I'ts not about you, it's all about me!

Lucas decided early in the season that he was done with cross country skiing, which for a couple of years has been his big thing — he’s really good at it, it’s something we all enjoy to do as a family, and we just plain figured it was going to be something that was part of his life. But, no. Done. Dee Oh En Eee. Done. Slapped up an edict on his wall, Martin Luther style, declaring that he was fed up, it was boring not fun not his thing no way no more. Problem was, he’d committed to this earlier on, we’d paid the program fees and we didn’t just feel he could bail — particularly when it transpired that his real reason for bagging skiing was really so he could spend more time being one with the couch and hanging out with his buddies. While that’s all well and good now and then it can’t replace a bit of physical activity. We’re still trying to get used to this change — Lucas used to be Mr. exceptionally active, every sport under the sun, on the move all the time — for him to want to just veg is quite novel.

Anyway, we managed to convince him to at least to go ski practice on a regular basis and just bag the races on the weekends. That, however, didn’t last long, and soon he had it his way: no practices, no skiing at all. Now what? The other night, Mom decided she’d had it with this, and got back on the nag wagon. Normally I would have joined her, but I’ve drunk the cool-aid, and we’re in button mode right now, so I asked her flat out: “which of your buttons does it push when he decides not to go to practice?” And as if I’d turned on the spigot she let loose with a heartfelt, “I resent that he’s not taking advantage of the opportunities he’s given; I never had any encouragement to do sports as a kid, my parents didn’t care if I watched TV all day and I just think it’s wrong for him to do this…” Wow. She realized what was happening, and we enthusiastically moved on down the road. “So, what do you think it says about his parents when he just bags sports like that” and “can you come up with a narrative where it isn’t the end of the world if he decides not to go to practice?” It was rather remarkable — he’s still a schmuck for going back on his word, and it’s still not okay for him to trade in an active life for one-on-one time with his Playstation, but. We made huge progress right there and then in our attitude towards this whole situation, and I for one could suddenly find it a lot easier to face him without instantly having that creeping, “oh, yeah, you’re that miserable kid that I can’t figure out and can’t really trust and that I sort of resent for making what I consider a bad choice.”

Whiteboard Therapy

whiteboardI recently shuffled stuff in my home office, and the other day I got around to hanging my big, huge, oversize whiteboard on the wall again.

So, we’d had a really rough day — hectic, busy, crazy schedule kinda thing; mom was away at some work thing, and so I decided to make a very concerted effort to hang with the kids all evening and make the most of it. It was a blast — we had a great time, they had a great time, we did stuff together, they did stuff together (my goodness, at one point they were playing a board game — with each other — without fighting or accusing each other of cheating). Bedtime rolled around, we headed upstairs and while they got themselves ready I took a second to check email. While I was working they came in to tell me they were ready, and then they discovered the whiteboard. Oh, what fun. Big, virgin surface.

Now, normally, it would have ended up with another shoving match, or a fight over the red marker, or a “hey, you erased my bit, so now I get to punch you in the side” kind of thing, but tonight was just special. They stood side by side and doodled a bit, Lea wrote down the names of all her favorite horses, Lucas wrote down the names of his favorite cars… and then the most amazing thing happened: they spontaneously started writing nice things about each other. Now, understand: we haven’t yet made it to that part of our family meetings yet, so this is really uncharted territory. But as I turn around now, I have: “Lucas is awesome and really great at Monopoly hes the best brother you could ever have” over on one side of my whiteboard, and “Lea is really cool she is fun to play with and is nice to me she is the best” on the other. And I’m not sure what to do, because on the one hand I need my whiteboard, on the other hand I don’t want to erase this, ever.

I even got my very own shout-out: “Dad is awesome he lets me do stuff some parents wouldn’t and he left me make choices that some parents wouldn’t make the kids do so he is is AWESOME”. Okay, so he spelled it ASWOME, which really is just even cooler. I like being an aswome Dad. Sure beats being a grumpy old nagging nay-sayer. And from a kid who has been giving me the eye-roll and the heart-felt “whatevah” for months, it’s pretty big stuff. I’ll eat it right up, and ask for more.

