Thursday, November 28, 2013

Next year, turkey hats for everyone.

 Cook and I were at a bit of a loss about what to do with Thanksgiving. We don't eat meat, and I'm not very enthusiastic about fake meat, so turkeys were off the table. Skipper remains picky about food, and we didn't want to work on an elaborate meal that she would refuse to eat. Fortunately, Duchess reminded us that we have a tradition of eating burritos and then watching movies and eating popcorn. Neither Cook nor I have any memory of doing this, but it sounds like a good tradition, so we embraced it. This morning, pre-burrito, we went for a walk. It was windy. Then we came home and the girls made a turkey hat for Duchess to match the one Skipper had made at school. Then we had burritos and watched a movie and ate popcorn.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Trip to the library

The girls are out of school all this week. We took an afternoon walk to the library, in the sunshine.

At the library, things rapidly went south. Skipper threw a tantrum, and cried all the way home. An hour later, she fell asleep on the floor.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Acorns. Eels.

Skipper's class does a lot of singing with their Japanese teacher. Skipper's grasp of Japanese is minimal, so when she sings or speaks Japanese to us, we're always skeptical that we're actually hearing Japanese. For example, she was sure that Happy Birthday in Japanese was "Otanja azania." However, it turns out to be "O tanjō-bi omedetō" which is sort of close. I guess. 

She came home yesterday singing a song called "Donguri Korokoro" which is apparently about acorns. Her singing sounded like gibberish,* so I looked it up. It turns out she had most of it more or less right, with missing words and parts of words. It is also, fortunately, a popular children's song, so there are plenty of videos online. And now the song is completely stuck in my head, and I will be singing about acorns for the rest of my life.

Skipper, by the way, was very embarrassed to make this video, so I had to promise to sing it with her.

*While I know absolutely nothing about Japanese, I'm starting to get a sense of how it generally sounds.  I've heard much more Japanese spoken in the halls at Skipper's school in the last two months than I heard in my entire life before. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fostering competence

I've been reading about parenting a kid who has social anxiety, and one of the recommendations is to support your child's feelings of competence, by giving them a chance to get very good at something.

Duchess loves feeling competent, like any 8-year-old kid. Like any human being. Like many human beings, she's not a huge fan of the work required to gain competence. If she's not good at something, she tends to give it up immediately. When she was 5ish, Cook and I identified that we wanted support her to keep working on something, to find out what it feels like to get over plateaus and barriers and get good at something.* We specifically identified swimming as something to push, and we did push it. (By which I mean that we keep signing her up for lessons and swim team, even when her enthusiasm is lukewarm. If she ever said she wanted to stop, we'd certainly hear out her arguments.) Her experience with swimming has certainly given her a chance to persist and improve, and that's been great. What's really been effective on that score, though, is kung fu,** which is a thing she chose herself. She loves kung fu. She loves the community, she loves the physical activity, she loves the required focus (she says "I don't think about anything when I do it - I just do things!"), she loves the orderly progress. (Not to mention the benefits of endorphins - she walks home after class red-faced, sweaty, and brimming with happiness and enthusiasm.)

All of which isn't to say that she is a kung fu master, or that she has become much more persistent or even much less likely to give up in the face of failure. None of that is true. It's just that it's all good, all of it. I have entirely moved past the things I dislike about the kung fu place. When she walks in there, it's pretty clear that she feels that it is Her Place. The teachers and students treat her with affection and respect, she has a great time with her friends, she is recognized for her commitment and focus, and so on. There are role models*** and mentors all over the damn place. I think most of us want a Place of our own like that, and I'm very glad that Duchess has one.If my kid wants to get endorphins, confidence, community, mentoring, and experience in persistence from this place, I'm there.

So that's the one kid. I'm a little stymied, though, about the other kid. Skipper also loves feeling competent, being a human being, but she doesn't like trying new things, which is likely to promote competence only in a narrow range of activities she has already begun doing.**** Her revenge-driven approach to extracurriculars motivated her to do a 5-class session of gymnastics at a community center. She resisted going to the class every time, and resisted participating in the class every time, but in the end she DID participate, and she seemed to be really enjoying it in the moment. However, she did not want to sign up for another session. She doesn't want to do anything. Given that a six-hour school day seems like plenty of activity for a sensitive four-year-old, I'm sure not going to push her to do anything she doesn't want to do. As I look ahead, though, I see the value of her finding something she likes to do, and sticking with it long enough to get good at it. I hope she'll find something, or somethings to make her own, and I look forward to supporting her in that.

