How do you build persistence?

I walked into Brighton Music Center last week. I thought I would be carrying a big bulky cello with me to return the rented instrument. For the past several months, Super Tall Guy has said “I’m quitting” every single week after cello and then orchestra practice at school. Every single week. “I hate missing recess” (happens rarely). “I hate taking it on the bus” (not even once a week does he do that). “I’m not going to practice” (that’s true – he hardly ever took it out of his case at home).

And every week, I would reply, “You can’t quit yet. You chose this instrument. You have to stick to your commitment until your concert in January.”

The next rental payment was due the day before the concert. Super Tall Guy spent the day grumping, “I’m not going to wear those shoes, they’re too tight.” “I’m not dressing up.” “I don’t have any dressy long pants.” “I’m wearing my tennis shoes.” “I’m not going to the concert.”

I wondered if it would be okay to return the instrument the day after the concert. We’ve never had an instrument in the house other than the piano which is definitely out of tune and woefully neglected by the only individual who can create a tune on it. I just didn’t want to pay a month’s worth for just two days of cello use.

The day of the concert was the first day of real snow of the season and we braced ourselves against the wind walking to the auditorium. Kids wandered up and down the aisles. Parents searched for rows that had enough empty seats to meet their “save me a seat” requirements.

Tuned and ready!

Tuned and ready!

Super Tall Guy meandered to the front to join the throng of kids waiting to have instruments tuned by very patient music teachers.

And then they began. It took a few notes, but soon each song became recognizable. Most of these third graders started four months ago without any musical ability. It was not until last month that they started to use the bow rather than just plucking the strings. It’s an impressive feat for a music teacher to turn 70 rambunctious 8 and 9-year-olds into musicians.

“Well, Super Tall Guy,” I queried as we stepped out into the night, “What did you think?” “It wasn’t bad” – and voila, we’re not taking the cello back yet, I thought to myself!  “Maybe some day you’ll be playing Cello Wars Lightsaber Duel!” “Nah, it makes blisters on my fingers.” Ah, sigh….

I’ll just rejoice in the fact that I’m plopping down a check on the music store counter instead of an instrument and hold out hope that he’ll persist for a bit longer with the cello (maybe at least until the Spring Concert). And I’ll be grateful for a passionate music teacher who inspires new musicians, a committed homeroom teacher that sends reluctant kids down the hall to practice, great music stores that make it possible to try instruments, and a school that supports musical arts. And the PianoGuys who end their Cello Wars video with the Jedi Mind Trick “you will start cello lessons now”….

It worked.

New Year’s First Week


If you’re a mom and fighting a cold, you might just close your eyes while sitting on the couch in the middle of the afternoon.

And if you close your eyes after a long week of work and the end of the first-week-back-to-school, you might just fall asleep.

And if the single mom falls asleep as it gets closer to five o’clock, the resourceful unsupervised boys might just make their own dinner.

And if two young boys decide to make their own dinner, they might just pour out a wrappersbowl of cereal and head upstairs with a large number of Hershey Kisses piled on top.

And if the boys are wise enough to know that they’ve taken far too many “treats” they might just try to hide the wrappers in their bathroom.

And if the boys mention getting some more treats as they walk past the couch, they might just wake up their mother who then decides to explore the little house and see what the boys have been up to during her absence.

And if the mom finds evidence of all this unhealthy eating, she might just send the little squirts off to their room for a break so that she can sit down on the couch.

New Year’s Resolution number whatever – beware the first week of January. It will knock you hard. Respect it. Respect the disruption it holds on your life. Respect the toll of exhaustion on little bodies as they try to “align” themselves with the routine again. Respect the stress on your own life as you readjust to work and wade through all that has piled up in your absence. Be more patient with those little creatures and with yourself. Rest more. Forgive more. Remember that it’s okay to say no to good things.

Do you know why parents have to talk to each other so much? They have to float ideas out there to make sure they’re not crazy. “Seems to me that a 7:00 pm practice is a bit late for a 6-year-old….” “Oh, yes.” “I know, right? It just throws off our whole evening!” “Uh, hmmm.” Check, yep, I’m right. We’re going to have to start skipping those late evening basketball practices and get a bit more sleep.

