Things I want but can’t have until my children are older

To catch up in Big Bang Theory.

A full night’s sleep including sleeping in.  For a week or more!  (Two year molars, I shake my tiny fist at you.  COME IN FASTER.)

Expensive pretty breakable china.  Or at least moreso than Corelle.

Freshly painted walls that stay that way.

Clean carpets (that stay that way).

Unscuffed furniture.  Actually, scratch that one [see what I did there?].  We will still have cats.

Is there anything you can’t have until later, and why?

Even the super-confident super-awesome are not immune to culture

Occasionally I have to take a break from mommy-blogs.

Why?  Because they make me anxious.

I know, you’re thinking, how could *I* be anxious about parenting?  I’m the laziest (non-negligent) parent on the planet and my kids are disgustingly perfect (though of course you note that I would never use the adverb, “disgustingly,” I would say they’re “awesomely” perfect or something [actually I would say "amazingly," but I grant you our frequent use of "awesome"]).  Both of these are true.

But mommy-blog anxiety gets even to me.  Culture is *that* strong.  There’s only so many blogs on having to lose the baby-weight, worrying about what/how much baby is eating or how much screen time toddler is getting or worrying about whether something is too early or too late or too long or whateverthe[expletive deleted] before even I start questioning if these are things I should be worrying about and are my kids really as wonderful as they seem [spoiler alert:  they are!] and if so, what’s wrong with them [rational answer: nothing!].

Now, I’m not talking about blogs where the kids or parents have actual real problems+.  [Also, I'm not singling out any one blog right now.  This unnecessary anxiety seems to be a contagion that is going through a huge number of mommy blogs right now.]  I’m talking about blogs where the kids are seemingly perfect, and the mom is seemingly perfect, but instead of acknowledging that fact, it’s anxiety this and worry that.  If their seeming perfection is wrong, then maybe I’m wrong about mine.

Of course, I’m not.  Even when the skinny girl complains about how fat she is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my normal weight.  But (just like in college with the weight thing) I can only stand so many repeated hits before it starts to get to me.  The patriarchy is expert at using the virtual paper cut as a primary weapon.  It perfected the ton-of-feathers attack.  Any one blog or post or NYTimes article can be brushed off, or given a supportive comment in response.  At some point part of me wants to say, “CALM the [expletive] down!  You’re working for the patriarchy!”  But that’s not supportive so I try not to, especially since it’s not any one post’s fault or even any one blogger’s fault– it’s the culmination of many posts and blogs with the same message to be more anxious.  I get grumpy because the patriarchy does that to me.

And you may be thinking, “You’re grumpy because deep down you know things aren’t really that perfect.”  But that’s not true.  Deep down I know they really are, because I have huge trust in my family.  I have trust that even if there’s bumps and growing pains, that they’ll figure things out for themselves even if I’m not doing whatever is “optimal” for them.  I trust that there is no “optimal,” that there’s just “different” and “sub-optimal” is another word for “learning experience” (or, as my mom would say, “character building”).  I trust that my husband and I love our kids and will always be there for them and that they know that.  I don’t have to trust me to know deep down that my kids are doing great, I have to trust them and my husband and that we’ll tackle the challenges as they come.

And I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll work through them.  But if there aren’t any right now, I don’t need to @#$#@ing create any.

I could do one of three things.  1.  I could comment super-supportive calming words on these blogs in an attempt to spread confidence (though of course this sometimes backfires because tone is difficult in writing among other reasons), 2.  I could do lots of introspection and re-affirm my core confidence and awesomeness, or 3.  I could avoid the anxiety paper-cuts by not going to those blogs.  Guess which option is the least work and most conducive to getting two more papers and a grant proposal out before summer ends?++

So… currently taking a break from mommy blogs, at least until swim-suit season is over.

+And we are *certainly* not talking about things like post-partum depression.

++Also note that we are not blaming people for working through their anxieties via the media of blogging.  It’s the patriarchy that is the ultimate root cause of that kind of unnecessary anxiety.  But that doesn’t mean we have to read about it if it has negative effects on our own well-being.

Ask the grumpies: Kindergarten skillz

Becky asks:

I wanted to ask – what is the “minimum” I am supposed to do to prepare my four year-old for kindergarten? He has all the basics, I think (can count to 20, does some simple addition in his head, knows the alphabet, recognizes letters, their sounds, and associated words). I have taught him some French words, and he knows a lot of Spanish from daycare. He just started printing practice, but he is not that fond of it! I have the starfall apps and we’ve started looking at them, but I often feel like a slacker Mom in this department. Thoughts? He is currently in the uni childcare, no preschool, so the teaching falls to us.

What do you really need for kindergarten?

1. potty training (some accidents ok)
2. self-feeding (hands ok)

Unless you’re going to a fancy highly competitive coastal k, your kid is already ahead and would be ready for 1st grade in much of the country, skills-wise. If it is half day k, you might be able to get away with no self feeding, but that would be a little odd.

