One of the most rewarding things about watching your child learn to write is realizing all the things they get almost right. Like the President’s name.
One of the most rewarding things about watching your child learn to write is realizing all the things they get almost right. Like the President’s name.
I invite you to read this toilet meditation in a calm, slow, gentle voice, almost as if you were reading a poem. If you are able to, lie down on the floor of your office, allowing your body to completely relax as a friend or co-worker reads it to you aloud. Think of it as a time for self care.
Toilet Overflow Meditation
Feeling, now, the cold, sweaty steel of the toilet handle . . . the warmth of your index finger, or thumb, or whatever parts of your hand are touching the handle . . . as you press down . . .and at the same time, noticing . . . now, for the first time . . . in this moment. . .that the water was already almost to the top of the bowl . . . even before you flushed.
Seeing now . . . the pale yellow water . . . the loose shreds of white toilet paper swirling about on the surface . . .dancing . . . disintegrating. . .Staying with the breath . . . noticing as the water and the swirls of white rise . . .Rising, rising, slowly . . . steadily . . . to the top of the bowl.
Just listening and watching the water . . .rising up to meet the rim. . . spilling over the rim. . . and down the sides of the bowl . . .Not a mere trickle, but large cascades, splashing . . . flowing, rushing onto the hardwood floor that was just installed last year.
Just breathing . . .Noticing how your mind might wander now, to the next door neighbor . . . and their goddamn tree roots . . . that back up your sewer each autumn . . . or perhaps, to your six-year-old . . . and his propensity for using far too much toilet paper . . . most times . . . this time . . . and then flushing . . .sometimes quickly, to get rid of the evidence. . . or sometimes obliviously . . . either way . . . each time . . . denying it . . . Pretending he has no idea what you are talking about . . . when you ask if he did it again.
Just noticing these thoughts, how your mind has wandered again and then gently, without judgment, bringing awareness back to this moment . . . now . . . here . . . this water rushing onto the hardwood floor . . . this waterfall . . . not the waterfall your mind remembers from the past, but this water, toilet water . . .here, now, gushing.
Allowing yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. . . . maybe a surge of energy shooting through your body . . . perhaps anger . . . or rage . . . or whatever feeling you are having . . . just noticing . . . Noticing your desire to shout . . . and to scream . . . and to swear . . . and to blame . . . and to cry . . . because you have no towels at hand . . . your hands are empty . . . and there must be two fucking gallons on the floor. . . and the six year old is pretending like nothing is happening . . . and is in fact asking for more toast . . . not asking very nicely . . . Not saying please . . . kind of a whiny voice today . . . in this moment . . .
And again, noticing how the mind has wandered, and bringing your awareness back to the body. . .bringing yourself to this moment . . . this toilet . . . so much water . . .
Imagining now the toilet water’s journey . . . soaking through the hardwood floors . . .behind the radiator, beneath the baseboards . . .flowing into the dark empty space beneath the subfloor. . .into the floor joists . . . beneath the joists. . .into the basement ceiling . . . just following its path. . .
Listening carefully, and now hearing the drip drip drip of water so much like the first drops of rain . . .yet it is not rain. . .it is the sound of the water, the toilet water . . . the pee water . . . that is now dripping into the basement. . .the water has flown through the bathroom floor to the ceiling below . . . is likely pouring from the can lights . . .and now onto the basement floor . . . flowing . . .
Noticing any judgment, perhaps wanting it to be different. . . or wishing you hadn’t so carelessly flushed such a full bowl . . . without realizing what was about to happen . . . and letting go, with kindness, and compassion . . . letting go of your desire to judge or blame yourself . . . or your child. . .or your neighbor. . .and to just accept what is here . . . right now . . . in this moment . . . just being with the toilet . . . and the water dripping . . . and the possibly ruined floor . . . and the continuing requests for more toast . . .
(and so on)
Remember how I was supposed to get my taxes done, get a big refund check and then spend the whole thing on summer camps for the kids, so I wouldn’t lose my mind? Yeah, now I remember too. Because I’m just now coming out of a depression that descended upon me about six weeks ago, when we hit Day Ten of no school, and I had apparently already reached my limit.
I do this every time. Every long weekend, every holiday break, every school release day, every summer. I overestimate my ability/desire/capacity to spend all the live-long day with the second-grader and the kindergartner. And I fail to sign them up for sufficient time with Other Responsible Adults. Which on more than one occasion has contributed to a loss of life balance which then smoothly paves the way toward the downward spiral of depression. Why? you ask yourself. Why do you keep doing this when surely you know better by now?
