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.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

It's Not What It Looks Like

Some time ago, someone gave me a few bottles of bitter lemon soda. It was good on its own, but I thought it would make a perfect mixer. I put it in my fridge and there it stayed.

Last week, I stopped to buy a bottle of wine at the liquor store while running errands. Just as the supermarket checkouts have candy, gum and mints as impulse items for kids, liquor stores have little novelty bottles of alcohol for grown-ups. This day, one caught my eye because it was made with Sriracha, a hot sauce our family uses. The liqueur was recommended for use in Bloody Marys as a substitute for Tobasco sauce. Next to this was a blue, berry flavored mini-vodka bottle. As I stood in line, I read it: mix with lemon soda and serve over ice. Hey! I thought. I have lemon soda! I paid for my wine and added this in as an afterthought, tossing the little bottle into my purse so it wouldn't get lost.

Fast forward 24 hours. It's raining. The high-schooler is home and we are driving to pick up the middle-schooler to take him to the eye doctor. I don't know if I reminded him this morning not to get on the bus after school. He doesn't have his cell phone. We wait at school until all the kids getting picked up are dismissed. None of them is mine. I get back in the car and text my neighbor's daughter who rides the bus with my son to ask if he is on the bus. No answer.

We begin driving back home to meet the bus. My cell phone rings. I tell my high-schooler to go into my purse to answer it. It's my neighbor's daughter: yes, my son is on the bus. He will meet us at home. My high-schooler hangs up, then says, "Mom, what the heck?" At the red light, I look over at him. He's holding up the bottle of vodka that was in my purse. Oops.

I am forever talking to my kids about distracted driving, cell phone use, and other unsafe practices that too few think about and that get too many into trouble. I'm like a preacher sometimes with the lectures. And I practice what I preach, never looking at my phone or answering it in the car, with or without my kids present. But this situation was, like the liqueur, a novelty.

I explained about the lemon soda. I told about seeing the Sriracha bottle and then this one and my thought process. I said it's not what it looks like. Of course, I grew up in the smoky-hazed 70s. Most memories I have of adults from that decade include them holding highball glasses or beer bottles. So to me, "what it looks like" is probably completely different from what it looks like to my fourteen-year-old. And yet.

When it comes to hypocrisy, kids are like bloodhounds. Telling them that not every night is a dessert night means nothing if they see me eating Oreos each evening on their way to bed. The same goes for just about every other rule on behavior. Kids won't learn to share if we don't model generosity. They won't learn compassion if we bully them at home.

What I constantly remind myself is that rules are not made to keep the children in line until they are responsible adults. The rules are made to help them become responsible adults. And that's not going to work if the kids have to follow rules while the adults do whatever we dang well please. As they move toward driving age, I know my kids will be much more likely to remember what I did than what I said.

My son knows me very well. He follows me on social media: we're connected on Facebook, he comments on my tweets, reads my blog and even tells his friends about it. Deep down, I wasn't worried that he would think he had discovered some dark secret about his mother because of a little bottle of vodka in my purse. In the end, we both had a good laugh about it.

Still, I made a mental note not to drive around with alcohol in my purse anymore, for this and a million other reasons that could cause the situation to end badly. And I have to admit it did mix very nicely with the lemon soda.