Birthday Parties to Cyber-Bullying

img153 (1)“Well, you can’t come to my birthday party!”

When I taught Montessori school, I had one negative rule for the three to six year olds I spent my days with:  You cannot talk about your birthday party at school. Simple, and honestly, reasonably effective.  Why?  Because statements like the one above were the ultimate in threats.  It was like screaming, in Facebook language, “I’m unfollowing you, unfriending you, and I’m blocking you!”

And, so it goes.  These kids get older, and the social exclusion tactics get more subtle.  Or just more mean.

My youngest is a sixth grader.  She is a free spirit.  That may be the understatement of the week.  She’s her own person and has had run-ins with kids since her years in primary Montessori school when one sweet girl would play the three other 5 year olds off of each other, never seeming to anything wrong herself.  The other girls were caught up in daily arguments over who got to work with “Special Girl” while “Special Girl” basked in all of the extra attention.

In second grade, we were at a private Montessori school on the west coast.  My daughter’s class was made up of first through sixth graders, a not-unheard-of combo in Montessori classrooms.  But, when Annie did harder work than the older girls, and was not the cute, compliant younger darling that the older girls had come to expect, Annie was shunned.  In fact, we had to pull her out because the older girls had begun harassing her.  There was some sticky-tack missing.  The stuff that you use to stick posters to walls.  The older students had a habit of removing this from posters and student work that was stuck to the walls so they could play with it.  It was some kind of status symbol.  Anyway, when some was missing again, rather than give back their stash, the made Annie lift up her skirt to make sure she wasn’t hiding any of it.  Talk about your last straw!

Don’t get me wrong.  Annie’s always had lots of friends in and outside of school.  But I wonder if she’s not just some kind of magnet for the unhappy kids who like to manipulate others.  This year, a new girl moved into Annie’s school.  Annie was excited because, after all the moving we’ve done, she knows what it’s like to be the new kid.  She hoped to take the new girl under her wing, show her the ropes, and be her friend.  Nope.  New girl immediately sniffed out that Annie cared, and then turned on her.  So far this year, Annie’s had her undergarments mocked, her funny stories upstaged, her semi-friend stolen, and has had to suffer instant messages from the new girl telling Annie all about how “new girl” and “former friend” are having “sooooo much fun having a sleep over!”

So, it’s pretty clear these girls won’t be attending Annie’s birthday party.  But, now that these girls can find you anywhere, how to you help your kids avoid getting caught in their webs?  We have tried giving Annie the language to deal with these kids, and strategies for how to avoid them.  It’s just hard because Annie can see what they’re doing to her and other kids, and when something is not right in the world, she wants to make it right.

It reminds me of an recurring story on a 90’s television show, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch.  A former friend of Sabrina’s boyfriend, Harvey, moves back to town.  He is immediately wary of Sabrina and frequently comments on how weird she seems.  While no one knows she’s a witch, this new boy seems to be hell-bent on catching Sabrina doing magic.  She tells her aunts, with whom she lives, and they explain that there are witch hunters among the population of regular people.  Witch hunters look for witches, and this boy, who’s name is Brad, doesn’t even know why he’s focusing on Sabrina since he doesn’t know witches still exist.  But, Brad continues to find fault with Sabrina, pick on her, and generally bother her.  He always seems to be there when she’s vulnerable.

I’ve used this analogy to explain to Annie why some people seem to be focused on making others unhappy.  It’s a great analogy.  But it doesn’t help when someone’s feelings have been hurt.

Maybe though, just maybe some of what we’re talking about at home is sinking in. She actually has started to hang out with different kids.  I don’t want Annie to grow jaded and angry.  I just want her to put up a fence.  Because, listening to these stories is breaking my heart.


Adopting a sib-kitty

Wet Food DuoThey are adorable cats.  When they are about 20 feet apart.

We were warned.  I can’t say that we weren’t warned.  We even have children.  We should have understood.

