foot in, and she wiggles off, and then holds out her hand.
She leads him by his first finger all over the backyard for close to an hour. She stops. He stops. She picks up a rock or picks a forbidden flower, and he smiles so patiently like any abuelo would. When he tries to sit, she pulls him up, and he laughs, in total servanthood to the power of her cuteness. Her insistence mixed with a deep instant connection; there is no language required. Love is the only necessity, and they both have truck loads of that.
I am in awe of the way they seem to know each other, with no words, no history. There is some kind of old generational love, a knowing that this person knew you before you were ever born. It is unconditional, given so freely, so pure. I wonder how we lose this part of ourselves and maybe find it again as we age. The place and time where everything becomes so simple, everything peeled back, all that really matters remains.
While I sit from my kitchen table and watch them, I am overwhelmed by the power of love. How far and wide it can travel, how nothing can stand in its way, even when there are no words.
Do your children have a special connection with their grandparents? Do you do something to cultivate it or is it just there? Do share your favorite grandparent stories in the comments section today. We would love to read them.