Friday, September 5, 2014

Odor Control

My kid stinks. Not his attitude: his body. But he can't smell it on himself. When it first started happening, I tried not to hold it against him. But soon, I ddn't want to hold anything against him, including myself. How do you avoid hugging your stinky kid when he wants to be hugged?

Of course, it's not his fault. He's a teenager--it comes with the territory, and we made sure to tell him that. We explained that when wet sweat and hormones mix with bacteria in a warm place, it becomes a petri dish of growth and stink. Then we set out to help him manage it. We tried deodorant. We tried deodorant soap. We tried daily showers. We tried a combination of all three. I've also read that drinking lots of water helps, and antibacterial wipes can come in handy after gym if there's no time (or desire) to shower after class. Finally, we decided he has to shower every morning, not before bed, because physiologically, he is only capable of remaining stink-free for about 18 hours post-shower. This seemed to do the trick.

As this is my first-born child, the whole situation is new to me. But apparently it's a widespread issue that impacts families, peers and even teachers, as a high school teacher friend recently pointed out to me. She was scheduled to spend an 87-degree day hiking in the company of a group of teenagers, subjecting her to multiple cases of body odor. And she was not at all happy about it.

But how does one approach the parents of stinky teens and have them instruct their progeny on the mechanics of their changing bodies, and their responsibility to maintain order when in the company of others? Or should teachers be offering tips and tricks to their students on using wipes, re-applying deodorant and showering daily?

Personally, I think that goes above and beyond a teacher's duties, even if she is looking out for the well-being of her students (in addition to trying to maintain a healthy classroom that's conducive to work). So parents, listen up! Take a whiff! Save your teen the embarrassment of being told by peers that they are smelly, and spare their instructors the uncomfortable job of a hot classroom full of B.O. After all, aren't raging hormones and late-summer heat enough for them to contend with when trying to educate our kids?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Trying to Get Demoted

I'm trying to get demoted from my position as super-mom.

When the kids were little, of course, I did it all. That's when my control freaky nature was helpful--I had to take care of every little thing, so being detail-oriented was a perfect trait for the job. Then Jacob started to transition to just "needing a little help" and he'd roll with the rest of the job himself. Cooking dinner?

Me: "Figure out what you want to make."

Jacob: "Stir fry."

Me: "What time do you want to serve dinner?"

Jacob: "Six."

Me: "And how long will it take to prep and cook it all? Work backwards from six and that will tell you when you need to start prepping."

Jacob: "Hm. I have to start now."

Me: "OK, take out all your ingredients: chicken, veggies, sauces, rice, oil. Then your tools: cutting board, spoon, measuring tools, knife, bowls, pot, pan."

Jacob: "Got it."

Me: "All right, all your stuff is assembled. Now what's going to take the longest to cook? You want to start that first."

Jacob: "The rice. OK, I'm good, Mom. You can go."

Sweet. Now, Jacob can do all these steps himself without my help. I figured I was well on my way to being demoted. Next, I tried to help Ben do the same type of thing: take control of whatever he's trying to accomplish, with me standing by and handing him the tools he'll need.

Then I was reminded that my kids are two completely different people and don't operate the same way at all.

When I offer Ben tools, he seems to keep lifting his hands up, as if the tools are too hot to handle, and he'd rather I do it for him or leave the job undone.

The problem is, my control-freaky nature is trying to rear its ugly head back up, and I know that's exactly the wrong tool for the job.

Take riding a bike. Ben never learned how when he was younger. We did get him balancing on a bike with training wheels years ago, at the end of the fall. I could see we'd be able to remove the training wheels shortly, and he'd be on his way. Then a snowstorm hit. Several feet. Power outages, school closed, the works. And just like that, bike-riding season was over. The following spring, he had no interest in getting back on the bike.

"That's OK," I figured. "They say once you learn, you never forget."

This summer, I tried to get him on his brother's (bigger) bike. He was not enthusiastic. I pushed it. He conceded, grudgingly. It wasn't long before we both learned that, apparently, you can forget how to ride a bike, especially if you'd only learned for about five minutes.

