Summer Camp/Not Summer Camp Summer

In just a few weeks, the school year will come to an end here in the northeastern United States and many kids will head to summer camp. (More than 11 million children attend some kind of camp each year.) Some go to sleep-away sites–rural, privately run bastions of midnight pranks, artificially sweetened care packages and coming-of-age ‘firsts.’ Others will attend day camps, and follow a routine similar to, though much more informal than, the one they have at school. Summer camp is big business here in the states and another area of culture and childrearing that Americans have made competitive, somewhat elitist and a debate.

Not that I think that summer camps are bad places, mind you. Noah is signed up to attend a few weeks of various day camps this summer. One is an outdoor survival camp–a Native American inspired week of foraging and thinking about spirit animals and building shelters from mud and sticks in the woods along the Hudson River. Another camp he’s excited about is Shakespeare Camp–an education arm of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Noah will end the summer with a week of baseball camp (the least interesting of the bunch to me), but the one that brings him together with a few friends and teachers from school–always good connections to rekindle towards the end of the season when Noah’s not ready for vacation to be over. Without fail, seeing his friends and his favorite teacher (and having fun with them), makes the inevitable end-of-summer-beginning-of-a-new-school-year transition a little bit easier.

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After camp.

Not that I want to be thinking about the end of the summer yet. For heaven’s sake NO. I am ready for long lazy days of doing nothing (and HEAT)–which is why I sometimes wonder about this idea of summer camp. Growing up, I never went to summer camp. Each year our family went on a two week vacation around the fourth of July (usually to Cape Cod or Prince Edward Island in Canada) and then we spent the rest of the time at home. We didn’t really even do playdates. Granted I had three brothers to play with and swim with and, of course, catch frogs. Noah’s an only child, on the other hand, and while that comes with its own set of benefits, consistent companionship isn’t one of them. I like that summer camp allows Noah to enjoy some down time with other kids so he’s not just hanging out with me and doing adult things, which is typically his preference.

I also agree with the gist of this article I read a few weeks ago titled: Deceleration: How Radically Slowing Your Pace Can Make You Smarter. Generally, the author writes about the importance of slowing down our lives and our days and our hours, not just to reduce stress and improve health and enjoy of life more, but also to increase one’s ability to understand and engage with the world.  i.e. TO MAKE YOU SMARTER. Activities like spending time in nature or a few hours looking at the same piece of artwork or taking an entire afternoon to watch the clouds and then the sunset are life changing because by their very nature they are intrinsically different occasions than the ones we usually engage in to pass the time. When we slow down and focus on less action-oriented stuff, space opens up inside of us for a perspective shift; for a crack to break open in the shell of everything that we’ve been taught so that the light of what we know can shine through.

In the article above, the author writes about kids taking time at summer camp to do (not do) these things but this summer our family will be taking some time on our own to investigate this deceleration–without other kids or scheduled meal times or macrame in the afternoon. We’ll spend several weeks at the very end of the summer on Cape Cod (our favorite place on the planet) not doing anything at all.

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Nauset Light Beach. Eastham, MA.

Device Indecision

“….and NO DEVICES!”

It’s the mantra that’s been on repeat here ever since we got an iPad for Noah for Christmas last year. I know, I know–it’s my own fault. I put the thing right in his hands and now I am trying to make it go away. More accurately, I’m lamenting my decision to give it to him in the first place.This iPad (with no data plan, mind you, it has to be hooked up to WiFi) was supposed to be a compromise. What Noah really wants is an iPhone (black, with a Star Wars cover) and I would rather he not have any devices yet, so we got him the tablet and hoped that its larger, more stationary nature might help curb the use of it on its own.

No such luck.

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Noah and Zo on their devices during a sleepover here last fall. You’d think that after being separated by an ocean for four months they’d want to talk and, you know, look at one another. Even Luca looks vexed.

