No Choice in the Matter

Oscar asked me last night why I write. 

He sees me writing regularly, knows that something is afoot in terms of my hoping one day to publish a book, and has seen his and his brothers’ mugs in Adoptive Families magazine on three separate occasions.

Before I could answer, though, Oscar attempted to respond for me: “Mom, do you write because you hope you’ll be famous some day?”

The short answer to that is an unequivocal NO.  And the capital letters were intentional. I’m yelling that one.  Fame holds no interest for me.  I adore anonymity. 

But as much as I might like occasionally to channel my inner recluse, I am also too much a part of this world.  I thoroughly enjoy talking to people, interacting with others.  I’m a teacher, and I love my job.  So, as much as I enjoy flying as low under the radar as possible, I know that I don’t. 

Recently, too, I have had to emerge from my comfortable cocoon and engage in what for me is a bit foreign–networking (social and otherwise) and self-promotion.  If I hope to one day publish, I need to establish a platform (read: followers, and lots of them); and to establish a platform, I need to sell myself. 

Which brings me back to Oscar’s question–which I think was less about why I write and more about why I am hoping to publish.  Writing a blog with a following of mainly friends and family is one thing; hoping to convince a publisher that what you have to say is marketable is another–and it takes a whole lot of work I am not accustomed to doing.  And, truthfully, it takes work with which I am not always comfortable.

So what is the reason? 

I guess it’s pretty simple.  The answer lies in the person who posed the question in the first place–as well as his two brothers.  My children are my muses; and in this life I have dedicated to learning, they have been my most profound teachers.  What I have learned from them I am compelled to share.  I have no choice.  There is no alternative.

And that is what I told Oscar.  He looked at me and nodded as if he understood completely–as if it were what he had been waiting to hear, a response that, quite frankly, couldn’t have been topped by the nine goddesses themselves.

Keeping the Next Generation Around

I need to start this post by declaring from the rooftops that I love the Newport Jazz Festival.  My husband and I have gone every year–rain or shine–before and since children.  It’s a two-day oasis, a mini-vacation, a feast for the senses. 

 

But I would be lying if I said that the last several years have been easy.  The festival is not a kid-friendly place.  Granted, there is a kids’ “tent,” if you will, where children can stop by and paint–however, this year, if they wanted to paint, parents needed to shell out a minimum of $10 for a wooden figurine.  They couldn’t paint on paper or rocks or anything that might be free; the only items available for painting were for sale. 

Yesterday we attended the Beantown Jazz Festival in Boston.  And while admission was free, I need to preface what comes next by saying I have never begrudged a fair ticket price for any entertainment.  There is a lot of work that goes into a show, and I fully believe all artists should be paid fairly.  So, it wasn’t the free admission that knocked me out (though it is an added bonus) but rather how welcome children seemed to be.

I do not believe that every place, every venue, every event needs to be kid-friendly.  Far from it.  It’s nice to be able to go out to dinner with another adult and know that the host isn’t going to hand you crayons as you enter. 

But a music festival is different.  Music is for everyone, and an outdoor festival should be for all.  Of course, there is nothing prohibiting children’s attendance at the Newport Jazz Festival; in fact, they have a $15 ticket for each of them ages two and up.  So, getting through the gates is not the issue.  It’s what you do once you get inside.

Young children have a hard time sitting.  They need to move; and while they may occasionally dance to the rhythms they’re hearing, it’s often not enough.  A single tent where kids can paint is a nice addition and offers a brief diversion, but young children and their families need more–that is, if you’d like to keep them all on the festival grounds for the longest time possible.

At the Beantown Jazz Festival there was a craft tent (which featured activities and coloring pages–all inspired by the music); another tent where kids could look at and play with the very instruments they saw the musicians playing on stage; a jam tent where kids played along to stories being read; and, of course, the requisite bouncers–those ubiquitous inflated contraptions that while they are admittedly a germ-infested lair offer the opportunity for the tremendous release of energy. 

