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Reflections on the Month Gone By

January 15, 2014 2 comments

It’s finally over – Christmas, New Year’s, celebration, stress, lights, the tree. Even those last random needles are off the floor. It’s good. I am enjoying this unusually cold January that, surprisingly, doesn’t feel desolate at all, only beautifully, delightfully, comfortably calm.

Now, this is how everything started way back, maybe even before Thanksgiving: Look at that – decorated Christmas trees – and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. Isn’t that a bit too early, I thought.

Then, a few weeks later: Did you do your Christmas shopping? Do you have a tree up? Andrei, what’s Santa bringing you for Christmas? Are you being a good boy, ah?

Wow, do I really have to deal with this, I thought. All I wanted was to take things slowly. Calmly. Thoughtfully. After all, my husband and I had to figure out this Christmas thing. Neither one of us is religious so we were sure we were not going to celebrate and introduce to our son the birth of Jesus and similar material. We were clear on that. But, like in the previous years, we wanted to partake in the cultural aspects of Christmas, and we knew that even this limited introduction of Christmas to our son would most likely be greeted with a number of questions that we will have to answer. And we knew that this year the questions would be more challenging than they were last year (as posed by a four-year-old instead of a three-year-old) and that we needed to clarify our vision quickly.

Just like last year, we got a tree and decorated it. We decided we were going to buy our son a few presents and put them under the tree. We were going to enjoy an abundance of family time, everything calm, simple, stress-free…

Well, that  was our vision. What we failed to take into account was the magnitude of the impact of our surroundings on our still pretty young and excitable son. Maybe I forgot how crazy people are about Christmas. That, in general, in the month of December, people can’t seem to stop thinking, planning, shopping, talking, asking questions about – Christmas. And that we simply couldn’t avoid dealing with the question of Mr. Santa.

Does Santa exist, my son asked me early on. Read more…

Circle-and-Line Whistle, Three-Two

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

I want my yellow whistle, you know, the circle-and-line one, three-two, I want it right now.

Andrei, you can try to look for it some more, but mommy is not going to look for it any more. I tried to help you find it, but I ran out of ideas of places where the whistle might be. If you really want a whistle, maybe we can buy one in that store next to the train station, they must have whistles.

We can’t go to that store and buy a whistle, a circle-and-line whistle, because eighteen hunters came from a forest and killed all the stores and all the whistles. They really did.

So, what does that mean? We have to look some more for your whistle?

Yeah, the hunters killed all the stores and all the whistles. Read more…

Bye-Bye, Brothers Grimm and Bambi…for Now

December 3, 2013 3 comments

I loved Brothers Grimm stories, I grew up with them. Little Red Riding Hood, The Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, my childhood would have been so different without them. I can’t remember how old I was when I leafed through those books, or maybe even read them (if that was at the time when I was able to read), over and over again. I was there, part of those pictures, part of those pages; more than thirty years later, I remember the illustrations, I remember the tone of that world.

When my mother sent us Brothers Grimm stories (and some other stories in Serbian, such as Bambi), I read them to Andrei. Since he was one and a half, maybe two. On and off. There were months when he cared for “those” books, and there were months when he didn’t.

 

The other night he pulls two books from “that” pile. Hansel and Gretel. And Bambi. I start reading. In Serbian. Andrei understands quite a bit, but I usually follow his facial expressions, and if I think he looks confused, I usually repeat the sentence in English, ask him if he knows what specific words mean, provide the English equivalents if needed, and then we move on.

So I read Hansel and Gretel. The second sentence into the story: the two children overhear their parents saying that they are going to take the children into the woods and leave them there to fend for themselves.  Andrei looks confused so I provide the translation, cringing. I go on to remind him that this is just a story, and that in real life people don’t do that (well, only rarely, but I don’t say that), they love their children and they cannot imagine their life without their children.

While I am saying this, several thoughts come into my mind: The reality-fiction line is really blurry for my four-year-old boy. His separation anxiety is still pretty strong so we frequently have to remind him: We will be back. You have fun with your friends, and mommy and daddy will be back in a few hours. Does Andrei really need to hear about parents abandoning their children? Now, when we are still working through his separation anxiety issues?

We get through Hansel and Gretel, I convince him that witches don’t exist in real life, only in books, but as soon as we put the book down, Andrei puts Bambi into my hands. We read about Bambi’s zest for life, (Andrei has always loved Bambi), but then – there is that terrible morning when hunters show up. Not good, I know. What are they doing?, Andrei asks. Why are they killing animals?

I don’t know much about hunting, I don’t like hunting, but I know that there must be a way to somehow justify hunting, although not in the world of a four-year-old, so I am not going to even try. Why did they kill the mother?, my son asks for the third time, tears in his eyes. Someone should come to kill them.

Okay, this is a complex question: Is violence a way to fight violence? I respect my four-year-old son’s sense of justice. Maybe, I say, and continue to read…until we get to the fire scene…somehow we get to the last page, and my son immediately turns the book back to the hunter scene. Why did they kill the mother?

 

I talked to him, although I can’t quite remember what I said. That sometimes people kill. Maybe something else. So many thoughts went through my head: When do you teach your kid about the real world, violence, greed, and all? I guess not at the age of four.

We have read sad books before, and Andrei got teary-eyed here and there. I thought that it’s important to expose children to all sorts of different emotions, sadness included, so they know how to live with the emotion until the emotion dissolves.

That night, after Andrei fell asleep, I put many of Brothers Grimm stories away. Bambi too. For an indefinite period of time. I know we will go back to them. I think these stories are important. But we might need to wait a few years.

