Organized Activities, The Goldilocks Dilemma in Parenting

In Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks finds the Bear’s porridge too hot, too cold, or just right.  Just as in the iconic children’s story, many parenting questions come down to finding the “just right” balance for your child.  Today I am thinking about formal, organized activities.  Childhood for my son is not as fluid as I remember mine being.  I remember that I often had an activity such as gymnastics or dance, but I don’t think I ever did more than one at a time.  I spent a lot of hours in independent play, either alone or with friends.

I really struggle with deciding how much is too much, how much is too little, and what is just right for my son.  He is currently in soccer, karate and music lessons every week.  There are other things he does occasionally and more structured activities and clubs he could join through school.  Each week he has just one school day and one weekend day without an appointment .  Plus he must practice the music and deal with any school obligations daily.  Each activity was chosen for very good reasons and there are always more things that we could do, other activities that seem really cool.  We often have to decline invitations because he has something already in that time slot.

So I worry that I am over-scheduling him, that his childhood will be too busy to really be childhood.  I worry that he does not have enough time to just play.  We spent most of last Sunday building a truly massive Lego structure as a base so that Lego Batman could defend himself against the Power Rangers Zords.  It was intricate and he had a fully developed story for the lead up to the battle.  He had a plan and we made it happen.  I haven’t taken the time to just play for hours with him in way too long.  I am often with him, shuttling him here and there and everywhere, and we do have great car conversations as we are rushing from place to place.  We are so busy at various activities that home life is suffering as well.  We are out and about so much that when we are home we are just as busy, taking care of food or laundry or any of the other myriad things that always need to be done, so that he very rarely gets my undivided attention.  He asked again for Lego-mania several times during a hectic weekend, so finally last night we got in an hour before bedtime.  It showed me how much he craves doing something with just Mama and no distractions.

On the other hand, none of the grown-ups in his life are particularly active.  We are all older than most of the parents of kids his age and much less bouncy than we used to be.  In addition, we live in a little bit of a rough neighborhood.  There is just enough going on that I cannot in good conscience tell him to go outside and play unsupervised as I used to do as a child.  He could go into the backyard I suppose, but we never got him into the habit of it since there were hazards there as well and it is not an inspiring place to play.  I have started to try to encourage that, but he has no desire to be out there by himself, so unless I am out there with him he doesn’t get outside time.  The upshot is that without formalized activities, he wold not get enough physical activity.  Most of those formal activities are scheduled in the evening so that parents can be off work, but they are thirty to forty-five minutes from home so that we get home only in time to eat and sleep in a rush.  For me, I put him to bed, often fall asleep doing so  because I am so tired, then get up to finish chores and end up going to bed too late because I got just enough of a nap to make it difficult to go to bed when I should.  He isn’t getting enough sleep either, which is very worrisome, although we are improving on that front.

When I was growing up, we would spend hours wandering the neighborhood with friends, at various houses or parks.  There were kids I could play with on our street or  I could just hang out with my sister.  I got as much social interaction as I wanted in a very natural way.  On the other hand, my son is an only child and all of his friends live a town away so that social interactions must happen through either formal activities or play dates which are their own scheduling hassle.  There are few children on our street and they are not let out to play either.

That old way of life has closed down at least in this area, the whole society is afraid and a parent who lets her child wander is considered dangerously negligent.  I could buck that trend, with difficulty, except that I am also infected with that fear to let him out on his own.  My husband is even more protective than I am.  I want him to grow into a strong, independent person and I know that he has to be able to make his own mistakes in order to do so, but I don’t know how much independence to give him or when to do so.  What is too much, what is too little, and what is just right at this stage in his development?  Will the benefits he gets from the music or sports or anything else outweigh the cost in time?  Time is so precious and childhood time more so.  What is the best use of his time to help him become a well rounded, creative, independent, good person?  For us, when soccer season ends, I am going to try to resist the temptation to fill that time slot with more activities and to instead prioritize those few hours at home, so that evenings can be a time that we can enjoy as a family.

