I Let Them Win

Jane had math homework tonight. The kind of math homework that requires parental involvement. I did not realize that there was such a thing, but now I know.

The homework was concerning x-y coordinates. There were four grids on the paper and places for “Player 1” and “Player 2” to record the coordinates for each of their moves. We were to play connect-4 on the grids, taking turns placing dots and writing down coordinates.

I told my husband that I’d take the first two and he could play the second two. She let me go first. I didn’t tell her that was a mistake. After my fifth turn, the game was over. She wrote “MOM” at the top to indicate that I had won.

For the second grid, she went first. It took a couple more moves, but I still won. When it became apparent to me that I would, I asked, “How am I winning when you got to go first?”

“I don’t know!”

Daddy sat down for grid three and she let him start. He won. The fourth grid took a little longer. She started and while I was in the other room, he called out, “I think she’s finally figuring it out!”

She managed to win that one. He explained to her that whoever goes first should always win.

I called from the other room, “Unless they are Jane?” We all laughed and then analyzed the progress of the games to see where she had played wrong. I suspect that was beyond the scope of the assignment, but probably a more useful education than the recording of grid coordinates.

She showed me the paper before she put it away. She had written “I let them win” at the top.

Shower Conversations

I love our new shower. We spent ten years sharing the one down the hall with the kids. Our bathroom still lacks a sink as the remodeling process stretches on, but I can now happily shower away from the kids. Usually.

Shortly after we installed it, Jane walks in to use the toilet. As she sits there, she watches me take a shower. “Isn’t it kind of weird to take a shower where everyone can see you?”

“Well, honey, most people don’t open closed doors to come into my bathroom so it’s usually not a problem.”

“Oh. Right.”

Sometimes I think a light must go on in the hallway whenever I turn on the water. That light signals to the children that now would be an excellent time to try to talk to me. I can count on Hal opening the door and whining about whatever is going on in the house that he objects to. Daryl has tried to bring me school papers to sign.

Just this morning, Jane pokes her head in. I hear, “Mommy, where is your {words lost in the drone of the water}”

“Jane, you will have to come in here if you want to talk to me. I can’t hear you. And close the door. You are letting in all the cold air.” (The heater is another item still missing in the remodel and I despise being cold.)

She walks right up beside the shower door. “Where is your leg blower?”

I stare back at her. “WHAT?!

“Where is your leg blower?”

I stop moving and ask again. “What?”

Getting frustrated, she moves her hand up and down her leg, almost as if she’s shaving, and repeats herself.

Replaying the words carefully, contemplating her pantomime, and studying her attire (she’s wearing black pants), I figure it out: “Where is your leg roller?”

She wants to know where the lint roller is. I give her some suggestions on where to look (my bathroom is still in disarray, remember?). She heads out and I resume my ablutions.

My husband soon walks in and I repeat the exchange to him. I comment that I don’t know why the kids try to talk to me in the shower. Then I start telling him about how the previous day had gone for me. While talking about a woman in my yoga-at-work class, I say, “We always park next to each other.”

“You park next to each other?” He sounds surprised.

“Yes, every day. It’s kind of funny.”

He begins to laugh.

Encouraged, I continue, “Whichever of us gets there first parks at the very end. The other one then parks…”

I trail off because he is laughing harder now. “You didn’t hear what I said, did you?” he asks.

“You asked if we park next to each other.”

“No, I asked if you FART next to each other and then you said, ‘Yes, every day. It’s kind of funny.'” He laughs some more. “I think maybe you shouldn’t have ANY conversations while in the shower.”

My Acorn!

“I’m do-o-o-o-o-o-ne!” The little voice called out from the bathroom.

“I’ll be right there, Hal.”

“I’m do-o-o-o-o-o-ne!”

I hurried into the bathroom in time to see Hal hopping off the toilet, waiting for me to help him wipe. Before I got to him, he began to whimper.

“What’s wrong, dear?”

“My acorn!” He pointed. “It’s in there.”

