Thursday, October 21, 2010

Teaching Empathy

Kindness, empathy, generosity... how in the world do you teach these things?  How do you instill in someone, especially little someones, who by their very nature and development are completely self-centered, to consider other people's feelings?  Or for that matter, to even notice other people's feelings, when they see themselves as the center of the universe?  This is an area of parenthood that feels like it is so very important, so very abstract & so very overwhelming.


Teaching my boys concrete things like ABC's or how to brush teeth, or any of the other million things kids need to learn, is challenge enough... let alone instructing how to process, name and communicate a complex array of emotions.  Or how to help them understand that their actions have consequences for other people?  (For the record both boys now know all of their ABC's and last week Quinn read his first word, moose.  Very exciting times around here!) 

Remy has recently started saying "Don't worry Mommy" in various situations.  Mostly benign ones like when I call the dog & he doesn't come, I hear his sweet little voice saying "Don't worry Mommy, you'll find your doggy."  Or I'll hear him talking to his toys, "Don't worry potato-head, you'll find your baby-potato."  Or if Quinn is crying about something Remy will inform me that he is crying because he misses his Daddy.  These observations tell me that, although he can be the biggest rascal around, he is learning how to notice other people's feelings.  That even at 2-3/4 years old it is possible to be empathetic.  Of course he will just as easily take a toy from his brother or hit when he doesn't get what he wants immediately.  But it is encouraging to start seeing the possibility of brotherly kindness in our household.

This topic has been coming up a lot for me lately.  I see it when we are at the park and there are other kids playing... how some kids see Quinn & seek him out to play & are kind and patient with him.   Some kids tolerate him but aren't sure what to make of him.  And how other kids see him and make fun of how he runs a little funny or how he doesn't talk like them.  It used to really sting when the latter happened.  Now, a bit further into this journey, it still stings but I have a much more realistic perspective on it.  How nature vs. nurture plays a role in every day interactions.  I think that some kids are, by nature, more kind & gentle.  And that some are not.  But it is in the nurturing that *every* kid has the ability to learn how to be kind-er & patient-er.  This is another area where I have been, on more than one occasion, happily surprised to see kids who look "rough" turn out to be the ones who are the sweetest with my boy.  Lessons in not judging books by their covers are a recurring theme in our life with Quinn.

Teaching empathy, one playground interaction at a time, appears to be my new mission.

Yep, a challenge indeed... but totally worth the hard work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nightowls & Firefighters

I have always been a night person.  Even as a little baby my mom says I preferred to stay up late & sleep in, quite the opposite of her schedule as an OR nurse.  Staying up late is a habit I have continued well into adulthood.  There is just something magic for me about being awake in a quiet house where everyone else is sleeping.  The noise-level inside our home, usually at a decibel that would require earplugs if OSHA regulated working with toddlers, becomes a peaceful symphony of little boy coos & snores.  The hum of industry that we normally hear out our front door dims, replaced with distant train whistles and occasional sckreeetchs of the neighborhood barn owls out for their nocturnal hunt.  After a long day of having to constantly assess the needs, wants & whims of two little people, the quiet hours of the night help to re-boot my brain.

Recently I have tried to fight against this habit... with husband having to get up at 4:30 every morning for work... my sleep is often cut short when my brain starts the day before the rest of me.  There is a part of me that longs to be a morning person.  To be up & exercised & nourished before my littles open their eyes at 7:30.  But it seems each night, usually around 9 or 10pm, when I should be winding down & tucking in, inevitably I get my second wind.  Lured by the opportunity to finally deal with the dishes or the never-ending piles of papers or even to write a blog post, instead of retiring to bed.  The night-quiet is irresistible.

I know I am not alone in this practice.  As evidenced by the number of mom friends who do their emails, blog entries or facebook posts in the wee hours, betrayed by the time-stamp that follows their thoughts.  At least I know I am in good company!


We made every attempt to squeeze a last bit of fun out of the weekend before Daddy-O started back at work at the gulag.  One of the highlights was a visit to the open-house at our local fire station.  My grandfather was a firefighter in the mid-west for many years so I have always had a soft-spot for those who choose this kind of work.  It was a treat to get to see inside the firehouse we pass by almost every day on our way to school or groceries.  The boys loved spraying the water hoses but their favorite was getting to ride on an old fire-truck that was sprung from the museum for this special day.

      One of the only pics I could find of my Grandpa in uniform.  Circa 1975, taken for a book about firefighters in Milwaukee.

Now, go check those batteries in your smoke alarms!
You can thank me later.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Aargh!, Buddy Walk & 1st birthdays

Am having one of those days that seems to be the reason the whole "Murphy's Law" thing was coined in the first place.  Juggling too many balls at a time & being surprised when one, or more, comes crashing down to the ground.  Everything from finding out Quinn's glasses we ordered 6 weeks ago are still another 3 weeks away because they were denied twice by medi-Cal, to one of my more graceful moments, a quesadilla fresh from the griddle landing cheese-side-down on my disgusting dog-haired floor.  Good times.

Just as I felt my head literally about to pop, I stopped.  And breathed.  And had to laugh at the million & one things that "went wrong" this morning... because they are just little things.  Things that can be fixed.  This seems to be a recurring theme these days... feeling pushed to the brink, on the edge, on the verge.  Most of the time I can stop to recognize that the real brink is actually still very far away & that I can deal.  Some days feel like that whack-a-mole game where just when I think I am on top of something (like tackling laundry mountain - whack!) something else quickly pops up to take its place (hello mount dishmore - yuck.) 

This afternoon as I drove to pick Quinn up at school I saw a man that I see walking in town almost every day.  I sat at the red light, watching him make his way across the street.  Each step clearly a struggle, his gnarled hands holding his two canes, moving forward at his own pace.  Choosing to move forward every day.  Made me feel silly for getting all bent about what are really just minor annoyances.  It is funny how some days the exact same events are so much easier to take in stride, other days it feels like too much.  It really is all a matter of perspective, isn't it?  Choosing to see the lighter side of darker moments.  Choosing to laugh instead of cry.  Choosing to scrape up that gooey mess off my already dirty floor & start over.  Choosing to keep moving forward.

Last weekend we did a lot of moving forward when we did the Buddy Walk with the Grandmas.  Our local walk was scheduled on one of our antique fair days so we weren't planning on participating this year.  The Grandmas took the initiative to find one in their neck of the woods.  It was a beautiful, hot, end-of-summer day with food & fun at every turn.  Thank you Grandma's for making it all possible!

Gima got her workout at the swings as well as on the walk.

The next day we headed north again.  This time to celebrate baby Cahir's first birthday.
The boys had a great time playing with cousins & friends...
 And eating all of the yummy food...

He wasn't too sure about this cake thing at first...
But he seemed to really like the singing...
Happy first birthday baby Cahir!
Yep.  We are moving forward every day.