Ideally your child will also be able to sit still for reasonable periods of time, will listen to the teacher, takes instruction, and plays relatively nicely with others.  Mostly being able to put shoes and jacket on are also good things, and to pull pants etc. back up after going potty.  These are skills that most children who went to almost any kind of daycare have.  But there’s still kids who stayed at home who aren’t used to not being the center of attention, and they learn those skills in kindergarten rather than coming in with them.

It doesn’t hurt to know numbers, colors, letters, scissors, patterns, printing, etc. but those should happen in kindergarten or first grade if your child doesn’t get them before that time.

Competitive kindergartens with tests and so on, have a lot more requirements, but they only exist in NYC and a few other places.  There’s an entire industry that exists just to fake these exams out, so a little Googling and maybe a book purchase or two can help for those in that situation.  But for the majority of us, it’s ok to just make sure the kid is out of diapers.

Grumpy Nation parents, what did your children need to know/already know before kindergarten?

DC1′s reading buddy is awesome

DC1 hadn’t been reading chapter books for a while, and when ze did read, ze would reread super easy stuff ze had read a zillion times before.  Big NateA to Z MysteriesSheldon Comics.  We didn’t say much about it because we don’t want to make reading a chore instead of a pleasure and we figured it would pass, but we did kind of miss hir reading fun new chapter books (and talking about them with us–Big Nate is great and all, but we already know he gets in trouble at school and doesn’t get along with Gina etc.)

Then DC1′s friend loaned hir Spy School (this is the friend whose mom throws the awesome parties).  DC1 loved it. And then the friend loaned it to another kid in the class.  So even though they’re all slowly reading A Wrinkle in Time in class, they’re getting through another book much faster outside of class.

So DC1 loaned hir friend The Familiars, which ze had enjoyed before going off chapter books.  DC1′s friend enjoyed it, so DC1 loaned hir book 2 in the series and realized that ze should probably actually read the fourth book in the series (after rereading the rest, of course).

So then DC1′s friend loaned hir The Mysterious Benedict Society and proudly proclaimed it to be a big thick chapter book. I showed DC1 our copy of the book, but DC1 stated that the loaned copy is better.  And, of course it is.  Then ze checked out the second Spy School book when signing up for the summer reading program.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is, except that friends recommending books to friends is totally awesome.  And I’m glad there’s kids who like books enough to recommend them to DC1.

Did you share books as a kid?  Or an adult?  What are you or your kids sharing these days?

Ask the grumpies: Tv for toddlers

Dana asks:

My son just turned two years old and had his first television experience watching the movie “Cars” on my laptop. He mostly watched in 5-7 minute chunks as his attention span isn’t very long and he is very active. We aren’t sure what to let him watch next.  I think his attention span might be up to 15 minute TV shows and was wondering if you had advice for shows your kids liked as toddlers that aren’t too painful for parents to watch too.  Obviously not looking for violence and educational is a plus but not required.

Well, this is going to vary a lot, so check the comments for what other two year olds are watching!

DC1 was really really into frogs, so the LeapFrog dvds (particularly the early ones on phonics) were super popular at Casa Grumpy.  Dora the Explorer, also popular.  Closer to 3 ze picked up Caillou (one of DC2′s current picks) and Kipper and Blues Clues and Word World (though many parents dislike Caillou because in the earlier episodes he’s kind of a brat).

In addition to PBS Kids, where DC2 prefers Curious George, DC2 has just discovered Youtube, which has many kids tv shows uploaded to it.  Ze is currently a big fan of:  Dora the Explorer, Pocoyo (these are nice because they’re short!), Peppa the Pig, and a bunch of seriously annoying children’s shows made for Youtube.  The best of these (from the not annoying the parent perspective) is Miss Tracey singing nursery rhymes.  The worst of these is Mr. Mike doing the same thing but with his own twist.  (Licking up the baby bumblebee?  Seriously Mr. Mike?)  In between are: Mother Goose Club and Busy Beavers.  Actually Busy Beavers will annoy the heck out of you with its repetition while the Mother Goose Club isn’t so bad.

Grumpy Nation:  What are your recommendations and opposite-of-recommendations for two year old tv watching?

My big summer plan for DC1

DC1 is 7.  Seven is a wonderful year and a wonderful height.

DC1 will be going to museum camp, and doing hir workbooks, and swimming lessons and piano lessons, and no doubt reading lots of great novels and playing all sorts of games (card, computer, video, board, etc.).  There will be a week being spoiled by the in-laws, and no doubt a weekend or two with my sister.

But I, too, have a nefarious plan in store for DC1.

This summer DC1 will learn how to cook.  In fact, this summer DC1 will cook for us with minimal help at least once a week and will be a sous chef for us on a regular basis.

Ze already makes excellent scrambled eggs, and fantastic macaroni and cheese (from a box with extra cheese added, and also tuna and peas).  This summer we will add more to hir repertoire.