I looked where he was pointing. It took me a minute to realize that one of the little balls in the toilet was not actually waste product, but an acorn, partially wrapped by a wet piece of toilet paper.

“How did it end up in there?”

“It was there.” He pointed to the toilet seat. “And then it fell in there.”

“Well, of course it did. The seat slopes in. It’s gone now, honey.”

“NOO!!! I want my acorn!”

“Honey, look. It’s got toilet paper stuck to it. And it’s… it’s sitting in pee-pee. Let’s just let it flush down the toilet.” It is ok to flush the acorn, right? I don’t have to fish it out. The drain is big enough and the septic can handle it… surely it can…

“No! I don’t want to flush it. I want my acorn!”

“Well, ok, but you are going to have to pick it up. I’m not going to.” With that, I used the piece of toilet paper still in my hand to push the acorn away from the paper it was touching. “There you go, pick it up.”

His little hand hesitated. I had caused a swirl in the water. While the acorn was free, it was floating around the bowl and rapidly approaching the paper again.

“You better hurry if you want it.”

After another false start, he finally darted in and grabbed it. Then I lifted him onto the step stool, and turned on the water. “Now you need to wash your hands. And the acorn.”

“My little acorn…” he crooned affectionately.

I fear I’m doomed to encounter this acorn again. Probably on the floor. While barefoot. In the dark. I will yell and curse and pick it up. Then I’ll throw it outside. It won’t be missed. He will have forgotten about it by morning. But tonight. Tonight, it was important to save. Bedtime sanity depended on it.

Why Won’t You Marry Me?

Jane has a boyfriend. Well, she has a boyfriend in the sixth grade sense of the word, which is to say that the other kids at school call him her boyfriend and she accepts it. Even though they don’t go on dates. Or hold hands. Or hang out together at lunch. Or do much of anything except say hi in the halls.

They did go to the high school homecoming football game together. His mom even made her a “mum” to wear. I took pictures of the nervous couple and then off they went with his mom.

Mat has liked Jane for a very long time. It all began ten years ago in the 18 month old class at the preschool. He started off calling her his girlfriend. It didn’t seem to have much of an effect on her. She was still almost as likely to bite him as she was her best friend.

As they got older, he began to insist that she was going to marry him. Sometimes, he outright called her his wife. For the most part, she tolerated the attention with good grace. They attended each other’s birthday parties and enjoyed each other’s company.

By the time they were turning five and in their last year at the preschool, she began to chafe a bit. One day, Mat became exasperated.

“Why, Jane? WHY won’t you say that you’ll marry me?”

“I’m not going to marry you, Mat.”

“Yes you are! I’ve already decided!”

“No! You don’t get to decide.” At this point she thrust her arm straight up into the air with her index finger pointing to the sky. “GOD decides!”

The next year, they headed to separate elementary schools, still inviting each other to their birthday parties. One year, Jane was the only girl invited to dinner and swimming. The boys were spending the night at a hotel. When it was time for us to pick up Jane, she begged us to let her stay.

Eventually, the distance seemed to make a difference. We heard rumors that Mat had a girlfriend and it wasn’t Jane. Jane was fine with that. She saw him once a week in TAG (talented and gifted). She became upset if we teased her about him being her “boyfriend”. She insisted she wasn’t interested.

Apparently, he still had a soft spot for her though. Once he claimed to a mutual friend, “Jane still likes me.”

The boy responded, “No, no, I don’t think so.”

“Yeah, she still likes me. I know she does.”

“No, she pretty much hates you,” he insisted. And that was my assessment of the relationship too. Not that she hated him, but that she didn’t like him. At least, not that way.

Needless to say, I was caught off guard when she climbed in the car one day after school and said, “Mat asked me to go to homecoming with him.”

“Oh, really? What did you say?”

“I said no, of course! That’s like four years away!”

“I’m pretty sure he was referring to this year’s football game, honey.”

“Oh. Well I still don’t want to go. He didn’t actually ask me. He asked Bella to ask me and when she told me, I said no and then he called out, ‘Don’t listen to her, Jane! She’s lying!'”

