Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Halloween Hero 2014

Every year, my children's school celebrates Halloween in a creative and educational way. Each child in the elementary program selects a person from history that they consider a hero. They gather research materials and write down facts about their famous person throughout the month of October. They then use that work to create a report, hand-bound in a book with an illustrated picture of their hero that they present to the class on or near Halloween. The kids also have the option of dressing up as their hero.

Since Cara is now in Junior High, she didn't get to participate. In previous years, her heroes included the following: Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Anne Sullivan, Susan B Anthony, Marie Curie, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Cara as Elizabeth Cady Stanton (2013)
Last year, Connor went as Dr. Seuss. When I asked about his selection, he later revealed "He's the only famous person I know."
Connor as Dr Seuss (2013)

This year, the conversation about his Halloween Hero went like this:

Me: "Why do you want to be Benjamin Franklin?"
Connor: "Because he's funny."
Me: "Why do you think he's funny?"
Connor: "Because he's like, 'Oh so thaaaats what it's like to be shocked.....Ow!'"

Connor as a "young Benjamin Franklin"

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Post Excitement Sadness Disorder

When I was a child, my mother would plan an event or outing for me close to the day after Christmas or Easter or my birthday. This was because when any of those events was over, I would launch into a sadness that having something else to look forward to helped to ease. 

It sounds silly, crying because Christmas was over, but I remember this sadness vividly. Possibly because I still experience it, though I'm not prone to tears when these events are over. Now, it's not just holidays. It's vacations or a visit from a friend or anything major that I've had an opportunity to look forward and anticipate. Craig has often fielded the "can't we stay just one more day" request from me more than once. I am usually good for very little a day or two after we get home from a trip.  

Unfortunately, this trait has been passed on to my children. Cara has literally cried over spilled milk the day after a party. Their sadness and inevitable meltdown comes like clockwork. It's often not a matter of IF it's going to happen; it's just a matter of what is going to be the catalyst.

As with many of my posts, I tell this backstory in order to recount something that just happened.

We had just come off of a week-and-a-half, activity-filled vacation in Colorado, followed by a week of having the kids' cousins stay with us. Then, on a Tuesday, I took Cara to the airport to spend a week with her grandparents and came back to the house in time for Connor and I to say goodbye to his cousins and grandpa, who were returning to Colorado. A mass exodus leaving a once-bustling house feeling quite empty.

The Tuesday this all happened was fine. Wednesday was another story.

It started when Connor asked if he could download a game for his tablet. The game had "war" in the title and I deemed it inappropriate for him. This was the spilled milk, though today, it was more of a time-release capsule.

An hour later, Connor remembered that he was upset about my answer about the game and launched into a full-on crying festival, complete with hiding under the table and hitting a pillow. When Connor is angry or sad, he does NOT want to talk about it. In fact, trying to get him to talk prolongs the episode. So, I let him go, reminding him now and again that it was fine to be upset with me.

When he had finally calmed down enough to be able to use words, he asked for markers, paper, and tape. 

Contemplating his anger.
I could not wait to see what he was going to draw. I was pretty sure I was going to have to search deep for the strength to not laugh.
The masterpiece: A broken heart with the words "I'm leving"
He taped his note to his body and demonstrated how his heart was ripped. I held it together and took the pictures in complete secrecy, so as not to diminish the seriousness. I read the note aloud and asked where he was going to go. I don't believe he had thought this plan through because he paused for a moment before he turned and left.

And with that, he was gone....

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chess Lessons

Connor recently learned how to play chess and loves it. Because of this, he requests to play it quite a bit. I've always gotten out of playing the game with him because I didn't know how. Now, the reason that I don't know how to play chess is not because no one has offered to show me. It's also not that I couldn't figure it out myself either. What it boils down to is the fact that I generally do not like games of strategy. It took me only a couple of games of checkers with Craig to realize that, any game where I can win if I just think ten steps ahead, I am just no good at and, frankly, I prefer to win now and then.

