Feb 28, 2014

Battle Chosen...

"I am strong, Mom!"

The thing about all the parenting books is, no matter which of the diametrically opposed approaches (or any combination thereof) you take, it doesn't erase the fact that we're all human, especially kids. And the thing about being human is that you mess stuff up a lot of the time--for some reason I keep forgetting this and need constant reminding--so you have to be humble enough to change your mind sometimes, and sometimes even say "sorry" to your kids, which is good because that's how they learn to apologize to others.

I've read a lot of books on parenting over the years, and honestly much of the advice has fallen by the wayside as we've become more confident in our style. But one story in particular has stuck with me along the way. There was a dad of grown children who was asked something he would've done differently when his kids were younger. He replied that he would've sweated less of the small stuff, explaining that when his son was young he had this desk chair that he loved so much, he wanted to fall asleep with it on his bed every night.  The dad would always resist because, seriously that's kind of ridiculous, having a desk chair on your bed.  And many nights the son would be sad and upset as he cried for his chair because he loved it so much and really wanted it on his bed with him.

The dad said if he had it to do again, he'd have let his son have the desk chair on his bed, reasoning that in their case it wasn't a safety issue--the worst that could happen is it would fall off the bed and make a noise--and regardless he could just go in after his son fell asleep and put it back at the desk. And on the occasions where he gave in, his son went to sleep much more quickly & peacefully, and eventually he stopped asking to have his desk chair on his bed anyway. It was just a funny little quirk that, in hindsight, was really no big deal. Perhaps a battle not to choose.

I think about that story often because we have a lot of funny little quirks in our family.  I wonder if I think about it often enough though, because honestly there are lots of things that in retrospect seem like much smaller deals than I originally thought when I said NO to them.  Still, there are plenty of times when NO is the right answer, and for plenty of reasons--safety, time, larger lessons, personal boundaries, and sometimes even convenience for Mom. 

Today at the store we needed paper towels, and at first I teased the kiddos by placing the giant, 12-roll package on the front/top of the cart so that they were holding them for me. This was hilarious to all of us for several seconds, until Tiny E felt overwhelmed and I moved it to the handy-dandy rack right below their feet. Tiny E was cool with that, but the Littler One was MAD, and let me know it. We spent the remainder of the trip reasoning and explaining why he could not be in charge of the paper towels, why it was a safety issue for his sister, and how Mom was getting frustrated at all this arguing and would put his chosen cereal back on the shelf if he didn't cool it. Because we don't reward tantrums ("Asked and Answered" is an awesome idea. I use it for my own sanity and courage even when, in practice, my children's goal is to keep arguing no matter what).  

Well, in the checkout line I had somewhat of a change of heart. My reasons for saying no were that it was a safety issue for Tiny E, and also because it was pretty likely the Littler One would drop the whole bundle. I assumed that if I let him try again, he would either drop the package repeatedly--to my great annoyance--or smush his little sister, which is clearly unacceptable (most of the time). I wondered if, instead of relying on explanation, it would be more effective to let him experience this, so we made a deal. He would take a moment to calm down, and if he did so by the time we got to the exit, I would let him hold the paper towels until we got out to the car.  But if they got in his sister's way he had to relinquish them immediately. 

So true to his word he took some time to calm down while I finished checking out and making my way to the front of the store, stopping along the way to say hi to one of our favorite workers in the kid room (which the Littler One almost never attends, but that's a story for another post). So as we neared the exit I pulled the package of paper towels up, turned them on end, and handed them over. He dropped them once, which I figured would happen, and I handed them back and said if he dropped them again they had to go down on the rack. 

But he didn't drop them again. He carried them the entire way out to the car, and even tossed them in the back of the car when I opened up the rear hatch. Another lady was walking by and, clearly impressed, called him strong, which was very kind but completely unnecessary since he kept telling me "I'm really strong, Mom" (good with affirmation, that one). I called him a big helper and told him to buckle up, or else, and that I might write a story about him carrying the paper towels. 

I don't think there was really a right or wrong answer here. I could just as easily have held firm as a lesson in keeping our temper and listening when Mom says "no." It is a good and worthy lesson, and one that gets a lot of reinforcement in our house. But today the paper towels seemed more like a desk-chair-on-the-bed issue, so that's the direction I took. 

Do you have any "desk chair" moments/memories to tell?

**UPDATE: I went back and found the desk chair story in Grace Based Parenting, by Dr. Tim Kimmel. It's written with a Christian perspective in mind, and probably my favorite parenting book thus far.

Feb 3, 2014

Off the Grid...

(Bonus Points for catching a couple of extremely obscure 80's TV and movie references)

Sometimes I think about living off the grid. Every so often I get nervous about the state of society...or I watch an episode of "Revolution" with the Cat Daddy...or someone in the family experiences a first-world problem...and I think about what it would look like if we somehow had to revert to a pre-infrastructure way of life. What sort of work and planning would we have to do (a lot of both, apparently), how would we get food, shelter, and supplies, that sort of thing.

