Category Archives: Child

Grade 8 (where did the years go?)

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EIGHTM started Grade 8 this week. He was in Grade 7 last year, so logically he’s in Grade 8. I’m trying to figure out how we got to the last year of middle school so fast. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I waited with M for the bus for the first day of Grade 1 (an ill-fated foray into the gifted program which lasted barely two weeks) and waited anxiously for him to come home safely so we could talk about his day. The intervening years have had their ups and downs. Some of them seemed like they would never end – endless trails of suspension notices or meetings with officious school board staff. The last couple of years, however, have been less eventful. M has become increasingly able to manage his behaviour and requires less and less in the way of parental interference. Without the drama, time speeds up. Last year flew by in a flash.

On the first day of school, M was up and out of the house more than an hour before school started, anxious to see his friends and find out who was in his class. I still wanted to hear about his day when I got home, but it’s getting him to talk to me is a matter of timing. His focus is turned increasingly outward, away from me – it’s all about his friends, Instagram and what’s on YouTube. I expect that if I catch M at the right moment, I’ll hear a little bit about what’s happening at school. I’ll probably meet with his home room teacher once or twice between now and June. But he’s becoming his own person, with a distinct persona that is largely separate from me. Next year, M will start high school. In five years, he’ll be graduating high school. Slowly, surely, he’s cutting those apron ties – we’ve only got a few “first days of school” left to share.

All this is a cause for celebration. I want M to continue to grow and thrive. As much as I want our relationship to stay the same, I know that’s neither practical nor desirable. Relationships aren’t static and the parent-child dynamic changes constantly. Sometimes several times in one day. M was sweetness and light when he in the mornings this week and was Captain cranky-pants at the end of the day. On the first day back, he yelled at me when I called after school to find out if he got caught in the rain coming home (well, duh). and hung up the phone. He’s been pretty even-tempered over the last few weeks, but going back to school means a big change in routine. While M did have to get up and out of the house 5 days a week for camp, playing tennis all day was fun. Even the excitement of seeing his friends is slightly overshadowed by the prospect of following rules, daily schedules and class work. Since M’s school isn’t big on homework, except in the case of unfinished assignments, I pointed out to him that completing his assignments in class would reduce the likelihood of having to do work at home.

Whether he follows this nugget of wisdom is up to him. He’s perfectly aware how much he’s doing (or not doing) at school – on a recent drive past his future high school and he told me he’s probably have to do some work in Grade 9, because “they can fail you in high school.” I’m not sure this is true, but he needs to figure out how to navigate this year and the following four on his own. I can encourage him and help him figure out what he needs to succeed, but the rest is up to him.

Even though our relationship is changing, he still needs me to make him pancakes in the morning and help him put his lunch together. I get the occasional hug and kiss, mixed in with world-weary tone and rolling of eyes. My sweet boy is growing up.

 

 

 

Count down to middle school – we have blast-off!

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Epic Rocket Launch

Epic Rocket Launch (Photo credit: jurvetson)

 

The beginning of school is a particularly nerve-wracking time for me. I never know how things are going to go for M. Even if the principal doesn’t have me on speed dial by the end of week one, I’m reluctant to say he’s off to a good start. In my experience, that’s a sure-fire way to jinx things.

 

However, after nearly a month into middle school, so far so good. M is getting back and forth to school by himself.  I still have to remind him to check to see if he has everything he needs for the day, but so far he hasn’t forgotten anything important at home or school. He’s been dong his homework, with limited parental prompting. He’s adapted surprisingly well to coming home alone – at least 2 hours of unsupervised media time seems to keep him well occupied. When he called me one day last week to tell me he was home, he was making himself popcorn, something he never does when one of his parents is home.

 

Compared with previous years, M seems to happy at school.  One of our neighbours remarked that he looks like he’s grown about a foot taller in the last month. He hasn’t , but he is carrying himself with renewed confidence. One of his buddies in his class and he seems to be hanging around with a group of boys during breaks and lunches. Some of them were classmates in elementary school and are very familiar with his past behaviours. But M seems to have discovered what I’ve been telling him for several years – other kids are more likely to want to hang around you when you aren’t poking them or yelling at them. While M has some definite quirks, he’s a pretty likable kid. His problem has never been making new friends, it’s been keeping them. I’ve been convinced for quite some time that if M felt that he was part of a group, rather than an outsider, he’d probably be better able to cope with the normal lumps and bumps of life. In other words, a strong social network would help him feel better about himself, thus increasing his resilience.  Like most 12 year olds, M’s relationships with his peers are one of the most important things in his life. But no matter our age, everyone needs to feel connected to other people (cue the cheesy pop song – People who need people/Are the luckiest people in the world).