Spreading the Gospel

As we finally, six months late, get our act together and dive into our lives as a Parenting on Track family, we can’t help but become a little evangelical. During DNSN week, we’d have occasion to explain to friends what was going on in our lives, and while we couldn’t help do so with a tinge of deer-caught-in-the-headlights “we have no effin’ clue what we’re getting ourselve into here” shock and horror, we still managed to convey our sense of adventure and excitement about this new journey. And we’d run into fellow travellers who had either dabbled in or completed or considered or heard of the program, including the great friends who got us turned on to it in the first place.

It’s always great to have soul mates/partners in crime when you embark on something this epic, and as I click my way around the new world of POT blogs and find musings by parents across the contry, it’s remarkable how helpful and encouraging it is to read about others who are grappling twith and mastering the same tough issues as we. Then Vicky throws something like this in the mix, and we realize just how lucky we are to have found her to guide us along the way. Thanks, Vicky, we’ve neeeded a guide on this rough ride for some time now, and it’s great to sense that we’re no longer lost in the wilderness.

Eleven Eleven-year Olds

Oh, who’s counting — actually, today’s birthday party for Lucas involved 12 fifth and two third graders. Quite the crowd. At one point, as I was wrangling them all thru the locker room and showers at our local aquatic center, I couldn’t help but marvel at the obvious differences in abilities and level of organizational skills and social competencies. I wish I could claim that Lucas impressed me with his newfound POT-inspired capabilities, but he was really too busy revelling at being the center of attention, high as a kite on the social buzz. Nothing gets him going like a crowd, he is the quintessential extrovert, and for me as the exact opposite I’ve come to realize (buttons, buttons) that I have a very hard time relating properly to his need for constant social interaction, for the thrill of the group dynamic. Why do I have a problem with that? Partly a fear of how it changes him, how he becomes some character out of Animal House whenever he’s with his buddies and they really crank it up… the classic male group dynamic, where the IQ drops as the numbers rise. I extrapolate from what I’m seeing now with a bunch of rowdy 10 year olds, and I envision horror scenarios of completely irresponsible 16 year olds being rude, risk taking, obnoxious morons… I’ve got to let go of that and learn to let Mr. life-of-the-party find his own limits and learn his own lessons. Tough.

Huge, enjoyable highlight this week: Lucas and his 5th grade class are doing a Greek unit, and part of the exercise involves making a Greek dish. Lucas announced this enthusiasticlally a few weeks back (a good sign — he could just as well have hummed and hawed about this “stupid food assignment”), and he was particularly adamant that HE had to make the dish without our help. So a few days ago, he set off to make his Greek salad. We had worked together to find out what he needed in the way of ingredients, and I went off and bought feta and olives and salad for him. So far so good. Then he got to work, slicing and dicing, with me just hovering to give the occasional tip or suggestion, but it was all him and he was fiercely proud of the final product. I was acutely aware of really stepping back and letting him get in the driver’s seat, and it was just thoroughly enjoyable to share in his sense of accomplishment but also be able to point out that he really had done the whole thin on his own.

Why are we so eager to “do” for them in the mistaken belief that it’ll give them more time to “have fun”? Now that we’re “doing the Vicky” it seems so obvious that we’re doing them a huge disfavor by “doing” all the mundane stuff — and much of the fun stuff, too, without having much fun getting it done — when in fact, we should be sharing the tasks of life with the kids and teaching them to enjoy and have fun with even the most mundane aspects of living life.

Buttons, shiny, shiny buttons

I confess, our second week which was supposed to be about buttons and activating events was to some extent marred by (surprise!) an extremely hectic schedule for the big people in the family, and there was precious little time for much reflection. Add to that Lucas’s 11th birthday celebration, and things just didn’t quite go as I would have liked. Having said that, we’re sufficiently committed to the POT process — not to mention encouraged by what we saw during DNSN week — that there was stuff to learn this week.

First off, it is remarkable how much of the “revolutionary” independence from week one has stuck with the kids. They’re still largely getting up and ready on their own in the AM, and even though we made it quite clear at family meeting last Sunday that the DNSN element was over, they have taken ownership of their lives to an extent that I would not have expected until much later in the process after much more trial, error, and fine tuning.