I hope this will be an investment that pays out many-fold.  :)

We made a list.  It says:  chocolate chip cookies (chewy), pizza, ice cream, split pea soup, Japanese rice (for sushi), spaghetti, pancakes, waffles, muffins (blueberry), tacos, queso, shrimp, shakes.  It’s a little different than what I learned to cook first (eggs, crepes, chili, spaghetti with meat sauce, macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas, box brownies, swiss steak, chicken cacciatore, spaghetti carbonara, regular rice), though with some overlap.

Many of my fondest childhood memories are in the kitchen.  When did you learn how to cook?  What did you first learn how to cook?  When did your kids learn (if appropriate)?  Any exciting summer plans?

Ask the grumpies: gifted schools

jlp asks:

We’re on the cusp of being able to send our older child to public school (free! school!) and are debating what to do. We believe that our kids are HG/PG, and we are fortunate, as we have some potential school choice. In our area there are multiple private and magnet public schools (both of which require testing to attend) geared specifically for gifted kids .

As we comb through schools, public and private, I’ve been looking for a variety of characteristics, but the two most important ones seem to be: a) will our child(ren) have like-minded peers of a similar age?* and b) will the school be able to provide sufficient challenge for our child(ren)?

My question is: is there another characteristic that we should prize more highly? If so, what?

Oh, also, because the public schools are magnets, and require testing to attend, this, ostensibly, means we can live anywhere in the city and reap the benefits of a great school. It seems like a no-brainer to go public (assuming DC1 gets in!), since we don’t have to pay for a great school district, nor do we have to pay for private school. However, the student:teacher ratio is 28:1 in K, going up to…I forget, 30:1 or 31:1 in 3rd or 4th. There are no teacher’s aides. Are these class sizes as ridiculously huge as they sound to me?

*Based both on Miraca Gross’ work and also my kid’s passing comments about the kids at his current preschool who “just scribble.”

#1 says:  If you can possibly get your kids in a gifted school, for gods’ sake do it! (One of us is very grumpy about her years in the regular schools.  The other one is still scarred from middle school and doesn’t want to talk about it.)

#2 says:  Golly, these choices are just so hard.  I can’t say what you should do.  What we’ve done has always been to play it by ear every year.  We figure out what our options are, check out the teachers and the school environment, and are willing to change mid-stream if necessary.

One of the reasons we’ve been so keen on acceleration for DC1 is exactly because ze is kind of a jerk about lesser performing kids (generally innocently, first asking questions about why they can’t read, and such, but it seems like something we have to revisit every year).  It does hir a lot of good to not be leaps and bounds in front of everybody else in the same class.  In terms of acceleration, the friends the same age thing is over-rated, at least so far for DC1 (and according to A Nation Deceived, as well as our own childhoods– we always got along better with older kids/adults until we went to boarding school)– DC1 gets along great with kids a couple years older.

The sufficient challenge was also really important to us.  DC1 is *usually* really well-behaved (update:  at the last school function, Easter, all the teachers commented on how much hir behavior had improved.  The Spanish teacher noted that her child had gone through the same phase at that age, which is why she hadn’t commented on it earlier), but when ze isn’t sufficiently challenged ze can be a bit of a pill.  That’s one reason ze does workbooks on weekends.

In our geographic area there are two options that are geared towards “gifted” or “math and science”… one is a public within a school in the low income town next to ours.  We would have to move to attend, but despite being called a gifted magnet, we haven’t really heard anything good about it and suspect it may be a slightly above average little white island in a minority district.  We didn’t investigate further though because we decided the private school would be a better option than selling our house.  It may be great… but, none of the university parents we know are moving to send their kids there.  The other option, also in that town, is a math and science charter.  We know much more about this option because a lot of people in our town have tried it out because there isn’t a residency requirement for it. It has enormous class sizes K-4, larger than state law allows for public schools.  A K teacher quit mid-year because she was so frazzled, according to one parent who pulled her kids out to attend another private school.  I don’t think we know anybody who stayed for elementary.  We hear it’s great for high school and know parents whose kids do high school there.  Of course, the publics here are also supposed to be great for high school.

Continuing… yes, if you believe the TN STAR experiment results, 28:1 in K is too big of a student teacher ratio.  It would be very difficult to do differentiation with a class of that size without an aide or student teacher.  Depending on the teacher and the other students, it might even be difficult to keep order in the class.

Is there something you should prize more highly than classmates and challenge?  That’s hard to say.

We visited the two schools that were willing to talk with us and talked with every parent we knew about our options, and even a public school teacher we knew socially.  We learned a lot from talking and visiting about what was important to us.  One thing that was important was the school and the teachers having an understanding of gifted children and an ability to differentiate.  Another was having a school environment that was pro-gifted kids rather than anti-gifted kids that was willing to work with us.  You can read our saga in our archives.

So, sorry for the [delayed] long non-answer.   When you have a special snowflake for a kid, there’s special snowflake answers, which is to say, really no answer at all.  Talk, visit, and you’ll figure out what is important to you and your kid.  And if things don’t work out, you can always change.

Do any of our readers have better advice for jlp?  How did you decide on a school for your kids, if applicable?  What do you wish your parents had done for you at that age?

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