I think Mr. Ornery hit yellow on his behavior chart the second day back to school because he’s not back in the rhythm yet.” “Oh, yes. I’ve had to wake my kid up every day.” “I know, right? I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on him for having a rough time at school.

New Year’s Resolution next in number – support one another through those crazy stressful times. Encourage each other and take naps as often as you can!




Assumptions about Super Tall Guy – wrong again…

You know … you really have to watch your assumptions when you’re a parent. With this opening line, I could go anywhere, couldn’t I? But I shall try to tie this in.

Super Tall Guy is an extraordinarily shy guy. At least he seems to be. At least that is my assumption about him…built on a vast number of facts such as hiding behind my body on too many occasions to count, refusing to speak to someone that I am conversing with, and many other examples. However, every once in awhile, he isn’t shy and I am generally taken aback and don’t know how to respond.

This weekend we had a sunny and warm Saturday morning (wow – mid November!) meer catand so we strolled along the zoo enjoying the quiet of the morning. We eventually stumbled into the Polar Bears’ Birthday Party (who knew that Koda and Kobe are 8 and 11 years old….but I can’t remember which is which). All the crafts and activities and yet Super Tall Guy was Super bored until Radio Disney said they were going to have a hulu-hoop contest. He raised his hand and bounced “pick me, pick me.” I stood awestruck and watched him go forward. He easily won the first round – probably since the Little Guy was one of the 2 opponents, and then he went head-to-head against a very graceful school-aged girl. He was quite disappointed to lose. I was quite shocked to watch him compete. It was touching on the way home when he mumbled in the back of the van, “I was sad not to win the hulu hoop.” I still shook my head in disbelief and said, “I’m proud of you for getting up there.”  Where does this come from?

I was just as shocked last month as we started to leave the great party welcoming the Big Yellow Rubber Duck to Pittsburgh. As we attempted to skirt past throngs of people, we were approached by a man with a microphone near a canopy tent. He asked if we’d like to participate in his documentary. I laughed and began to move on when Super Tall Guy said “yes” and stopped. I paused and said to myself, “we’ll just see if this actually works!” So he asked what the rubber duck means to us and Super Tall Guy smiled, pulled me down to his height and whispered in my ear. I repeated his words and moved on thinking “well, that’s on the editing room floor!”  So – check it out (warning…we’re at the end….but it really is an interesting short piece.)

My other big really bad, definitely more significant mistaken assumption over the past couple weeks was related to Super Tall Guy’s first grade homework. For the month of October, they were expected to memorize Psalm 100. It’s a long one and I didn’t really understand it as homework and really thought that STG wouldn’t be interested in memorizing and wouldn’t have the brain-power to do so. Hence, I never reviewed the verse with him at home. Tuesday, the 30th, he lay in bed before falling asleep and recited the whole thing. I pounced on him with joy. He said “do that again,” and I body-slammed him again! (apparently this is the kind of praise that he likes). I confessed my apathy to his teacher the next day at the conveniently scheduled parent-teacher conferences and I promised in my head that I would never underestimate him again (until I do) and would do better at working with him on homework (until I don’t).

But reflecting on these few examples tonight makes me realize how I shape his experiences based on my assumptions of what he will and will not like. I love that he surprises me, but I hope that I’m not denying him some really fun and rich experiences based on my own judgment call. More importantly, I need to be wary of not challenging him to his fullest potential, but to expect the world of him …. and body-slam him whenever he proves me wrong.

Parenting Haikus….which I repeat….and repeat….

My sister and I often wonder why we actually have to tell these boys certain things. Aren’t they supposed to be born with some basic survival instinct? Some basic fear of heights? Some understanding of the physics of dropped or propelled objects? Did they miss some lesson prenatally or are they just little boys?

I’m often wondering if they come with a built-in audio-processing center or if their only way to learn is kinesthetic and/or experiential. And if they do in fact have two auditory processing units protruding from the sides of their heads, do these devices only transmit information once it hits a critical threshold of a certain number of repetitions? Or can increasing the volume of the auditory stimulation help convey the message better?IMG_5941

These are some pretty intense scientific questions which I’ve been researching for the past 7 years, 4 months, and 12 days. I’ve even increased the number of randomized subjects to see if there’s consistency in my research findings.

