Monday, December 15, 2008

The Tooth Fairie

My sister-in-law has a 9-year old daughter. Like many parents, she has been playing Tooth Fairy for most of her daughter's life, swapping out cash for teeth in the middle of the night. And, of course, there have been the occasional panic-swaps when mom forgot until the child was actually waking up, and the cash had to be slipped under the pillow in the middle of a Good Morning Hug.

Well, the most recent tooth-swap was of the last variety. Mom actually forgot entirely until it was pointed out by the child that the Tooth Fairy didn't show. Mom made up some slick cover, suggested that maybe the cash slipped down between the bed and wall in the middle of the night, or some other fib, but she managed to pull off a last minute swap. However, she was left with the tooth to be hidden in the middle of showering, dressing and getting ready to head out the door (for which these two lovely folks are always running late). So, she stashed it in one of the bathroom drawers.

Some days later, child finds tooth and demands an explanation from mom. Mom pulls the tried-and-true "what do you think" tactic, and daughter comes back with "You are the Tooth Fairy!" Not that mom has been playing "tooth fairy" for daughter all of these years, but that
mom is THE Tooth Fairy for every child on the planet, and she's running around all night swapping out cash for teeth for every child who has lost a tooth the previous day. Which explains why mom is so tired all of the time.

Now, I'm not telling this story to start a debate about whether or not we should be lying to our children and leading them to believe in traditional fictitious characters, or to start up a discussion about the Tooth Fairy. I just wanted to share, because I thought it was really funny. But as an aside, I certainly don't want to be around when this particular strong-willed daughter is finally completely dis-illusioned about the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Angels and/or God. It will not be pretty!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Autumn Means…Hand-Me-Down Day! (CHE 9/23/08)

The air is turning cooler, the nights pleasantly chilly enough to throw the windows wide open and sleep comfortably snuggled under a light blanket. The kids are asking for their footies, even though they’re still too hot in them at night. Thomas (9) wants to start building fires in the fireplace again. It’s Autumn. And, at our house, Autumn means Hand-Me-Down day. Out comes the trunk full of winter and not-quite-fitting clothes, line up the kids, and figure out who gets what. The kids are jumping up and down, squirming with excitement so much it’s hard to hold up the sweatshirt across the back to measure the arms, or even hold the folded jeans up to a waist to measure the legs. I’ve got my sharpie marker at the ready, adding dots* as needed, creating three piles on the floor. Quick little hands are grabbing items out of the trunk, “My snowman jammies!”, “My fish shirt!”, “My volcano jacket!”, quicker than I can check size and sort them. Everyone grabs an armload of new-old treasures and races off to their room to put them away.

I wore hand-me-downs as a kid. I was never quite as excited as my kids are about it, except on those rare occasions when I got a batch of really fashionable clothes from a well-thought of older family friend. The rest of the time, it was really basic stuff. And I was acutely aware that I was supposed to be ashamed to wear them, because it was a constant reminder of my family’s relative poverty. I knew this because the kids at school and in the neighborhood always reminded me of it. Like an Islamic women’s black burqua draping her in the traditional Muslim color of shame, my hand-me-downs and homemade clothes draped me in shame.

My kids don’t wear shame in the way I did, because they don’t know they’re supposed to be ashamed of wearing other people’s cast-offs. There are no kids telling them they should be ashamed, so they’re not. For them, each new article of clothing is a gift, something their older brother loved, and so they will love it, too. Just as they will love the new clothes they’ll get to fill out their wardrobe, knowing they will one day pass it along to their younger brother. Except, maybe for the occasional ultra-cherished PJ that they just can’t seem to let go of.

Am I ashamed of dressing my kids in hand-me-downs? No, I’m not. We could probably afford to buy all new clothes for each of the boys each season-change, but we chose not to. For me, it’s a responsible thing to do, getting the most use from an article of clothing. It honors the hard work my husband puts in every day to earn the money that supports our family. Unnecessarily spending money on things to feed my own vanity would be dishonoring his efforts and his gift to his family. I’m proud of my kids’ hand-me-downs in a way I was not able to be proud of my own.

