Monday, February 20, 2012

Once upon a time.

Grace was just turning four when my cousin, Sarah, gave me this:

Now I think we've already established that I am not the world's best mother. I don't spend a lot of time playing blocks or playdough with my munchkins. When I get on the trampoline with them (which they beg for every afternoon), I jump happily and energetically for approximately 3 and a half minutes until my knees start to throb and my thighs burn and I have to sit down (and my kids start to whine that I am too old).

But I REALLY like study time with my kids. Watching them figure something out is, like, my favorite thing.

So Grace and I did the lessons in this book together. It wasn't her favorite thing. She hated sitting still for ten minutes at a time, but I rewarded her with stickers, and by the time kindergarten started, she was reading pretty well.

I haven't known when to start with Claire. I didn't want to start too early and get her frustrated, but I didn't want to miss the window of interest either. (Reading is kind of like potty training in that way.) I've looked at the book a couple of times with her in the past year, but she wasn't interested.

Last week she pulled it out on her own and we have been working on it every day since. She's much more self-motivated than I knew. It's funny when your own kids surprise you like that.

Anyway. If you're trying to teach your munchkins to read, and they will tolerate sitting with you for ten minutes or so, this is the method I recommend. I don't follow the script exactly. We do a lot of skipping around.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Piano Wars

This is a video of Grace at her piano recital. I'm biased, of course, but I think she's pretty good for her age.

The problem is that behind this piece is two full months of practice. This video doesn't show me sitting next to her for two to three hours each week--demanding that she curl her fingers, clap out the rhythm, modify her fingering, play those five measures ten times in a row, okay just three more times. You can't see me asking her (for the EIGHTIETH TIME!) to take her feet off the piano keys, to stop wiggling, and sit up straight, please. You can't see her slumping to the floor in despair to cry and sob, "It's too hard!!"

I am experiencing a collision of priorities in my brain. I want Grace to work hard at something. I want her to reap the rewards of practice. I want her to find confidence in being really good at something difficult.

But I also want her to be happy. And I want us to be friends.

I've let her relax with her practice lately. I haven't sat next to her every afternoon. I haven't yelled at her to focus. I haven't made her practice at all, frankly, which means I'm losing some money every month. Instead of practicing, we have started to talk. Chat. She has started to tell me about friends in her class. About things that happen in school. Grace is not a natural conversationalist, so her chatter is precious.

Are these issues related? The fact that I'm not demanding perfection and the fact that she's starting to talk more?

I remember reading some mothering advice Marjorie Hinckley gave to her daughters: "Save the relationship." At the time, I didn't agree (and, in retrospect, that was stupid). I think I want a good relationship with her more than I want her to be a concert pianist.

Should I just help her find something else? Something that she loves? Or are you still too appalled by my horrible mothering to respond?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Small town cabin fever.

Toward the end of last year, our town got a Lowe's. You probably have one already. And you may have Home Depot too. In fact, you probably have lots of them. You probably live in a place (like the ones I've always lived in) where suburb overflows into suburb. If you can't find some item at your own mall, you can probably go to 2 or 3 others to find what you're looking for. You probably live relatively close to an airport. And there are probably shuttle services to the airport. You probably have several steakhouses and Italian restaurants and Japanese hibachi grills and burger joints.

We. Do not. We live in a desert island. Our town is a blip on the map, surrounded by hundreds of miles of nothingness in every direction. Our mall (if you can call it that--and you really shouldn't) consists of a Sears appliance store, Big 5, Bealls (a clothing store which you have probably never heard of), and a pretzel stand. The nearest real mall is three hours away in Lubbock, TX. Our only chain restaurant is a miniature Chili's. The closest commercial airport is 90 miles away and flies to only Houston or Dallas.

We didn't have a Home Depot. Or a Lowe's. The nearest one was an hour and a half away. So. To have one in town was a pretty big deal--and not just for the great selection and prices (although I'm not gonna complain about those). Maybe you've heard of the Lowe's Build and Grow workshops. They're pretty amazing. They are free. And in this town, we seriously lack for things to do in the winter. There are no indoor play places, no mall play area, no Chuck E. Cheese. Not even an indoor McDonald's play area. So a free kid's activity is exciting. People come in DROVES. The workshops start at 10am; by 10:05, they are turning people away. I'm talking hundreds of people here.

So, of course, I want to go.

Trouble is, it is really hard to go to a workshop with three children expecting to help both of them hammer straight while you hold steady both their wood and a little midget child to prevent him from wreaking havoc all over the store.

I am crazy. But I'll keep doing it. Unless you have any better ideas for a cold, snowless winter day?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Discussion.

