Dec 042015

Not massive stress, mind you, but still enough that I couldn’t sleep.

Because on top of the usual November/December panic with all the presents for Christmas and birthdays, and the planning of a birthday party for our son, and the re-scheduling of students that we usually have this time of year it also turned out that our dear son had stopped studying for Latin about a year ago, and now that came back to bite him.

His grades are bad enough in Latin and German that he will fail the grade if he doesn’t change anything up. And then it turned out that he doesn’t really know how to study. Or to make sure he actually knows the stuff he has been looking at afterwards.

Which means that I now have the additional duty of making him learn Latin words (and grammar but that will be a little later), and then sitting down with him every night to test him.

While this is a nice mother/son bonding experience in a strange way I also resent this very much. I have to work harder and longer because he couldn’t be bothered. On the other hand it is pretty clear that he is lost on his own, and that’s what one does for one’s child, one helps when needed. Still.

On the other hand I am very happy to have found out what the thing was that made me wake up around five in the morning. And I do feel a bit better now that I can actually do something about it.

I also went out and got myself some valerian and St. John’s wort to help me sleep better.

I don’t usually say that I’m stressed. Usually my life is pretty busy, and things can become hectic, or too much but they aren’t really stressful very often. Also I meditate every day again which does help a little to hold the stress at bay.

But right now things are rather stressful. Though I am working on making them a little less so. I have lists, and I try to do things in a timely manner, and not let lose ends hang.

I have all the Christmas presents and birthday presents already ordered, and yesterday I went out and bought wrapping paper and such. Which means I will wrap presents over the next days, and then I can exhale again because that has been taken care of.

I find that getting all the presents on time doesn’t really help. As long as there’s still the wrapping to do, or the sending packages to family I still feel as if those tasks are draining my energy. And since I will have to wrap them eventually, and since wrapping them on Christmas Eve didn’t really help me feel better, I have decided to do it right now, and then have it over with.

I have slept a little better the past few days. I’m still not really in a calm and peaceful place but then that’s probably to much to ask this time of year.

I have to say that I’m really looking forward to the holidays when we’ll have two weeks off. They will probably be filled with family visits and their own kind of panic but still.

So how do you feel these days? Stressed out? Loving the calmness of this time of year?

May 132012

Today I got to sleep in, have a very leisurely breakfast – not in bed – went on a nice stroll with my husband to get flowers for his mother, had excellent Indian food made by said husband which included spinach picked from the porch, got to weave a bit on my new loom, and got this heart, sewn by my son as a present:


Beautiful, isn’t it? And the colors are just perfect.

Apr 182012

To lose weight. I was horrified.

For a few weeks now he has been talking about the fact that he has become “fat”. Now this is the boy who used to be on the skinny side. He had the usual stages of childhood, growing taller, then broader, then taller, and lately quite a bit broader. Add to it his fondness of sweets, and tendency to spend all his time in front of screens or books, well, yes, he has grown a little protruding tummy, but nothing major in my eyes.

After talking for a while we found that it was my mother-in-law who kept telling him he had been growing fat, and needed losing weight. Now, even if he were obese, which he isn’t I wouldn’t want him to start dieting.

The only thing a diet is pretty certain to make you is fat in the long run. Especially with people like my son and me. We are contrary. If anyone tells us what we’re allowed to eat or not, even if it is ourselves we’re bound to become all stubborn, and eat even more of the things we shouldn’t.

Now, you have to know that my mother-in-law is a person who still thought I was as slim as the day we met even after I had gained 20 kilos in the meantime. (That’s 44 pounds for those of you who don’t use metric.) She didn’t even realized that I had grown quite a bit bigger.

Now this woman is telling my son that he is fat. Why’s that?

With a bit of detective work we finally got it. There were two factors to it:

First, my son these days often has these massive eating binges at mealtimes. You know how sometimes even little children eat more than you? He sometimes does that. It doesn’t bother me because he doesn’t do it all the time, and for every time he eats like a starving teenager there’s another time when he doesn’t eat much at all. To me that’s a sign that he is in touch with his body’s need. Now my mother-in-law is of a generation that believes in portion control. She fixes dinner (with ridiculously small portions for a growing boy), and if he says he’s still hungry she thinks he can’t really be because there’s no dinner left.

Second, my son has this belly. His jeans have grown a bit too tight, and so his belly is sticking out. There are several things to this. Yes, he has become a bit stockier than before, and second he doesn’t really have the abs to have a firm belly. Which isn’t unsurprising in a boy his age.

I hope that the thing I’m telling him makes a difference. The thing is, I have seen this many times before with students. Once they are approaching their tenth birthday, some a little earlier, some a little later, all of a sudden children come up to me saying, “I need to lose weight, I’m fat.” And then they tell me that they are already weighing [insert some number between 35 and 40 kilos here], and that their friends are weighing less than that.

And then I tell them the things I always tell: Children grow in spurts. After every time they’re getting taller there is usually a time when they get stockier, and maybe even a bit chubby. Especially at this time when their bodies are almost getting ready for puberty. Just look at children between 9 and 12 and you can see it. A lot of them are becoming rounder, and heavier, and almost denser at that age. And then, a few years later they transform in front of your eyes, going from a child to a teenager.

If they start dieting at an age that young it won’t make them better looking, healthier, or even slimmer. Chances are they probably end up fatter, unhealthier, and screwed up.

