The 6-year-old vs. The Black Bean
I had so much fun capturing bits and pieces of our mornings with my #aweekofmornings series that I've decided to tackle the flip side. The dark side, in my opinion. It's only Tuesday, and I'm already daunted by the task. With three kids ages 6, 10 and 12, our evenings are often a complicated test of logistics and endurance. Long gone are the days of scheduled toddlers and early bedtimes. (Longer gone are also the days of walking around with a wailing newborn in the witching hour, so let's keep some perspective.) For me, the glory days were a brief and perfect time when our family's evening routine consistently looked like this: Kid dinner promptly at 5:00, baths at 6:00, bedtime at 6:30, and adult-only dinner afterward, with no nuggets and ketchup in sight.
Now our routine changes daily depending on work responsibilities, kid schedules and carpool duties. When I have my act together and our schedules allow, I prep dinner in the morning and have it ready for all of us to enjoy together. Sounds lovely, but for us it's only a realistic goal maybe twice a week. Many other nights I'm throwing sandwiches in a bag, raiding the kids' lunch boxes for whatever they didn't eat earlier, and hustling everyone into the car for soccer/ballet/biking/etc.
Despite the full calendar, we carve out mini-routines where we can. Bedtime always involves books. It always involves rituals, no matter how small or strange. One kid wants hugs and kisses and movie-star air kisses in a very particular order. Another kid prefers a quick tuck-in, a special repeated phrase, and lights immediately out. The other wants the sheets and pillows just so and then a glass of water with ice and multiple check-ins just in case. If there's anything we've learned as parents, it's to not fight these evening rituals too much, no matter how exhausted we are, no matter that some feel like stalling techniques, and no matter that a kid was just screaming at us 10 minutes ago because they had the Worst Day Ever. Nobody likes to go to bed grumpy, and the rituals seem to settle us all down.
That said, there's no predicting how an evening will go. Someone can forget homework at the last minute, or fall apart because favorite jammies are dirty, or just be sick and tired of dealing all day. Other nights there is singing in the shower and relaxed chapters of Harry Potter. Your guess is as good as mine...Tune in to my Instagram feed this week, and we'll find out together.
Monday 8:30pm. Already well past his bedtime and he's asking for 5 more minutes.
Monday 8:45pm. Late dinner for our dedicated ballerina.
My #aweekofevenings project runs from April 6-12, and all the images can be found on Instagram @ewmcguire.
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In other news...
I was thrilled to have the story of our new mother/son running routine featured on Huffington Post last week.
I have a new professional Facebook page and would love to get your Like on it.
Thanks again for all your enthusiasm and support.
For months my 10 year-old son and I had been battling too much. Nothing dramatic, just a steady, exhausting cycle of nagging/ignoring, cajoling/sighing, yelling/yelling, then crying/crying. There were all the predictable triggers: homework, chores, screen time. Every day I practiced complaining about dirty shoes on the sofa and Minecraft on the computer, and he practiced scowling and stomping. We both got really good at being disgusted with one another.
The small stand-offs became almost daily routines and I soon realized that no matter the outcome of each argument I felt like I was losing every single time. First I was furious, then heartbroken.
Things were not always this difficult between us. In fact, from the very beginning our relationship was a breeze. I grew up with only brothers so I like to think I understand boy energy and humor. Personality-wise, my son and I have much in common. We are happiest outside, no matter the weather. Every day we require ample time to move and sweat and DO, balanced with ample time to just sit and dream. We are really good at leaping before looking, then getting frustrated at our impulsiveness and backpedaling into a plan. We are both playaholics more than workaholics.
But none of these similarities were helping us much, and I missed the easy connection we had always shared.
So one night, after a particularly ugly argument over homework, I approached him in his room. “I would really like to find something fun for us to do regularly--just you and me.” My voice caught and tears brimmed. He replied, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’m not going to college yet.”
I laughed--at both his wisdom and naiveté. I was not worried about college. I was worried only about that particular day, and the next day, and maybe the next, but no further. I was worried about the current heaviness between us. I was not looking for a cure-all for the battles or some lofty psychological insight into why mothers and sons fight at this stage. I was simply looking for a way to inject more easy, light moments into our days.
He suggested we run. We had run together before and casually finished some 5K races, but we had never made it a regular habit. He had never before shown interest in consistent training and I was, to be honest, a little protective of my own running schedule.
Running had been my sanctuary for almost two decades and I was accustomed to escaping family life five times a week to meet a steady group of friends and training partners. I wasn’t sure how I would add another layer to this carefully orchestrated routine, but I knew it was worth trying.
