Saturday, October 26, 2013

Know When To Hold Babies, Know When To Fold Laundry

Did you know that Husband and I met while playing poker?  Did you know that from 1999-2007, I played poker an average of once a week?  Do you know anyone else with this shirt?
Becoming a mom has drastically reduced my poker playing time.  Big surprise, right?  Despite the fact that I would usually rather sleep than have pocket Aces, I'm still a player.  I just happen to use my poker skills on my children, these days, rather than on those across the felt.

Poker Face- (Don't sing the song in your head.  You know you'll regret it.)  It takes talent and skill to keep your face, tone of voice, and body language neutral when in an intense or exciting situation.  Similarly, not letting a smile escape when Baby is in timeout, grinning and giggling and nodding repentantly as she is sternly told, "Hitting hurts!" for the 23rd time in an hour, is a learned and honed skill.

Patience- The better the poker play, the longer the game.  There's no "quick pick" option in tournament poker, like when playing the lottery.  Not to blow my own horn or whatever, but I've kinda got the patience of a saint.  I can deal for a long time with 6 y.o.'s deliberate attempts to be annoying.  Hours.  Days!  I stand in front of the pantry cupboard for a total of ~2 hours, 8 minutes each week while Baby decides what she wants for a snack.
"You'd like a cracker?"
"No no no."
"No no no."
"Sesame sticks?"
"Ok. Let's put some in a bowl."
"No no no no no!  Crackah!"
"Cashews?  Craisins?  Graham cracker?"
"Wahhhh hah hah hah!  Crack ahhhhh!"
"Ok.  Here's your cracker."
It takes gobs of patience to listen to 6 y.o. read, even now that he's gotten quick at it.  Usually, he peppers every other sentence with a bout of whining, unless he's in an agreeable mood and things are moving along well, at which time Baby makes it her mission to test her lung capacity for screaming and her climbing-on-people's-heads ability.  Both of them were colicky as infants, and my patience kept me calm during hours of non-stop, inconsolable crying for those months which seemed like decades.  I've waited out countless tantrums, kept my cool even when repeating the same instructions over and over again, and I've even managed not to lose patience with drivers ahead of me on the road going 10 mph under the speed limit while a freshly-potty-trained little boy is in the back seat telling me he needs to go.  See, I realized long ago that my ability to wait for the right time to make a big move (or not) during a card game could serve me well in so many other aspects of life.  

Reading Tells- If you watch the pros play poker (don't click on this link if you don't want the November 9 revealed) in the World Series of Poker, you'll quickly see that their ability to read their opponents' tells is almost magical. I'm not that good a poker player, but I do know how to read my opponents, and my kids.  I can tell what they are thinking and can predict their next moves like I'm inside their heads.  
I like to hold 'em.
I know the look 6 y.o. gets in his eye when he's about to start talking nonsense or make gross noises come from various parts of his body.  I know just by looking at Baby when it is too much for me to ask her to put down her filthy, germy, most loved stuffed friend, Bun Bun.  I can tell when one of them is about to test the limits and run into the road, and I am rarely surprised by their behavior out in public.  I know what to expect, because I know their tells.

Calling a Bluff- Perhaps most important of all the poker skills is to know when your opponent is bluffing and you can safely push all in or make a big bet and get them out of the hand.  As a mom, it can be hard to tell the difference between, "My tummy hurts" and "My tummy hurts" and to figure out when your child is bluffing to get out of eating and when you need to scoop him up and run into the bathroom.  So far, I've been able to make the right call whenever my son has tried to bluff* me.

On Tilt- Going "on tilt" during a poker game is a pretty quick way to lose a lot of chips.  Basically, it happens when you lose a big hand or make one bad decision and immediately try to make up for the lost money by playing more aggressively or without thinking as clearly; playing emotionally rather than with your head.  Your all-in opponent sucks out and beats you on the river, for example, by getting the one out that they needed.  Or you simply call a bet when you should've raised and allow yourself to end up losing a hand that you could have won.  I've learned that parenting is not its most successful when played done on tilt.  Despite all the patience, all the good reads, all the knowledge about child-rearing and decision making, sometimes there are bad days.  If you let that frustration get to you, or you start to question yourself as a parent because of one mistake, or you focus on the negative instead of on the big picture positive, you'll soon find it difficult to make good decisions or to keep your smile.

They say that Texas Hold 'Em is a game that takes just minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.  I believe that almost the same thing can be said of parenting- almost anyone can become a parent, but then it takes the rest of your life to master the "game."

