a culture of boredom

During the discussion of Sounder in my son’s book club last week I asked about “night loneliness.” The book tells us it’s part fear, but I wanted to know what else these third graders thought might be involved.

No one had much to add so I made a case for why it might include boredom. As an aside, I added that my husband comes from a culture where the term “bored” simply does not exist.

“Oh, he’s lucky,” one girl exclaimed. “Then he never gets bored.”

I suppressed a laugh and refrained from telling her that her parents were equally lucky because they were from the same culture. And we didn’t have time to get into a discussion of whether something can exist even if there’s no word for it. But according to my sources, people in Somalia rarely if ever find themselves in a situation in which they’d be tempted to declare they’re bored. As city dwellers, at least.

My husband explained that there are always people around, and in an oral society such as theirs, they are skilled at filling the time with narration, discussion and debate. Creating their own diversion is second nature to them, it seems. Kids never have a shortage of playmates, and they know how to create their own toys and games. Even they don’t get bored.

I recall one Somali-American mother telling me about how easily her children toss around the phrase, “I’m bored.” In her mind it is a sign of assimilation. Just for the record, my husband now gets bored too. At least that’s the reason he’s given at times for singing aloud to himself and for making tea.

our summer bucket list

This morning we stopped by our community garden spot to pick snap peas before heading to the library. Just-from-the-garden fresh and crisp, those snap peas disappeared in no time. “As sweet as candy,” my older son declared.

At the library, the boys each got to choose a book to keep for completing ten of the reading program activities. Then they participated in a dinosaur scavenger hunt. We checked out a week’s worth of reading material and arrived back home just in time for lunch. There’s much to savor in the simple summer routine that we’ve settled into, and Friday library visits are one of our anchor activities. (During the past three school years, it was just me and the preschooler.)

Summers also afford the chance to do things we may not get around to during the school year. I recently read an article in Minnesota Parent advocating for a realistic summer bucket list. I quite agree that an attainable list of meaningful family experiences and activities is better than an over-the-top list that goes undone. So I’ve written down some of the things that have been and I’d like to see continue to be a part of our summers:

attend VBS

make popicles

complete the library summer reading program

take swimming lessons

memorize a psalm

grow our own tomatoes

go camping

check out a new swimming spot

read one of the Chronicles of Narnia

participate in a Lego Mini Build

send the boys to Camp Clair

bake zucchini bread (because there is nearly always someone who wants to pass along one of those “too-big-to eat” monsters and we can only eat so many zucchini fritters)

We’ve already completed – or have in progress – about half of these. My plan is to hang on to this list for inspiration as we move in to the second half of the summer.

What’s on your summer to-do list?

 

Five Ways to Help Kids Thrive This Summer

A little something I wrote for our PTO newsletter. 

  1. Take a virtual vacation

Your child chooses several countries he’d like to visit and makes an itinerary. For the first stop on the virtual vacation, he reads about the climate, culture and customs of the country. Together prepare a typical meal from that country and then your child can share some of what he’s learned about the place and perhaps teach everyone a few words from the language. Enjoy a folktale, book or movie set in that locale. The next week, repeat with the second country on the itinerary and so on, until you’ve finished your international virtual vacation.

  1. Entertain the family

Don’t let your child just consume entertainment, suggest she create her own. She can make a movie, develop a board game or write a play to perform with friends or siblings. It may be fun to try her hand at making number puzzles or word games. Book making is another option. Brainstorm ways she can share her final product with others.

  1. Plant something

Kids learn about responsibility by taking care of living things. Suggest your child choose a vegetable or herb for planting if he would like to enjoy the fruits of his labor. If outdoor space is limited, fill a large container with soil and try planting a cherry tomato. Or grow some herbs on the window sill.

  1. Stay active

Summers are short, so make sure to provide ample time for outdoor fun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. While some children naturally want to keep moving and easily get in an hour of exercise, others may need a little encouragement. Look for new activities to try and repeat favorites often, whether that be a nature walk, a bike ride or a certain sport or active game.

  1. Volunteer

Help your child gain life skills and compassion through helping others. Volunteering together helps your child understand the importance of giving back to his community. Whether you choose to pick up trash at a park, pack meals at Feed My Starving Children or collect supplies for an emergency shelter, volunteering helps stave off a sense of entitlement. Find local volunteer opportunities at an online site such as Hands on Twin Cities.

popcorn and poetry

“I don’t like poetry; I like non-fiction,” our first-grader said as I scanned titles in the poetry section of the library. “I like animals.” I took it as a challenge. It’s national poetry month after all. The first book I grabbed was a book of animal poetry that looked like it held promise: animal poetry Some of the poems in this book qualify as nonfiction, though not all of them. But the pictures alone earned the book high marks with my two young book critics. Then I found a book of nature poems by an author we know and like, Jane Yolen: count rhyme The poems are fun, and it too has outstanding pictures. It was a quick read with some memorable poems, as was a similar title by the same author:   color rhymeWe’re likely to check both of them out again. Another winner was an anthology edited by Mary Ann Hoberman: forget me notsThis book has a lot of classics in it as well as contemporary poems, organized by topic. Some made us laugh out loud. I also appreciate the tips on memorizing poems, a skill too few people value these days. The book would make a great gift for the child in your life.

