Natural consequences

AS I WAITED FOR MY GARAGE DOOR TO OPEN yesterday afternoon, I was met by Eli, who was fixing to leave on his bike with his basketball. He’s been enjoying that we live close to basketball courts, but it’s been too cold to play outside. He has discovered that sometimes, his school is open after hours and if one of the two gyms is not in use, he can shoot around inside.

The problem was, he was wearing crew socks and a pair of athletic slides. And a hoodie. And it was 20 degrees outside.

I tried to explain frostbite and hypothermia, but all he heard was BLAH BLAH COLD BLAH BLAH BLAH and off he went.

When he returned 15 minutes later, his feet were really cold. (No!) As he sat with them next to the fireplace, we had another discussion about how 20 degrees is a kind of cold one should not trifle with. This is the kind of cold that would freeze the canned sodas we used to leave on the shelf in our carport. It’s the kind of cold that helps you identify every broken seal on every window and door in your house. It’s the kind of cold that makes furnaces sputter and quit.

You would think the experience of self-inflicted cold feet would have left an impression. You would think he’d have been grateful that I dug out two winter coats so he could choose one to wear on his walk to school. You would think those things, but you are probably an adult with a fully-developed frontal lobe. The boy rolled his eyes and groaned when I insisted he wear a coat. Or, he groaned because it was the first day back after winter break. Probably some of both. Either way, he was running late this morning and asked me to drive him to school. (Only the second time this school year!)

He got into the car wearing just a hoodie. Coat’s in my backpack, he said in response to my side-eye. Do you have a hat? I asked. I have a hood. Gloves? One. But I have pockets.

At least he was wearing sneakers instead of slides.

WebMD illustrates natural consequences using the coat / cold example. They go on to say, “Learning through experiencing consequences is much more powerful than through a lecture or punishment. Using consequences for misbehavior is an effective teaching method for dealing with behavior problems in children and teens.”

Oh, WebMD! That’s precious! I thought it would be effective too, but I am a female adult. And I have learned from parenting two boys through their teen years that cause and effect is not the deterrent you’d expect it to be, at least when it comes to weather-appropriate dress. Eli’s brothers insisted upon leaving coats behind, lest they be forced to actually use their school lockers. And with Eli, I’ve had to establish a threshold of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, below which he will only reluctantly wear long pants to school, much to the chagrin of school administrators.

Despite it all, I do tend to agree that a “natural consequences” approach to parenting is probably the best way in most cases. Within reasonable limits, of course. But I’ll be counting the days until he demonstrates that he can decide on his own, based on weather reports and experience, whether or not it’s a good day to wear a coat.

I take comfort in knowing that my kids’ behavior places them in the fat part of the bell curve. A quick Google search of “shorts in snow” yields many images of bare legs on a white background, including in this feature story from the Coeur D’Alene (Idaho) Press that articulates adults’ perennial concern for children’s cold legs.

I have found my people.

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Area Boy wears summer attire in winter. School administrators remain exasperated.

 

The Neighborhood 

It’s 5:30 Friday evening. I got home a little early, changed clothes, and poured myself a glass of wine. The temperature outside has been in the 60s the past couple of days, so I turned off the air-conditioner and opened some windows.

I live in the top two floors of a row of two-over-two townhomes. All the units have garages which back to central parking, around a treed, grassy island.

From my open dining room window, I hear little kids ramming around with what sound like plastic wheeled toys. (Parents, you know that sound!) I hear a mom. From this distance, she sounds like the muffled mumbles of any adult in the classic Charlie brown cartoons. The children are shrieking with glee, yelling rules at each other for whatever game they are making up in the moment. As all good suburban cul-de-sac kids do, they occasionally bellow the warning, CAAAAARRRRRR!

These sounds transport me back almost 20 years, when I had two small kids. When the boys were very little, we lived in a townhouse community, smaller, but not unlike the one I’m living in now. Instead of out back, the parking and island were in the center, viewable from the fronts of the houses. If enough adults stood guard, the kids could ride their large plastic wheeled vehicles around the island.

It was in this way that we met most of our neighbors in the community where we first lived, and again when we moved to a more expansive suburb. Now, some evenings when I drive my car into the parking area, I see orange cones set up, and those signs that say “children at play”, and adults standing around, sharing a beverage, while they keep one eye on the posse of children. I remember the drill: one parent would take a turn, giving the other one a spell, and promise to run the children, hard, until they were tired. This was in an effort to ensure an early (or at least timely), drama-free bedtime. Our measure of success was the low bar of “safe and happy” on those nights and anything beyond that, with regard to the kids, was gravy.

I mostly feel happy that the days of large plastic wheel toys and shrieking children are behind me, but I would be lying if I didn’t add that the sounds I’m hearing now make me the tiniest bit wistful. My little boys were just so cute. And fun! Exhausting too. But remarkable. They were (and are still) a source of pride and joy.

There is a sense of community that parents of similarly aged children develop. I don’t have that connection with any of my current neighbors. Now, I am (probably?) that scary old lady who smiles a little too broadly, and is a little too forthcoming with the unsolicited advice.

When we were in the thick of it, I could barely imagine a day when I wouldn’t find Hot Wheels cars and LEGO blocks and empty chip bags and Capri Sun pouches all over my house. But now here I am, with a 7th grader who needs no toys, rides a “big boy” bike to school, and even puts most of his trash into the garbage cans in the house. His older brothers spend more time now at their dad’s house than at mine, but I see them regularly, and we have completely adult conversations. And occasionally drink a beer together! (What?!)

I remember as my kids were growing up, thinking how each stage is the best, as you get to it. All the stages are special for unique reasons, but the one I was in at the moment always seemed the best to me. Little kids, like the ones I hear shrieking right now, can be exhausting, but their smiles and joy are completely genuine. My favorite age range is still from 7 to 11, but I’m still really enjoying Eli even as an adolescent in middle school. (But I will readily accept your prayers for us both.)

Yes, my life has changed significantly over the past two decades, and I’ve been through many stages. But in this moment, I can say with certainty, as I look ahead to all that awaits, that this is, without a doubt, the best stage yet.

Day One

first days of school 2005-2009

They were so excited four years ago.

On Monday, they couldn’t be bothered to pose for a photo before they ran up the street to catch the bus. In fact, they made me promise I would NOT bother them next year with this ridiculous production, the photo-taking. As if it mattered.

Off they went, to catch the bus to middle school. Together. Full of the promise that the new school year holds. Brothers. (And – shhhh! – friends.)