Mimi came to us with the honest caveat:  She’s a one-cat-in-the-house cat.  We brought her into the family when she was four years old.  Middle-aged and set in her ways, no doubt.

Annie, our 11 year old, needed a pet of her own.  Just like her sister needed a sibling some 12 years previous.

No one asked Mimi about it.  She’s a talkative cat, and would have answered even if we couldn’t understand it.

So, enter Maggie, stage left.

Maggie is a 6 month old kitten, quite tiny and cute as a bowl of baby blue buttons.

Mimi is not pleased.  Again, it’s not like we weren’t warned.  But, we left our better judgement behind making a decision with an ultimate benefit for Annie.

I love my daughters, but gosh darn it, this sounds a lot like how we ended up with two children.

You see, I really wanted a second baby, and for years we’d had the advice that Liza, as intense of a child as she was, would benefit from a second baby.  Then, Liza began asking for a baby sister.  The planets aligned, and here we are a family of four.

And, there were days when Liza had second thoughts.  “Mom, she’s taking the houses off of Boardwalk!”  “Mom, she keeps opening my door!”  “Mom, Annie has my ___________ (insert item-of-the-day here)!”

What surprised us about Annie, our wonderful, adorable, and whip-smart clever 11 year old daughter was that she adored Liza, and wanted to follow her around.  We had expected another baby who adored us and followed us around.  I’m an only child.  What do I know about second children?  Not much about living with one, that’s for sure.

Now, it’s the same scenario with Maggie and Mimi. If Mimi could speak English, I’m sure I’d hear “Mom, she’s in my litter box!”  and “Mom, she stuck her paw in her water bowl again.  That’s gross!”

Mimi is beginning to tolerate Maggie, bit by bit.  But, rather than seek out a human, Maggie stalks Mimi.  By the food dish, the litter box, and the couch.  Mimi gives a short hiss, and Maggie backs away, but only a smidge.

Just like Annie and Liza, Annie was hell-bent on having a big sister as a best friend.  You know what – it worked.  They are wonderfully close these days.

Hopefully the same can be said about the cats someday soon.  Or at least a mutual level of tolerance.

Warm up – a meta-blog


(My mom pulling me in a sled, probably 1968)

Okay, it’s cold outside. But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

I have decided that I need to warm up each day in order to begin writing my dissertation. And, to get in the mood to write, I thought the best way might be to write a blog post each day – or very nearly.

In my mind, where this idea was hatched so perhaps I’m biased, this makes sense. When you cook, you warm up by putting the ingredients together, getting out the pan, and preheating the oven. When you run, you jog slowly for a little while, then you might stop to stretch, and afterwards begin your run in earnest.

(I don’t run. Never really saw the point. But, I’ve heard from other people…)

I could warm up on my dissertation, certainly, but another way I think of warming up is to get ready to do the think that I want to do by taking care of the things that need to get done. For me, blogging like this is akin to clearing off my desk so I can work, or putting away the laundry so I can sit on the couch. There are so many personal thoughts that it can be hard to set them aside and just dive in to the “work.”

So, I’m warming up with a blog post. Right now, the desk is clean and the couches are completely uncovered.

I think that writing puts me in the mood to write. And having a chance to speak my mind – about what’s on my mind – will allow me to clear off the “mental couch” for the important work ahead.

I hope you’ll join me to see how this works!

Introjected Motivation and House Porn

So, yeah, it’s a title. And, it’s 100% on target. I have a problem with feeling guilty about how my house looks, because my house doesn’t look like house porn I’ve consumed over the years.

Introjection is when you do something because you’ll feel bad if you don’t. Almost any time you are acting with the word “should,” consider yourself acting with introjected regulation. This is in contrast to external regulation, where you do something for the reward. On the positive side, identified and integrated regulation where you complete a task because you see the importance, or you feel the task represents how you see yourself.

Okay, crash course in self-determination theory’s motivation is over. Back to the house porn.

