Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nothing is Free

Its always amazing how creative companies get to lure you in. We ive in an age when even your contact information is bought and sold. Normally I am not the conspiracy theorist type, and I will go ahead and enter my name in a raffle knowing full well that what they really want is my age, demographic and phone number. I have worked in Marketing and I know the value of owning up-to-date lists and a big group of potential leads. What gets me though is how hard they go after kids. When I was a kid, if a cereal box said that they were holding a contest and any box could win, it was pretty straight forward. You open the box, it says Sorry you are not a winner. Play again. End of game. Now the cereal boxes lure you in and then printed inside is a code that you can enter on their website and view lots of other special offers and you cant find out if your box of cereal was a winner until you have completed registration and created a password and agreed to a huge legal document of disclaimers. I love hearing the commercials say "Kids! Ask your parents before logging on!"

I had an uncle growing up who prided himself on the fact that he never lied to his children. From birth his children were told that Santa was a generous person who lived many years ago, and we have continued the tradition that he started by putting presents under the tree on Christmas eve. Really its the child's parents who do this etc. etc. This particular couple felt like it was better to never willfully deceive their children and spare them the let down when they would inevitably find out the truth. I always thought he was just a big scrooge and I also noted with joy when his kids were little that they did believe in Santa, no matter how rationally it was explained to them. There was one unfortunate instance when someone questioned the oldest child Andrea about Santa and she replied "My dad told me all about Santa. Santa is dead." I imagine that incident earned them fewer holiday party invitations.

As a mother of a 6 year old and a 2 year old, I'm just now starting to come around to Uncle Mark's philosophy. The other day I over heard a conversation between Jack and the ever clever Isaac Sly. Isaac is a year older than Jack and has two older siblings who have clearly set him straight, although he is obviously still figuring out where he stands in the Santa debate. Jack mentioned something about Santa and Isaac cut him off. "Dude. You know that there's no such thing as santa, right?

Jack looked at him like he was nuts. "Yes there is. He brings me Christmas presents every year. duh."

"No, Dude. Its your parents. They buy the presents and put them under the tree and then tell you it was santa."

At this point I almost burst in to the interaction to change the subject and protect Jack from the hard truth. Then I realized that the kid is almost 7 and that this is part of the cycle of growing up. I could tell that Jack was deep in thought about it all too so I just let it lay. Eventually Jack came up to me and said Isaac says theres no such thing as Santa. Is he right? Luckily I am a genius of avoidance. "Did Isaac tell you why he doesn't believe?"

"No he says Cameron told him."

"What do you think, Jack?"

"Santa has always brought me presents. Maybe Isaac is on the naughty list."

"Maybe. If I were you I would just worry about your own list status."

Mom, how come if I tell you I want something from Santa that is really expensive you say that it costs too much. Why do you care how much money Santa spends?

I would hate to see Santa go bankrupt because of greedy kids. I think we do him a favor by keeping our Christmas gift requests modest. Plus, I know he tries to keep it pretty fair. That gets difficult when one kid starts asking for extravagant gifts. I'm just trying to help him out. He gave me a lot of great Christmases and He deserves some payback. I like to help make his life easier. Sounds like you have a lot of thinking to do. Try not to worry. I'm sure Christmas will be fabulous no matter what.

Then today he recieved his monthly issue of Highlight's magazine. They were running a promotion where you could match three (very obvious stars) and affix them to a card and mail it off. If you do that then they send you a poster map of a state with an accompanying book. The first one is free. No obligation. Totally yours forever. Then they send you another state every month for 6 bucks plus undisclosed shipping and handling. This will continue until you return one of their packages within 10 days of the original shipment date with a signed letter specifically requesting termination of one's club membership. Here in my reality, this translates into our mailbox being over run by unwanted maps and book with accompanying invoices that either add to the clutter of the house and create more tasks and eventually the company turns us over to collections and our wages get garnished for a stack of maps that we never wanted and somehow always missed the ten day window. I tried explaining this to Jack because he was all excited to send away for his free "no obligation" gift.

"Mom, it is free. Look. Right here. It says FREE. "

I countered by reading the small print on the back of the card about implied consent and how shipping and handling would be determined at the sole discretion of Highlights magazine and would be due and payable immediately upon receipt.

But I thought I won something for free.

Son, I have bad news for you. Nothing is free. Anything that sounds too good to be true, is too good to be true. Highlights wants to give you those free things so that they can screw you over later. Nothing is free. If you ever think something is, you have to look harder. TV? The network gets money for running ads. If they make more popular shows, more people watch and then they can charge more money to run ads. We watch the ads and then buy their stuff. No body does something for nothing.

What about Santa? What does he get out of it?