How about your family?  How do you balance formal activities with free play?  How about social interactions, is school enough, or does your child have neighborhood friends to play with?  Does your child roam free?  What is “just right” for your family?

 

 

 

The Goldilocks Dilemma in Parenting - How much is too much?
The Goldilocks Dilemma in Parenting – How much is too much?

Viva!

Today is Mexican Independence Day.  My husband and I stayed up long past my bedtime last night to watch the grito which we try to do each year.  The grito is a tradition at midnight on Independence Day where the Mexican president shouts the names of the heroes of the Mexican Revolution and the crowd shouts “Viva!” after each name.  There is significant pageantry and meaning to each gesture.  Here is a fun video that explains it in general.

I love pageantry and enjoy these types of ceremonies.  I also like to dissect them in detail, including the political implications since I find politics fascinating.  Then I sat down to write this morning and was having a hard time phrasing my thoughts.  I realized that this is one of those moments of intersectionality.  I have to be super careful about what I say because I am not a native of the culture.  In this context I am the other and my opinions, no matter how well informed, should not carry the same weight as a native of Mexico.  No matter how educated I make myself about the culture and politics of Mexico or the Mexican-American community, I cannot possibly see all the subtleties of the situation.

Any knowledge I have is that of an interested outsider.  What happens there does not really affect my life or my future except in a general way.  In some ways that allows me to be impartial and see the facts of the situation, as best as is possible from far away, but I know that I am missing a huge chunk of information as an outsider.

What I can say is that, even though there are myriad endemic problems in the country, the Mexican people genuinely love their country, want the best for the country, and have tremendous pride in who they are.  That is as it should be.  In the United States we have unrest and racial tension and protest, but what we need to realize is that those protesting are doing so because they want their country to be better.  Protest, no matter how offensive its form, is inherently hopeful.  It is people seeing an injustice and acting to fix it because they believe that their country can and should be better.  It is an act of love.  The opposite of love of country is indifference, not protest.  I am most frightened for the future when apathy and indifference become more and more the norm.

Today is a day of pride in the Mexican culture and pride in the people of Mexico.  Today let us celebrate the richness of Mexican culture and the beauty of it’s people.  Today we will have enchiladas rancheras for dinner and talk about Mexico and the history of the revolution at a level my son can understand.  We will also play music.

How do you celebrate with your kids?  How do you keep your culture vibrant for the next generation?  I will be exploring this idea more as the holidays approach and would love to hear your stories as well.

 

 

Thoughts on 9-11

This year is the fifteenth anniversary of 9-11 and most of my grown up life has happened in the shadow of that event.  On that day, America changed and we are just now really seeing those changes come home to roost.

I remember hearing about the first plane hitting the tower on the radio as I was driving to set up a charity event that morning.  We weren’t sure what had really happened, if it was just some random tragedy or what.  Then we arrived to the venue and began setting up as usual.  We were isolated in that bubble, going about our normal activities.  No one else came past the time we were expecting to see the event organizers, so we called the office and learned about the second plane and all of those implications.  We had to wait another hour before the event organizers finally called off the event.  It was an odd sort of limbo, where we knew there was something momentous happening in the world, but were cut off from it.  We then struck our equipment and headed back to the office.

My boss set up a TV and we were glued to that TV for the rest of the day.  I remember those initial images, before the more graphic ones were censored.  I remember seeing bodies falling, I remember watching the planes crash into the towers over and over again.  I remember the Pentagon and the other plane taken over and crashed by its passengers.  I remember that day with the same emotional force as the day my grandmother died.  It is seared in my memory, branded on my soul.

Immediately afterward I felt the need for revenge and a fierce patriotism.  How dared anyone attack us.  I fully supported bombing Afghanistan to smithereens.  I didn’t care who got killed, no one could attack us like that and get away with it.  They had poked the sleeping dragon and could very well deal with the consequences.  Our entire country went a little crazy in the wake of 9-11 and I was no different.

