The same, but different

August 17th, 2010

Small Boy started his second year of Kindergarten yesterday; he’s excited to be a Hirte this year. His Kindergarten class is mixed between five/will turn five year olds in the optional first year of Kindergarten and six/will turn six year olds in the required second year. The older kids in the group act as Hirte – “shepherds” who help the new kids learn the ropes, help enforce classroom rules, and sometimes separate kids whose playing is spilling over into fighting. Last year, as one of the new, young kids, Small Boy was a Schaf (a sheep – yeah, don’t get me started) but now he’s one of the Big Kids.

The first day was a breeze yesterday; he’s an old hand at this Kindergarten thing. When I think back to last year and the tears that were involved in my parting, to the fact that I had to stay nearly an hour that first morning and was the second-to-last parent allowed to say goodbye and leave the room, I see how much he’s grown up in the past year. Yesterday I stayed through the standard introduction and parent information session, then Small Boy ran off to the art table and started drawing pictures of butterflies and I said I could go. (His drawing has developed by leaps and bounds over the past year as well and he often dashes off to the “art project table” we have at home to draw a picture. Have I shared his pictures of Fabian Cancellara that he drew during this year’s Tour de France? No? Well, here’s one:

It may seem childish for a five and a half year old, but I never really did much drawing with him before he started kindy, so he went from literally scribbling like a toddler to drawing people on bicycles in the course of the Kindergarten year and I am very proud of him and his pictures. And that he comes up with the ideas himself, and just runs off to draw them.)

This morning I dropped Small Boy at Kindergarten – I’ve gone through the whole how-long-do-I-keep-bringing-him-all-the-way-to-the-school-house-door drama here, and for now I’m still going all the way to the building with him and picking him up at the door – and saw the clutch of new moms going into the building with their kids or peeking through the window into the changing room. The new moms are so cute; that was me last year, hovering outside the window making sure he got out of the changing room and into the classroom. This morning I simply kissed Small Boy goodbye in the school yard and called out “Tschuss!” (bye-bye) as he went running off to the building. He likes Kindergarten. He’s good at it. He’s not the most popular boy in the class, but he’s not the outsider and that’s all I could wish for. He knows how to try to play with other kids and he’s got his best buddy who he has regular out-of-school play dates with. He has even, clearly, learned a lot.

I’m curious to see what this second year brings. He is in the same classroom with the same teachers, but now that he is one of the older kids I’m curious to see how the teachers change what they expect of him. They must slowly expect more of the six year olds; these are the kids who will go to school next year. I would think they will expect ever longer periods of attention, even greater pencil control, closer attention to detail, more precise following of instructions. This year will be the same, but different, and I wonder what that will look like.

There were also lobster rolls

July 18th, 2010

There wasn’t just poetry. There were also lobster rolls. I ate lobster rolls from the day I landed in Boston to the day I left. I also ate whole lobster, and crab cakes, and fisherman’s stew, and fabulous egg dishes and homemade scones, and pizza by the slice while watching the tide come and go at Duck Creek. I had lattes in the afternoon with individual sized cherry cheesecakes while writing my poems for the next day. I had a beer now and then and, on one occasion, margaritas. (Several.) I ate constantly, wonderfully, deliciously. I ate and ate and ate. I ate much and well. Much more and much more well than usual. I love my boys, but sweet Foxy Brown they manage to take the sheer selfish sensual pleasure of eating from the dinner-time experience and my god how I loved stuffing myself with lobster and crab cakes.

I need more of that in my life. More food, more good food, more grown up food.

This woman’s work

May 21st, 2010

In less than a month I leave for Boston where I’ll spend a few days recovering from jetlag and enjoying one of my favorite cities before heading on to Wellfleet for the poetry workshop. R asked me to make up a general schedule for him to help him stay organized and on top of things while I’m away – just keeping track of when I do what I do so that he doesn’t suddenly wake up one morning to find that Small Boy has no underwear and Kindergarten starts in 12 minutes. 

I’d been starting to feel some creeping guilt about this upcoming trip, the kind of guilt that I’m sure some of you moms, especially fellow stay-at-home moms, will understand and perhaps find familiar. I’ll be away for twelve days (two of which are lost to trans-Atlantic travel) and I’ve been starting to think that’s rather a long time. I’ve been starting to think it’s a bit selfish. I’ve been starting to think it’s a lot of time and money for a poetry workshop. (It doesn’t help that the work I have chosen – or the work that has chosen me – holds no financial promise. I mean, even the Pulitzer Prize for poetry only awards ten grand. From a purely financial calculation, every poetry workshop I attend is a net loss – more so if R has to take vacation days so that I can get away.)  I’ve been starting to wonder if I actually deserve this all-about-me trip away from my family. Why do we do that? As women, generally, and mothers, specifically, our wants and needs end up on the low end of the totem pole more often than not.