I really hate it that this world is tending to a beauty standard that is unobtainable for most of us. I hate it that being a certain body size, and shape has been become the one indicator for being attractive, happy, and healthy. And I really, really hate it that my beautiful son, this charming, intelligent, witty, and funny 9 1/2 year-old thinks he’s ugly and fat.

Yes, I wish I were slimmer too. I have become pretty fat myself in the past few years. I would like to fit into size 10 pants, really. But I can also tell you that there are many, many things in the world worse than being fat. And that being fat does not equal being stupid, or a loser, or unlovable, or even unattractive. Yes, advertising and magazines are telling us so. But every single one of them wants us to feel bad so they can better sell us things, and ideas. They don’t want us to be happy the way we are because happy people don’t buy as much.

So I myself have been concentrating on becoming as strong, and fit, and healthy, and happy as I possibly can. And to find clothes that fit the body I have instead of pining for the size 10 jeans.

For my son we have talked, and keep talking. And I will have a stern talk with my mother-in-law later. And we are trying to help him lose the “have to have sweets after every meal”-habit that my mother-in-law installed, and help him to go outside and run around a little more. Because those are good things regardless of how big or small someone is.

I’m really, really pissed, I don’t know if you can tell. And I’m also sending you to the “Dances with Fat“-blog again, and to the concept of health at every size because obviously it needs repeating.

Mar 182011

These days I spent most time with my son nagging him to hurry up already. From the minute I wake him in the morning to the time when I put his lights out in the evening our encounters are a string of, “Faster, you’re late, hurry up already.” This is not pleasant. I have come to resent the way he closes the zipper of his jacket or his shoes. It’s taking so much time.

He really is very slow in dressing and undressing himself, and in getting ready for anything. He – like me – has a problem with transitions. He – like me – also has a problem perceiving time. He doesn’t really feel how much time has passed, or how long things are taking. This is a real problem when he needs to get ready for school in the mornings, when he has to get home after school, and when he has to get ready for all his extra-curricular activities. His teacher even wrote about it on his report card. How much she doesn’t like reminding him every single day to get ready, get dressed and get home. Even the women who volunteer to help the children crossing streets are getting annoyed with him because he’s always the last one, and they stay there waiting and waiting instead of going home.

We have tried a lot of things, counting, setting a timer, not doing anything and sending him to school without breakfast, but what I mostly do is this constant nagging. It’s totally automatic by now, and I guess neither my son nor me listens to it. It’s just an unpleasant background noise. Sometimes I wonder why I keep doing it since my son has turned deaf to it anyway but then I found I keep nagging because at least that’s a way to release some of my frustration. So I nag, nag, nag, and then I get angry, and tap my foot.

The other day, when he was telling us that the volunteer women had threatened to report him to the school we thought about how he could become better at this. His problem is that he is easily distracted, and so when he puts on his shoes and clothes after school, and chats with the other children he won’t do both at the same time. He either chats or gets ready.

All of a sudden I realized that he doesn’t have a way to measure how much time has passed. He doesn’t know if he is going fast or slow, he is just doing one thing after the other when it occurs to him. He lives pretty much in his head so the fact that he is still standing there in slippers while most of the other children have already gone home doesn’t register with him. And it doesn’t help that the friend who walks with him is about equally slow.

So we talked it all through and for the first time ever I asked him about the other children. He said there were quite a few who were as slow as him. And we asked, “And do they live as far away as you? And do they have volunteers waiting for them as well?” Turns out that those boys live just across the street from the school. So I asked him about the children that are getting ready much faster than him. And there is one boy, his best friend who gets ready very fast. So I told my son to watch him, and try to match him. And he did, and at least he is only late coming home from school, not extremely late.

The problem is that apart from us and the volunteers waiting for him, and getting worried because there might have happened something to him, he also has two days when he comes home, has 15 minutes to eat lunch, and has to leave for school again. Now, this was his choice. We told him not to sign up for those things but he really wanted to, and so we sit there, wait for him with lunch ready on the spot, and then tell him to hurry up because he’s late.

Evenings have been getting better, and then I remembered that that was when I told him the exact time when he had to be in pajamas, and then when the lights had to be out. Of course he couldn’t know. My husband and I knew that we wanted him to turn out the lights at 8.30 but nobody had bothered to tell him. The minute we told him he could look at the clock and see how many time he had left. Of course it helps that he can read time now. You can’t really do that with most younger children but with a second-grader you can.

So yesterday evening I sat him down and told him that he has to wake up at 6.45, get out of bed at 7.00, be dressed and ready for breakfast at 7.10, brush his teeth and get ready for school at 7.25, and leave a little later than 7.30.

Well, today it worked like a charm. He did struggle a bit, and then I know it’s quite a tight schedule, but he made it. I sat the clock next to him while he was putting on his clothes, and for once he realized that he does not have time to read or play in the morning. He could sit down for breakfast and instead of me telling him, “You’re late, you’re late, you should be brushing your teeth now.” he was the one glancing at the clock saying, “I only have four more minutes before I have to brush my teeth.”

I know that our schedule in the mornings is a bit too tight but I also know that neither my son nor I are ready to get up earlier than we do because that would mean to going to bed earlier as well. And having more time does not always lead to having less stress. I know that when I have the feeling to have plenty of time for something I often end up doing everything so slow that I have to hurry up in the end anyway.

