More on Twins, with poetic license…

Trade

In the womb
my daughter swam free,
did dolphin flips
and dives

once, like a folktale frog,
she sucked up
all the water
for herself,
sent us rushing
to the high tech hospital
for a closer look.
magically, the waters
reappeared. brother
would be allowed
to remain
crouched
in his small corner,
cramped and still.

in exchange
for this indignity,
he received the honor
of being Baby A, firstborn,
golden child, plumper
with more hair, lording
his two minutes
over her.

before she can swim
she dreams of swimming,
knows
she’ll never
have enough
of everything
she needs.

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The Yin and the Yang: Is it a twin thing or a sibling thing?

I’ve noticed something:  When one child is doing well, the other one often seems to be struggling in some way.  I’m not sure if this is an objective fact or if I just find myself focusing more on one child than the other at any given time — or maybe I’m just looking for something to worry about!

A minor version of this phenomenon took place over the weekend.  While I was celebrating Alexander’s improvement in handling homework issues, Zoe had a miserable weekend — full of disappointments, unmet demands, and three or four full-blown tantrums.  It was tiring and disheartening, though, ultimately, not a totally disastrous weekend.  Of course, I found my thoughts turning to Zoe, what was going on with her, how I could help.  Part of this pondering was an attempt to understand Zoe’s personality and what was motivating her actions.

As I try to sort though the personality traits and behaviors of my two children, I’m aware of how easy it is to latch onto labels to explain and categorize and, inevitably, compare them to each other.

Here are a few of the phrases I’ve used more than once to describe one or the other of my kids:  “thin-skinned”; “the brave one”; “more adventurous”; “hates to share”, “wary of trying new things”; “musical”; “very observant”; “determined”, “resourceful”, “makes friends easily”, “a fast reader.”

Last fall, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast a series of stories on siblings.  The first program was about three theories used to explain why siblings often have very different personalities, even though they are genetically similar and have grown up in the same family.  One of these theories describes families as “comparison machines” and posits that personality differences emerge in siblings as a result of their families exaggerating and reinforcing what are actually fairly minor differences between them.

I can see how this happens.

Is this a bad thing?  Is it it inevitable?

In Chinese philosophy, one aspect of the concept of yin and yang is that opposites only exist in relation to each other.  As parents, do we create an ever shifting yin and yang to help us make sense of our children’s behaviors?  Or do our children create the differences to distinguish themselves (which is another prominent sibling personality theory)?

As an only child (with a much younger half-sibling) I find myself lacking in personal experience with siblings, which may put me at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding my son and daughter.  But that is a topic for another post!

Here’s a link to the NPR story on theories of sibling personality differences:

http://www.npr.org/2010/11/18/131424595/siblings-share-genes-but-rarely-personalities

And another one on birth order:

http://www.npr.org/2010/11/18/131424878/how-much-does-birth-order-shape-our-lives?

A good week…

Wouldn’t it be funny if I started a blog to process the challenges of parenting ten year old twins and everything started going so well that I didn’t have anything to blog about anymore?

Well, that hasn’t happened.  At least not yet.  But it has been a good week.  Not a perfect week, but a week where I have seen the kids and me respond in better, more successful ways to situations that might have lead to darkness and despair last year.

For example, last night, Alexander was upset because he forgot his unfinished homework at school.  He was distraught and angry (both because he couldn’t watch TV, since he hadn’t finished his homework, and because he would have a consequence in school the next day) and stormed up to his room in tears.  But after about 15 minutes, he calmed down and came outside with me to look for the cat and bounce on the trampoline.  This quick rebound was such a big improvement from past situations!

Then later, when we realized we could print a reasonable facsimile of the missing worksheet from the internet, he sat down and re-did the entire assignment without complaint, even though it was late.  And he did it on his own volition.  Last year, I would have nagged him to do the work once we realized we could print the worksheet.  I would have felt very uptight about him going to school with his homework unfinished.  But last night I told him (and meant it) that it was his choice if he wanted to do it or not.  I was actually a little worried that he would get so frustrated with starting over again (especially so close to bedtime) that things would deteriorate into anger and unpleasantness, and the assignment still wouldn’t be completed.  I was wrong.  He sat peacefully at the table, humming cheerfully to himself and focused on the task at hand until it was finished.  Who was this boy?!