But the only true consistency that I have discovered is that the following phrases flow from my mouth at least once every….single……..of …….life!!

Seriously, boy
You did what with that apple?
Bottom step, time out!

No balls in the house
Stop throwing at the mantel
You break it, you’re done. (especially if you hit the little fish tank!)

Don’t suck the exhaust
Get away from that tail pipe
That stuff will kill you.

Get in and buckle
There’s no climbing in the car
One, two, three clicks now!   (every single time we get in the car….ahhhh!)

No blowing bubbles
Make the mess, you clean the mess
Get the paper towels. (thanks, Godmother, for sending those straw cereal bowls)

Sit at the table
Or your dinner will be gone
Boy, I said sit down! (I know you act better at the table at day care)

We don’t splash in tubs.
You get water on this floor
And you’re outta there.

Time to get three books
Okay, now you’ve lost one book
Hurry up, or no books!

Pee, wash hands, brush teeth
And I mean in that order
Pee, wash hands, brush teeth.  (repeat x 10)

Stop talking to me
I’m not listening anymore
I’m an introvert!!!

I love you, my boy.
Forever, and for always,
And no matter what.  (goodnight kiss)


How my 4-year-old Tries to Torture Me

“Give me rules

I will break them

Give me lines

I will cross them”

I paid attention to the words of the song “More like Falling in Love” by Jason Gray today.  This is my Noah:  “Oh, I’m sorry, Mom – did I just walk right over your line?”  “Did you really mean ‘no’ or was that just a little suggestion?” “You’re kidding? You’ve told me a 100 times not to touch your dental floss…that stuff that goes on and on forever?”

I was out of town last week for an overnight. I struggled with going away. I miss the boys. I know that I will miss the boys. I also know that it is delicious to have a night away – I slept until 7:20 – and could have gone back to sleep if I didn’t have a meeting to get to.

So Micah was on strict orders to “be good for Grandma” as he is the one who often gets off-kilter when the schedule changes up in any way. In fact, I told him that if he did behave, I would reward (read “bribe”) him with a Nerf gun to play with our good friends that we were going to visit for the 4th. As Nerf toys generally “disappear” in a household where we “don’t shoot people” (why is that such a hard concept for little boys to understand?!?!), this “reward” seemed quite enticing to him.

In fact, when I returned on Tuesday, Gammie reported that “Micah was an angel”….. “your Noah, on the other hand, was a terror.” Oh, so I had this confused. Apparently (I learned from my mother), Noah has decided that the fact that “everybody loves my curly hair” now gives him total and complete leeway to “break the rules and cross the lines.” He really is stinkin’ cute, but….

Now I hate to start invoking the “second child” phenomenon as I am one (and thereby close to perfect!)….but this little 4-year-old is certainly working on creativity.

Not only does he talk nonstop – as evidenced in last week’s “bonus post” (which makes up for this week’s late post?) – but he is the most frequently occurring name on the House Damage List, particularly in the broken glass domain.

He is the sneak who drops candy wrappers behind the couch.

He is the voice in Kenny’s ear telling him to “push that button,” “pull that string,” touch the forbidden fruit.

He is the whine of “Micah hit me, pushed me, pulled my hair, did something to me that I don’t even know but seems like a good way to get a bit of attention.”

He is also becoming nightmarish at bedtime:

Me: “Pee, wash hands, brush teeth” – my nightly mantra (trying to reinforce this proper order)
Read books, Say prayers, Tuck in
N: bounce up, jump out of bed, walk out the door
Me: Tuck in
N: jump out of bed
Me: Threaten time-out
N: jump out of bed
Me: Ignore
N: wake up Seth and Micah
Me: (face red) threaten anything that pops into my brain
N: follow me down the stairs
Me: close door to the upstairs and fume
N: pound on door

Repeat the cycle until I wise up and walk away. I usually just ignore bumps and bangs and groans, unless followed by blood-curdling noises. An hour or two later, I get up and go try to find him. I’m developing a nice photo album called “Noah Sleeps” – on the floor, on the stairs, on his bed, on Micah’s bed, on my bed, did I mention on the stairs?IMG_9066

Last night I heard him sobbing and I went up to find out what was wrong.  He stood naked at the top of the stairs (why?!?) and sobbed, “I fell down the stairs.”  Unfortunately, I was not really in a very sympathetic mood as we had just had 3 or 4 rounds of the above chorus, but he was clearly traumatized by an unknown number of tumbles and melted my heart when he said “I need a hug.”

