Monday, January 31, 2011

Winter Camp 2011

We just got back for our weekend at Winter Camp and it was a blast!  We took over the Cobourg Scout Reserve, a place I've wanted to visit since I was a little kid. It's on old ski resort that was donated to Scouts Canada years ago and converted to a Scout camp.  We used to drive by it on the way to visit my Grandparents, back in the days when I longed to be a Boy Scout. Not only was it a wonderful weekend, but I checked off two things on my Bucket List - camping on my birthday and going there!

The view from "The Pit", a spot about 3/4 of way up the hill, looking down on the Chalet.
Our less adventurous sledders used this as their starting point, but it was still too high for me.

For some families, it was their first "camping " experience so, while our Scouts could choose to sleep in their cabin or in the quinzees they made out of snow, the rest of us slept in a nice warm chalet. We had an old ski hill, a bunch of toboggans, miles of trails, a well-stocked craft bag, as well as lots of stories, games and songs ready to go. Mother Nature was extremely generous so, in the Scouting tradition, we even had a campfire on Saturday night!

The view from the bottom of the hill, looking up to the Scout's cabin.

The secret to our success, in my opinion, was lots of free time for the kids. We made a general schedule, including meals, outside time, inside time, one hike and one group craft. The rest of the time, the kids could do what they wanted, as long as they did it safely, nicely, and within sight of at least two grown-ups. Those toboggans sure got a workout. We had to drag most of the kids off the hill and inside to warm up!

The view from the back of the hiking group. We didn't go as far as we planned
because the snow was too big for some of our little legs.

Dads and sons, fathers and daughters, Nannies and grandkids, sisters and brothers, and moms and sons ... Everyone went home with smiles on their faces and a bunch of fun new memories!
The 9th Pickering Scout Group adventurers, ready to head home after and awesome weekend.

Jonas does a great job of sharing me with the other kids, but I'm always careful to carve out moments just for us to share. I'm still his mom after all, and these trips are more than just Scouting. They're about making family memories and strengthening our bond. Because of my shoulder injury, I couldn't race on the GT Snow Racers with him, but we did take a couple of runs down the bunny hill together in an old wooden toboggan. He told me last night that he loved it and hoped that we could go again soon. That's exactly what I was hoping to hear!

A Beaver Scouts and his mom, heading home with more happy memories.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Bathroom Door

Living in one house and working in another can be a little confusing. I don't have to remember which stairs squeak in which house anymore, but the exhaust vents for the ovens are on opposite sides of the stove and have resulted in many melted bread bags, and kitchen disasters abound when I forget which element is too hot and which one doesn't work at all.

One thing that is similar between these two homes is the bathroom door. Those things are magical! There is no better way for me to get the kids attention them to close it, with me on one side and them on the other. It's like an invisible beacon, my own personal bat signal. Outside of it, I'm like the teacher from Charlie Brown - they tune out every word I say that doesn't suit them - but I suddenly become as wise as Merlin the Great when I cross over that sacred threshold.

They were fascinated with the bathroom as toddlers. There was no such thing as privacy. The toilet was particularly enthralling. I didn't think I would ever get to flush it myself again. In truth, I stopped closing the door at our house because there just seemed no point. The distress it caused was harder to deal with than the audience.  As they got a little older, I started to be become scared of closing it. It was like the click of the door was a signal for havoc to reign. Fighting, breaking things, making huge messes and hurting themselves happened almost as if on queue. I seriously felt like I couldn't even go to the bathroom without destruction coming to knock on the door.

Flash forward to the present day, and the door is firmly closed - and locked. Don't kid yourself though - it's no sanctuary. It's more like a battle room. Their most pressing concerns are left until they hear that click. It doesn't matter if I try to go by stealth or publically announce my intentions. They race to stand on the other side, peppering me with questions and interesting facts, knowing I can't escape and thinking that I have to give them my full attention. Math homework, scientific dilemnas and the meaning of life - no topic is off-limits. It almost seems like they save their best stuff for those moments. Arguments are expected to be resolved, and solutions found, while that beautiful piece of wood stands between us, guarding me from the onslaught.

Of course, there are benefits. I was once so started by the spontaneous crisis that errupted when I went in, that I dropped my blackberry into the bowl. I nearly cried but it was a blessing in disguise. I clearly had a substance abuse problem! I haven't had a cell phone since. If only I could flush away the other problems so easily. ;)


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Childhood Adventures

When I was a kid, my Grandparents lived on a farm on the outskirts of a small town. We usually spent a couple of weeks there every summer. We always has so much fun that it felt like we were there all summer. It looked forward to it all year, especially when it wasn't going to be just my brother and I, but our cousins Chris and Joey too.

My Grandfather worked as the Assistant Postmaster in town, and my Grandma spent the day with us. Well, spent the day with us is an overstatement. What she really did was throw us out of the house and tell us that if we came back before lunch or dinner was ready, we'd be put to work. Even though it wasn't a working farm anymore, there was always something to be done, whether it was weeding the huge garden, getting the veggies ready for freezing and canning, or scrubbing the old kitchen floor. Things would get worse quickly if she ever heard us say "I'm bored." Of course, we usually found ways to amuse ourselves.