So last week when I suggested we read poetry, we had options. “Popcorn and poetry!” Our younger boy welcomed the idea but insisted that popcorn was a part of the package. We had my sister to thank for this, but I don’t mind a bit. There aren’t many things I enjoy more than sharing a book with my boys before bedtime.

We persuaded their daddy to join us. “Which do you like better – popcorn or poetry?” he asked.

“Both!” my four-year-old said.

black history month at our home

“What language were those people speaking?” my four-year-old asked me as we were driving home from Aldi this morning. He was talking about the couple I had a brief exchange with on our way out of the store.

“English,” I said. “They speak English, like us.”

“They speak English?” he asked.

“Yes, they speak our language but they have a different dialect — they speak Black English.”

There were no more questions. Until evening.

After dinner we read Coming Home: from the life of Langston Hughes. In the book, Floyd Cooper explained that Langston Hughes’ father went to live in Mexico because, as a black man, he was not allowed to practice law in Oklahoma.

“Because he speaks Black English?” my four-year-old asked.

Living in a biracial household, I think it’s more important than ever to address my children’s questions about race and skin color and culture head-on. And they get a dose of Black History Month each February. I make up the ‘curriculum’ as I go.

This year, we started out with reading a picture book version of The Negro Speaks of Rivers and then moved on to the biography of the author of the poem, Langston Hughes. I’m still looking for ideas of what topics to cover this month. That’s part of the adventure. I am expecting some interesting conversations along the way.

sharing a story and a game

As we were driving toward St. Paul’s east side, my seven-year-old son was in the back seat muttering something about having the worst mom ever. My four-year-old was in an equally foul mood, demanding to know why I hadn’t scraped all the frost off his window.

I turned on the radio. The announcer informed us that it felt like 18 degrees below zero at the moment and the wind chill advisory would be in effect until noon. “I told you we should have stayed home,” came the accusation from the back seat. No, we most definitely should not have stayed home, I thought. What we need right now is something to turn our eyes off of ourselves and our petty grievances.

When we arrived at our friends’ home, I got a grocery bag full of books (procured during a recent book drive) out of the trunk and we went inside.

We were greeted by a preschool and an elementary aged boy, their parents, one set of grandparents, an aunt and a few other relatives. Their boys and mine started pulling books out of the bag and previewing them. The children’s mother studied a board book about body systems, anatomy for kids basically. “These are the lungs?” she asked pointing to one of the diagrams.

“Yes, lungs,” I said. She studied each page of the board book. The grandfather had chosen a book as well.

One of the boys was looking through a book called 1000 Monsters. Soon four boys were watching the monsters change form as they flipped the three different segments that made up each page. After a bit, I picked out a level 2 graded reader with a cartoonish crocodile on the front. I read it aloud to everyone in the room. The words were easy enough that several of the adults could follow along. Many of them laughed at the end. They got the joke.

I told the mom that I read to my boys every day and that reading to your children – or even just paging through the books and talking about the pictures – helps kids do better in school, no matter which language she’s using.

“These books will help us with our education,” Na Ni Moo said. She already knew what I was trying to explain. She told me about the library that she used to go to while she lived in the refugee camp. She said she had learned a lot by reading library books. The best part was that there were books in her first language.

Then, behind me I heard, “Osprey power, activate!” My sons had introduced Eh Ku Moo to their animal powers game. What better way to spend part of your winter break than sharing a story and a game with friends?

speaking of Santa

Today I took my four-year-old in for his early childhood screening. The interviewer began the assessment with some small talk. She stated that Christmas is coming up and asked my son what he wants from Santa.

“Santa’s fake!” he told her. She started laughing. “I’ve never heard that answer before,” she said, looking at me rather than my son.

“Okay, so what do you want for Christmas?” she tried again.

“A sketch pad,” he said.

“What else?” she prompted.

“A Bible,” he said. At this point I started wondering if my boy thought he was saying what his mommy wanted to hear. I also started wondering what sort of judgments the interviewer was making about our family.

“Oh, I’d want one of those too,” she said. “What else?” By then, I was getting tired of the question. What are we teaching our children in this country? That Christmas is all about getting? In our family, we try to spend a lot more time talking about what we’re giving for gifts than discussing our wants.

I think my son was tired of the question too. “A box,” he said. Thankfully she let it go at that and moved on to her scripted questions.