For he is also the little guy who when I call to check in the night I’m out of town says, “Mommy, I still love you.” The one who plays with me back-and-forth a little game of who loves who more (but not in the creepy pathological way of Disney’s Tangled movie!). The one who tries really hard to get his fingers into the “I love you” sign position and then calls out, “look, Mommy.” The one who demands that I sit next to him every morning for his cup of milk and a good snuggle.

My incredibly sweet torturer. Wonder what tomorrow holds?

Never Violence

“The following story was written by Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author best known for her “Pippi Longstocking'” books. I’d like to share it with you.

When I was 20 years old, I met an old pastor’s wife who told me when she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking – the first of his life. And she told him that he would have to go outside and find a switch for her to hit him with.

The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock you can throw at me.”

All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child’s point of view; that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy onto her lap and they both cried.

Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever, never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because violence begins in the nursery.

Thought for the day: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”  (Mahatma Gandhi)”

I am working at least 15-20 hours a week on trying to establish a non-profit crisis nursery in Pittsburgh (mostly late into the night after the boys are tucked into beds….and disrupted almost nightly by Micah coming down to find me so that I can “retuck” him into MY bed!).  One of the women on my Executive Team found the story above and shared it with the crisis nursery team yesterday.

When I read it last week, I was so touched and moved by the power of the message, that I spoke to the team further, my eyes glistening with passion.  It is important that we all remember never to use violence with children, no matter which way it is done (words, hands, switches, rocks).  Yet the rock can also be viewed in a positive light – it is the building block, the foundation, upon which a new idea like a crisis nursery can be built.

I’m also reminded of a quote by Albert Schweitzer, “Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly, even if they roll a few stones upon it.”  I paraphrase this as, whenever we are working on a big project for the good of others, there will likely be boulders in our way and we must find ways to overcome them and move on.  We are not guaranteed an easy work in this world.

Charlie, the pet rock

Charlie, the pet rock

And, of course, if you add “googley” eyes to a rock (and maybe a splash of color), then the rock becomes a pet capable of receiving loving caresses from young boys as they carry Charlie around the house.  Fortunately, Charlie makes very few messes and has an insignificant food budget.

I took a box of rocks of all shapes and sizes to the group so that the team members could choose one if they like. Some did and some didn’t.  I don’t know what symbolism the rock will hold for them today, tomorrow or next year.

But I do know that the one I chose is in the shape of a heart (using your imagination)

My heart rock
My heart rock

and it’s not at all perfect (just like me), but it sits on my desk – a symbol of the heart of my boys and my very important job to love them with all my heart and protect them with all my strength.

Quiet time

I do try to encourage some independent play in the boys, despite my almost daily use of the electronic babysitter.  I don’t think I was very good about doing that when the boys were young, so now that they’re a little older, I’d like them to become good play mates.  I’d also like some quiet time to get things done while the baby takes an afternoon nap.  Normally, I would park them (the older one at least) in front of the TV…but alas, on this particular day, the plasma HD screen was cracked, in circles, arcs, and lines emanating from one central location….the precise area where the Wii remote apparently (“by accident” according to Micah, “by hitting” according to Noah) smashed into the screen.  I’m not certain about the cause as I was downstairs getting the laundry, but I think Noah might have the better story.

So without the help of the TV, I managed to give the boys some “quiet time” in our toy room while I worked in the nearby office.  Seth snored upstairs and Noah and Micah played happily for awhile – flinging Legos against the wall, tossing them into the air, and finding all sorts of ways to scatter them throughout the room.  I repeatedly yelled empty easily-ignored threats from the other room — “I wouldn’t be doing that if I were you”…. “you’re going to be picking those all up, you know!”

