Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ahhh, latkes....

Happy First Night of Chanukah!  Ben's big present tonight was a V-Tech Inno Tab, which beat out the competition (the LeapPad) for three reasons:  (a) It has better drawing resolution.  (b) We don't need the camera, because Ben already has one.  (c) It was available.

Here are his exact words after he opened it:  "Well, I would rather have a cheese board."

[There's a backstory on that one, but I'll spare you the details this time.]

Anyway, once he realized that he could watch ABBA videos on it, he was much more enthusiastic, as you can see here:

Of Germs and Grinches

Well, we're a household full of germs this week.  Ben has pink-eye and a cough.  I have strep.  Neil has stayed healthy so far, which puts him in the role of General Caretaker.

Here are two quick Bennyisms:
1.  Ben, cuddling in my lap:  "Mom, you are my wife.  Someday we will get married."
2.  After enjoying the book for a couple of years, Ben finally got a chance to watch the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Towards the end, after his miraculous heart expansion, it is claimed that the Grinch suddenly acquires the strength of 10 Grinches plus 2.  Ben:  "That makes 12 Grinches!"

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'll never get caught up!

I'm so far behind on reading friends' blogs -- all those titles on the sidebar look soooo tempting, and I just haven't had time, folks, I swear.

Well, I got my fall semester grades turned in last night, so things should begin to loosen up a little.  I'm down to about 500 things left on the old to-do list, so hopefully by Monday I can devote a few good hours to some Serious Blog Action, both give and take.

Here's one Ben tidbit to tide us over:  I have this longish grey cardigan that Ben likes to wear -- it drags on the floor and gives him a bit of a wizard look.  So the other night after his bath, he was parading around wearing the sweater and absolutely nothing else, singing, "Monostatos is my name, catching people is my game!"

Okay, so there's a backstory (you were afraid of that).  Ben has an English-language version of Mozart's The Magic Flute on DVD (gift from Neil's parents), which he loves.  Monostatos is an evil guy from the opera who wears this weird bat-like costume and he's always raising his wings and flashing his rather unattractive beer belly at people, and he's constantly trying to recapture the heroine Pamina.  Meanwhile, Papageno is this bird catcher character who sings, "Papageno is my name, catching birds is my game."  So as soon as Ben saw in the mirror that he could achieve a similar effect by raising his arms and revealing his little all, he naturally thought of Monostatos and adapted the lyric.

When the backstory is longer than the tidbit, that's clear evidence that my narrative style leaves much to be desired.  You'll just have to believe me that it was pretty funny at the time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bennyisms and Pics

This afternoon, Ben was pretending to roast a "marshmallow" (large plastic bead) on a stick (drumstick) over a "fire" (red plastic jar lid).  He carefully blew on it to cool it, then pretended to take a bite.  He looked thoughtful and said, "Hmmmm.  That's pretty good, but it's not my favorite kind."  I asked, "What's your favorite kind?"  "Real."

This evening Ben was having a cookie for dessert.  Neil:  "You know what goes really well with a cookie?  Milk!"  [pushes the milk cup suggestively toward him]  Ben:  "You know what goes really well with a cookie?  Another cookie!"

The marigold that ate western New York -- Ben grew it from a seed.

Ben's first portrait of us.  I think it's quite flattering.

There used to be a family room under there.

Jam session -- Neil on electric guitar, Ben on drums.  Clifford is the groupie.

Monday, November 7, 2011

October Photo Gallery

On a hayride

A Clifford birthday

Electric guitar -- thanks to Aunt Kathy!

New scooter

More Clifford

A party guest wearing a homemade Clifford hat

Ben writes a new book; Neil takes dictation.

Still going strong at the piano

Grading some calculus quizzes

The cutest sponge on the block

Didja miss me?

It's been a long time since I've posted.  October was one crazy month, all right.  Scratch that -- October was about three crazy months rolled into one.  Thirty pounds of crazy in a ten pound bag.  Here's a super quick update and a promise that I'll check in more often.  (I'm also woefully behind on reading other people's blogs!)

The Big Event was of course Ben's fourth birthday, which was on a Wednesday this year.  My mother and Neil's parents were here for the week.  Everything went very well and much fun was had by all, but it was a totally exhausting week -- I was sick and completely lost my voice, but we still had two birthday parties to prepare for, plus Neil gave a public lecture as part of a research award he'd won, and, oh yeah, my day job.  On Monday I cancelled my classes, but for the rest of the week I just had to keep squeaking at my students, and then go home and squeak at everyone there.

Then there was Halloween.  Ben had been on a costume strike the last two years, so this year I managed to extract a promise from him that he would wear a costume and go trick-or-treating.  (There was a small element of bribery involved.)  Ben complied, in a minimal sort of way.  He wore most of the cheap Spongebob costume that he'd reluctantly picked out (although he refused to wear the leggings), and he resignedly marched up to exactly five houses, carefully avoiding any which he suspected might contain dogs, and dutifully extracted some candy.  He was much more enthusiastic about carving a pumpkin.  Of course, we got his pumpkin too early, and shortly before Halloween we discovered that it had rotted out (and all over our kitchen rug -- yech).  Turns out it's remarkably hard to get another carving pumpkin the day before Halloween, so we ended up with a largish pie pumpkin instead.  We managed to carve a pretty good jack-o-lantern, whom Ben named Cleo (he named all his various pumpkins, real and plastic, after characters from the Clifford books), and a couple of days later Ben eagerly watched me dissect Cleo into pieces and bake her in the oven.  I thought this might be a traumatic experience, but Ben was delighted with the spectacle.  We baked about a third of Cleo into a pie yesterday (delicious!!!), and the other two thirds went into the freezer.  We'll be offering up more Cleo at Thanksgiving....

That's pretty long for a super-quick update.  I'll put some pictures up later when I have access to Photoshop.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Red Brown Green

Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I am a music addict.  It's how I was brought up, immersed in music 24/7.  I spent much of my pregnancy with Ben agonizing over whether it was better to start with violin lessons or piano.  It wasn't a question of if, or even when (by age 3 at the latest, I figured), but which.

So then I went and had a deaf kid.  I don't know what else to write in this paragraph; you can probably guess what goes here.

When Ben was maybe a month old -- I don't remember exactly, but it was after his hearing loss had been confirmed -- some friends came over to visit and meet him for the first time.  Two of them are professional musicians, and the other two are fellow music addicts.  Much of our conversation typically revolved around music.  We hadn't yet told them.  About the deafness.  So finally, after all the oohing and aahing and jokes about our sleep deprivation had subsided, we told them.  Everyone immediately slipped into support and sympathy mode, but I could see the dark shock in their eyes.  Or maybe I was projecting onto them what I was feeling.

What I was feeling at the time was grief.  Grieving the loss of a certain vision of parenting.  Grieving the loss of music in my child's life.  Wondering what a life without music feels like -- it still seems so alien to me.  Violin vs. piano?  Suddenly seemed a foolish, naive self-indulgence of pregnancy.

Fast forward almost four years.  I'm not sure what to put in this paragraph either, except that, well, duh, we figured a few things out in the meantime.

Yesterday Ben had his first piano lesson.  Okay, he's closer to four than three, but technically I got it in under the deadline, with exactly two weeks to spare!  He plopped down in front of Janis' piano and proceeded to play "Hot Cross Buns".  We'd been working on it at home for a few weeks now.  We call it "Red Brown Green," because we color-coded the piano keys at home.

It was a good lesson.  He's definitely not the most naturally compliant kid around (his middle name should be Pushback), so it'll take a little doing to figure out how to keep him engaged and committed over the long haul, but I'm determined to do everything I can.

I just can't quite get over it.  Yesterday he had his first piano lesson.  Even if he never has another one (and I can guarantee you that he'll have plenty), it feels like we broke the tape after a marathon, and we've just been handed a gigantic shiny trophy.

Now, ask me in a couple of years when I'm pulling my hair out trying to get him to practice whether it's still so shiny.  I'm guessing it will be, although I might not be prepared to admit it.

