Posted in Milestone Moments, Tweens

The Initiation of 5th Grade

Modersohn, vispix.com

My son is not having an easy time of it this fall. I don’t know about your school, but at ours, 5th grade is the threshold of something completely different than what’s come before.

Suddenly, there are tests and grades and lectures.  Suddenly, there is no knitting or singing or circle time.  And suddenly they are presented with an uniquely, singular teacher: DAVID.

The kids are afraid of David.

The kids LOVE David!

The parents, on the other hand, aren’t so sure. We have suddenly become irrelevant. This shift both terrifies and fascinates us, as if we’re moving through a set of revolving doors for the first time. At one moment our 5th grader is in tears, and at another he is surly and rude.  First he begs us to help him, then pushes us firmly away.  He is revolving too. We all have bruises on our heads.

DAVID has the job of overseeing this passage through the TWEENS–for both students–and parents. We’d like to blame him for everything.

David is jocular and crude.  David is demanding and demeaning.  David is dismissive and didactic. If David were somehow different, our kids wouldn’t be changing.

David is a good distraction.

In David’s room, the innocence of childhood is trampled, and not only because of Ren and Stimpy.  Our kids discard their childhoods because they’re ready; because David shows them how; because they rely on him to do so; and in return, he earns their undying affection. (Highschoolers even return to hug David.)

The is my third round in David’s room, which makes the climb less of a surprise, but unfortunately doesn’t make it any easier.  The first time, I was a teacher myself, pregnant for with my first child. My son Lloyd had his own steep entry into 5th grade; but his and David’s minds were well aligned, which isn’t as true for the youngest of our family.

Aidan marches to the beat of a different drummer. He’s the poster child in fact.  Despite the aggravation, we appreciate the heart and exuberance he lends to our family.  We’re not sure how he’s appreciated in David’s room.  Recently he was told (by most of the class) that a paper cut would hurt more than his punch.

This past weekend, he burnt through another layer of innocence while wrestling with the chore of stocking the porch with wood.  When the overloaded wheel barrel dumped logs onto his boot, he sat down on the stairs and balled (less out of pain than frustration.)

Why does this ALWAYS happen to me!” he sobbed at the sky. “Why, why, why?” he repeated again and again as he returned to the shed for the next load.

Aidan had begged and waited and cajoled for help with this chore, and I wanted to be with him; but I could clearly see that my help would suspend him in “helplessness.”  Thus my own initiation, as a parent of a ten-year old, was to walk away and let him wallow in self-pity until he seared through his own resistance and emerged a more capable “man.”

Yes, he is only ten.  Yes, I wanted to take him on my lap and rock him.  And yes, he would have let me. But that’s not truly what he wants, and my job is to help him get that.

(I wish there was a David for me.)

Kelly Salasin, November 2010

 

(Note: a month later, we made the decision to have our son return to 4th grade.)

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Posted in Mid-Life Mama

Hormonal Coup

Yesterday, I was concerned to find myself spun around by spending the afternoon with my tween.  Sure, his injury meant that I had to interrupt my work on two consecutive days–plus loose some sleep–But why couldn’t I relax into our time together?

Van Gogh, from Drawings (visipix.com)

Are we that mismatched?

Is he that difficult?

Have I enabled such a challenging personality?

Or is it me?

With grown children, am I so accustomed to days spent alone, that an afternoon at the doctor’s office–and a “date” at the bakery–is too much parental contact?

This morning it all becomes clear.   As I face the messes in the kitchen and shout to my son to chase after the bus, I realize that I am completely–and inexplicably–unglued.

And then it hits me:

Someone has taken over my flight. It was a covert operation yesterday, but this morning–it is a total coup.

My plane is banking left and heading sharply toward the ground.

Arabic (visipix.com)

Hormones!

This explains everything. I’m about to get my period–and I’m 46–a potentially “lethal” combination.

Where is that Red Tent when I need it?

When the school calls to tell me that my son did make the bus–but adds that I’ll have to come in to administer the antibiotics he needs— I want to cry.

Instead I pull down the oxygen mask and prepare for a rough landing.

I’m back in the pilot’s seat–and that makes all the difference.

Kelly Salasin

(To read other pieces on parenting at mid-life, click here.)

Posted in Fragile Life, Holidays, Insight, Milestone Moments, Teens

Is Santa Real?

When I look back on my childhood, I see that my unfolding understanding of Santa was seamless.  At first–a person, and later– a spirit, “Santa” always embodied the magic of abundance and possibility and good will.

I have to give credit to my mother.  She simply would not entertain any conversation around the “realness” of Santa.  It was a given that one “believed” if one wanted presents under the tree.  Born on Christmas Day, she was the one to hold the flame of faith and pass it down through her eight children.

When I was 17, I was given the honor of becoming Santa’s helper. My high school sweetheart and I were up till 2 Christmas Eve putting together my little sister’s Barbie Dream House–with four floors and an elevator.

At 18, I asked for my father’s credit card and spent a day at the mall playing “Santa” for my mother so that the tree would bless her with abundance too.