“Well, just tell him that your parents said you are too young to date.”

The next morning, she approached me saying that she still kind of liked Mat and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I told her she didn’t have to go out with a boy just to avoid hurting his feelings. “Just be nice.”

A few days later, I received this off-hand remark: “Oh, by the way Mom, I told Mat that I wanted to go with him so you need to call his mom and work it out.”

“What happened to ‘my parents said I can’t date’?” She shrugged and hurried away.

A day or two after that: “I changed my mind. I don’t want to go.”

“Well, you need to tell Mat since you already said yes.”

“I don’t think he really heard me anyway.”

I was beginning to get whiplash. A couple of days later, a message arrived from his mom. My phone displayed the first part: So Mat sorta kinda asked Jane to homecoming.

I showed her the message and raised my eyebrows. “Looks like he did hear you.”

“Oh, yeah. I forgot. I decided I do want to go, so you need to talk to his mom.”

We had several conversations after that about expectations and proper behavior, what she should and shouldn’t do. We gave her a cell phone for the night and talked about what to do if she was at all uncomfortable at any point. I even stopped by the football game to see how she was doing.

It was a lot of worrying over nothing. They were just hanging out. Sometimes together. Sometimes apart, each with their own friends. At the end of the night, his sister encouraged him to give Jane a hug. He declined. It’s a sixth grade “romance”.

Who knows whether it will grow into something more. Probably not. But I’ll always find it kind of sweet that her first “date”, no matter how innocent, was with a young man that first fell in love with her before either was potty trained.

I Voted!

As I said in an earlier post, Jane voted for Obama in the second grade Presidential Election of 2008. She was part of a small minority, which is not surprising considering we make our home in a rural part of Texas.

It had not entered my mind that Daryl, currently in third grade, would be doing the same thing this year. Unlike Jane, he had not come home talking about it prior to Election Day. I was quite surprised when I saw the results posted by his teacher on Facebook:

Romney: 35
Obama: 34

The race was much closer than I would have expected. I idly wondered who the other 33 children were who had chosen Obama and then I went about my day. I did not see my son until much later in the evening. As he climbed into the car, he announced, “I voted today!”

“I saw that!” I responded. “It was very close. 35 to 34.”

“I know! I voted for Romney.”

Jane exploded in the front seat. “WHAT?! WHY?! Do you realize that if you had voted for Obama, he would have won? ”

“But I didn’t want him to win. I wanted Romney to win.”

I quickly quelled the vitriol coming from the seat next to me and calmly asked Daryl, “Why did you want Romney to win?”

“I don’t know. He’s a Republican. See, his name starts with an R and Republican starts with an R. That’s how I remember it because they both start with ‘R’.”

This reminded me of my first grade Presidential voting experience. I can clearly recall standing in line in the hallway and looking at the names on the board in front of me:


I didn’t know anything about either one of them. I analyzed the information I had to make the best decision I could: What kind of a name is R-E-A-G-A-N? I don’t even know how you pronounce that. Who has a name like that? I don’t trust that name. Carter is a normal name. I think I’ll vote for that one.

The memory made me smile and I wondered whether there was any further reason beyond the R mnemonic for my son’s vote. “What is it you like about Romney being a Republican?”

“I don’t know. Aren’t we all Republicans around here?”

Suddenly, I understood both of my children clearly. Jane wants us to be proud of her. More than that, she wants to be like us. When she looks for a model of how she should be, she looks to her parents. She listens to our conversations and is mimicking us as she tries on “being a grown-up”.

Daryl, on the other hand, is patterning his world view on the community around him. At least in this matter, he’s picking up his cues, not from us, but from all the people he encounters day to day. The continuation of the discussion on his voting choice confirmed this.

Both are reasonable approaches for young children. You first have to pattern your behavior on someone else. I sincerely hope they each someday move beyond that stage. I want them to learn to analyze the world around them well enough to make their choices based on what they think is right, not what anyone else, their parents included, think. Not everyone makes that final stretch to intellectual independence.