Thursday, October 31, 2013

Representational drawings galore

Note the "teeny tiny little baby."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Doing things the hard way

Skipper hates preschool. Her anxiety levels, already not exactly low, are hitting new highs. Lately, she's been complaining a lot about pain, particularly stomach pain. I'm not particularly concerned about the stomach-aches themselves- her digestion seems normal, the pain is generalized, and there is a family history * of not only anxiety but also anxiety-related stomach pain - but it still makes me feel sad that she is in emotional and physical pain.**

While the regular day is stressful for her, any kind of disruption in the schedule is a source of deep dismay and worry for her - picture day, getting hot lunch instead of bringing it from home, fire drills, etc. I think a lot of her anxiety is related to her difficulty in communicating with peers and teachers. I think she feels really alone at school, like she's completely responsible for everything, and she doesn't have the right or the ability to get support. When I pick her up at the end of the day, she often has a Sadness that she's been incubating for hours and never told anybody about. Yesterday, she burst into tears when I picked her up, because she had misplaced her sweatshirt about an hour earlier, and it had an important piece of ribbon in the pocket. She hadn't told a teacher or done anything else to solve the problem, just sat on the awful feeling of loss while it grew and grew. The sweatshirt,with the precious scavenged scrap of ribbon, turned out to be lying on the floor in a corner. All that sorrow could have been quickly and easily prevented by a quick request of a teacher or peer for help. Most of her classmates wouldn't even hesitate to ask for help in that situation, but she just can't do it. There's nothing blithe about Skipper. That's hardwired in her personality, and I'm afraid that if she can't figure out some workarounds, she's going to have to tackle every challenge in her life alone, the hard way.

She's working to find ways to comfort herself. She has adopted a security blanket (literally), which is a new thing; she never had any kind of security object before. She also has a new imaginary friend who manifests only at school. His name is Murphy. Apparently, he's not invisible, but "he likes to sit where nobody can see him."

I don't know if there's a way we can substantially help her. I'm not interested in doing a Grey Gardens thing, so letting her hide at home forever isn't an option. I expect some (good) play therapy, or a really good, really small, really expensive preschool situation, or some other high-maintenance strategy would be helpful. But given our financial and emotional resources, I don't think there's an easy way to help her. In a way, she's right to feel so alone, because she is. She has to do this alone. We can support her, but it's going to be her own work that pulls her through.

I have some glimmers of hope that she is making progress, between her coping strategies, and her accruing experiences of working through anxiety. This week, she and all her classmates had to do a health screening (courtesy of the county health department), involving quick, painless ear/teeth/eye checks. The teacher told the class about it the day before, and Skipper spent the subsequent 20 hours fretting herself into a state of misery. We talked about it, Duchess told her reassuring stories about her own experience, and I warned the teacher that she was worried about it, but I'm not sure that any of that made a difference (see above, doing it alone). When I picked her up that day, Skipper reported that the screening was not scary, and that she laughed while it was going on. After telling me about it for a few minutes, she paused, and then said thoughtfully, "I guess I didn't need to worry about it so much." I hope she gets to a place where she can apply that earned wisdom, and feel less alone, less burdened.

*I wrote about Duchess's stomach pain when she was almost exactly the same age.
** And, of course, I feel worried that maybe there's something actually physically wrong.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Humility vs Starness

I recently read an opinion piece that resonated with me. Okay, it was about the pope, which is not a topic that interests me. But it was also about humility, which is something I've thought about a lot in the last five years.

I've thought a lot about humility in my own life. I'm not sure that I'm a humble person, but I certainly have never thought I have all the answers, or even any of them. I have been encouraged in my personal life and professional life to do what I consider to be bragging, but what is usually described in language like "owning your accomplishments!" I have a really, really hard time with this. I recognize that I undermine myself personally and professionally by under-emphasizing my abilities and emphasizing my errors and failures. I see that my constant questioning of everything makes me prone to paralysis; I am unable to muster the momentum required to push through obstacles, and I let stuff drop that I probably should have pushed. I see that people who are confident can barrel their ideas to manifestation. However, I resist what the world is telling me, which is that I should be pitching myself all the time. I feel that people who push their ideas or their abilities, without regard to quality, do not always serve the community well. I think that people like me, who are sensitive to issues of quality, context, and unintended consequences, have a lot to contribute to a strong society. I think there should be a place for humility.

I think I'm teaching my kids humility. Maybe. (It's hard to tell, because most kids, in my experience, are prone to announcing how great they are at anything. Skipper told me last recently that her substitute teacher that day told her she was a star, and because of her "starness," she was given first choice of stations at choosing time.) But I fear that I am doing them a disservice, particularly given that they are girls. Women tend to undersell themselves across the board, while men tend to oversell themselves. Anyway, I don't think the future is going to be a place that rewards humility in men or women; the present certainly doesn't.


Duchess is almost nine. Today she dressed in a surprisingly sophisticated outfit. This is how she posed for me.

I think that being nine (for Duchess) is a big old tangle of sophistication and silliness. Confusing, but also pretty fun.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Aliens vs Teenagers

Yesterday morning, Duchess started weeping* about something that happened at recess yesterday. Apparently, many of her classmates have been playing a game Duchess invented, called "Aliens from Andromeda,"** for about a week at recesses. They often play fairly baroque games, with weird wrinkles to accommodate various kids' preferences - one kid has been pretending to be an alien robot dog. Yesterday, though, some of the girls who are increasingly being identified as The Popular Girls decided they're tired of Aliens, and started playing "Teenagers," instead.

