Friday, August 24, 2007

High Drama at Preschool

It’s funny how certain things are such a "big deal" when you’re only three. My twins just started a new year of preschool, and this is the first time they’ve had a schedule that includes eating lunch at school. A hot-lunch menu was sent home, so I read each of the items to the boys. Austen, who will eat almost anything, wanted to buy them all. On the other hand, Caleb, who is extremely picky, only wanted to buy a few meals. So I sent a check for Austen to have hot lunch for the next 8 school days, and Caleb to have only a few. Well, you should have seen the tears from Austen on the first day when he found out that Caleb got to take his (new) lunch box, and he didn’t! I tried to explain, of course, that he was having a very special chicken nuggets lunch at school, but as he didn’t actually have the lunch in front of him, the concept of "waiting for the good stuff" was too difficult to comprehend. Considering that I had plopped down $24 for his next 8 lunches, however, I really didn’t want to give in and let him bring lunch. So, I put up with the tears and sent them to school. When I went to pick them up at the end of the school day, their new teacher met me in car line and said that the boys did great on their first day, with one exception. Austen, who had the hot lunch he complained about, ate well. But Caleb, who got the coveted home-packed lunch, ate nothing! Go figure . . .

On the second day, I picked the boys up from school and asked how their day went. They told me about some of the fun they had, and then Caleb chimed in, "And I peed on the playground, right on the mulch!" I was stunned! "Did you really pee on the playground, Caleb?" He assured me that he had. "Did the teacher see you?" I asked. He told me that she hadn’t. Thank God I wasn’t going to be getting a call from their brand-new teacher on the second day of class informing me that my son had peed on the playground. Why would he do that? Then I remembered the time when we had just arrived at Home Depot, and Austen announced that he had to pee NOW! There was no time to run him into the store and find the restrooms. We allowed him to discreetly pee in the grass in the parking lot. Little did we realize what a big impression that had made on Caleb! So, Caleb was sent to school today with very strict instructions to no longer pee on the playground!

Today is the third day of preschool. I’m almost afraid to pick them up. What will I hear next? Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The First Day of School ... for Mom

Hearing noises at 5:30 this morning, it suddenly occurred to me, "It’s the first day of school!" My two high-schoolers were getting ready to catch an early bus. In a few short hours, my twins would be starting their preschool class. It was a new year and a new beginning . . . for Mom!

A guilty smile crossed my lips at the thought of some "alone time" for me. Yes, I missed my kids a lot, and I really looked forward to seeing them after school to hear about their day. But for five hours, the day was mine.

Of course, it wasn’t like I was going to lounge on the beach all day or sit on the couch eating chips and watching reruns of The Gilmore Girls (as tempting as that is). No, I had a full day of work ahead of me. A publisher was waiting for word from me as to whether they should publish a particular manuscript. A magazine reporter was scheduled to call to interview me about my book, Oh, Baby! I had a book proposal to write, a web site to develop, and hundreds of other details to attend to. Nope, it wasn’t to be a day of rest for me. But it would be a day of accomplishment! And when I get things done, it makes me happy, which spills over into my parenting.

In the meantime, I know that my kids are being coached to reach their full potential. My oldest has just started his last year of high school, and we’ll soon be immersed in applying to colleges and seeking scholarships. My second oldest son just started high school. It’s hard to believe that the boy who was "my baby" for so long (before the twins arrived 11 years later) is now six feet tall and starting high school. And the twins are going from a 3-hour preschool day to 5-and-a-half hours. I can’t wait to hear about eating a school lunch for the first time, the new playground, their new teacher, and all the other exciting things that filled their day.

Yes, today is the beginning of a new routine, one that’s filled with just enough balance between enjoying my kids and growing my "self." I think I’ll pour a small glass of wine and have a toast: "Here’s to a new school year!"

Friday, August 17, 2007

Good-Bye, Wisdom Teeth

My 17-year-old had his wisdom teeth extracted this week. They were moving in on his other teeth, threatening to undo all the years of orthodontia he’d been through. Neither alternative was desirable – to repeat the braces or have the teeth pulled – but he wisely chose the short-term course of action, and the surgery was scheduled.