There were acres to roam around on, and roam we did. There were trees to climb, a couple of cows to torment (not recommended), a creek to fish in and old barns to explore. The old train track out back was still in use, but the train schedule was predictable. Once a day, before the sun came up, we'd hear the whistle. By the time we were 8 or 9, the iron rails became our super highway. We could folllow it all the way into town to Johnny's corner store for a popsicle, pretending to be on any number of quests along the way.

My son walking our old railroad bed with his Teddy.
It's been converted to a hiking and snowmobile trail now, and is about 3kms to town.
When Chris and I were about 14 and 13 years old, we had the adventure of a lifetime.  A farmer up the road invited us to come and ride his brand new four wheeler.  We had only just met him at a neighbour's farm, but in those days, a friend of a neighbour wasn't considered a stranger so we were allowed to go. Our younger brothers, at 12 and 11 years old, were not allowed to join us. Not beause Grandma said no, but because Chris and I wanted to exclude them. This was big kid stuff after all!

The directions were simple. "Just follow this road, and when you get to the third road that crosses it, turn left and go the big yellow house on the hill" he said. It sounded simple so we packed a snack and headed out at the crack of dawn. No lunch, no water, no cell phones. Just two kids walking to paradise. The "road" was HWY 30, an old two lane country road, with no sidewalks, lots of creeks, farms, and a stream of trucks and tractors going about their business.

To this day, it's still the hottest day I can remember. It felt like it took us all day to get there. The side of the road was littered with the stuff of childhood imagination. We found a dirty old jacket, a man's hat, an old boot, along with countless sticks to use as weapons to fend off whatever evil creature had made off with the person they belonged to. We wondered aloud what had happened to the man, and came up with countless possibilities, each making me more frightened and braver than the last.

By the time we finally made it, a woman answered the door, looking completely bewildered. Who were we, she asked, and what were we doing there? After we explained, she told us that her husband did indeed have a new four wheeler, but he wasn't home. Disappointed and heartbroken, we accepted a glass of water from her, turned around and headed back home. We made it just in time for dinner, where my Grandfather delighted in our tales of adventure and laughed at his neighbor for assuming that we'd never make it. It's one of my favourite childhood memories.

Chris and I with Grandpa, when we were about 7 and 8 years old
My son and his best friend, both age seven, made their first solo walk to the mailbox last week. It's a whole 62 steps for me to get there and back and it took them about 5 minutes. They were so proud of themselves when they got back. I was worried every second and I watched them, secretely, from the upstairs balcony.  As I listened to my son tell his Dad about their adventure, I remembered my own from so long ago. I looked the route up on Google the other day. It's about six and a half kilometers. How times have changed!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Can't Do It - YET!!

Homework has been a struggle for our family since early in Grade One. Jonas gets frustrated very quickly, and very often ends up in tears. Somewhere along the line he lost faith in himself. He's had a good couple of weeks since he started his ADHD medication, and we thought (hoped?) that we were over that hump. He's been confident and upbeat at homework time, and he's been doing a great job. Unfortunately, the ugly beast reared it's head again on the weekend.

Working with his pediatrician and teacher, we've capped homework time to thirty minutes a day, not including reading.  Thankfully, reading seems to becoming a healthy addicition for him. Yesterday he choose to read another story instead of watching a movie. Hooray!  More often than not though, his non-reading time is a half hour battle. I say battle because he fights it, and I struggle to figure out a way to get him in the right frame of mind. I do see the value in doing homework so I'm not going to throw up my arms in defeat. It's a fine line because while I don't want him to view homework as a punishment, he also has to learn that not doing it isn't an option. It's a skill he needs to master, not only to succeed in school but also in life. 

Sometimes the frustration sets in when he doesn't get something right, and other times, like this weekend, just getting started brings on the waterworks. I don't know what it is that makes him so upset about homework time, but he does have a similar struggle navigating through the all challenges that crop up during his day. It's definitely something we need to help him work through. Although the steps we've taken so far have helped a lot, they haven't reduced the emotion of these "roadblocks". Sunday's plea was the very common "I just can't do it!" 

It breaks my heart to see him so upset, especially over something that I believe he can master, so I stole a piece of awesome advice from a colleage at Toastmasters. (Thank you Stephen!)  Instead of  saying "I can't do it!" we're trying to get him to think and say "I can't do it - yet!" What a powerful little word! Nobody masters anything their first time out. Beginner's luck aside, most things take time to be able to do well. Whether it's playing chess with his sister, soccer with kids at school, or practicing his handwriting, he needs to learn that it's the effort that counts, not whether he gets it exactly right the first time, or even every time for that matter. All he really needs to do is try his best every time. The more he practices something, the better he'll get at it. We're trying to get him to understand that when he doesn't get the result he wants, it's not the end of the world. He just hasn't gotten it - yet!


