Monthly Archives: February 2013

Trapped in Candyland

The other day BB#2 came home with a little baggie of plastic “jewels” from a classmate, with a note attached saying “Happy Ayyam-i-Ha”. One of the things we love about our neighborhood is the diversity, and the fact our kids can learn about cultures, traditions and celebrations my husband and I never even heard of growing up (in fact, I was inspired to look up Ayyam-i-Ha, which is a Baha’i festival of gift-giving and acts of charity. Lovely!)

It also came with a lollipop.

This went straight into the bucket holding the lollipops he brought home for Valentine’s Day, and the remainder of his Christmas candy (his brother has his own bucket). Well, not all of their holiday candy is in the buckets—there are two solid chocolate hockey sticks and pucks in the freezer. And in the cupboard are some Pez dispensers still in the package, a couple Kinder Surprise eggs (each), and boxes of Lifesaver rolls and bags of Skittles. And it’s not as though they haven’t eaten any of the treats they received two months ago…

You’d never know that Santa actually cut back on the sweets in the stockings this year, knowing full well how much additional sugar the boys would be receiving from other sources. Fortunately, I had already disposed of the leftover Halloween candy. Normally I would do the same with the Christmas candy before February 14th, and the Valentine candy before Easter, the Easter candy when the boys aren’t looking…

With Easter on the horizon, I’m at a bit of a loss what to do. Normally, the bunny leaves plastic eggs with a few small candies and coins inside, and notes leading the boys to their baskets. In those there might be a small toy, stickers, a small chocolate bunny or egg. But I know from past experience that this relatively modest haul will be supplemented, and though (confession time) we’ve even tried accidentally-on-purpose leaving the chocolate eggs from the hunt at grandma’s house behind, the end result will be a) eating too much candy or b) throwing a lot of it out. So as I reach for the bag of MiniEggs, I wonder if maybe the bunny should go candy-free this year? And if so, what would she bring instead? The last thing I want to start is giving big-ticket items like bikes for Easter—I know some families do, but that’s not somewhere I’m willing to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-candy. Our kids get plenty of treats, more than enough I’m sure. And I’ll admit that sweets were (and are) a beloved part of holidays for me. But it’s to the point where we’re curbing treats we might gladly give them because they are sure to get a bag of candy from a birthday party here, several lollipops from their classmates at school for a holiday there, and so on. It’s not just “once a year”. It’s neverending.

My younger son’s school once had a “no outside food policy” that I appreciated. A few things still trickled in, but I didn’t feel obliged. For some reason they’ve reversed it this year. Maybe for other parents? I’ve heard some complain about their schools not allowing birthday cakes, because they remember celebrating at school when they were young. I absolutely do not remember this. You had a birthday party at home when I was a kid. Maybe you got a paper crown at school and the class sang Happy Birthday. No cake. No candy. And this is fine as far as I’m concerned!

Even if a class does celebrate every birthday and holiday, why does it need to be with food—especially when many of those occasions are going to include treats at home? Aren’t costumes at school on Halloween enough to make the day special? Isn’t exchanging cards enough on Valentine’s? Isn’t a little baggie of sparkly beads enough on Ayyam-i-Ha? Why does it always have to include sugar, sugar, sugar?

I’ve read a few blog posts lately that convince me I’m not alone in being overwhelmed by all the “occasional” treats:

The Exhausted Dietician Mom

Why is Everyone Always Giving My Kids Junk Food?

I’m tired too. I’m tired of being the “ungrateful” mom who doesn’t appreciate the ten “it’s just one” lollipops coming home in my kid’s backpack. The “cheap” mom who doesn’t reciprocate. The “uncaring” mom who doesn’t send anything special to school with her kids on their birthdays. The “stingy” mom that says yes to dessert one day and no the next simply because I don’t want it to be a daily thing, or to ever tie treats to behavior. The “mean” mom who always says no to treats when we’re out because we’ve got buckets of sugar at home. The “wasteful” mom who prepares for each holiday by pitching the candy leftover from the last one.

But what to do? Do I stop buying my own kids any kind of treats, because I know they’re going to be kept in sugar by friends and relatives? Do I immediately toss anything and everything that comes into the house from other sources? Do I continue eating from my kids’ candy buckets while telling myself it’s “so they won’t eat it all themselves” and disappearing whatever is left after a suitable interval?

What do YOU do?

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My Kid Just Said (Part 14)

“I’m going to eat my lunch in alphabetical order.” BB#1, 8 years old.

And he did: cucumbers, grapes, grilled cheese sandwich.

