Tough.

Today, I told The Who he was a “tough customer.”

As a kid, I was called “bossy” and “stubborn” and while I’m not saying those terms didn’t fit, something about them seemed so…limiting. Like, they didn’t encompass the whole of me. Or they only spoke to one or two parts of my personality. The Who is a tough customer. So was I. So am I, in fact, which is why we butt heads all day long sometimes. His friend X, on the other hand, is an EASY customer. Everything is always a-ok with X. We sort of joked about it on the way home from basketball tonight, The Who, X, and me. Two tough customers and one easy one.

You are a tough customer!” he said back to me. Like he was telling me something I didn’t know.

“I know! I am!” I responded. “And my best friends through the years have been easy customers. Tough customers need easy customers — otherwise you’d fight all the time.” He took a minute to think about this. “Like with Y  (another good friend of his),” I continued.  “Y is a tough customer. Y wants what he wants and you want what you want and you both demand to get what you want. Two tough customers.”

“Yeah!” he said, nodding. “That’s why we fight all the time.”

I want to find a way to convey that I don’t value one kind of “customer” over another. And that being an “easy customer” doesn’t mean being a pushover. Nor do I want to suggest that he can’t have friends who are tough customers, too. Because, honestly, while many of my friends are very laid back, I have some very opinionated friends, too. Those friendships, while more volatile and complicated, also bring me a lot of joy. There’s value in hanging out with all kinds of people. At the same time, I worry that this personality of his will challenge him in all the ways it challenged (and continues to challenge) me over the years. It has not been easy to be a perfectionist, to believe your way is the best way, to want to be the leader of everything, to want an ear in every conversation. It was not easy on me and it was not easy on the people around me and I often feel like I should change who I am so I can be a better model for The Who as he develops his friendships. But, every time I wish he responded to situations differently or eased up a little on what is important to him, I recognize that I am sending him a message to change who he is. To try to change the kind of “customer” he is. And that is not the message I want to be sending. To him — or to myself.

So, now the challenge: how do I help him to be his authentic self, yet not allow his opinionated inflexibility to make enemies wherever he goes?

Real. 

Those of you following along at home will recall that we have been reading the Harry Potter series. We are on the fourth book, where, arguably, shit starts getting real. There have been scary parts in all of the three previous books, but he’s been largely unaffected. He did have a spate of nighttime wake-ups accompanied by whimpering, but they seemed unrelated to the pre-bedtime reading we had been doing. But then when he had a vivid and obvious nightmare from the first chapter of this fourth book, we decided to change up our routine and read it earlier in the day instead, sticking to innocuous storybooks and songs at bedtime. 

Of course, anyone who has read the books also remembers that after that first chapter of doom, there are several chapters of hum-drum harmless Quidditch World Cup storytelling. So inoffensive were these chapters that we switched back to reading at night. Of course, again, anyone who has read the books remembers that after the World Cup immediately comes some serious business, such that at the end of tonight’s chapter, he said, “Maybe we shouldn’t have read this one right before bed…”

In order to turn it around before leaving him alone in his dark room (and because, as he recently reminded me, his current dream-catcher must be full by now, so we need to make a new one) I reminded him about driving now his own dreams. We had recently learned on Brains On!, the science podcast we listen to, that  you can set the tone of your own dreams and that if you think something right before you fall asleep, sometimes you can dream it. 

To that end, I helped him create a scenario in which he is playing baseball with his best pal and hits one so hard and so well that it sails over the neighborhood field, over the concession stand at the other end, over the fence, over the entire school playground, and lands with a thunk in front of the doors to the kindergarten classrooms. Promptly, his beloved kindergarten teacher from last year comes outside, picks up the ball, hands it to him in amazement, and says, “great job!”

The smile on his face was magnificent as he drifted off to sleep with this scene playing out in his head and I have not heard a peep out of him all night. Maybe we have found the remedy to bedtime scary Potter chapters. 

Fingers crossed. 

Teacher Appreciation.

Yesterday, I told The Who and his friend that I would take them out for ice cream after basketball, but the caveat was that they had to have their math homework and their reading done. Through no fault of their own (really, poor time management on my part) the math homework wasn’t done on time and so we all agreed that they would do it in the car, while eating their ice cream (both of them agreeing to get it in a cup instead of a cone to facilitate easier homework-doing.)

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Reading in progress.

As they were both quietly working, his friend said (to The Who, not to me) “I don’t understand this last word problem. Do you?” The Who took a minute to read it over (he hadn’t gotten to that one on his yet) and said, “Yeah, I understand it.” And then he proceeded to explain it by breaking it down into parts and prompting his friend to answer smaller questions until his friend was able to put it all together to understand and solve it.

There were so many things about this exchange that I loved. First, that his friend felt comfortable and confident enough to say that he didn’t understand something without fear of judgment. Second, that he asked his classmate and friend and not me. And, finally that The Who’s instinct was so spot-on in terms of coaching his friend to break it down as opposed to just telling him the answer or how to do it.

To each of them, this exchange was barely worthy of note, but to me, it was extraordinary. And while some of the credit can go to each kid and his personality, I know that a lot of it goes to their teacher and the ways in which she must have fostered this type of interaction in the classroom. It reminds me that there is so much more that they are learning in school above and beyond “Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmatic.”

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and I am appreciating the hell out of all The Who’s teachers today.

Data Dump.