He gets the good feeling that comes with giving and he gets to do his favorite hobby and he gets to see happy children and know that he is reminding us of Jesus when he gives us presents."

"Well What about Jesus? What does Jesus get out of it? Why does he care what we do?

"Because Jesus is our brother and he is doing the work of our father and it makes both of them happy to see us succeed and to have meaningful lives."

This has started as a typical never ending why why why conversation that usually goes around in circles but when I answered his question about what motivates Jesus to bless us, I could feel the Holy Ghost rush in and confirm every word. It left me emotional and almost unable to speak. "Do you know how much Jesus loves you, Jack? So much that he died so that you can have a chance. He is your Brother and He loves you so much He gave up His life for you.

Then my little Jack says "I get it. I would give my life for Abe if I had to, Mom. He's my brother and I love him."

I was speechless. I am not a perfect mother but that doesn't mean there are no paydays. My Jack could understand a bit of Christ's love for us through the love he feels for his earthly brother. I couldn't have taught it better if I tried.

"How do you feel right now while we are talking about this?"

"I feel warm and nice".

"Do you feel like getting in fights or doing bad things?"

"No I just want to do nice things and hug and stuff."

"That is the Holy Ghost, Jack. He is giving you peace so that you will know that these things we are talking about are true. I know Christ lives and he is the Savior of the World and I know by the power of the Holy Ghost who has blessed me with this feeling when I have asked. He is also answering your prayers too. "

"It feels the same as when we sing Christmas songs or go to the temple."

These are the moments that make the hustle of Christmas worthwhile. These are the moments I hope he will remember when his faith is tested. When the stakes are much higher than the existence of Santa. Santa worries him and his heart can't quite find peace with it. The concept of Christ gives his heart comfort and calms him. Its these small moments that I think will ultimately shape him. I'm seeing every day the advantages of the tell no lies, take no prisoners approach to Santa clause that my Uncle Mark took. I always worry that asking him to believe in a being that can deliver presents to a planet of children in one day is about like asking him to believe in a man who took upon himself all sin and pain that ever was or ever will be and then offers the reward to us. I see now that kids aren't dumb. Sure its a process, but the Holy Ghost is there to help us sort it all out. We can know the counterfeit from the real thing. The joy from the pleasure, the lust from the love, The glass from the diamonds, the mythical from the Messianic. I'm so glad I'm not in this alone.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

To spank or not to spank?

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that Jack wanted me to spank Ham's butt in response to being bitten. I am one of those people who let anyone on the planet comment on my blog without jumping through hoops and there have been a few times I have gotten odd responses from random people (probably machines). This one was from someone promoting a method of child discipline that is totally free of hitting of any kind and I'm sure they just periodically google search any family blog with the word spank on it and crank out a link to their anti-spanking literature. Which is actually fine with me. Any blogger lives for comments and I get very few so I'll take even hostile robotically generated ones.

Always a good sport, I took the time to read the anti-spanking literature. I'm not a big believer in spanking anyway. Even when I threaten to paddle a child's backside I am fully aware of the irony of punishing bad behavior with bad behavior. It made me give a lot of thought to the whole concept of the role of any kind of violence in problem solving or changing behavior and the more I thought about it I realized that I would probably feel a lot better about the overall quality of my mothering if hitting of any kind was totally eliminated as an option. The thing is, its the threat of being spanked that most of us rely on anyway so it wouldn't be a big jump for me to lay down the law and say Kramers Don't Hit Each Other Ever. Simple enough right?

So I sat down with Jack at what I thought was a reasonable moment and I said, " In the past Your dad and I have sometimes used spanking as a method to try and teach you to behave. Usually you get spanked because you have hurt someone or done something equally anti-social. I have realized that to try and get you to be less violent by using violence is wrong. So buddy, from now on there will be no more spanking from me. I will deal with misbehavior in a more appropriate way. "

So here I think I'm mother of the year for coming to this loving conclusion and then Jack freaks out. "Please don't stop spanking!"

Why in the world would a child want to keep the spanking going? I was perplexed.

In total exasperation he started going on and on about how now I'm probably going to make him spend hours in his room and give him long annoying lectures and he would much rather just get his butt whipped and be done with it!

I suggested that perhaps he commit to eliminate behaviors that merit any of those consequences and we will all live happily ever after.

"Common, mom. You know I'm going to attack Abe every now and then. Lets not make it take hours. Please just keep spanking me."

This kid blows my mind. I know for a fact that the real reason behind the argument is that his personality hates change of any kind and even positive policy updates create anxiety for him. He likes to know what can be expected, even if that involves corporal punishment. I told him that the good news is that I hadn't discussed it with Dad and I'm sure he will be more than happy to swat your backside every now and again if it makes you feel better. He was totally satisfied with that.