 

I’m not so naive as to believe M won’t have some challenges are school. We’re still in September – we’ve got 9 more months to go. The teachers are still getting to know the kids and haven’t started piling on the work yet. For the moment, the kids are getting outside at break and lunch which helps make them all get through the day. Wait until winter comes and M is stuck inside from 9 to 3 every day with 500 or so restless 12 and 13 year olds. If we don’t have some drama. there’s probably something wrong with my child.

 

But why borrow trouble? For the moment, I’m not going to worry about what might happen. M is making friends and is happy at school. Can’t ask for much more than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the dark

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electricity

electricity (Photo credit: Terry Freedman)

Last night we arrived at the cottage to discover the power was out.  It was 11 pm, we were all tired from a full day at camp/work, followed by a nearly 4 hour drive. We quickly located several flashlight and Mr. Magic (aka M’s dad) checked the fuse box to see if by chance, the most recent visitors (my mother and brother) had accidentally turned it off – given that there was still food in the refrigerator, it didn’t seem likely. His smart phone still was working and he was able to check the power company’s website and determined that the power was out in a large number of communities across the province. No big surprise, after a series of intense a thunderstorms earlier that afternoon. According to the website, our power wasn’t expected to be restored until Sunday – at least a day and a half away. We were expecting company on Saturday morning, but figured that they might not be interested in coming once they found out we had no electricity. It was too late to call, so we planned to call them in the morning before they left and let them know.

M seemed to be ok with the lack of electricity, until he found out that it might be another 24 hours before it was restored. Then he got upset and started asking to go home, saying he “couldn’t live without power.”  What would he do with himself if he couldn’t play MindCraft on the computer?

Given the lateness of the hour, neither Mr.Magic nor I were particularly sympathetic. M refused to go to bed, proclaiming “he couldn’t sleep, knowing there was no electricity.” Since we were both exhausted, all we wanted to do was go to bed. We dragged out suitcases in from the car and rummaged around to find pjs and toiletry cases.

We were in the cottage for a good 15 minutes before Mr. Magic discovered some candles on a shelf (hard to see when it’s pitch black and you’re not looking for them).  He lit them, which made a big difference. We quickly rounded up some others and suddenly the dark, uninviting cottage became quite cozy. I wouldn’t recommend taking out your contact lenses by candle light as a general practice, but it works in a pinch.

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to the news that the power wasn’t scheduled to be restored until 11  pm the next day. We called our guests and they decided to come anyway. M was rummaging through a box of junk sitting on a shelf (the same shelf that held the candles) and found a gadget that contained, among other things, a little knife. He wandered outside and returned with a stick. “Can I whittle/” he asked?  I clearly remember that when my brothers and my cousin’s were M’s age, they spent a fair amount of time playing with pocket knives and pieces of wood, so I didn’t have a problem with him trying his hand at it. He spent at least 90 minutes out on the deck, happily whittling. He cut his finger at one point, but once it was bandaged up, he was right back at, knife in one hand, stick on another.

The power came on a short while later. Turns out the wind had blown a tree down on the wires not far from our cottage. M and his dad wandered down the road to watch the crew cut down the branch and fix the line.  Once he got back into the cottage, M made a bee-line for hos DS and started playing a game.

As inconvenient as it would have been to prepare meals for 6 people using only a BBQ, I was a bit disappointed that the power came back on so quickly. Without access to his games, M would have had to rely on his imagination to keep himself occupied. I have no doubt he would have done just fine.

Maybe if have another bad storm and the electricity gets knocked out, he”ll have another opportunity. We’ve put at least one candle in every room, just in case.

No means no – discussing sexual violence with our sons

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Collaborative artwork made by 138 young women

Collaborative artwork made by 138 young women (Photo credit: ctrouper)

As a parent, I’ve been greatly disturbed by several high-profile cases of young women who have been sexually assaulted and who have also had to deal with images of the incident being shared via social media. Not surprisingly, these cases have touched a chord with the public and prompted a great deal of debate. Much of the discussion has focused on the role of Facebook and Twitter in accelerating the dissemination of the images and how it has contributed to re-victimizing these young women. But in listening to various experts opine on the radio and television, I realized that it’s not about Facebook. It’s about sexual violence.

It’s not just that the alleged perpetrators in these cases, most of them young men under the age of 20, seemed to think that it ok to sexually assault a young woman.  It’s also that friends and family, and in some cases, didn’t seem to grasp the underlying dynamic.  In reporting on the guilty verdict of 2 young men in Steubenville, Ohio, a reporter from a main stream media outlet (a woman) went on at length about the impact of the verdict on the lives of the perpetrators. At best, the victim was invisible; at worst, she was to blame for what happened to her.