Buttons. Let me make two quick observations first. One, this was helpful to read. We’re not unique — others have been where we are and dealt with it, others are where we are right now and dealing with it, creatively, inspiringly. Secondly: everyone has buttons. This week is about the buttons we as parents let get in the way of living in harmony with our kids and allowing them to be who they are and do what they can as individuals and  members of our family. But it has reminded me to be considerate of their buttons, too. The things we do that sets them off. The things that teenagers roll their eyes at: “oh, Dad, there you go again with your…”

This week also gave me pause to appreciate how much our kids are capable of doing, all the battles we don’t need to fight, all the things they do that “meet our approval” and does not push buttons. We tend to forget about that and focus on the flaws and the shortcomings and the perceived failures, but huge credit needs to be given to our smart and supremely capable kids for all the things they are able to do.

Week Two — surprises

Monday was a write-off with MLK day — lots of vegging out. Lea dealt really well with the disappointment of a playdate falling thru at the last minute, and had a blast with a good friend ski-joring and playing dress-up. Alas, the fine art of putting stuff away when you’re done playing is still lost on her, so this morning I’m finding wigs, sunglasses and fake fangs everywhere. She can clean that up when we get back from skiing this afternoon.

Little signs of progress: Lea got up this morning at 6:30 with just a single nudge from me. Went straight into prep mode and packed bags etc. while I took Lucky skiing. This is one really key revelation that has come out of DNSN week: while Lea loves sleeping in, she’s even more keen on having the necessary time in the AM to do things her way without stress. Eventually we can hope that she will get better at organizing herself so the morning routine doesn’t have to take an hour-and-a-half, but her simply knowing that she now has that time available has made a huge difference. What’s even better: she seems to realize that if she’s going to get up at 6:30 she really needs to get to bed a little earlier. She’s been markedly better at heading up when it’s time with little or no nudging, even if her brother is still up and doing something “interesting.”

Other signs of progress: no bickering between the two of them over breakfast this morning — they actually talked to one another for a bit. Probably helped that I had time to join them for breakfast for a change… But even better: Lucas put his bowl + spoon in the sink when he was done. That’s par for the course. But then he apparently remembered that we’re now taking things one step further, and he caught himself and put them in the dishwasher. And just as my heart was pounding with excitement, Lea proceeded to put the milk in the fridge, even though she hadn’t even taken it out. It may be hard to fully appreciate what an epic step that was, but realize that in the “I hate my sibling and nothing will ever change that” world we’ve lived in for years, the notion of doing the other’s work — perceived or otherwise — was simply unthinkable. If you didn’t make the mess, you don’t clean it up. And if your brother brought the milk down, then he should be the one to get in trouble if it was left on the kitchen counter. The notion that you might get bonus points — or that you’d simply be seen as a helpful, contributing member of the family — if you did what needed to be done and put the milk away was just nowhere near their radar until now. This gives me real hope, because it’s a sign that there may be a bit of a shift of mindset going on.

Oh, and we were on time again today, they both packed their own lunches, and Lea packed her ski-bag without any prodding. It’s all good…

Follow-up on Do Nothing Say Nothing Week

So, the family meeting to follow up on DNSN week was an interesting affair. Lea immediately launched into her jermiads about how much she’d hated the whole thing. All. Of. It. We tried to emphasize that she’d shown a remarkable capacity to do stuff that she — and her parents — didn’t think she’d be able to pull off, that she’d shown some real initiative in getting herself up and out of bed to have time to get everything done, etc. etc. But she was not buying. “I’m not good at anything, I can’t do it.” More tellingly, she was eager to point out that she actually missed the nagging from Dad to keep things on track; she insists she needs the reminders. I’m realizing that this is a legitimate concern, but I think we can “outsource” it to a whiteboard or a checklist or something, so that she has the hints, but doesn’t necessarily require someone there to do the nagging. We’ll test and see…

Lucas was quiet thru the whole thing, mostly doing the classic pre-teen “whatever” shrug/eye-roll/grimace when we tried to argue that he, too, had taught us a lot about what he was capable of, and that it was helpful for us to get a sense of where things went if we stopped nagging and directing things. He’s too smart not to realize that this was really a thinly disguised way of saying, “yes, those marathon sessions you pulled in front of the big screen were quiet illuminating — you really could spend your entire life playing video games and eating popcorn, couldn’t you.” I think we did our very best *not* to come across like that, but since that was the main nag we’d had going on before DNSN week, I think he heard the words “this week is now behind us, and we’re moving on” more as “back to the usual nonsense.”