But because I love my boy that much, I put aside my hangups and let him give me a chess lesson one day while we were at the library. I listened to him introduce me to each chess piece (the one with the T on the top is the king, the little guys are the rooks) and what it's particular moves are while we start a game. Because I'm getting a lesson from a first grader, some of the moves sound a little suspect. 

I go to take one of his pieces after I move a rook forward and he tells me you can only capture a piece with a rook when you move diagonally. But he just said that rooks only move forward. Hmm. Sounds like you're making these rules up as you go, little boy. With a wifi connection at the library, a search on chess piece moves, and a smug "See, I told you" from my son later, the game continued. And continued. And continued. 

I finally realized that this game was going to involve a whole lot of moving the same pieces over and over just to use a turn with no one really winning. I asked Connor what it took for someone to win. After he explained, I looked at my pieces to see if I could take the steps needed to make that happen. Once I saw that wasn't possible, I began aggressively sacrificing pieces. There goes my knight. Oops, you got my queen. My rooks are being captured left and right, though one mysteriously makes it to the other side.Wait. Now I get my queen back because of that? Grrr. I can't even win losing.

Finally, I hear Connor declare "Checkmate" and I know from watching "Searching for Bobby Fisher" that meant the game was over. He was happy both from having won and also from having taught me how to play. 

I think I liked playing chess better when he was three.

(If the video doesn't appear, click here.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Daddy's Super Hero

Connor and Craig have been watching super hero cartoons together lately. Right now, they're on a Spiderman kick, but prior to that, it was Justice League. A few months ago, Craig started teasing his son by saying that Connor's favorite hero was Green Lantern. (It's not. I mean, whose favorite is actually Green Lantern? C'mon.) It's an exchange that's really funny to be in the audience for and usually results in the boy charging at his father, fists first. And Connor is like a little terrier that doesn't realize that he's not as big as the German shepherd that he's constantly barking at. And like a terrier, his energy level for this type of play is extremely high and he just WILL NOT STOP.

I took my little super hero-loving brawler to Target on a day where I had enough patience to be a competent participant in the "We're Not Buying Anything" game*. Most of the time, I deal with purchase requests by offering to put those items on his wish list and then refer to the closest date where he might be given said item (Easter, Christmas, birthday). So when Connor asked to go to the toy aisle, I happily complied. We had a blast when we got to the super hero section.
He faked extreme excitement and said "Send Dad this picture".

Connor loved looking at all of the toys in this section and playing pretend. And then he came across these Incredible Hulk Smash Fists and was mesmerized. He eagerly read the back of the box (in my mind, he was checking to see if there's a "don't hit your sister" warning). After reading, he said, "Daddy would NOT like it if I got these." He flipped the box around to look at the fists a little closer and added, "Put these on my list."

* For those that haven't played, this is a game where the parental participant has to repeat the phrase "We're not buying anything" over and over to every single request from their child. Each time, the parent must keep their voice at the same volume as when they began the game, regardless of their child's volume, changes in the child's tone (ranging from calm to complete whine-fest), type of request (usually starts out with purchases that require lottery money and then tapers off to gumball machine change requests), or state of movement (the sky's the limit for the kids in this area, as is the floor and the shelves and underneath the clothes racks). Whoever elicits an eye-roll from a passer-by loses.

CDO (Because It Should Be In Alphabetical Order)

The kids and I were heading to a friend's house over the weekend. While getting ready, I voiced my concern to Cara that I was going to forget the can of water chestnuts that I wanted to bring. She suggested that I set it out and I explained that, sometimes, that isn't always a guarantee that I would remember.

And then my darling, brilliant daughter, who knows me so very well, set the can on the counter like this:
I totally remembered to bring the water chestnuts.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Child Labor

Cara is now at an age where, when she requests to participate in certain things or wants to buy something that isn't particularly on the "need" list, she is told that she will need to use her own money. The list of things she has to dip into her own funds for is growing as she gets closer and closer to her teen years.