Of course, now that it worked (once) I’m a bit angry at myself for not realizing this earlier. And I’m a bit afraid that this might be one of those things that work once, and then nevermore. But then I know that when I, as a grown woman, finally realized that catching the 7.05 bus meant leaving the house at 6.55, and that meant brushing my teeth and putting on makeup at 6.45, and that meant having breakfast at 6.15, and that meant getting up at 5.45, and that meant setting my alarm for 5.30 – that felt like a revelation to me. “You mean in order to catch the bus at 7.05 I have to set the alarm more than 1 1/2 hours earlier? Oh, that’s why my timing never worked. No wonder I had to rush and scramble every single morning. Duh.”

Duh indeed. I really hope that I will cease to resent the way my son – slowly and diligently – pulls up the zipper of his jacket. Or fastens and unfastens the velcro on his shoes not once, not twice but at least four times each time he puts them on. And I really hope that I can become more than a nagging device for him.

Apr 292010

I’ve been to one of these semi-compulsary parent-teacher things again. (And be warned, this post is epic, sorry.) It’s called ‘Eltern-Stammtisch’, and I’m sorry but I can’t really translate that. ‘Eltern’ means ‘parents’, and my online dictionary tells me that ‘Stammtisch’ means ‘regular’s table’ which is one meaning of this, but a ‘Stammtisch’ is also a regular informal meeting in a bar. Which in this case is a bit misleading since I always expect beer and merriment only to be greeted with an agenda (and this time there was even someone writing minutes).

So it works like this: the teacher tells the ‘Elternsprecher’ (insert long-winding explanation, that’s one of the parents of the students in my son’s class who was elected to be our spokesperson) that she wants an informal meeting, we all get nice photo-copied invitations, arrange for baby-sitters and such and meet at a restaurant. A greek restaurant this time which was a bonus. Especially since I had to go there directly after work without having had dinner. Then we have a meeting that doesn’t really feel informal while eating pita and feta cheese, and drinking wine. Then you chat, and then you go home.

In my case I chat, I feel bad, I drink too much, I go home, and then I grab my poor long-suffering husband only to rant about all the other parents, the system, and modern times. I was quite good at first. This time I only ordered water since I was really tired and exhausted after a long, long day of teaching, aka talking to people. I know what happens if I sit down in front of a beer when I’m tired. I a) don’t ever get up again, and b) talk about twice as much as usual which goes on everybody’s nerves, mine included. I like talking but really, I already know all my stories. Well, most of them anyway.

So I was good, I ordered water, I brought something easy to knit because that makes me more patient, I ordered something nice to eat because I was hungry. Also I knew that drinking water would bring me home earlier because I could have a beer at home later. So all was fine. Then the teacher announced that there would be a kind of spring celebration at the end of May. Everybody is invited to participate, maybe play a nice song (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). I already knew about this so I was totally prepared to bring my guitar and sing the one song that I know by heart. It should have been something about spring or animals but I thought since this is a love song, in a way, all would be fine.

The celebration thingy of course would be held in the afternoon so that the parents who work (out of home) can attend too. Nice thought. It will start at four o’clock in the afternoon. On a Wednesday. – I’m sorry but I burst out laughing. Wednesday is one of my busiest teaching days, and my first thought was, “No way can I make this, well, you just have to celebrate spring without me.” Next thought (and the mothers among you will recognize that one). “If I only move three students, and then get home early I could make it.” I then made the mistake of saying that I might be able to reschedule something and come after all. Then I thought, “Susanne, are you crazy? That would mean prepare food for that while you don’t have time, move three students around, rush there, play a song nobody wants to hear anyway, grab my child telling him that we have to go now, no matter if everybody else is still staying because I have to teach my last student of the day, and then run home to work again.” Also there are no empty slots in my timetable to move the three students to.

When I came home and told my husband about this he said, “Are you crazy? You can’t do something like this on a Wednesday afternoon, you’re working Wednesday afternoon, why did you even think about it?”

Why I did? I did because I hadn’t seen my son for more than twenty minutes at a time that day, because I have the feeling that he will feel bad if everybody goes to the spring thing but him, or everybody goes with their parents and he has to go with a friend or with his grandmother, and that I’m a bad mother.

Of course. Again. Because, you see, all these other mothers know every single homework that their children had had, and how they spent every single minute at school. My son when asked about his day in school says, “It was fine. Can I read while eating lunch?” (To which the answer is no every single day but that’s another topic for another post.

I don’t see his homework nor do I want to, I don’t really know what he did, and it’s hard enough to coax him into giving me all those pieces of paper that I’m supposed to read or sign.

And my son doesn’t find school particularly fascinating, interesting, or challenging. Just now he is sitting outside in the sun, taking turns reading a comic book aloud with a friend. The other child is in third grade. Guess which child is the better reader.

Yesterday at the meeting everybody was going on about a test the children had just had about telling the time. Evidently only three or four students in the whole class had answered the second question correctly. When we talked about this yesterday I assumed every child had made the same mistake as mine but no – the mistake he made didn’t count because the others didn’t even get what the question was about.

All the other parents (well, all that talked at that moment) were all about how the test had been too hard, and how the children are too young to learn to tell the time, and how children are supposed to start school at a younger age than before but they’re still supposed to learn the same things. I did say something, and maybe that was a wrong move, because while the official policy is to have children start school earlier the unofficial policy that parents and kindergarten teachers seem to follow is having them start school later. When you look at the children’s birthdays you find that most of them aren’t that young. One boy is turning eight in May, my own son is already 7 1/2. That’s not particularly young for first grade.