But I can't let it go. I keep pushing him to learn, and to learn to swim, and do all the things kids are supposed to do in summer, acquiring skills they can carry into adulthood when they will ultimately NO LONGER NEED ME AND MOVE AWAY TO START THEIR OWN LIVES. Ben is having none of it.

I remember talking with him once about "someday", when he's married and living in his own house, and he cut me off and said, "Mom, I don't ever want to leave. I want to live here with you forever."

Oh dear.

I've read that the more you push a kid, the more he will resist. But rather than step back into the do-it-all-myself role, I'm going to try a different approach. I'm standing right beside Ben. And just like when he was a picky eater as a baby, I just keep handing him the same tools over and over. I change the form they take, or the way I hand them to him, but I'm making it clear that they are not going away.

My hope is that, with a little maturity and a realization that I have faith that he can do these things, he will one day decide to take the tools and give them a try. I figure all he'll have to do is surprise himself once or twice with his true capabilities, and he'll be confident enough to be on his way too. Then maybe I'll be able to get that demotion after all. Hopefully before he's twenty-five.

Friday, June 13, 2014

No Longer the Know-It-All

This week, my husband attended a retirement party for the director of his division. This man had interviewed my husband for his first position at the company, over 20 years ago, and my husband still remembers one of the questions the director had asked: What is the binary representation of the number eleven?

My husband had gone up to talk to the man at the party and relayed this little story to him, and was telling me and Ben about it when he came home. Before he could finish his story, though, Ben said, "Wait!" and started thinking. We could see the gears in his head turning, and his fingers working, keeping track of something as he calculated. After a minute or so, he said, "1011!"

"Huh?" I asked.

"The binary representation of 11!" he answered.

"Whoa!" my husband said. "That's right, Ben!" He was clearly as impressed as I was confused.

When they were babies, everything my kids learned came from me. We'd play, sing, move, go for walks and they'd learn about their world. Ben has always had a keen aptitude for math and science, so I shouldn't have been surprised at his math wizardry. What did surprise me was the realization that he knows things now--amazing things--that I could not have taught him.

It's so fascinating to watch children grow, mainly because it doesn't happen all at once. When we are adults, we go through experiences that help us to grow emotionally, and perhaps take classes so we can continue to grow academically and intellectually. But kids? They are doing it ALL, and all at the same time: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social and likely many more -als that I haven't even thought of. Think about how hard that must be!

But looking closely, I see that it comes in fits and starts. There may be an academic leap, and then a social setback. Or maybe after a social event or a big test, we'll be graced with an emotional meltdown to balance things out.

Every spring, as school winds down, my kids go a bit berserk. Their listening skills are skewed (I'm trying to be kind, as this is a family website), their language slips ("what did you just call him?"), their sleep and appetites are off and they are generally cranky little pills. I used to think it was allergies; as they got older, I attributed it to spring fever and the excitement of summer coming.

But I also began to notice that, just after this spring "spell" they go through, both my kids seem to have big emotional growth spurts in summer. Just a few weeks after I'm fretting over their being able to handle the next grade in school, they turn around and show me that they are more than ready.

The best part about all this growing? Watching how each element feeds off the others. When Ben wows us with something mathematical, he gets an emotional boost; that, in turn, makes him feel more confident, which spills over into his social life. When that puts him in a good mood, he's less likely to tick off his brother, and then Jacob treats him more like a peer, which feeds the fire even more.

My overall goal in this job as Mom is to work myself out of a job, and it's already happening. By outgrowing the need for my help in most areas of their lives, my kids can then go out and live productively and happily on their own. So when I get frustrated at a setback, I just need to remind myself that it's likely a precursor to yet another leap toward adulthood. They are keeping themselves in balance as they learn, change and grow. My boys won't be with me forever, I'll make sure of that. So I need to enjoy every moment as much as possible, both good and bad, as they continue to become the men they will one day be.