Now that her cash reserve is dwindling, Cara has been doing research on ways in which she could make money that she might actually enjoy. In her research, she came across a book called "Better Than A Lemonade Stand", which gave her a host of options along with advice on how to run her own small business.

One of the options mentioned in the book was babysitting. And not just having your own group of people you babysit for. Oh no. This was a whole babysitter/pimp suggestion where Cara would start out as the primary babysitter, develop a client list, and then enlist the help of additional babysitters, which she would organize and get a cut from.

I don't know that Cara will get to that point (and if we do, we are open for suggestions on where to buy pimp hats).In the meantime, she's starting into this endeavor much more prepared than I ever was when I babysat. Besides the research she has done, Cara is also taking a class with the Red Cross specifically designed for kids her age who want to babysit.

It's so great to watch her so interested in what she is learning and I'm sure the coursework provides some insight that I might not have thought to give her myself. But it's hard to not take it personal when my daughter suggests that I "should really read some of this. It talks about how to deal with kids without yelling."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Who's There?

Cara has been asking for a while for a cell phone. I know that for some, 12 years old might seem too young. However, if you went by Cara's estimate, she was the only one her age without one. I have to admit, she really never whined about this. Rather, she would present her case calmly every so often and was usually met with unconvinced parent faces.

It's always fun to keep your child's expectations low only to surprise them by granting their wish. Or rather, the Easter Bunny did.

We didn't go all out. It's just a simple "grandma phone" as she lovingly refers to it. But that grandma phone has unlimited talk and text, so she is super happy.

One of the negatives about a simple phone like this is that there's not a lot of options for fun phone cases. In typical Cara fashion, she didn't let that stop her. She made her own case. She designed it and cut out all of the pieces. I then sewed them together and now am seriously considering trading phones with her just so I can use this case.

Monday, April 14, 2014

He's Not Arguing, He's Opposing

Most conversations with Connor involve a delicate game of semantics. Use the right word, and you're home free. Use the wrong word and you're in for a long and winding road that usually leads right back to where you started.

Normally, our advice to outsiders caught in one of these discussions is to "go limp" (our code for just agree with him). Even knowing this, I am the biggest sucker when it comes to getting pulled in to these. Sometimes, I just can't let it go and these things go on and on and on and just when I think I've proven my point, he's found a way to make himself the winner of the argument. (Shut up. It's not like I'm wondering where he gets it.)

Like this one time:
Connor: "This girl at school had a coat just like mine."
Me: "The blue one?"
Connor: "No. Her coat was just like mine."
Me: "Which coat of yours was it like?"
Connor: "The blue one."

Or this other time:
Me: "You have a booger on your nose."
Connor: "No I don't. It's dried snot."
Me: "Snot and boogers are the same thing."
Connor: "No, snot is wet and boogers are dry.

But transcription of the conversation does not truly capture the verbal circles this child can argue in. A virtual dialogue tornado. Lucky for you, I'm a storm chaser when it comes to these and I was actually able to capture one on film.

It should be noted that, immediately after I "cut", Connor tried to get me to smell the cards.
Apple users, you're going to want to upgrade to Android to watch this. Okay, fine. You could click here instead.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Oh, Shift

YouTube videos do not always come with warnings. Anything that has NSFW in the title, I can usually count on to not be something that I want to show to my kids. With Cara getting older, I've gotten a little more lax on what she can and can't view. In fact, I probably push it a little bit into the TMI range for her when I go into details to explain any adult content that she might have encountered. 

Ooh. Just had a flashback to grade school. My friend, Jennifer, and I watched "The Blue Lagoon" at her house, even though my parents had told me that they didn't want me to watch it. I didn't see what the big deal was after watching it (it took me until I was in my 30s to realize how raunchy the movie "Grease" was, so you could say I might have been a bit naive). But my parents, upon finding out and moving past their "disappointed in you" talk, wanted to discuss in detail what I thought about the movie. I believe I talked about the plot and how I loved Brooke Shield's hair and would never want to live on an island like that. Eventually, they had to directly ask about the nudity which I had no clue was an issue until they pointed it out. Yay, parenting!