Aside from the obvious, which is that I’m indecisive, prone to procrastination, and have deep ambivalence over my need to use child-care of any sort, I tell myself this time will be different. The kids are older, now. They’re at that “fun age.” (Note this is always said by people with much older children, people with amnesia.) You’re in a better place. You don’t like structure and schedules and running them to a bunch of activities. You’ll have a relaxing, kick-back summer with the kids.
I tell myself, you’ll do crafts, go on nature walks, go for donuts at The Bakers’ Wife. You’ll play four-square, jump rope, build the fairy garden, walk down to the creek, or the playground. Watch a little morning television. You’ll have a lemonade stand, go to garage sales, or the kindergartner’s favorite: “take a walk around the block and and see what’s going on in the neighborhood.” Hell, you’ll just bask in the ability to walk outside without a coat on and sit in the grass for a change!
Well, guess what you forgot? You forgot that the kindergartner can sustain interest in each of these things for no more than five to seven minutes, and because he also wakes up before 6 a.m. most days, you already did ALL of these things, and it’s still not even lunchtime. (Here’s where you imagine the movie version of the above paragraph, a hokey montage of all of the fun summer activities happening in succession, to show the passing of time, only: time was not really passing!! It happened all in one morning!) You still have 10 weeks of summer to go!! Crap!!
You also forgot that the second-grader is largely a homebody like you, while the kindergartner is, like his father, built with a “bias for action” which means he needs to go, go, go! Go, Dog, Go! And Go! You must!
And not only do you not feel like going anywhere, neither does the second-grader, so you need to ignore both her whiny protests and your own and be a cheerleader for the troops and act like this is going to be Fun for the Whole Family even though, like the second-grader, you would rather stay in your pajamas and play Legos. Or simply putter about the house, throw in a load of laundry here and there, relax on the sunporch, listen to the water fountain with a cup of coffee, flip through the Southwest Journal, maybe wander out to the yard (the real outside) to water a few pots after awhile.
But instead you find yourself marching two bickering children out to the car, not even sure where you’re headed, just knowing you need to get the hell out of the house. Because the kindergartner is starting to wreck stuff. And your day is only heading downhill from here.
You also forgot that you don’t enjoy preparing meals, especially so many meals each and every day, and that the kindergartner and the second-grader don’t like to eat the same things, so it’s like preparing six different ones, not just three. Also, you yourself are bad at remembering to eat, so when you do realize you are hungry you’re already famished and feel as if you need to put the oxygen mask over your own face before you can take care of their needs, and that makes you feel like a bad mother for feeding them second.
Essentially, you fail at responsibility. The only reason this stay-at-home-mom gig ever works for you is because for so many months they are at school all day, and you can and do manage the couple hours in the morning (because your husband packs the lunches) and the couple hours after school (because your husband will be home soon to take over, and to make dinner). I know you’re probably thinking, “What the hell?” What does she do all day? It’s not like she has a job. It’s not like her house is spotless, or she even really cooks.” I know. I ask myself the same thing. All the time.
During the school year, I do a little writing, I find junk in the alley and bring it home with good intentions to fix it up. I sometimes meet a friend for a walk around the lake. I read books. I contemplate life. I follow signs that say “estate sale” or “garage sale.” I read through The Loft Course Offerings. Occasionally, I have lunch with friends, volunteer in the kids’ classrooms, even take a nap (especially when it rains).
I go through cycles, creatively speaking, sometimes knitting, or sewing, or building stuff out of wood, refinishing a wicker sectional for the screen porch, sewing cushion covers. I practice drawing, or learn some new guitar chords. Sometimes I phone a brother, or my sister, or my mother-in-law.
I also occasionally get bored, or worry that I should really be looking for a job. So I can make a contribution to the family. I feel guilty, sometimes, that I am not making a bigger contribution to the world. I vow to be more compassionate, to have more genuine connections with people, to not be so “earning money and productivity” focused, to try to use a different yardstick to measure my life. I try not to feel guilty that I have so many good things, and I wonder about how to find gratitude when I’m feeling envious of other people’s close-knit families or in-town grandmas and grandpas, and how to see the beauty in the ordinary, every day moments. Because that’s all there ever really is, and if you’re holding out for something extraordinary or grand or large, you will surely miss a lot of good.
If I’m doing anything on the computer, I will often stumble upon pictures of the kindergartner and second grader, or even better, video of them, and remember how little their voices were just a short time ago. And I feel deep pangs of missing them.