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Sometimes, Things Break

There was a crash from BB#1’s room the other day. He had asked me to look for something on his overloaded bookshelf, and I didn’t have time. So, resourceful boy that he is, he got a stool to help himself.

He had knocked off a little decorative baby mug, which was now broken into several pieces. He gets attached to things—when we replaced our washer and dryer several years ago he was most upset that the old ones were sitting out on the curb. He wanted them back in our house. So, despite the fact he never actually drank out of the mug as a baby (because it was china), or since (because it was babyish), this was a somewhat traumatic moment. I tried not to make a bigger deal out of it—it was just a “thing”, after all. He hadn’t done it on purpose, and no one had been hurt. But I probably did say something unhelpful along the lines of “why didn’t you just wait for me to help you?”

My husband’s immediate response was that he could fix it. But I pointed out it was in three big pieces and several smaller shards; this was not simply a handle that could be glued back on. Attempts to fix it would have created Frankencup: unusable and unsightly. So then he suggested we could try to find an exact replacement. But BB#1 pointed out that even if it looked the same, it would not be the same. It would not be the memento of his babyhood that has sat on his shelf the last 8 years.

I hate for my children to be upset and disappointed too, and I know my husband was just trying to make BB#1 feel better. But sometimes, things break. And sometimes, they can’t be fixed. Maybe they can be replaced, but I’m with my son: sometimes, it’s not the same.

It’s not as though “punishment” is in order—this could have happened to anyone—but I think there is some value in a kid learning that broken things can’t always be repaired, and aren’t always automatically replaced with something new. Better that they learn to deal with feelings of loss over “things,” that really don’t matter. Because eventually, they will have to deal with those feelings over something that really does.

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A Letter to a New Mom

Dear new mom,

Congratulations! You just grew and gave life to and are nourishing a new human. This is amazing! Be proud of you.

Everything in your life will change now, and probably not in the ways you imagined.

You may not have had the birth you wanted, and though everyone will tell you it doesn’t matter, it’s okay to mourn that.

Take time to write down your birth story.

Whatever you are feeling is normal.

If you don’t experience that overwhelming in-love feeling you expected right away, don’t worry: it’s coming.

And after you do fall in love with your baby and start wondering how you could possibly love another child that much, don’t worry: you can.

Despite what you said before you had kids, you will have conversations about poop.

You will make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Your baby already has.

Babies are not manipulative. Trust yours.

Enjoy this time. But you don’t have to enjoy every minute of it. In fact, you probably won’t. And that’s okay.

Parenting is hard. Don’t make it harder.

Be flexible. What you envisioned might not work for the child that you have.

Make sure you are in some of the pictures.

There will be plenty of time to clean when your child no longer wants to play with you.

The only thing you can count on when it comes to sleep in the first year is change.

Let baby be a baby. Don’t rush your baby off the breast, out of diapers, out of your arms, out of your bed, to walk, to read, to grow up, whatever…Your baby will get there, and you will miss this time. In the words of Gretchen Rubin: The days are long, but the years are short.

Baby smiles and laughter make up for everything.

You are a good mom.

Sincerely,

Mum2BeautifulBoys

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My Kid Just Said (Part 13)

“You aren’t a mind-reader, you’re a womb-reader.” BB#1, 8 years old, after I told him I knew he would be a boy, born on Labour Day weekend, and have red hair.

I still don’t know where he learned the word “womb”.

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My Kid Just Said (Part 12)

BB#2, 5 years old, from the backseat as I was driving to the library: “What does L-k-b-o spell?”

[Thinking pause.] Me: “Oh, you mean L-C-B-O?” [I explained]

BB#2:”So, what would L-K-B-O stand for?”

We determined Liquor Kangaroo Board of Ontario would work. And be really funny.

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Confessions of a French Immersion Parent

If you are as old as I am, you’ll remember that high school in Ontario was once five years. But I was in such a hurry to get out and get on with my life that I carefully planned my courses so I could finish in four. As a result, when I was in Grade 11 I got an award for the highest mark in OAC (aka Grade 13) French. Formidable!

So it was quite a rude awakening when I sat through my first university-level French class and realized I couldn’t read, speak or write well enough to understand anything that was going on. I had planned to take French all through university, but fearful of losing a scholarship, I dropped the course to keep my average up (which I think says volumes about the value of marks over learning in our system, but I digress). In the end I just missed out on renewing that scholarship for my second year anyway (sorry mom and dad!) so in hindsight, I should have stuck with the course, taken a hit in the marks department, and maybe learned to communicate in another language.

