Saturday, October 3, 2015

Clearly This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

A friend (who isn't on FB and who also doesn't read my blog so never knows I talk about her quite regularly in my posts) told me about the calming buckets she'd made for her kids to use whenever they just needed to chill out. In each bucket is a collection of fidgets and art supplies for each child to use for as long as they needed in order to become human again after a meltdown or argument. I liked this idea a lot. But, I also knew that, since I am not nearly as organized as my friend, there wasn't enough room on top of the refrigerator or in my closet for three whole buckets of stuff and that if I didn't put them in either of those places, the items would disappear almost immediately into the flow of toys, books, papers, and pens that always seems to be migrating around the house.

Still, I liked the idea of giving the kids an emergency kit to use BEFORE their behavior devolves into a big fat mess of screaming/crying/fighting, which is what seems to happen most evenings just about dinner time. So, last weekend, while I was waiting for Pink P to finish at a friend's Chuck E Cheese party, I went to the dollar store and bought a bunch of tactile balls. Then I went online and ordered a couple of liquid timers, some stretchy string, and a glitter wand. Altogether, I spent about $15.

One shining moment: the box of stuff.
When the stuff arrived, I threw it into a box that was both smaller and a different color than all of the other sensory boxes. Then I sat the kids down and went over the ground rules. "THIS," I declared, "is our emergency sensory box. When you feel like you want to yell or cry or hit, I want you to get this box, take it to the couch, and spend as long as you need to calm down." They were rapt with attention--you know, when they weren't trying to fight jockey with each other to be the first to grab one of the bright shiny sensory balls. "But, WAIT," I continued. "There are some rules. First, you can only use this box when you are sitting on the couch. Second, you cannot throw the balls, and third, everything must go back into the box when you are done."

They seemed to understand. They really did.

But then all of the balls disappeared and the stretchy strings were turned into lassos and the whole thing fell apart, It turns out that missing emergency sensory box balls are perfect triggers for mom-sized meltdowns. Who knew?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Parenting 101 by Ren

You know, guys, despite everything, I'm pretty sure my kids are probably going to turn out just fine, but certainly not because of me.

I'm the always-busy-often-stressed-sometimes-distracted-put-the-kids-in-a-million-activities-and-still-worry-incessantly mom. Don't worry, though, I'm working on it. I'm cutting out diet soda, sleeping more, and working hard to just be present for them. Eventually--probably just about the time Stow is heading off to college--I fully intend to get my act together.

Fortunately for the kids (and for me -- who am I kidding), Ren has a pretty laid back style of parenting that, when I step back and just let him do his thing, is extremely effective. (Funny how these things just seem to work out.)

Ren upped the ante on his "natural" parenting style this summer, and as a result, the kids have spent a lot of time enjoying each other and the outdoors.

It started this past spring when Ren put up a series of bird feeders in the back yard. I was skeptical.

But the feeders led to a lot of this:

Bird watching

Which led to this:

Pink's bird watching journal.
Soon the kids could identify all of the birds that came into our yard and could understand how things like weather and the presence of other birds impacted feeder traffic on any given day. They also figured out how to use a bird watching app to keep records about their discoveries and to record the different bird calls. Such big pay off for such a simple idea!

Next, Ren decided to plant a garden. One day I came home to find these:

20+ rose bushes waiting to be planted
You remember, Ren has a very bad back. And, I have whatever the opposite of a green thumb is. I mean, I can kill a plant in 12 hours flat (and sometimes even sooner). When I pulled in from work to find these roses lining the garage floor, I could already imagine Ren's back taking a turn for the worse and me being put in charge of the plants. It wasn't a rosy scene (pun totally intended). Not long after the roses, Ren brought home not one, not two, but three trees to plant.That's about the time we had a huge fight about his plans for our landscaping. I just knew I'd end up having to care for all of these plants, and I don't have the time or skill for that.

Eventually, I figured out how to chill out and just let Ren do his thing.

Ren's garden not long after he planted it.
I'm really glad I did. The kids LOVE the garden. Ren planted green peppers, nasubi (Japanese eggplant), tomatoes, and strawberries. The excitement was palpable as the kids waited for the the garden to yield its first delicacy. It turned out that the first harvest was a single tiny strawberry. When it was ready to pick, Sky brought it gingerly to the house and carefully cut it into three tinier pieces for the three of them to share.