 

Have you introduced your kids to Brothers Grimm stories? What was your experience?

The [Damn] Alien

November 26, 2013 Leave a comment

My son always knows what he wants. Today – the black shirt with a skeleton. Tomorrow – the grey sweater. And the blue boots. And the striped leg warmers. And the green belt. And the big rabbit. And the big motorcycle that plays music. And the blue car with eyes. And the shoes with lights and not the shoes with laces. And the gummy fish, not the oatmeal raisin cookie today (I love oatmeal raisin cookies, but I don’t want any now).

Always specific. Always clear. Always certain. About what he wants.

I think that’s good. I want to support it. This ability to hear the voice inside him calling for something and to be able to read it, without editing it…That’s all good. Read more…

For Now…

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

One morning this past week I woke up and realized it was time to put an official end to this blog. Maybe temporary, maybe not. Most likely temporary. One morning in the future I know I might wake up and know it’s time to resume. And resume I will. But now, it feels like it is a good time to stop.

At least a half of the time when I dig my little black journal out of my backpack, it is still to jot down a thought related to the blog and not to my stories. The blog has become an important part of my life. A tool to share and connect, a tool to comprehend, sort out, express, a tool to keep the words flowing.

In the past month or two, I thought about the blog frequently. My son, my husband, and I went through a big change: Andrei started preschool. Full-time. From never being separated from me to about  thirty hours of preschool a week away from me.

No, it was not what we originally  planned. We thought it would be a good idea to start slowly. A few days, a few hours a week. But looking for a preschool turned into this serious and largely draining journey. After we toured tens of preschools that felt either too new and not well-thought-out (while still outrageously expensive)  or inaccessible as they had a three-year-waiting list (which would have meant that I should have put Andrei’s name on a few preschool lists before he was even born), we saw an ad for a preschool that was under the umbrella of the Settlement Music School of Philadelphia, in existence for over twenty years but accessible only to those who qualified based on their low income or special needs until this past summer.

Within a day Andrei and I toured the school. I fell in love with the arts-integrated curriculum (four classes of music, four classes of art, and four classes of creative movement a week) the school follows, called my husband, and said, This is it! I try to do a lot with Andrei, but I can’t give him what this preschool can.

The only problem was that there was no part-time option. There was only one option: five days a week, six hours a day. You are in, or you are out. Read more…

When Things Don’t Work Out…

June 1, 2012 1 comment

My son is almost three. He loves music, no doubt. But, at this point it’s safe to say, he hates his music class. We are in the middle of the session, still quite a few classes left. What should I do? What’s the right thing to do (right for him)? I ask myself these two questions before every single class.

He is almost three. His understanding of himself and the world is getting deeper every day. He knows what he wants and especially what he doesn’t want. But, he is still a toddler who tests everything and everyone, especially me and my husband. Many stubborn Yeses and many screaming Nos are, after all, only his efforts to establish or maintain control. My husband and I answer to many of his Yeses and Nos, and, on the other hand, we choose not to answer to many of his Yeses and Nos. It’s a difficult age, for our son, for us, we tell each other almost every day.

So how do I know what exactly is happening when my son says, No, I don’t want to go to my music class. Every time I hear this, I remind myself that we enrolled him in this reputable-university-led early-childhood-music-education class because he loves music and because we wanted to nurture his passion. Is he capable of telling me what he hates about the class? Maybe, to a certain extent, but he is not giving me anything else but, I don’t want to go to my music class, usually in a whiny voice, even when I ask pointed questions. Read more…

The Parent Talk: “Greatness” and Motivation

May 11, 2012 2 comments

What is it with us parents – why can’t we just let our children be? Of course, encourage them to explore the world around them and their own responses to it, encourage them to build a relationship with the world and other people, but why put this heavy burden of our expectations on a little guy’s or a little girl’s shoulders? After all, these are all our own expectations that don’t have anything to do with our children’s passions and fulfillment.

So our son loves music. With every atom of his little being. We greatly enjoy his passion for music. Quite frankly, if I spent any time wondering what my son would be like and what he might like, music was the last thing that came to my mind. I certainly don’t consider myself very musical, and my husband seems to be more musical than I am, but playing music is not his passion. Rather, I thought, my son might love mathematics, like my father did (and like I did, the path I abandoned way too early in Serbian quite inflexible school system). Or, he might develop a passion for solving computer problems, like my husband, and he might delight in computer security and analyzing the codes that seem to me like they are beyond comprehension for any regular member of the human species. Or, like my husband, he might develop love of plants and animals, or of photography, or maybe, he might even love writing. My last thought was always, I don’t know, I don’t care, it’s none of my business, but I hope he has a passion, or two.

Now, at the age of two and a half, he loves music more than he loves anything else. I can’t even remember how old he was when we first noticed his passion for music. Maybe it was Goran Bregovic and his music that Andrei first fell in love with.  Sometime last spring, when he was about eighteen months. He would watch videos of Goran Bregovic and his orchestra’s performances and play his toy drum along. He spent many hours pretending he was playing a flute or a horn or whatever instrument he saw in the videos while using all sorts of objects (some random PVC pipe we had lying around, pen, syringe, etc.). Or he would play his drum, flute recorder, xylophone, toy piano – for hours.

Then, his toy drum broke. For several days I listened to Andrei using a toy tambourine as a drum, and that was more than I could stand. I ordered bongo drums online and paid for express shipping, hoping for a more pleasant if not less loud sound.

Read more…

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