Oh, and Janis, the piano teacher, was one of those four friends who visited that day when Ben was a baby.  It's kind've a nice bookend feeling.  She was there at the beginning of that phase of the journey, and she's here at the beginning of this one.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My Little Self-Advocate

Yesterday at the playground, a younger child was eyeing Ben's hearing equipment with interest.  I could tell that his mother was a little nervous, hoping her son wasn't being rude.  So I said, "Ben, it looks like O--- is curious about your equipment.  Can you tell him what that is behind your ears?"  O---'s mother broke in with a bright, nervous, "Oh, are those hearing aids?  To help him hear?"  Ben responded, "Yes, and this" (pointing to his right ear) "is a cochlear implant, to help me hear louder."

The other mother was very impressed (and relieved that it wasn't such a big deal).  I was almost crying inside, I was so proud.

Later, Ben and O--- were running in big circles around the playground, and the other mother was again impressed by the fact that Ben could clearly hear and understand me even when running at full tilt away from me.  Not a bad advertisement for cochlear implant technology!

Monday, September 19, 2011

It finally happened.

Ben tried to pretend an ordinary toy was a gun.

It happened last Friday evening, at the math department picnic.  Ben and I were playing with his air propulsion rocket when he gleefully shouted, "Let's pretend it's a gun!!!"  (Yes, my child is very literal.)

My response:  "No, let's not do that.  I don't like guns, and I don't think they're fun things to pretend about."

Now, Ben's knowledge of guns is scant.  When they are mentioned in songs, we kinda gloss over it, as in the Rocky Raccoon lyric, "Now Rocky had come equipped with a nuuuuuuuh to huuuwuhhuh legs of his rival."  Call us cowards, but we just don't want to go there yet.  But the kids at school talk.  His preschool has an anti-gun-play policy, but I'm sure some of the kids manage to circumvent it in clever ways, and they probably make it look pretty cool.

I don't own a gun, but we have friends who do for hunting purposes, and I'm okay with that.  My parents have a longtime family friend who is a vegetarian and hunts, at least partly on the premise that he's providing counterbalance to all the folks who will eat it but aren't willing to kill it.  I'm not trying to take away anyone's guns or cast aspersions on gun owners.  But let's be honest about it:  The purpose of a gun is to tear flesh apart in a fairly violent fashion, and I'm not ready to have that conversation with Ben yet.  And until I am, I don't want him getting the idea that guns have any other purpose -- most particularly that they are cool play things.  A gun is a tool, an object, and in and of themselves they are not evil or even dangerous; they're just lumps of metal.  But as tools they have a purpose, and when that purpose is misunderstood, people misuse them, and other people get hurt.

Now, in families where gun ownership is a valued tradition and there is an expectation that children will one day use or own guns, it might make sense to have toy guns and to encourage gun play, if for no other reason than to motivate conversations about responsible gun use.  If you're a football fanatic, you're probably going to get your kid a football and hope that he or she eventually shares your enthusiasm.  I guess I'm okay with all that.  But honestly, guns freak me out.  I don't want one in my house, and I sincerely hope Ben never has one either.  At some point he will learn about death, crime, self-defense, war, hunting, life on the frontier, etc., and at that point he'll learn a lot about guns.  But until he's old enough to understand them in context, there's no reason for him to be exposed to them, and certainly not in the guise of harmless play things. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Today's Bennyisms

One of Ben's favorite books these days is called Opera Cat, a story about an opera singer in Milan whose cat turns out to be a virtuoso soprano as well and covers for her when she contracts laryngitis.  A frequent visitor to the home is the Maestro, the conductor of the opera's pit orchestra.  This morning when I was driving Ben to school, we were listening to some classical music on the radio.  At one point I asked, "Do you think the Maestro is conducting that with his baton?"  Ben responded, somewhat dismissively, "No."  After a moment he continued, "I think it's Daniel Barenboim."

[Back story on that:  A number of times we've watched this video featuring Itzhak Perlman playing the Beethoven violin concerto, with conductor Daniel Barenboim.  Ben now knows to sing along to the main theme of the third movement with the immortal lyrics, "It's by Beethoven, it's by Beethoven...."  Just as my father taught me, lo these many years ago.]

Tonight in the bath, Ben announced, "Tomorrow something exciting is going to happen right in the middle of school!"  I signed, "What?"  "Abba is going to give a concert!  And I'm going to help them sing a song!"

He's the only almost-four-year-old I know who can name all the members of Abba.  I can't name them all.  And whence this interest in Abba?  YouTube, again.  John Denver -> Olivia Newton-John -> Abba.  I bet you're never more than about six links away from an Abba video on YouTube.

We believe in a well-rounded musical education.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

One of these things just doesn't belong....

We like PBS Kids.  It's a good line-up of shows, with some fun tidbits in between featuring Miss Rosa, Hooper, and (Ben's favorite) SteveSongs.  We don't sit there and watch all morning, but we usually enjoy Curious George and some Cat in the Hat action over breakfast.

In one of the segments with Miss Rosa, she holds up picture cards featuring a snake, a whale, an elephant, and a dog, and she asks which one of these is different from the others.  We've seen this a few times now, and we never get it "right".  An obvious answer is "whale," because it lives in the ocean.  But the snake is the only non-mammal, the dog is the only domesticated animal, and, well, you can ride on an elephant.  My point is that any one of these could be the "right answer," and we never remember which one was right in Miss Rosa's eyes.

This hearkens back to the old Sesame Street song and game, "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong...."  And even when I was a kid, I found this a little bit disturbing, but I could never figure out why until recently.

Now, they're addressing an important cognitive skill, namely sorting objects according to the properties they have in common and the properties that distinguish them.  But why load on the emotional baggage of "what doesn't belong," as if something that is "different" should be excluded, removed?  You have a characteristic that others around you don't, so you shouldn't be here.

Not to make myself out as a pity case, but I spent much of my childhood feeling like I didn't belong.  For a variety of reasons, I was one of the picked-on kids.  It's always handy, in any social group, to have an example you can point to of someone who does everything wrong, who just fundamentally is wrong, and who is publicly punished for this, as a cautionary tale for others who might occasionally consider going against the grain.  I had a few good friends and I had a wonderful family, so I made out okay -- and ultimately I was grateful to have a family that values authenticity and substance, rather than conformity and appearances.  But on a day-to-day basis, it was rough.  I spent much of my time at school feeling like everyone around me would be a lot happier if I just disappeared, so I could stop offending their delicate sensibilities.

So any suggestion that something that is different should politely remove itself from the premises is naturally going to rankle with me.

I think Miss Rosa should take advantage of a teachable moment to have a more expansive discussion.  First of all, just because the snake is different in one respect from the other animals, this is cool and interesting, rather than bad.  Second of all, no two of these animals are identical; each has something about it which sets it apart from the others.  And this is cool and interesting.  Thirdly, all four of the animals have a lot in common.  In some ways, the things they have in common (they are alive, they require food, they are mobile, they are driven to reproduce, etc.) are more profound and mysterious than their differences.

Not that Miss Rosa explicitly stated that the animal which she claims is "different" from the others is "bad."  But given all the overwhelming pressures to conform that children face from the rest of society, as well as our hardwired fixation with distinguishing kin from competitor (which served us well in our evolutionary past, and perhaps today as well), it's wise to counter this with an explicit positive message whenever we can.

Of course, such a discussion would take a lot more than the thirty seconds or so that Miss Rosa has at her disposal before the next show comes on.  But I guess that's why it's important for parents to watch TV with their kids.  It's up to us to fill in the blanks.

The fact that my child will be the only one in his school with large pieces of plastic hanging off his head may add a little sense of urgency to this project.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ho.Ly.Crap. He can read Korean.

Okay, let me clarify.  We have a whole series of books with titles like Count Your Way Through Greece.  I think we have about a dozen of these.  Each one features the first ten counting numbers in some language, with little related cultural details.  Each one is inscribed on the cover "E. Wilson."  A lot of Ben's books have "E. Wilson" on the cover.  This is because my mother retired from teaching a few years ago, and proceeded to pass along much of her extensive (and that is the understatement of the century) library of educational children's literature to Ben.  Since she was teaching second grade for the last couple of decades of her career, most of the books are geared toward that age range.  Ben loves 'em.

