August 12, 2014

Gliding to Success (or How I Taught My Son to Ride a Bike)

Exciting end of summer development:  Henry rides without training wheels!  It's been a long road to get here.  My firstborn has always been cautious when it comes to physical activities.  He loved his bike with training wheels.  When he turned six, I took them off.  A week later I put them back on.  He refused to even try to ride without out them yet I was convinced that unless he practiced on two wheels he'd never get the hang of it.  In the next year, I repeated the removing, reattaching sequence at least three more times.  Clearly, this was not working for us.

My epiphany came as I watched him speed down the sidewalk on his scooter.  He balanced his body perfectly and when he came to a downward slope, he gleefully picked up both feet and glided faster than fast.  He's aligning and adjusting slightly as he uses speed and momentum.   That's how you ride a bike.  How could I convince him that he already had what it takes?

Henry is seven.  He is much too tall and too old for the wooden strider bikes that are all the rage for young preschoolers.  Why can't I make a 16" balance bike? I asked myself.  It only took a few minutes to move from "I'm so smart to be the first to think of this" to "I really hope someone has done this before and made a YouTube video that shows how."

The first thing I realized after watching said video was that I didn't want to have to worry about putting the bike back together again.  (The video shows a 12 in bicycle but the procedure is the same with a 16 in.)  The pedals and the chain must come off.  It's a fairly big job but I could have done it in an uninterrupted afternoon.  Since I don't have one of those (ever) Grandpa graciously agreed to take care of this.  I'm pretty sure a bike shop would do this for its customers as well.

So back to the part about not wanting to worry about ruining the bike--I purchased a scratched and dented model at the thrift store.   Once the pedals and chain were removed, it looked like this:

We took the bike around the neighborhood, to the park and on bike trails.  It was most fun when there was a slight downward incline.  Henry figured out how to glide and spent lots of time with his feet up and out to the sides.  Coming back up the hills was tough but he was a trouper about it.  The funniest part were the looks given to him by serious bike riders on the trail.  Typically, they zoom right past the little kids but as they passed Henry, many would slow down and stare.   I was always several meters behind him and could read the faces of the other riders.  I imagined them thinking, "That poor kid.  His mom can't even afford to buy him a bike with pedals."  Well, actually, I'm sure most of them had it figured out by the time they rounded the next turn.  It's fairly intuitive if you think about it.

One of our favorite trails and Henry's last ride without pedals

 After a month of confident gliding, I decided that it was best to transition to pedals on a bike that was the same size (instead of the new-in-the-box 20 inch bicycle stored in the garage).  I now had to go back to the thrift shop.  I was very lucky and found this 16 inch Hot Wheels bicycle in great condition for under $8.

And the rest is history!  I'm so proud of my little boy! He is now speeding down the trail with nary a backward glance.  Almost like he's been doing this forever.  You know, one of those overnight successes that actually takes a lot of practice.  Go, Henry!


August 4, 2014

One Thousand Words

No, not this one.

This one.
And it's only worth 1,000 words to me.  I decided to take this photo at the moment I realized that although I've come full circle geographically speaking, I am light years from where I once was. You see, I snapped this picture on a Saturday afternoon while visiting the neighborhood where I grew up.  Well, one of the neighborhoods.  We moved.  A lot.  More on that later.  Maybe.

What you see in this photo is the cluttered floor of the passenger seat area in my SUV.  There are audio book sets from the library and a Phineas & Ferb soundtrack that Liam insisted on checking out.  My cell phone charger is plugged in next to a large canister of wet wipes.  So what?  It looks like a random mess. And my car always looks like this.

 And this is where it gets really interesting but probably only to me...

On this particular afternoon, I had snagged a rare parking space behind a drugstore (national chain, moving offshore to avoid taxes, let's not get bogged down in the details).  This wasn't just any parking lot--I distinctly remember walking through this exact lot and the store's back door (strange in and of itself--how many stores have a front and back door?) when I was ten years old.  That summer I was on a mission to find the perfect lip gloss and this was the only store within walking distance.  I seem to recall purchasing something sticky, shiny and artificially strawberry.  More than that, I remember how alone I was.  More than alone.  I was invisible.  I doubt anyone saw me enter the store, pick out the gloss and walk the two blocks to an empty second floor apartment.  New lip gloss was the highlight of my day.  Probably my week.