Monday, January 17, 2011

The Ants Came Marching Two By Two

Last week, the kids at school made a spontaneous ant line that marched along the top of the snow banks that line the school yard. I wished I had a video camera because it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. There must have been 60 kids marching along. I half expected them to start singing "The ants came marching two by two..." It was such simple fun in the snow that it made most of the adults in the yard smile. (All but one yard supervisor anyway.) Strike another blow for common sense!

Notice the kid in the background running to join the fun?
Hoorah! Hoorah!
This morning, moments after I took this shot of my three at the end of the line of about a dozen kids, the same yard supervisor came over and made them stop. My heart sank but I didn't say anything, except to remind them when they came to me to complain that she's the boss and they have to show her respect by following the rules. She promptly came over to me and said "I know it probably defies common sense to ask kids to stop playing in the snow." To which I responded "MMhmm. Good old fresh air and exercise is good for them and they love playing in the snow." She then said "Someone could get hurt. Someone could get pushed over that fence, especially when there are more kids out here. There are 600 kids out here at recess!"

She may have been right. The bank is higer this week than last, and someone could get pushed over, especially bigger kids who are horsing around. The same bigger kids that come to school wearing sweatshirts and no hatts or mitts, and who have no interest in joining this little kid's game. The same big kids who, fairly or not, are expected to be role models for the younger, are completely oblivious to them. They were too busy this morning throwing snowalls and giving each other snowjobs to even notice what this ant line was doing.

The kids that were playing the follow the leader game this morning weren't horsing around. They weren't pushing. They weren't hurting anything. They weren't even running. As far as we knew until that moment, they weren't breaking any rules. What they were doing was laughing and having old fashioned fun together.

I do understand that the yard supervisors are on the hook if anything goes wrong, and a lot of parents these days tend to overreact if they think little Johnny or Jenny is even in the slightest danger of scratching an elbow. I was one of the only parents to see what was happening this morning. If someone had of gotten pushed over and broken their arm or worse, some adult would have thought it was the end of the world. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in favour of throwing our kids to the wolves. I don't think we should let them do things that are too risky for them. I also believe that we have an extra responsibility to younger kids, who can be impulsive and haven't yet learned to weigh consequences before they act. That's one of the reasons why adults supervise the yard. 

I don't think we need to suck the fun out of everything they do just because something might go wrong. Personally, I don't think it would have been child endangerment to let them continue. I also think it would have made more senese to deal with the big kids who were clearly disregaurding the rules, rather than to stop all the little ones from having fun.

It seems to me that the little ones, who are doing things the right way, have a lot to teach those bigger kids. Maybe instead of squashing what's going right "just in case", we should address what needs to be fixed. It's easier to focus on what the little kids are doing though. They listen better and they don't often fight back when we impose rules on them. Not yet anyway.

I don't know, but it could be that part of the reason our kids stop listening to us, is that we squash the life out of them in situations like this.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Do As I Say Not As I Do

An interesting thing has happened at school this week. After weeks of battling with some of the yard supervisors about the kids safety, and explaining to the kids that the teachers and volunteers at the school are the bosses and need to be respected, the leash seems to have loosened. When one adult to tried to stop about 60 kids from marching likes ants in formation on the snowbank that lines the school yard, the science teacher stepped in and asked her "What's the harm? It's actually pretty cool!" Most of our teachers and volunteers are truly great. She was absolutely right! It was cool! Nobody told them to do it, they just spontaneously joined in. I really wished I had my camera that day. It was awesome!

Now that the kids seem to be allowed to be kids again back there, the focus has shifted this week to the parking lot at the front of the school. Our school has sort of a horseshoe shaped driveway in front, where the drop-off and pick-up area is. All the kids on foot are funneled through a little crosswalk near the entrance, between the teacher's lot and the the driveway, and walk along a sidewalk at the front of the school. We are required to escort our kindergarten kids right to their gated yard, which is also in this driver's staging area. The driveway is wide enough for a bus and two cars, with a row of parking on the left-hand side.  Even though there are signs, orange cones and usually one or two people directing traffic, you're aren't going to get anywhere fast if you drive, especially on inclement weather days. That's one of the reasons we walk as often as possible. It's quicker. Walking to school is also better for our us. We're trying to develop healthy habits in our kids so walking makes sense. I also always thought it was safer too, until this week.

There are two signs at both parking lot entrances that look something like the ones below. "Do Not Enter" and "One Way".  Drivers are to enter at one end, pick-up or drop-off their kids, and then exit at the other end. The flow of traffic might not move very fast, and yes, there are occasionally arguments when someone abandons their car to run out and pick-up little Johnny or Jenny, but to the credit of all the drivers, everyone seems to obey the very basic commend that traffic shall flow in only one direction. Until this week - and it's the teachers who seem to be staging the revolt.

While tempting fate and letting the kids play in the snow in front of the school, we watched one teacher pull out of one of the front parking spots and drive the wrong way out the entrance. Wow, I thought, that was weird. She didn't use the reserved and partly empty teacher's lot, and she went the wrong way. Must be a supply teacher I reasoned.

