Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Like a Bunch of Puppies

We recently returned from a week at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. My girls mixed seamlessly with 5 boy-children, 2 they'd never met before, 3 of whom have been friends since their birth. We joined two other families (one new to us) at a large house, right on the beach.

In so many ways, my girls' lives are different from mine at their ages. I grew up in a semi-rural neighborhood, outside a small town. Maybe as a function of being the 5th in a family of 6 kids, I had immense freedom to wander and explore natural areas around our home and to ride my bike as far as my legs held out. I had to be home by dark, and occasionally there were disputes as to the definition of "dark", but that's about it.

We vacationed every summer at my grandmother's cottage on a little lake in Michigan. Often we were joined by cousins, aunts and uncles. We swam, row-boated, climbed trees and played twilight games of "ghost in the graveyard" in a pack of children that included a variety of ages and genders.  It didn't take us long to figure out who the mean and creepy kids (and adults) were and how to steer clear of them. There were two rules: no swimming alone and be home by dark.

This past week, I saw my kids do what I had always done: play without the involvement of adults as agenda-setters, mediators or coaches. They were offered food each morning, then they tumbled off like a loud pack of puppies to the pool, the beach and back again. They figured out their own ways to play "billiards" at the pool table and found the Uno and Monopoly games on their own. Every now and then a referee was required to separate squabbling siblings or assist in getting a kite aloft, but largely we adults left them to their own devices while we enjoyed blissful relaxation. Surely if I had seen the boys in the process of burying A up to her face in sand ("We turned her into a manatee!"), I would have put a stop to it, but she enjoyed it more than they did!

Despite what Nancy Grace and other fear-mongers would have us believe, there were no abductions, molestations or other catastrophes. They emerged with nothing more than a few flip-flop induced blisters and some sunburn, but that's it; well, except for the memories these children will have from their week at the beach, where they got to do pretty much what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Full Moon

10:23 a.m.: full moon in Sagittarius = full-on craziness. Ideas are pinballing around in my brain on top of the usual spooling marquee of to-dos.

This week I volunteered to help build a new community garden in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland. Adjacent to the local library branch on 5 vacant lots, it promises an opportunity to create a place of beauty and restore a sense of community in an older, impoverished neighborhood. There is a magical energy growing around this project. But there is so much to be done and so many ideas about how it should be done and when it should be done. It's quite overwhelming.

We are leaving for a vacation in a couple of days to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I haven't begun to pack; I have laundry to do, a yard to mow and other errands. Oh, and A and B reminded me last night about my little "tradition" of stocking a tote-bag for each of them for long road trips. I never realized how much they look forward to those little things.

As soon as we get back from our vacation, we have piano recitals, the last week of school with all of its activities, followed by dance recital weekend. Then, finally, summer begins for us.

For the past few months, we have been really struggling with our options for the education of A and B. We live in an inner ring suburb of Cleveland and we have been very committed to our public school system. Despite its many warts, we felt our children could get a good education there and we liked that they were being schooled in a racially and economically diverse setting. There have been many challenges along the way and this year we began to feel that the challenges were taking a bigger toll on us than were were willing to pay. We have pushed for meetings with teachers, the principal and district administration. They say the right things, but we don't see action or progress. Our area has many fine private schools. We have also begun to look at homeschooling as a realistic option.

I am so very torn; am I making too much of the issues we confront in the school? Are the discipline problems, the boredom, the lack of creativity and low energy "normal"? Will I be hurting my girls long-term if I pull them from the system? Will it foreclose options for them? Or is this a broken system? Can I prepare them better for 21st century life at home, where they can be self-led learners and stretch their intellectual muscles to their limits? Would it be better to return to work full-time so that we can pay the hefty private school tuition? How do you ever know what is right for your kids? Is there a "right" answer?

I watched them take off for school this morning on their bikes, hair flying (from under helmets, of course!), legs pumping, voices calling and I was awestruck at the independent, beautiful young people they have already become. Off they went, on their own, without me. As they should.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fodder for Her Shrink

Last weekend our family attended a "free-cycle" event at the Unitarian Universalist church we attend. It is basically a swap-meet: bring your unneeded and unwanted stuff and leave with someone else's unneeded and unwanted stuff. As one famous physicist said: "[stuff] may be neither created nor destroyed; it merely changes [residence]". But I digress. In an effort to clear out some of the detritus of pink and purple plastic that litters our family room, I suggested to my daughters that they might wish to cull their toy collections in order to share share the wealth, so to speak. "Does that mean we can bring home new stuff?" Once that possibility dangled out there like bacon before a labrador, the gathering began in earnest.

My ten year old ("B") willingly packed up her Polly Pockets, her Sweet Streets houses, books, games and all sorts of other goodies with an almost competitive fervor. My eight year old ("A") started out gamely, but quickly had second thoughts, even about outgrown clothes. "But I used to love that doll; I remember I always playd with her outside in the summer...."; "Grandma gave me that stuffed animal when I was 4"; "but that's my candy-cane dress; I love that dress!" I didn't fight her on it. I just told her she had to take up her own closet space storing her "keepers".

Later on, B commented on how much more she had contributed to the van-load headed to church than her sister did. I explained that some of us just have a harder time parting with things and maybe when she gets older, it will be easier for her. "I don't think so, Mom, " she said, "I think it's because of that time you sold her bed."

Oh, lordy, lordy; that time I sold her bed. I had forgotten about that. Five years ago now, when A was 3 1/2, we had a yard sale. We had decided we were meant to be a family of 4 (humans, that is) and planned to sell all baby items in one fell swoop. The better to keep baby-temptation at bay, I thought. I always was the clean-break sort of gal. We had a lucky convergence of grandmas early in the day that saw the baby clothes, pack-n-play and strollers disappear quickly.

As soon as A woke up that summer Saturday, I ripped the sheet off her little toddler bed, tossed it into the wash, hefted the bed and mattress out to the driveway and slapped on a price tag. In less than an hour it was sold. As two women carried it away, my baby ran out of the front door yelling - "Momma, that lady's takin' my bed! That lady's takin' my bed!" "Honey, I said, "it's okay. She paid for the bed; she bought it, like at a store. You're getting a new big-girl bed." "But where am I gonna sleep Momma? That's my bed! She's takin' my bed!"

Along with the bed, most of the remaining customers drifted away, eyes averted, as she bellowed. I had ordered lovely white iron beds for the girls, which had not yet arrived. A and B shared a double bed from my pre-marriage days until the new beds came in a few weeks later. When the beds came in, each girl chose her own bedspread and sheets. I thought all was forgotten, but no, mother-guilt, like the hand of Carrie, reached up from the ground all bloody and horrifying, to rip my heart out.

Oh, well. It'll give her something to write about when she's a grown-up. Now about those wire hangers, girls....