Back to today...
Connor is at the age where he'll come home from school and tell me about a kid in his class that "said the I word". Idiot, for those that don't speak grade school code. Yeah. Idiot is a curse word at school, which it rightly should be when the intention in using that word is to make someone feel bad. But that actual word and dozens more like it are found in commercials and cartoons and in passing conversations, so it's hard to limit exposure to those sorts of things. Even so, I do try to keep him away from the handful of words that are considered to be curse words both in and out of the elementary school yard. 

Needless to say, we do not like letting Connor watch YouTube videos without supervision. Usually (and by usually I mean when Craig is around to suggest I do so), I will watch the video first and then let him know if he can view it after me. I watched a video the other day that I found funny and I thought Connor would as well. The only problem with it was that at the very end, an adult word was used. Had my phone been working right, I would have successfully stopped the video before that word was spoken. I tried not to draw attention to it, but that boy doesn't miss much. 

"I heard them say 'he's shifting'," he tells me.  Phew. Coast was clear....if I had kept my mouth shut. 
Instead, I pointed out the nudity in the "Blue Lagoon." 

I ask, "What do you think that means?" I fully expected an accurate description of shifting. So, my loud blurt of laughter can be justified as surprise when he said, "It means shooting dung."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lucky Lotto

Connor: "Mom. I know how to win the lottery."
Me: "Wow. That's amazing. We should tell Daddy."
Connor: "Yeah. Tell him 5 8 9 7 3."
Me: "Okay."
Conor: "Wait. How many numbers do you need for the lottery?"
Me: "Six."
Connor: "Okay. Add a 1 at the end."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Very Muppet Birthday

The last couple of months...Scratch that... Our last year or so has been, for lack of a better word, unsettling. Part of this involves our potential move to Texas, a move that we are no longer considering. The quick summary on that part is that it wasn't the right move for us. We have it good here in Minnesota, something that I say with full awareness of the record-setting low temperatures that we've experienced in the past few months.

Without going in to too much more detail, this trying year has given us something. We got perspective. That's my silver lining to a very, very dark cloud of crap. It wasn't particularly a perspective that we wanted to have, but there it is anyway.  

So, while we were busy trying to stay warm and maintain some semblance of sanity, March happened. And with March comes my birthday. Not that I do much for my birthdays (you can read here on what my special day's requests have been), but it is something that happens whether I'm ready for it or not.

This year, Craig got me a gift so perfect, he is going to sit back for the next few birthdays (and by few I mean all of them) and talk about the olden days. "Remember that time I got you that really super awesome birthday gift that made you cry?" 
This is now the yardstick in which all future birthday gifts will be measured.
It is no secret to those that know me that I love the Muppets. Actually, love just doesn't cover it. The Muppets are my glee. And these past few months, I have been a bit glee-deprived. Opening this particular present at that particular time filled me with such joy that the 9 year old part of me took over and could not get into that box fast enough to play with my new toy. 
Some of the many looks of my new favorite plaything. (The feather hair is my favorite)
Now, I had actually opened this gift a month before my birthday. Craig couldn't wait and I wasn't really going to argue with him. Early presents don't ruin your birthday. It just makes it last longer. Same goes for late presents, so let me know if anyone needs my address.

The week of my birthday, the kids kept saying, "I can't wait until Wednesday." The first few times they said it, I had to think about what we had going on that day that would make them excited. When I realized that their excitement was for my birthday, I thought they must be thinking that there would be some sort of celebration and were going to be very disappointed. Turns out, they were both just so excited because they had made me birthday gifts and could not wait for me to open them. 

