Saturday, October 31, 2009

A House of Pets

I let a rodent into my house. In fact, I spent a decent chunk o’ change to create the right habitat to welcome this rodent. It’s a Russian Dwarf Hamster and its name is Nutmeg, which would sound like something I should like but which, in fact, is still a rodent and still makes me want to visit the trap department at Ace. I caved because the 7 year old spent a year feeding and watering the dog to prove that she’s responsible. And she is, by comparison. Just today, she cleaned the cage, replaced the bedding and washed off the hamster poop that has accumulated over the last week, all without a single word from me. Of course, she washed the poop off by using my kitchen sponge, the one I use to wash dishes. Is it luck or the love of the Kitchen Gods that told me to walk into her room at just the right moment? I’m doing some anti-nausea breathing even as we speak so I don’t throw up. Just think of it: “Mom, what’s the tiny black thing on my toast?” Oh, why that would be a bit of hamster poop. Eat it and call yourself lucky, child.
The perky, eerily rodent-like worker at PetSmart said to us, "Oh, you must love pets!" To which I replied by making a vaguely threatening gesture and muttering under my breath, "Gotta raise kids, gotta compromise, better than a snake."
For my part, I’ve never wanted a hamster or a mouse or a rat or a guinea pig or any other kind of animal that normally requires a homeowner to set bait. Wait, scratch that. I never wanted a rabbit, but I was never opposed to the idea of them as pets, either. Maybe that’s because, knock on wood, so far I haven’t had one in my garden.
On the other hand, I have had my children in my garden. They eat a lot of the stuff I produce and they don’t offer that much help. I let them stay in my house and they make a mess and spread disease and germs. So, maybe I’m not so far removed from loving rodents after all.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Worth More Than Two Cents

I just got an email from some company offering me $500 for my opinion. If only my family valued my words of wisdom as much as Scam Emailers. As my Grandma says, now that I’ve figured out all the answers, no one asks the questions.
My oldest daughter got a “think sheet” at school recently. This is the current warm fuzzy trend for modifying behavior in children. The idea is that the child writes down on a form what she did wrong, what the consequences were, and how she can correct her behavior in the future. Under the consequences section, she wrote that her parents would yell at her. We did not. I asked for her side of the story, listened in my best Montessori way, asked questions and repeated back to her what I heard her say, and signed the paper. Her side: the aide had said, in a sarcastic tone, “I’m waiting for you to be quiet,” to which my pre-teen replied, “We’re waiting for you,” and rolled her eyes. Okay, rude and completely unacceptable. I told her that. I supported the aide, did not say what I thought, and let my daughter know that if she rolled her eyes at authority figures, even if she thought she stood in the Corner of Virtue and Right, she would get in serious trouble at home.
Some background: the aide is not the best example of a thoughtful adult. She asks the children why they act like idiots. Now, in political speech, that isn’t the same as calling them idiots. But in the real world, with real, intelligent children who know what you mean even when you don’t say it, what they understand is that you think they’re idiots. Great way to instill confidence and raise thinking adults, right? (Wonder where my daughter gets the sarcasm.)
Here’s what I kept to myself while listening to my daughter: where are the think sheets for the adults? We expect behavior from children that we do not require from the staff. My daughter had a teacher one year who replied with sarcasm and caustic words to honest questions. But the one time my daughter repeated back to her the tone she’d just heard from the teacher, she got a think sheet. And this time, responding to an aide who clearly did not respect the children, she gets a think sheet for not respecting the aide. We tell these kids to use their words, to mediate conflict, to work out their differences, and then we refuse to let them try out those skills with us. And I include myself in that because I can see those same power-mongering maneuvers in my own actions.
Now, if my daughter had used violence, or refused to comply with a reasonable request, or acted in some way that would cause danger to herself or others, then I wouldn’t care what the aide had said because my daughter’s actions would have moved her beyond the range of words. But, to try to defend herself and her peers, albeit erroneously, by using her words, well, it’s wrong to punish her. Because no matter what they call it, the “think sheet” sets the adult up as the one with power, demands retribution and embarrasses the child in front of her peer group. Which is definitely justified at times. But for what my daughter did, I believe the most effective behavior modification would have been to pull her aside, apologize for the aide’s own sarcastic tone, and ask the student to speak respectfully in the future. Or, another approach would have been the “close your eyes and pretend not to see” method of dealing with pre-pubescent girls. I often pretend my children don’t exist and it seems to work pretty well.