Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Life's Not Fair

It all started because I had the wrong breakfast cereal.

No, back that up. It started because I didn't wake the boys up early.

Actually, it started the night before, when Boy #1 noticed that our van's front passenger tire was saying, "Psssssssssst."

The tire clearly had a leak. And given the consistency of the hiss emanating from my tire, the fact that it was almost 8 pm at night and the hard-to-admit but true fact that I have never, ever changed a tire, it was pretty obvious that a) the tire would be completely flat by morning and b) that I wouldn't be able to give the boys a ride to school.

Instead of springing this horrible, life-alterning news on the boys in the morning, I decided to give them a heads-up before bedtime.

"Just so you know," I said, "the van has a flat tire, so I won't be able to give you a ride to school in the morning. You'll have to walk or bike."

From the tears and groans that erupted, you'd think that we lived 10 miles, at least, from school, or that I had asked them to crawl across broken glass. (Actually, I think the broken glass assignment would have gotten a more enthusiastic reception.) The reality, though, is that we live a block and a half from the elementary school and less than a mile from the middle school. My boys are healthy, able-bodied and definitely able to cover the distance. In fact, they walk home on a regular basis.

But walking in the morning? That was just too much!

I told the boys that I'd wake them a bit early, since they'd need to leave for school earlier than usual. I even said that I'd walk along with them. And that we could bring the dog. They were still-- how shall I put this delicately? -- NOT HAPPY.

Cut to the next morning. Knowing full well how crabby my kids are in the morning, I decided to let them sleep as long as possible. Instead of waking them at 6:45 am (their usual wake-up time is 7), I let them sleep 'til 6:50. Boy #2 was furious when he realized that I woke him up "late." (Never mind the fact that he has his own alarm.)

His bad mood continued into the kitchen. An inspection of panty revealed that "all" we had for breakfast was Cheerios and Raisin Bran.

"We never have any good cereal!" he exclaimed. He practically cried as he spooned "stale" Raisin Bran into his mouth. (Never mind that we got the cereal last week.)

By this time, his younger brothers had joined us in the kitchen, and picked up the chorus.

"It's raining outside!," #3 declared. (Never mind the fact that the rain had stopped hours before the boys woke up; the pavement was merely wet.)

"Why do we have to walk?" #3 pleaded -- despite the fact that our van was clearly leaning to one side.

I' snapped.

"I'm not here to make a perfect world for you!," I yelled. "I'm here to help you figure out how to live in an imperfect world."

The words were so profound that I was struck by their wisdom. I grabbed a pen and pad of paper and scrawled down my sudden insight.

I could, I suppose, bend over backwards to create a "perfect" world for my kids. I could stock the right cereals, let them sleep the perfect number of minutes per night, and stay up late, learning how to change a tire on YouTube.

But I don't owe my kids perfection. I need to feed my kids, but I certainly don't need to feed them the trendiest cereals in the coolest boxes. I need to help my kids learn, but I don't owe them a ride to school.

Besides, perfection is an ever-moving target, and life comes at us, whether we're ready or not. My boys are growing up in a world that includes flat tires and sudden, unexpected changes in plans. I don't think I'd do them any favors by artifically creating a "perfect" environment.

What my boys -- and yours -- really need to learn is how to live in an imperfect environment. They need to learn how to roll with the punches, how to respond to disappointment, and how to cope with unexpected challenges. They need to learn how to live and love in the face of adversity. The reality is that life often fails to live up to our expectations -- and the sooner my boys learn how to smile with grace and move on , the happier they'll be.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Get Ready for Veteran's Day

I know it's not even Halloween, but Veteran's Day (November 11) is fast approaching. Want to mark the day in a meaninful manner? Check out my blog post, Honoring Our Vets, at The Homeschool Classroom.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Is Your Son a Picky Eater?

None of my sons are a gourmand's dream. Each will hesitate at the sight of new food -- and by "hesitate," I mean "politely (or not-so-politely) refuse to try." None of them are big fans of mixed foods, like casserole, even if they like all of the individual ingredients. (My boys all like ham, cheese, noodles and broccoli -- but mix those basic ingredients up in a casserole, and none of the boys will do much more than take the requisite taste.) Their list of OK foods is pretty narrow: pizza, burgers, spaghetti, pork chops, chicken nuggets, sandwiches, get the picture.

