Archive for the ‘Life as a kid’ Category

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what we can “give” to our kids versus what they develop on their own.

In some cases you lay out all the tools you possess right in front of them and wait for them to pick them up. (Manners, I am looking at you.)

[It’s kind of fascinating, if you have the distance to look at it like a documentary filmmaker. My internal narrator is nothing like David Attenborough, though – rather someone who is light on research and heavy on sarcasm.]

Anyway, this is a post about AM. He’s 11 now, more than halfway to 12, and has more than his share of self-possession. He’s passionate about math, games, and…tennis.

AM has been playing tennis for 2 1/2 years. His universe begins and ends with Roger Federer. He was kind of alarmed a few weeks ago when Taxman and I listed all the tennis stars we could think of, stretching back to the early ’80s. You mean, there was professional tennis before Roger Federer? (Not sure he believed us when we told him that racquets were made out of wood not that long ago.)

I used to play extremely casually from maybe age 10-14, meaning I would accompany my mom and stepdad to the tennis court as they played (also casually), or play on brick walls. I played at summer camp. I had an average forehand, a terrible backhand, and could volley decently. Somewhere along the line I learned how to serve, but could never put a lot of power behind it.

This casual approach to tennis is not something my son can understand. He’s in a group class twice a week with several friends. But class is only 45 minutes, so he shows up 45 minutes early and plays on an empty court with a buddy. Most Sunday afternoons, when he has nothing happening after school, he calls a friend and goes to play for an hour or more. After he burns through his screen time on his phone (which is restricted, BADLY), he plants himself in front of the computer to watch videos of…Roger Federer. Oh, and also Hawk-Eye shots. (The first time he mentioned these, I made a joke about M*A*S*H, but like I said, this kid is suspicious of anything that happened before 2005, so he refused to engage.)

A month ago he fell on his left hand as he was chasing a loose ball and sprained two fingers. He called me, crying, as his fourth and fifth fingers turned indigo, and we bundled him off to urgent care. Two weeks in splints. But no matter, he was back on the court the next week.

This weekend, he won his division (of 23 kids) in his tennis school’s fall tournament. He passed through the first round with no trouble, then had closer matches in the semi-final and finals. (Not real games, but scoring individual points on a narrow half-court – which actually requires a lot of control to stop from going wide.)

But here’s the thing: He’s not a natural athlete. He’s in good shape because he bikes everywhere and runs around like a lunatic at recess, but he is not gifted in this way. He’s not tall, nor exceptionally strong. Yet he’s managed to claw his way to the top tier of some athletic things. He captured the last spot on his school’s tiny track team – six 5th and 6th grade boys – and competed in our city’s road race in November.

Same for tennis: He’s put in hours and hours and drawn himself by sheer will to the next level of play. He’s not a graceful player – just fierce. He has a great forehand, but his backhand fails him sometimes.  He’s had to learn to contain himself in order to put the ball between those restrictive lines. He sometimes gets furious with himself or his opponent (though this is improving). He’s less Federer and more McEnroe, sometimes. (Ema, Ema, he would sigh, McEnroe is left-handed. I am not left-handed. My literal heart.)

He has grit. This isn’t something we taught him; he just has it. (It’s not going to turn him into a professional tennis player, though, so eventually I hope he will direct it elsewhere.)

It makes me a little jealous, as I don’t think I recall ever being on fire for something as much as he is for tennis. Does reading novels on the couch count? Does that take grit? I once plowed through Anna Karenina in four days.

So I just sit and marvel. And overlook the trail of racquets and balls and shoes that line my living room. It seems like the least I can do.


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My son, my precociously snarky and sarcastic (read: be careful what you wish for) 9-year-old has joined the ranks of Those Who Blow Off Mom’s Wise Words.

Where parents' best intention hang out during a child's second decade of life.

Where parents’ best intentions hang out during a child’s second decade of life.

Sadly, this was easy for me to recognize because I am a charter member of this cool club.

Which isn’t to say my mom didn’t have good advice. She did! And she still does. But somehow I thought I had to forge my own way.

So when my mom said: “Practice piano before I get home,” I did not.

When she said: “You’ll eventually regret giving up the piano,” I did. (Who thinks about being 30 when they are 12? Nobody, that’s who.)

When she said: “If you’re going to a liberal arts university, you should think about taking a wider range of classes,” I did not. Because who needs to understand economics? (Me, the asshole who thought I did not. Also you. And you.)

And so on.

I was really primed to recognize the advice brush off in my own kids, but I did not expect it to happen quite so soon. But here we are. Age 9-and-a-half.

Both of us ran in the local road race this past Friday. I struggled through a 5K, where I finished but with a rotten time after a hot summer and a dusty September cut deeply into my running times. I took up Pilates in the spring and did it twice a week all summer, which means that my core is fantastic, but it did not do a lot for my running pace. I probably have better posture as I plod along, so that’s good. Because I am old.