On the last page of each of these Count Your Way books is a pronunciation guide for the numbers.  I submit, for your consideration, the following:

So Ben's sitting on my lap looking at books before bedtime.  No hearing equipment.  He's spending some quality time on this last page.  He points to the numeral 1 and says "One."  He points to the phonetic translation and says, "Huh nuh."  I start to pay attention.  He goes to the next line and says, "Two ... tuh."  Next line:  "Three ... suh."  "Four ... nuh.  Five ... Tuh suh."  Etc.  You're getting the picture.  Now, here's the really amazing bit:  We've never read this book before.  We've read others in the series, so he gets the general pattern, but not this one.  Just hadn't gotten around to it until tonight.  He has never heard me or any other human being read those words on the page.  He's reading those words himself.  Okay, he's not getting past the first letter in each syllable -- he pronounces that, follows up with a generic soft vowel sound, and moves on.  He read the entire list this way.

My almost-four-year-old deaf child is sounding out phonetic translations of Korean number names.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Some August Bennyisms

Tonight's bath time monologue:  "On Memorial Day, I'm going to be too busy to go to the picnic at Overview Park.  I will be traveling all day to Rhode Island to help Yajni with her kids.  I need to help Yajni, M-----, and R----(*) with something tricky."  When Neil asked him(**) "What do they need help with?" Ben replied, "The games they will go to play are hard.  Some of the games in their house are tricky."

(*) He got their names right, but I'm suppressing a few details here.
(**) ...by bellowing in his left ear.  It's not elegant, but it gets the job done when he's without equipment.

When we were reading books before bed, Ben mysteriously announced, "Sometimes I have to skip over the math parts."  Now, I know he never heard me say anything like that, so I have no idea where that came from.  But he was very pleased with this pronouncement, because he repeated it many times.

Ben usually operates on the principle that if Mom or Dad suggest it, It's Bad, even if it's not.  This can put him in quite a bind if what we're suggesting is something that he really wants.  Case in point:  "Ben, do you want to take more dance lessons with Miss Kat this fall?"  "NO!"  We've found that the best way to deal with this is to pull back, regroup, and then re-approach the idea with a little more subtlety:  "Hey Ben, remember the candy machine outside the dance class?  And how you and Pascal would share some candy?"  Apparently, Ben's recent Father-Son trip with Neil to visit Neil's parents was marked by several such situations, requiring a certain degree of finagling.  Ben, you wanna go to the arboretum?  NO!  But he ended up loving the arboretum.  Same deal with riding the chair lift up to hike around the top of the mountain, or driving the golf cart.  So when I was in the throes of some similar discussion with Ben a couple of days ago, I reminded him of those experiences -- "Remember how much you liked riding the chair lift?  Remember the golf cart?"  Ben:  "And don't forget about the arboretum!"  [Hedy, that's the anecdote I was promising you.  He still occasionally goes through the litany of the kite, the bubble wand, and don't forget about the wrong path!]

In other news, we're still coping with Mr. Stinkerpants a lot of the time, but I think he's gradually easing out of this phase.  The last few days have been marked by Extreme Bossiness.  There's been some upheaval at his school with new kids starting this past week (and in fact he's in a new classroom as of a few weeks ago), so my theory is that he's dealing with the attendant feelings of anxiety by trying to control his environment (which largely means us) as much as he can.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I don't want to hear.

Okay, I should be getting some solid work done during this short period of time at my disposal, but I have a lot on my mind, so I will use you folks as my mind dumping ground.

So Ben has been Very Very Three lately.  Technically he's closer to four than three, but I'm referring to the developmental stage, not the chronological period.  Like any kid, he goes through challenging phases every now and then, when everything seems to be a battle for control and he takes extra delight in pushing our buttons.  This is healthy and normal, I keep telling myself through gritted teeth.  I would be more worried if he didn't do stuff like this, I mutter, reaching for another handful of chocolate chips.

A number of things I've read over the last year have helped.  Y'all know my thoughts on Amy Chua's Tiger Mother book -- I was inspired by her adherence to core values, but I'm neither able nor willing to adopt her parenting strategies as such.  Just for a little contrast and balance, I then read Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards, and I started his book Unconditional Parenting, but got diverted by other things.  And now I'm reading a very interesting book about Buddhism, Pay Attention, For Goodness' Sake, by Sylvia Boorstein.  What I'm taking away from all of this is the value of trusting Ben's reasonableness, his emerging ability to respond reasonably, sympathetically, and respectfully to discussion and explanation, rather than always relying on force, reward, and punishment to get through the moment.  From Boorstein I'm learning the value of responding to challenge with compassion.  Yes, he's being a Right Proper Little Stinker, but maybe what he really needs is a hug.  That might be the last thing I feel like giving him right now, but especially at a moment of crisis, his needs are more important than mine.

A skeptic would say, Yah, he's only three, good luck with that.  At any rate, that was my initial reaction.  There's an old-school parenting voice in my head that still insists on the critical importance of my being In Total Control of My Child At All Times, meaning that if I say jump, he says how high, and that any deviation from this state of affairs is to some extent a parenting failure on my part.  Then I ask myself, so how's that working out?  Not so good, not so good.  Okay, let's give this whole wacko "reasonable explanation" thing a whirl, see how it goes.  Hmmm.  Well, that worked better than I expected; must be a fluke.  But y'know, it actually works very well almost all the time.  It doesn't work immediate miracles; sometimes we don't get through the moment as well as I'd like.  But it certainly doesn't seem to be less effective than force, reward, and punishment, and I feel a hell of a lot better about it.

But here's the thing.  In order for it to work, you need to be able to have a discussion with your child.  Often a complicated, nuanced discussion.  Since my signing skills are primitive at best, this means that I need for my child to be able to hear me.

This morning he announced, "I don't want to hear today."  Okay, sometimes he wants a little time without the equipment.  Must be nice to be able to enjoy more or less total silence at will.  We don't want for the equipment to become the focal point of a power battle, so we roll with it.  Okay, it's after breakfast and it's still no go with the equipment.  We're making our way through the morning, doing fine, but increasingly worried.  What if he does this on a school day?  After some negotiating, we decide that it's okay to go to the grocery store sans sound.  All this time I'm mentally cooking up some kick-butt Reasonable Explanations for why it's important to wear his equipment during the day, and I'm sure he'd come around and agree with me, if only he could hear me.  A perfect catch-22.

But I'm stuck.  The parent of a deaf child, and completely incapable of communicating with him under the circumstances, beyond pathetically simple phrases like, "Need potty?  Some bananas, yellow.  No, stop, soon.  Where Daddy?"  All accompanied by overly emotive facial expressions that would make William Shatner blush.

And whose fault is this?  Mine, I guess.  Maybe we put too much stock in the technology.  We're always telling people, No, cochlear implants don't "cure" deafness.  He's still deaf.  Okay, yes, whenever you're around him, he functions like a hearing child, and most of the time that I spend with him he's functionally hearing, too.  But there's a fundamental, crucial, stark difference:  You can always talk to your hearing child.  Always.  He might not listen as well as you'd like, but he can't completely ignore you, either.  When my child isn't wearing his friggin miraculous cure-all equipment, he can completely ignore me.  Completely.  And there's not a damned thing I can do about it.

I can hear the chorus of Deaf criticism in my ear:  See?  Told ya.  You thought the CI was going to make him into a hearing child, and fix everything.  But it didn't.  Yup, he's still deaf.  Shoulda learned sign like we told you.  Bad hearing parent of deaf child.  You had a responsibility to teach your son sign, the natural language of the deaf, and you abdicated that responsibility in favor of a quick tech fix.