Part of it, I assume, is my fault. I'm not the most adventurous eater either. I was well into my twenties before I tried a non-Italian, non-Mexican ethnic food. Even then, I had to make a conscious effort to focus on the overall taste, and not think, "what is IN this thing?" (because God forbid if it contain an ingredient I didn't like!). To this day, I'm not a big fan of veggies and I really, really don't like fruit -- as in, I have a weird aversion to fresh fruit. If I actually force myself to eat fruit, I'm able to admit that the taste isn't so bad -- and may actually be good. But overcoming the mental hurdle is more effort than I'm usually willing to put in. Luckily, my boys haven't inherited my fruit aversion. All of them enjoy multiple fruits; my oldest, I think, could live on fruit.

The idea that my boys might have inherited some of my food quirks, though, is not so far-fetched. A 2007 New York Times article reported on a research study that indicated that 78% of kids' receptiveness to new foods appears to be genetic, while 22% is environmental.

Interesting, right? Yes. But ultimately, not helpful, because what we all want to know is how to a) make sure our kids get a balanced diet and b) help our kids enjoy food.

Techniques I've tried, with little to no success:
  • Stocking the house with mostly good food and letting the boys eat what they want. The problem with this technique, at least at my house, is that there's so much junk food in the world! My boys have an amazing ability to hold out, and junk food has an amazing ability to show up just often enough to prevent the boys from ever getting hungry enough to eat the "good food." Case in point: My Mom loves to bring over donuts. She also keeps her house stocked with treats, and frankly, I don't want to be the mom who refuses to let Grandma give the boys treats.
  • Insisting that the boys try at least one bite of every food on their plates. The big problem with this one? I don't want to have to police who eats what. Plus, my boys will eagerly watch each other for reaction. If one tries supper and makes a face, the others manage to gag or sit there stubbornly while the food remains on their plates.
  • Letting the boys fix their own simple meal after trying the offered meal. I refuse to make multiple meals. Once I've cooked a meal, I want to sit down and eat it. I also recognize the fact that not every member of the family will like the meal. So if my boys at least try the food, I allow them to get up and make themselves a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich or bowl of cereal.
  • Eliminating the distinctions between "good" and "bad" food. Essentially, this technique meant letting the boys eat whatever they wanted. They were happy. I was not. See bullet point #1. There's just too much non-nutritious food out there in the world, and I want to make sure my boys are getting the calories, protein, vitamins and minerals they need.
Now Elizabeth Pantley, author of the No-Cry Sleep Solution and other No-Cry parenting books, has published the No-Cry Picker Eater Solution. I appreciate her intent, as well as the fact that there's a huge audience for this book. I just don't think that most of her advice is going to work for my boys. Check out this excerpt:

~ Put vegetables on a pedestal.
It's an odd fact that while vegetables are a healthy cornerstone of any diet, they are usually relegated to a back corner side dish. While interesting recipes appear for main dishes, the vegetables are often steamed or boiled in a routinely boring presentation. Start treating vegetables as the star of the meal and your kids will too.

I doubt it.

~ Name the star of the show.
Vegetables rarely get the spotlight. When kids ask, "what's for dinner?" we name the meat and starch - "Chicken and rice" or "Steak and potatoes" and don't even mention the vegetables. From now on, name the veggies first. Create a fun name for the vegetable of the day you can help your children view them in a different light. So, what's for dinner? "We're having Brilliant Bunches of Broccoli along with chicken and rice."

Would your boys be tricked by "Brilliant Bunches of Broccoli?" I don't think mine would. Besides, my boys already like broccoli. I need help with the chicken! (For some reason, despite the fact that I serve it often in a variety of different ways, my boys tend to think of chicken as a "weird" food.)

~ Search out new recipes for veggies.
Try stir-frying a mix of veggies with olive oil to give them an attractive presentation and a unique flavor. Add a sprinkling of nuts or seeds or a dribble of sauce. Mix two or even three kinds of vegetables together for a colorful dish.

See blog post paragraph #1. My boys don't like (read: "won't touch") mixed-up foods.