So the general consensus is that school is too hard, and that the children can’t learn all this stuff because they’re too young. Like one of my student’s parents said last week, “He couldn’t do his homework, it was too hard.” To which I should have replied, “Madam, the homework is hard, I know, but I know that if you’re son who is more intelligent than you give him credit for would just try a little thinking now and then he could have done it. Just because you can’t do it doesn’t mean he can’t.” What I did say is, “I have been teaching this for decades now, I know he can do it.” And rightfully so, he said down at the keyboard, started playing the song, it sounded terrible I said, “Why are you starting the right hand at G?” he really looked at the music and had it. Yep. Too hard, definitely.

I often feel like a bad mother. Right now I should probably be outside and share some incredible mother-son experience with my son, only he wanted to play with his friend instead. And I’m fine with that. Today I felt bad when he gave me another test they had had in school, math this time. He had everything right but two sums. And my first thought was not, “Wow, he was almost perfect.” my first thought was, “Why did he make these stupid mistakes?” Because those were only lack of concentration. He made those mistakes because he couldn’t be bothered to check. Now I get why my mother was always angry at me for not applying myself enough, like, at all. I also remember that it didn’t feel like that from the inside. So I didn’t share my first thought with my son, I said, “Wow! You were almost perfect!” but I couldn’t help adding, “Look at these two mistakes, I think those were lack of concentration. You could have had a flawless test here.”

When I was among all these other mothers yesterday evening I suddenly felt lacking because my life is not like theirs. Because comparing myself to them, which is a sort of sin in itself, I felt inadequate and as if I weren’t loving my son enough. Which is clearly bullshit. Sitting next to my son every day when he does homework does not make him a better person or even a better student. Quite the contrary. And it’s not as if he had to sit there doing it all alone, his grandmother is there, she makes sure that he does all his homework, and there’s always someone to ask. I really would like to have a job where I don’t have to work afternoons when my son is home but on the other hand he really doesn’t need me hovering about him all the time. Also I think doing homework together is overrated as a bonding experience.

The problem is that when I spend time with all these other parents, these ‘full time moms’ (there were a few dads too) I feel like an alien. I say something, they don’t really get what I’m saying, I feel inadequate, they probably feel inadequate too, you know how it is, and so my husband is right:

I have to stop going to these things. It doesn’t do anybody good. I usually go to show that I’m willing, and that I want to participate in school life but I’m fooling no one.

I really like the teacher, and I don’t have anything against the other parents, when the class is going on excursion to the museum I’m in. That’s easy to fit in for me because I have mornings off. For things like that spring celebration? I’ll buy a dozen bagels, and send my son off with his grandma while I teach. Everybody will have a good time.

Sorry, but I can’t be a full time mother. I can’t be a full time anything. But it’s still bothering me, of course.

And then I remember that I went to another ‘Eltern-Stammtisch’ the week before. A really informal one, and that I had a great time there.

Jan 252010

It’s that time of year again, the time when my son is scared. When the days grow shorter and darker he traditionally develops a fear of – something. One year it was skeletons, one year it was masks, one year it was ghosts, one year it was robbers, this year it’s quite specific, a green skeletal devil with horns.

It all started at the beginning of November (yes, that’s three months ago, almost) when he sat in front of TV to watch something about a zoo. At 5 in the afternoon there was a trailer for a murder mystery. In this trailer there was a tiny blip showing somebody wearing a halloween costume with a green mask and devil’s horns.

The night before was the last night my son has slept in his bed since then. And if that wouldn’t have been unnerving enough he is also afraid of being alone. So when, for example, he is playing in his room, and I’m sitting in the kitchen, and then I want to get something from the basement, and I’d be unwise enough to open the actual door and get down the stairs there would be a wailing child running after me. And when I’d get up again he’d stand there, mad at me and screaming, “How dare you leave me alone? You know I’m scared!” On the other hand he will totally go to the supermarket alone and buy a toy. No problem there. It’s just being alone at the house. Or rather somewhere where he doesn’t see or here another person because we never ever leave him alone at the house.

When he is going to sleep there has to be someone with him in the next room (we have drawn the line at being in the same room) at all times. So I’m no longer allowed to watch DVDs in my very favorite chair in front of our big old TV, no I have to sit on the hard and cold kitchen bench with my laptop who then decides it doesn’t like this particular DVD. After that I go into my bedroom without having talked a word with my husband (who is in the annex, working on his new album) and get to bed, the bed I share with my son. I’m not allowed to turn off the light completely, and I have to push him back to his side of the bed repeatedly and with force because for some strange reason I don’t like to share my pillow. Also, repeatedly through the night there will be a clear, ringing voice calling, “Mama?” in near panic. Which makes me more awake than him and then, just when I have gone to sleep again, he asks again.

My husband and I have been taking turns in “night duty”, and once or twice a week he sleeps at my mother-in-laws place to give us a break. I only really realized how much I feel like being on a leash when yesterday while my son was away with his grandmother I sat in the kitchen knitting, and then wondered what my husband was doing. I sat there for a while and then it hit me: I could just stand up, leave the room and go over into the annex without someone yelling at me! Wow. Sweet freedom.