If that was a one-off scenario I'd let it go, but seven separate times this week, we've watched teachers get into their cars in the Teacher's lot at the side of the school, and drive out the entrance instead of the exit. Granted, it's a much shorter route, and takes much less time than waiting to get through the chaos. It would probably be harmless if there weren't any kids around. All but once there was a yard full of kids and an ant line of cars waiting to chauffeur them home. Twice the teacher-driven vehicles even came face to face with buses trying to get in.

As part of their journey to independence, I'm teaching the kids to be aware of their environment and keep their heads up. People do dumb things, including adults, and accidents can happen even when we think we're being very careful. Just because there's a stop sign at the corner doesn't mean every car is going to stop, for example, so we wait until the cars have stopped until we step off the curb. No big deal and not a fearful thing, just common sense. They're learning that they shouldn't count on anyone else to keep them safe.

I think there's an important point to be made here. These are teachers at school, disregarding safety rules in front of the kids. The kids aren't dumb, they see who's driving the cars, and ask me why they aren't following the rules. I don't really have an answer for them. I don't want to go charging into the school to complain but, when one of those drivers turned out twice to be the snow angel lady, I had to do it.

If my kid isn't safe lying on the snow in his snowsuit, he's certainly not safe when he has to dodge teachers driving erratically through the parking. An outrageous overstatement? Absolutely!! But this is the snow angel lady, after all!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Beaver Scout and His Scouter Mom

Jonas loves being a Beaver Scout. It's one night a week, and a weekend or two a month, that he gets to have good old-fashioned fun. He can run and be loud, play with his friends, play dodge-ball and tag (which are both banned during school activities), learn cool new stuff, let his creativity flow, hang out with bigger boys, and explore nature - actually play outside in it - sometimes even in the dark of night! And don't get me started on the campfire stories he has to tell! He doesn't get shushed very often either. He struggles with some of the more formal parts of the night, like sitting quietly for ceremonies and not not talking while someone else is, but he's starting to catch on. Luckily, part of the Scouts Canada program is the social development of our youth. He comes away from each meeting or event more positive and confident than he was when he arrived, and personally, I believe that kind of experience is priceless!
Jonas is very proud of his campfire blanket and all the crests he's earned so far.
One of the many great things about Scouting is that he is surrounded with positive adult interaction and role models. Scout leaders provide positive guidance and feedback, not criticism and punishment. As leaders, we keep at the forefront our minds that we are helping to mold young adults, not trying to fit them into a mold.

Becoming a Scout Leader is one of the best things I've ever done. It has proven to be a wonderful new way to connect with my son. Part of the credit goes to an unwritten rule that says "There are no moms in Scouting!" When I first heard that, the feminist inside me started screaming. Growing up, I always wanted to be a Boy Scout but I wasn't allowed because I was a girl. I was a Brownie, and then a Girl Guide, and I even tried Pathfinders for a little while. Then, blessedly, I become a quitter. I hated every second of it, except maybe when my Grandma Lillie taught me how to knit so I could get my first badge in Brownies. My opinion of Girl Guides has changed over the years but back then, the only thing it really meant to me was that at least once a week I had to wear a dress and learn girl things. I hated it! I wanted to be out in the bush with the boys, learning how to make shelters and start campfires.

Girls are a growing part of Scouting today, and women are stepping up to become leaders more and more. I did it because I was going to take Jonas every week anyway, and the group was short of leaders. I love kids, camping and outdoors so it seemed like it would be a great fit. There is a danger though, of us joining just to keep an eye on little Johnny or Jenny, and there is an equal risk of our kids holding too tightly to our apron strings. And if it's been a rough day for parents and our kids, it can be hard for either of us to set those frustrations aside, even for an hour or two.

When they say "There are no moms in Scouting" what they mean is that I'm not there to be Jonas' parent. I'm there to be a Leader for all the kids. Jonas isn't allowed to call me Mom and the other kids aren't allowed to call me Jacqui - even the ones I babysit full-time. They call me "Sunshine".

Sunshine and Jonas have a wonderful relationship. She's more patient than me, and a better listener too. Even though she gets frustrated sometimes too, she doesn't ever yell or get angry. And she's starting to get pretty good at crafts, songs and games too! Whether she's in the gym helping the kids to resolve a dispute over the rules of a game, freezing her butt off on a toboggan hill making sure nobody crashes, or at camp getting everyone to settle down for bedtime, she's teaching me to be a better mom. She's not perfect. She's still learning, but she's helping me become the mom I always wanted to be.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wordless Wednesday


The best Christmas present ever!
The death machine has found a safe home in the garage BUT...
the box it came in has been turned into the most popular Star Base in the galaxy.

The kittens are endless fun!
The boys were ready for school and outside before the crack of the dawn  this morning to play in the white stuff!
Thank you Mother Nature!
Even our grumpy princess couldn't resist the magical powers of snow!

It's a good thing those "Bubble wrap all the kids!" people don't supervise our walks to and from school!