~ Get artistic.
It can be fun to serve vegetables in interesting containers or arranged colorfully in patterns or shape.

It can be a lot of work to artfully cut up and arrange veggies that my boys aren't going to eat anyway.

~ Let them dip 'em.
Serve a platter of raw veggies with dipping sauce such as ranch dressing, yogurt or hummus Kids often prefer raw vegetables over cooked, especially if they can dip.

The only dip my boys like is ketchup. They still consider ranch dressing and hummus exotic, "weird" foods. Yogurt is OK, but the only thing they'll dip in it is fruit (after the yogurt has been mixed with peanut butter.) They do like raw veggies better than cooked veggies, though.

~ Give kids a choice.

Routinely serve two vegetables at dinner so that you double the chance your child will eat at least one. Plus, seeing two vegetables will build an expectation that vegetables are important.

Yep. It will also double the odds that I end up wasting twice as many veggies.

~ Get sneaky.
While you are teaching your child about nutrition, go ahead and hide some vegetables within other recipes to up your child's daily quota. It's easy to add chopped spinach to hamburgers, pureed squash into macaroni and cheese, crushed cauliflower into mashed potatoes, or bits of carrots and broccoli into spaghetti sauce. That way your kids get the benefits of vegetables no matter what.

Despite my boys' reluctance, I refuse to hide veggies. Isn't the point to teach them to enjoy multiple foods. Won't hiding the "good" foods just teach the kids that the food in question really is yucky? (I mean, do you traditionally hide your good china? Or good clothes?) And won't they just then be more suspicious of any food that you make? Because I'm sure that at least one of my boys would figure out what's up.

So parents -- How do you deal with picky eaters?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Keeping Boys Busy

What are your boys doing to stay busy this fall?

My oldest, age 13, is a member of the Junior Show Choir. (Think Glee, but without all the snark). He's also got a bit part in a local community theatre production, cuts lawn for some residential customers and writes content for a fishing website.

Boy #2, now 11, is playing football on a 5th and 6th grade team. The team practices Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 4:30 pm to 6 pm -- and plays games on Saturday -- so between school and sport, he has little time at home.

Boy #3, age 8, is attending third grade at a local school. In his spare time, he loves to bike and skateboard. He also recently took third place in a 1K race for kids ages 8 and under. He's already announced his intent to play flag football next year.

Boy #4, age 5, is in kindergarten. He also likes to putter in his workshop (yes, I let him use tools), watch Wild Kratts and play with friends.

Did I mention that we're also members of 4H?

Life is pretty busy these days, as I imagine it is in your home. But while my older boys are involved in a couple of organized activities (Show Choir, football), I don't think that organized activities are essential. Keeping boys busy is a must -- boys with too much time on their hands tend to find trouble. But "busy" can vary from boy to boy and home to home. Consider these non-organized, but still fun ideas to keep your boys busy this fall:
  • Yard cleanup. Don't laugh. Your kids might be more willing to participate than you think. The key is to work together; your kids aren't going to get excited about picking up the yard unless you're out there too. Look for age-appropriate ways for the kids to contribute. My 5-yr-old loves driving his plastic truck around the yard and picking up sticks.
  • Making wood. Do you heat your home (at least partially) with wood? Let the boys go out into the woods with you, their dad or another reliable adult. You probably don't want them using chainsaws yet, but there's no reason why they can't carry and haul wood -- and help stack the wood at home. Make sure to leave some time to play in the woods.
  • Go for a hike. Right now, the fall colors at my home are near their peak. The days are warm and bathed in golden sunshine. It's the perfect time to get out and explore natural areas. One bonus: most of the bugs are gone!
  • Pick apples. Got an apple orchard nearby, or an apple tree in your yard? Get busy picking apples! Your sons can help you convert the apples into apple chips, applesauce and apple pie.
  • Go camping. If you can, try squeezing in just one more weekend of camping. I'd love to take my boys, but football (see above) is interfering with our schedule.
  • Go for a bike ride. On a rainy day, have your boys tune-up their bikes. Then take them out for a spin on a nearby bike trail.
Have any other ideas to list? How do your boys stay busy in the fall?