Culture clash, child-rearing version

April 19th, 2010

And this, my friends, is why social services will end up at my door in twelve minutes if we ever move to the states while the boys are still small. In Rochester, New York, a mother is discouraged from leaving her five year old alone in the children’s room of the local library for three minutes while she goes to check out a book (link via A Little Pregnant’s Twitter feed). The overwhelming response among the commenters falls into the “I would never leave my child alone in a public place” camp. Meanwhile, I think nothing of leaving the two and a half year old Boychen in the play area of a certain book store I frequent while I search for books; he’s not always in my line of sight, though I circle back frequently to take a peep. Ditto the toy section of the department store: the boys can look at the Playmobile while I go across the aisle to the stationary section. Again, not always in my line of sight. The escalator, however, is so there’s no way out that I wouldn’t see. (Now that I think about it, the same does not hold true for the book section.) 

Here in Farming Village, Switzerland, Small Boy’s kindergarten teacher is encouraging me to encourage Small Boy to walk part or all of the way home from kindergarten alone or with some friends who live in the same direction – the point being, he should not need an adult to pick him up from the school house door and walk all the way home with him; perhaps I could meet him half-way? Frankly, I’m very much looking forward to the time Small Boy walks home for lunch alone; going to get him at noon-time is a pretty inconvenient round trip for The Boychen and me. However: we live 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) from the school house door and we have to cross the main road, the road that cars use when the traffic on the highway is too heavy, to get to the school. For the last half kilometer (last if he’s walking home; first if he’s walking to school) there are no houses around. The sidewalkless and narrow – and I mean narrow, in the European sense of the word – but hardly ever trafficked road runs between my brother-in-law’s fields and during the winter can be seen from my in-law’s balcony but when the corn is up, the road is obscured from view. (As an aside: wow, there’s a sentence that I never imagined would apply directly to my life.) So I’m torn about this. Much as I want him to make the walk himself, he’s five and a half, after all. Culturally, however, I am seen to be coddling him a bit with this walking him home from Kindergarten business. Said in an entirely different tone of voice: he’s five and a half, after all.

What’s the current status on getting kids to school and from school where you live? I’m especially interested about how it stands with the younger grades in the US. Are your Kindergarteners getting to school by themselves, or are you all thinking the Swiss are crazy? Here in Switzerland they pretty much all go alone; at this point in the school year there are only about five parents who routinely pick their kids up from Kindergarten (out of a class of twenty), and they’re all the parents of the young Kindergarteners like Small Boy; the six year olds ALL walk without an adult). Younger school kids – Kindergarten, first grade – get their Leuchtweste on the first day of school (in the city Small Boy would have gotten a triangle; here in the suburbs they get vests) and they all wear them and get scolded if they don’t and the kids walk it in all sorts of weather. 

I have no memory of how I got to kindergarten. Although my family was pretty firmly blue-collar (father, cop; mother, receptionist when my brother and I were older; college degrees, neither of them), we lived in a very white collar suburb* of Chicago, one of those places that people with children choose for the school system, a neighborhood that certainly would have been perceived as safe** enough for kids to walk to school. There were sidewalks the whole way, and the streets were pretty quiet. I do remember clearly that in the later grades, say 3rd and 4th grade, I walked the half-mile to and from school together with H, who lived one block closer to the school than I did, and L, who lived one block further away. I walked to and from Junior High as well, a distance of .8 miles, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. Only to get to the high school, a distance of 4.5 miles, did I start riding the school bus. This was also (mumble mumble) thirty years ago and I’m well aware that the world has changed. How do kids get to school these days, and what is the reaction when parents go against the grain? (Here in Switzerland, driving your kids to school is frowned upon and the teachers come right out and tell the kids it’s better to walk.) If your kids walk alone, how far is it, and how old were they when they started to do it alone? Is there a lot of biking to school in the older grades? (That’s very popular here.) I’m really curious about this; talk to me.

* Said suburb is routinely one of the ten wealthiest zip codes in the state and is shockingly high above the statewide average income and we never kept up with the Joneses. To this day I believe that the feeling of never fitting in far outweighed the benefits of the admittedly excellent public schools. I think my parents were only able to manage getting a house in this neighborhood because my grandfather must have helped them with a down payment. How they kept up with the property taxes all those years; well, our family financial situation was one thing my mother never discussed with me, to the point of me not knowing what colleges I could afford to apply to, but looking back it’s all a bit of a wonder that my parents bought that house when my brother was born and that my brother and I sold it only after my mother died and that there was money left in the estate.

