Sunday, November 28, 2010

We have a daughter, too, who gets short shrift like 24/7

Thirteen and a half months ago, I gave birth to a healthy, sweet, and dare I say, perfect little daughter. And no lie, it has taken me just about that long to finally catch my breath! At long last I feel like my old self again. I haven't mentioned my once-troubled marriage in awhile, and I think that old adage "no news is good news" definitely fits. We're really good, actually. Finally. Whew. Survival Mode is officially over. Now I think I can finally process it all.

If I'm honest, I do have some regrets. Which sucks. I regret not reading to DD more, not holding her more; not trying to co-sleep a little longer than we did - we had our reasons at the time, but I regret the fact that DD is not quite as cuddly as I assumed every baby would be, like her older brother was and is. Her room is not even fully decorated yet - and decor is one of my passions!

DH admitted to me the other day that it took him about a year to really, truly form a bond with DD. And I hate to say it, but it took me awhile, too.

I feel like so many of my posts have been about my firstborn. When I was a new parent reading other parent bloggers it always seemed like their first child was their favorite because it was all they ever really talked about. Now I get it. So I want to write a few things about DD that make us smile: (bragging alert)

* She is seriously a beautiful kid. (I know, every parent thinks that. But seriously, a part of me does worry about her being way too cute in this life, and how this might have a negative impact on her ability to be treated fairly in some future corporate-type career. Silly, I know.)
* The girl can eat like a champ! And she demands to hold large pieces of food by herself, and run around with them like she did recently with the turkey leg at Thanksgiving.
* She walked ridiculously early, and now she is such an amazingly graceful little toddler. She can go up and down the stairs all by herself, she can carefully climb pretty much anything, as well as open and close the back door to let the dogs out upon request. People always think she is older than she is because of it - especially when she walked into the exam room at her 9 mos. check-up. The dr. (a father of 4) could not believe his eyes.
* She is a by-the-book sleeper. Yes, THAT book. The same one I fucking hated when I read it back in 2007 for some other child who shall remain nameless. Eff you, Doktor Wize Blue Tooth!
* Her first name is something that most dumbass Americans cannot seem to pronounce, even though it looks just like it sounds. Hooked on phonics didn't work for us. On the bright side, it is a top 25 name currently in most of the countries in western Europe, so hopefully she won't seem so stereotypically American when she backpacks around the globe someday.
* Her poops are the smelliest things DH and I have ever had the privilege of smelling. For real.

Brag to me about yours - and show some love to those later-born kids.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bilingual vs. Regular School

School options here in Podunkville are extremely limited. When the time comes to enroll DS into K only 2 short years from now, there are 2 local public school districts we could select from; either of which are basically good enough for me & mine, but neither is perfect (alas, exactly as it is with most things in life!!)... There are also loads of Christian schools and one Catholic school that honestly don't provide a very good non-religious education, and there is also a strong homeschooling community - which I personally don't have the teaching skills nor the intestinal fortitude to manage. So public school it will almost certainly be.

We live in WA state, and there is a choice program through which you can apply to send your kids to a school outside of your home district. You provide the transport - not a problem, because we live close enough to Away District, where DH works. Here is our dilemma:

Away District has a robust bilingual elementary school (English/Spanish) that gets awesome reviews on the language instruction, but not very good reviews on any of the other subjects. But most disturbingly, the discipline program Away District uses is not one that is based upon any research whatsoever; it's not among the recommended programs approved by the Federal Department of Education, and it has gotten the panties of many of the local parents who are professionals so extremely bunched up as to make me think the people on the school board are actually trying to get voted out of office. In a nutshell, the way the discipline program works is that kids are incentivized to tell on each other and have other kids get sent to time out (they call it something else though) for "interfering with their learning." The discipline piece of the puzzle is a total shitshow that everyone hates... except the part where the kids are learning their non-native language so amazingly well tends to make up for it enough in some friends' minds.

Home District has a discipline program that nobody bitches about. Test scores are about the same, for whatever that is actually worth. Class sizes are much smaller. I like how they break up the grades into different schools, so there are elementary schools, an intermediate school, the jr high, then a high school with grades 10-12. The smaller Home District high school doesn't offer as many AP classes as the larger Away District 's high school does, but then again due to a smaller size, there are fewer kids falling through the proverbial cracks. There is no bilingual education for English-speaking students to learn Spanish, apart from standard high school Spanish classes which IMHO by then it is way too late to ideally start learning a foreign language. In short, it is more like a run of the mill, average suburban/rural American public school.

Why am I thinking about something I don't need to even think about until 2 years from now? Because if we want to choice in to Away District, I've been advised to meet right now with the very nice principal at the bilingual school so that he is familiar with our family, in case they decide in the future to no longer accept choice applications. (I'm told in a small town, it can't hurt to actually know someone, and that has always proven true for us so far.) That idea has been bounced around so they can appear more "selective"- because right now so many of the higher SES in-district students have opted-out of the school, either because ideologically, they are on the political right and don't want to encourage anyone to speak anything but English in this country, or they are afraid the discipline program is going to scar their children and/or cause the kids to hate school, or they are really religious or feeling like homeschooling is the way.

Oh, and I should also say that my kids' babysitter speaks to them in her native Spanish a lot of the time she watches them, which is 3 days/week.

Give a sister your thoughts, please.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I finally feel like I have actual friends in this town!

You all know I've had a lot of insecurity about making friends in Podunkville. I swear, for the longest time I was feeling like I had one, maybe two real friends in this wacky little town we've been calling home for the last 28 months. Early on, I met a few douchey types who were haters and had issues. I can't stand Mean Girl stuff, and like Flock of Seagulls, I ran, I ran so far away at the first whiff of it. (Sing along if you like.)