So, even though I wouldn’t exactly call this a “pleasant’ evening, I ended up feeling really good about it.  For me, it felt good not to get rattled and react to any of the angry, negative behavior.  AND it was wonderful to see Alexander being resilient and determined in the face of adversity.

In general, a reasonably decent, even-keeled, low-drama week.  And the icing on the cake?  I found out today that the 5th grade teachers have a policy of trying not to give homework on weekends.  Hallelujah!

Worrying never solved nothin’…

Last night I attended a meeting for the parents of 5th graders at my children’s school.  The purpose of the meeting is for the teachers to lay down the law for the parents.  Each year, these back-to-school meetings always feel a little intimidating to me.  There is inevitably talk of how ________ grade (insert child’s year in school) is a “transitional year”, expectations will be higher than previously, the children will have a greater level of responsibility, work will be more challenging — all in preparation for the next year, which will be even harder!

At our small, high-performing public school, there seem to be no limits on the quest to push foward to further levels of achievement, as measured, primarily, by end of grade test scores.  We never get told, “This is the year the kids get to kick back and rest on their laurels, because if they’ve gotten this far, they’ll be just fine.”

At some point during the meeting, it was mentioned that spelling assignments (and most other work) must be completed in cursive.  Immediately, I was worried.  Alexander’s handwriting is terrible, and last year, he struggled miserably with writing cursive.  Because of this, he’s self-conscious and negative about writing, even though he is a great, imaginative writer.

After the meeting ended, I went into Alexander’s classroom to look around.  When I saw his desk, I felt as though someone had turned up the knob on the anxiety-o-meter a few notches.  While many students (especially the girls) had written their name tags in neat, loopy cursive, and others had used sturdy block printing, Alexander’s name was written in a shaky scrawl with the letters unevenly spaced and sized.  It looked like a much younger child had written it.  Only a few parents were still around, so I approached the teacher and told her I was worried about Zander’s hand writing.  Instead of the reassurance I was probably angling for, she looked at me and said, “So am I.  I intend to keep an eye on it.”  Gulp.  I left the school feeling unsettled and anxious.

But, as I drove home, I began to challenge my usual way of thinking and feeling.  I recognized what was going on, and I knew how worrying about my child could affect me.  I also knew there was nothing I could do to fix the problem — at least not at that moment.  AND that I was not in control of this situation.  So, I challenged myself, for once, not to worry.  In fact, not to do anything — no trolling the internet for information about handwriting issues in ten year old boys, no composing a follow-up email to the teacher.  Just let it be.  Have faith that the teacher will work on it in school and come up with an appropriate plan if necessary.  But, more importantly, know that, even if this is a problem, it’s not the end of the world — and my child will be fine.

So, that’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it.  New adventures in peace of mind…  Stay tuned…

The Ugly Truth

OK, it’s time to cut to the chase about why I’m writing a blog journaling my children’s fifth grade school year and my attempts to be a happy, healthy, effective parent along the way.  The ugly truth:  Last year did not go well.

A lot of the unpleasantness centered around homework.  My son hates homework.  Both kids hate having their work checked or — God forbid! — corrected.  Weekday evenings were frequently rife with sullenness, frustration, broken pencils and tantrums.  I started to dread coming home from work in the evening, wondering if it would be a “good homework night” or a “bad homework night”.  But that’s not all.  The kids were often rude and disrespectful to me, complained about doing chores or picking up their own toys and belongings, and fell apart when they did not get their way.  To top it off, they were constantly competing and fighting with each other.  I was left feeling like a terrible, ineffective parent, wracking my brain for strategies to make things better.