The hard part was explaining what was coming next. It’s still not quite clear to me what comes next. We obviously dont’ just go back to same ol’ same ol’, but we’re in dire need of some sort of roadmap… oh, wait: that’s what we’re supposed to do next. Vicky things of everything.

And so ends week 1

What a bumpy ride. The first week was a mix of delusional joy, sarcastic “see, told ya’ it would never work” (muttered under breath) and lots of tripping over obvious (or, apparently, not so obvious) bumps in the road.

Let’s regroup: first couple of days had the benefit of novelty, the challenge, the uncertainty (“surely Mom & Dad aren’t going to keep this up?!?”) and the sheer force of commitment on our part. Then came the doldrums, where old routines sneak back in. Add to that an earthquake in Haiti that kept Mom working 24/7 for several key days, and things didn’t go quite as rosy as we might have hoped. But. To their great credit, the kids pulled off a lot more than I think we’d have thunk possible — the morning routine managed to become routine with no prodding at all on our part. Lea would go all mercurial on us at times, vacillating between getting up an hour ahead of time, and crumbling into a quivering heap of self-doubt…

More than anything, though this was a time to learn. And learn I did (I’ll speak for myself until Lisa gets a chance to chip in). Picked up on a couple of big, red buttons of my own. I really can’t take waste (perceived on my part, that is): waste of time, waste of stuff, waste of opportunity. I get tense when I come across situations where someone “should have known better” and just couldn’t be bothered. I took the time to walk thru the ABCDEs of those events/my reaction, and it’s really humbling to realize what’s

I learned some things about the kids, too, or at least confirmed some nagging suspicions about what makes them tick or un-tick, as it where. Lucas really will stay up until way past midnight playing video games if given the chance. He apparently has no clue about when he might be in need of a shower. Lea will go into something akin to a catatonic trance when she’s overwhelmed by choices/decisions/tasks, and will fiddle idly with her backpack for twenty minutes in spite of having a mile-long list of things that still need to be done in order to get ready for school. And so on and so on…

Tonight is follow-up family meeting, and it will be very interesting to hear what the kids thing of this whole thing. More importantly, the onus is on us as parents to convey that a) this is only the beginning, but b) it’s something that will ultimately make us happier as family and them more confident and capable as individuals. Hopefully that’ll be the take-home for them, too, not just “So, are done with this little excercise, already?!?”

Just as an aside, I happened to note that in addition to the gold standard of participating and sharing families, these guys are having a good ol’ time on the Vicky rollercoaster — more power to them.

Day 2 of DNSN: Look at That!

Kids get up on time, test the waters: “are we still supposed to do everything ourselves?” Yep. Things go okay, bags packed, lunch boxes, breakfast, dressed. Lea, age 8, goes back and forth between demonstratively overdoing it and crumpling in despair on the floor: “I don’t know how to do ANYTHING…” There’s tuna and mayo and tea bags all over the place; I catch myself trying to hint every-so-slightly that the big splotch of hot chocolate on the mudroom floor might need to be wiped up, and then I force myself to do the internationally recognized symbol for duct-tape-across-mouth instead. It’s. So. Hard.

We’re almost there, they’re on schedule (heck, ahead of schedule — what’s up with that?) when Lea suddenly realizes she can’t find her jacket (surprise — she’s the mess fairy on steroids; it could be in one of several time zones). Total misery… this is the end of the world as she knows it. I feign a keen interest in my coffee cup in the other room, and watch this unfold out of the corner of my eye. Her brother, Lucas (11) is getting furious now — she’s holding up his ride to school with this jacket nonsense. Usually he’d whack her over the head and it would go downhill from there, but apparently he already “gets” that it’s really up to the two of them to make this work: he actually helps her look for the jacket. Say, what?!? No luck, though, and it’s really, really whine time now. Lea is reading us all the riot act: “YOU have to find it for me or I’ll be late” — I’m still fascinated by my coffee cup. Lucas tries another tack: “hey, how about this jacket — it’s not that cold out?” Lea: “I hate that jacket. And I can’t wear that other one because I need it for skiing this afternoon, and I can’t get it wet or I’ll be cold…” Lucas: “Whatever. DAAAD can we go now?” Well, look at that — there’s more coffee in this cup…

And suddenly, Lea is standing in front me with her “other” jacket in her hands. “Let’s go!” she snarls, and we’re out the door — on time, with everything packed. Her hair is not brushed, her lunch box is like some mutant chucky cheese takeout dish. But this is huge: our helpless OCD/noodler actually got over herself, and her sarcastic, wanna-be teenager with the permanent eye-roll helped her get there. Loving it.