He ran 2.5 kilometers, which is 1,000 meters more than his last race (last November). We decided to run these races a couple of weeks ago, and I forced him through a few training runs. I paced him (slower than my own speed), gave him pep talks, and made sure he would be able to finish at the distance he selected. We stretched. We talked about not sprinting. Then on the actual day of the race it had rained overnight, so I gave him EVEN MORE ADVICE about the road conditions and how to cope.

If you're short and limber you have fewer worries about running in wet conditions. Ask me how I know.

If you’re short and limber you have fewer worries about running in wet conditions. Ask me how I know.

Then I had to send him into the chute by himself, surrounded by kids who were mostly in grades 6-12. We – Taxman and I – did not see him in the blur that passed us on the way up the first hill, but we noticed this clump of pounding feet was going really fast. Really, really fast.

We spotted him on his way back down the same street – his red shorts helped make him stand out – and waved frantically.

A few hours later we checked his results, and he had blitzed through this race in 12 minutes and 54 seconds.

(If I had gone at that pace I would be dead.)

Here I was, worried that the extra kilometer would cut into his sprinting jam, and I had tried to shut off his natural instincts in the name of pacing. Foolish me.

But I have a feeling the cult of “bad” advice will continue. I just can’t help myself.

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Here I am, ignoring actual news, to bring you the Funny Things My Kids Do.

So. AM is a fan of pop music. We listen to the radio in the car constantly, and the stations we hear play a combination of the latest hits with songs from every decade I’ve been alive. Not all of them got a ton of radio play in their time, actually, because they were not necessarily top 40 hits. So I get to hear Erasure and Depeche Mode and the Cure and Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd on the radio (since I no longer have the capacity to play cassette tapes), and proclaim that they are “classics.”

But then yesterday I messed up. I heard “Bulletproof,” by La Roux. It somehow took me back to an 8th grade dance party. “Listen to this,” I told my son. “You’ll like it. It’s a classic.” Except that it was released in 2009.

Today I admitted my mistake. “That’s not a classic!” he said, scornfully.

“I know,” I said. “I thought it was from the ’80s.”

“Can you find a song that’s really from the ’80s?”

So I searched on my phone and played him this. “It’s from 1985,” I told him.

“Are there songs from 1965?”


“What about from 1,000 years ago?”

“I am sure there are, but you can’t find them on YouTube.”

And that was the end of that.

photo credit: cassettes via photopin cc

photo credit: cassettes via photopin cc

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School days! We’ve finally settled into a routine, after the classic start-and-stop of the first two months, the exhausting back-and-forth of the chagim, schedule changes, and extra-curricular dalliances.

Unfortunately, with the predictability of our days comes more predictability: bitching about all the things.

Homework, music practice, chores, grooming requirements.

And the answer from me is always yes. Yes, you have to do these things. Yes, you have to do your homework; yes, you have to practice violin; yes, you have to unload the dishwasher; yes, you have to take a shower.

And I have to ask: Why is there such insane pushback, if I am so incredibly predictable?

(No, you cannot — watch tv, play on the computer, go to a friend’s, ride your bike — before you do your homework.)

I wish I could say that I want to instill excellent, lifelong study habits, or that I think homework is important or something, but it’s simply good sense. As the light outside falters, we all get tired and cranky. I don’t want to supervise homework in the inky dusk any more than they want to do it at that hour.

Not what is being demanded. photo credit: Caramdir via photopin cc

Not what is being demanded.
photo credit: Caramdir via photopin cc

So can’t we manage to do it without the complaining? Can’t I get through an afternoon without 300 repetitions of “homework, violin” in my robot voice? It should go without saying that the homework isn’t terribly onerous – 5 or 10 or 15 minutes most nights, but only when they don’t speed through it in class. A batch of spelling sentences once a week. Big tests always come with review sheets and a week’s worth of review time. An occasional brief research project with a 2-3 paragraph write-up.* But really, you’d think they were being forced to channel their inner Einsteins and then hand-chisel their answers on marble – then haul them to school, natch.

Come on kids, can’t we just do the damn work already? Before Groundhog Day comes around again tomorrow?

* The hardest part about this is not plagiarizing from the internet. I could regale them with tales of research projects in the old days, where you had to GO TO THE LIBRARY and USE CARD CATALOGS and there was no Wikipedia, but rather Britannica.

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My children are not particularly deceptive creatures. Or sometimes they try to be, but they’re not all that good at it. Miss M has been known to try to sneak books or other things by hiding them in the waistband of her skirt and then walking like Quasimodo. It’s actually rather amusing. For me, anyway. Not her, because she gets busted.

AM has a hard time not looking guilty, then gets extremely animated and defensive when questioned. Rather adorable: big blue eyes, opened wide to proclaim his innocence, gesticulating hands, the works.

So while they are sometimes mischevious, they are rarely devious, because that requires longer term deception and planning. So I suppose it’s rather good that I’m not raising people with pathological behaviors. (That would be a whole other blog post, no?)