It so happens that I am a big fan of the podcast. It is like the best invention for housekeeping since... the mop. I start the dishes, or the laundry, or scrubbing toilets, I turn on my iPod, and suddenly the podcast is over and my house is sparkling and I have no idea how it happened. And to top it off, I have fascinating conversation material for dinnertime. Podcasts are magic, I tell you.

Today I listened to a podcast by WNYC's Radiolab. You can find it here. It's well worth a listen. Highly interesting. Short. In fact, you should listen to it now. Don't worry. I'll wait.

Go ahead. Shoo.

Seriously. I'm. still. here. I give you permission to leave for a while to entertain yourself with something far more interesting than my meaningless blather.

You didn't listen to it, did you? *Sigh* Your loss. Now you just get to hear my own boring summary of the podcast.

Here it is (as a preface, I should explain that in my effort to make this easy to read, the tone is flighty. I do, however, have profound respect for the show, its participants, and their opinions. Okay. You may continue):

The protagonist in our story is an entomologist man who studies bugs called Gryllacrididae (crazy violent crickets). I can't do justice to his fascinating experiences here, but I will say that as he studies the bugs, he begins to relate to them. He begins to believe that maybe they are not so far removed from humanity.

But then, he accidentally smooshes one (that's the scientific term for causing thoracic injury), and when the bug's guts start oozing out, the bug eats them. Yes. The violent cricket-bug starts eating itself. And for someone who has begun to sense a kinship with these bugs, watching this is... well, not just gross, but "horrifying" and "unimaginable." Until... an old professor of his comes to mind reminding him to be objective. And from an objective viewpoint, the entomologist can see that the bug is probably just smelling fat. Nourishing, good tasting food. It doesn't know that it's eating itself. This bug is just using basic instincts to sustain life. And so, the world makes sense again.

Then. Sometime later. Entomologist gets news that his old professor was shot during the apparent mugging of a lady friend. The professor dies. It's a senseless killing for... a purse, maybe? But this senselessness is unsatisfying. The entomologist feels his professor egging him on, urging him to find the sense, to be objective. And so our entomologist (although he's still seeking full understanding for this event) believes, that since the shooter was probably "hopeless, poor, angry, scared," this act of violence was not "unnatural or inhuman. [. . .] It's profoundly human." And the podcast ends with this acknowledgement that the act is, perhaps, incomprehensible, but that trying to make sense of this--trying to understand--is important.

And... I. got. angry. I was washing dishes at my sink, muttering to myself, "I refuse to open my mind to the possibility of understanding for human behavior like that."

I know. I'm weird. My visceral reaction could be due in part to ill feelings I was harboring from having read earlier the horrifying details of the Josh Powell case.

However. My initial reaction stands. A cricket acts on instinct. I maintain that humans have choice. I refuse to believe that a person--because of his/her upbringing, class, environment, education or genetics--is predestined to behave homicidally. If understanding causes us to say, "Well, with a background like that, anyone would have done the same thing," then I flatly refuse to understand. Because to believe that reduces humanity to a series of inputs and outputs. It makes us just really complex computers.
Let me be clear: I think forgiveness is important. Necessary. But, personally, I've only ever found forgiveness possible when I give up hope of understanding. Understanding and forgiveness are different in my book.

But I am often wrong. Almost always, in fact. If you have survived this long-winded, annoying post... what do you think?

Monday, February 6, 2012

This week in pictures. And other stuff.

Today I went grocery shopping. Don't know about you, but grocery shopping for me is kind of an ordeal. I spend several hours gathering sales ads for our grocery stores and then building menus based on those ads. And then sometimes when, in spite of my best efforts, my grocery bill goes way over budget (like today), I try to avoid throwing up while swiping my debit card. Blech.

My life does not get much more interesting than whining over groceries. Serious. However. I do have some pictures to share. Not interesting ones. But. They exist.

Note for example, exhibit A:

If this just looks like a mess to you (albeit an unconventional one), I recommend this and then this and then of course the entire Winnie the Pooh 2011 movie. And also you should meet Claire. It was her idea.

Exhibit B:

Yes, that is Claire helping herself to a oh-so-nutritious dinner of boxed Macaroni and Cheese and hot dogs. You can feel sorry for me. I am well-aware that this photo screams, "I give up." And it's true--I mostly have. A couple of days out of every week I cook something I have seen on Giada at Home or America's Test Kitchen. I have the lowest of expectations about anyone eating anything at all. But it's a compromise we can all live with. At least until we die of over-processed food poisoning.

Exhitbit C:

Whose child is this? She is wearing a panda hat, tiger socks, a floral dress, a jacket that matches nothing, and she appears to be standing on a table. Somebody call CPS.

And that friends, is what happened this week. I know you're so glad you stopped to read.
Thank you, come again.