The first day this summer when the kindergartner was at Minneapolis Kids and the second grader’s being home all day was still fresh and new (and she wasn’t having a super talky day), I said to her, “It’s so different without our boy here, isn’t it?” “Yeah,”she replied thoughtfully. She was building one of her many Lego montages, this one involving Batman and Robin and friends preparing to compete at the Pillsbury Bake-Off, apparently being held in Gotham City this year. “It’s so nice. It’s so peaceful.” Yes it is. Manageable, and peaceful.
But still, I missed him. And herein lies the dilemma, of course. The kids drive me up a tree most of the time, yet when they have been gone for like 20 minutes, I miss the hell out of them. (And then they return, and the cycle repeats. Sigh.) I also run toward the melancholic, so all the sappy things like the Subaru ad where the Chocolate Lab (Farley!) goes from puppy to old timer, and other poignant songs and images and moments that stand for the relentless passing of time run through my head in a continuous loop. And there is my own mom’s gentle voice echoing, they grow so fast.
And later, speaking of the process of raising four children only to watch each of us in succession pack up our belongings and head off to college (each of our departures unique, and with varying degrees of “all-at-once-ness”, but still, each of us gone in a way that was, as would become clear only in retrospect, in fact final), my mother summed it up with a wry smile, and these words:
Just when they get interesting, they leave.
An indication, or perhaps an obvious admission that, while her love for her children was deep and without question, she found grownups a bit more interesting to be around. And though she would never say so directly, maybe she too found it difficult to spend long stretches of time at home, “raising children.”
I know I need to drink in these days, these summers with my kids while they are here, because they surely will not last. And I am continually frustrated by my inability to appreciate the here and now. To simply be here now. And I’m reminded once again of one of my own dad’s favorite sayings, which he would no doubt offer up here if he were able: “Life is too much, and too little.” Maybe accepting that is my real work here.
When you read the title did you think I actually meant to say Summer Break is a lot like having the Flu? Or did you just unconsciously skip right over the title because like me, you don’t really have the patience for titles, section headings, tables of contents, introductions that are offset or in a different font or color or– AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH JUST GET ME TO THE REAL START ALREADY!!!!!! In which case, go back and read the title now, please. (The irony of this request is not lost on me.) Nope, I actually meant to type Spring Break, because we are travelling back in time again today.
Yesterday (July 11) was May 29, and today (July 12) is April 8, and we are taking a little retrospective look at how this sneaky depression might have wound its way back into my days. I didn’t post this entry when I wrote it, for any number of reasons (see yesterday’s post), including that it was kind of complainy. However, there was some humor there, and more importantly, a very urgent lesson/reminder/warning/ public service announcement/CALL TO ACTION to myself, that I ultimately failed to heed.
Because that is the whole point of this blog, right? If it brings you any entertainment value, wonderful, but it’s really supposed to be a public service announcement to myself on How Not To Live. (More on this next time.)
You need at least one full day to recover from being home with your children for ten straight days. Which means I did not do anything productive today. I just tried to regain my strength. Everything I attempted to write was bitchy or whiny or snarky or stupid or all of the above.
I was just checking the Minneapolis Public Schools Special Days Calendar (2009-2010 because that’s the only one I can find on the internets) and I realized that not only did I forget to do that post about Frederick Douglass Day, we totally missed Johnny Appleseed Day. Dang!
And I forgot to return Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which not only was a SUCKY movie, but now has racked up a bunch of fines. Well, like 50 cents of fines, because it is listed as a children’s item so hopefully only 5 cents per day times 10 days, but still. It SUCKED. It wasn’t at all as good as you remembered it might be so don’t rent it/borrow it from the library/buy it. Sorry Ian Flemming, but it’s true. Your movie is no good. El shitto, as my husband would say, when he tries to speak Spanish. Which always cheers me up.
It looks like a fun, family movie from the DVD cover. . .
But the kindergartner could not stop staring at a tiny thumbnail sized photo on the back of the DVD cover and kept saying “the children are in jail” and I could not figure out what he was talking about until I took off my glasses and squinted really hard and realized it was this photo:
Nice. Because this is Vulgaria, where children are outlawed and hidden under the city to prevent them from being captured by the Child Catcher who smells children. How fun!
Can you believe it is an Ian Flemming movie? Ian Flemming of 007 fame? Who knew? Well, guess who knew without knowing he knew? My husband! We were watching, and he was like “Truly Scrumptious sounds like some kind of Bond movie character.” And I’m like, “No. Bond movie character names are even more stupid like Pussy Galore and I don’t know what else.” But then I look at the cover of the DVD and lo and behold:
Ian Flemming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Only my brothers would sing Shitty Shitty Bang Bang, which it totally is. “High, Shitty, Low, Shitty, Everywhere We Go, Shitty; Shitty Shitty You’re Our Friend. . .”