Now, for those of you not familiar with my son, he is not 18 months old, no, he’s 7 years. He knows perfectly well that he is safe in the house. Ever since he turned three we could leave him playing in one part of the house and go to the annex, at least briefly. He has always been afraid of the dark so he there’s a light in his room, and for quite some time now there had to be someone in the next room when he went to sleep. Once he had fallen asleep whoever was on duty that night could walk out, and then only return when it was time to got to sleep ourselves.

I have a big problem with this. I can’t sleep properly. When I hear anybody scream “Mama?” I have to suppress the urge to slap that child whoever it is. I have told everybody I’ve met for the past three months about this. I’d say I have a problem.

Now, I know that he is really scared. I know that his fear isn’t rational and I remember how it is at that age. That’s why he has a light on while falling asleep, and that’s why there is someone near. But then I also remember that even though I was afraid there were bears in the basement I still went there. Telling myself, “There are no bears in the basement, there are no bears in the basement.” all the time. And you know what? I never saw a single bear there.

My son on the other hand, my son who knows perfectly well that there are no strange devils lurking in the corners of our house, my son ends every talk about how we just please want to sleep again, and how we know that he is scared but that he is perfectly safe with the same sentence: “But I’m scared.” Yeah, we knew that already, thanks.

I bought nice educational books, I elevated his stuffed giraffe to a monster-slaying super-toy (worked for half an hour), bought him a magic slumber mouse (he was set on trying to sleep alone but then he went off to his grandma’s and the next night he was – too scared again).

Everybody we have talked to so far has said the following things:

  • every child is afraid of something
  • there are a lot of children who still sleep in their parents beds
  • this too will pass
  • maybe stickers will help
  • and the final thing, when we kept on saying, “Yeah, we tried that but it didn’t work.” or “Yeah, I knew that already.” then people say, “You have to get help.”

And you know what? They might be right. On the other hand it’s not as if I didn’t know anything about behavior modification or parenting. And our son is really, really stubborn. You know, I’m a pretty stubborn person but that’s nothing compared to him. I talked to a student who happens to have a son the same age as mine about what to do when your son is really rude and threatens to hit you, and he said, “Well, then he has to go to his room until he has calmed down.” And I looked at him, blinking for a couple of seconds with a blank look, and then I said, “And he just goes there?” And he said, “Well, if he doesn’t I make him.” That made me laugh really hard. I can, of course, lift my son up and carry him to his room, and I might even manage to close the door behind him but since we don’t own a key to that door there is nothing to keep him in there. I put him to his room, he comes out again, I put him back, he comes out again, I start screaming, he’s howling, I put him back… One time we spent 90 minutes pulling on opposite side of the door both of us screaming, and then he was only three years old. And when everything fails he just runs off to his grandmother.

Still I have decided not to let him oppress me any longer. He wants to wail behind me when I’m leaving the room? So be it. I also told him that he has to sleep in his room again. He’ll get a sticker for every night he spends in his own bed, and after two weeks we’ll go ice skating. Yesterday he actually fell asleep in his own room. My husband was lying next to him, but still. I went to bed at 11. At 11.30 he started calling me. Then he called again. Some time later he started crying. Then he called again. At 1 o’clock in the night I allowed him to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor of my room…

Tonight we’re signing a contract, both of us. He will either sleep in his room alone without making a noise or he will go to my bedroom on tiptoes without disturbing me and stay in the sleeping bag. When he stays in his room until 6.45 there will be a sticker. 14 stickers equal a trip to the ice skating rink. There will be no discussions , no wailing, no nothing. I might have to add that we have a “no discussions about things I should do or buy for him after 6 in the evening”-rule. This child will have a debate about whether or not he will eat breakfast, come to the table or dress himself for school. I told him he’s free to not eat and walk to school in his pajamas, whatever he wants. Then he yelled at me for no making him stop reading when it was time to get ready. Very funny.

Wish me luck.

Jul 232009

My son has been away with the kindergarten for two days now. Most of those who will be starting elementary school in fall went to a hostel in the Alps on Tuesday morning and will return today, Thursday, in the afternoon. It has been a really great time for me and my husband.

I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks now. It’s not that I actually wanted to get rid of my son, it’s just that I imagined an almost three day break from parenting to be quite delightful. And it was.

This time I managed to pack in advance and without stress, I think I’m getting better at this traveling thing. We ended up having to borrow the biggest suitcase my mother-in-law owns for his things. We got a list of things to pack, among them hiking boots, rubber boots, regular shoes, and house slippers. Three times everything and about as many towels as I would pack for the whole family. The list wasn’t unreasonable though, it just took care of possibilities like him getting wet or dirty every day.

When I sent him off on Tuesday I once again was struck by the tendency of modern society to make everything into a huge drama-filled event. Fortunately only one child started crying when entering the bus but there was a lot of forced smiling going on with the mothers. Instead of dropping my son of with his suitcase in tow, like I had imagined, I got to stand around for half an hour. When the bus finally disappeared around the corner I overheard several other mothers talking about how hard it was to let their precious children go away on their own for two nights. And I thought, “Huh?”

Of course it is weird to have him stay away from home without relatives but then I know he’ll have a blast. And while I do miss him I miss him much less than I thought I would. When all the other mothers went away wiping their eyes I put on my ipod and set the music to loud while thinking, “Yeah! I’m free!” There was a swing in my step and it hasn’t really left me since then.