As a young adult, the Christmas season delighted me still–though the “magic” sometimes waited till after the big day to reveal itself–usually in the quiet evenings as I lie on the couch steeping in the glow of the evergreen.

As a new parent, I could hardly fall to sleep on Christmas Eve, and it was I who was up before dawn, waiting for my sons to head down to the tree.

My oldest is now 14 and he’s never asked me if Santa was real.  I guess that’s because he sees the spirit alive in me.

However, on par with the course of adolescent development, he resists the timeless rituals that have been a part of our holiday season, particularly the nightly reading of our December Treasury book.

But hearing him read the words,”Quaint arabesques in argent, flat and cold,” recited from December 4th’s poem, Frost Work, reveals the deep meaning the traditions hold in him.

In an revelatory moment, his younger brother turns to him on the couch and asks,

Do you believe in Santa?

There is a collective breath-holding before he responds in typical teen fashion,

Sure.

“Sure means ‘No,” my 9 year old proclaims, testing his brother’s metal.

All eyes turn to my oldest to see how he’ll navigate this sudden test of faith.  t first he falters with a luke-warm response and a half-hearted laugh,

Well, kind of…

And I gasp. I want to alert him to the fragile significance of this moment, but just in case, I resort to this:

You remember what happened to Alonzo’s big brother in the Little House in the Prairie, don’t you:  He told his little brother that there wasn’t a Santa–and he didn’t get ANY presents that year because he didn’t believe.

My teen turns from me to his younger brother and back again, measuring his independence from belonging; Then shakes his head and says in earnest,

Of course, I believe.

There is a collective exhale as we turn back to the night’s Christmas reading with greater meaning.

I never feel the necessity of telling my children “the truth” about whether or not Santa is “real.”  For me Santa transcends the stories that surround him throughout time and culture.

As my children grow older, I begin, like my mother did, to talk about the enduring qualities of Christmas.

And when all else fails, I turn to the classic, Yes, Virginia There is  a Santa Claus whose text I can not read without tears~

Virginia, your little friends are wrong.  They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.  They do not believe except what they see…

YES, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give your life its highest beauty…

The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see…You tear apart a baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest men, nor the strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.

Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view… the supernal beauty and glory beyond.

Is it all real?  Ah…in this world there is nothing else real and abiding…

NO SANTA CLAUS!  Thank God he lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now…nay ten times ten thousand years… he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

…And the heart of grownups like us who still believe!

(2009)

Posted in Insight, Teens

Existential Mothering

If a mother gets her hair cut & colored, and no one notices, does she exist?

Kelly Salasin

Yesterday I arrived home with my annual birthday cut & color and no one said a word.  Over dinner, I complained that I didn’t exist.

I noticed,” said my youngest son, “I just thought…” and he made a disgusting face.  His idea of a mother is a stationary object that remains the same.

I like it.  I noticed it right away,” said my husband. “I just didn’t think it was a good time to say anything.

I had berated him when he arrived home from work– an hour late– without our youngest who he had forgotten to pick up from school.

I can’t tell the difference,” my oldest said, and then quickly modified his response when I dramatically explained that my hair had been shoulder length that morning and was now close to my chin!

Well, you just look really good tonight,” he said, “but until you told me, I didn’t know what it was.”

He then added that if I wanted him to “notice” my hair, that I should go to a chop shop, like Super Cuts, where there would be no mistake that my “look” had been altered.

I left the dinner table to  marvel at my new haircut in the bathroom mirror– by myself.

Posted in Takes a Village

The Poetic Soul of the Tween

dedicated to Ann Gengarelly, Poetry Teacher Extraordinaire

Having two children, five years apart, enables me to witness the wheel of time in motion.  From my 7 year old’s absolute exuberance for life with, “Hey Mom, there’s MY POETRY teacher!” to my 12 year old’s developmentally aligned after-school moans when poetry day comes around again, “I haaaate poetry!”

But this Saturday I find my pre-teen running to the office for scrap paper to write down a haiku that has popped into his mind-

bottom of the ninth
a high fly ball to left field
the players walk off

Feeling uncertain about whether he’s gotten the syllables right, he digs up the book he received for Christmas entitled, “Baseball Haiku,” only to discover that the authors have used all different forms. Frustrated by this freedoom of expression, he turns to “The Mother Dictionary” (so proclaimed by his sixth grade teacher) and settles for its authoritative definition before scribbling another:

a high fly to left
left fielder shields his eyes
the ball disappears

This sudden poetic urge has interrupted his preparations for a friend’s birthday party so my husband suggests “poetry” as a gift.  Skepticism moves in like clouds across my son’s face and then is transformed into lighted purpose as he dashes off for more paper.

Harry Potter haiku is born along with other reflections of shared moments between friends like, “Walking into walls.”  He laughs at this syllabic inside joke, pleased that we don’t understand its meaning.

This is all hush, hush, of course.  If he knew that I was celebrating his poetic spirit, he would immediately extinguish it.  And yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t (covertly) let his poetry teacher know that her work lives on– even in dubious, scoffing pre-adolescent minds.


Kelly Salasin, 2008

To read more about the extraordinary work of Poetry Teacher, Ann Gengarelly, click here.