Well, it's not quite that simple, either.  Okay, yeah, so I didn't take a year off from my life to learn a whole new language.  I've learned a little, a pathetic smattering, and I keep offering it up to him.  We bought the Signing Time DVDs, as well as a gazillion other DVDs and tapes.  We got the books, the dictionaries, the posters.  I keep trying, but, I have to admit, not very hard.  And honestly, he never sees 90% of what I sign to him.  He looks away.  Hey, English is his primary language, and he's quite good at it.  He doesn't need to learn sign.  I'm the one who needs a mode of communication that works even when he's offline, not him.  It's an incentive thing.  And even when he's offline, it works at best 10% of the time.

So it's been a very tough day.  Some difficult parenting moments, a lot of frustration, feelings of inadequacy and self-recrimination.  We managed to get the equipment on him after Quiet Time, and I was finally able to deliver a fairly respectable Reasonable Explanation, during which he squirmed a lot and paid at best half-attention, but it had an impact.  After that we cuddled together on the sofa and read books while listening to Simon and Garfunkel.  Things are looking up.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Warning: This Post Is About Pee

Now that I have your attention....  Okay, so Ben is doing very well overall on the toileting front.  By far the most welcome recent development has been Peeing Standing Up, with the prerequisite skill of Good Aim.  It's pretty cool -- we no longer need to cart around the insert, he doesn't have to come into full body contact with nasty public toilets, and he can take care of the entire operation more or less by himself from start to finish.  Which is not to say that he always does.  If he's trying to push our buttons or slow us down when we're in a hurry, he'll suddenly become completely helpless.  But if we basically ignore him, he'll get back to business on his own.

Why am I telling you this?  Be patient.  I have to get a little graphic first, before I can make my point.  So, you probably know what I'm talking about when I refer to, shall we say, froth.  Ben is quite intrigued by this.  He came up with a little song about it.  It goes like this:  "Bubbles in the old, not in the new."  I guess it's more of a chant.  It stems from his observation that the froth-laden fluid in question is replaced by comparatively froth-free water during the flushing process.  Yeah, I know.  Ewwwwwww.

And you know how he's gotten into the Rolling Stones lately?  He has decided that he is a member of a band called the Rolling Rock, which may come as a shock to his former band members in The Milk (which I just realized I never blogged about -- I've been remiss).  So tonight, as he was lying back enjoying his bath, he announced that the Rolling Rock had a new song, which he proceeded to perform for us:  "Oh you can't always have bubbles in the new.  Yeah you can't always have bubbles in the new.  No you can't always have bubbles in the new.  But if you try sometimes you just might find, you have bubbles in the old!"

If you've managed to keep reading this far, I'll reward you with the following news item, which I guarantee is 100% pee-free:  Ben has suddenly gotten heavily into painting.  I love this.  It's been going on for a couple of weeks now.  He spends a long time on each painting, which is always an elaborate multimedia construction, typically incorporating poster paint, finger paint, glue, watercolor, and a dinosaur stamp he got as a birthday party favor.  And he sings the entire time.  This afternoon he announced, "Let's take our snack up to the attic [where the art studio is] and ... PAINT!!!"  Really, he was just about bursting with excitement.  Even better, now he wants me to paint with him -- i.e. at my own easel, next to his.  You have no idea how happy this makes me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

It was inevitable.  Ben is into the Rolling Stones now.  Tonight he and Neil were watching Stones videos on  Youtube, and Ben observed, "Somebody must have getted onto Mick Jabber's cloud."

In other news, Ben finally wore his hearing aid again today, after being without it for more than two weeks.  So things are back to normal, equipment-wise.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Found the culprit!

It's wax.  (Good guess, Leah!)  I took him to the pediatrician this afternoon.  No infection anywhere, just a big ol' gob of nasty wax plugging up his left ear.  Big enough that it was pressing against his inner ear and causing pain.  So we had our first experience with Debrox drops tonight.  If my childhood is anything to go by, it won't be our last.  (I was a waxy kid.)  He didn't like them, to put it mildly.  We're supposed to put them in twice a day for the next 4-5 days.  Gonna be a long 4-5 days.

Usually, when we're getting ready for bathtime, we take off his CI first (he can't really get undressed with it on) but leave the hearing aid in until just before he hits the water.  In a quiet home environment he can hear us pretty well with just the aid, and this greatly facilitates the rest of bath preparation.  Tonight, of course, he didn't have the aid in, and silly me I forgot this.  And proceeded to get quite angry with him for "not listening" as we finished getting undressed.  Granted he was overtired (after being up late last night for fireworks, and -- as usual -- no nap this afternoon) and acting out a bit, but you can imagine the Mom Guilt that set in when I realized my error.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Speaking of metaphysics....

Tonight before bed, Ben announced, "This ... is this," pointing first to one book and then to another.  After reflecting on it for a moment, he explained.  "You know why I said that?  Because they are both books.  That's why I said, 'This is this.'"

Maybe Neil can step in with an exposition on the strengths and flaws of this argument.

Ben went without his hearing aid today.  For several weeks he's been getting more and more tetchy about anyone touching his left ear, especially to put the aid in or take it out.  At one point Neil thought he saw a little redness just inside the outer ear canal, but I can't see it.  At his last audiological appointment we decided not to get a new ear mold, even though we'd been running on this one for over six months, since it still fit so well.  (I do not miss the early days, when his ears grew so quickly that we had to go to Buffalo every two weeks for new molds.)  Maybe the latex is starting to degrade -- although we don't see any visible signs of it.  A mystery.  Anyway, today he actually started crying in pain when I tried to put the hearing aid in, so I desisted.  On Tuesday we'll follow up, either with the audiologist or pediatrician.  And of course, his CI was beeping all yesterday and today -- not clear whether the battery was in poor contact or this cable is starting to die.  Impeccable timing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fresh Bennyisms

1.  Tonight, at the beginning of his bath:  "Did you know that there's a day that is no longer in the world?  It used to be, but they took it out.  It's the first Sunday."  Very metaphysical.

2.  At the end of his bath:  I don't remember the exact wording, but he explained that in two days we will go back to Toronto and stay at the same hotel we stayed at in May, but we aren't going to drive there, instead we will look at the hotel on the computer and then go into the computer and just be there right away.

Friday, June 24, 2011


1.  Tonight, after Ben got into bed, he put his arms out toward me and said, "I need a hug.  This is going to be a really long hug.  Know why?  Because I love you."

2.  The New York State legislature just voted to legalize same-sex marriage -- woo-hoo!!!  Yep, I'm a proud New Yorker right now.

It's a good night for families everywhere.  All kinds.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Great video -- our CI surgeon

Here's an excellent video featuring an interview with Dr. Roland, Ben's CI surgeon.  Among other topics, he gives a nice description of how a CI works.  Enjoy -- and turn those ipods down!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

IEP under development

We had our second annual CPSE meeting a week ago last Tuesday, and it went very well over all, in the sense that we got the services we wanted and the goals sound like they're shaping up nicely.  The downer was that New Issues are emerging.  No big surprises -- these are things we've become increasingly concerned about over the last year or more.  Still, it's a little depressing to hear the various teachers and therapists waxing poetic about it all.

The short story is that we're throwing some physical therapy into the mix, and also working to address his Extreme Shyness (a strong disinclination or inability to interact with peers).  A year ago, in the comprehensive evaluations before his first CPSE meeting, he was showing a mild delay in several gross motor skill areas, and the delays have become more significant since then.  For instance, he can't jump.  When he's told to jump, he'll take kind've an aggressive two-step, but he doesn't get any actual air time and he can't keep his feet together.  I won't go through the whole list of Things He's Supposed To Be Doing By Now But Isn't, according to the therapists, because it's dull and depressing, but we're confident that everything will be okay in the long run.  It's small stuff, really, that should be amenable to PT, and hopefully we'll get ahead of it before he's in kindergarten.  Also, none of it is related to his hearing loss -- Connexin-26 deafness is non-syndromic, and the only effect is the deafness itself.  In fact, you gotta wonder if the physical delays really fall within or pretty close to the normal range of development, and nobody would be worrying about them if he weren't being so closely monitored because of the deafness.