I’m used to not having my son around all the time. He spends his day in kindergarten until 4 in the afternoon, and then he is at his grandmother’s three days a week. And on weekends he frequently sleeps at her place too. So I really didn’t think that I spend much time on caring for my son. Often I only see him shortly before bedtime, and in the mornings for breakfast. So I went on about my day on Tuesday as usual when suddenly after my last student left I realized that, no, I didn’t have to rush off to fetch my son. I could just stay at home, watch the Tour de France on TV and spin. Very relaxing.

In the evening I waited for my husband to finish work before having dinner. We spent a delightful meal talking and eating. Afterwards we did the kitchen and just when I thought, “Oh my, it’s bedtime.” I remembered that it wasn’t that day. Instead we went for a long walk and still had enough of the evening left to watch Torchwood in my case, and obscure bands on youtube in my husband’s. I went to bed at midnight, feeling slightly guilty for staying up late, and then I realized that I didn’t have to get up in the morning. No alarm clock! I just slept in until 8.30, and woke all rested and relaxed.

The next day again there was time for talking with my husband, eating lunch at a leisurely pace, watching a bit of Tour de France and spinning before teaching, and after work, instead of rushing off to fetch my son to put him to bed before having dinner myself I could just play the piano a bit before eating with my husband. (Wednesdays my son stays with his grandmother after kindergarten and I fetch him in time for him to go to bed. In order to get him to bed on time I postpone my own dinner until 8.30 or something. Usually I start getting hungry around 6.)

I got to watch two episodes of Torchwood this time, knitting away, I went to bed at twelve again, and again, I got up in the morning somewhere around 8.30 feeling fresh and well.

I have to say that I’m a bit shocked about the amount of time and energy I have when my son isn’t home. I didn’t know it was that much. I’m also quite shocked at how peaceful I feel without him. Yes, there is someone missing, and I really don’t want him to stay away, only I suddenly find that my life works better without him.

Of course I spent a lot of the past days musing about whether I am a heartless, and unfeeling person. I watched the other mothers when their children left the parking lot. They weren’t looking elated, they were sad. Or maybe they were just putting on an act, driving home in their cars afterwards, closing the doors to their homes, and pulling out the champagne, but I doubt it.

I find that I spend a lot of time thinking about why I don’t feel like people expect me to feel. Like the “they’re growing up so fast”-sentiment. That’s always uttered with a sense of loss. Like Beck did in one of her parenting posts. And I really believe that she – and all the others – are feeling it, and yes, I even can understand the urge to keep my child close, only most of me shrugs her shoulders and says, “So what?” Yes, he’s growing up, yes, he will be going away someday, and you know what? I love it.

I don’t want my son to stay at my side forever because, frankly, he’s got better things to do with his life. And I’ve got better things to do with my life too. Of course I want to stay in his life. It would be very, very sad to have a son who refuses to speak with me when he’s older. I hope that we’ll always love, respect, and cherish each other, and that we will seek each other’s company.

I didn’t quite know if I should write this post. Because in all this you have to keep in mind that if anyone came to take my son away from me I’d probably try to kill him. We’re speaking of my own flesh and blood, about a person I love more than my life. But still, having a break from being a parent feels nice once in a while.

Oh, and the best thing was when about two hours after the children had left I found two calls on my answering machine (we almost never answer the phone). First was a message from a fellow mother saying, “Oh, you’re not home, well since we agreed on calling each other when the children are safely at their destination…” (I didn’t agree on anything, I didn’t know I was supposed to sit next to my phone until someone told me my child had survived a 90 minute road trip.) The next message started with, “Hello, this is Verena from the kindergarten…” and my first thought was, “Oh God, something has happened!” because why would she call me otherwise? Well, she called to say that – the children had evidently survived the trip. Please, I don’t need an hourly update on my child’s status. Really. I’d like to hear from you if something went wrong. When I hear nothing I’ll just assume that he’s alright.

He’s probably having a great time. He’s surrounded by all his friends and teachers he loves, they have been hiking, and playing, and telling stories, and sleeping all in one room in their sleeping bags, and eating delicious food. And as everybody knows, the only thing better than having a nice vacation is coming back to a nice home again. He’ll be back in about three hours. Until then you’ll find me enjoying my time. And then I’ll give my son a great big hug.

Feb 262009

I just closed my feed reader rejoicing that there is not one post left unread in there. Marked unread, that is. I found – again – that the thought of not having read my bloggy friend’s posts was a heavy burden upon my shoulders. So I scrolled through some, commented on some others, and deleted the rest.

I know that I have subscribed to too many blogs, I really know, only I don’t know which to unsubscribe from.

This week was supposed to be a week of rest after months of sickness, and hectic life. It’s carnival break after all. Well, it started with – yet another bout of sickness which was thankfully brief, and now I find myself sitting lethargically at the kitchen table, knitting frantically without much enjoyment, drinking tea or beer, reading a book that I don’t particularly like, while the dirty dishes are staring at me, and dust bunnies accumulate in the corners.

Family life at the moment consists mostly of me and my son fighting over things like putting on clothes, or going to sleep. He isn’t good with transitions (is there anyone who is good with transitions?), I know that. But it’s really no fun that getting him to change his clothes is a 30 minute drama twice a day, complete with yelling, tears, howling, and tantrums.