So, think HGTV, House Beautiful magazine, Architectural Digest, and any Pottery Barn catalogue. These are some of the best sources of house lust images. Clean surfaces, table-scapes, just the right amount of accessories. Vintage signs and fresh upholstery. Ahhhhh……

I started out reading my mom’s issues of Better Homes and Gardens when I was a kid. I thought it was the way we all learned how to have beautiful houses. How to mix and match bed sheet patterns for the cool Ralph Lauren effect. How to select silverware to go with the oversized chargers and placemats.

Well on my way to a serious case of house envy, I moved on to other magazines, depending on where my tastes lay at that time. For a while it was all about Country Living – how to coordinate gingham and chintz with baskets. Lots of baskets.

Lately, I might be found with the library’s back issues of Atomic Ranch, a magazine for those of us with our heads in the 1950s and 60s. I adore bark cloth and vintage lamps. I pine for an Eichler home and a pole lamp.

The details matter less, however, than the problem at hand. The house porn and the introjection are nibbling at my soul. I feel guilty that my house doesn’t look like the slick magazine photos and the finished home renovations of television.  It’s like my image of what my own house should look like has been, dare I say it, PHOTOSHOPPED?

I get really upset when my house is messy and cluttered.  And, then I get really down on myself for not cleaning it.  I have a life.  I have other more important things to do.  I’m aware of this.  But, I’m not.  I want the house that, supposedly, a stay-at-home housewife would be able to maintain.  Closets full of boxes that are the same size and sport artistic labels.  But, I’m a doctoral student and the mom of an active 11 year old.  Honestly, I don’t always wash all the dishes every night.

I’m going to try to stop beating myself up about not having the organized, coordinated house that I fantasize about.  It’s just a fantasy.  That’s why it’s house PORN.

Like I’ve seen said before, the magazine is really called “Better Homes and Gardens Than Yours!”

Not really there, but really here

A friend in college once said, “Wherever I go, there I am.” I know she was probably not the first person to say this, but she is the only person I know who has said this who has also held the tooth I broke while I was eating cheese popcorn and driving.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote lately, as it applies to the internet.  First off, there are a lot of times when you surf the internet that you’re not really going anywhere.  Your desk at work.  Waiting for your wife to finish trying on six dresses.  Or the bathroom – but that’s getting me into some really odd semantics regarding the word “go.”

Sometimes when you’re surfing the internet, you might actually be moving.  On a train.  As a passenger in a car.  On a bus.  And there you are.

But, my issue lately has been with internet links that are dead.  404 not found.  This site name is for sale.  You get the picture.  Or not.

Recently, I’d been looking for sites where smart, nerdy kids could find friends online.  A famous site that deals with academically smart kids and their issues had a few links to sites where smart kids could meet each other.  This was awesome news.  I had been thinking one of my kids could really use some new friends and in a small town, sometimes it’s hard to accomplish this.  With excitement, I clicked on the link to check out the site myself.

This site name is for sale.  Wherever I went, there I wasn’t.

While I was sulking for a minute, I realized that the same kid for whom I was checking out the website was actually playing The Game of Life with a real friend in real time – in my house.  What I thought I was going to find online, I’d found in my house.

Wherever it was that I went, I was “here” and I liked it.

Uniforms and Choice

My daughters both attend schools where they wear uniforms.

At the arts academy high school my older daughter attends, the students all wear blue pants/shorts/skirts and a blue polo with the school name embroidered on it. Where it gets interesting is how the students successfully wriggle around the uniform regulations. Frequently, students cut off the collars to wear inside of their own sweatshirts. Or in the case of one student who was trying to make a point, he only wore the collar with his blue pants. It’s an arts school, after all. Gently subverting the rules is a required course.

Then there’s my younger daughter who attends Catholic school, even though we’re not Catholic. I think she likes the uniform concept, even though no one could love the uniform jumpers. It’s nice not to have to decide what to wear to school every day.

However, it’s not that aspect of the uniforms and choice that I’ve been thinking about. It’s more abstract than that.  Sort of.