The first (teeny tiny) strawberry.
By the first of August, the garden looked like this:

The garden in full bloom.
And, this:
Tomatoes and a rose bush (plus a couple of corn stalks the kids planted at camp.
Japanese nasubi (eggplant)

I admit, I had NO idea the kids would love the garden this much. They monitor the growth of the vegetables and fruit, help water the garden, and pick fresh vegetables every day. And, since they never seem to tire of any of these tasks, they're outside a lot!

Of course, the other benefit of planting a garden is the loads and loads of fresh fruits and (mostly) vegetables we've harvested this summer.

Veggies from the garden.

We have A LOT of eggplant!
The biggest surprise for me is that we have been able to get the kids to eat nasubi (eggplant) and green peppers this summer despite the fact they would never eat them before. I know that kids are more willing to eat things they make themselves, but I didn't imagine this held true for eggplant and green pepper. So far, we've made miso nasubi stir fry, miso soup with nasubi, mabo nasubi, and nasubi spaghetti...

Miso nasubi stir fry.

Miso soup with nasubi and enoki
...and every single meal we've made with vegetables from our garden has ended with plates that look like this:

Next summer, Ren wants to add corn, cucumbers, and celery. I'm hoping for a few fewer nasubi and tomato plants, but I've learned to step back and just let Ren do what Ren does. The results are pretty amazing!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Peanut-free or Not Peanut-free, Part 2

A new school year is about to begin here, so I am in full advocacy mode again! Here's a follow up to the peanut issues from spring:

Dear Superintendent Brown,

In the spring, Mr. E forwarded a message we sent regarding an incident with a peanut butter sandwich on the bus. I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to follow up then (I spent several weeks of the summer in China and Japan and got a bit behind on my “to do” list), but I am writing now as we are set to begin a new school year.

Our daughter Pink has a life-threatening peanut allergy, which we have managed by teaching her self-advocacy and how to interact safely with her peers when food is involved. She is aware of her allergies and proactive in protecting herself.

What we can’t control, unfortunately, is the behavior of other students. The incident on the bus on at the end of the spring semester highlights for us just how unsafe the world beyond the walls of our house and of her peanut-free classroom can be.  As if to punctuate this for us, the day after the incident on the bus, when the topic of peanut allergies came up at a club meeting, one of our older son’s classmates laughingly told me how “a bunch of kids at our school rub peanut butter in the faces of the kids with peanut allergies.”

I know it will sound like an exaggeration, but when Pink faces a child who has peanuts or peanut butter, it’s akin to her encountering someone who is wielding a knife. The risks of injury and/or death are no different between the two. As her parents, we understand that our goal is to teach her to be safe and to live her life without fear (to the greatest extent possible), but we also believe it is extremely important to educate others about the real risks of severe nut allergies. Children of all ages need to understand just how dangerous something seemingly innocuous like peanut butter can be for their friends.

We understand that this is an "allergen aware" district. We also understand the logistical challenges to becoming a peanut-free district. Our hope is that serious discussion would happen around the pros and cons of going peanut-free, particularly with thoughts about free and appropriate public education in mind. If the district won’t or can’t go peanut- free, we hope there will be sincere discussion (and hopefully then action) in the area of student education and awareness. We ask that concentrated effort be paid toward educating students in all buildings about the risks of allergies and the importance of promoting safety and respect. We also ask that that school-provided lunches and snacks be free of peanuts. In particular, we ask that lunches provided for field trips NOT be peanut butter sandwiches. Pink describes field trips as being extremely scary and her teachers these past two years agree that the entire experience is nerve-wracking for them as well. Because Pink's peanut allergy seems to have worsened, her allergist is suggesting that perhaps she should no longer attend the school field trips. With plenty of alternative sandwich options (sunbutter, wowbutter, ham, cheese, jelly, and, in the case there are no children with severe tree nut allergies, also almond butter and cashew butter), we sincerely hope the district is able to move toward a different alternative for the sack lunches provided on field trips, so that we won’t have to decide between keeping Pink safe and sending her to school so she can enjoy the same learning experiences as her classmates.

Though Pink's allergies don’t impact her ability to make friends and perform well academically, they do cause her to experience fear and alienation when at school. We will continue to teach her to self-advocate, but we ask for your help in educating other students and in making the school environment one that feels like a safe and welcoming space for all students.


Moe and Ren