What this communicated to me as a participant is that the Beantown Jazz Festival wanted my entire family, small children included, to come– and stay.  They wanted my children to focus on music, on jazz, for the hours we were there.  They wanted them to learn something.  What the Newport Jazz Festival communicates to me as a parent is that they are happy to sell me a ticket but after that I’m on my own. 

The problem is is that the Newport Jazz Festival sets the standard for jazz festivals, and it’s in our own backyard.  But as the parent of three future fans, I would ask that they consider bringing in whatever it takes to keep these future fans there for as long as the can and show all jazz fans who happen to be parents of young children that you understand. 

 

Delicious Without the Deception

Today I received a copy of Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious–and with all due respect to Ms. Seinfeld and gratitude to the giver of this gift, its arrival has launched over the last 12 hours something of an ethical quandary. 

The assumptions driving this cookbook, of course, are (1) kids like a finite number of dishes, (2) they don’t like vegetables, and (3) the only way to get some kids to eat vegetables is to slip them in surreptitiously to the foods they will eat–butternut squash in noodles, cauliflower in mozzarella sticks, chickpeas in chocolate chip cookies. 

No one can argue the nutritional benefit of adding pureed spinach or carrots to foods you’re already eating; and if you can’t taste them, then what’s the harm?

The harm, I think, has to do with the deception.  I don’t like surprises.  I don’t like to be tricked.  And as a former vegetarian, I would hate to think that someone along the way deceived me–perhaps telling me a soup was vegetarian when, in fact, it had been made with chicken broth, duping me into believing that a veggie burger I ordered was not prepared on the same grill as one made from beef. 

And deception has no place in our home.  As I consider what is being proposed in this book, I can’t help but conclude that at its core it is saying it’s okay to lie to people if it’s for their benefit.  But is it?  Eventually children will discover this culinary ruse, and it might lead them to wonder about what else they might have been deceived.

So, even though I would be positively giddy if my children chose to eat and willingly embraced gorgeous, fresh vegetables, I don’t think I have it in me to trick them into eating them.  If I want them to eat broccoli, I’m not going to puree it and sneak it into their chicken nuggets.  I’m going to put it on the plate next to their chicken nuggets–in plain sight–and let them decide if they’re going to eat it. 

And I have to believe eventually they will.

Up or Down?

It had to happen . . . When you are raising and writing about three boys, eventually you are going to have to write about the toilet.

Image courtesy of Google Images. (Our bathroom is nowhere near this fabulous.)

Someone recently mentioned to me that I should “train” my sons to put down the toilet seat after they have finished conducting their business.  Their argument was the same one we have all heard: If the seat is up and a woman doesn’t look where she’s sitting, she’ll fall in. 

It’s not a delicate image to be sure, but my question is why should this even happen in the first place?  What sort of world are we living in where women aren’t looking where they’re sitting?  I check out every seat I choose to park myself; and if the danger of landing on a hard surface and in cold water is a possibility, I’m going to look twice. 

The truth is women do look.  They notice every splash, every ounce of residue, every stray scrap of toilet paper.  They bring things in their capacious pocketbooks with which to clean and sterilize.   They’re looking–and disinfecting–make no mistake.

Granted, in the middle of the night when you are trying with utmost care to stumble in the dark to the bathroom without disturbing your REM sleep, the possibility exists that there won’t be much inclination for observation.  However, if you are male and the seat and lid are down, there is work to be done.  Eyes have to be open, an effort needs to be made. 

As my sons grow, I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that I will soon one day be surrounded by and sharing a bathroom with four men.  The ratio itself is enough to make me think I should probably defer to them on this one.  It doesn’t make sense for four people to have to adjust what they do for one person.  If things were reversed and we were raising three girls, the expectation most assuredly would be that my husband would put the seat in the position that was most convenient for the most number of people.

So, not only am I not going to insist that they put the seat down; I’m actually going to leave it up for them.  Will I instruct them that when they’re in other people’s homes they should put it down when they’re finished?  Of course. Will we explain that good manners dictate that there will be times and places when and where they need to put it back?  Naturally. 