The reason there is no instruction manuals for raising children is that you would need a new manual for every child who ever existed. The curve balls keep it interesting and hilarious and oh-so-challenging.

Jack has a number of loose teeth these days but he has yet to lose one. I guess he is right on target since he is months from his seventh birthday, but it is somehow deeply sad for me to let those little baby teeth go. Like its totally out of my control. Also, I have invested so much effort into keeping those little teeth cavity free and then they just fall out and are gone forever. I guess if your kid was riddled with cavities it would be a great relief to get a do-over, but it just feels like a waste to me!

Speaking of growing up, Ham is not potty trained at all despite all of our valiant effort. Actually, not trained is not accurate terminology. He is very trained indeed. Just not to pee and poo on the toilet. In fact, he has taken to changing his own diaper. At first he was bringing us the clean diaper and giving us detailed verbal instructions on what he wanted done with it. We told him that a man who can command his own diaper change is surely capable of using a toilet. Then he began taking care of the changes himself. He removes the old diaper, throws it away, does some wiping, and then straps the new one on. Sometimes he even throws powder into the mix and there was one run in with Desitin that almost gave us a white Christmas. His obsession with independence will one day manifest itself with the proper use of the household plumbing facilities. Until then, I'm happy to buy diapers if he handles the rest.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas is upon us

How do I know this? There are a few reasons. First of all, the grenades flying around my living room resemble holiday cheer. I can't get everything done, everyone is sick or hurt, we have been attending parties and shows galore.

Last night was a particular treat. The Skyline Ranch First Grade put on an evening of singing and dancing and even a little dancing. Jack had this crazy muscle ache yesterday morning that was so severe he ended up in the ER. Once they got him hydrated and x-rayed and medicated he felt much better and so even though he hadn't attended school that day he was dying to go do his special part in the Christmas show. Actually, in the name of accuracy this was not a Christmas show. It was a Winter Festival or a Holiday Play or something like that. They would never dare say the word Christmas at the Christmas show. Can you imagine how offensive that would be? Almost as offensive as the flyer they sent home in every child's backpack from a local church which invited all the children and their families to attend a class where they would teach all about the Mormons and why we are not really Christians. Classy. The bad news is I have definitely gained a reputation for myself as a woman who should not be messed with. The good news is every child and their families will be invited to come visit the Temple and learn about Mormons straight from the source if they are so inclined. A perfect ending if you ask me.

Of course yesterday when we arrived for the Holiday show, Jack was informed that since he had been absent that schoolday, he would be prohibited from participating in the show. I make it a priority to not be a helicopter mom, solving all of my kid's problems and fighting all of their fights, but I had listened to Jack practice those songs all day long and I watched as his excitement grew all day long and by the time we were getting in the car he was telling us that maybe all he wants to do with his life is sing and dance for people. From one of the most bashful kids I have ever known, this was a nice surprise. Imagine my dismay when he comes trotting into the audience totally deflated. "They said I can't be in it."

I was all over that one. Every mom has to go into helicopter mode every now and then and lets just say I tend to resemble an Apache Longbow Attack Helicopter. Suffice it to say that Jack did perform his part which consisted of walking on stage, pretending to bite a cookie and then rubbing his tummy. Aside from an obvious and giant case of stage fright which almost took down "cookie boy #5" He pulled it off. During the entire rest of the show he seemed to never have even heard the songs and he would do every dance move inasmuch as he didn't have to remove his elbows from his sides. It was a subdued performance. Except for my personal favorite part, when he snuck a few boogers because he thought no one was looking. The crowded auditorium and plethora of cameras rolling was no deterrent. So I'm not applying for the Screen Actors Guild for him just yet. First we will work on the proper disposal of bodily mucosa.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The trials of learning English and politics

Ham has been expanding his vocabulary by leaps and bounds. Everyday is a slew of new words and we just delight in seeing how smart he is and how hard he is trying to express himself. You can see him practice words and sounds and teach his little lips to form the words he is thinking of. Here is a hilarious conversation we had last night at bed time: (don't call CPS on me. I swear he has never been exposed to incest, violence, or sexual crime of any sort.)

Ham: I want to rape you, please.
Me: No, I don't understand what you are trying to say, but its not that. What do you mean?
Ham: I want to rrrraaaape yoooou. (impatiently now)
Me: You want to read to me maybe?
Ham: No, mommy. I want to rape you.

I changed the topic. It was funny but disturbing.