The space between what I should be doing and what I am doing is small, but significant. I should be going to bed. It’s not that hard to do tonight. Some nights, it involves a lot of cleaning up or dishes or tasks. Some nights, it involves getting myself up off the couch, which is an arduous task the later it gets. Tonight, it’s not hard. I’m sitting at the table, having just assembled 60 very punny Teacher Appreciation packets full of Starburst for tomorrow’s PTG-sponsored luncheon. (Thank you, ladies of Pinterest, for the inspiration.)

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All I have to do is pack up the leftover candies and turn off the lights. But before I do, here’s a little data dump of the things we’ve done lately.

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We voted. Actually, he voted, which is apparently not allowed. But no one’s in the little booth with me and he’s basically an extension of me, still, right? (Ok, he’s not; I know.) Anyway. His first election with me was in utero, for Obama in 2008. He hasn’t missed one yet.

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We’ve played Monopoly. And the trouble with Monopoly (well, one of the troubles with Monopoly) is that it takes up the whole damn table. The only reason this photo was taken was so that we could put the game away to eat dinner and then re-set it exactly as it had been. The Who is a big fan of photographing things to remember them. Wonder where he picked up that habit.

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We made something on a pottery wheel. I’d like to tell you what we made, but I’m still not sure what it is, even though it is done and drying. It might have been a little more successful if a) the first page of instructions wasn’t covered for the first hour of this project, b) The Who actually enjoyed the feeling of wet slimy clay all over his hands (the hands in the photo are mine), or c) we had something a little more powerful than a plastic wheel running on four D-batteries.

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We spied a high school softball game on our walk home from school with a friend. (It’s no secret that I am a total sucker for photos of The Who with his buddies doing typical “little suburban kid” things.)

And now to that going to bed thing I was talking about before. (Somehow it seems harder than it did a half hour ago, which is always the way.)

Five. 

  1. I can’t stop twirling my hair. And braiding it. And touching it. Flipping it. Putting it up. Taking it down. Is it because it’s too long or because I have a real problem? Either way, I wore a high ponytail today for the first time in about 30 years and I kind of loved it. 
  2. I’ve had this sort of persistent, yet fleeting feeling of sadness for the past week. Sadness? Discomfort? Anxiety? It’s never around long enough for me to pin it down. 
  3. I really love dogs and I never expected that I would. I was pretty terrified of them as a kid, despite having had one for a few years. Maybe it’s because I’ve been drawing them? Lately, though, there’s just nothing cuter than a dog to me. Except that one freckle on The Who’s left brow bone. But that’s it. That freckle and then all dogs. 
  4. There is no chance Donald Trump will make America great again. Who do people think there is a chance of that?
  5. The Who has a poetry reading tomorrow, a piano recital this weekend, a writers’ awards ceremony in a couple of weeks, and a ballet recital in June. I love watching him do all his things. 

Trip. 

This little trip was short and sweet. Just a taste of what summer will be. Here are some highlights. (Not pictured: the impromptu awesome your we got of our awesome air bnb for August. We did a drive-by and the owners happened to be there and invited us in to look around. It’s amazing. Also not pictured: Passover. Because I’m pretty sure Moses would frown on photos at the Seder. Although, I did video The Who reciting The Four Questions, so…)

There was a lot of face-swapping this weekend, including with my ma, my bestie, and my nephew. 

We visited The Hall at Patriots Place, which definitely was a highlight for The Who. 

There was a lot of trampolining, basketball, baseball, Uno, checkers, dominoes, and wrestling, but only one rug burn and one bump on the forehead to show for it. 

And then on our last day, mini-golf and batting cages. The Who used a “tens” strategy to tabulate his score, which made me rethink common core math a little. And when big cousin helped little cousin make contact in the cages, I died a little from the cute.

Genes.

Of all the things I have passed on to The Who (and there are many, genetically speaking) the one I am sorriest about is perfectionism.

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Mama, left. Who, right. I’m not sorry about the ears. Because, ears.

This is a personality trait of mine that I didn’t really understand or acknowledge until pretty recently, but once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. Sometimes, it’s a non-issue. Or even works in my favor. When I’m doing something I’m good at, my perfectionism makes me precise, focused, and yields great work. But when it’s something I am unsure of, it ruins me. It makes me anxious and preoccupied and overwhelmed and gets in my way of completing things that need to get done.

The Who exhibits some of the same behavior. A lot of it, I know, is his age. He’s figuring out what he’s good at and what risk-taking looks like and how to manage his own expectations of himself. Actually, to be perfectly honest, maybe it’s not as bad for him as I’d thought it might be. He’s much more willing to try things and fail lately, even though the failure is often really disappointing for him. But that, we can manage. Helping him deal with frustration and disappointment feels a lot easier than trying to get him to just try something he might not be perfect at.

There are still some things he just won’t do. He won’t learn to ride a bike. He won’t try to conquer monkey bars. And he tells me it’s because he doesn’t think he can do it and he doesn’t want to fail. (To be fair, he does think he will try them someday and history does show that when he’s ready, he’s just ready, so…) But, still,  I see him taking risks elsewhere. Submitting his writing for contests, signing up for basketball, digging into a new recipe with me (the one thing that seems to trigger my own problematic perfectionism, inonically.)

Ok. So maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe this distasteful trait isn’t actually repercussive for him after all. Maybe I just passed down flappy ears, an extreme propensity for chattiness, and killer timing with the puns. He could’ve done a lot worse, I suppose.