There wasn't one mound of snow on the walk to school that didn't get tackled!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Extending the Leash

It's a sad fact of life that childhood just isn't what it used to be. My confrontation on the school yard last week with the overzealous woman that told my son he couldn't make a snow angel "because he might get wet" is just one of many examples. Another scolded me yesterday for standing across the field from my five year old niece as she made her own team of team angels. She was clearly in sight but not within arms reach. The poor teacher just couldn't phathom that she would be ok. "She's not safe!" he exclaimed. He nearly had an aneurysm when I popped through the double doors to hand something to Jonas' teacher who was a mere 20 feet futher away. He actually tried to bring her inside to me, but didn't have a chance because a) I was only inside for about 13 seconds, and b) she wouldn`t go with him because he was a stranger. ;)

I understand that these people only want the kids to be safe, but I have to ask: from what and at what price? What the heck is wrong with people today?? We walked to school by ourselves by Grade Three and, I don't know about you, but on non-school days, my brother and I were thrown out of the house right after breakfast and told not to come back until lunch. After lunch we had to be home for dinner, and after dinner, it was "Come home when the street lights come on."  It's pretty common memory for the kids of my generation but it's just not like that these days. Acceptable risk now means zero risk. Our society has become afraid to let kids do anything that could possibly have a negative outcome, no matter how remote or tiny the risk. We don't trust anybody, and skinned knees and scraped elbows are just not acceptable anymore.

Today I walked the ledge again, and chanced having CAS sicked on me.

Since the school year started, I've been letting the boys, both seven, walk a block ahead of us on the way to school. If they don't do it before they cross the one tiny street (lined with stop signs) that they get to tackle on their own, I remind them to stop and look all ways. I'm not very far away at all. I can see them and they can see and hear me. In fact, they turn around every minute or two to make sure I'm still there. It's very cute.

How far is too far?
When they told their friend's mom about their adventure this morning, she looked at me like I had three heads and gave me an incredulous "WHAT?!" Of course, they said they walked to school by themselves. After I clarified what really happened, and explained that they didn't cross the major streets on their own, and that they were only one block ahead of me, she shook her head and said "But what if something happened?!" When I countered with "Like what?" she was speechless, clearly stunned that I could ask such a stupid, self-evident question.

It's not like I let them go to school on their own, and it's not as if I let the five year old cross the street by herself. She walks with me, although I am a rebel and don't make her hold my hand when we cross anymore, at least not most of the time. ;)  I didn't just throw them out onto the middle of the highway. We're in a quiet neighborhood and we've been walking to school together- learning how to do it safely - for three and a half years. They know what their boundaries are and they know the rules. They're only seven and five though, and Jonas is very impulsive. That's why they use the buddy system AND why I'm right behind them. They take this responsibility very seriously.

They're smart kids and they're good kids. They crave responsibility and trust. We dole it out in small doses as they are ready, taking baby steps until they're fully old enough and ready for more. That's what parenting is supposed to be about, isn't it?  You can see their self-confidence blossom when they do a great job. It makes me proud of them, but more importantly, it makes them proud of themselves!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Getting Back on Track

I have a confession to make: our family hasn't been eating very healthy recently. There are lots of reasons. Summer vacation, mom's broken shoulder, back to school, demanding schedules, and limited down-time are the biggest culprits. Jonas has been eating like a king, except when he lost his appetite recently while adjusting to his ADHD meds. I, on the other hand, have been eating at off-hours, Steve's been skipping breakfast and very often lunch, and Tasha is a take-out counter junkie.

It seems like when life gets crazy, family dinner is the first casualty. Very often, one or two of us hasn't been hungry when dinner time rolls around, and those of us that can cook have rarely felt like it. Oh we made sure that the seven year-old had well-timed, well-balanced meals, but not always the rest of us. We'd very often end up eating a quickly thrown together meal of convenience foods, sitting in front of the tv, some of us eating and some not, and none of us talking. To quote the wise young man (Jonas) it's been "just terrible".

The family meal is so important. It's the one meal of the day that we are all together. That means it's the one time of the day we can be sure that we're all eating healthy. It's also a time the we can all sit down together and catch up on what's going on in our lives. Sure, we've been in the same room but we have't really been together.

No more! We've made a family resolution to fix family dinner. Breakfast and lunch are on the radar too, but the biggest mountain we have to tackle is dinner. Once a day we are going to sit at the table, eat a healthy meal and talk about what happened during the day - and the TV will be off, as will be all the laptops, phones, doorbells, etc. We know we won't do it if it's too complicated but we also know that we won't do it if we don't have a few guidelines. So, we have a simple three-part plan.

Every good Scout knows that you have to be prepared. That's the first part of our plan: planning ahead with basic menu plans, recipes and shopping lists. I'm the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer so it's my job to make sure the food is in the house. First we decide what we'd like to eat - and everyone gets a say. Then we pick a recipe, figure out what we need to make it AND write it all down in a daily calendar. Then mom and a helper hit the grocery store. This is the most critcal part of the plan. If the food isn't there, we'll fall back into our old bad habits. Take-out and delivery are just too easy.