The popularity of French Immersion has been in the news quite a bit lately. A certain columnist I generally can’t be bothered to read has even addressed it. According to her, and others who have weighed in on the topic, parents are putting their children in FI because they think it’s the next best thing to private school and because they are trying to segregate their children from students with behavioral issues, students who need Special Education or ESL support, and students from poor families.

Well, as a parent with one child in French Immersion, and another registered to start in the fall, allow me to confess the reason I chose FI: because I want my children to learn French. And from personal experience, I don’t believe the Core French program is enough. Canada is officially a bilingual country—it just makes sense to me to expose my children to both languages. Because my husband and I only speak English, a second language is something we can’t pass on to our kids. So I’m thrilled that immersion is an option in our public schools. Do I also think my children are bright, and that FI offers them additional challenge? Absolutely.

I am not certain, but I suspect BB#1’s FI school is actually more diverse in socio-economic terms than BB#2’s English-stream school. Students are bused there from a variety of neighborhoods, while the students at our home school are all walking distance (so, presumably within the same socio-economic demographic.) Culturally, both schools are diverse: according to the principal at BB#1’s school, there are more than 20 languages being spoken at home! Many of BB#1’s friends and classmates are in fact learning their third or fourth language. So much for that columnist’s claim there aren’t many ESL students in FI. The cultural diversity of our area is a big part of the reason we chose to live here, and why we have our children in public schools.

Is the current system perfect? No. Are some students left out? Absolutely. One huge downside to the program in our board (and others) is that there is no Special Education support offered. We chose FI despite this, not because of it. I may be totally naïve in this belief, but as I understand it, this lack is not because TPTB don’t believe students who require Spec Ed support (which, by the way, includes gifted students) can learn in another language. It’s because there is a shortage of FSL-qualified teachers in general, never mind enough French-speaking teachers to provide Spec Ed support in every FI school (the fact that I would likely have a teaching job right now had my French education been better is not lost on me). This is an issue that has recently hit home: BB#1 has tested as gifted, and we now have to decide whether he’ll benefit more from gifted programming, or FI. He can’t have both. This would be a dilemma we’d have to face if he was identified as having a learning disability as well, and yes, I think this is a problem that needs to be addressed. I absolutely believe all students should have the opportunity for an FI education. I absolutely did not choose it for my children to stream them away from “certain students”.

Another challenge we face is that due to the growing popularity of FI, BB#2 will attend grade one at the same school as his brother, but he’ll likely have to change schools for grade two, and again for grade three. While I am not at all happy about this, it may well make FI impossible for other families who simply can’t make having multiple children at different schools work. Unless one parent stays home or has flexible work arrangements, or you have a live-in caregiver like a grandparent or a nanny, having to send your children on different buses to different schools at different times might make FI out of reach (so yes, I can see where the “elitist” argument comes in. But again, I think this is a systematic problem, not a conscious plan to keep anyone out of FI. As I said, perhaps I am naïve.)

Our board also recommends children entering FI be reading at a certain level in English by the end of SK, and I’ve heard rumours those who don’t are actively discouraged from enrolling. However, I have no proof that this is actually occurring; both boys were reading at the expected level by registration, and no one ever tried to talk me out of signing them up. Lucky for them: it wouldn’t have worked. I suppose the idea is, if a child is already struggling, learning in another language might be too much. I’m not certain I agree with that theory—other boards start FI in kindergarten, and therefore the students are not expected to be reading at all (at least, I hope they aren’t!) I personally didn’t start to read until grade one. This was not considered a problem back in the day. And as someone who became an avid reader, majored in English, studied journalism, and worked in publishing, I’d say it didn’t hold me back. Is it possible we’re expecting too much from children in kindergarten? And would having late-entry immersion (something not currently available where I live) ensure that “late” readers get another chance to enroll?

It is true that my children may not end up completely fluent in French. However I suspect they’ll be more fluent than they would be if they only had Core French (my third grader already pokes fun at my horrible accent.) And it is true they may never use it after graduation. Truth be told, I studied a lot of things in school that I haven’t used since. Perhaps that means these things weren’t worth studying in the first place, though I still believe in the value of education for education’s sake. And personally, I would have been better off spending more time on French, and less learning to play the recorder or doing Calculus. It’s also true the boys may be better off learning a language like Mandarin. Maybe, but as far as I know my local public board isn’t offering Mandarin Immersion.

In the meantime, we’ll stick with FI. Having a strong background in French will mean my boys can pick it up again later if they need to, or that they’ll be able to learn additional languages more easily if they choose. And if they don’t, well, I just fail to see any downside to learning another language.

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