It’s not that I don’t like devices. I love my phone and my computer so much that I’ve had to set up parameters around them for myself. Like many of us in this post modern world, my iPhone and, by association, the social media accounts that feed it, have become extensions of my identity. The things that I ‘like’ or post or share online define my public face and inform my private one. Liking and Posting and Sharing also take up many hours, so I have to be careful not to spend so much time crafting an image that I forget to actually live a life. But these are concerns of smartphone and tablet users everywhere. I’m not sure that I have much more to add to that discussion other than empathizing with all of us as we navigate through these uncharted, data-cluttered waters. The internet isn’t going anywhere and finding a balance between its exceptional usefulness and its woeful addictiveness is big work for us in our time.

Incidentally, that the internet and its accompanying devices are not going anywhere is the very argument that my kid uses when he tries to talk us into getting him a phone. He’s eleven and does not have one although “all of his friends do” (which is not, as it is, true, but I understand what it feels like to not be allowed to have the cool thing when even some of your friends do). Getting a phone is, for him, a pretty simple endeavor. It’s about owning a cool thing and being like his friends and having the ability to play Minecraft no matter where he is. For me, getting a phone for my child is far more complicated. It’s a decision layered with my beliefs about parenting and philosophies about screen usage. It has to do with realities about money, logistics about data plans and many, many concerns about safety and identity and creepy people who lurk just beyond a link.

Noah’s father (my ex-husband) thinks that Noah should wait until 9th grade to get a phone (luckily we have similar hopes about putting things off for as long as possible) but is two more years too long to make him wait? I mean obviously there isn’t a ‘right’ answer to that question, and obviously he is going to survive if he doesn’t have a freaking phone, but this decision is one that I’m rolling around with this spring. There have been several occasions, just over the past week, that it would have been easier FOR ME if Noah had a phone. He’s in so many activities that coordinating pick ups and drop offs and remembering whether or not I have to bring him dinner so he can eat it between his baseball game and play rehearsal would be infinitely easier if I could just text him a quick note before I drive to school for the seventh time on one afternoon. Today, Noah and his classmates are in New York City visiting The Met and since I got closed out of the chaperone list I have to wait for his return (and monitor the news for signs of trouble and tragedy) from afar instead of being able to check in with him or have the ABILITY to check in with him at my will.

I understand that there are pitfalls to constant contact and I really don’t want to become (more of) a helicopter parent, but one of the great assets of Noah having a phone would be staying in touch–connection being a good indicator of the mental and emotional health of teenagers.

But that’s not my point. My point, or rather my question, is about what is appropriate and when. My point is about how to reconcile that, in America, people who can’t pay their rent have $200 iPhones (not that I’m judging) including kids who can’t possibly understand the decision between buying a phone while paying rent, not to mention how complicated it is to stay safe once you put yourself out into the cyberworld.

As you see, I’m spinning my wheels about this. I have no great conclusion, just many questions and my hope is that Gina will be able to shed some light on how the Italians do technology and devices with their kids. (They don’t seem to be as wishy-washy and equivocal in their beliefs as me.)

Any thoughts about this topic out there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little League Games: When Time Stands Still

As I’ve previously mentioned, Noah is very busy this spring which, by extension, makes the adults around him busy, too: acting as time-management coaches, bedtime monitors and taxi cab drivers. For the most part, I don’t mind the additional duties; they are the tasks of parenthood after all; part of what I signed up for when I decided to become a parent over twelve years ago.

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Noah, wearing blue in the foreground, getting ready to pitch.

I abhor going to Little League (baseball) games, though. Even when my kid’s team is playing and even more so when my kid is pitching–which is sometimes the carrot that gets dangled in front me–as if watching Noah throw a ball seventy three times in one hour is somehow more appealing then watching him stand in a field (for an hour), waiting to catch one. Because he has eighteen games scheduled during the next six weeks you’d think I’d make peace with being there. A more gracious parent might even embrace this game her child loves and learn the rules and be able, with somewhat accurate precision, to report on the statistics of an inning or series. Not me, though. Noah’s going to be lucky if I know the score at the end of each game.

There’s a certain amount of sacrifice parents make for their offspring, of course. Some of it is obligatory: providing food, shelter & clothing (often at the expense of one’s own palate or fashion sense) and some of it is borne from a particular child’s particular sensibilities. Kids have varying interests and by default, a parent ends up spending a certain amount of time participating in activities related to said interest of said pursuit chosen wholly (or nearly wholly) by their kid. When a passion is shared or passed on from parent-to-child all is well–as in the case here, with baseball and Noah’s father. Noah loves the game (apparently baseball is a game, not a sport). He and his dad have favorite teams and favorite players and follow their careers as though they are close friends. They enjoy long afternoons listening to games on the radio and playing catch and watching clips of memorable moments from years ago.