The second part of the plan is that everyone does something to help with the meal. We all have demanding days and it's easy to get overwhelmed when you feel like you have to do it all yourself.  Three of us are capable cooks, and even Jonas can make a wicked salad and sandwich. Prepping, cooking, setting and clearing the table, and doing the dishes is so much easy when we tackle it as a team.

Next comes the tricky part: the actual food. We all like stuff that isn't good for us. Steve is addicted to pop, we're both addicted to coffee, and Tasha has a sweet tooth. Rather than preach at each other, we've decided to concentrate on one meal where we elimiate the crap and add the good stuff we need. We're going to have a tradtional roast dinner on the weekends, fish at least once a week, and ordering in or getting take out is now reserved for once a month. Fruits and veggies are our biggest challenge. Our new rule is that every dinner has to include at least two coloured vegetables, and a fruit for dessert. Potatoes are yummy but don't count as a vegetable unless they are sweet potatoes, for example.

It sounds pretty simple to me, and I'm kind of embarassed that we have to make such a concious effect to make it happen. Every January I am reminded that I'm not as heathy as I want or need to be. This year feels different. Maybe it's because I'm about to turn 40, or because managing my lupus is getting harder, but I'm determined to make it happen this time.   Go Team Blanchard!


Friday, January 7, 2011

A Great Week!

The day may have started with conflict with a teacher but it ended up being another good one, and a great finish to an awesome week.  It's early days but we're going to celebrate anyway! WOOOHOO!!!

Kids, snow and safety rules

Kids and snow go together like peanut butter and jelly. It's like Mother Nature sends it down from the heavens just for them. It has an almost magical effect. A morning of arguing, frustration and crying disappears the moment their feet hit the white fluffy stuff. Tears are relaced with smiles, and grumpiness with laughter. I hate driving in it, but it always makes me smile because I know the kids are going to have a great day.

The flipside to this joy has been rearing it's ugly head this week. We've had a few challenges with the yard supervisors this week and today was my breaking point. I had a long chat with our school principle this morning about the rules around the kids playing the snow. I started the conversation by saying "This is going to sound like a complaint but it isn't. I just need to understand the rules so I can help the kids respect them."  He and I have had many conversations over the years, so I trust that he knows that I'll respect whatever rules they put in place, as long as they are consistent and I know what they are. I even volunteered to help suprvise if they need help. I'm not trying to be super mom. I just like to put my money where my mouth is, and be part of the solution.

Here's a short list of the school snow rules, as we've discovered them this week: The hill at the side of the school yard is out of bounds, even though it's in-bounds, "because someone might get hurt sliding down it." The sandbox in the middle of the yard is out of bounds "because it's covered in ice and someone might slip and fall." If it's not covered in ice, it's still out of bounds "because the sand is wet and someone will get dirty." They can't make piles of snow "because it might fall on someone and suffocate them." And, of course, they can't throw snow. In fact, they "aren't allowed to pick it up at all." Making snowmen seems to still by up for debate. Sometimes they can and sometimes they can't. It depends on who's holding the whistle.

Even though I don't agree with some of them, they are the rules, and I will teach my kids to respect them. This morning the rules didn't make sense though, so I had to say something.

Jonas got in trouble today for making a snow angel. That's right, a snow angel! In fact, it didn't even get that far. The yard supervisor asked him "not to lie in the snow", reguardless of the fact that he was bundled up well enough to survive an overnight in the arctic. "You might get wet" she said. Are you kidding me?!?!  Like when I walked in on Jonas' meltdown at school on Tuesday, I was so thankful that I was there to witness it my own eyes. I never would have believed it if he had told me later. Shame on me, but I would have assumed that he was leaving something out of the story. (Now, I'm wondering which of the other school yard challenges he's been having are a result of this kind of thing.)

Jonas is very sensitive, and he feels picked on a lot. We're working with him on controlling and expressing his emotions better, but this time he was absolutely right. There were at least 100 kids playing in the snow around the yard, breaking all the rules I mentioned above. Six or seven of them were making snow angels in the same general area as him, but he was the one asked to stop. I'm not sure if his "trouble-maker" lable was part of the problem or not, but the supervisor took a visable step back when she realized that his mom was standing right there. She looked to me for back up, and back her up I did. Jonas said it wasn't fair. I looked at her and said he was right. Then I reminded him that the supervisor is the boss. If she says stop, he needs to stop. Period. Then I told them both that I'd talk to the principle to make sure we all understand the rules.

Beware the lurking dangers of the snow angel!
I understand that those teachers and parents who wear the orange vests are on the hook the for the safety and well-being of all the kids in the yard. I also know that it only takes one parent to complain because little Johnny got a boo boo. I understand that kids need to be safe. In fact, I only have two rules for my kids: Be safe and be nice. Be safe always comes first. Mitigating their risks is one of my most important responsibilities as an adult. Believe me, I get it.

I also haven't forgotten what it's like to be a kid. Kids need to play. They need fresh air and exercise, and boo boos are going to happen. It's part of learning to take risks. That's part of our job as parents and teachers - to help them learn to weigh risk and reward, to look ahead at the consequences, and then decide if it's worth it. Yes, they have to be safe and they have to learn to respect authority and follow the rules, but we do them no favours if we don't teach them to think for themselves and make smart choices. And we hurt them just as much if we're overzealous and don't let them be kids and have fun.