I'm more worried about the Extreme Shyness.  This probably is due at least in part to his deafness, or at least exacerbated by it.  Now, I was Extremely Shy at that age, too, and in fact I never really outgrew it, just learned to compensate better for it.  It made for a pretty rough ride in elementary school, where I was always on the social outskirts and often the target of Kids Being Kids.  Not fun.  I'm sure that a good portion of Ben's shyness is just innate personality, his unfortunate legacy from me.  And it would be fruitless and ill-advised to try to change his personality.  But there is also reason to believe that his social anxiety is intensified by the difficulty of hearing in noise and trying to focus on a single sound source when surrounded by many speakers.  His teachers painted a grim picture of him being withdrawn and mute when in a group setting, refusing to answer questions even when he can hear them and knows the answer, unwilling to engage in conversation or interact with peers.  From various things that his teachers and daycare providers reported over the last few months, I was starting to worry a little about high functioning autism or Asperger's, but actually there's no real reason to suspect anything like that at this point -- in less threatening environments he doesn't display any of those behaviors, and to the contrary he totally gets humor, emotion, talks with inflection, makes eye contact, shows empathy, etc.  So we're all putting it down to social anxiety made worse by poor hearing in group settings, and some of his speech/language goals over the next year involve initiating and sustaining peer contact.  I have no idea exactly how they're going to work on that, but it'll be interesting to find out.

It's a bit of a change from a year ago, when all the evaluators were singing his praises, he tested fantastically on everything (except the mild gross motor delays), and we had to work hard to convince the special ed director that he needed services in the first place.  This year we had a new special ed director who again needed some convincing, because he still performs so highly on the sorts of speech and language skills that she usually pays attention to, but once everyone started talking about all the Emerging Issues, it was a pretty easy sell.  Unfortunately.

One result of the meeting was a formal PT assessment, which took place two days ago.  Once that report is written up, we'll have to reconvene the committee to discuss PT goals and services, and hopefully finalize some of the language goals as well.  But we're optimistic that we're going to get a good IEP out of this.

This evening, he used the toilet All By Himself.  From start to finish.  I wasn't even in the room.  He needed a little help at the end when he got his shorts halfway up and discovered they were on backwards, but still, you gotta be impressed.  Before that, he and I were engaged in a game of "Pizzicato or Arco?", where I tell him to play his violin pizzicato and he smirks and uses his bow instead, or vice versa.  And at times like those I realize, hey, the kid's all right.  Relax already.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Two Bennyisms

1.  Last week, before Ben's appointment with his CI surgeon, he went off to the bathroom with Neil.  When he returned he announced, to everyone's delight, "I peed in the urinal!!!"  (First urinal usage -- yay!)

2.  Tonight, while playing with his shaker eggs, he started singing Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard."  He explained, "It's because the shaker eggs sounded like the tone of that song."

In other news, we had a successful IEP meeting this morning.  Details to follow.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fifty ways to take a bath....

Here are some pictures from our recent trip to NYC for Ben's third annual follow-up appointment at the NYU Cochlear Implant Center.  He entertains himself (and George) in the car:

Walking with his father and grandparents in Riverside Park:

One thing we love about NYC playgrounds -- metal slides!!!  (No static!  CI-friendly!)

On our last night there, Ben was singing Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" in the bath.  It was pretty cute!  No pictures -- this is a family blog, after all.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Standing Out

I am officially okay with the fact that total strangers stare at my child, trying to figure out what's "wrong" with him.  I'm not actually okay with this, but I resigned myself to it a long time ago.  He has large pieces of plastic and metal hanging off his head.  People are people.  I'd stare, if I didn't know what it was.  When I see something I don't understand, I look a little longer.  We're hardwired to do that.

But it still gives me a very strange sensation when I notice people staring -- which, in a crowded city like this, is every few minutes.  A strange combination of fierce mama bear defensiveness, pride, and slightly dizzying self-consciousness.  Adults don't stare for long, because it's rude, and most of them come to their senses very quickly and avert their gaze -- having pegged him as a child with some sort of disability, probably deaf (if they recognize the hearing aid), they feel pity for him and for me.  It's really weird walking down the street or hanging around a playground and knowing that you are the object of other people's pity.  It's kindly meant, but it just feels weird.

It's a very fleeting sensation and we've learned to ignore it most of the time.  For all I know people have been shaking their heads in a vague sort of pity over me all my life, and I never noticed it -- I am after all a math geek with particularly weak fashion sense.  Weird.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Jersey Bennyism

While driving down Route 17 on our way to NYC today, Ben piped up:  "Daddy, you're going to beat Sebastian Vettel!"

Ben has his third (!) annual follow-up appointment on Monday with his CI surgeon -- the amazing Dr. Thomas Roland, one of the best.  In the meantime we're going to take in a little City action.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Read Tammy's post

You gotta read this.

Don't know what else to say about it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Just sayin'....

Human beings have been vomiting for about 6 million years (off and on), and for the vast majority of that time they didn't have washing machines.

Just makes you think, y'know?

(Yeah, Ben's a little sicky.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Couple more....

Yesterday:  "Is today the actual day of you guys's anniversary?"  [The answer was yes.  We loved the "you guys's" construction!]

Last night at the beginning of dinner, Neil put plates on the table and said, "Is there anything else we need from the kitchen?"  Ben's response:  "We're all set, thanks."  [I guess we've been going to too many restaurants lately!]

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Two Toronto Bennyisms

  • Yesterday, driving along the Gardiner Expressway:  "It seems that every other light is turned off."  [He was right -- every other street light was turned off.]
  • This morning, when Neil opened the curtains and Ben was suddenly in full sun:  "There is sunlight on my shoulder, and it isn't making me happy at all!" [Think John Denver, "Annie's Song."]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Poor Dixie Down!

A little over a week ago, Ben got his first guitar.  It was a big hit, right from the start.  Usually when I go to pick him up from daycare, he's so involved in playing that it's like pulling teeth to get him out the door.  But every day last week he marched right up to me and said, "Let's go home so I can play my guitar!"  We'd get home and I'd still be down in the kitchen fixing a snack, and he'd already be upstairs rocking out.

As you know, if you've been following this blog, Ben is a serious John Denver fan.  On our greatest hits collection, there's a track where John Denver covers The Band's song "The Weight."  This led us to watch YouTube videos of The Band's original version, plus their various other hits.  That explains Ben's song line-up for this impromptu gig.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Mother's Day

This is how it started:  I was in the kitchen making biscuits (it was a Formula 1 race day).  Ben ran in, put his arms up to indicate that I should pick him up, and announced:

"This is your Mother's Day hug!" [big hug]
"This is your Mother's Day kiss!"  [sloppy wet kiss]
"This is your Mother's Day back rub!"  [back rub]
"This is your Mother's Day cuddle!"  [cuddle]

Yeah, life doesn't get much better than that!

Here's the "John Lennon Hotel" that Ben built while we were watching the race.  He usually builds animal hotels, to house his large collection of small plastic animals, but this time he decided that John would be the featured guest.  Note John's banana slug button.

Later in the morning we went for a Mother's Day walk, during which Ben addressed everyone we met with a hearty, "Happy Mother's Day!!!"  The two school-age boys down the street who were out riding bikes were a little nonplussed by this, but the neighbor woman two doors down was tickled.

Here's a random shot from last week.  It was the first warm, sunny day we'd had in awhile, and Ben was trying on last summer's sunglasses before we headed out to a playground.  This of course meant that he had to go get his ukulele, for full effect.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

He must be operating on a whole different plane

Starting at about 7:30 this morning, Ben woke up laughing.  He continued to giggle sporadically for the next half hour.  When he finally got up, he told us a joke that apparently had come to him in a dream.  It goes like this:

Where is the ball?
It got stubbed on a toe.
Why did it get stubbed on a toe?
[big punch line coming up; break into pre-emptive helpless giggling]
It is because you keep moving the bat!!!

Yes.  That's the joke.  No, we don't get it.  But that is the joke, and he proceeded to recite the entire thing, without deviation, at least 50,000 times during the rest of the day.  Even tonight, roughly 12 hours after the initial recital, he was completely unable to contain his hilarity as he built up to the final punchline.  At least he knows how to entertain himself!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The holidays in pictures

  Ben carefully places an egg on the Seder plate on the first night of Passover.  We didn't have a real shank bone, so that's a cut-out of a picture that Neil found online.