So the next Saturday morning, I met my friends at our usual predawn hour. I finished our 7-mile loop and while the rest of them kept going, I ran home to meet my boy. He was still in his pajamas, on the computer, and had not seen my reminder note. It was 29 degrees, there was hot coffee in the kitchen, and I was starting to chill in my sweaty clothes. I nearly ditched the whole idea. But as soon as I asked, “Hey bud, still want to run a few with me?” he jumped up with a cheerful Yes!
The next 30 minutes were pure joy. Following his lead, we launched into “adventure running”...half running, half exploring our neighborhood and nearby trail. My boy zigzagged along the sidewalks, tightrope-walked every curb he found, jumped over rock walls and benches, and paused when he saw an interesting tree or funny graffiti. For every mile I ran, he seemed to run a quarter more with his diversions.
He chattered about ideas for his latest cartoon series, and asked me lots of ridiculous What If questions. Even though we’ve passionately covered the topic before, we spent at least a mile discussing why Super Speed is obviously the best superpower ever. Even better than flying and invisibility, we agreed.
Along the way we vowed to register for an upcoming race where volunteers enthusiastically douse runners with colored powdered until they look like toxic circus clowns. After last year’s race, we were blowing blue gunk out of our noses for days, so we decided this year to wear bandanas for protection. “We will be the Booger Bandana Brigade, Mom! We will have a booger mascot! I can make us a booger logo and everything!”
And it was in the middle of this boogery monologue that I had the distinct and intoxicating feeling that this moment was exactly what we needed. There was lightness and laughter between us again. Welcome to your new Saturday morning routine, I thought. I am totally in.
A month later, our regular runs have not solved everything, of course, but the constant heaviness is gone. Knowing that once a week I am guaranteed time with him that is void of arguing and frustration somehow gives me more patience and empathy on the other days.
We have found a simple space that contains only joy and ease, and nothing could keep me from showing up there. I could run for miles in it.
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After last week's piece about my daughter's book club, I received numerous "What about the boys??" questions. Good questions with simple answers...
My 5-year-old is too young for a book club. When he thinks of reading it is all about snuggling and hearing a great story. This summer he has been devouring the Magic Treehouse series. Which means Hubs and I are "devouring" these stories right along with him. For the third time. (Will Jack and Annie make it back to the treehouse in time?? Let's find out! Really great stories, but yeah...third time, my friends.)
My 10-year-old son, a definite bookworm, is simply not interested in a book club. In fact, sitting down with a dozen buddies and talking about books just might fall into the Worst Idea Ever category. Even though he loves books and buddies. Just not his thing.
However...the great mother-child conversations that have grown out of my daughter's book club are pretty special, so of course I want to experience something like that with my boys. The connection is still the goal, but my approach is very different. Like so many things boy-related, my approach is deceptively casual and super stealthy.
We started by reading to him for years, even past the time he could handle a hefty book. Our favorites were always the books like Harry Potter and Peter and the Starcatchers, which combine adventure, suspense and (this is key!) humor.
I now try to keep up with what he's reading so I have at least a working knowledge of what he's enjoying. We go to the library regularly. We spend a small fortune at our favorite bookstore. We he finishes a book and stares at his bookshelf like an open fridge proclaiming he has NOTHING TO READ, I do some research and find a list of books to try. (As I mentioned in the other post: great resources include librarians, bookstores, online reading groups. Google is your BFF here.)
When he does find that cool/awesome/epic book, I ask questions. But only (and this is key too) only when we are doing something else like riding bikes or walking the dog, or shooting hoops in the driveway. If he's doing something else, it doesn't feel like homework...it feels like a casual conversation. And before we know it, he is relaying the cryptic plot of his latest Sci-Fi novel. Sometimes I have no idea what he's talking about. But he's talking! And he's so excited! And if I get lucky, I eventually catch on to a few basic details so I can ask relevant questions.
Sometimes I know the book well, and the conversation turns to wonderfully familiar ground. We fall back on inside jokes. He quizzes me on what kind of demigod I would be and why. He asks me for the thousandth time to name my favorite Harry Potter character. We agree that no matter your favorite character, we all pretty much want to be part of the Weasley clan.
And without even knowing it, without trying too too hard...we've suddenly had a really great, genuine mother-son moment. Very stealthy. Mrs. Weasley would be proud.
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Just as I did with my daughter's book club post, I've included some book ideas for boys. Some of the titles overlap, which is no surprise. Of course there's no such thing as Boy Books and Girl Books...but the following titles have been particularly popular with my son during his early elementary years.