But every once in a while, I just wonder…where their heads are.

Last Shabbat morning, I asked them to go brush their teeth. They didn’t right away, of course, because without my cajoling and/or threatening nothing gets done right away on Shabbat morning. There are books to read! Siblings to poke in the ribs!

(Heaven forbid I should get to shul before Torah reading starts–I mean, what would I do with myself?)

I finally decided to put toothpaste on their toothbrushes for them. Let’s get this party started!

Except: both toothpastes–yes, they each have a favorite–were liquidy. Diluted. What? I started interrogations.

So, tearful confessions; “I don’t want to lie to you, Ema, but I don’t want to get in trouble.”

Meanwhile, I can barely wrap my head around what they did. This is what comes of letting them have a Friday night sleepover, where they’re giggly and stupid and nonsensical. Also, I must bear some of the responsibility for this, as they’ve reached the ages of 6 and 8 and have no idea how toothpaste works. Because it’s not going to work if it doesn’t stay on the toothbrush. Toothpaste = water = useless.

So we had a nice little lecture about the price of toothpaste (AM’s Shrek-decorated Colgate for Kids is ridiculously expensive; no Target bargain bin here!), and how diluting it is the equivalent of diluting sunscreen (a concept they understood). And we were much later to shul then I intended.

But in the end? Before I could replace the toothpastes, yet another toothbrushing time rolled around. They sampled “grown up” toothpastes without the usual drama (crying “Oooh, it’s so SPICY!”) and each picked a favorite type. And, well, I’ll be. We’re back to being a two-toothpaste family. This was not the route to normal mint flavoring that I expected; I thought we were years and many bargaining sessions away.

Never a straight line, this parenting gig.

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So close! Yet…

Oh, the luxury! My children are finally in the same school!

Our schedules have streamlined; my goal of one solitary pickup time is holding steady, so far. AM finishes earlier than Miss M three times a week, but those holes will be filled in by English class and one day of what is, essentially, glorified babysitting. There is one day a week when Miss M finishes before AM, but I dismissed that with a wave. “You’re old enough to sit for 40 minutes and read or do your homework.” And so it is. (But first she volunteered her services to her teacher, who had her clean the dry-erase board and pick up trash from the floor. We won’t even discuss how I can’t get her to put her damn laundry in the hamper at home. Oh, wait, I just did.)

Everyone takes their lunch in reusable bags. Everyone has gym on Tuesdays. Everyone wears school shirts.

Everyone is thrilled to be dropped off at the corner across from school and be crossed by the crossing guards.

Everyone has homework.

And here is the wrench. Because first grade homework, at the moment, takes between 3 and 5 minutes. Third grade homework takes, predictably, more time. Getting Miss Distractable to sit and finish while Mr Accomplished is already done and on to the next activity is…challenging.

But at least we’re all heading in the right direction.


Hopscotch before the bell rang on the first day of classes. Look, Ma, no bickering!

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For a while now, AM has been into games. He wavers between playing fairly and some rat-like cheating, depending on his opponent and his mood. Mancala, pickup sticks, Monopoly, rummy, Rummikub, war, checkers–the usual suspects.

But of late he’s fallen in with a group of older boys at our synagogue. (“Older” = older than Miss M…so 3rd grade?) They gather on a strip of grass outside the building, trying to flip cheap cards made from flimsy cardboard and doing some complicated hand gesture-y thing that reminds me of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

I find the whole thing odd. The game, his obsession with it, and especially the other boys’ willingness to include him, a kindergartener. He holds his own in the game–whatever that means–so he’s not being used as a patsy. Do they need a fourth player? Do they appreciate that he won’t cry if he loses (I mean, usually)? I am kind of afraid to ask–not that I could possibly come up with something to say to them, even if my Hebrew or their English were better.

At least he’s not running into the street, I tell myself. Not that I haven’t trusted him not to do that for a long time. But it makes me a little crazy that this is his motivation to go to synagogue now–to the exclusion of all regular synagogue activities, like, you know, praying. Of course, saying this out loud makes me sound like an uptight ass: he’s 6; he can barely read; there’s time to learn how to sit and to read the prayers and to get familiar with the tunes.

But I’d at least like the level of interest he had a month ago! (The children’s service on Saturday; the melodic parts of Friday night’s service.)

By now, though, I’m pretty comfortable with my role as the parent who is “strict” and demands a certain amount of age-appropriate participation in…whatever. Synagogue services, housekeeping, table manners, etc. It’s a long list. This is how you learn!

So now I have to figure out some sort of bribe-reward system for how much tefila is required before he is allowed to play craps in the alley. As it were.

As for the 3rd grade boys who dress for Shabbat but never actually cross the threshold of the synagogue? It’s totally not my business, other than to try to inspire my kindergartener to make room in his busy schedule for games and for prayers.

You mess with the bull, you get the horns–you know what I’m sayin’?

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