I came to earth rather quickly when evidence of that craziness manifested itself here at home.  When the USA Patriot Act passed and someone finally read the contents; when a list of songs banned from the radio came out because they were old war protest songs or mentioned New York and that would be too much for our delicate sensibilities; when the war expanded to Iraq for no clear reason; the political establishment was using the tragedy to consolidate power.

In the immediate wake of the attack, our entire country came together as one.  It didn’t matter what your racial or ethnic background, what your normal politics, we all felt attacked and there was an incredible amount of support within communities.  Later, that began to disintegrate and it seems like our collective anger, once denied its proper outlet, turned inward.

It is only after this time that the racial tensions began to escalate to the point where today we have a presidential candidate who can say horrible things about entire groups of people and not only get away with it, actually gain popularity because of it.  Yes, before 9-11 we had OJ Simpson and Rodney King and some places scattered throughout where the police forces were notorious.  However, and perhaps I was living in a bubble, but I didn’t see the deep, widespread racial hatred that manifests itself today.  That was something we read about in school and deplored.

I knew that there was prejudice and I knew that there was work to be done to reach equality.  I don’t want to discount those struggles in any way.  My husband experienced direct and blatant racism growing up in a small rural town.  For example, he was told by his high school counselor that his career options were the frozen food factory or the military.  Understand, he was an All American athlete and an A student and this person had no cognitive disconnect saying that.  This kind of thing happened often where he had to prove himself again and again in excess of what other kids had to do in order to gain the same respect.  So I am not saying that prejudice and racism didn’t exist, I know that it did.

What I am trying to express is that those thoughts, words, and actions were not socially acceptable in the larger society.  Speaking about fantasies of violence against any minority group, let alone any such actions, were almost universally deplored and were seen as the lunatic fringe.  Since 9-11 it has become OK to talk about hurting, kicking out, taking wholesale actions against entire groups of people.  I am a student of history and am very much reminded of the times our country has turned ugly.  I am reminded of the Japanese interment camps, of the Trail of Tears, and even of “No Irish Need Apply.”

I am frightened that we are sliding into another dark time in our country, one where horrible things will be done in the name of patriotism.  We have allowed so many freedoms to be stripped away and so many privacy violations in the name of security.  How far is too far?  At what point will our republic eat itself alive and devolve into an authoritarian regime?  It may not be as far off as one hopes.

I saw a meme today with a picture of the Twin Towers and the caption, “Never Forget. Never Forgive.”  I was deeply saddened by that caption, and more than a little frightened.  If we never forgive, we can never recover, we can never thrive.  If we never forgive we will perpetually be seeking revenge and perpetually be fueling the hatred that spawns acts of violence.  Our great country, and I do truly believe it is a wonderful and great country despite my concerns, could very easily follow the path of other nations that have chosen hatred and fear and have suffered immensely because of that choice.  I am specifically thinking of France, but also of Israel among others.

I am generally an optimistic person and I have great hope that we as a country will rise to respond in healing ways to the challenges of our time.  I am hoping that because the challenges are great, we will be able to come together to meet those challenges and to move toward healing rather than division.  It is a major reason I have become motivated to create this space in a little corner of the internet.  I am hoping to become a part of the solution, to promote understanding of the other, so that our differences don’t overshadow our shared humanity.  It has been fifteen years since a few fanatics changed the course of history on a sunny fall morning.  I hope, as we move farther from that fateful day and face decisions that will define who we are, that we can choose to see the humanity and the struggles of those whose culture is different from our own rather than just the otherness.