As a mother of an 11-year-old boy, I find these events very frightening. As a feminist, I want to believe that I have raised my son to respect and value women and girls. M certainly has lots of strong female role models in his life – his cousins, friends, aunts and grandmothers are all strong and independent. And the men is his life – his dad, grandfather and uncles – set a good example in terms of how they treat and relate to women. We’ve discussed Rhianna and Chris Brown on several occasions – maybe it’s because Rhianna is his favourite singer, but according to M, Chris Brown is a “douche”.

But I know that M’s world view is also shaped by lots of things outside my control. He may not be on Facebook (yet), but he does play video games and listen to dance and rap music. I’m under no illusion that all the images he sees and all the lyrics he hears convey a female-positive image.

So this morning, in between pancakes and the news report, I asked  M if they had discussed the most recent case reported in the news at school. He said they hadn’t but it was clear that he knew what I was talking about. I asked him if he understood what sexual assault was and we talked about whether it was ok to hurt a girl that way, even if she’s had too much to drink – it’s not ok, Mom. When I asked him what he would do if he was at a party and saw someone sexually assaulting a girl, M said he’d tell an adult. Same thing if he saw something on Facebook (he did remind me that he’s not on Facebook).

It wasn’t a long conversation – less than 2 minutes. It won’t be the last. It may not be as easy next time – as he gets older, he may be increasingly reluctant to talk to me about anything, let alone such an uncomfortable subject. As his parent, however, I need to get beyond his discomfort and mine and talk to my son about difficult topics, including sexual assault. I want to help him understand that no always means no. If necessary, I want him to be able to stand up and tell others that sexual violence is unacceptable.

So we’re starting the conversation, my son and I.

My kid’s inner elf

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Kravlenisse (maybe Christmas elf ?), a Danish ...

Kravlenisse (maybe Christmas elf ?), a Danish Christmas tradition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year, my office puts together a Christmas basket for a local family, including gifts. This year, one of the children specifically requested an MP3 player.  The organizer asked if anyone had a second-hand one they might be willing to donate. I remembered that M had an iPod shuffle he wasn’t using –  – not since he got his iPod Touch.

M has lots of wonderful qualities, but he’s not an inherently generous child. Like many only children, he does not like to share his toys, even with his closest friends.  Even getting him to share candy with another child can be challenging. He doesn’t even like it when I eat his popcorn. Although his first reaction is to protest, he usually agrees to share, but not without some heavy-duty parental persuasion (aka guilt tripping).

When it comes to Christmas, as he put it to me recently, “he’s all about the getting, not the giving.”

So I fully expected M would push back on my suggestion that he donate his old iPod.

But he agreed without any discussion. He wasn’t sure where the iPod was, but his dad, who’s the organized one in our house, had stumbled across it recently, while looking for something else in M’s room. My husband was tracked down the iPod and all the various bits, including the box it came it in. He deleted the music that was already on there and I brought it into work, along with a new pair of headphones and an iTunes card.

I told M I was impressed that he was so willing to donate the old iPod. He said it wasn’t a big deal, since he wasn’t using it any more. I’m following his lead and not making a fuss. But I’m very proud of him.

The other child won’t know who the iPod came from. But M will have the satisfaction of knowing that he helped make that child’s Christmas just a bit more special. In time, he may discover that’s the best gift of all.

Now if only it was so easy to convince him to go shopping with me to select a gift for his dad…

 

 

Lost in Walmart

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walmart beijing

walmart beijing (Photo credit: galaygobi)

A couple of weeks ago, M and I went to WalMart. As a general rule, he hates shopping, but since he wasn’t having much luck coming up with reasonably priced ideas for Christmas gifts, I suggested (and eventually insisted) he come with me. I was looking for Christmas greenery and since WalMart has a good-sized toy department, I figured we could kill two birds with one stone.

M grumbled about coming with me during the entire 10 minute car ride to the store. When I stopped at the entrance to pick up cedar and pine boughs, he insisted on going ahead of me. He was anxious to get home and watch Phineus and Ferb. I’m usually a little nervous about letting M go off on his own in a store, but I was only going to be a few minutes behind him and despite that fact that this was a very large Walmart, the toy department was easy to find. So off he goes.

Five minutes later, boughs in hand, I walk into the toy department. No M. I walk back and forth several times and check the ends of the isles to make sure he’s not crouched down looking at something. Still no M. Figuring he did a quick sweep and got bored, I walk back to the front of the store to find him. No sign of him.