** This didn’t happen until I was in college. My father was on duty that day and took the first emergency calls.***

*** I’m making a mockery of my vague attempts to be coy here, aren’t I? I grew up in Glencoe.

And a poem, at last

April 16th, 2010

It was a long dry spell, but I’ve got a new poem up at Literary Mama: “Scenes From the Pediatric ER.”

Football, American style. And boys.

April 14th, 2010

There is an American football league in Switzerland and on Sunday I took Small Boy to see his first American football game. Judging from the amount of Small Boy mock tackling that went on immediately after kickoff, I may live to regret this, but it was kind of fun. I haven’t been to an American football game in – fifteen years? I went to a Big Ten university and went to some games in college, and at some point after I graduated but before I came to Switzerland I went to a Bears game with my brother, but  that’s been about it in the past twenty-odd years. So it’s been a long time.

It was surprisingly fun, sitting on the hill watching this little piece of Americana and trying to teach Small Boy about American football: my knowledge base was exhausted after about three minutes, for I have never been a football fan. I’m more of a hockey girl. I’ve been to my share of hockey games as a player and a fan, and practices, and Small Boy trainings and I know my way around a hockey rink. I don’t think anybody would say that hockey isn’t an intense game; I don’t think that anybody would say that hockey isn’t seriously physical. But I was struck by the difference between hockey players and football players. Don’t tell me hockey players don’t need to get geared up to play at top intensity for sixty minutes, but man, there is some sort of tribal testosterone-fueled intensity to football players, even these adult-league Swiss football players, that you just don’t see in other sports (and that I can’t say I’m all too keen on), including other hard-hitting sports like hockey. I’d forgotten that about football, that chest-thumping, ball-spiking (yes, even in Switzerland there was ball spiking), head-butting über-guy atmosphere. Even the fan culture was different, though that may have had more to do with the fact that the football game was being played in a public space with no security control (that bottle of Jim Beam would have been confiscated on the way into the hockey stadium): there was the alcohol in the plastic cups and there were the cheerleaders.* (They tried, bless their hearts, but I think I need to slip a copy of Bring it On into their warm-up gear at the next game.)

Small Boy was much taken with the tackling (to my credit I did at least see that coming) and after watching the game for about ten minutes he wanted to play. I play plenty of games with the boys that I’d really sort of rather not: I’ve logged a lot of hours in lawn hockey in all sorts of weather and I’ve gone “hunting” with bows and arrows, I’ll wrestle on the floor and pretend to be a dragon, but I draw the line at being tackled in the grass while wearing my only pair of jeans that doesn’t already have a hole in them as a result of all the aforementioned activities. I convinced Small Boy to play touch football with me, but he got bored with that pretty fast and he really wanted some tackling. I saw some boys playing further down the field and suggested to Small Boy that he see if he can play with them.

Bless him, and I don’t know where he gets this from because it sure doesn’t come from me, he walked right up to those boys and asked “Darf ig ou mit?” – can I play too? They said yeah, sure! (and I know it could have ended badly with a No) and the three of them spent the next 45 minutes throwing each other down on the grass (it seemed pretty no-holds barred stuff, too), chasing each other around, and playing some sort of game with knees and feet that from a distance looked a bit like “Let’s see who can break whose leg first.” They had a blast. 

Boys. I know by writing that I’m invoking all sorts of gender stereotypes and inviting comment on my invocation thereof (and comments are open as always), but seriously: boys. No, not every boy wrestles and I know some seriously dare-devil girls, but the more I watch the Small Boy with his peers, the more I watch him rough-house with his uncle and ask his grandfather to make him a bow and arrow, the more I find myself thinking about boy energy and how different it can be and how I don’t always know what to do with it, how very much these boys take me places I never imagined.

What do you think? Is there a “boy-energy,” am I gender-stereotyping, or is there a little bit of both going on? And what do you do when your kids’ favorite thing to do/play/read/watch (Thomas the Train, anyone?) makes your teeth itch?

* Okay, our hockey team has cheerleaders too.

Clinging to life

April 10th, 2010

A few of the apple branches on the wood pile are starting to blossom. They do not yet know that they are dead.