Wednesday, April 28, 2010


A few years ago, Beth and I were driving home from some family outing, and Landslide came on the radio.
 I also like this version (by the Smashing Pumpkins), but there's something soul-tugging about the gravelly original.  Not as big a fan of the Dixie Chicks, but the song's a classic no matter who sings it, right?

In any case, I remember reading an article in the past about Stevie Nicks' thoughts on this song, and that she wrote it to help herself cope during a difficult time.  As expected,  "Landslide" is a song about inexorable change and how one copes with it.  Beth reflected on the following lines:

Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I'm getting older too...

Do spouses change together?  What happens if they do not?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Let them play!

I've been on a roll here with playing, so I'll continue.

Let them play with their food.

Really.  Even though it kills you to watch.  No, not you, 8 year-old.  You should know better. 

Yes, you, 8 month-old.  You too, 18 month-old.  3 year-old, no, don't be shy, stand right up.  4 year-old and 5 year-old...well, you can play a little bit.  Maybe unscrew the PB&J into 2 halves and lick one side, then the other, leaving a somewhat slimy, sodden mess for Mommy to clean up.  Yes, I said Mommy, because even if we Dads were around, we'd probably forget.  Sorry, honey.

"But shouldn't we be teaching them manners?  I mean, kids these can I ever take them to a nice restaurant?"

First things first - please do not take your young kids to a nice restaurant.  You'll be bald like me in just a few minutes, will have wasted every sure-fire discipline trick you own in the first 15 minutes, and will be hanging on for dear life on top of the TGV with no fancy "Mission Impossible" contraption to keep you on.

Next?  Kids, especially young kids, learn best with their senses.  They like to squash things through their fingers, listen to the sucking sound as they open their fat little fists covered in yogurt.  They enjoy the glint of wetness that their spilled milk gives to anything, and relish splashing anything splash-able all over the place.  They love both getting the spoon and bowl and flinging them both on you, on the floor, on Mars.

What happens if you prevent them from making a time-space-continuum-rending mess?  Some kids won't care, so...if you're sure you have one of those kids, breathe a sigh of relief, and do your crossword puzzle in your regularly scheduled bedlam.  However, if you have one of the other kids (so far, 2/3 of  the DiGiovanni kids behave this way), here's a look at what might be going through their heads as your try to engineer a no-muss-no-fuss lunch.

"What the heck?  Why is she always taking the spoon away from me.  I want that SPOON.  Here it comes again...RATS, she used that other hand.  What a big fat cheater!  Aha, the bowl...noooooooooooooo give ME the bowl!  Argh, curse my nonverbal-ness, words don't fail me now!  Oh, great, the wipe-y thing.  Wipe wipe wipe, now my hands are freezing.  Pleh, when will I ever learn not to lick that yucky washcloth that's chafing the baby out of me."

"Well, if I can't play with that food, there must be something wrong with it.  I am NOT trying that mucky slime unless I can get these mitts on it.  ESPECIALLY, because she's been tricking me by waving that cool rattly toy in front of me and when I open my mouth, BANG, green yucky in the kisser.  So that's it.  I'm out. No green yucky stuff, no green yucky stuff that looks like green yucky stuff...let's lump yellow and orange in, because they're colors, too, and I seem to run into trouble when I eat colored stuff.  And no more spoons - yeah, if I can't get my hands on 'em, NO MORE."

"In fact, forget sitting in this high chair.  And check this out...I was surfing the Web (awesome I can surf before I can crawl!  Wicked!) and DL'd this SWEET blood-curdling scream.  One lick of that bad boy and SHAZAAM - I get what I want.  Today, I think I'll have...chicken fingers and fries!  Tomorrow, just to be difficult, I think I'll throw the chicken on the floor."