Last week, the new Goodwill store opened by our house.  Even though we’re on a budget-tightening program, we thought it would be fun to stop in a see the new place.

Trolling the aisles, I heard a friend call my name.  My friend introduced me to her friend, and her friend’s kids.  And, there we were.  My daughter in her Catholic school uniform.  My friend’s friend’s daughter in her hijab.  And the girls were chatting like typical pre-teen girls will.

That was all well and good.   In fact, we’re hoping to get the girls together to hang out sometime.

But, it made me think about these uniforms and what they say about us, what they carry and how we choose them.  The friend’s daughter’s hijab says she’s a Muslim young woman, which I believe she is.  My daughter’s uniform says that she’s a Catholic young lady.  Except she’s not.

Do some of us wear uniforms that share messages that aren’t really true?  I shop at the Goodwill store for high-end, well-made clothing.  I must look like I shop at Macy’s, Chico’s and Talbots.  Does that send a message about me that might not be true?  I’m sure it does.  Then there are uniforms for all the other activities my daughter does:  choir, tae-kwon-do, Girl Scouts.

One time, my daughter and I were pleasantly stopped by on the street by a younger woman who was admiring my daughter’s Catholic school uniform.  She was remembering her days in school with uniforms and said, “God bless,” as she walked away.  As she did, my daughter and I doubled over in fits of giggles because we had realized while that the sweet young woman was admiring her uniform, we had realized “uniform girl” had spent the day wearing one blue and one brown knee sock.

I wonder what kind of message that was sending!

Round and round and round it goes

It’s the evening after we participated in our neighborhood’s garage sale. We’d been collecting items we’d loved, and others that we didn’t remember even owning in order to pass them along to willing adoptive homes for a small price. And, price is what I’d been focusing on. How much to ask for that blouse? What do we think we can get for the table?

Now that the dust has settled, the leftovers have gone to the Goodwill store, I am finding myself of two minds.

First, we didn’t make a lot of money. A little less that $100. For a day’s labor which included two adults, a seventeen year-old, and the enthusiastic efforts of an 11 year-old who was born to sell. That’s not much money when you consider it at a per-hour rate.

But, the second way of thinking is winning out. It was the people. I chatted with one of our neighbors, and met a few people who didn’t realize the elderly couple who had lived in our house had been gone for two years already.

There was the sweet man who bought my husband’s first guitar. The woman who is getting a hip replacement and was overjoyed to buy the white end table we were selling so she could decoupage it while she recuperates. The daughter who was shopping with her mom – mom maybe had a stroke, and couldn’t talk well, but her daughter was so patient. The boy who called to his family as he scouted the sale from across the street, “It’s a good looking garage sale!” And, my favorite, the little girl who must have begged her mom to go back to the sale where they had the little baby doll. The mom told us they’d been driving up and down the area trying to find us again. The little girl was so grateful to find the baby and get to bring her home.

I wonder if the little girl knows the doll’s name is Rebecca. Or, maybe little Rebecca will get a new name now.

It’s not about the stuff. It’s never about stuff. It’s always about the people.

I failed the Perseids this year

I failed the Perseids this year.  You know, the meteor shower.  It’s a test to check your patience, stamina, and ability to look up.

I’m not bitter. Really.  Okay, that’s a lie.

My daughter really loves astronomy.  Her science teacher is a huge astronomy buff who sent home a quick note this week, reminding parents that the Perseids are so important that it’s okay if your child stays up late to see them.  She even said that she was seeing activity out her windows.  People were posting videos of seeing fireballs weave in and out of the clouds.

Our plan was for me to stay up a little late to check for activity, and wake her up if there were any signs of shooting stars, fireballs, or other heavenly activity.  Failing that, I was to check each time I got up in the middle of the night.  Mind you I was waking up to the call of nature, not an alarm clock set for 2 and 4 a.m.  I even have an app on my Droid phone so I can find the Perseids.

We got nothing.