On other nights, we do not dip even once. But on this night, we dip many, many, many times. Apparently, dipping gnocchi in salt water is our new Seder tradition.
On the second night of Passover, we had friends over for a Seder (hence the good tablecloth, and the kids table in the background).  Here's Ben chomping into a lemon-shaped candy.
In his Easter basket, Ben got a new magnifying glass and some more rocks for his rock collection.  Yes, this is the kind of nerdly family we are.  Ben seems to fit right in.

As if that weren't enough, he also got a set of tangrams.  Oh, yeah, and a chocolate rabbit and lots of other candy of a traditional Easter nature.  We're math geeks, but we also like our chocolate.

We went over to Jackson's house for a wonderful Easter egg hunt and Easter dinner.  I don't have any pictures of that yet.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

More from our budding philosopher

This will take a bit of explanation.

Ben has a large collection of small toy cars, and most of these have real wheels that turn on axles.  Y'know -- Matchbox and things of that ilk or a little bigger.  He also has a set of "squirties" -- those soft plastic bath toys with a little hole somewhere so you can fill them with water and then squirt your child silly.  Many of these are in the shape of vehicles -- car, firetruck, submarine (of course), etc.  These do not have real wheels, so Ben refers to these as "fake" cars.  We usually keep them in the bin with the rest of the cars, because, frankly, we don't like using them in the bath -- it's hard to get all the water out of them, and we aren't fans of mildew.

So last night he was playing with his wide assortment of vehicles, and he declared "This is a real person who likes to play with fake things."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

He just needs a beard with bits of food in it*

Today Ben's daycare was closed for staff meetings, so after preschool Ben got to sit in on one of Neil's office hours.  Neil was giving an exam in his logic class later in the day, so he had plenty of anxious customers.  As if their pre-test anxiety wasn't high enough already, Neil taught Ben to say to them, "Your statement is the negation of a tautology."

For logicians, them's fightin' words.  Seriously, if a logician ever says that to you, consider yourself served.

It was pretty cute.

Later, we all had lunch together over in the Math Department, where Ben and one of my colleagues (a fellow John Denver fan) gave us a rousing concert.

*If this title makes no sense to you, it's because you know relatively few professional logicians.  Count your blessings.  My father once threatened to disown me if I became a logician.  I think he was joking, but I've never been completely sure.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

School pic

Here's a cute picture of Ben in his speech therapy session this morning.  The director of the preschool sent it to me.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How is this night different from all other nights?

We've been practicing our Four Questions for Passover.  This evening, Ben set up an obstacle course for himself in the hallway, consisting of maracas, tambourines, a drum, and sundry other instruments.  He then proceeded to run up and down the hall, darting in and around the instruments, and announcing, "All other nights we don't make an instrument course, but tonight we make an instrument course."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Deaf kids can yodel

Well, mine can, anyway.  Almost.  As you know, Ben is Big On Music, which is putting it mildly.  I think of distances around town in terms of how many CD tracks we can get through on the journey.  It's a small town, so it's usually at most two.  From daycare to home, it's about 1.5, depending on the CD.  Yesterday when I picked Ben up, he was clearly in the mood for more than 1.5 tracks worth of John Denver, so I suggested a little drive in the country.

It was a gorgeous day -- deep blue sky, strong sunlight, the snow starting to recede in the fields.  Still cold, but a beautiful early spring day.  We were driving along, and there was Ben in the back seat, belting out John Denver songs at the top of his lungs -- and not just loudly, but joyfully, with over-the-top exuberance.  Where he's still a little unsure about the lyrics, he fakes it pretty well.  And we got to the part in Calypso where John Denver is more or less in yodel mode -- it's not quite Alpine pyrotechnics, but he changes from chest voice to head voice and dances around some pretty wide intervals.  And yes, that was my (deaf) son in the backseat, yodeling right alongside.  Not quite pitch perfect, but pretty darned close.  I looked in the mirror and saw his eyes beaming with happiness as he yodeled away, watching the countryside fly by.

He couldn't see my face, and the fact that I had tears of joy and pride streaming down my cheeks.

When we got home, I turned off the ignition but left the key in long enough for the two of us to sing all the way to the end of Take Me Home, Country Roads.  Then, still high on music, we went inside and had a snack.  Pretty good day.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pics and the latest Bennyism

We've been talking about different ways to say hello.  When Neil walked into Ben's room this morning to get him up, Ben greeted him with, "'Ssup?!?  Ni hau ma?"

Here are two pictures from our trip to Hunter last week.  The second one shows Ben entranced by a DVD of La Traviata, the Verdi opera.  If you're familiar with the opera, you'll know that it has a little adult content here and there.  Okay, so the heroine is a high-end prostitute, and the plot centers on her love affair with a baron who is cheating on his wife.  But there's nothing graphic (it is opera, after all), so if you don't know Italian and can't read the subtitles, then it's pretty much smooth sailing, even for a three year old.  In any case, Ben seems to be a convert.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another deaf athlete with a CI

This is a neat story about a high school football player (in Columbus, OH, family members!) who has a specially designed helmet to accommodate his CI.  I'm a little iffy about a kid with a CI playing a heavy-duty contact sport, since a blow to the head carries all the usual risk plus the additional risk of damage to the device, but it's nice to know that it's an option.

In other sports news, Ben went skiing last week -- twice!  I'm at the office right now, but I'll try to post a picture tonight.  He doesn't yet have the musculature (or the incentive) to hold himself up very well, so Neil ended up with a sore back from supporting him all the way down the hill.  But it was a very successful first exposure.  By next winter, Ben will probably be ready to do more on his own.  In any case, he had a blast!

Speaking of helmets, we'll have to figure something out for skiing.  Lots of CI kids ski, and the helmet fits pretty well over the equipment, especially if you wear one of these underneath to keep the headpiece from shifting out of position.  Since Ben was completely under Neil's physical control the entire time, we didn't bother with a helmet this year.

Oh, and it turns out that Ben's an opera fan.  More on that another time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Recent Bennyisms

  • Yesterday, upon walking into the ski lodge:  "I've been to this restaurant before."
  • A few minutes later, when asked what he wanted for lunch:  "I'd need to look at a menu."
  • Last night, we were playing "Down for the count," where we'd flop down on the bed, count to ten, and then announce that we were (surprise) down for the count.  A few minutes ago, after getting up from Quiet Time, Ben flopped down on the bed and said, "Down for the count!"  Then he pushed himself up and said, "Up for the spell!"

Monday, March 14, 2011

Meltdowns all over the place

I'll go from minor to major.  I have a cold -- had it for a few days.  It was probably sitting around in my system all week, but it was properly launched by the two hours we spent at Chuck E. Cheese on Thursday evening for a birthday party.  That is not an environment conducive to good health and clean living.  Nuff said.  Anyway, my sinuses are like blocks of cement, and I just want to crawl inside my cup of tea and drift off to sleep in the hot, steamy water.  Tedious, but not life-threatening.

Connor's seizures are out of control again.  They haven't really been under control for many months now, although they've waxed and waned.  Right now they're waxing big time.  I don't know if you're familiar with Connor's story, but his seizures are life-threatening.  He's an amazing kid with a fragile body and an incredibly strong family to make up for it.  If you have a moment, stop by Jess' blog and leave a word of support.

The news out of Japan just keeps getting worse and worse.  Nuff said, because I don't know what else to say.  Lives not only threatened, but thousands lost already.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dear old Mrs. Leach

Don't you hate it when your child is trying really hard to tell you something and you can't make out what it is?  Ben's articulation is very good for his age, but he still makes all the usual consonant substitution errors, like /d/ for /th/ and /w/ for /l/ and /r/.  He also has a tendency to mumble when he's self-conscious or unsure of himself -- something we all do to some extent.