Like a lot of things, parenting your child centers around control (see Claire's thoughts on her tights for details).  Be careful which issues deserve your stiffest spine, or your child might be a three-food-three-year-old before you know it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Syder Hous Roolz

  1. Kids love to play.
  2. Kids have great imaginations.
  3. Older kids will pretend that they might not like to imagine, but if you spy on them in their secret tree house, you'll see that their adventures on the seven seas fly just as high as when they were 4.
  4. If you get goofy with your kids, they will love it.
  5. If you're not sure how to do it...just do it.  If you think that's not good advice, remember all the times you wrung your hands over your child's refusal to ride her bike, hit a baseball, or climb the rockwall, despite your advice that "you'll never get better at it if you don't try.
  6. If you're still stumped, read "If You Give a Pig a Pancake," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," or, really, any kid's book.   

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Measure Once, Cut Twice -OR- One More Turn

I loved my grandfather very much.  He was my role model for many reasons, but, as a kid, he was shelter, security, and warmth.  He possessed large, thick hands that enveloped me when I needed him.  When I was very young, I used to think his warmth came about because he was slightly overweight (my mother will groan over that part...right, Ma?).  At times, he did sport extra padding, but the warmth seemed to stick around even when he dropped the extra 20 lbs (anytime he chose).  I never really knew why he carried the extra 20 - must have been for storing that warmth, like a capacitor storing charge?

Warmth in his hands, warmth in his eyes, warmth in his heart, he was brilliant with people, brilliant in general (I mean grab-your-shades brilliant), and I miss him.  So naturally, being a curious (and at times, irreverent) trickster as a kid, I looked for imperfections in this giant of a man.  After all, no one's perfect.  I remember beating him at chess for the first time:  his impenetrable armor had a crack.  I whooped around the house the first time I stumped him with my very own impossible-to-answer-by-anyone-except-me trivia question; the crack widened.  Most of all, I crowed over his, "Now, just one more make it (whatever it was) tighter..."

Evidence of "One more turn" lay in ample evidence around my grandparents' house, which blended pictures of my ancestor magi, including one of a relative who I thought was God for a long time (actually, I still think it's a picture of God) with painted white brick, a black wrought iron ?fence, wallpaper, a giant cabinet record player and other arcane furniture and mystical flatware.  Like this - sort of:

Honestly, I don't think I was needling him when I asked him the first few times why there were pointy bumps in the kitchen table.  At every meal, the 3 bumps greeted me at my appointed spot (they were overzealously tightened screws).  I suppose I might have been  tugging on his cape a tad when I wondered aloud why the bottom of the hassock had just a few more screws, staples, and nails than it should have, and or why some spots had really big screw holes but no screws.  He'd just grin and hug me. 

The other day, Claire (of the Batman villain camera angle)

stood at the bathroom sink.  The ditty she sang had no words, and seemed to repeat the same notes...over and over again.  During the period of silence that reigned PRIOR to the song (that silent tune that sends parents running to see what conflagration their kids have sparked), Claire had painted the entire bathroom sink and counter with a thin coat of water, and she now busied herself cleaning it up.

Claire:  Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaddy!
Me:  (in the other room.  big sigh) Uh, yes Claire?
Claire: DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDY!  (Claire could not hear me over her own din)
Me: (big sigh) YES, Claire?
Claire:  Come in here!
Me: (loving being summoned with no clue as to why my presence is required.  Arriving...)  Yes, honey?
Claire: (palms pressed to sides of face, squishing cute cheeks slightly.  This is Claire's self-conscious pose OR her "Look what I did" pose)  Look at what I did!
Me: (seeing evidence of not-totally-cleaned-up-water and sopping wet towels) What did you do?
Claire: (ascertaining that I walked into her trap, looking very pleased with herself) I CLEANED UP after myself!
Me: Oh, great.  Thanks, kiddo! (congratulated Claire for her cleanup, asked her to wash the sink with only a slightly damp washcloth the next time the urge to clean washed over her like a tsunami.)

Could be this incident, could be the "made bed" of sheets scrunched at the bottom of the bed with the rumpled covers, could be the clothes put in the hamper, but with socks rolled into the inside-out pants...but I find some similarities between my daughter and my grandfather.  I see the doctrine of "one more turn" and that of wet sinks, piled clothing, and messy beds as lovely imperfections.  "Only" human?  Thankfully human.