So I waited, and watched, and accepted invitations to shit I really didn't want to go to where they were reading books I didn't want to read, and selling things I didn't want to buy, and I just diligently, genuinely tried to get to know as many people as I could.

I got obsessive about remembering people's names & stories & little tidbits of info about their lives, and I wrote lots of thank you notes and sent lots of random emails & texts of things like 'hey, this reminded me of you,' and of my gratitude, and openness to new friendships, and I brought dinner to people I hardly knew when they had babies or were sick, and I remembered birthdays, and I got involved in some charities... Soon I was going to the park, and to baby showers, and to happy hours where I knew several of the people and they knew me, and small talk became so much less awkward.

Then one day (last Friday actually) I'm sitting there at dinner... with 13 local women who all showed up to take me out on the town for my birthday. I could not fucking believe it, but I actually have made some real friends here. I went into the ladies room and looked at myself in the mirror in disbelief. Finally!!! I'm not anonymous anymore in this town. People would actually notice if I went missing.

If you would have told me that this time last year & even a few months ago, when I seriously thought there was something wrong with me because nothing was clicking with anyone, I never would have believed you. BUT... let's be real, I'm not going around flying my atheist flag in people's faces, and we're definitely not talking politics... and I have to say, things are very pleasant, and finally feel comfortable about it.

Anyway. "Keep putting yourself out there" and "give of yourself" turned out to be damn spot on advice.

Thank you to all my bloggy friends who have been here for me, listening to my cursing and whining, and reassuring me that I wasn't a total loser.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Discipline... it takes a lot of work

October was the month when pretty much the entire world started telling us that our delightful little 3-year-old needed some discipline. DH has been trying to tell me that for some time now, and I was in denial. Not anymore. When his sweet babysitter who takes care of him 3 days a week told me in tears that she thought he needed some discipline because he called her a "fucking bitch" who is "not my mama" and can't tell him what to do as he threw blocks at her and his baby sister, and screamed "nooooo" whenever she asked anything of him... um, yeah. I knew we needed to get serious about it. Did I mention she raised 3 kids of her own, so this is not some childless ninny who has never dealt with a kid throwing a tantrum-- she knows her shit about kids. That was quite a wake-up call.

So pretty much that's what I've been doing with my free time lately, instead of blogging and enjoying the blogs of others. But I'm back now. Allow me to share what I've been learning.

We started off by incorporating what seems to be the most popular discipline method these day: The Time Out. I found the book "1,2,3 Magic" at the thrift store, read it in about 20 minutes, and discovered it is really easy method to do, and seems to work as long as DS is not supertired. Don't go buy the book though, seriously here is all you need to know: Kid does something you want him to STOP doing. You say "That's 1." He continues? You say "That's 2." He keeps doing it? You say "That's 3. Take 5." (All of this is said calmly and without anger, BTW, with no other talking and explanations on your part.) Then you escort him to time out. Serious infractions like hitting and pushing are an immediate "That's 3. Take 5." Rinse. Repeat. In our house, the time out area is the back porch outside, because there is no way my son will sit still on a step or on the sofa. And he certainly won't go to time out on his own.

We actually had success with this method in terms of teaching that certain behavior has consequences. He says "fucking bitch" or pushes down his baby sister = he goes to time out, and we know he gets it.

That all being said, I had some reservations about the use of Time Outs generally based on conversations I have had over the last several years with certain child psychologists and parents I know. One of my best friends is an expert in this area, and I went to her and described what was going on in my home. Her opinion is that Time Outs in general do help to protect children from potentially greater harms like spanking and verbal/emotional abuse, and they are useful for parents who have multiple children and not a lot of time to talk with and to work individually with each child; but they are not the ideal method, especially for dealing with boys. (Ouch!) Her belief is that Time Outs risk teaching kids that when they are feeling these kinds of out-of-control, big scary emotions, the people who love them most will withdraw from them and make them be by themselves because they can't handle the child and don't accept them at that moment. And that sense of rejection over time, and the inability to work together with their parents on managing those tough emotions can allegedly hurt a child's emotional development. (Definitely food for thought, but not what I wanted to hear. I'd ideally like a quicker fix - note above the time-crunched parents... yep, that's me!)

She suggested instead of putting him in Time Out every time he crosses the line, we should think about incorporating some therapeutic techniques to help teach him emotional self-regulation. Things like proper breathing from the diaphragm, using words to name the emotion he is experiencing, role playing with dolls, and doing art together. At first my thought was "this is kind of touchy feely for me, but I'm willing to give it a try"... and now I'm glad I did, because I have been pleasantly surprised. DS has really enjoyed the art we have been doing with him - things like getting a crayon and paper and asking him to draw a bunch of circles to show opposite emotional states: "draw HAPPY!!, ok, now draw sad." "draw EXCITED!!, now draw bored." etc. It has been interesting. And I have noticed that he is a bit more aware of the effect of his behavior on others, and a bit more able to explain what he is feeling in a much more verbal way. Who would have thought that therapeutic play could work so quickly? My friend suggested a book for me about children's art therapy for laypeople that I hope to read for more activities for us to do.

The final lesson we've been trying to incorporate is to remember to give attention to, and to realistically praise his "good" behavior. Like those rare moments when he is quietly playing with a toy for awhile, we try to remember to give him the same level of attention we would give him if he were doing something "naughty" like trying to throw that toy through the window. I have seen many parents who only really pay attention to misbehavior because it is so hard to ignore - but it is challenging to remember to notice the good behavior, too: the sharing, the respectful play, the spontaneous kisses he gives his sister when he thinks no one is watching...

Anyway, it has been quite a journey for all of us this month, and I'm happy to say I'm feeling better about DS and his current place in the world as a spirited, determined, sharp little dude.

Your thoughts?