1st/2nd Grade Dragonslayer’s Academy by Kate McMullan Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce Magic Tree House (series) by Mary Pope Osborne Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol Geronimo Stilton (series) by Geronimo Stilton Origami Yoda (series) by Tom Angleberger The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling Amulet (series) by Kazu Kibuishi Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick Guardians of Ga’hoole (series) by Kathryn Lasky Anything by Road Dahl
3rd/4th Grade The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis Holes by Louis Sachar The Mysterious Benedict Society (series) by Trenton Lee Stewart Savvy by Ingrid Law Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (honestly, just go ahead and buy the boxed set because they will read them over and over again for years.) The Wonderful O by James Thurber Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise Peter and the Starcatchers (series) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson Platypus Police Squad by Jarrett J. Krosoczka Wonder by R.J. Palacio Love from your friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Wildwood by Colin Meloy A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) by Lemony Snicket Hoot by Carl Hiaasen Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper Anything by Rick Riordan
Must-Have Reference Books for Boys Defending Your Castle by William Gurstelle Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden The Boys’ Book: How to Be the Best at Everything by Dominique Enright Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun by Elizabeth Foy Larsen, Joshua Glenn, Heather Kasunick and Mister Reusch
“Mom, did you know that I know what all the bleeped words are on the radio?" * “Mrs. McGuire, what does promiscuous mean?” * “Anachronistic?? No, I don’t know what it means but I love the word already!” * “What’s your definition of soon?” * “Ugh! We’ll see always means No.” * “Mama, you said I’m articulate? But I do NOT like being tickled.” * “Dad, there’s your funny and there’s our funny.” * “Do we still call it homework if we’re doing it on the bus and in the car?”
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Add your own in the comments!
Enough about me, let's talk about YOU, dear readers. Take a look at this 30-second video, then answer the question below.
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/58197444 w=500&h=881]
If you can't see this video, click here.
What's the first thought that popped into your head?
A. Wow, where DOES he get his fearless athletic abilities? B. You are so lucky to have a future Jackass star in the family! C. I think you skipped a chapter in the Great Parenting Handbook. D. Time to go all Tiger Mom and get this kid in a Pre-Olympic Training program. E. Thank God I have daughters. F. You call that cute? Wait til you see my kid doing aerials on rollerskates! G. Here’s the name of my personal-injury lawyer. Just in case. H. Pass the Xanax. I. Know what would be even cooler? Hooking up a helmet cam on that kid!
Things that are "ANNOYING" to a busy 8-year-old boy: • Mom’s No-Fart-Jokes-at-the-Dinner-Table rule • Double-knotted laces when I’m trying to rip off my shoes without untying them • Spelling rules • Spelling tests • Stupid pencils with no stupid erasers when I have to study for stupid spelling tests • Big sisters who think they know everything about mythology when really only I do • Little brothers who copy everything • When mom says he copies just because he wants to be like me • Sitting down to eat • Forks • Spoons • Napkins • When the coolest part of the creek has stagnant water that freaks Mom out • Learning a new video game • Turning off a video game when I just learned how to play it LIKE FIVE MINUTES AGO • Playing chase (or anything!) with girls who make up too many rules • Cleaning up my awesome Lego stuff on vacuum day • When superheroes get all mushy • Showering • Re-showering when I forget to wash my stinky parts • Toothbrushes and flossers that are supposed to make me like brushing and flossing • Socks • Alarm clocks • Having to hear the “Family Plan for the Day” • Anything that's not awesome
* * * If you liked this, check out Next Lesson: What is lame?
So this happens at least a few times every day around here...
Our future Cato ("My little yellow friend, I am home!") ducks into a shadow, waits for his prey, then pounces on some unsuspecting victim. The results? Often there are dropped bags, occasionally salty words, usually squeals of laughter. But no matter what, there is always, always a very satisfied 8-year-old boy.
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Speaking of surprises...the wonderful team at Build a Sign recently gave me some great ones. Build a Sign is the parent company for websites that cover all kinds of printing needs (MagnetsOnTheCheap, BannersOnTheCheap, SignsOnTheCheap, EasyCanvasPrints). Seriously, they do it all. EasyCanvasPrints offered to send me a canvas using a photo of my choice. My piece arrived this week and looks fantastic! The site was simple to use and the canvas quality impressive. They also printed up a new batch of my favorite Tami Taylor bumper stickers...the ones I have been giving away to readers since last year. If you missed the first batch, I'd love to send you one! Go here for details. Thanks for everything, Build a Sign!
Inspired? You might also like these posts about blast-offs, artificial intelligence and artistic vision.