Thankfully, the principle and I are on the same page. He's going to have a staff meeting at lunch to talk about the snow and the safety rules. He's not happy with it either. "Of course snow angels are ok!" he said. "What good is winter if we can't have fun in the snow?" Then he did something I wish Jonas could have seen.  He dropped to the ground with my five-year old niece, and made a snow angel with her.  He then thanked her and said it's the first one he's made all year.  That's the spirit!!


Thursday, January 6, 2011

How Full is Your Bucket?

Kid's egos are delicate things. Even in the midst play that is supposed to be fun, guarding their egos is a fierce priority. It can be a tough balancing act to keep everyone from cannibalizing each other emotionally. My son and one of his best friends are a great example. They usually have a blast together, but when their egos come into play, things get dicey. At first I thought it was an alpha-male thing, but I increasingly think it's more complicated than that.
Alpha-male 1 needs to be the smartest cookie in the room. The other kids can't surprise him with anything, or even ask him a joke, because it either makes him angry or he spoils it for them. He gets mad when another kid asks him a question that he doesn't know the answer to, and he cuts them off quickly if he thinks he knows what they are going to say.  He can suck the life out of games they try to play together, by interrupting everyone to let them know when they're wrong, or by taking over if they aren't doing something the right way. I know that he doesn't want to make the other kids feel bad, but I do think it makes him feel good when he thinks the other kids know he's smarter than them.
Alpha-male A, on the other hand, needs to feel respected and listened to. He has a speech impediment that causes him take longer to say what he's trying to say, and that means he cuts get off a lot. His fine motor skills are a little behind so it sometimes takes him longer to master a skill. And, because of his ADHD, he doesn't think the same way as people. He gets questioned, contradicted and ridiculed a lot and that makes him feel dumb. He's starting to fight back more and more to make sure everyone knows that he's just as smart as them.

I love them both. They're both wonderful kids and are going to be great men one day. As they get older, they'll hopefully become more self-confident and secure in themselves. For now though, these two unique personalities clash a lot. Games and school work, in particular, showcase how fragile their egos are. I fully expect their squabbles about rules, skills, strategies or whatever, to end in a shouting match between "I'M SMART!" and "SO AM I!"

Written by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer.
Illustrated by Maurie J. Manning

One of the things that's helping is a book called "How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids" by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer. It's about everyone's invisible emotional bucket, and why it's important for those buckets to be full. They're slowly realizing how easy it is to fill - or empty - someone else's bucket, and that people don't feel good when their bucket gets kicked over or, heaven forbid, is empty. It's going to be a while before they are mature enough to think about someone else's bucket as equally important their own. Heck, a lot of adults can't do that! What they can start to master though, even at this young age, is an old adage that most of our parents taught us:  "If you can't help fill someone else's bucket, you should just leave it alone!"


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Jonas' school agenda, signed daily by the teacher.
This one is a first.  :)

Strengthening His Shields

"What's wrong with him?" If you've ever been asked that about your child I'm sure you understand how painful it is, especially when the question comes up a lot.

Jonas had a rough afternoon yesterday. His meds wore off at school and he went off the rails for a little while, so I've fielded that question a few times over the last couple of days. Kids being kids, their intentions are innocent. They just want to understand. They don't think about how he feels when they ask. Some of the adults don't either. They must think that he's deaf or too dumb to understand when they do it. The parent that today suggested that all "those kids" be put into a special class doesn't get it. My friend who's upset because poor little Janey gets distracted by another of "those kids" in her class doesn't get it. And the parent who blamed Jonas after watching his kid tell a joke that started a giggle fest at home time yesterday? He doesn't get it get either.  

When Grade One started, it didn't take long for the pieces to start stacking up against Jonas. It started on the school yard before the first bell ever rang. He didn't seem to be following the same rule book as the other kids, and always seemed to be the one who ruined whatever the game of the day was. Even when the other kids were making the same mistakes, he got flak and they didn't. Soon it felt like I had to talk to the teacher every day about something that went wrong in class. After a few weeks, the other kids started telling me what happened before the teacher even had a chance, and it wasn't long before some of the other parents started to get into the act. It's still like a game for some of them. It quickly became apparent that he was labled the trouble-maker. The difficult one.

Navigating through childhood is tough enough without the added challenge of ADHD. Some of us forget that he's just a kid, and ALL kids have a LOT of learning to do. I haven't met one yet that's perfect. Our words and actions can do long-lasting damage, and the biggest casualty is his self-esteem. He's a smart kid and he knows that he's different from the other kids. They stare, point and whisper and, because I've got a good relationship with many of them, they also ask me "What's wrong with him?"

That's a really tough one to acknowledge without reaffirming the "it's all his fault" mentality. Jonas is a wonderful kid, and despite his good intentions, nothing seems easy for him. He doesn't like being in trouble. What kid does? He desperately wants to do things "right", make people happy, and be a "good boy". When things go off the rails the pain of it is clear to see. He stuggles with maintaining a positive self-image. A bad day at school, or rough moment at the park or Beaver Scouts, makes him think badly about himself, especially when it isn't handled well by adults.

