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.

 

In the genes

YESTERDAY, I began the process of genetic testing to assess my risk of several kinds of cancer. Thanks to medical research, it is possible to have your blood analyzed to determine whether or not you carry a gene that predisposes you to developing cancer. Knowledge is power, and if there’s anything I can do to prevent cancer, I want to know.

Diseases aren’t the only things that can be passed down through genes. I think there are other traits, too, that can be inherited.

Last night, I was talking to my mom and mentioned the testing. Then, the subject of French onion soup came up (as one would expect). I had made some for my mom last time she visited, and she talked again about how good it was. I replied, well, it could have been better, because the cheese didn’t melt the whole way through.

I set a high standard for myself, and if the things I make don’t turn out exactly as I want them to, I’m critical. To a fault, I’ve been told. But I come by it naturally: My Grandma Losch was the same way. As Mom tells it, she’d make a pie that was so delicious it brought tears to your eyes, but she’d usually offer it up with a disclaimer, such as, the meringue is a little weepy. As if that mattered.

I do it too. Perhaps it’s genetic.

And if being a self-critical cook is a genetic trait, so might be the inclination to get crafty. I learned crewel embroidery, needlepoint, and counted cross stitch from my mom. My Grandma Sara always had a needlepoint project in process. And if I’m not remembering Grandma Losch in her kitchen, where she spent a lot of time, I’m picturing her rocking in her rocking chair, her hands busily crocheting something.

So naturally, when I found myself in Michael’s on Sunday, I gravitated towards the yarn, and when I saw a bulky, fluffy skein, variegated in the exact colors of my living room rug, I knew I needed to transform that yarn into a throw blanket. I purchased four skeins and started crocheting last night.

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Sometimes, the idea of a craft project ends up being more exciting than the reality. (Which partly explains the popularity of Pinterest.) Alas, I have not been a consistent finisher of projects. I get super-excited to start, but I don’t always have the self-discipline to complete. When I moved earlier this year, I tossed more than a few incomplete projects, not only admitting defeat to myself but also freeing myself to begin anew.

Could “failure to complete” also be a genetic trait? I believe so, and as proof, I submit a discovery made when going through Grandma Sara’s house after she died. I opened a dresser drawer that contained several incomplete needlepoint projects! I had an AHA! moment right there: I come by it naturally! My own grandma had trouble finishing! This explains so much about me!

I don’t know if Grandma Losch ever failed to complete a project she started. I am, however, determined to finish my blanket project. Crocheting in front of the TV makes me feel less like I’m wasting time than if I sat idly on the sofa. Plus, there’s a certain cool factor when you tuck in for a nap with a blanket you made.

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If you compliment me on my completed blanket (and in writing that, I’m making myself accountable here), I’m almost guaranteed to point out its flaws. Please know, it is in my genes to do so. But do feel free to politely tell me to knock it off and just accept the compliment.

Even more than the genes they handed down, I’m feeling grateful for having had parents and grandparents who took the time to share things with me that, all these years later, still reside in my soul. These are truly priceless gifts.

 

 

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.