Anyway, this morning while I was driving him to preschool, Ben made a long and solemn pronouncement.  The engine was running, the heater was blasting, and of course I couldn't turn around to look at his lips, so I couldn't make head or tail of it.  After many repetitions, I could tell that it was mostly a question, and it had the word "teach" in it.  Was he asking about his teachers?  No.  Was he asking about what I'm going to teach today?  No.  I quizzed him left and right, and he kept repeating the sentence, to no avail.  Something about "great teaching" and "forget".  Finally he brightened and said, "I wemembuh -- it was Mrs. Weach."

Ahhhhhhh!!!  This is what he had been saying:  "Who was your fourth grade teacher?  I forget."  As soon as he answered his own question, it all made perfect sense to me.

A few days ago, we were talking about Ben's teachers, and for some reason I went off on naming all my elementary school teachers.  Now, dear old Mrs. Leach was a sweet person, but she was hardly the best that the Rockbridge County Schools had to offer, and I did indicate, during our conversation a few days ago, then I did not look back on the two years I spent with her (4th and 6th grades) with great satisfaction.  This obviously made quite an impression on Ben.

Dear old Mrs. Weach.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sweetness and light

I might have given the false impression that life with Ben is nothing but one battle after another these days.  Well, he can be a little stinker sometimes, and I'd be worried if he weren't.  But he's still one heck of a sweet and amazing kid.  Tonight, while we were cuddling before bed without his equipment on, he laboriously worked his fingers into the "I love you" sign, thrust it up into my face and said, "Look, Mom, it's an I love you sign!"

Shortly before that, when Neil came in to say good night, Ben asked him if tomorrow is a school day.  Neil signed yes.  Ben then pretended to cough, pointed to his throat and said, "My throat's a little sore.  I'm not feeling so well."  Little stinker.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tiger Mom (Episode 2)

Okay, so this installment has more to do with the nuts and bolts of parenting a three year old.  Not that I've mastered this art, by the way.  But it is, understandably, a current preoccupation of mine, so I'll expound on some of what I've learned so far.

First, a quick poll:  To spank, or not to spank?  Speak up, and unless you assert that you routinely pummel your child with blunt objects just because it builds character, we'll try not to judge.  I'll start:  I have spanked Ben a couple of times.  It's more along the lines of what my mother always referred to as a "love tap" -- and with only a little bit of irony.  In other words, a swat on the butt that can be felt but is nowhere near hard enough to cause damage or actual pain.  Of course, if it's just a glancing caress, then obviously it has no deterrent value whatsoever.  The other crucial thing is that it shouldn't be how I vent my anger.  That's not to say I'm not angry when I do it, but before I raise my hand, I should pause, reflect carefully on what I'm planning to do and how, calculate how to do it so that it's a formative and instructive experience for my child, and only then go forward with the spank itself.  It needs to have that element of emotional detachment, reflection, and calculation.  If it's to be done at all, it's because I truly believe that it's in Ben's best interest, rather than because I'm so steaming mad that I just have to take a whack at something.  Another important lesson I'm teaching him at this stage is that while anger is a natural and healthy emotion, it's never okay to take out our anger on people or things.  Hitting him out of anger is wrong for so many reasons, not least because it would teach him a contrary message about anger management.

I sound like an old hand at it, but honestly, I've only done it twice.  And I wasn't too thrilled about it either time.  I think it's best to avoid it if at all possible, but if there's a circumstance where it seems like it will advance the cause better than anything else, then it can be done in a non-abusive way.  And I gotta say, it was remarkably effective at adding some real teeth to my other, preferred form of behavior management.

That being the handy "Do I need to get angry?" line.  So let's talk about anger for a moment.  I have a friend who is an excellent parent of a six year old, and I have turned to her for parenting advice on a couple of occasions.  This friend is a very mellow, warm, positive person.  She told me that when she was growing up, she saw almost no anger in her household (I gather that her parents did all they could to shield her from it), and so it was quite a shock when she started encountering it on the outside, and it took her a long time to figure out how to process her own anger, especially after she became an adult.  So one of the things I've incorporated into my parenting is an authentic (but age-appropriate) display of healthy emotions. 

One of the main jobs of a three year old is to push his parents' buttons.  Seriously -- it's an important developmental phase, where the child establishes a sense of identity separate from that of his parents.  Remember that a newborn doesn't understand that other people exist, and even after he figures this out, those people are just blobs, like the crib and the light fixture, except that one of them has tasty boobs; there's no understanding that they are beings that are both similar to and yet separate from him.  That is a lesson that is a long time coming, and it's an essential precursor to developing empathy, sympathy, and a whole host of other social skills.  My point is that preschoolers really know how to make us angry, and this is not, on the whole, a bad thing.

Which is fine, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to curb bad behavior and reinforce good behavior, and therein lies the mystery.  How?!?  Your child is using everything in his procrastinatory arsenal to avoid putting his pajamas on -- not because he really has any objection to wearing pajamas, but because he knows that you want the pajamas on and, therefore, he doesn't.  His arsenal includes such tactics as whining, fussing, throwing himself on the floor, insisting that he wants the other parent to do it, insisting that he wants to do it himself, insisting that he needs help, insisting that he wants to do it in the other room, insisting that he needs to go potty, discovering an urgent need to put all of his stuffed animals into a new configuration, developing an intense interest in counting things on the dresser, etc.  And you're getting angry.  Something that should take thirty seconds is stretching out to five minutes, and there's no end in sight.  You gotta do something, but what, how, and when?  Do you come down hard at the first sign of trouble?  Do you pretend to be unimpressed and unprovoked, so as to take the wind out of his sails?  Do you invoke some system of rewards and punishments, and if so, how did you establish that in the first place?

As rookie parents, we muddle along as best we can, learn from our mistakes, and hope that gradually some method emerges from the madness.  So far, the thing that seems to work best for me is, "Do I need to get angry?"  If he's not too committed to the infraction, he'll say no immediately and the problem behavior ceases.  Otherwise, I let the anger start to ramp up, and I keep him informed as to its progression:  "Ben, do you see my face?  I'm getting angry here.  Can you hear that I'm raising my voice now?"  And almost always there's a point where he recognizes that he's pushed me too far, and he's willing to cease and desist.  But there were those two occasions where we never seemed to find this point.  Since I can't simply ramp up the anger forever without some sort of destination in sight, I warned him that he was headed for a spanking.  I explained what a spanking was.  The first time, this actually piqued his curiosity, and, well, I satisfied his curiosity.  The second time, he remembered that it was something that he really didn't like, and it was almost an effective deterrent, but he soldiered on -- with the inevitable result.  (You certainly can't make a threat like that without following through on it.)  I'm hoping that we've now learned that we don't want to go all the way down that road, but I wouldn't be surprised if we have to relearn this lesson a few more times.

This post is far too long already, so I'll seek a little closure here and take up the thread again later.  Two key things about using your anger as a behavior modification tool are that it can't come out of nowhere, and it has to be connected to the bad behavior.  You can't just play Nice Mommy until that moment where you snap and suddenly become Mean Mommy; the child has to see you ramp it up gradually, and know where it's going.  After the moment has passed, I'll usually have a debriefing with Ben:  "I didn't like yelling at you, but I was feeling very angry because you were doing X and you weren't listening to me."  Also, what does this have to do with Tiger Mothering?  Not much -- except that I wanted to explain some of my thoughts about basic behavior management and how to handle noncompliance, before I talk about some of my hopes for the future and what (if anything) I plan on doing if I meet a little resistance along the way.  Look for Episode 3, in theaters soon.

One last thing.  Imagine the whole scene with the pajamas, and throw in the fact that your child is deaf and (under the circumstances) very pleased with himself about that.  My signing is improving, but I'm not yet at the point where I can sign, "Get the freakin' pajamas on before I blow."  We haven't sussed this one yet.  We're getting much more capable and confident with discipline during the day, but when the equipment comes off, it's a whole new ballgame.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Episode 1)

Some of you might recognize that as the title of the controversial new book by Amy Chua.  An excerpt was printed in the Wall Street Journal, everyone threw a hissy fit, and Chua herself received death threats, even after her older daughter published an open letter in the New York Post defending her mother.