Skipper practiced some of her gymnastics moves with Duchess (who is independently working toward a goal of doing a decent handstand), and got pretty good at doing bridges. At the beginning of her third class, she refused to participate for an extra-long time, until the class starting doing bridges, and she realized that none of them were as good at it as she had become. She ran straight over to the group and joined in. Competence is addictive.

*Without, you know, becoming a scary tennis parent.  I have some natural Tiger Mother tendencies. This week I actually said to Duchess, over her misspelling of one word on her spelling pre-test (for which they prepare by doing language worksheets that include the words), "If you've seen the word before, you should know how to spell it." Being Duchess, she said "That doesn't make any sense," and scoffed right out of the room, leaving me alone to mull over my personality flaws.
** It's not actually kung fu. It's some kind of eccentric hybrid of kung fu and karate, practiced by a handful of people in a couple of studios. I have no idea what the rest of the martial arts world thinks of it, though I have watched some impressive fighting demos by black belts. 
*** There's one kid, a 12-year-old girl who just got her black belt, who is clearly Duchess's role model in all things. She's confident, courteous, academically successful, and has several equally stellar close friends. She's also an accomplished swimmer and volunteers at the library in her spare time. This is not a bad role model. 
*** Playing babies, playing legos, playing house, coloring (she's an accomplished colorer already, in fact!), and drawing people with rectangular bodies, pointy heads, and stick limbs.


Duchess is nine! I don't even know how to express what Duchess is like, except the way I described her a year ago, except more. She's a joyful tyrant. She is bursting with life, a state which often feels to those of us who live with her like pure noise. She laughs and talks loudly. She even walks loudly. She tells boring stories and terrible jokes, regardless of the fact that her audience is rolling its eyes and walking away. She doesn't edit herself; she says every single thought that comes into her brain.   She believes that she's worth looking at and worth listening to. While this can make her spectacularly obnoxious, it's also impressive, and potentially a powerful asset for her, if she can hold onto it (and modulate it for reduced obnoxiousness). She remains joyful and optimistic about most things (while retaining the capacity to throw ridiculous tantrums when things don't go her way). Even when I'm most annoyed with her, it's impossible not to be charmed by her full-on grins, and the delighted gleam in her eyes.

I am reading a parenting book to help me support Skipper a little better, and when I did the is-your-kid-sensitive questionnaire, I checked almost every box for Skipper, but I also noted that many of those traits are true of Duchess as well. She is observant of the world around her, and is sensitive to other people's needs. She, unlike her sister, is enthusiastic about changes, and she dives into things, though only after she has reviewed the scene. She checks the situation out carefully, and then she holds nothing back.

Duchess is adrift in a new world of social maneuvering, trying to figure out who she is and how she's going to present herself to the world. Last weekend, she attended two birthday parties. At the first one, she knew only the birthday girl, a situation that would be awkward for most anyone. She reported happily afterward that she distinguished herself by making witty* remarks. The way she talked about it, it was pretty clear that she's working out her social identity, and making some conscious decisions about how to present herself in the group. She was very pleased with the success of her Duchess-as-Oscar-Wilde persona. The following day, she went to a party at a bowling alley, and she told me when she came home that a fifth-grader, a boy she didn't know, flirted with her. (On interrogation, she wasn't very clear about how she knew it was flirting as opposed to normal weird-kid-interaction, but she was certain that was what it was.) She's feeling lately like she's losing social clout in her class, in part due to her distaste for Monster High and her general lack of political instincts. She observes the maneuvering, and tells me exactly how every girl in the class "ranks" socially, but she is, to my great relief, not cutthroat enough to really go for a higher rank. She has asked for a pair of skater-style shoes like the ones the highest ranked girls wear, but otherwise she still seems happy to go to school with snarly hair, wearing a dress, capri pants, knee socks, and sneakers.**

For her birthday, Duchess chose to go to the science museum, to the Sherlock Holmes exhibit, with a friend. This was a strategic decision, as this friend has a slightly higher social rank AND shares her disinterest in playing "Teenagers" and "Monster High" at recess.*** Ergo, a good relationship in which to invest! Plus, this friend is dorky enough to want go to a Sherlock Holmes exhibit in which you try to solve a mystery. As it turns out, Duchess is still dorkier - I had to pry her away from each stage of the exhibit, because she wanted to keep studying the evidence, well after her friend and I had gotten bored and wanted to move on.