Unlike their dad, they did wait and it was even more glee just to see their faces waiting for me to unwrap each of their gifts. Cara had made me an beautiful necklace with ribbon and silver findings and had also made the cutest card about what she could be doing instead of wishing me a happy birthday (homework and room-cleaning were a couple of the things mentioned). To top it all off, she made me my favorite, white cake from a box with buttercream frosting. All on her own. The decoration couldn't be more perfect. 
Sums up my feelings about 41 exactly, Beaker.
Connor had also made me a card and gift and he had wrapped the present all by himself. It was halfway-covered with wrapping paper that was cut from the middle of the roll. Underneath the wrapping and inside the box was a sweet paper heart that he had cut out himself from the middle of a piece of construction paper. In keeping with the spirit of the gift and continuing the letting go that I started during Christmas time, I read the words that Connor meant.

This birthday, my glee cup runneth over. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day 2014

Normally, Cara and I use Valentine's Day as a time to spend working together to come up with fairly labor-intensive crafts for her to give to her classmates. Last year, we made home-made Altoid-type candies and Cara put them in containers that she decorated herself along with a card that fit into the lid of the containers. The year before, we made salt dough into pins, magnets, bookmarks, and earrings. And the year before that, rolled out sugar cookies decorated with flood icing and personalized for each classmate.

This year, our February was less-than-typical and now Connor was going to be making valentines as well, so we decided to go an easier route. The kids and I visited the paint section at the Home Depot and grabbed a few dozen free sample cards. They both really enjoyed looking for colors that each of their friends would like. Some ribbon and a heart hole punch later, and the kids had made over 50 personalized bookmark valentines.
Another part of the Valentine's Day celebration at the kids' school is that the parents make a Valentine for their kids that will hang up in the classroom for the weeks leading to the holiday.  I had a lot of fun with these and I think they turned out fairly well.

Cara actually suggested we use Tae Kwon Do as the theme for her valentine. You may not be able to see all of the pictures clearly in this photo, but they are all documented moments in Cara's martial arts history: showing off a new move she had learned in class, sparring with the other students, practicing her flying side kick (the blurry pic at the top and probably one of my favorites) and being awarded her next belt. We are so proud of her progress and are happy to brag to her classmates about it.

I was looking for a cheesy saying to go on Connor's, but he actually requested that I write "I love you" on it. Since he's still okay with public displays of affection from his parents, I had to take advantage of what will probably be a small window of opportunity to do so. In addition to a neon sign displayed for all to see, he wore last year's Valentine's Day shirt.

I'm really glad that I get at least seven more years of valentine crafts to look forward to.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Retro Parenting

I take my role as parent seriously. It is my job to impart wisdom and reason, to teach my children the difference between right and wrong, to model good behavior, to show empathy and compassion to others so that my children will grow to be empathetic and compassionate people.  It is also my job to make sure that my children never utter the phrase "I didn't know that because that happened before I was born."  This week, I knocked the cobwebs off a few oldies but goodies to share with my children.

It started with Connor's request to tell him a bedtime story.  I tucked him into bed, snuggled up close, and began. "Now, here's a little story. It's about a man named Jed." I described the plight of this poor mountaineer who was desperate to feed his family. By the end of the story, things had turned around for Jed and Connor went to bed knowing that reckless abandon with a shotgun could end up getting you a swimming pool.

Another lyrically historical moment this week was when I chose to enlighten my daughter with the song stylings of one Mr. Bill Withers. Because, some times in our lives, we all have pain. We all have sorrow. But, if we are wise, we know that there's always tomorrow.

As a child, the Muppet Show was a gateway between the characters I loved and the actors/musicians that my parents were familiar with. Now that I have my own kids, I've used old episodes of the Muppet Show (yes, I do own the Time Life series as seen on TV) to enrich their appreciation of performers of the past (and sometimes present, too---who knew the Alice Cooper episode would be Cara's favorite?).  This week, I let Connor gaze on the wonder that was Dizzy Gillespie. Don't know him? Well, here you go. And you're welcome.