I, too, had my wisdom teeth out in high school, and I swelled up so badly that it broke all the blood vessels under my eyes. I looked like I’d been involved in a fistfight (and lost!). Fortunately for Dylan, he’s doing very well and has no signs of swelling. They knocked him out in the oral surgeon’s office, and we were home ninety minutes later! He was very groggy that afternoon and took a couple of naps, but by evening he was back to his old self again.

I’ve always wondered why they call the third molars "wisdom teeth." According to Wikipedia, "They are generally thought to be called wisdom teeth because they appear so late—much later than the other teeth, at an age where people are supposedly wiser than as a child, when the other teeth erupt." Wisdom teeth most often erupt between the ages of 16 and 24.

I’ve also questioned why so many people need to have their wisdom teeth removed. If they so often cause problems, why do we get them in the first place? Again, Wikipedia has an interesting answer: "Wisdom teeth are vestigial third molars. In earlier times, when tooth loss in early adulthood was common, an additional molar had the potential to fill in a gap left by the loss of another tooth. It has also been postulated that the skulls of human ancestors had larger jaws with more teeth, which were possibly used to help chew down foliage to compensate for a lack of ability to efficiently digest the cellulose that makes up a plant cell wall. As human diet changed, a smaller jaw was selected by evolution, yet the third molars, or ‘wisdom teeth,’ still commonly develop in human mouths."

So, I’m grateful to know that my son hasn’t lost any of his wisdom with the loss of his precious third molars – and that I won’t be paying for any more orthodontic work! Now that Dylan’s had his wisdom teeth removed, I’ve only got three kids to go . . . !

Monday, August 13, 2007

Here Comes Homework . . . and Stress!

We’ve only got about a week here until the kids head back to school. I always have mixed feelings about this time of year. It’s good to get the kids weaned off the video games and back into a comfortable routine. But I’m not looking forward to the stress of trying to motivate my kids to do their homework and do well in school. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very lucky. My two oldest (the younger two are only in preschool) are both very bright, so they’ve always received good grades, but this has also been a disadvantage because they’ve never had to work very hard to excel. But now that they’re in high school, things have changed a bit. They can’t get by solely on their excellent memories and self-taught knowledge. Teachers will test them on information that was never taught in class, but is only in the textbook. And there are a lot more long-term projects that involve heavy organization and research. My kids can no longer slide by just on their smarts. They have to do some “work”—a term they frequently find poisonous.

There was a recent article in Family Circle that posed the question as to whether our kids are receiving too much homework. Are they getting too “stressed, sleep-deprived and, worst of all, becoming disillusioned with learning”? For me, it’s a tough question to answer. I always had a lot of homework when I was in high school. Yes, at times I was stressed, but I never felt overwhelmed. I always knew there was a purpose to it—to get good grades and get into a decent college. And I usually held down a part-time job at the same time, another thing that my kids gripe about. So, are today’s kids more spoiled than we were, more lazy, less motivated? Are they too distracted by all the entertainment they have now, such as video games, movies, iPods, and extracurricular activities? Or have teachers gotten out of control in assigning homework, feeling they have no choice as more and more expectations are placed on them in the education system? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Whatever it is, as the article points out, it causes a lot of tension for families.

So, how can we help our kids? The article advises us to provide an appropriate place to get homework done, where it’s quiet and devoid of distractions. And set rules for when homework should be worked on each day. Avoid watching TV while your kids are doing their homework; set a good example by reading or quietly working on something. If your child is having difficulty, never give her the answers; try to lead her to the answers through questions. And, finally, don’t punish your child for not getting his homework done. Let him face the natural consequences of his actions at school.

If all else fails, and your child seems to be ready to break, you may need to have a conversation with the appropriate teachers to determine whether the homework truly is excessive or if the teacher can provide some helpful strategies for success in the classroom.