"When in Vegas, I play __________"

Lady Gaga or Kenny Rogers?  Whose song is in your head after reading this?

*Husband and I don't take lying lightly, and we don't call it 'bluffing' around the house.  I promise.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I've Got Something To Say

October, as everyone in the free world knows, is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  My mom is a breast cancer survivor, and I am grateful every single day for the treatment she received, for the diagnostic technology which allowed for fairly early discovery, and for the pharmaceuticals which have helped to keep her cancer-free for nearly 8 years.  I don't think it's possible to receive a diagnosis as frightening as cancer and not have your life changed.  I know that my entire family thinks differently about breast cancer, now, and will never again look at a pink ribbon without feeling so blessed that my mom beat the disease which takes so many.  

But that's not what I wanted to say.

I love football.  Specifically, American, NFL football (not that silly old kind you play with your actual foot on the ball).  Each year, for the past several, the NFL has "gone pink" all through October for breast cancer awareness.  I have several problems with this.

  1. When will we stop paying so much money for pink merchandise, that we could be spending on donations that can help people?  In case you don't watch NFL games, let me share. 53 players on each team.  Dozens of coaches.  Cheerleaders.  Owners.  Refs.  Guys on the sidelines throwing beads and noisemakers into the stands.  All of those people have different, pink accented outfits to wear in October.  Pink socks. Pink cleats.  Pink paint on the field.  Pink gloves.  Pink pom-poms.  Pink pocket squares.  Supposedly, the pink gear is auctioned off at the end of the campaign, with the proceeds donated to the American Cancer Society, but according to this article that had me nodding in agreement all the way through, the NFL declines to say what percentage of those funds are actually donated.  Plus, even if 100% of the profits are donated, it still cost money to produce those items.  LOTS of money- and that money could be used for such better purposes!
  2. Is awareness really what we need?  I think we're all aware of breast cancer, the risk factors, and the ways to diagnose (monthly self-exam, mammograms as recommended by your doctor).  Who doesn't know that?  Is it the average NFL fan?  No.  If I had my druthers, the funds raised by the many campaigns would go toward: a.) Mammograms and treatment for women without health insurance or who couldn't otherwise afford them and b.) Prevention research.   There are plenty of other problems that we need to be aware of.  Sex trafficking.  GMOs.  The Buccaneer's inability to win games, even when they're handed the W on a silver platter.
    I'm not sure that I'm ready to talk about this image, yet, but you can ask if you need an explanation. I'll do my best to overcome my anger and frustration.
  3. Men can get breast cancer, too.  It's rare, and it's easier for men to detect a problem because men typically have less breast tissue than women.  See the statistics, risk factors, and treatment options here.  But, breast cancer awareness campaigns, like the NFL's, and many others, make it seem like it's just a girl thing.  I <3 boobies!  Put on your pink bra!  Save the tatas!  The fact is, breast cancer is much less discriminatory than the NFL.  There, I said it.
Here's my advice, NFL:  How 'bout you DON'T use a widespread disease that kills thousands of women each year to boost your ratings with a demographic that you want on your side. DON'T profit off of the fear and suffering of so many people.  How 'bout, instead, you raise awareness about the diseases that kill men, since they're actually listening to you from September-Superbowl Sunday.  Or, don't buy thousands of pink towels for sweaty guys to hang over their rear ends, and instead, spend more money on treating the health issues that so many of your former players face.  If nothing else, could you at least make it believable that this campaign of yours is doing some good?  Please?

If you could choose, what disease/problem would everyone be made aware of?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Intelligence "Quonundrum"


No, I take that back.  It isn't fair to you.  My exasperation has nothing to do with you.  It's just, I've been writing a post about 6 y.o. for weeks, and I can't seem to say what I want to say.  I've written lots of words, of course, but I can't seem to get my point across.  So, let me try again, this time using the K.I.S.S.(keep it simple, stupid) method that so many of my college professors were fond of pretending they invented.

Be still, my heart <3
A recent letter, conference with the principal, classroom change, conference with the new teacher, and lots of research have combined to bring up a lot of questions in my mind about intelligence, achievement, being gifted, and parenting.

Pride = Prejudice? I worry that showing too much pride in my children will lead to prejudice from their peers and teachers.  If I tell anyone who will listen about all the words Baby can say or about all the ways 6 y.o. impresses me with his knowledge, do those listening immediately feel defensive?  Like most parents I actually know (not those tv parents), I don't compare my kids to others.  However, I always think that they think I'm bragging, like, "Lookit what my kid does!  Does yours do that?  No?  HA!  I win!"  If that were the attitude behind my words, I think some prejudice would be justified.  It was this fear, of eye-rolling behind our backs and alienation of our son, that kept Husband and me quiet(ish) last year, when he was in Kindergarten.  I think we both felt that it was more important to go with the flow, to let the teacher lead, than to make a fuss about how bored he was, and how little he seemed to be learning in school.