 

911 Tribute in Light Photo by Chris Schiffner (@ChrisSchiffner) http://www.schiffner.co
911 Tribute in Light
Photo by Chris Schiffner (@ChrisSchiffner) http://www.schiffner.co

911 Tribute in Light Photo by Chris Schiffner (@ChrisSchiffner) http://www.schiffner.com

Eat Your Veggies! And other thoughts

  1. Here is a picture of our boy’s lunch today.  The salad includes Romaine and iceberg lettuce, baby spinach, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, carrots, and a little sprinkle of Trader Joe’s Quatro Formaggio.  All of the ingredients were at his request (well almost, I snuck in the spinach) and he ate it with only reasonable reminders to eat.  Proud Mama?  You betcha!

I was having a conversation with another mom the other day and she mentioned how jealous she was that I don’t have to struggle to get my son to eat veggies.  This got me thinking, because we do have food struggles.  Not everything is as easy and wonderful as I might wish or as might appear from the outside, but perhaps I do have something to say on the subject.

I must begin with an admission, I am shameless in the use of dessert to inspire him to eat something he isn’t fond of.  The other day I was tired and pressed for time and didn’t give him a vegetable.  He came to me and asked for it so that he could earn dessert.  We have been very consistent with this rule and it has saved so many headaches, whine fests, and power struggles.  He knows that if he doesn’t eat his vegetables and a reasonable amount of protein, then he cannot have dessert.  It does mean that I have to have something on hand that he likes enough to inspire him as a reward.

There are a fairly large number of veggies he won’t touch for any reward including: onions, olives, peppers of any kind, and avocados.  Who doesn’t like avocados?  There are more, I just can’t think of them at the moment.

He has also, and this gets to the real reason I am writing this, moved away from eating Mexican food.  He used to be happy with frijoles, enchiladas rancheras, sopa de arroz and many other traditional dishes as long as they weren’t too spicy.  It now takes serious cajoling to get him to even try dishes with those flavors.

I swore that I would not be one of those people who catered to their children and fixed different meals for different family members.  I am getting too tired to fight it very strenuously anymore.  My husband and I really enjoy the traditional dishes and like to make them fairly regularly.  Having to pressure a tired child to eat really puts a damper on our enjoyment of our own meal, especially since he will eat a salad or something equally nutritious with little prompting.  I don’t enjoy the extra work a second meal requires, but it makes my husband really sad to see his son rejecting the dishes mi suegra (mother in law) taught us how to make.  For my husband, food is love, and rejection of food is in some way a rejection of that love.  It is like our boy is rejecting the abuelita he never met and that is painful.

We will continue to expose him to food of all kinds and will insist that he at least try everything prepared for him.  Our hope is that, over time, those flavors will become a part of him.  He still gets a significant number of meals prepared by my family.  The food he eats there, and the rules about food are somewhat different than at my house.  He still eats well and understands that different rules apply in different situations.

My strategy for dealing with the times that he does not want to try something I would call firmly passive.  I don’t cajole or buy into his whining.  He has to taste everything on his plate and I will tell him what I expect him to eat.  If he does not, then he does not get dessert or any other food until it is time for the next meal.  This works for us because it takes all of the emotional force out of the equation.  He is generally willing to please and, most of the time, he eats a balanced meal.  One day not too long ago, I prepared a salad for him very similar to the one he ate today and he didn’t eat it.  After an hour or so, I wrapped it up and put it in the refrigerator.  He got the same salad for dinner.  There was no battle, just a quiet persistence.

I remember once, I was in probably fourth grade, that I sat at the dining room table for an entire afternoon refusing to take one bite of icky, slimy, nasty fish.  I don’t remember who won that battle, I think I must have finally caved, or managed to feed enough to the cat when my mom was out of the room to serve honor on both sides.  My mom would not have backed down, she has a will of iron under that gentle exterior.  I do know that it took being served rainbow trout that I had caught just before, and had been cooked over the campfire to get me to begin to like fish.  That was the only kind of fish I would eat for years.  Just thinking of that fish, lightly dredged in flour and fried in a cast iron skillet, makes me want to go fishing.  My mouth is watering right now.