I am a teacher, I know my pedagogy, and I have tried all the tricks and strategies I know. I have given up, sometimes, and dressed him myself only to have him yell at me because he wanted to do something else instead. I have tried the “do what you want, if you’re still in your pajamas by 8.15 you’ll wear those to kindergarten”-approach only to have a howling 6-year-old scrambling into his clothes at the last minute. Sometimes he has to go without breakfast because of the dressing debacle but he never went without his pants.

We have the same sort of conflict in the evening. Asking him to put on his pajamas, or any clothes results in him pulling down his pants, and then standing there staring into space for the next twenty minutes or so. The funny thing is that I remember being the same as a child, only I don’t remember any conflict. I remember that in third grade I realized that it often took me so long to put on my socks that my feet were ice-cold by the time I got around to it. Also I finally realized that taking such a long time to dress made me late for breakfast, and then I decided to learn how to dress myself faster.

So I totally understand having difficulties with transitions, and being slow in things like dressing, only the transitions don’t get easier by procrastination, they get harder, and more hectic. When, for a short time, using a timer my son had to beat was an effective method to remind him about the passage of time while dressing oneself, we found that it took him less than six minutes to dress himself. On any given day it takes him between 20 and 30 minutes while two adults nag him, and he whines, and we all get angrier by the second.

The other thing is his falling asleep, or better, his lack of falling asleep. Sleep has always been an issue with him. But there have been times when we could tuck him in, turn off the light in his room (not in the corridor, never in the corridor, and the door has to remain open), and go off to watch TV, or play music, or talk, or read blogs. Not anymore. For months at least somebody had to sit in the kitchen until he fell asleep. Which may take more than an hour. With him getting out of bed just when you thought he’d surely be asleep, asking you something, and then needing you to guide him back to bed because he is afraid to go back into his room even though the light on his nightstand is on.

To minimize anger throughout our family we devised a new tactic yesterday: I’m helping to put our son to bed but my husband will be the one sitting in the kitchen. So that I have the feeling of not being on duty 24/7. We only remind him once about changing into his pajamas, and such, and then he’s on his own. When he isn’t into his pajamas by 7.50 there will be no story-reading. Likewise I talked to him yesterday, and reminded him of the conflicts we used to have about washing hands before meals. At some point he just gave in, realizing (with a bit of help) that we always insist on washing the hands, and that if he just did it life became much more pleasant. I made a deal with him about the dressing and undressing. In the mornings my husband will stay in bed until we are finished with breakfast. He’s not a morning person, and having to eat breakfast while two people yell at each other ruins the day more effectively for him than for any of us. So he gets to stay in bed a little longer, and I get evenings off.

This morning my son fetched his clothes, and dressed himself without any conflict whatsoever. It took him 11 minutes. I felt an intense happiness. Until we started to fight about the “cutting of the fingernails because of recorder lessons” half an hour later.

Yesterday evening, by the way, ended with my son falling asleep next to my husband in our bed while watching soccer an hour after his bedtime. We’re working on it.

You might think that he needs less sleep, and that’s the reason why he can’t fall asleep but against that stands that a) he falls asleep in about 5 minutes when he’s sleeping in our bed, and b) on weekends he always sleeps at least half an hour longer than on weekdays even though he goes to bed at the same time.

Life’s not all confusion and conflict, though, on Tuesday I met a friend and we went to this very special sauna. It was very nice to meet my friend again, since we hadn’t seen each other for months, and the sauna was very relaxing.

I also finished a lot of knitting which I will get around to show you eventually, and finishing means that I can start new things. I made a hat, finished a shawl, a beret, a pair of mittens which make me very proud because I learned how to do two-handed stranded knitting for them, and two pairs of socks. Oh, and a cardigan.

And who knows, maybe my son will learn to dress himself without drama like he learned to wash his hands without drama. He’s an intelligent chap, he’ll figure it out eventually.

Feb 032009

or so, and it’s already Tuesday or something, but, well, it has been one of those weeks (yes, all two days of it, and it feels like it should be over already):

  • I spent the whole weekend dreading the dolphin costume (you know, the one I’m making for my son for carnival), and then cutting and sewing. The good news is that the body of the costume is done, and it looks great so far (after I had erringly sewn the dolphin’s back fin to the inside). The bad news: I still don’t know how I will make the head, I’ll figure that out next weekend.
  • just when I had the feeling of almost recovered health my son has a cold – again – with fever and everything.
  • my son having a fever equals him sleeping next to me, or rather him tossing and turning, and rousing me about every fifteen minutes (no kidding) by tickling my nose and asking, “Can we get up now?”
  • after the second night of this I was a bit, um, irritated today; also I can’t seem to stop eating
  • the Finanzamt send me a letter claiming that I hadn’t paid my tax for December, and it turns out that I indeed did pay it but I, myself, was stupid enough to label it “January 09”; argh. Of course something like this has to come up now of all times, not last week or the week before – and of course they can’t just think about it for a bit like “Why is she sending this in when a) she hasn’t paid for the month before, and b) the month she is paying for isn’t over yet?”; I know there aren’t many people who get paid to think on their job
  • for once I wanted to get grip on my monthly story deadline, so I had planned to write my monthly story – which is due next Thursday – today; then all of a sudden I was on 24/7 mommy duty (on the other hand I get to write this because my mother-in-law is having my son right now)
  • while having a sick child is bad for things like blogging, writing, and making music it’s really good for knitting; I’m finishing things right and left
  • at least I’m really happy that I had the brilliant idea that I can watch DVDs on my laptop in the evenings while I’m waiting for my son to fall asleep; he falls asleep earlier because he knows I’ll be there for a while, and I don’t have the feeling of being on the job forever; also I can watch two episodes of Farscape at night instead of just one
  • now I have to sign off because I have an unexpected feverish kindergartener sitting on my lap.