This is what Duchess said, almost verbatim, through her tears: "I don't want to play teenager, and I think it's STUPID to play teenager because we're all going to BE teenagers, and I think we should be KIDS while we still CAN be kids!"

I said, because I'm very sensitive and generous and never make negative generalizations, "Also, teenagers suck."

There's a lot going on here - Duchess is beginning to feel worried about her social situation, and she's anticipating adolescence with excitement and anxiety. She's friends with everybody, and best friends with nobody, so she sometimes finds herself feeling isolated when the cliques harden up. She's also seeing that these girls are being identified as The Pretty Girls ("And they're not even the prettiest, Mom!") and she's torn between wanting to be pretty and popular, and feeling like it's stupid to want to be a teenager, or to care about being pretty and popular. Middle school is looming.

*This is not necessarily a sign of sincere distress, as Duchess tends to plunge deeply into her emotional responses to almost everything, no matter how trivial. Also, she has a nasty cold, which is making her even more volatile.
**We watched a Monty Python episode a few weeks ago. Now Duchess knows what a "blancmange" is.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Yesterday we switched Duchess from her "Park Shark" swim lesson to another aquatic activity she had noticed going on at the same time. Screw boring old solitary swimming; Duchess is taking synchronized swimming now, and she thinks it's the best thing ever. I went straight home and checked to see if this is the kind of obscure activity that has scholarships attached to it, because that's the kind of helicopter parent I am. Regrettably, there are no significant scholarships available, but she can set her sights on Ohio State University (apologies to Papa Big Cook), which spends the most money of any school on their synchronized swimming program.

Friday, October 11, 2013

It's summer in Duchess's mind

The girls have a limited number of matching clothing items.* This morning (it's an "inservice day" with no school), they dug up all of them, got dressed, and went outside to play.

*Those long shorts (or, on Skipper, short longs) were procured separately - one at a thrift store for 50 cents, and the other as a hand-me-down from the Blonds. The girls were delighted by the serendipity.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I graded spelling tests today.

One of Duchess's classmates spelled "prowl" like this: "riarrrr"

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Duchess graduated to the next level of her martial arts program last weekend. She was very proud. Some kid kicked her so hard during the sparring she flew several feet in the air and landed on her butt. She popped right up, though, and carried on. This is a bad phone photo of her being ceremonially granted her new blue sash by one of the kind, serious teachers whom she adores. She has requested that we pay her fee for the next tournament, as her birthday present this year.

What else...Skipper can count to five in Japanese. I still have no job. Also, yes, Mandarin is free! For now.

I've been thinking a bit about Skipper and Duchess, and sibling dynamics. While I'm still feeling bad about Skipper's school experience,* I remain glad that she's at a different school than Duchess. Duchess is good at everything, and that is an extremely tough act to follow. (I don't mean, of course, that Duchess is ACTUALLY good at everything,** but she's moderately successful at most things she tries, and she tries everything. And because she's four years older than Skipper, she looks to Skipper like she's incredibly good at everything. She also thinks she's good at everything, which is also persuasive to Skipper.) Skipper could use some space to be herself, to try new things and to build skills at stuff that Duchess cannot preempt. I look forward to seeing her explore that space.

*Today Duchess's principal said to me "Kids who succeed at recess will succeed at life!" and I cringed a little. Poor Skipper and her lonely recesses.
** She is not. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Making wise investments

I am a soccer mom. I never planned on being the kind of parent who is constantly trotting her kids to the next activity, but that's exactly what I am. Duchess's week this fall typically includes soccer, piano, Mandarin, and martial arts. After soccer is over, she's going to do a low-key intramural basketball league based at her school. 
This isn't quite as terrible as it sounds, though it's still ridiculous. The piano lesson is so close that Duchess goes to and fro on her own, the martial arts studio is just half a mile away, and Mandarin takes place at school, right after school gets out, so no extra travel is necessary.* Soccer practices aren't much further away, and it builds Duchess's character when she finishes a soccer practice in the rain, gets on her wet bike, and bikes home in a downpour.
I listened to a podcast recently that detailed how extracurricular activities are unconnected to later success, and left the impression that you might as well not have your kid engaged in anything extra. I felt bad about my soccer-momming briefly, but then I remembered WHY Duchess participates in so many activities. It's because she likes them. We have tried to get her to quit both piano** and soccer*** in the last few months, and she begged to keep doing them. (The basketball, however, is something I'm making her do. I think a future six-footer should have at least a passing familiarity with basketball.) So her crazy over-subscription isn't due so much to helicoptering as it is to our indulging and spoiling her by giving her what she wants. Is that better? Probably not. 
She'll have to cut back eventually, as Skipper increasingly wants to have extracurriculars of her own, not because she likes trying new things,**** but because she wants Duchess to be forced to attend Skipper's things. (Sibling-revenge-motivated extracurriculars! I don't even know what economists would think about that.) Skipper's starting a parks and rec gymnastics class this weekend - we'll see how that goes. 

* Mandarin is also free, thanks to the Chinese government. Duchess doesn't seem to be brainwashed yet, but watch out if she runs for public office.
**Because she hasn't been taking practicing very seriously - she sits down willingly to do it, but is sloppy and lazy about it, and announces that she's done after five minutes. She is now required to work harder on it in order to keep her lessons.
*** Because soccer, more than anything, makes our schedule ridiculous. Plus, Cook and I both have uncomfortable emotional baggage from our childhood about soccer, class, and social status, and we'd be happy to see her leave it behind. Also, concussions
*** *You will be shocked to lean that she doesn't.