If I say the name "Willow", what do you think of? If it's not either Rosenberg or Ufgood, I just don't have enough time to tell you how sad your life is. Since Cara already knows of the first, it was high time she be introduced to the second. This weekend, we rented the 1988 Ron Howard/George Lucas movie starring Wicket the Ewok and an un-puffy Val Kilmer. Now, she may have laughed out loud at some of the special effects, you can bet that girl was glued to the screen, making sure that the little red-headed baby was safe and that the queen got what was coming to her. High-five, eighties! 

So far, I was winning parenting. And then I pulled a Kelley. That thing where the words go directly from my brain and out through my mouth with no filter at all. It was not one that I immediately regretted, though. This was like a slow-release tablet that very well is probably in the boy's system as I type this. I apologize in advance, Connor's classmates' parents. My son is now familiar with the law of He Who Smelt It, Dealt It. 

If four out of five is good enough for dentists, it's good enough for me.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Letting Go, Fa La La

I'm the kind of person that arranges their book shelf from tallest to shortest. My CDs and DVDs have always been in alphabetical order. And if I ever had several items of various color? Roy G Biv, baby.  
Let me be the first to say it (and then my family can be the second and third and fourth), I like things a certain way.  

If you're following this, nodding in agreement, this next part is where our stories might differ.  Most people's story would say "And then I had kids and learned that things are better when children put them in their own unique order and...." NO.  

No. No. No. And no.

Kids are dumb. They don't respect how soothing the proper placement of things can be. They thrive on creating chaos. It's their mission. And they work on that chaos with the same compulsion that causes me to rearrange the Christmas tree after they've "decorated" it.
Homemade candy cane next to a real candy cane?  Ornamental redundancy and just plain crazy! 
A candy cane next to a candy cane next to a candy cane? It's a confectionery orgy on this tree! 
I know it's wrong to feel this way. I don't need your judgey-face looking down your nose at me. I look down my own nose at me enough for the both of us.  But the down-looking only comes after my brain has screamed about the fact that my daughter is wearing navy blue with black and my son has a patterned shirt on with a totally different patterned pant not to mention the fact that the two share no matching colors and someone has stacked a plate on TOP of a bowl in the sink and what did I ever do to deserve such punishment?

We have an advent calendar that the kids use each year. Each day, the kids take turns putting up the next ornament. This is a tradition that they relish. It's always the first thing out of the Christmas box and the first thing put up for the holidays.  If it's their calendar day, it is one of the first things they do when they wake up that morning.  It's a decorating process that I am only an observer of.

And it hurts.

Case in point:
Seventeen days in.
Look at this. The cardinal is kissing the dove who is pecking on the Santa that has a candy cane hooked on the ball at the end of his hat.  All the while, Beaker is in the middle of a two-car, one train pile up that happened right outside the gingerbread house's driveway while the snowman and gingerbread man run away, hand-in-hand, unharmed from the crazy chaos that was my beloved advent calendar.

But in keeping with the spirit of the season, I stifled my inner crazy and left the decorations as is. All of them. I didn't touch a single ornament. Every candy cane was left in place, even if that place was right next to another candy cane of the same color even though, why would you do that when you had two other candy cane colors to choose from in addition to a bunch of other ornaments, most of which were not candy canes and maybe we should just have no candy canes next year unless I can color-coordinate my brain explosion to match the wall color.  

And then, a beautiful thing happened.  Something so amazing and heart-warming that your faith in your life-choices are all-at-once restored and you know that everything is right with the world.  

Cara placed a wrapped present gently under the tree, nestling it on top of the hand-made tree skirt and right below the crocheted bells that my great-great aunt made that had been a part of my tree since I was an infant.  Craig looked down at the gift and said, "The snowmen are upside-down!"

Hands off. He's mine!
Proof that I left it alone all month.