Actually, there was one other good thing about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang besides the song, and that was my Toot Sweet “Tastitoy” from Mattel. Just like a playdoh fun factory, but you would use Tootsie Roll candy and shape it into real candy “Toot Sweet” whistles like the one in the movie.
I really wish I would have kept the Tastitoy, because now the old crappy worn out ones sell on ebay for five hundred dollars. Not that I would even sell mine. I’d just make them with the kids. At least you know it’s actual unhealthy candy, unlike the Fruit Snacks they woof down like they’re vitamins or something.
Here, I would be remiss if I did not also fondly mention my possibly even more beloved childhood movie-related candymaking toy, the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Kit.
I almost cried when I was reminded that for only one 1971 dollar plus two proof-of-purchase seals from Cap’n Crunch, Life, or King Vitamin cereals, I could have sent away for an extra one of these kits, stashed it away for 40 years, and then shared it with the kindergartner and the second-grader. (And their sometimes-crafty mama totally would have snuck a golden ticket into one of the wrappers for each of them to discover.) Perhaps I need to commission one of my Designer Friends (whose name starts with Sh and ends with Ellyboone) to recreate the Wonkalicious label for me?
Now where were we? Oh yes. This, from wikipedia:
A Bond girl is a character (or the actress portraying a character) who is a love interest of James Bond in a film, novel, or video game. Bond girls occasionally have names that are double entendres or puns, such as Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole, Xenia Onatopp, or Holly Goodhead, and are considered “ubiquitous symbol[s] of glamour and sophistication.”
All I want to say about that is where is the pun in Pussy Galore or Plenty O’Toole? How can it be a double entendres when there is no normal usage? Real live people are not named Pussy or Plenty. There is no irony there. How is that fun or funny? I don’t even get the Xenia Onatopp one. (Ivanna B. Onatopp maybe, but still . . .it’s a reach.) Now, if your last name happens to be “Dicklich” or something unfortunate like that, like I’ve seen on some office supply trucks here around town, I would say that could be a double entendres, but you should still just change it. Don’t even try to keep either syllable. Just go with something totally new. You’re not a bond girl.
Back to the real topic which is Fuck! We missed Johnny Appleseed Day (March 11)! I am going to drop a lot of F-bombs today, I’m sorry, it’s because I’ve been home with the kiddos for like eleven straight days and there is a pent-up backlog of swearing to get out.
The main reason I had to check the Special Days Calendar was to say that it had better be like a big party day because thank god the kids are back in school. Spring break is just one long reminder that you will be subjected to 12 consecutive weeks of this no-structure-to-your- life-hell if you don’t get on it and sign your kids up for some camps.
And this is where the April 8 rant stopped. On “sign your kids up for some camps.” Curious, isn’t it? It’s almost like a mandate. A mandate that I completely ignored.
As described yesterday, it’s tricky, because when I sense my mood (hence, my post) is starting to go sprawling toward the bitch bitch bitch, I tell myself to just stop writing and maybe go to Pinterest for awhile or do something happy like that. Get a little change of attitude.
But maybe the better strategy would be to finish the dang thing, actually post it, and FOLLOW YOUR OWN DAMN ADVICE TO YOURSELF. (And yet even as I type this, I feel myself resist. . . I do not like to be told what to do, even by myself. This will take some finesse.)
It’s really just that simple, Ally. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy, though.
Full disclosure: The L’Oreal Incident did not drive me back to the salon (still thrifty!), but my hair-on-fire post was several weeks ago¹, and it is already time for a root touch-up on the hair color.
[Note: I moved the footnote up here so you might actually read it before you get too tired. Skip down if you want.]
¹This post was actually drafted May 29, 2013.My failure to post in a timely fashion was due to:(a) my natural tendency to start far more things than I will ever finish, including stripping and/or reupholstering old furniture, various needle crafts, interesting and uninteresting conversations, sentences, thoughts, graduate degrees and blog posts, and/or (b) genuine concern that the act of carefully documenting how I frequently fail at the most basic of adult life tasks (which is the theme of most of these blog entries, if you didn’t already pick up on that) will not result in something so ridiculously comical as to be redemptive and ultimately restorative to my sense of self-worth; rather, it will result in a self-absorbed, pathetically detailed re-living of my feelings of inadequacy and serve only to grease the slippery slope on the negative spiral of depression. Which is I guess what happened. Which is why many people choose paid employment over blogging, I suppose. Something to think about for next time.