Still carrying my armful of boughs, I trudge back to the toy department, but  M’s not to be found. By this time, I’m starting to get a little bit worried. So I head back to the front of the store and ask the lady who is standing at the door greeting customers if she’s seen a boy in a brown ski jacket. She hasn’t and suggests I have him paged.

At this point, I have no idea where he might be. On the off-chance that he might have wandered back to the car, I pay for my greenery (which by this time is getting rather heavy; I figure I can move faster without it) and head out to the parking lot to see if he’s waiting by the car. He’s not there.

So I go back into the store and head back to the toy department. He’s still not there, so I go back to the front to see if he’s finally turned up there. The greeter lady hasn’t seen him and suggests I check the electronics section. I’m quickly moving into panicky-parent mode, envisioning the worst case scenarios. I don’t think M would go off with a stranger, but you never know.

There’s no sign of M in the electronics department. I walk past the toy department and am heading down the main aisle to have him paged, when I spot him rushing in the opposite direction. I call out to him, but he doesn’t seem to hear me. I’m now practically running behind him, calling his name, when he finally stops and turns around to look at my, a panicked expression on his face. “Mommy,” he says, with obvious relief.

Me: Where have you been?  I’ve been looking for you for over 15 minutes.

M: I was in the toy department and then I went to the electronics department.

Me: You were supposed to meet me in the toy department.

M: I didn’t find anything interesting there, so I went to check out the games.

Me: How would I have known where you were?

Despite my anxiety about having lost him in the store, I purposely keep my voice calm. I can tell he’s upset and there doesn’t seem to be any point in raising my voice and getting him more worked up. M tells me that he stopped to play a game in the electronics department. He looks a little chagrined, having figured out that this was probably not the smartest move on his part.

We head out of the store and back to the car. I can tell he was genuinely worried, because he’s clutching my hand, something he never does any more. He also tells me repeatedly that he’s sorry, something he tends to do when he’s anxious about something he’s done.

We make it home, both a little wiser. Next time M and I go to a store, I will make sure he knows where to meet me. However, I rather expect that the  next time, he’ll stick pretty close to me. It turns out getting lost in Walmart was a good life lesson for M, but not one I think he wants to repeat anytime soon.

Santa has a price limit

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1914 Santa Claus in japan

1914 Santa Claus in japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UPDATE: My parents-in-law have saved the day by tracking down a Skylanders Giants game in a store near them. I guess they were checking the stores, just in case, and a new shipment arrived. Plus, they’re giving M a new Nintendo DS 3D. He’ll be very happy when he opens his gifts.

At 11, M is at the age and stage when his Christmas list is short, but everything comes with a big price tag. i recall my youngest niece going through the same phase when she was M’s age, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when he shared his list with me. His absolute must-have is Skylanders Giants for Wii – the started kit runs about $75.00 and then you can buy additional figures for $10 to $15 – an  easy $100 plus. The next item on M’s list is Lego Starwars, but only kits with more than a 1000 pieces. I bought him the Millenium Falcon last year and it was $150, on sale. Finally, M asked for a Wii U, which he told me costs over $300. His dad, who is much more up on game systems than I am (and I’m ok with that), pointed out that the Wii You only comes with one handset, so if you have more than one player, you have to buy a second remote. And of course, new games.

At this point, I suggested to M that he might be pricing himself out of the gift market. He has aunts and uncles and grandparents and they aren’t going to fork out hundreds of dollars on a gift for him. My mother, for example, has 3 other grandchildren and she likes to be as equitable in her gift-giving as possible. My husband and I could afford to spend the $500 – $600 to get everything on M’s list, but I don’t think it’s necessary. For one thing, he doesn’t need another game system – he’s already got a Nintendo DS, an iPod and my husband has a Wii (it might as well be M’s since the only one who really plays it). And call me Scrooge, but I don’t think an 11-year old needs a pile of uber-expensive gifts for Christmas. He can only play with one thing at a time.

After I strongly suggested to M that he was unlikely to find a Wii U under the Christmas tree, he suggested that maybe Santa would bring it for him. M is on the cusp of not believing in Santa but he’s not willing to run the risk of getting less presents – when you’re 11, it’s  all about the loot. At that point, I indicated that I didn’t think that Santa would be bringing him a Wii U I explained that since it is so expensive, if Santa gave one to M, he wouldn’t have enough money for toys for all the other children on his list.

I have no idea if M bought my explanation. He hasn’t mentioned the Wii U recently. Over the last couple of weeks, he’s expanded his list to include some books, Bey Blades and a 1000 piece puzzle of the periodic table.  His dad and I had planned on getting him the Skylanders game, but turns out, it’s sold out across the country. I wonder if Santa gives out I.O.U.’s?