Teaching our kids to fight their own battles is tough. When Jonas comes to me after someone hurts his feelings, it breaks my heart. I validate his feelings, try to help him understand the other person's perspective, and try to teach him how to deal with other people, but I can't do a thing about how they choose to act. That's an important lesson for him. We can only do our best to treat other people the way we want to be treated, the rest is up to them. Sometimes he has to work harder than everyone else to do the right thing, and all he can do is keep doing his best, and try to strengthen his shields!


If only we could reinforce his emotional shield at Toys R Us!

His big sister helping to use his shield.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wonderful World of Side Effects

Today was day 2 of week two, and the second day of the ADHD meds at school. Jonas had a pretty good day, at home and at school, until an hour or so before the end of the school day. I went in to talk to the teacher about his day and setting up tutoring, and I walked into a scene out of slap-stick comedy movie.

He was babbling, loudly and quickly, saying silly things, as he swung on the coat racks and ran in and out of the bathroom across the hall. She looked at me like a deer in the headlights. We were both stunned. "No, this hasn't happened before", she said. "Yip. Yip. Ok!" he chirped, as he bounced around, trying to run away as we tried to talk to him. It took more than 15 minutes for him to get dressed to go home. Neither of us knew quite what to do.

He calmed down on the walk home, and shoveling the driveway when we got there seemed to take care of the rest of the pent-up energy. Once he seemed focused again, we talked about his behavior, and when I asked what was going he on, he said he didn't know. He settled down to homework nicely after a snack, and he was fine for the rest of the night. He fell asleep pretty quickly tonight too.

I wracked my brain and it finally dawned on me that I gave him his meds much earlier this morning. He's been taking them first thing in the morning, but our mornings started much later last week. Instead of 8am, he took them at 6am today. Where the meds would normally wear off around dinner time, today the effects started while he was still at school. Duh!

Lesson learned - at least I hope that's the lesson! Tomorrow I'll give him his meds around 8ish and we'll see if that helps. Fingers crossed!


Monday, January 3, 2011

First Day of School!

Today was Day 1 of being in class on ADHD medication, so it was like the first day of school all over again

Jonas' teacher and I had a couple of good chats today. Before school we talked about about his meds and how he's reacting to them. His sleep is back on-track but he was a little tired this morning, his appetite is gone so his energy is a little low, and I'm still a little worried that he might be zoning out a bit too much. She's going to monitor him in class and we're working together to impliment other strategies that will help him.

The best part of the day for me was after school. His teacher and I spoke again. She said he did very well today. He did a better job focusing, needed fewer reminders, and had no trouble at recess. His writing was neater today and he got much more detail written into his agenda. He forgot his spelling list but, for the first time EVER, copied it correctly into his agenda. He even stayed mostly on-track during homework time!

He's only been on the meds for week so we're still in the break-in period. One day doesn't foretell the future and I still don't expect miracles but it's been a good day and I'll take it!


Sunday, January 2, 2011

"It's going to change his whole life!"

Over the holidays, we realized another dimension of Jonas' struggle with ADHD. It's the flip-side of the "It's all a bunch of hooey!" coin - the miracle cure believers. They embrace the ADHD diagnosis and our decision to try medication, but think that this miracle drug is "going to change his whole life!" I wasn't sure at first what they meant by that but I soon realized it isn't as positive as it sounds.

ADHD isn't something that we're going to "fix" with a pill. There's nothing broken! Jonas' brain is wired differently than the other 75% of the population and that means that we have to change the way we think and the way we do things. There are lots of ADHD success stories to be encouraged by, but they aren't about people taking a pill every day and magically turning into a completely different person. Heck! We don't want a different kid. The one we have is amazing!

One amazing kid!

The two biggest impacts of Jonas' ADHD are in school and his relationships. Our biggest hope is that taking this medication will help him focus better at school so that, along with a bunch of other accommodations, he can be a successful learner. He struggles, too, in his social relationships. Like most kids, he has to learn those vital social skills, and sometimes it takes him a little while longer to get it. This makes dealing with his peers hard sometimes but he has a good heart, and that shines through to most of the other kids most of the time. Other kids have a lot of their own learning to do too, and that adds to the challenge.

His relationships with adults is an entirely different ball of wax. A child is rarely the driver of those relationships. There's a power indifference there that makes him very vulnerable. Saying that he'll be a different kid is too uncomfortably close to saying that he's not good enough as he is. It's sort of like a stick in the mud approach where he's expected to make all the changes. Even with the right medication, Jonas is still going to need lots of help to get through his days smoothly, and with as little stress for everyone as possible. He's only seven after all. We're counting on the key adults in his life to realize that our attitudes, and the way we interact with him, are crucial. Someone wiser than me once said that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. This isn't going to change his whole life unless we change right along with it!


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year from the Blanchards!
Let's make 2011 the best year EVER!!