So I am back to brown Good old brown. Brown, brown, brown. Actually, Nutrisse, Medium Ashy Brown, or something like that. Garnier, you have some really uninspired names compared to L’Oreal. But the color looks good, which is the thing that matters, right? And Garnier Nutrisse is the only permanent haircolor creme that nourishes with grape seed and avocado oil. The nourishing color creme enriched with fruit oil concentrate, penetrates deep into hair fibers to nourish and condition and blah blah blah. All’s well that ends well. (And, since we have had ZERO sun this “spring,” the color should actually stay brown for awhile too.)
The most exciting development in the past several weeks [again, remember we are still in May] is not the return to brown hair color, though. It is that my cartoon blog hero, Allie Brosh, has returned after a long absence to once again give us a brilliantly illustrated, hilarious and soul-baring tale of her Depression, Part 2. So honest and fresh and (judging from the several thousand comments) clearly the best thing many people have read about such a difficult to describe condition.
Did you ever go check out her blog? Well, I have asked you several times in a nice voice, and I’m losing my patience, so don’t make me–oh, wait, never mind. I forgot who I was talking to because I have mainly been talking to the kindergartner and the second grader. Sorry. Because I am not your mother I will not pull rank and threaten you with my big voice or loss of privileges or anything like that. I will simply say, lightly, breezily, even, (I should really try this with the kids, shouldn’t I?) “Say . . .you might enjoy reading this cartoon blog?” (And as I type the question mark at the end of the sentence, I am reminded of and actually embodying the suggestive selling technique of the Chi-Chi’s wait staff, who according to my inside sources (thanks Jo) were instructed to respond to all margarita orders with a specially choreographed head-tilt and this pithy little up-sell: “Jumbo?” )
And not only might you enjoy reading the blog, as an added educational bonus, you might also think twice before saying or doing anything to someone who may be clinically depressed that might inadvertently make them feel worse, for example like telling them to “Look at the bright side!” or “Stay positive!” or “Enjoy each day!” (i.e. Let’s name all the things I can’t do!”).
My other exciting development is that we have hosted a number of recent pizza oven gatherings and I am actually getting better at being a hostess that doesn’t just invite the people over and then sit on my ass while my chef husband does all the work! You *can* in fact teach an old dog new tricks!
Had to take a photo of the second-grader’s Lego vignette of a typical pizza party. Pretty good reenactment!
I love how she has herself serving us (which has pretty much never happened). For added realism, I would take the little orange flames off the Batmobile and add them to the oven, and put me in the lounge chair from the Olivia’s House set, with a wine goblet from the Castle figure guy. The kindergartner would be doing couch dives.
My husband is a way more on-task and generous host and when we entertain he usually has to remind me to put down my glass of wine and get off my butt and go see if the other guests need anything. Only he says it nicely. It’s just my weird brain that translates poorly and adds words like “lazy” and “for god’s sake.” Or maybe it’s something in his clipped tone. Anyway, he will sometimes ask “Can you give me a hand?” which is a little vague so maybe I have a blank expression while I’m processing what exactly he means.
So then he will then give me short commands that a Labrador could easily follow, like “Get the plates” or “Dress the salad” or “Find some forks” or “Answer the door” while he mans the pizza oven and does all the kitchen stuff. And if I pass some of those tests we move on to more complicated commands like “Can you make sure the kids have their food? And see what they need to drink.” And then he lets me take it from there without laying out each of the following steps (i.e. ask the kids what they want to drink, find the cups, pour the beverages, pass them out–no, wait, you need to first check with the parents, okay–Can your kid have an Izzy or just milk? Okay now pass out the drinks, etc. etc. I surprise myself by finding out that I actually can do all this stuff once I start, it’s just that it’s complicated, and I don’t usually think of things in advance, anticipating what might need to be done, so that ahead-of-the-game, on-top-of-things, competent adult feeling remains elusive. . .
This weekend, however, I helped serve, paid attention to when other people’s glasses needed refilling, washed some dishes as the evening was still in full-swing, and was generally dialed-in and aware of what needed to be done around me. It even seemed a little effortless. Fortunate timing in the ADD cycle? Is ADD even cyclical, or is it just all the other hormones that determine my well-being and general competence or lack thereof? Who can say.
