The 6-year-old vs. The Black Bean
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.
* * *
Like this? Share it with a friend! Don't want to miss a thing? Subscribe to my feed! xoxo, Liz
Today my oldest child started middle school and my youngest started kindergarten. Go ahead and ask me how I’m doing. If you were here in person you wouldn’t have to ask because my red, blotchy eyes say it all. My middle child, however, is earning Golden Boy status because the only mama drama he has generated lately are tears of relief that his class is filled with his closest buddies. As if that weren’t enough, last night he hugged me and thanked me, unprompted, for a really awesome summer. I mean seriously.
At bedtime my 5-year-old explained how he did NOT want to go to kindergarten in the morning. He wanted to stay home with me and the dog and play Legos all day. Deep breath. I promised that he would have fun. That his teacher practically invented fun.
“Yeah, Ok,” he replied, “But what about the missing you part?”
Then I went to tuck in my almost 12-year-old, who had been holding it together and keeping herself busy all day. I crawled into bed with her, and her voice caught when she spoke. “I’m nervous. It’s a big day, Mom.”
“Yes, it is,” I said. “It’s a big day, but it’s also just a day. There are lots of things that will be familiar....You have been to school before (you are great at school). You have had new teachers before and you’ve made new friends before. You have eaten in a cafeteria and carpooled and rode a bus and you’ve even spent an entire day last spring at this school. You know you can do this because you’ve done much of it before.”
That seemed to help. And after a few more curtain calls, all three of them were asleep.
And then the house got quiet and my own tears came. Big, fast ones that came bursting from that deep pool reserved for all things maternal.
“It’s too much,” I told Hubs. “I’m not ready for all this change.”
He rubbed my back and said, “It’s a big day, but it’s also just a day.”
“You’ve taken them to school before. You’ve said goodbyes. You’ve walked away. You’ve worked without a swirl of kids around you and you’ll remember how to do it again. You’ve had a quiet house before and you’ll remember how to enjoy it again. You might even remember how to have lunch with friends. You know you can do this because you’ve done much of this before. And...you’ve given them a really awesome summer.”
Yes. Yes. True.
But what about the missing them part?
* * *
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.
* * *
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
Remember those several minutes at the party store? The ones in between choosing party favors and picking up balloons? Remember how we walked by the rows and rows of crazy hats and of course had to try on every last one? Remember how each hat solicited a ridiculous accent: an Arrghh matey or a Take me to your master or an I say ole chap? Remember how y’all skipped and sang and wanted to put on an impromptu play? Remember how I was right there with you, in the thick of it, ignoring both my lice phobia and the raised eyebrows of employees? Remember how much we laughed? Remember spinning and curtseying and doh-see-dohing? Remember how easy it was? Remember how it felt just like summer should feel and that we weren’t in a rush to do anything besides goof around in someone else’s air conditioning? I remember. I also remember what happened only minutes later, though honestly I’d rather forget it. Can we go ahead and forget about it? Let’s forget about the mother of all tantrums that happened in the balloon line. Let’s forget about standing in the SLOWEST BALLOON LINE IN THE HISTORY OF ALL BALLOON LINES with a 4-year-old at my ankles kicking and screaming like a lunatic while dozens of families try not to stare. Let’s forget about the sweat beading up on my forehead and dripping down my shirt as I tried to stand firm and not overreact to the animal-child clawing at my feet. Let's forget about how trapped I felt--wanting to bolt but knowing this was our last chance to buy Very Important Birthday Balloons. Let's forget how much I hated my life right then. Let’s forget about the obscenities I screamed in my head. Let’s forget that I was That Mom.
Let’s forget about exiting the store with a gnashing, thrashing child slung over my shoulder, the sun bright on the cheery bouquet of balloons dancing above our heads. Let’s forget about waiting in the car until the screaming stopped. Let’s forget it was 103 degrees and that half the air conditioner vents were inexplicably blowing hot air on us.
Can we agree to forget about it all? I didn’t think so. Because really, who are we kidding? It will go down in my memory with spectacular and horrifying detail. And honestly the only reason that’s fine is because I also remember, with equal clarity, a summer afternoon a mere six years ago, in a similar store with a similar 4-year-old throwing an eerily similar tantrum.
And that child outgrew the fits. That child learned to be mostly reasonable. That child was eventually allowed to return to shopping centers with me. And you, my little Tasmanian devil, will learn too. And some day, in the very, very distant future, I will take you back to the party store. And when I do, we will head straight for the crazy hat aisle.
Today I found this drawing during a marathon cleaning spree in which I sorted through mountains of kid artwork, school papers and various other junk that has been collecting for months. A year if I'm completely honest. And by "sorted" I mean actually removing rather than just moving the mountains. The marathon was made entirely possible by the fact that the kids are spending the week away with their grandparents. I love a good purge and am happy to report that a.) I can now see the entire floor of my office and b.) Nothing was living underneath the piles. A week ago I might have interpreted this little scrap of green paper with a raised eyebrow and a flash of concern. I might have tucked away the lightsabers (out of sight, out of mind) or accidentally broken the stick that has become The Best Shooter Gun ever. These weapons! I can't escape them. Yes, it's a natural phase for boys. And yes, we do our best to keep their play focused on imagination, not violence. But still, enough with all the blasting, shooting, killing and lasering. I cannot take another bit of it.
But that would have been me last week.
This week, I stumbled across the drawing and immediately thought, "Oh my sweet boy! Are you sending me a hug from afar? I miss and love you too!"
Sometimes a little distance is all we need.
The best part? When I subtract the refereeing, the negotiating, the juggling...I'm able to add more "Sure! Why not?" And suddenly the kid beside me, and the mother inside me, are completely and happily whole.
* * *
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?
• Shoes that are not flip-flops • Any non-beige food item • Books involving happy bunnies • Carseats • Running errands without a lightsaber or other weapon • Having your photo taken • Leaving the house when Mom seems rushed • Television shows designed for 3-year-olds • Lego sets designed for 3-year-olds • Costumes that don't come with a laser blaster because Mom didn't special order it • Shirts with collars • Shorts with snaps • Going into the school classroom • Leaving the school playground • Washing hands "when I only went pee!" • Getting into the bath • Getting out of the bath • Sleeping • Waking • All of the Star Wars movies except "the hot lava one that I'm not allowed to watch." • Mom's no-gum-til-I'm-four rule • Catching bread when it pops out of the toaster instead of reaching in and grabbing it. • Drawing with anything but Sharpie markers
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.
* * *
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!
Sometimes you just need to put your truest feelings into song... [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/49523330 w=500&h=281]
If you can't see this video, click here.
* * *
In other exciting video news...the videos from Austin's Listen to Your Mother show are now online, along with the nine other U.S. cities. There is so much talent and goodness here! Pour yourself a cup of whatever, dive in and enjoy!
What you should know about this photo:
1. This scene happens every single day around here.
2. I feel something new every time I look at it: joy, admiration, empathy, gratitude, love. And today: jealousy.
* * *
Like this? You might like these too. My kids have a knack for teaching me something new about mothering, focusing or injecting playfulness in an ordinary moment.
Inspired? You might also like these posts about blast-offs, artificial intelligence and artistic vision.