Use the Quirk

Eating only the red m&m’s, never reading the last page of a book, washing your ears first, only wearing blue on Thursdays – we all have our quirks. Some quirks are truly interesting while others seem just plain odd. However, whatever the quirk is, they are one of the things that make us uniquely human.

My younger son (SY) is 5 ½ and has a few quirks. In fact, I would venture to say he may have a touch OCD. Remember the Helen Hunt, Jack Nicholson movie – As Good As it Gets? Nicholson’s character has OCD, and it is presented in a comical way. He has to have certain foods, the table needs to be set in a particular way, etc. Anyway, SY must close doors. It doesn’t matter what room he is in as long as the door is closed – other wise uncomfortable/bothered. If you are exiting a room, he will remind you to shut the door. In fact, it is not only the room he is in. If as he is walking to his bedroom, he sees the doors to the other bedrooms open, he will stop and shut them. This seems to have started a few months ago, and I have no idea why.

In lieu of this compulsiveness, I have an idea. Everything is for a reason, and we can make the best of each situation – lemons – lemonade. You know the deal. So, I want my boy to join me in the crusade to save the planet and along the way build up a trust account. Huh? You see I am the one in my family that goes into the empty rooms to turn off the lights or electronics that were left on. Others will walk out of the room and think nothing of leaving things on, so I have taken on the role of electric cop. I am looking to recruit SY. Why not be obsessive about something that is both environmentally friendly and cost-effective? Save money and the planet. Brilliant – wouldn’t you agree?

Look, I acknowledged recently that both of my children are going to end up on the psychologist’s sofa? So, why not harness the OCD in a productive way? Does anyone know how to make a child obsessed with turning off the lights? Behavioral chart anyone? What an original!

Holding On

It is so easy to criticize others. After all if we criticize others, then we can spend less time beating our own selves up. When it comes to parenting, we all have our opinions, ideas, etc. However, parenting ultimately can be very humbling and while we may think we know what we are doing, it seems to me that we are ultimately learning as we go along more than anything else.

This past weekend my family and I spent some time in a park nearby. My 8 year old (BR) wanted to go as some kids mentioned they were going to be playing baseball.  I was not anxious to go.  He has gotten better at the sport. However, these other kids are already veteran little leaguers and take the sport much more seriously.  Was it that big a deal if they were better?  Was that the right thing to do? Aren’t I supposed to protect him?

My wife and I tend to be overprotective. Or so it seems compared to other people I see and how they are with their children. We keep them within our sight or check on them regularly at all times and places. My 5 year old turns the corner of our street on his big wheel, and I can’t see him for a moment, so my mind races.  Anyway, I would venture to say that both of us are cautious people and this caution extends to our parenting. Is that terrible? After all, it seems that you hear about harm coming to children on the news on a regular basis.

You know that Kelly Clarkson song (yes, I am quoting a Kelly Clarkson song. I am comfortable with that – sort of. “Those aren’t pillows. How about those Bears?”… Plains Trains and Automobiles.) “Because of You”? In the song, the protagonist talks about how she is afraid of straying to far from the sidewalk – which I interpret as taking chances. The song seems to indicate that her parents caused her to behave this way and filled her with fear.

So, maybe my wife and I should be more free with the children. I want them to be able to make decisions on their own and feel like they have done their best even when things don’t work out as they wish. I remember I had this line I used to use: I want my children to feel confident enough in themselves that they can ask for help when it is needed.

A few months back I wrote about an occasion when I sent my 8 year old on an errand. He got lost for a bit, and it scared the hell out of me. Naturally, this experience has made me more cautious with him. He is not ready for such independence. I just don’t want to miss the boat and hold him back. I know I have to let my children fall and give them space. This is the only way they will really grow. However, letting go seems harder than holding on.

As parents, I know we are sending our kids to the psychologist’s sofa (‘tell me about your mother’). However, my concern is to not screw them up too badly and for them recognize that they are loved.