Let me just add that you have certainly stepped up your entertaining game, Mr. Enz. In college you would set out large metal bowls of Froot Loops (do I have that right? Or was it in fact Lucky Charms?) for snacks and serve enough beer that it was, in your mind, a very legitimate affair. I sort of miss those days of hosting party-goers with so few expectations. (Beer? Oh, Yay!)
Which reminds me of the not-so-good development, which is that we have a perfect storm brewing on the Nutritional Shame front right now, because when we entertain, which lately has been often, several nights a week, the kindergartner is allowed to drink Sprite.
So there we are at Southdale Pediatrics for the six-year check-up and the pediatrician is telling us, I mean the kindergartener, no I guess I actually do mean us, that we have to eat real vegetables, not just do the Flintstones vitamins gummies for our nutrition. The kindergartner has taken a recent interest in reading food labels, and is explaining that even his (sugar) cereal has “some grams of protein” and probably vitamins, but she tells him that it is just added stuff. It’s not real. It’s not the same as the vitamins we get from eating fruits and vegetables. (I did know this, didn’t I? Of course I did. Pretty much. But I still make a little mental note to ask my food scientist husband if your body can for sure really tell the difference? Even if you buy the co-op vitamins? But then why do they go to all that trouble to fortify the milk with Vitamin D if it isn’t all that good? Conscious incompetence setting in. . .)
I nod along as if the pediatrician and I and all the other adults of the world have been in agreement on this fact for some time now, feeling like a bad actor, like the bad Munchausen mother, trying to pretend I don’t notice the confused look on the kindergartner’s face as he wonders “Why am I just now hearing for the first time that my vitamins aren’t real?”
I like our pediatrican a lot, and it isn’t like she’s a super hippy dippy health nut or a food nazi or anything. She is only taking extra time to go over all of this with
him us, because when she asked him, “What do you like to eat?” he said, “Macaroni and cheese!” and she asked “What else?” and he said, “Pizza!” and she asked “What else?” and he couldn’t think of anything else. So she asked what kinds of things he likes to eat on his pizza and he said, “Cheese!” and she said, “How about any vegetables?” and then he made a bad face. She asked him what he likes to drink and this he answered very excitedly, as if she were actually taking beverage orders.
“Well, only sometimes,” I clarified. “On special occasions.” Days ending with y.
“What else?” she asked and he said, “Fruit Punch!” and I’m thinking this is where I feel like I need to say something that will indicate that I am, in fact, an educated person (how else would she know?), and my husband even is a professional, and we do know about nutrition, but no wait maybe I need to just play my Hillbilly Card, which is closer to the truth anyway, a sincere, sheepish nod to indicate “our diet needs work” because anyone who really knows me knows that vegetarianism just means no meat, it doesn’t necessarily mean vegetables and organic and tofu, although I do occasionally eat those things too. But fortunately, she finally asked, “What do you usually have to drink with dinner,” and he said, “Milk!” so I guess we kind of redeemed ourselves in the eleventh hour.
After his appointment we went to Broder’s Deli for lunch, and instead of getting a breadstick with his cheese pizza, we ordered a side of asparagus. And it was delicious. I felt both pleased with our good choice, and somewhat appalled when I realized how frequently I take the path of least resistance instead of the right path when it comes to our nutrition. It was such a small, easy step. Food for thought.
Came across evidence of some secret club goings-on. Apparently they meet under my desk on Saturdays and Sundays.
The roster above includes both boys and girls, but this sign posted at the entrance appears to be deliberately confusing:
Is the kindergartner’s name included here merely for emphasis (i.e. this means you) or as the one exception to the membership rule?
The smiley face symbol also sends a mixed message. (Is this a trap, Batman?)
Upon closer examination of the Club Rules, it would appear that membership concerns are a moot point. The club may in fact have been created with the sole purpose of instituting rules the kindergartner is incapable of following:
You may recall that the kindergartener is taking Suzuki Method guitar. I know about as much about the Suzuki Method as I do about anything important, meaning very little to nothing at all. I do know that it seems to be a very precise method of study, daily practice is strongly encouraged, and it is the parent’s job to motivate the child so he will enjoy practicing correctly at home. And that practice should be productive, and fun.
I’ve also commented before that the Suzuki Method is like a giant metaphor for parenting. I am still trying to figure out this whole parenting thing, don’t you know. I think that might even be my entire bio on Facebook, at least it was when I joined with good intentions (paving the road to hell) of being an active, contributing, liking, commenting, sharing participant several years back. FAIL. On the Facebook part, that is. I don’t think “still trying to figure this out” eight years into the parenting thing means I’m failing. It’s more like the definition.