Living in New York as we do, it is impossible not to know what a Yankee is, but besides knowing that they recently built a brand new multi-million (billion?) dollar stadium in the Bronx, I can’t tell you anything about the team or much more about the sport, ahem….game …in general terms. Quite frankly I don’t want to tell you anything more because baseball, with all of its nuances and statistics and particularities–the very idiosyncrasies that make it so spellbinding for Noah–is about as interesting to me as watching dishes dry in the sink. (If only Noah had picked poetry as his hobby…)

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Batter up!

Have you ever been to a Little League game? Not only do they hold up as bastions for some parents’ latent competitiveness and general asshole-ery (I’ve witnessed more than one adult-initiaited screaming match on the field about grave matters such as…sunglasses), they are excruciatingly long and utterly indistinguishable from one another. Noah had three games last weekend (3!) which devoured more than seven hours of daylight and started to chip away at my will to live and I’m still not sure how the second game was cause for celebration and the third for exasperation even though they lost both of them.

I was never a parent who enjoyed playing with my kid. Not that I didn’t like to be with him, (I loved taking walks in the park with him and chasing birds or going to museums or reading stories or…napping) but talking in a squeaky voice with a puppet on my hand? Or playing hide and seek in the living room? Or pretending to be an Ewok to his Chewbacca? I rather have eaten a carton of worms. When Noah was a toddler and suggested that we play a nice long game of Candyland, (or for the love of Pete, soul-crushing Chutes & Ladders), I’d make up an excuse to do something else (anything else!) quicker than he could unfold the confection-colored board. I tried to fake it a few times and found myself so disagreeable by my third turn flicking the red-arrowed spinner that I vowed to never play again.

I guess that’s what attending baseball games (or not attending them) is for me now. At 40, faking it is no longer an option–even when it comes to (especially when it comes to) parenting my kid. With who knows how many precious moments left, why spend so many of the recreational ones doing something that makes me want to weep with regret? That’s certainly not the example I want to set for my kid.

I do really love my kid, though, so the compromise I’ve come up with this baseball season is this: I’ll come to the games and watch him when he’s up at bat and make sure to pay attention close enough to know the score (or at least pay close enough attention to ask a parent who’s following along) but I get to bring my book or the dog to walk on the hills behind the field and when the game is over, instead of spending another hour breaking down RBIs and ERAs we’ll go out for ice cream.

From time to time I might even bring a poem to read to him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Dance or Not To Dance

kids-dancingThe middle school Spring Fling! dance is Friday night, an event that Noah has decided he will not be attending–thereby launching (yet another) mental battle in the war zone that is my brain, a clash between all those questionably motivated instincts of mine–the habitual ones that are armed with clips of fear and worry about his future–and my less aggressive, quieter and better-reasoned tendencies that gently insist that his now is what matters most.

And not ‘now‘ in the sense of that 60s hippy slogan “Be Here Now” (though a little bit of that, too) but ‘now‘ in the sense of “What does his now need?” without me trying to make everything better all the time with the perpetual adding-on-of-stuff (in the form of activities and classes and experiences) that modern day American parents are wont to do.

I realize that this is the second time in as many weeks that I’ve made American parents the whipping boy for my meanderings here, but it’s okay because I’m an American parent, too. One who has fallen victim to media reports and the pressure to groom a successful, well-rounded kid. I’ve read all of the books and the articles and the opinions of “experts” (each of which claims something separate and unique and contradictory as the Truth) and have been left with heaps of information in a bottomless pit of confusion. My own intuition as a parent has gotten lost somewhere in this unsavory, though well intentioned, child-rearing stew.