You see, from the age of nine, I practically raised myself and though I may not have been literally invisible, I went mostly unseen for the next ten years.  (Seriously.  I didn't go to my prom or high school graduation.  No one said a thing to me about either before or after the big days.  That's just how it went.)

Fast forward many decades and I find myself in the same parking lot, by the same back door but now I drive a comfortable car and it is littered with evidence of my family.  My family.  The one I created out of nothing.  (Okay, not out of nothing--I mean, you do follow this blog, right?)  Picture books, Disney cds, booster seats and a sticky, icky trash bag hanging from the armrests.  All things I dreamed of but never imagined could be a part of my life when I was completely invisible, scurrying home to put on my lip gloss and watch reruns of Gilligan's Island while eating ham from a plastic envelope (sorry, Buddig, but that stuff isn't even real meat is it?)

I'll say it again--those two people with the same name and social security number aren't decades apart, they are light years removed from each other. So, yes, the photo is worth one thousand words and that moment--the one when I realized all this-- is priceless.

July 28, 2014

A Summer Balancing Act

That's what it feels like as I try to prepare for the upcoming school year, take care of home improvement and maintenance all the while incorporating fun family time with the boys.  It's always like this at the end of the July and early August.  All of a sudden the clock starts ticking and there's so much still to do!  Currently, I have four repair contractors scheduled and a fifth to call (for the furnace cleaning I always forget to do).  Some of the work is on the exterior of the house and I hope I can sneak away on those days.  For the indoor work, I have to be home and that limits our activities quite a bit. It will be too noisy to do much inside, so I hope the weather holds out and we can have some fun in the front and back yards.  I've been told that each job will take 1 full (possibly two) day(s).  I really hate being tied down like that.  What's the alternative though?  There isn't one.  Houses get old, things need to be replaced and repaired and yes, I save all this up for the end of summer.  Every year.

It has been unseasonably cool, so we've only visited the community pool once.  I did want to be sure that we got a trip to the beach in though.  Along with a day at the state fair, that is a top priority.  We had a fun day last week although Liam was a bit cranky.  I'm fairly certain he hadn't had enough sleep the night before.  When he's sleep-deprived, he is very negative.  He complained all day--at each and every lakeside activity.   For the next few nights, I made sure he got lots of sleep (11 hours is always my goal for him).  He hasn't had cranky day since.  Well, not overly cranky, anyway.

We have a few things left on our bucket list but for the most part, I can say we've done everything we wanted--and more!  Henry is finishing his two week session of enrichment classes.  They are held on the beautiful campus of the school I dreamed he'd attend.  "Dream" is the right word because that is all it is--the tuition is 3x as much as what I pay for parochial school.  Henry's (and soon to be Liam's) current school serves its purpose.  For the most part, I like it well enough.  There are always some bumps and hurdles because we are not Catholic and I'm not a stay-at-home mom but I think those things bother me much more than Henry.  He likes it there, he has lots of friends and all of the adults are good to him.  Sometimes you have to know when to stop dreaming and just be thankful for what you have.

Beach food a la Liam

July 20, 2014

Summer Reading Ends July 31. What?

Summer Reading Ends July 31.  That's what the sign says at our library.  I am not a fan of the current trend of abbreviating summer and starting school mid-August and I'm certainly not happy with the message this sign is giving readers of all ages.  That being said, I know that June and July is when my own reading behavior is most prolific.  My sons read about the same amount as they do during the school year.  They just have more genre choices and different reasons for picking up a book in the summer.
Let me recommend our favorite audio book of the summer:  Petite Rouge Riding Hood by Mike Artell.  I know this link is for the softcover version, but if you can get the Recorded Books audio cd at your library, run don't walk to check it out!  The narration by Vernel Bagneris will transport your children on a one of a kind Cajun caper.