Guests at the Front Door

Some guests are invited and their arrival is planned for. Other guests – well, they just show up.
For 3 years straight, my family and I have been hosting an uninvited guest.  This guest comes to our home and stays for weeks at a time.  Not only that, this guest goes through a major life cycle event each visit.
Each spring the 7-foot bush that stands right next to our front door turns into a delivery ward as “Ladybird” (my children named her) builds her nest, lays her eggs, sits atop her eggs, hatches her babies, cares for her babies, and ultimately sends her babies away.  The whole process seems to take about six weeks.  This scene has served as an up-close Discovery Channel program for my family, and we love it.
With great excitement and anticipation, my children follow Ladybird and her flock (this year she laid three blue eggs). They peek their heads around to check out the progression of nature each time they pass the tree. Clearly, Ladybird did not select our house for the peace and quiet. My wife takes pictures of each stage. I give out cigars when the babies are born to celebrate the blessed day. Well, maybe not, but there is a palpable energy in our home when Ladybird’s chicks are hatched. This is the closest my wife and I will come to extending our family, and the closest my children get to a pet that isn’t swimming in a glass bowl.
I’m not sure how many more years Ladybird will be using our home as her nursery. This year Ladybird was later than usual. She also flew away anytime someone walked past her nest. This begs the question – where is her maternal instinct? Also, what about a father?  Would it kill him to stop hunting for worms and check up on his family?  
Well, I do not know much about birds and am not an animal person by nature. But Ladybird has become a part of my family experience, and taught us a bit about nature. We look forward to having her come back in the future, and the best part is we don’t have to prepare or clean up. What a guest!

What’s in a Memory?

What’s your first memory? Your most recent memory? Too distracted to remember what you had for dinner last night (mac ‘n cheese here – a staple in my house). Are you so busy that you have to think twice to remember your name? I have been thinking lately about memory and why some moments stick and turn into memories and others fade away.

During a recent episode of Modern Family, the old man that the young boy Luke was friendly with died. Luke’s dad, Phil, is inspired to spend time with his daughter, Alex, so that she can have memories of him and of things they did together. They spend the day engaging in activities that he hopes will forge their bond. They end up at a restaurant, and their waitress appears ready to give birth at any moment. Phil goes through some outrageous hijinks, hoping to induce labor, and thus a memorable event. Ultimately, Alex comforts her dad saying that she will remember the day just because it was the day her dad tried so hard to make a memory for the two of them.

Last week, I watched the movie The Breakfast Club with my 10th grade class. It was in support of a book we are reading, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The book (sort of like a modern day Catcher in the Rye) and the movie are both set in high school. It got me to thinking about my own high school days. I didn’t get all that much out of my high school years. I was shy and awkward and was a bit of a wallflower myself. Ironically, I did not particularly like high school, and now, I am a high school teacher. Anyway, this book and movie make me wish I had gotten more out of high school and made more/better memories.

I recently read a blog talking about a pending move to the suburbs. The writer was partly excited and partly nervous. I can empathize. Next month will mark 5 years since my wife and I made our move to the suburbs. What do I remember about our apartment in the city? Many things actually – sitting there together only days before our wedding and dreaming all good things about our life together, coming home after our wedding, going to the hospital with my wife the night before our son was born and many more – some good and some not so good.

Last week, I saw my cousin who lives in Israel. I had not seen him in years; my first memories are when he was just a toddler. An innocuous memory I have of him popped into my head. I shared it with him, and he smiled politely, not knowing what to say and obviously not remembering the moment I was referring to.

My 8-year-old son (BR) is learning how to ride a bike. It’s proving particularly difficult – lack of balance? lack of patience? I remember when one of my older brothers taught me how to ride a bike. It was a sunny day. I remember feeling proud of myself and grateful to him. So, I am excited to see my son begin riding on his own and hope it will be meaningful to him. I watched BR next to my younger son (SJ). They were together and smiling. I stared happily at my children and tried to burn the vision onto my human CD drive/brain. Maybe it worked, and it will be part of my memory. I don’t know.

I still don’t know what makes a memory. I’m pretty sure it’s a lot of things that can’t be quantified. For now, I’ll listen to that Bon Jovi song, Make A Memory, and try to run through that CD of a brain of mine another time.