And though I know that any woman with whom any of my children may one day form an alliance may have a bone or two pick with me, I’m going to stand by this one.  Believe me, she’ll have plenty more than the position of the toilet seat to bring to my attention.

Senses Working Overtime

“And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste

“And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five

“Senses working overtime

“Trying to take this all in . . .”

XTC, “Senses Working Overtime”

My senses are easily sated if not easily overwhelmed.  And generally when one is happy, the others can take a hike.  If there is a beautiful sunset on which to feast my eyes, I don’t need much else.  I often need to close my eyes when I hear beautiful music or take in the scent of lilac.  And when I’m eating Indian food, it’s best if the restaurant is on the plain side because if it’s too colorful, too sumptuous, I’m bound to get distracted.

That’s me.  I’m a one-sense wonder–one at a time that is. 

But that’s not Edgar.  And that became abundantly clear to me last night as I watched him at a bonfire at his school’s 40th birthday celebration.  Edgar is not a one-sense wonder.  His riveted attention at this event proved it.

A bonfire is sensory overload for someone like me–it’s gorgeous and warm and crackling and smells like fall.  Give me a bowl of mulligatawny soup with it and I’d probably faint.  But for Edgar, quite the opposite happens.  When all his senses are stimulated, he is engaged, fully engaged–as in sitting front and center, eyes fixed on the source of his happiness.  While other kids were running and playing around the bonfire, Edgar did what is, let’s face it, uncharacteristic for him–he was still.

And I wondered who noticed, who realized that this boy whom the world occasionally and euphemistically calls “busy,” “energetic,” and–at a few unfortunate junctures–“hyper” was fully capable of staying in one spot, of paying attention.  And it made me wonder about expectations and why the world so often has the same set for everyone. 

 

Billie Holiday said, “If I’m going to sing like someone else, then I don’t need to sing at all.” Individuality is a gift to the world, but it requires careful observation, and it requires effort from the rest of us.  As the mother of three and teacher to so many more, it is my most important charge–to pay attention to and nurture others’ individuality. 

Really, what else is there?

 

 

A Bit of Mulch and Much Wisdom

As soon as I put the final period on my story as to why I needed roadside assistance, the representative from AAA with whom I was on the phone cried out, “Oh, honey, why aren’t you screaming right now?”

All she knew is what had happened (there was a piece of mulch stuck in the ignition) and how (my seven-year-old son had put it there).  She couldn’t see him in the backseat—downcast, embarrassed, and in tears.  An experiment borne of curiosity gone awry, a move the consequences of which he could never had imagined, he didn’t need anyone “screaming” at him.  He didn’t need anyone even to tell him that he had done something wrong, that this was going to be a time-consuming and expensive problem to fix.  He garnered it himself—within moments—and the depths of his conscience became apparent. 

When he realized I couldn’t put the key in the ignition he immediately owned it.  He could have pretended not to notice; he could have blamed a brother.  He could have made up any manner of story.  But he didn’t.  He said, “I put a little piece of mulch in there,” then asked hurriedly and with more than a hint of panic, “You can’t get it out?” 

At home tonight when we discussed consequences, I asked Oscar what he thought would be an appropriate consequence given what he had done.  He suggested I might take away his LEGO or ground him from playing with his friend or watching television.  I asked him to think a bit more.

We talked at length about the expense of this mistake, of course, but also the colossal inconvenience as the possibility of my not having a car for an extended period of time looms.  And he said, after acknowledging that even a year’s worth of lemonade stands wouldn’t address the financial component, “Well, since I have made things inconvenient for you, maybe I could do stuff to try to make your life easier.”

And there it was—a consequence commensurate to the infraction, brought to you by a seven-year-old. 

And even though he put a piece of mulch in the ignition of my car, with this move tonight Oscar retains his title of one of the most reasonable people I know. 

And this is perhaps why I didn’t need to scream.