I thought about that incident when figuring out how to approach food with my son.  I feel that it is counter productive to make food a battle ground but it is very important that he learn to love vegetables and to eat well.  Not one of the adults in his life is at a healthy weight, so there is a real worry that he will pick up our bad habits.  My parents talk about their diet all the time and that worries me as well.  I have no desire to convey to him an obsession with food in any way.  One of the reasons that I have chosen the approach I take is to take the emotion out of food.  There is no guilt or emotional blackmail and he can listen to his body and stop when he is full.   It is important to me that food is not fraught as he grows so that hopefully he can have a healthy attitude about food as an adult.

How do you approach food?  How do you get your children to eat their veggies?  How do you deal with picky eaters?  How does food play into keeping your ethnic heritages and passing them on to your kids?  Have you faced any similar issues?  What have you done about it?

OK, I am off to make dinner, Chile con Carne if you are wondering.

 

My son's lunch.  And he ate it!
My son’s lunch. And he ate it!

How do I raise a bilingual child?

Before our son was born, we thought we had it all figured out.  I would speak English and my husband would speak Spanish and our son would grow up with both in his ears and magically begin to speak both.  Only it didn’t work out that way, funny that.  My husband was diligent for the first two years, then got discouraged since our son never seemed to pick up on it.  Part of the issue is that our schedules were so hectic that our son didn’t see his Papa except just before bed and on weekends.

A good seventy percent of our boy’s time was spent with my family, who were speaking a complex, educated English to him.  We never held back or simplified, with the result that he is an insanely articulate five year old in English.  His ability to articulate is actually greater than his ability to understand concepts.  He can talk passionately about an idea that he has for several minutes even though his logic string is often wackadoodle.  But, well, that is part of being five.

I think he had a very strong need to master one language to the exclusion of the other.  Nothing we did in Spanish seemed to stick.  After a while he ended up having an intense emotional rejection of all things Spanish.  He would say, “Tell me in EeeNGLISH!”  My husband and I decided that it would be counter productive to turn it into an ongoing battle and backed off.

We faced palpable disappointment from the community when it became clear that our boy could not speak Spanish.  Several people told me that I should be teaching him, although no one had any constructive ideas.  It felt like it was somehow my fault, as the white half of the partnership, that I was somehow cutting him off from his culture and heritage, that it was a betrayal of their acceptance of me in some way.

We let some time pass and I found a couple of children’s music CDs that he likes, so we play them in the car once or twice a week.  My son is highly attuned to music, he is absolutely loving the fact that his kindergarten teacher seems to have a song for everything.  He sings them to me every time there is a new song in class, which is several times a week.  My husband also loves music and is beginning to make a point of playing the Spanish music at home.  We are hoping that music will be the wedge we can open his brain with, to let the Spanish inside.

We are also speaking Spanish to each other more and more often.  It can be difficult for me, my grammar is less than perfect and I hate that, and towards the end of the day my brain is tired and Spanish requires me to actively use my brain.  I learned it as an adult and may never feel fully comfortable with it.  However I am persevering because I think it is very important that he have the advantage of knowing more than one language, and avoids the disadvantage of being monolingual.  If he learns Spanish, he will have the neural pathways to learn another language of his choice later on.  I also have a gut feeling that if he doesn’t have a firm grasp of Spanish he will never be able to be quite comfortable with that side of his heritage.

Slowly he is starting to show an interest, he knows numbers, colors, and a few animals, so we are making progress.  I wish there were a class or program designed for young kids in our area that would make it fun.  He responds well to more deliberate structured learning in other areas.  I have looked, but haven’t found anything.

Is it important to you that your child speak the languages of your heritage?  Why or why not?  If so, how have you approached it?  What has been effective, and what hasn’t worked?  Did you grow up not speaking one of the languages of your parents?  How did that affect you within the family and community?  Inquiring minds want to know.