So, without overstating the obvious, I don’t really know the best way to encourage/make the kindergartener practice his guitar, because I don’t know the best way to encourage/make the kindergartener (or myself, frankly) do anything.
My dad, who was in sales for a good deal of his career, used to say that the way to get someone to do something they don’t want to do is to a) make it fun, or b) make it easy. Which sounds reasonable enough if you’re trying to get someone to, I don’t know, volunteer their time, or donate blood. There will be cookies! The Bloodmobile (could have picked a more fun name, people) will be right there in the parking lot of your workplace! But I worry about using these motivational techniques in a parenting context, because you run the risk of mistakenly implying that “Everything in life ought to be not just fun, but super fun (do it more times!!) and easy!”
Which probably explains my whole resistance to embracing adulthood, which sadly, involves doing a lot of things that are sort of easy but are not really all that super fun. Or they’re sort of fun, with the potential to be super fun at times, but the repetitiousness of it all just kills it. Things like cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, doing dishes, opening the mail, washing clothes, taking your kids to and from school. I’m feeling itchy just writing about all the things I’m supposed to be doing right now and am not doing. And here I want to send you on a short detour over to Hyperbole and a Half, which was one of the first blogs I ever read, and which sums up so many of my feelings about life so very nicely. With cartoons.
It’s not like I’ve never done anything hard, of course. How else would I have ever learned Calculus? But I feel as though I can’t take any credit for that. I never thought, “Oh this is so hard and so uninteresting but I am going to challenge myself anyway to understand differential calculus then move on to inferential calculus (or whatever it’s called—integral? It’s been awhile . . .) just for the character buildingness of it.” No, I just happened to find calculus interesting, which is another way to say fun, I suppose. Some people might say that’s messed up, but I would just say quit judging, and I don’t judge you for liking hockey or liking the Mall of America (well, maybe a little bit I do, but I am trying to be less judgmental so I am at least working on it).
I could have saved all of us a bunch of time by just writing this: I just don’t like doing stuff I’m not interested in doing. Couldn’t that be said of many of us? Isn’t it, in fact, a tautological statement? The very definition of a tautological statement? (And wasn’t that last sentence tautological as well? And so on, and so on, and so on?)
Here’s where you’re probably thinking, but the kindergartener is interested in guitar, isn’t he? Why yes, of course he is. In the very same way I am interested in it, meaning I want to be good at it instantly without the boring, repetitious be-disciplined-and-do-it-every-day part of it.
So, part of the recommended (not required) reading for the Suzuki parents is The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle. I have a whole bunch more to say about this awesome book, about brain chemistry and myelin wrapping circuitry, and how talent develops, but some of that needs to wait for another day. It’s fascinating stuff. The only thing I need to say right now is here is what Mr. Coyle wrote a couple of days ago on his blog, which explains why nobody likes to practice:
“The main problem with practice is that we all have a powerful instinct to avoid it. There’s a perfectly good reason for this: your unconscious brain. Practice involves spending lots of energy struggling for an uncertain payoff, and your unconscious brain really, really dislikes spending energy for uncertain payoffs. After all, evolution built your brain to behave like an ultra-conservative banker — investing energy only when there’s a clear, tangible benefit. As a result, we’re all natural-born geniuses at coming up with excuses not to practice, or to cut corners, or to skip it and hope things work out.” You can read more here: How to Stop Being Allergic To Practice
So perhaps it is for this reason that I so often find that my go-to motivator for getting the kids to do something they aren’t enthused about, like practicing guitar every day, is immediately dangling a reward. No clear, tangible benefit to doing something? Well, I’ll just offer up a clear tangible benefit of my own making.
My parents never dangled rewards like that. There was never any bargaining, any “If you make your bed, then you can get 5 points on your chart/watch a show/have 25 cents/pick out a new toy at Guitarget” kind of nonsense. Maybe it was just semantics, but there was instead a calm expectation stated, with natural consequences just incorporated into the statement without calling attention to them: You may go outside to play after you make your bed.
If we rebelled, it was at most a passive whiny complaint of “I don’t feel like it!” And if you were me, you might also throw yourself across your parents’ (already made) king-sized bed for dramatic effect, and just lie there face-down on the corduroy bedspread until you got the line pattern imprinted on the side of your face, waiting for some sort of response, which often never came. Because your mom was too busy doing 8 million loads of laundry and trying to make a dent in the forever-growing ironing pile on the rocking chair and watching some old musical on TV while she ironed, humming along as though she didn’t hear you.