And actually, I vacillate between eras--sometimes I put myself in the shoes of Frontier/Pioneer Mom (not Pioneer Woman--she's in a category all her own), and other times it's Cavemommy, or Abigail Adams (yes, that one), or even a 19th-to-early-20th-Century homemaker from that one Modern Marvels episode. Most recently we've been watching "The Legend of Mick Dodge," so I've tried to work out the logistics of the five of us becoming mountain people. Obviously.

Regardless, we're not doomsday preppers, or homesteaders, or anything (I'm not even quite sure what a homesteader is, so don't yell at me, Homesteaders), so there are no shelters or bunkers brimming with canned goods, army blankets, and a transistor radio (which, let's be honest, will not help you if it all hits the fan and communications are knocked out).  But still, I have made it a practice over the years to be mindful of skills which would come in handy if I were suddenly (a) left in the wooded wilderness, searching for my father who had gone off to find work as a logger, or (b) standing amid smoking piles of rubble in a t-shirt and ripped jeans, my smeary-faced children resignedly at my side as we turn toward the sunrise knowing we must find aid for the Cat Daddy, who has been gravely injured but will regain health in time. If we can just penetrate the army encampment and get the typhus antidote, dangit, or (c) Mick Dodge.

Admittedly, there are some serious holes in my plan (LOVE showers, and not much for camping, to begin with), but I like to think it's one of those things where, if I pay attention, then when the time comes I'll be able to draw on experiences along the way to cobble together an existence that will put me a step ahead of the nature-phobes and those who think meat originates in the grocery store. Will I be able to slaughter and butcher the cow? Who knows, but if not I'll know to call the mobile butcher for help, and then maybe barter some cheese or woolen mittens for his efforts.

This is all to say that a friend recently hosted an afternoon get-together where we gathered to eat and talk, and she taught some basic crochet skills to those of us who had few to none.  I'm not really a crafty person, but I have the spiritual gift of hanging out, and the company & conversation did not disappoint. We pretty well covered the gamut in woman/mommy topics--husbands, kids, scumbag renters skipping town, living off the grid, organic vs conventional produce, and even gun control because, who doesn't want to talk controversial topics among friends and acquaintances??

I brought along my trusty H needle--back in junior high a friend taught me to do a chain stitch and my attention waned after about 5 minutes, but since then I've used the needle numerous times for re-stringing drawstrings so I find it a useful item to keep around--and got reacquainted with the chain stitch. I even managed to pay attention when she explained how to produce subsequent rows, and as we worked we talked about our various states of craftiness and overall skills. Generally we were charmingly self-deprecating; our hostess encouraged us, explaining that she was actually not a "real" crocheter but had sort of picked it up along the way (she knew fancy words like "gauge" and "skein" though, so I'm pretty sure she was sandbagging). 

She showed us her first project--with lots of purported "mistakes," which of course I call "character," but I played along and muttered insulting remarks about her subpar first crocheting effort. By the way, it was an entire blanket which, even with all the pieces of character, is beautiful and, presumably, warms at least adequately.  

She referred to our chains of knotted string as our "work," which I thought was cool. It reminded me of that same Modern Marvels episode where they talked about the pre-sewing-machine housewives and how they were always working on clothing their families, either by sewing new garments or mending old ones. Much like we bring stuff along with us to occupy our brains in waiting rooms and such, they would put their materials and supplies and whatever in a bag and "bring their work with them" wherever they went. 

Before I knew it I had crocheted a piece the size of a Band-Aid, and it made me feel important and useful to be producing a piece of work with these fancy knots in my borrowed yarn. After a short flirtation with knitting several years ago I came to a quick realization that I should never knit, but I decided that crocheting is something that could be feasible for me and I could add it to my bucket of useful skills should a time and/or need for it arise.  Since I can only do straight rows of single crochet, this will produce scarves and blankets, and I can use my rudimentary sewing skills to fashion tunics for basic clothing needs (I later amended this to include basic PJ pants; I think I can pull that off, especially since I have the crochet hook to put in the drawstrings).

The ladies, ever vigilant, said "But if there's no electricity how would you run your sewing machine?" to which I replied, "Geez, this will be tedious!" But if a kerosene generator is an option, you'd better believe I will plug in my late 70's era machine and be the quickest sewer on the block. This is also quite possibly the only situation EVER where I would be in a position to sell something I had made myself, because we are not talking lovely color-coordinated patterns and fancy chevron designs, or even nicely-edged seams. Strictly utilitarian here, all the way. But let's face it: in a post-apocalyptic world everything will probably be strictly utilitarian for quite some time. 

Now even with these textile skills and fishing, I'll still need quite a bit of help, so I'm thinking some kind of commune may be in order. I'm now taking applications, just in case.

What are some of your sweet survival skills??