When did all this begin?  Was it when I was overwhelmed by my infant twins as a new parent and spent the first several years of their lives in triage mode?  Or was it when the school years began and the challenges and expectations for my children became more demanding?  Does the root of their behavior lie in their temperaments?  Or have we, their parents, created these behaviors through our responses and parenting techniques?  Does my own anxiety and dread of ensuing unpleasantness become a self-fulfilling prophecy and/ or a reinforcer of the negative behavior?  Are they especially competitive because they are twins?  The answer to all of these questions is probably “YES”.   But, where does that get me?  Time to move on!

So, why a blog?  Why would airing my parenting troubles for the world possibly be a good thing?  There are a few reasons why this idea appealed to me.  First, I like to process.  For me, “external processing” — of challenges, problems, unpleasant events, things I’m worried about — is almost always a good thing, resulting in new perspectives and ideas and a more relaxed, positive attitude.  While it is not as fun and heart-warming as taking a walk and talking with a good friend, a blog is another avenue for processing.  Second is the concept of maintaining perspective, some degree of objectivity and, hopefully, at least a modicum of humor as I document and reflect on my parenting journey.  I mean, if I can blog about it, how bad can it be?!  Finally, I like to write, and the blog is a useful exercise in writing for an audience — at least a theoretical one!

If any of this sounds like you, and you are not currently writing a blog, you might want to try it.  If you are already writing a blog, what purposes does it serve for you?

Finally, to end on an up note, I will report that two weeks into the new school year, things are going well.  There has been a little grumbling about homework (even though there hasn’t actually been very much yet) and one over-reaction to my attempt to “help”, but I also see subtle signs of a more mature, less volatile attitude from the kids.

More about how I’m working to adjust my own attitude in upcoming posts!

Before homework…                         Who knew???

Direct from the Thought Factory

As promised, Zoe and Alexander’s drawings of what the insides of their brains look like…

Here’s Zoe’s, whose brain moves from the lower levels where the “dreary co-workers” toil to the upper reaches of her brain where the wordsmith does its work: 

And here is Zander’s, where workers in the Thought Factory create “brain doodles” that are color coded for his different types of thoughts:

My own thought factory has been working overtime, as usual.  More about that, and why I hope this blog will help me keep my sanity and be a better parent during the coming school year, in the next post (or maybe the next one…).

How’s that Happiness Project thing working out for you?

Last fall, I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  The basic premise of the book is that many adults do not naturally come to happiness.  It takes some exploration, experimentation, and even effort to recognize what truly makes us happy and pursue it. The book is a journal of Rubin’s own attempts at various techniques for achieving happiness.  Along the way, she provides research to support why she is engaging in each activity.

The book was easy and enjoyable to read, and I was intrigued by many of the ideas.  It provided good support for a basic premise of my parenting life:  A happier, healthier me is a better parent.  And, of course, the better things go with my parenting, the happier I am.  (There is a lot of circularity in happiness theory!)

I never did launch my own fully organized, structured, and documented “Happiness Project”, though I had ambitions to do so, at the start.  But I continue to return to small, but important, take-aways from the book, which inform my philosophy and actions.  One of my favorite parts of the book was the chapter on having fun.  Bottom line:  lots of grown-ups don’t know how to have fun.  Many of our daily activities are based on obligation or responsibility, not fun!  We also find ourselves doing things that are supposed to be fun, but aren’t actually fun, for us.  What is genuinely “fun” is different for everyone.  Exploring having fun has been, well… FUN!  I discovered that one thing that’s really fun for me, and that I’ve been trying to do more of, is playing tennis.  I also love doing little art projects, mainly the kind that involve cutting, pasting, drawing and writing in a kind of arty-scrapbook format.  Games (i.e. board games, word games, cards) are fun, too — and what’s really great is that my kids are now old enough that I actually like playing with them.

Overall, I do feel that I am more intentional in pursuing happiness since reading The Happiness Project.  Have others read this book?  What did you think?  What aspect of it resonated most for you?

Here is a link to The Happiness Project blog:  http://www.happiness-project.com/

Check out The Happiness Project “Toolbox”.