Gifted?  I'm growing increasingly annoyed by the label 'gifted.'  Everyone is gifted.  Some are emotionally gifted, some are athletically gifted, some are artistically gifted, some are gifted at making friends, some are gastronomically gifted, and can eat anything.  The belief, which can be confirmed with an IQ test, that 6 y.o. has greater intelligence than some, does not change who he is, how he has been raised, or what he can eventually achieve.  We've taught our son that name-calling is wrong and can be hurtful.  Similarly, I feel that labels, even those intended to be positive, can be harmful in the long term.
Red oval marks the spot of my educated guess of his IQ.
When a new teacher meets him, I don't want them thinking, "Oh, here's the gifted 6 y.o."  I want them to think, "Here's a unique 6 y.o."  Is it so much to wish for his teachers to get to know him and to recognize and adapt their teaching to the ways he is "gifted?"  His current school doesn't have a gifted program.  Testing is done after 1st grade, so if he qualifies and we decide to enroll him in the gifted program next year, he would have to leave his friends and all that is familiar to go to a new school.  Is that fair?  Conversely, is it fair to make him sit in a classroom where he is repeatedly "taught" things that he already knows, just because he's sitting with people he knows?

Parenting 101: Husband and I both love reading.  We read to both of our kids, and have since before they were even born.  We talk to them.  We answer even the really hard questions that 6 y.o. poses to us.  They're smart kids, and we have always parented under the assumption that smart was a good thing.  We bought puzzles instead of video games (until quite recently), we play games instead of watching television (at least some times!).  When our son started preschool at age 3, we were thrilled that he already knew his colors and letters and how to count, which were the requirements for the end of the year.  Each year since, we've been less and less thrilled with what our child knows in relation to the standard expectations and in relation to his peers.  I feel ridiculous, even admitting that.  We should only be proud!  He knows the things he has been taught, so why do we now feel even the slightest twinge of regret at having taught him?  It's because we don't want him to be an outcast.  We don't want him to hide his intelligence in favor of seeming "normal."

Butterfly on his knee, on release to the wild day.  Oh, and those are Clone Wars Captain's bars (homemade, of course) on his shoulders.
I've started to worry that preparing Baby for school, teaching her colors and letters and numbers, is not as good a technique as is keeping her on the same level as other kids her age.  Should she have been watching inane television shows a long time ago?  Which is more important, early in life?  A sense of belonging, or academic achievement?  6 y.o. isn't lacking friends, and I do think he feels like he fits in with his peers.  But how long can that last, I wonder.  How long before he withdraws into his own head because his thoughts are more interesting than the chatter of the kids around him?

My fears ---> his fears? When I was in 8th grade, our class had a spelling bee.  I lost on purpose.  My teacher knew I had thrown the game, and made me compete against the rest of the school.  I won.  I went on to a larger competition (districts, maybe?) and came in 2nd, meaning I was one of 2 people who moved on.  The next step was a regional bee, wherein I came in 8th place.  I went out on the word 'tirade,' by the bye.  I refused to study the list of words I was given to prepare for the district and regional competitions.  I didn't want to win.  The point of that story is this: will my fear of achievement transfer to my children?  Would all of these academic worries and talk of gifted-ness be irrelevant if not for my own concerns about feeling braggy and making sure my kids are comfortable with who they are?

The truth of the matter is that Husband and I think we have the best son on the planet.  He's brave.  He's funny.  He's adventurous and oh-so-handsome.  He's smart.  He has traits that make me think he's going to out-think me by the time he has out-grown me.  His memory is remarkable, his problem solving skills are very advanced, he's artistic and thoughtful, introspective and curious.  He loves being challenged, and he loves puzzles.  He reads, and comprehends, as if he's been doing it for years (plural) rather than year (singular).  He's also short-tempered, complains of a headache when the coffee table is turned backward, and would rather not participate than not be first.  The truth is that YOU also have the best kid on the planet.  The best one for you and the best one for us are different, but by design, I believe.

Does any parent know the best way to parent?  No.  We need to teach when we can, take what comes, solve the problems we are able to, and make sure our kids know that they are the best on the planet.

Have you ever thrown a game in favor of your opponents?