So at some point you just grew tired of lying there in your passive resistence refusal because now you hear the birds singing and other kids’ happy shouts floating in through the open window on this beautiful summer morning, and you are kind of annoyed with yourself because you are missing out on all the outside Laura Ingalls Wilder fun (let’s smash acorns and leaves and grass into mush in this Frontier Tupperware container–go get the hose so we can add water!–and get supper on the table before Pa comes back!), and it would have taken you like 30 seconds to make your bed and you’d already be out there getting the hose if you would have just made your bed in the first place.
Once again, I could have saved you and I both a whole bunch of time by just saying this: my sense is that rewards aren’t the best motivator. Dangling a carrot often feels like a desperate act. Sticks would never be an option in our household, although when my mom really lost all patience with us, I do recall threats of, literally, “I’m going to get the stick!” Meaning, the yardstick. But I don’t recall it ever happening, and I honestly don’t know what she would have done with the yardstick once she got it. It’s too long to slap a wrist, and too flimsy to slap a behind.
Sticks of any sort, literal or figurative, will never work for me as parent, because the kindergartener has a tendency to escalate when threats or angry tones or anything resembling punitiveness is employed. Total backfire. For awhile there he would call me a “sling-shotter” (no idea . . .) if I lost my patience, and lately he has taken to “firing” me when my tone is too sharp with either he or his sister. (Also, public service announcement: Don’t crack up or show even the slightest sign of amusement when you are fired, and don’t sass back, Awesome! I’ll be at the coffee shop then! as this will only further enrage the kindergartener.)
Which I guess is why today I resorted to the reward thing. He had played Twinkle Twinkle once, and did an okay job. But I wanted to positively motivate him to play it again. I know, repetitious. We just did that. Blah blah blah. But we have a recital coming up, so let’s just push ourselves a little bit, all right?
So as you might know, there is a lot of I Dream of BeJeannie (not to be confused with Bewitched) going on around this household, and I’m trying to get the kindergartener to focus and remember it’s cool to play guitar. Dude, this is something you want to do (our parents would never have called us Dude–another failing of our generation of too- casual parenting), and I have this image pop into my head of Jeannie–probably in her bottle–playing guitar.
I really, really hope I’m not making this up, because I just know I’ve seen it, haven’t I? So it was this very carrot that I dangled in front of the squirrel, to say, play one more version of Twinkle, and if you do a really good job, I will find BeJeannie playing the guitar. On YouTube? Yes, on YouTube. And we’ll watch it? Yep. And she’ll be wearing the BeJeannie suit? Yes, she will be wearing the BeJeannie suit.
So he did a really fine job with it, and even chose a new rhythm for the second time through, which would be “motorcycle motorcycle” instead of “Mississippi hop hop,” and did it well.
Well, short story long, I did a Google search for Jeannie playing the guitar and so far no luck. Was it maybe a sitar, or some other stringed instrument that would have been more common in the times of Ali Baba? Or 2,000 years ago, or whenever/wherever she is supposed to be from? (See last week’s post The Buddha is not actually a genie for more on geographic origins/general historical confusion).
So, more homework guys. Can anyone help me here? Can you find an image, or a YouTube clip or anything of Barbara Eden/Jeannie playing the guitar? I guess she does need to be wearing the BeJeannie suit, and have the fancy hair with it. If for some reason you were only able to find the evil sister/ blue green BeJeannie playing guitar or sitar or another stringed instrument (probably not a harp, though, probably needs to be held like a guitar, mandolin or lute) that would probably be acceptable.
But ideally, the pink BeJeannie playing the guitar. In her bottle.
Because everything that is especially mortal-like is so much more exciting when it happens in the bottle. The other day, apparently Jeannie was writing a book, typing on a manual typewriter in her bottle, and I missed it. Everyone in the household saw it except for me. I was like [whiny disappointed voice]: “You guys. Seriously. You know I love all the bottle scenes. You know I love old manual typewriters, and the little ding of the carriage return. I can’t believe you didn’t call me in to watch.” (I know! You can’t believe it either.)
But if you can only find a clip where she is playing the guitar on the beach or something, that might have to do.
Anyway, this is getting long. So, you have your homework, and please let me know if you find anything. There will be a reward, like a cupcake. Or lots of praise. Or, no, wait. It’s just my expectation. You may return to your regular life and important work after you find the BeJeannie playing guitar clip for the kindergartener. This is just my calm, adult expectation for you that I am communicating clearly.
(That wasn’t so hard!)