My first reaction to Noah’s rejection of the dance was to insist that Noah GO TO IT, as if the decision were mine to make; as if this event, and Noah’s capacity to enjoy himself at this event, had anything at all to do with me. As I’ve mentioned before, Noah is a kid who is engaged with the world. He is active in our community theater, he plays the drums in a kids rock band, his Destination Imagination team is going to the state tournament next weekend, and he plays baseball every spring. He’s a thriving, busy, relatively happy kid (with as many quirks and flaws as anyone) but one who certainly isn’t missing out on life. Why did it seem to matter so much to me that he attend this dance?

Of course my job as his mother is to steer him away from dangerous and questionable activities and nudge his attention towards soulful, heartfelt ones and a school dance can, depending on one’s purpose and perspective, represent the whole spectrum of virtue to depravity. But morality wasn’t what I was stuck on (this time, anyway). I realized that it wasn’t as much the activity of the dance that I was lobbying for, but my want for Noah to say ‘yes’ to it. And this, dear reader, is one of those moments of parenting when you realize that your own unresolved shortcomings have leaked out and are threatening to sully everything around you.

The thing is, I’m not a ‘yes’ person. I’m waaay more comfortable saying ‘no’–to activities and vacations and house parties; to shopping trips and late night movies (and matinees). I’m an introvert who, staring in the face of a midlife crisis, is left wondering if saying ‘yes’ is the magic bullet. That if I had said ‘yes’ to more opportunities and adventures during these past twenty years, things would seem brighter. What if I had taken those dance classes or not given up teaching or stayed in Belize or started writing poems when I was seventeen? Would I be richer? Happier? More fulfilled?

And in that vein, would this dance be some kind of break-through for Noah in terms of his social self-consciousness? (He doesn’t like big crowds. Or eighth graders.) Would he meet some new kids and finally find another forever-friend–the kind he’s had a hard time tracking down since Zoel left? Isn’t this dance just a good experience for him to have? Isn’t it just logical to attend school functions, if only to be able to join in the conversations about them on Monday in the lunch room?

Or will Noah really be as miserable as he thinks he’ll be there…and spend the evening staring at the clock and trying to will time away? What’s the lesson in that?

It’s tricky to figure out which uncomfortable moments in life to push through and which ones to avoid because you just know you aren’t cut out for them (or them for you). It’s even trickier to try and teach an 11 year old to tell the difference. Probably a good rule of thumb is this: (something that I learned from my friend Alana) if yours is the tendency to say ‘no’, to lean away instead of in, then it’s probably good practice to force yourself to engage from time to time. For me, therein lies the challenge. To agree to dinner and drinks with friends. To decide to stop staring at the river and reading Twitter (not posting to Twitter, mind you) and to get up off my butt and leave my house from time to time.

Noah, on the other hand, has a pretty busy schedule. We have to turn down activities and say no to things all the time. In this case, him saying ‘no’ to this particular dance anyway, seems like less of a fear-based rejection of middle school–of life–than a thing that he simply just doesn’t want to do. And in this case I’m going to encourage him to go with his gut. No dance. No fling. No pressure from me.

On Friday night we’ll be eating pizza and watching The Voice and, most likely, taking turns dancing in our living room when the good songs come on. And nobody, but nobody, will want the night to end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Compiti/Homework

Homework? What homework? This is often my older child’s response when I ask if he has any work to do after school. And I’ll confess it freaks me out a bit. We’ve just come from a U.S. school where there was homework every night, and a special project to work on at least once a quarter, in addition to daily homework. Most of the time, it wasn’t overwhelming, rather a steady flow of occassionally interesting, but usually boring, worksheet-driven tasks. As our old school has gotten more deeply involved with teaching “Common Core“, it seems that homework has increased for Zo’s former classmates, and I read that that seems to be the case for thousands of kids across the States. The general argument in favor of the increase is that there is a certain amount of material that needs to be taught in each grade, and it simply can’t all be done during the school day. Articles like this one, where a dad attempts to do his middle-schooler’s homework for a week and fails miserably, and others like this one, that make the case for less homework, paint a different picture, one where the homework that’s being assigned is not only excessive but counterproductive, and sometimes actually hurtful. Yet, I cringe a bit every time my son says he has nothing to do, or has homework that takes him all of 10 minutes to complete. I can see that, through school, his hobbies and life in general, his knowledge about the world, as well as his confidence about his place in it, keeps on growing, so you’d think that’d be enough for me to relax. Alas, I only partially succeed in being cool about it. The rest of the time, I make him spend time on Khan Academy practicing math skills, and plot other ways for him to exercise his brain without noticing!