Anyway. Duchess is nine. It feels, of course, like those nine years have both flown by and taken forever. She's a great kid, and she'll be a great adult someday. (In both a really long time and a really short time!)

*I'm taking her word on this, because the remarks she repeated for me didn't exactly ring witty. Presumably all eight/nine-year-olds have common standards for repartee.
** In case you're wondering, this is not a trend at Duchess's school. I don't actually see anybody dressing at all like her, though her fashion choices don't seem to be motivated by a desire to be different, but by the desire to be able to modulate her temperature. She likes the capris-with-knee-socks thing because she can roll down the socks for ventilation at recess when she's running around.
***This friend's mom reports that the kid still enjoys watching Dora the Explorer with her little sisters. As Duchess still enjoys watching Dinosaur Train with HER little sister, it's a great match. And I certainly support anything that helps Duchess hold onto childhood a little longer.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's not entirely my fault that we don't send out holiday cards.

This weekend we attempted, on two separate days, to take family portraits for a holiday card. Skipper, for reasons known only to her, was not okay with it. She got dressed up in her best holiday outfits on both days (as did Duchess), but when it came time to do the thing, she wigged out. This is from the first attempt. Notice how great we all look. (Okay, Duchess actually looks fine, though the pose does not allow you to see her favorite holiday shirt, featuring a picture of a hamster in a Santa hat, saying "Ho Ho Holidays". I hate it.)

This is the following day, when we tried to get it done earlier, before the post-lunch crankies settled in.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Not a lot to say.

The rain has begun; the freakishly un-Portlandy sunny October weather is gone. 

I have realized that the thing I find most interesting and rewarding right now is working with individual kids* at Homework Club. Apparently I should chuck all my educational investment and become a school counselor. Or something.

Skipper is slightly happier at school, but she really dreads the terrible, unstructured time at recess. Having been known as Track Girl** at a school where I spent 5th grade, I am very sad to hear that she spends a lot of her time walking around the playground alone. We haven't heard anything from Murphy lately, though, and her sleep patterns seem to be settling back down a bit. So that's good. I've been reading a lot of books with titles that combine the words "parenting," "anxiety," "sensitive," and "worry" in a variety of ways. Some of them are somewhat helpful.

Duchess is pretty excited about turning nine. She's excited about everything, actually, and chooses ways to express her excitement that are calibrated to maximally annoy me.*** She's really good at it.

I recently applied for a job for which I am extremely well-qualified. I hated doing the application. Every minute of it felt masochistic and terrible. No doubt character was built, but it hardly seems worth it.

That's the news, mostly. 

Also, here's what we're reading right now:
Cook: The Aubrey-Maturin series, when he has time between work and volunteer commitments.

*This is ridiculous, but I had never really thought about how it would feel to get negative feedback on every single thing I did at school. (Granted, I later had that experience in a job, but at least I had some banked-up self-esteem to carry me along through that.) Grading spelling tests for Duchess's class every week has made me recognize how brutal a bad assignment looks after it's been corrected. On some of those tests, I have to write out the correct spelling of every single word. I can't imagine what a pummeling it would be to get back sheaves of paperwork every week that were covered in corrections. I don't think I'd be able to keep going to school, honestly. These kids are brave.
**I didn't walk around the track ALL the time - in the winter I made a lot of very small snow people and snow houses in the open space inside the track. I did enjoy the snow people, though I would have much preferred having human friends.
*** It's all about me.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It's a full-time job.

Recently, Skipper told me that she's not going to have a job when she grows up. "I don't really want to work, Mom. I'm just going to be a liver, like you."

Friday, November 1, 2013

No babies here.

I actually thought Skipper's picture represented her sitting on a throne of human skulls. I could be wrong.