Children, neighborhood

Right Side Up


Face down. Flung across the bed. He cries and cries, body shuddering with sobs. Something has happened outside.

I heard about it first from an upstairs neighbor who called me after witnessing the melee from her balcony. Then two little girls, teary and clutching each other, filled me in on oh-so-many details of Bug punching one of them. The bigger kids arrived in a pack to corroborate.

My boy, the one who hits.

My boy, the object of this witch hunt. Hiding somewhere. Shunned.

Continue reading “Right Side Up”

Children, Choices, Determination, Home, Parenting

Don’t Waste Time Doing Stuff you Hate

everyday hospice 2

We are at the midpoint of our nine days together.  On the first night, I arranged to pick up my son’s little buddy from down the hall to join us for the free Seldom Scene bluegrass concert at a local park.  Bug snarled and fussed while I packed up watermelon and blankets.  Then at the show, the banjo twanged, the audience swayed.  Bug and his buddy rounded up a half dozen other kids and played soccer in a clearing until the trees twinkled with lightning bugs.  He rode home flushed and grinning.

Yesterday morning, when packing up to go to the Spark!Lab at the Smithsonian, Bug fought until he cried.  Then on the train, he thrummed with questions and leaned forward in his seat peering out the front window down the dark tracks.  At the museum, he spent 2-1/2 solid hours building laser mazes, a sonar rover, a helmet with night vision and echolocation.

Continue reading “Don’t Waste Time Doing Stuff you Hate”

Children, Family, Parenting

Outgrowing Punishment

Boy Swing

After another night of ignoring, hitting, and name-calling (the kiddo to me, not the other way around, thankfully) and a morning with even more of the same, I’m lost again.  Serious anger is roiling around inside my son.  His cold fury manifests as prickling hands and words.  He seeks to  needle.  He seeks split the seams and set fire.

I recognize my tendency to respond to my son’s daggers with my own verbal stabs.  I roar.  I exert dominance.

These choices escalate the war.

Recovering from a recent hellish family trip to California, I posted this:

Bug’s had nine years to become the person he is.  I’ve had 42.  If I hope to cultivate healthier ways of being in our family, I’ll need to do it one itty-bitty step at a time.

I’m trying this now.  Seeking out and attempting tiny new approaches.  Even if I have no idea what or why or how, I’m trying something.

In the spirit of taking tiny steps, I choose this morning to read about natural and logical consequences.

From Alyson Schafer, “Positive Discipline: Signs your ‘Consequences’ are Punishments in Disguise”  in the Huffington Post:

A logical consequence must include three distinct qualities, and if any one is missing, it’s a punishment.

1) Related
The consequence must be directly related to the child’s behaviour. This is what makes it logical. Most importantly, the child must be able to see the connection. For example, if you don’t put your clothes in the laundry hamper, a logical outcome is that your clothes won’t get washed when it’s time to do the laundry. If you tell that same child that they won’t get screen time — one of our favorite things to confiscate — if they don’t put their clothes in the hamper, the child’s perception is that their parents are using their personal power to be mean and make them pay for their mistakes.

2) Respectful
Anytime you show a child disrespect, you are being punitive. (Quick test: Would you speak the same words to a friend or a coworker? If not, chances are it’s disrespectful.)

3) Revealed in advance
The child must be given all the information up front so they can make clear choices in their behaviour.  For example: “If you would like to eat, you need to stay at the table. If you get down from the table, you are excusing yourself and we’ll accept your choice and see you at the next meal. Please know there will be no food until that time, so when you get down, you’re done.”

In short: “Stay and eat or get down and wait until the next meal to eat — your choice.” But parents must be sure to actually follow through with implementing the consequence. Too frequently we simply threaten the consequence and the child fails to learn.

Photo from The Good Men Project

Poetry, Relationships

Feather Duster

He turns on me
the jagged edge
of his gaze. New laws apply.
A laughing matter
is created
as it is
The joke freezes
to shards in his mouth
bleeding the taste
of steel. A doll’s arm
cracks off at the shoulder.
It lies on the other side
of the same room.

Lie as in
Lay as in

On the other side
of the same bed
he lies
through stained lips. I lay
my fiction in his half-closed fist.
It is words that flatten
the pillow. The head itself
is adrift. I press
my hip to what’s left
of night and inflate
the space
between organelles
between passages
of text
closing off
the exits.
We are far more empty
than we are filled.

Down comfort. Damp fluff.
This vestigal hatchling
a nest
where clinging to the cross
hatch are limbs
I wrest like dreams,
that he forgets
to dam. The croche
slips round
and through. He falls

to rest
in this jacket of veins
in this thicket of skin.

Children, Growing Up

Seven Turns This Way

He turns seven. He is not alone in this. The weekend is endless pinball flash and spinning light. Too many parties. Cookie dough ice cream. Pokemon legends raining down on a tumid Chima lego metropolis. Deforestation at the borders. A relentless hunger for more and more.
For three nights, sleep is drawn and quartered. Whole symphonies of yelling smash their percussive chords against each distended limit. Love is squeezed down in its most elemental form: the exigency of coexistence in the absence of affection.
Finally, Sunday carries night over and drops it at our feet. Everything is half-done but somehow complete. He falls away from me during the third book and I recall the shape of ease for the first time in days.
Now I must find my own way under perseveration’s cruel echo. In bed, I kick and kick against the spooling film, all blooper reel and captured sin, the worst lines caught on repeat in the projector’s teeth. Eventually the bulb burns through and cuts me loose. I dive with one last surge and I am under, finally confined to sleep if not by peace at least by the simple pressure of submersion.
Wailing wrenches me back to the surface. I choke on my own breath. He is silhouetted in the door, wracked with sobs.
“Oh, baby, what’s the matter?”
He careens over the carpet and plows into the bed. “My back. My back!” Then his voice shatters. I open my arms. He climbs up and folds fetal into me, quaking with a fear made corporal. He is no longer a baffling, windburnt stretch of leg and scar and huff. He sheds all seven of his years. He is the night following the day he was born, completely undone by something for which he has no name, completely trusting me to make him safe.
I touch his spine seeking warmth or blood or bumps. A stingray? A troll? There it is. A flat plate, stiff and certainly not skin. I lift his shirt and peel off the alien invader.
“Sweetie, look.” I hold it up in whatever line of sight the dim night allows.
“What is it?” he says.
“A Pokemon card.”
He reaches up for it. A soon as it is in his grip, he shivers down to stillness. “Oh.” He pulls the card in like a baby blanket and curls his arms around it.
“I think your back was a little sweaty and you rolled over on it.”
“No,” he says with a drooping sigh. “I wasn’t hot. He was the one who was sweaty.”
“He who?”
“The Pokemon,” he tells me. “From fighting all night long.”
“That could do it.” I nudge him up and we plod back to his room. He asks me to cuddle there. His mattress is a candy-floss cloud compared to mine and so I agree. “Yes, but just for a few minutes.”
“A few long minutes,” He says. “As many minutes as you can.” We pull up the tinkerbell blanket and he tucks my hand in under his side. I settle in close to him. I stay until he drifts off and then linger a few minutes more, at least until turning, turning the way he does, he turns back into his years and there is no room for me.