The grandfather angle files into the endearing personality trait folder, but I think the kid angle is pretty important.  Sometimes parents will tell me that their 4 year-old just won't put away all of her toys (i.e. all 462), or that their 6 year-old can't seem to clean the kitty litter up without spilling it, or that beds and rooms are not as neat as they'd like.  Maybe the bed isn't made up to army-grade flatness, or the dusting a bit short of the white glove standard, but the kids are trying.  Is it reasonable to expect a kid to do things perfectly?  Shouldn't we expect them to do kids would?

Celebrate the made bed - don't always mention the messiness.  Applaud the effort at greatness - omit the "that's great...for a kid..."  I'm not saying that kids everywhere should get a trophy for participating - I loathe trinket-dusting - and I think we should grab teachable moments when we can, but I guess it's more important to acknowledge that SOME mastery itself sometimes is worth a standing "O."

Peter Pan:  Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.

Every time a child's balloon thbpthbpbpbpthbpbpbp's across the room for lack of attention to their deed, or worse, for having their triumph critiqued, some spark of magic winks out.

How does all of this apply to my grandfather? Well, for one, I doubt that Bob Vila would have featured us in his shed-building episode, since my own cutting often eclipses my measuring.  For another, as my grandfather generated warmth, so did he generate magic.  No fairies died on his watch:  a child speaking to him had Sun and Moon rotating about them.  Lastly, not that lopsided sheds are to be celebrated, but a little recognition that perfection (including parental perfection) grows on the same tree as the Golden Apple.  Aspire for it, but unless you share genes with Greek gods or star on your own TV show with your 12 person staff behind-the-scenes, take a bite out of the Gala in your hand, and if you happen to eat a seed, heck, it's fiber.

Or an apple tree in your belly.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Find your path. Give back. Make good choices.

4 years ago, my friend Victoria's brother passed very suddenly.  I can't imagine losing a sibling so young:  Peter was only 32.  I never met him, but let me tell you what I learned about Peter.

I remember wanting to leave early for his wake, and ended up arriving slightly early.  It was a cold, gray day in February.  I brought a hat (being follicular-ly challenged as I am).  It was cold.

I had trouble parking; there were so many cars.  A line of people waited, fading somewhere far ahead.  I didn't live close, but I knew the funeral home stood somewhat nearby.  So many people, so many many teens (Peter was a singular kind of teacher).  People softly talking, steeled against the unforgiving cold and wind.  The end of the line disappeared behind me faster than the line moved forward.  No one left the line.

Stories floated around me about Peter's goodness.  I listened:  I didn't know him.  I knew his sister; I ached for my friend.  Sometimes one might get the idea that people are connected- similar dress, similar speech, similar ages.  I had difficulty threading anyone together (except for the teens, his students) but for one thing:  the common bond for us all was Peter.

Inside the funeral home, we waited, we hugged his family, we said...not enough, but what can one say?  I saw co-workers and staff from my office.  We lingered.  We left.

The following day, family, students, friends told us about Peter.  The auditorium was packed with people.  Images of Peter flashed up on the screen in front of us;  seeing Peter with family, with students made me wish that I had known him.  REALLY wish I had known him.

Next week, my friend is running the Boston Marathon, for him and for The Children's Room.  After Peter passed, The Children's Room was there for Peter's family like they are for anyone who needs them in such times.  Not enough people know about this place, but they should.

Here's Victoria's story.

Today, I write about Peter, not just because his sister, my friend, is running the Marathon for him and for the Children's Room.  I am writing because his message, "Find your path. Give back.  Make good choices," is a GOOD message.

We all have our own path, even if it's a bit curvy.

Giving back just feels damn good, improves one's section of the world, and is contagious.

Thinking first, making good choices - what else can one say?

On Patriot's Day, my thoughts will be with Victoria.  Good luck, Vic.  I'm fortunate to have met your brother through you.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tangled Web

If a child grows up in the forest, with parents that do nothing by the book (pick your book, they don't own it), and the falling tree doesn't whack the kid in the head, and he turns out just fine, does it really matter?  Does anyone care?  Would it matter if the tree did nail him into the ground a tad, and that he cried (after awakening from his concussion), but no one heard, but then he dusted himself off and whistled a happy tune on his way past Baba Yaga's hut?