Why?  Well, the way the book has been hyped, it's an exaltation of Chinese parenting in contrast to western parenting, and full of horrifying stories of how Chua threatened to give her daughters' toys away if they didn't practice their instruments (piano and violin) for six hours a day, or how she would demean and insult them into bending to her iron will.

Except that it's not.  It's actually a really good book, and I highly recommend it.  I read the WSJ excerpt and was intrigued; reading between the rather sensational lines, I could see some glimmers of wisdom, and a lot of it resonated with me and reminded me of aspects of my own upbringing.  Also, it goes right to the heart of some parenting issues that I've been grappling with for the last few months (more on that in Episode 2).  I'm certainly not going to adopt Chua's parenting model lock stock and barrel, but reading about her experiences gives me renewed confidence to adhere to some values that my parents instilled in me, but I wasn't sure how to instill in (impose on?) Ben.

A few words of warning before you read the book.  First, you have to get on board with Chua's self-deprecating style of humor.  The book is hilarious; I find myself laughing out loud on just about every page.  Even if it's not obvious at first, almost all of the jokes are at her own expense, as she looks back with irony at how her approach to mothering has evolved over the years.  Second, the story really is about that evolution, and how she is trying to stay true to her core parenting values while adapting to the reality of her daughters' radically different personalities.  Third, this is extreme parenting, folks (at least from a western point of view); feel free to take it down a few notches if you want to try implementing aspects of it yourself.  For example, if you feel that six hours of piano practice is a little much, scale it back to five.  After all, the kid is only three.  (Just kidding.  Ben is three, and I don't make him practice more than two hours a day.)  (Just kidding.)

My parents started me on violin lessons when I was four.  A four or five year old doesn't typically make astounding progress in a hurry. You're basically in grind and squawk mode for a few years.  However, I believe it lays the groundwork for the kind of discipline and musicality required for later success, and I am eternally grateful to my parents for providing me with this opportunity.  When I was about seven, I decided that I was done with the violin.  I didn't enjoy it anymore, and practicing was a time-consuming chore.  I'd given it a fair try.  Sounds very reasonable, no?  Reasonable parents would have agreed with me, and let me give it up and devote the time to something more enjoyable.  My parents were not reasonable, and they absoutely refused to let me quit.  I recall some rather unpleasant discussions of the matter.  To make a long story short, within a few years I was back in love with the violin, and being able to play it well has enriched my life ever since.  (In the interest of full disclosure, they did let me give up the flute, but only because something had to give and we all decided I should devote more time to the violin.)

Not only that, but I wasn't allowed to watch any TV until all my homework was done and I'd practiced the violin for an hour.  And even then, it was only a little TV, under parental supervision.  Yeah, I balked occasionally at this sort of thing, because it was more restrictive than in my friends' households (although less restrictive than Chua's), but even at the time I appreciated the value of it.  Oh, and my parents insisted that I get straight A's, too.  Being bright didn't get me off the hook; if I was capable of it, then I'd darn well better do it, and no whining about being "bored" or under-challenged.  And if I had a lousy teacher, that was no excuse either -- it was still my job to learn the stuff and perform well.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't always get straight A's.  And man, did I hear about it when I didn't.)

My point is that some of the most important things that my parents did when raising me are basically Tiger Mother things.  Some of the key lessons they taught me, such as the value of hard work and delayed gratification, are Tiger Mother lessons.  They unapologetically accepted some of the principles that Chua puts forth, such as the fact that children do not always know what's best for them, and that parents have the responsibility to override their children's short term whims and impulses in favor of their long term interests.  That doesn't mean you say no all the time, or that you should squelch their budding individuality and sense of autonomy.  But saying no under the right circumstances (and in the right way -- that's the part I'm still figuring out) can be the most loving thing you can do for your child.  I'm not talking about easy stuff, like, "No, you can't run out into the road, even though you really want to."  I'm talking about hard stuff, like, "I know this is the first school dance that you've actually been invited to by a real boy, and you've been looking forward to it for a month, and you and your mother bought a gorgeous red dress and your date is picking you up at seven, but I'm looking at this report card that you brought home today and I just don't see it happening."  (Just speaking hypothetically here.  Not.)  (Okay, so I was bitter about that one for awhile, but I'm totally over it, and that was one pretty impressive piece of parenting, I gotta say, in retrospect.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ben's joke and song

Ben's joke:  How many gorillas does it take to change a light bulb?  One, but it takes a lot of light bulbs.  (He learned this from the most recent Prairie Home Companion joke show.)

Ben's song:  "Mommies and daddies, daddies and mommies, every son's mommy, every daughter's daddy."  (This is sung to part of the melody from the song "Sisters and Brothers," on the Free to Be album.  The original lyric is "Sisters and brothers, brothers and sisters, every father's daughter, every mother's son," so Ben's version is actually a pretty clever play on that.  There's another song on the same album called "Parents are People," which features frequent mention of Mommies and Daddies, so I'm sure that played an inspirational role.)

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Deaf for awhile

After I got Ben up from his "nap"* yesterday, I asked him (in sign language) whether he wanted his hearing aid and CI.  He said, "No, not yet.  I will be deaf for awhile."

So we hung out in his room and played, I signed and he spoke, and he had a merry time being deaf for awhile.  Then he asked for his equipment.  I put it on and he went back to being hearing.

I thought this was really nice.  He has a choice of two ways of being in the world.  It's clear that most of the time, he prefers to be hearing.  But I feel good about the fact that he's not opposed to being deaf, or frightened by it, and in fact sometimes it suits his mood.  Mind you, he won't always get to choose -- he doesn't get to take off his equipment in the middle of 4th grade Social Studies just because he isn't interested in hearing how a bill becomes law.  (Some of us might like to have that option, but I'm not going to let him exercise it.)

Maybe I've just succumbed to criticism from the Deaf community that in deciding to give my child access to sound and to raise him orally, I'm operating on the premise that deafness is shameful and intrinsically bad, and I'm instilling that sense of shame in him.  (I'm not doing either, by the way.)  Could be -- I'm very sensitive to criticism.  Even if that's the case, maybe it's a good thing, if it makes me more thoughtful about my own attitude toward Ben's deafness and how it shapes his developing awareness of it.  Whatever.  Seems like he's on a pretty healthy track right now.

*Yeah, he's just about given up naps -- mostly.  We still insist on a period of Quiet Time, as they do at daycare, where we take off his equipment and he lies quietly in bed, and every now and then he'll surprise us by falling asleep.  But we can never count on it.  Sigh.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

B-B-B-Big Boy Bed!

Ben's current favorite video is an old VHS tape (another hand-me-down from my now college-age niece) from a series called "Geo Kids," put out by National Geographic in the early nineties.  Among its musical features are such natural history hits as "Kook Kook Kooky Kookaburra" and "Animal Doo-Wop".  The latter is great for phonological awareness, with lyrics like "P-panda, F-f-f-fish, T-t-turtle, L-l-l-lizard."  Ben loves this.  He has started adapting the technique for lyrics from other songs ("Sh-sh-sh-she w-w-woves you, y-y-yeah, y-y-y-yeah, y-y-yeah!" and "W-w-w-wocky M-m-m-mountain High, C-c-c-colorado").  And another thing:  He's been on a huge John Denver kick recently.  In fact, he insists (seriously, insists) that we call him John Denver.  This caused a little confusion at daycare the other day.   It all started shortly before Christmas when he became addicted to a CD of the John Denver Muppets Christmas special.  One youtube video led to another, and now he's singing "Rocky Mountain High" in the bathtub.  His tastes are eclectic, to say the least.

We finally made the transition to the Big Boy Bed last night (after Neil spent most of Friday assembling the blasted thing), and all went well.  After he got home, we told him there was a big surprise waiting in his bedroom.  He had pretty much figured it out by the time he was halfway up the stairs (we'd been showing him pictures of it and talking about it all week, while waiting for it to arrive), and he was one giant ear-to-ear grin when he saw it in person.

After some thought, he rearranged all of the trimmings in a configuration more to his liking.