So, we’ve completed one Autumn ritual, a sign that the year is turning, and the holidays are right around the corner. The boys will be sporting their well-worn and well-loved britches and sweatshirts and sweaters, in addition to a few new items. And, I am content with the blessings enjoyed by our family.

*For those wondering about the dots, here’s the explanation. We have three boys, with two and three years between each. The older two, particularly, are pretty close in size. So I can keep track of which clothes go with each child when folding and sorting laundry, I started putting dots on the tags of their clothes. One dot is the eldest, two dots is the middle child, three dots is the youngest. When a shirt or pant gets too small for its present inhabitant, I add a dot and it goes to the next in line. Yes, I know, I’m a genius.

Friday, March 21, 2008

All the Phases in One Room (TJEd)

Our eight-year old son, Thomas, takes Aikido lessons. Our dojo is traditional, in that it is a place where adults go to seriously study the art of Aikido. But, they also offer training for children three days per week. Watching the children's class yesterday, it occurred to me that this is one of those rare learning environments in which all the Phases are represented, and it was interesting to watch how each Phase approached the class.

The most obvious Core Phaser is the instructor's daughter, who is 8. She has been compelled to learn Aikido because her dad is the instructor, just as she has been compelled to learn cello because her mother plays. She is squirrelly, wiggly, giggly, floppy, inattentive, and clearly not there to be serious. She is often the most disruptive student in the class, but she does usually manage to learn the techniques.

Her 10-year old brother is in Love of Learning Phase. He has also been compelled to take Aikido lessons as well as violin. He seems to be willing to study the art, mostly pays attention in class, always learns the techniques, and is advancing in rank. He does at times slip into goofiness and disruption, but overall he seems to take some quiet pride in being the best student in the class, and is helpful to other students.

Adults, especially parents, are encouraged to join the children's classes, so there are usually between one and three adults in practice. These are generally the Scholar Phasers. They immediately line up when class begins, sitting in perfect seiza, intensely attentive to the instructor. When it is time to practice a technique, they quickly pair up, and practice intently until stopped by the instructor. For every one practice technique the kids do, the adults get in three or four. They are grateful when the instructor gives them personal attention and corrections. They help one another clean up their movements, get the proper flow going, and can often gain a basic mastery of a simpler technique within one practice session. They have paid their money, they have bought their uniform, they've made the time sacrifice to be there usually after a long day at work, and they're going to learn this, darn it!

Every so often one of the "regular" adult students comes in early and participates in the children's class. These are folks who practice at the dojo several times a week, are working toward earning their black belt, and are very serious about studying this art. These are the Depth Phasers. They've got the techniques down, but they continue to practice, practice, practice, to master every nuance of every movement of every technique. They are calmly attentive, have a studied grace of movement, and are very helpful.

The instructor is in Application Phase. He has studied for years, he knows this stuff, and now he's teaching others.

Every so often, Sensei makes an appearance. He's the Impact Phaser. He's been studying most of his life, he still often teaches the serious students, but his most important role is as founder of the dojo. He sees to it there is someplace for students to come study, he puts together seminars to bring Aikidoists from all over, and he makes sure people know the dojo is there for those who are looking to study. Through his committed efforts, he is ensuring that the art of Aikido will continue to be a positive influence in the world. Despite his friendly and occasionally somewhat ruffled appearance when posing as a civilian, when he steps onto the mat, there is absolutely no doubt he is Sensei. He has a very quiet intensity that inspires even the Core Phasers to straighten up and pay attention. Suddenly, everyone around him is performing at a higher level, striving to do a little better.

I am trying to recall any other occasion when I've watched all of the Phases working together in a single learning environment, and I haven't been able to come up with one. So, this was a fabulous opportunity to see the "one room schoolhouse" come together, and then some, and how all of the levels function when in such close relationship to one another. It's gotten me thinking more deeply about this dynamic, and how it will ultimately play out in the context of our own home school.