Speaking capers (this one much more sinister), I am attempting to finish The Map of Lost Memories set in 1925 Cambodia.  The main character is more real than likable but I find myself wanting to continue her journey.  The supporting characters seem a bit more interesting and forgivable than the protagonist but I'm enjoying her a bit more as the plot begins to spiral.  The story is not condescending nor predictable and I appreciate that.

Also from the library, I picked up this brand new book:  The Dolphin Way: A Parents Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, Motivated Kids.  The author explains how to develop self-motivation and help children follow their inner compass.  The key is CQ; a focus on four traits that foster 21st century skills. The author's point is that if kids don't grow up with CQ, their IQ will only get them so far.  In reality, I believe these four characteristics have been valuable and led to personal success throughout history.  I can't imagine a parent looking at the list in 1901 and saying, I'm not going to focus on nurturing these traits in my child, he'll never get a job.  I'm pretty sure the generation that survived the Great Depression and the generation that lived through WWII  had CQ in spades. 
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
The truth is, it wasn't difficult for Dr. Kang to convince me to concentrate on teaching these skills instead of academics.   I don't much care about standardized test scores (unlike Arne Duncan, I already know my children are brilliant).  I want to see growth in skills that will assure that they have the keys to doors they want to open.  I don't want to prepare my sons for a predicted career path, I want them able to select the endeavors and adventures that make their hearts sing and their minds wonder.  If they meet with that particular success, I believe they will make the world a better place no matter what they score on the ACT.

One thing is for sure, we won't stop reading around here no matter what the calendar says!

July 14, 2014

Four More Weeks Until School Starts..., hiss....

This summer is going at warp speed--the season usual goes fast but this is ridiculous!  I think the reason that it's flying by is that we are spending  time doing things we all enjoy.  No more toddler or preschool venues for us.  The boys and I enjoy (mostly) the same things.  Oh, they still have meltdowns and seem to enjoy food courts and gift shops more than the actual attraction but that's not unexpected at five and seven years old.

This weekend we took the commuter train to the city.  It was the boys' first real train ride.  I loved the fact that including parking, it cost $10.25 for the three of us.  Of course, lunch and souvenirs in the city added a bit more to the tab but it certainly made for a fun way to spend a few hours.
Waiting for the 10:08

Snacks for the trip back home
Last week the weather was perfect for Henry's soccer game.  He's having fun for the first time in four years.  Clearly, a developmental league was the way to go--just wish it hadn't take me this long to find one.

All the time we spend away from home means my food budget is completely off target.  We typically leave the house mid morning and stay out for quite a while.  It is really, really difficult not to eat out at least once every day but that's unhealthy in addition to being expensive.  I've tried packing lunches a couple of times but that only works when there is packable food in our refrigerator.  You can't exactly take pizzas to the park...

Maybe I should just relax about the food thing and let it be for the next month.  There's plenty of other stuff to stress out about including the fact that summer is more than half over and we've used our pool pass only once.  You know, the one that breaks even on the 8th visit...  Yeah, I'm not doing that again next year.  (To be fair, we've had an unseasonably cool and wet summer so far--it won't even reach 80 degrees this week.)

Speaking of first world problems, I've wasted so much time searching for, then meeting with, different contractors for home repairs.  Most frustratingly, nothing has been completed.  Nothing.  Well, except for the things I took on can only play phone tag so long before heading the DIY shelf  at the library and then Lowe's.  Okay, who am I kidding, I don't use how-to books, I use YouTube.

After three weeks of calling, emailing, pleading my case and begging for estimates, the deck/patio project came to a dead end.  The concrete guy said he'd have to charge me $6000 extra because it was such a small job (12x12).  The deck guy (the one who called back, three others didn't bother) gave me an estimate that was almost 60% more than what Angie's List said it should cost.  I don't know how this project could be simpler and that's what is most frustrating.  I just have to let it go and buy some more sod.

The Pinterest picture I fell in love with...alas, it was not to be
This week's projects include waiting around for the insurance adjuster and the exterior repair guy as well as scheduling the carpet measure.  I really resent the time all this takes away from my children; however, I admit that I schedule almost no maintenance/repair work during the school year.  Not surprisingly, it really piles up in the summer.  You could almost say it snowballs but then that would make us think of summer's end and who wants to do that?