So I started making this list/schedule for R, and it’s two pages long – and that only covers Monday through Friday! (Though I’ve put some effort into organizing things so that I don’t have to do routine house chores on the weekend.) And I’ve left off the intermittent stuff that he won’t need to deal with(recycling, washing the car, migrating boy toys back into more orderly storage) as well as the blindingly obvious stuff like “feed the children.” We let a lot of things slide around here (ironing, for example, and washing the windows), it’s part of our agreement, but apparently I still do a lot. Laundry alone takes up half the list. Grocery shopping. Picking Small Boy up from Kindi (R does the morning run), shuttling him to play-dates. Keeping the plants watered. Vacuuming. Heavens, do I vacuum. Now that we don’t have a cleaning lady, I’ve picked up the cleaning, too, and I try to stay on what was her schedule but one week out of four that probably gets lost in the shuffle. When I write down everything I do to keep this house more or less running, it runs to two pages – and here’s the scary thing: in spite of all that I do do, we don’t exactly run the tightest ship around here plus R’s chore list would probably go on for quite a bit as well. It’s exhausting, all the stupid stuff I do every day just to keep our heads above water. But seeing it listed out like that, I have to say: I’m feeling a lot less guilty about this trip. Seeing it listed out like that makes me realize that I have a full time job, and this is my two-week vacation.

Do you see yourself in this post? Do you feel a pang of “I don’t really deserve this” when you take time for yourself? It’s the time, I think, more than anything, we feel guilty about. I don’t have a problem buying things that I need (clothes, a new bike) or want (books), but when I carve out time for myself, when I get out of the house for the day (or twelve), there is a twinge of conscience. Is this ringing a bell with any of you? What do you do to push through the nagging voice and take what you need?

And before I knew it, it was time to start cooking dinner

May 3rd, 2010

It took over an hour to walk home from Kindergarten with the Small Boy on his scooter and The Boychen in the stroller. There was an embankment to be climbed and a chance meeting with a neighborhood boy. There were three separate encounters with cats. There was looking for rocks on the edges of the fields, blowing dandelion seed pods, and rescuing an earthworm from the middle of the road. There were puddles to be jumped in and a small bug to be saved from drowning. There was the throwing of stones for distance and the throwing of stones for splash effect. Finally, there was the wide-legged walking contest. (I secretly think Boychen won because his wide-legged walk included weaving, swerving, and sound effects and because he made me laugh and say, “You are a funny little man, Boychen, and I love you so.”)

I can think of worse ways to spend an hour.

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.

Wish fulfillment

February 2nd, 2010

Last August, when the doctor came into my little partitioned off section of the ER and told me that I had pulmonary emboli, one of the many things I panicked about was that I would die before I got to hear The Boychen say he loves me. I’m still not keen on dying any time soon, but as of today I would have one fewer thing to panic about.

It also happens to be my birthday, and can I just say: best. present. ever.

A boy crush

January 24th, 2010

What do you call it when small boys start looking up to father figures, start seeking the approval of men? Is it hero-worship? Role-modeling? A boy-crush? I see it at hockey practice, Small Boy looking to his trainers for a well done, a high five. He is especially attached to M (who is my favorite trainer as well) and I see Small Boy glancing over at him as he goes through the drills, looking for his approval. M does an excellent job of singling out each kid at least for a moment, calling each by name, issuing a bravo, a tap on the butt with his stick, a personal correction to a shoulder here, an ankle there. He teaches them seriously – they are learning real skills – then suddenly he’s got one tossed over his shoulder and the other kids are chasing after him. The kids all love him.

They’re good with the kids, these patient men, even D, the gruff head of the program who I initially didn’t much care for. He pats the kids on their helmets and gives them fist bumps after an hour being being stern with them, of calling out: “Hoi, Gillas! Was ha’ni sait!?”* “Hallo, das geht nicht beim Bambinis.”** “Pfudli am Wand! Pfudli am Wand, Augen zu mir!” *** Even he will suddenly smile a surprisingly warm smile at one of the littlest ones tripping over his own stick. These trainers either actually are genuinely fond of each of these children – and at a full Saturday practice there are almost fifty of them – or they have perfected the illusion.

And in return the kids work hard for them. The Small Boy works hard for them, works especially hard for M, listens to him, seeks his approval. M is the first in a long line of men who will mean, in fits and starts and cold hours on the ice, more to my son than I do.

I understand now, why at the first training of the season D thanked us parents “fuer ihre Vertrauen” – for your trust. For trusting them with our children. When I see the way Small Boy glows under M’s praise, I understand that I really have handed my son over to them for the hour.

What’s the word for it, this first hunt for approval? Hero-worship? Role-modeling? Boy-crush? Whatever the word, my boy’s got it. I am grateful.


* Hey, kids! What did I say?
** Hello. That won’t fly in the Bambinis (the official youth hockey team you have to be selected for. Anybody under 8 can go to the hockey school, but you have to be picked to be a Bambini)
*** Butts up against the boards! Butts up against the boards and eyes on me!

Prepare to shed a tear

November 11th, 2009


The Small Boy gave me this picture yesterday – he drew it on R’s computer and R printed it out for him. When the Small Boy gave it to me he said: “When I’m really really old, so old that I have to die, and then I’m dead, you can look at this to think of me.”