Josh Sacco said "Screewwwwwwwwwwwwwww them!" the other night.  Does THAT matter?  Would it matter if Josh's parents frequently carted him off to baseball parks and talk shows, not to playgrounds and friends' houses, or that he spends several hours a day glued to YouTube, sifting through memorable movie speeches (and hopefully not too much porn)?

The twins on the airplane sat perched at the top of the summit of their allotted seats, drooling on the tray table of the nice man (not me- I'm not that nice :D) behind them.  Does THAT matter?  How about if drool met army-ration-grade beef teriyaki below, resulting in a whole new, tasty concoction with a certain je ne sais quoi?

After beating/noogying his younger brother for 10 minutes, the big brother gets up, leaving the younger in a crumpled  heap (is there any other kind of heap?).  Brothers just being brothers, does THAT matter?  Would it matter if the older brother had, for years, kept his thumb strategically placed on the younger brother, keeping him down JUST enough to piss him off, not enough to attract the parent Hammer of Justice, and that the younger brother was slow-cooking a big pot of revulsion for his b-other?

How about the teens in South Hadley?  When did "kids just being kids" morph into something else?  Was it before or after Phoebe hung herself?

Today a wonderful mother came to see me.  With her orbited her 15 month-old Tazmanian Devil, mostly amusing himself by careening off various obstacles in my exam room.  She looked very tired:  after a bit of chatting, she admitted that she put her child in his crib asleep (rather than putting him in awake and letting him go to sleep on his own), and that he frequently awoke at 2 AM, whereupon one of the comatose parents would kidnap him off to their bed.  There, no one slept well; strangely, the parents now find themselves afloat every night in a sea of 15 month-old spiky elbows and battering ram knees.  Iceberg, right ahead, indeed.

Whether the family is ready to take my advice of teaching him to sleep is irrelevant.  My advice might not work for them right now, and I get that...though, at some point, I didn't get it.  Thankfully, some patient families lent me crayons and some Color-By-Numbers, and, after a while, Bobo, your blog narrator-chimp, learned.

However, my time with colorful scrawlings has not yet revealed the answer to this question to me:  when is "it," whatever it might be, a problem?  Sadly, I must have flunked something in a prior life, since I arrived with neither a crystal ball nor a Cosmic Eraser, but I have been unable to determine, with 100% accuracy, which kid will be ok with which circumstances.  That is, which kid with what kind of resiliency in which circumstances.  Er, which kid with what kind of resiliency with which kind of parents in which circumstances...with what family what developmental which schooling situation...with which health what what world setting...

Man in Black: You've made your decision then?
Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
Man in Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Or at least a dizzying clump of interdependent variables.  Solve for Y?  I'll give it a shot.

The lovely mother from today will likely sleep at some point.  If they choose to "Ferberize" the baby, they'll have short-term misery but long-term good sleep...but they'll likely be fine, long-term, either way.  However, if they need to upgrade to a King-sized bed in 10 years because their 11 year-old still sleeps with them, I might want to revisit the sleep thing with them.

I think Josh Sacco could say "Screw him" (my kids wouldn't be allowed) if his parents were careful...I guess...but I think without a normal childhood he could grow up to be very different. Different might be ok if he's a resilient child, but if he's not, he's Macaulay Culkin at 5.

I think sibling rivalry is fine, unless one of the siblings is in danger of being seriously hurt...meaning broken psyche as well as broken bones.

As for South Hadley, bullying sucks in any capacity and kids need to be protected.  Despite the fact that some kids emerge from the shadows of mistreatment mostly spotless, some crack beyond repair - for life, or worse.

As for the twins, if you believe in a Supreme Being (we'll call it God - that's what I believe, FWIW), permit a "God Bless" from me to parents of multiples, or parents of multiple kids.  Smile at the chaos and ignore the tumult, because managing kids in public places makes fools of us all, from time to time.  But...

I draw the line at Beef Drooly-aki.