For my younger child, who’s in second grade, things have been seemingly more balanced. She has weekly homework, which she tackles enthusiastically, probably because most of it is very thoughtful. It usually includes reading a book of her choice and responding to a question about it, and doing an exercise having to do with her particular unit of inquiry that month. (For example, this month is about buildings, their design, construction and impact on people.) The unit homework  is usually connected to the real world, which makes it much more fascinating to a seven-year-old. But if they could just a do a bit more math… I guess that’s the rub. There’s always more that could be done. What I’m learning (albeit slowly) is that I’m much more concerned with the quality of my kids homework, having it be relevant and interesting work, than with the quantity (same goes for their classes!) At the moment, I’ll take a little quality work, over a ton that’s of varying quality or worse yet, just mindless. I can always devise a little challenge here or there!

How’s homework going at your house? What’s working for you? Or what’s not working that you wish you could change?

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New ‘Do

So, this happened today:

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Noah actually requested the full-blown version of the style, with shaved sides and purple dyed tips, but I told him the faux hawk was muuuuch cooler and, surprisingly, he complied. (A reprieve that will probably last until it’s time for his next haircut.) He said he needed a change and this ‘do seems to be enough of one to satisfy that craving. For now.

Noah is a born Traveler. He’s always up for a trip…to the supermarket, into the city for an afternoon of roaming around a museum or a park, to anywhere an airplane will take him. I hesitate to name the origin of his wanderlust…I just think he likes to go. He keeps careful note of all the places his BFF Zoel has visited and is hopeful, er…determined to go to London and Paris and Tunisia, too. One of the first questions Noah asked us after he definitively understood that our friends really would be moving across the ocean was, ‘why can’t we go, too?’

The answer to why we stayed here is, as you are learning, simple and complicated, involving far too many moving pieces for even the most precocious child to understand, but there wasn’t a reason in the world that would have salved his disappointment about being left behind. Sure, Noah wanted to move to Italy so he could be with his friend, but he’d be up for living someplace other than here TOMORROW even if that wasn’t the case. He already has plans to move to Greece with my brother and his wife ‘when he’s old enough,’ and he consistently asks for ‘a trip’ to be his gift when Christmas and birthdays roll around. Whenever Noah’s in an airport, his eyes get all bright and twinkly as he reads the Departures board aloud to us imagining, as he does, boarding a plane to anywhere.

I love airports, too. I hate to fly, but airports themselves are my drug of choice–with their highs of measureless energy, unceasing noise and anonymity. When I was a graduate student living in New York, I used to take the A train out to JFK and sit at one of the coffee shops or bars there to write. I’d siphon off the fondness and resentment pulsing out of all those the frenetic hellos and goodbyes and then deliriously imagine climbing aboard a huge steel tube roaring down a runway and lifting off toward Cairo or Oslo or Minsk. Soaring over the Atlantic I could leave behind my identity, my responsibilities, all those promises I couldn’t keep.

But what does all this have to do with hair?

Nothing. And everything. Here’s the thing. I’ve cut my hair off twice in my life. The first time was just before I collected the guts to break up with my first serious boyfriend–a man of (very) questionable integrity. The second time was six months after I had my son and I had yet to leave him for more than an hour. Literally. Both times I needed a different way of being in the world. A new perspective was required. Something had to change.

I’m not trying to draw a straight line from my kid’s haircut to him crying out for help. Jeez. The kid lives the life of Riley as far as I’m concerned. But I’ve learned a thing or two about not letting moss grow underfoot–especially because of how itchy and uncomfortable it can get. I, too, am envious of Gina (and Stef & the kids’) new ability to hop on a pretty inexpensive flight and, in as much time as it takes me to drive to the edge of my state, land in an entirely new world.

Luckily, when you’re 11, change comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s a haircut. Sometimes it’s a train ride to Montreal. Other times all it takes to make you feel alive again is your music teacher showing you a couple of new chords and then handing you a instrument you’ve never tried to play before.

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Rock on, Noah. Rock on.