But then a little bit later he saw all of the chihuahuas laying on me and it went like this:

Ham: Look! The dogs are raping you!
Me: Ham, you gotta stop saying that, Baby. What are you trying to say?
Ham: The dogs! They are raping you. I want them to rape on Ham.
Me: Sleep? The dogs are sleeping on me?
Ham: Yeah. They are raping on you. Uhh.. The dogs are reeeping on you.

I could see his mouth trying to say it like me. The best he could get out was reeeping. I was far more comfortable with my two year old using that word. By the next day he had the word sleep down pat and with any luck I will never hear the word rape out of that sweet little mouth again.

I can't lie and say there is no domestic violence around here. Every day there are punches thrown and injuries inflicted. This happens between Ham and Jack (or even more commonly, a Gartner child).

Yesterday Abe walked up and bit Jack on the back for no apparent reason. We gave him a stern "NO!" and recited the household biting policy "We don't bite people in this family."

Jack is at an age where he is very interested in fairness. He wants to see the same punishments handed out for the same crimes etc. and lets just say that when it comes to giving Abe consequences, he's a hangin' judge. "If I bit Abe, you would send me to my room forever and put vinegar in my mouth. You are not going to do anything to him!? Send him to his room and spank his butt!" He was indignant.

He made a good point and I am always inclined to listen and reward kids when they attempt to form rational arguments, rather than just throwing a tantrum. "Jack. Why do you want Abe to have a consequence? Is it because it will feel good to get revenge on your brother for biting?

The kid is not dumb and apparently he has been listening to my lectures when I discipline him because he said "No. because next time he wants to bite me he wont because he's afraid to get sent to his room for alone time."

"So do you see why we send you to your room? Do you see that we are trying to help you to be a good person?" There was no way I was letting this little lesson slip past.

"Okay. I see it. Give him his punishment!"

I hauled Ham upstairs to his room and told him he could come out when I felt like I could trust him around people. He cried and beat on the door but eventually figured out the point "Let Ham out! Ham sweet! Ham calm! Ham sowwy!"

I let him out and asked him if he knew why he was in there. He told me that it was because he bit Jack. I added that biting hurts and no one wants to be bit. yada yada yada.

So we went downstairs to have him apologize to Jack "Ham sowwy."

"And are you ever going to bite your brother again?"

And then in what I can only describe as an Eyore tone (depressed donkey from Winnie the Pooh) he says "No. Ham no bite. Ham just pinch." I could tell that he honestly thought that was the answer I was fishing for.

"No! We don't pinch in this family either! Oh whatever. I give up. go play outside and keep your hands and your mouths to yourselves."

Today we also had a funny conversation with Jack. John had offered to pay him a couple of dollars for some extra chores. He worked on them for maybe two minutes before coming to tell us that he quits but he still wanted to get paid. He argued that he had tried it and he didn't like it so he was still owed the pay. No deal, dude. We explained that he was welcome to do the work and get paid and he was welcome to not do the work and not get paid. Those were the only two options.

So he did what he does best. Threw a big tantrum. "You owe me! You have to give me money! You are my parents! Its your job to give me stuff!".

This bratty entitled attitude was the wrong way to go. "Get up off of the floor. We are not raising you like this. You're acting like a Democrat."

You have never seen a six year old so deeply offended by an offhand parental criticism. He has lived long enough to know that in this house, that is not a compliment. "I am not a Democrat! Mom called me a Democrat! Take it back! I'm not a Democrat!"

"Honey, of course you are not a Democrat. You are not old enough to affiliate with any political party and that will be your choice when you are an adult. I said you are acting like a Democrat. And you are. You are acting like a liberal Democrat. Get up and go work or quit and be quiet."

Lets just say that calling Jack the L-word was more offensive to him than the D-word. The tantrum continued. John and I were biting our lips trying not to burst out laughing at how right wing biased we have trained this child to be already. His horror at being called a liberal democrat is hilarious and heart-warming.

Then John made him sit down for a long talk with illustrations about the difference between a liberal and a conservative. It was very grasshopper-and-the-ant-ish. The conservative works hard and makes money and the liberal refuses to work and demands that he gets paid anyway, so the government takes money away from the hard working man and gives it to the lazy man. "Is that fair, Jack?" I was actually really impressed with John's kid appropriate presentation. Then we started lecturing about the fine line between plunder and taxes. "Just because its legal doesn't make it moral."
I recently read the Frederic Bastiat classic The Law so I was all ready to go on and on. two minutes into my political lecture he turned on his heel and declared as he walked out "I get it. I'm going to go work."

I told John to withhold a portion of Jack's pay against his will and give it to Abe because Abe didn't have a job. We won't take our object lesson that far this time but its tempting. Every day when I pray I just say "God, I know I will never be a perfect mother but please just help me to not totally screw these kids up." So far, so good I hope.

Kramer Boys

Kramer Boys