Not too long after that, the boys entered my office with their hands dripping, soapy and lotiony (I made up that word) and Micah proclaimed, “we made an invention….and it exploded.”  By this point, I had to get up and go look at the room – where some concoction of soap, lotion, and toothpaste was smeared across the toy room floor, engulfing countless Lego pieces.  I looked down at Micah, with a look that questions his judgement and expects an immediate apology, and asked sternly, “Micah, what do you think I am going to say?”  He hastily replied, “Do it again?”…. I fought back the giggles.  “Uh no…but dear, when you do decide to do it again, explosions must happen in the bathroom.”

That seemed like a pretty good solid rule to lay down.  The boys weren’t too excited about the enforcement of the other rule —  “you make a mess, you clean the mess” (with exceptions as noted last week).  It took them 3 (blissful from my perspective) hours to pick up every single Lego before I let them out of the room.  It was quite a nice Sunday afternoon ….they played …and picked up….and dumped out….and tossed again…and played…and picked up.  I’m hoping that it might be a good 3-4 days before every Lego piece is flung around the room again or soap suds seep into the hardwood floor cracks!  In the meantime, I’m sure they’ll find something else to get into.

A boy’s brain

Boys….sometimes I just don’t understand them.

Of course, I do think that this makes sense.  They possess a developing man-brain and I am definitely a woman.  Being single, I just have stereotypes of what men are all about since I don’t have frequent contact, but I do know from my limited 6 years of experience with “little men” that their brains are very different from mine.

For instance, what might have prompted my 3-year-old to leave a pair of soiled underwear in the corner of the dining room this afternoon near a pile of wrapped and unwrapped Starbursts and with brown you-know-what smeared on the wall?  I don’t know – but I can guess that this is how it played out:  “Wow – mom brought that box with candy inside downstairs.  That’s awesome!  I think I’ll hide here in this corner and have a couple.  Hmm, don’t like that one – spit, spit.  Let’s try this one….oh, darn, pooped in my pants again.  Hmph.  I’ll just take them off here.  Oh look, there’s a red candy.  Munch, munch.”

My perspective:  “Sigh, every night…every night I sweep the dining room floor….hmm, it’s the weekend…guess I should mop it too.  Wonder what that poop smell is? There’s no diaper in the waste basket….and the little potty of Stephen’s behind the basement door is empty.  Aw man, that high chair is pretty messy too…guess I’ll clean that as well.  Where is that smell coming from?”….Sweep, sweep, sweep the corner – “NOAH!!”  Head shaking…..

The perspective:  It’s 8:30 pm – Noah should be in bed, but he is in the toy room playing.  “Noah, why is there poop in the dining room?”  “It was an accident,” he mumbles over and over again, partially looking at me, partially returning to his dino-attacks-car dramatization.  I stand there staring at him thinking, “well, Good Mommy would enforce the natural consequence of the behavior and have him come downstairs and clean that all up.  But that would involve spraying the area with Lysol – and spraying is actually one of his favorite things – so that’s not a punishment.  Wait a minute?  What am I thinking?  There’s no way I’m going to have him clean the dining room – imagine poop smeared all over the place and then I’ll have to wash his hands 10 times before I deem him clean enough to get to bed….sigh, it’ll be much easier to do it myself.”  I continue to stare at him.  He continues to defend himself as having had an accident.  “Boy,” I say to him, “you do NOT poop in your underwear, you poop in the potty (parenting tip: important to state simple rules!)….you will not have milk in the morning.”  Yep – there it is, THE punishment for this 3-year-old – the loss of his glorious cup of milk.

Right – makes absolutely no sense.  I know.  But part of what I try to be conscious about in parenting is helping my boys become responsible for their actions.  You make a mess, you clean it.  You decide to act out and be aggressive to your brother, you have some time away from him. Tonight’s events made me remember a recent “share” by a friend of an article in the New Yorker about spoiling our children (naturally, I have several critiques of it – including that it’s pretty hard to compare our society today with a tribe in the Peruvian Amazon – but I get the point).  I know I spoil mine more than I should.  I know that they have more junk than they need.  I know that I don’t hold them accountable as often as I could.  But tonight…and maybe, just maybe another night too…I will draw the line at poop in the dining room…and give Noah a stern look and send him up to bed …with a pull-up and a kiss.