See you in a few days, I hope. How are you?

Dec 182008

Dear son,

again, I’m not even mentioning your name in this letter, and I’m writing it in English which you can’t yet understand. But then, you can’t read German either, and you’ll probably be grateful to me that I didn’t make your adventures in diapers (back when you still wore them, and my blog was called “diapers and music”) google-able for your future friends and enemies.

You turned six today yesterday. A birthday that was only slightly less looked forward to than your fifth. It was overshadowed by the importance of becoming a “Vorschulkind” (entering the last year of kindergarten before elementary school), and of losing your first tooth on St. Niklas day, and therefore earning the privilege of pocket money.

This year wasn’t easy for all of us. Last winter you were happily part of a group of friends who played together every day at kindergarten, and you finally had found a best friend who liked much the same things as you. His mother told me that she saw you circling the sandbox over and over, talking and talking like old men taking a walk together. You dreamed up adventures, you wanted to go to the north pole in a sledge pulled by a unicorn, and reach the stars in a rocket that you built yourself. Then came the time when all of you realized that your friends wouldn’t be with you in kindergarten forever. That they would be going to school in the summer and you wouldn’t. In preparation for that you began to bicker, and quarrel, and what had been an easy and safe situation grew complicated.

During the summer I almost thought you were depressed. We fought a lot, about every day, you were angry at everything and everybody, and then, suddenly you’d turn around and be really needy. For the first time ever in your whole life you didn’t want to let me go in the mornings. Where all your life you had been waving goodbye to me with a happy smile and the certainty to see me again after work, now, you would cling to me and plead, “Mama, don’t go, stay with me.” You’re very much torn between your desire to grow and become independent, and your desire to be small and cared for. I have tried to help you feeling safe and loved, to hug you often, and to tell you how much I love you.

Over the past year you have grown 7 cm but you have only gained one pound. (I’m not worried, though, you’re looking fine and healthy.) Since spring you have been growing out your hair, you wanted it to grow long. You also wanted to dye it black but I think kindergarteners shouldn’t dye their hair, sorry.. I liked the way you looked with your wild golden curls. Yesterday, when I tried to tame your mane a bit to stop your hair from falling into your eyes you said you no longer wanted long hair. Because your grandmother doesn’t like it. Now you have a haircut that’s shorter but not the crew cut you had before. You’re lucky, I have never ever cut anybody’s hair with scissors. I’d say for that it looks really good.

Again, you have learned so much. Whenever I talk to your kindergarten teacher she is full of praise for your knowledge, and interest, for the way you treat the other children, and your language skills. It was a surprise for all of us when you had the impression that you weren’t doing well at the “Vorschule”. You thought it was only you who had to struggle a bit with this concept of sitting still for twenty minutes, drawing what you were told, doing things that could be “right” or “wrong” in the end.

I have to confess that I always expected you to do well in an “academic” setting. As you do. Gaining knowledge, learning, thinking, and remembering is easy for you. I love that. The thing that comes as a surprise to me is the fact that in addition to that you are so popular among your peers. I can hardly enter the kindergarten building without somebody asking me if their son or daughter can have a playdate with you. As somebody who always had troubles fitting in I hope you appreciate how precious a gift that is. Interestingly, when I ask you about your day you typically tell me about the times someone was not so nice, or something didn’t go as planned. You rarely talk about the fact that everybody wanted to play with you.

While you talk endlessly you don’t talk much about the things that happened during the day, or the people you spent time with. Again, this isn’t something I would have expected. You’re telling me all about your visions for projects, things you want to do, or buy, places you’ll go but I always feel a bit weird when your friend’s mothers come to me saying, “My child talks about your child all the time! They spend so much time together!” Well, I didn’t hear anything. (It might be a bit mean to say that my child talks about my child all the time, too.)

Still you’re not an inconsiderate person. The other day when you had a friend over, a friend who doesn’t like to draw pictures, you told him, “Just keep on drawing, you’ll get better in no time.” and “When I started kindergarten I couldn’t draw either and then I drew, and drew, and drew, and now I’m so good at this.” and in the end, “This is quite good. See, you can learn this.” I fear that teaching is another things you have inherited from your parents.

I really love that you have started learning a musical instrument, even if recorder is not your favorite thing in the world. Every time I force you to practice you like it in the end. The thing I don’t have to force you to do is playing drums. Your father has borrowed a drum set, and we are both filled with pride to the brim every single time you sit down to play. For somebody who is not quite six, and who never had drum lessons (well, apart from the informal ones you get from your father) you’re really good.

But the thing that you like the most, again, is drawing pictures, and building things out of cardboard and glue.

Every day I’m telling you that I love you so that you don’t forget it, and it’s really nice to see that you’re doing the same thing. That, even though you’re very manly nowadays, and reserve your fantasies of fairies and bunnies for your private moments at home, you still think it’s not unmanly to hug your friends, and the people you love.

I wish you a very happy year as a six-year-old, may your last year of kindergarten be merry and bright, and your transition to elementary school smooth, and uneventful. Happy birthday, my son!