"I just want to be a 10-year old and have my food cooked for me"

So, day 1 of “the new regime” as a friend termed it, got off without a hitch. Actually, much less gnashing of teeth and horror than could have been expected. Lea brought her OCD tendencies to bear on the challenge, and was up at 6AM, dressed and ready to leave for school with her lunch and backpack ready 10 minutes later. Go figure — this from the girl who usually needs at least a full hour each morning to go thru the ritual of futzing around perpetually distracted. She even woke her brother up at 7, which was brave of her — even I shy away from that task, even on good days.

They were clearly both caught up in the novelty of the whole thing, helping each other and chatting excitedly about the day ahead. Unlike some of the horror scenarios we’d heard of, the notion of *not* going to school clearly didn’t cross their minds, even though we’d made it clear at our family meeting last night that they were free to chose to do whatever they wanted with no nagging from us.

Only small snag came when we were all set to go, and Lucas suddenly realized that he’d forgotten to get his lunch box ready. We were making such great time that it really didn’t matter much — he scrambled and got it done in a few minutes flat, but Lea got upset that he was causing her to be late… in reality, we were still wicked early, so early, in fact, that when we showed up to pick up her class mate for our carpool he wasn’t anywhere near ready. I had to explain the new strategy to his parents, and after some initial disbelief and headshaking, their dad wished us good luck with the experiment.

It was the best morning I’d had in a long time — partly because there was something refreshing about the new approach, partly beacuse it was just very rejuvenating not to be urging the two of them along with the same lame ol’ reminders about lunch boxes and the clock and unnecessary hints and tips.

After school Lea was in a really good mood; we came home and I made a determined effort to give her lots of undivided attention. She leaped into doing homework and asked for help with some problems, and it was nice to be able to give her that assistance, though I tried very hard to do it DNSN style. Lucas came home and had some homework to do, too, and he also was unusually pleasasnt to be around — the two of us actually had a good time working on some of his math stuff together. He was aware of the clock and got himself organized before asking for a ride to basketball practice. Lea was going to stay home alone for the five minutes I would’ve been gone, but then changed her mind at the last minute and came along for the ride. Her choice, we obliged.

The kitchen was a total mess, left over from breakfast. I emptied the dishwasher since I’d filled it, but the question now is: will they realize that a) stuff doesn’t get in there by itself, and b) it doesn’t get clean by itself? Dinner was a challenge — Lea dropped the ball halfway thru a command performance of Mac & Cheese. She kind of forgot that she’d put water on to boil, then lost her courage when it came time to read the recipe to make the cheese sauce. Lucas didn’t make it up in time for dinner at all — after I picked him up at basketball he disappeared to find solace with his computer and his flight simulator (apparently he was making a tricky landing in Tokyo — his choice; I would’ve gone for the mac & cheese). He grumped a bit when he came up and found cold leftovers, complained bitterly that this new game was stupid… “I just want to be a 10-year old and have dinner cooked for me.” Yeah? Well, tough luck. Lisa pointed out that it certainly had dad in a better mood, but he countered that it simply put him in a bad mood. After a bit of grumping he got over himself.

Lea took a bath — by herself — and was in bed in time for some stories with mom before nine. Lucas dragged it out a bit, but in truth, he was in bed earlier than on most “naggy” nights, and this without a single prod. We had some good time making up a new story together, and he was definitely asleep earlier than usual.

All in all this has been something of an amazing start. Again, the novelty value may have something to do with it — our guys have always started out enthusiastically on star charts and the likes, and it usually fades real quick after that, in part probably because we as parents are really bad at sticking with it. This time *has* to be different, or we’ll be toast in the long run.