Friday, December 12, 2014

the work of home

Conversations change between parents as their children get older.  At least this is my experience.  I think it is a combination of many factors, a large one being the desire to protect our children's privacy as they mentally grapple with things bigger than the latching on, toilet training, and tantrums of their younger selves.  But there are things I wish we still talked as openly and often about.

There are the little mundane things, like acne, and how to deal with it.  How involved do we get beyond the buying of products and reminders to, ahem, use them.  And how to deal with the moods and emotions and energy fluctuations that come along with it.  Exercise is one of my most powerful weapons these days.

And the bigger things, the enormous things actually, like how to talk with them and their growing capacity to connect and understand and ponder the hard stuff in our world, such as issues of race.  Or the stories behind the homeless and struggling people outside our car windows and how do we encourage compassion without fear?

I find myself sprinkling books, self care products, a roll of new socks even, about the house, left out just in case Nicholas needs them, wants them.  I put them on the table, a pile of possibles collected by me, in case he needs them, or needs anything from me.  I watch from the corner of my eye as he stops as he walks by them.  And sometimes keeps walking, but every so often, takes them in his hands, and disappears.

And I am struck by how those beginning efforts to walk, kick a ball, learn the fingering for a chord, all of which I also sat nearby for and was ready to help if he needed me, have turned into the ability to, well, make music.

A new struggle for us this year is homework, and its presence and process in our home, how we support it, how we are involved or not involved, and how we support Nicholas as he experiences himself in this work and decides what kind of student he wants to be.  And even more importantly, how homework will or will not affect him in terms of his whole child identity.

These days I am wondering about the difference between creative writing and research writing, for instance.  And why can a child be really good at one and struggle so with the other?  Ok, of course I have some ideas about and understanding of this question.  But every once in a while I take a step back from our evenings and I think about the differences between what bedtime used to look like and what it is now.  And I am not sure I like what I see.

And I think about what our younger two children see of his homework process and how this affects their understanding of school.  Before Nicholas, before homework became something we had to plan around, remind of, and sometimes change plans for, it was just not on their horizon.  Their carefree afternoons and weekends had some reading requirements and occasional projects and they all practice for music lessons, but really, that was all.  These have to's were what they were for themselves alone.  Not leading, as it is now clear to them, to something that was bigger, looming, and sometimes causing tears and frustration, and endless conversations about how to handle it.  I worry that this knowledge, from watching their older brother's experience, is taking away from their ability to enjoy their own work for what it is now for them.

Homework versus the work of home.  Sometimes I feel as though the assigned homework is getting in the way of how we would otherwise do our work of home.  And that is a struggle for us.  The work of our home life is so much bigger than these assignments we are trying to help Nicholas get done and feel good about.  But the work, at home, of helping him grow and be healthy and feel good, that's were I want to be placing our energy and focus.

This work at home needs to include exercise and socializing, and taking breaks and deep shuddering breaths, and being silly.  And lots and lots of food.  And talks about technology and social media.  And endless parades of decisions that need to be made about activities and opportunities and processing of things that happen during the day.  I leave out books I know will make him laugh on his work space, and tuck Lego brochures next to the computer.  I have him do quick Google searches of how to wash his new and beloved nordic skiing team hat as a quick break from writing a paper.

When the children were smaller, and back when my work involved lots of other people's children, I often had what I called the three month rule.  When I would remind myself or others that sometimes children are just going through a development.  And it can be concerning or scary or weird.  And the temptation is to jump in, address it directly, or seek help.  But sometimes, if we sit back, and wait it out, for three months or so, we will find that this worrisome thing will have changed, disappeared, or resolved on its own.  In a way, my three month rule taught the process of trust in our own children's resilience and strength and hardiness.

As I have watched Nicholas this week working on a research paper with a related visual aid/artifact assignment, I am reminding myself of this trust in their own resources.  He is even working with tools that are sharp and could be dangerous and I am learning to not gasp as he uses a sharp knife to carve a piece of wood.

He, too, is thinking about homework, how it is affecting him, who he should talk to about it and when, how to ask for help, and what kind of student and person he wants to be.  And I am watching.  And waiting.  Here, just in case.

And so there.  There you have my now version of the conversation I might have started on the bench at the playground overlooking Casco Bay years ago, gripping a coffee cup after a sleepless night caused by teething pain, or a coming sickness, or general problematic sleeping behavior and routines.  That's what the work of home, of parenting, is looking like for us these days.  And what we are grappling with.  And trying to do just a bit better.

* Clearly Jay Griffiths' A Country Called Childhood needs to be next on my reading list.

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