Despite this awkward beginning, he scored well above the average four year old. I expected that — since we live in a place “where all the children are above average.” Now, I’ve just got to teach him not to break the news about Santa to his classmates. Thankfully, we’ve still got some time to work on that.

growing up right in front of our eyes

Lots of people have been commenting on how tall our kids are getting, but they are growing in other ways too. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that happen in an average day of parenting that remind us of this. For example, on the day our older son returned from camp he started calling me “mom.” Before that it had always been “mommy.”

And sometimes their attempts to sound grown up leave us stifling a laugh. “You look handsome,” I told my younger boy as I helped him button up his shirt on Sunday.

“Handsome is not cool; it’s wimpy,” he informed me.

I start wondering whether I’ll have to change my tactics because my tried-and-true strategy for making owies feel better does not work either. Our soon-to-be first grader slammed his finger earlier this week when he was fiddling with a shopping cart. He let out a loud howl and so I attempted to distract him by saying “Let me kiss it.”

After I did he said, “That didn’t help at all.”

Then there’s the endless, “Let me help” or “I can do it.” They’re feeling the need to assert more independence. They want to be helpful. I get it. But I’m usually just thinking about being efficient, a word that even my three-year-old knows and uses. And it does take a lot more time to let a child stuff the money in the machine when we’re in the self-check out line at the grocery store. Or to buckle himself into his car seat, knead the bread, open the door with the key, wash the produce, or roll out tortillas. I’m left to supervise. Sometimes to redo it after they are “done.”

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I guess I’m often so busy rushing to the next thing that I forget to pay attention to what is right in front of me. So yesterday when we were making homemade tortillas for dinner I ignored the clock and shifted my attention to the cute three-year-old hands holding the rolling pin. They have probably nearly tripled in size since we first became acquainted. The rolling pin seems a bit unwieldy in those hands, but they’re determined to make it work. So I hover – and offer to sprinkle flour as needed. The boy takes delight in using his hands to help make dinner. And I take delight in his delight.

 

learning about gender roles in kindergarten

Last week one of my son’s classmates informed him that girls like princesses because they are gentle, while boys like superheroes because they are tough. And gentle is better than tough, therefore princesses are better than superheroes.

My son has concluded that this girl is “only interested in girl topics.” She never even wants to talk about “true topics” (nonfiction) such as animals.

Contrast this with the girl on the playground who asked him if he wanted to play ninjas. Today he played ninjas and then “bugs” with two girls who “like boy topics – they never talk about girl things.”

I took the opportunity to explain that girls could be interested in a wide variety of things – as could boys – and reminded him that back in the day, I used to prefer playing with tractors rather than dolls. However, I think the terms “boy topics” and “girl topics” may be around for a while. Perhaps I’ll ask him what he thinks the woman on the construction crew on our street would consider “girl topics.” She’s the one we’ve been watching operate the front end loader for the past few weeks.

on (not so valiantly) surviving an escalated toddler tantrum

“I’m not going to sleep,” my two-year-old shouted as I was trying to get him settled for a nap. He hadn’t slept yesterday afternoon and I knew he needed sleep this afternoon. So I laid him on his back and attempted to put a diaper on him (which he now needs only for sleeping). He twisted himself every which way and thrashed about while I tried to hold him down and get the diaper on.

I would love to say that I remained calm during his fit, but that would be a lie. I tried insisting he let me put his diaper on. I tried distracting him. I tried speaking sternly. I tried reasoning with him. I tried raising my voice. I tried discipline. I tried putting on a diaper with one hand while holding him down with the other. I tried leaving the room for a few minutes. Nothing would stop the screaming, thrashing, or crocodile tears. I was ready to have a fit of my own.

Finally I did as best I could to get a diaper on my son, pulled on his jammy bottoms, set him in the crib and closed his bedroom door as I walked out. All the while I was trying to figure out how that sweet 4 1/2 pound darling we brought home from the hospital had transformed into such a monster. Yes, this child who shares some of my DNA.

The screaming didn’t stop for a long time. I was afraid to peek my head in his room to see what he was doing because I knew he’d hear me. So I sat down at the computer to do some work, hoping he’d keep his diaper on.

An hour and a half later he was still awake. He made the occasional noise to confirm this. Then he called out like he needed something, so I went to his room to investigate. His diaper had been tossed on the floor. The other clothing from the lower half of his body was strewn around the crib.

He needed to pee. I took him out of the crib for that. When he was done he returned to his room and handed me the diaper. He was finally ready to sleep. (And he woke up in a much better mood.)

As I was writing this, I had a look at what child development experts have to say about toddler tantrums. Nothing I hadn’t heard before. One point was, “Make sure your child is getting enough sleep.”

That’s just what I was trying to do.