It was cloudy.  It rained.  It rained on me as I stood in the driveway looking up.  The supermoon shone too brightly.  Nothing between 11 and 12 p.m. or during my early morning visits.

It hasn’t been a total loss this year.  In May, we were able to take her to see an unexpected meteor shower.  We only saw four or five shooting stars, and I am still not sure if it was worth waking her up at 2 in the morning to sit on a cold bench overlooking Lake Michigan.  But, seeing the real meteors was amazing.

However, that was like the PSAT of meteor showers.  The Perseids are the SAT or maybe even the GRE of meteor showers.  And, my score was zero.  Maybe, though, this is like the real SAT test where everyone takes it and then lies about their scores.  Hey, what did you get on the Perseids this year, huh?

There’s always next year.

Colonial Williamsburg

We returned yesterday from a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg, in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was fun and exciting, like a family vacation should be. Especially one that puts four people in a Toyota Rav 4 for 2-six hour days to get there and the same to get home. Along with exhausted, I came home proud for a few special reasons.

First, it was thrilling to realize just what the colonists were up against as they decided to kiss off King George. It’s such a part of our psyche now, that we got our independence from England, it’s hard to conceive of how scary that choice must have been to take up arms against the crown.

Second, my kids could answer the questions that the historical interpreters asked – and often DID answer them. It does a mom’s heart good to know that the kids are learning those dry facts and that they can remember them, too. I know they’ll never look at the Revolutionary War period the same way again.

Lastly, you need to know a bit more about the area we were in before I can explain my last point of pride. Williamsburg has an amazing amount of history, but grown up around this is a tourist trap of the first degree. There’s a Ripley’s Believe it or Not “museum,” cheesy souvenir shops, a huge water park, and a Busch Gardens theme park. Not once did our kids ask to go to these other places. Maybe they knew that we’d say no and they knew better than ask. (2 points for parenting win!) Or maybe they were happily engrossed in the history we’d brought them there to learn about and they didn’t care about the tourist traps and roller coasters. (2 more points for parenting win!)

It was a spectacular vacation, and even after three days, we still didn’t see everything at Colonial Williamsburg. We already want to go back next year. And, still no one has said anything about the water park or the theme park. Kissing off commercialism and choosing history – that sounds like real independence to me.

How to measure a life in the car

I have realized, since we started taking Annie to and from school in the next town over, that I measure my life in NPR shows. In fact, I also create my own time line, based on what shows I was listening to in the car during certain times.

There are other ways. T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock measured his life in coffee spoons. An awesome song from RENT talks about the minutes that we each are allotted in life. But, I prefer NPR.

I spent a lot of my early adulthood behind the wheel of a succession of Jeep Cherokees. And, while working for my parents as a real estate appraiser, I enjoyed working on Saturdays because I could hear Car Talk. I squirmed behind the seat in front of someone’s house trying not to visibly laugh while a Tom and Ray helped a woman whose automatic car windows were going up and down unassisted – and at random! I pretended to make notes while sitting in a hot car with the windows rolled up, lest the homeowners hear me snorting with laughter!

Then, there was our first daughter and the Montessori school we sent her to, which was three towns away. I have very vivid recollections of the afternoon drives during her first year there, September 2001. I listened to Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation to make sense of the terrorist attack that had happened in OUR country, and who these Taliban people were.

I hadn’t really thought about the NPR time stamp until our younger daughter began attending a Catholic school that’s in the next town over, without any school busing. I found myself in the car again at about 2:30 each day, catching the second half of The Story.  Dick Gordon would soothe me as I transitioned from grad student back to mom again.  Now that Dick has retired, I have been being carried across this bridge by Terri Gross and Fresh Air.

NPR talks a lot about Driveway Moments, those times you can’t get out of the car because you might miss the end of a story.  I feel like my life is measured out as a series of Driving Moments, taking a short break from the drama that is my life to listen to the world that NPR brings to my car radio.  Which reminds me, I heard the most interesting thing in the car this morning while I was listening to Marketplace…