Only Children as Parents

Expressing my independence at age 2. Even the ducks are impressed.

Expressing my independence at age 2. Even the ducks are impressed.

When I typed “only children as parents” into Google, I found very little that discussed only children and their children.  Here’s what I found instead (among other things):

“9 Reasons Why Dating An Only Child is Difficult.”  (Ha, only 9?  My husband would love to add to that list!)

“What Being an Only Child Says About You.”  (with a title like that it can’t be good…)

Various sites regarding support groups for the parents of only children.

and finally (I almost peed a little when I saw it.):

“Only Child Adult Blog:  Are You an Only-Child and a Parent?” which I immediately clicked on, only to find the most recent of a handful of comments was in 2010.  

I guess we only-children parents aren’t as interesting as I had hoped (insert obvious joke about self-centeredness here).  But on the bright side, I guess we aren’t screwed up enough (or screwing up enough of our own kids) to warrant being studied.  I consider that a definite win.

As the only child of an only child, I find it ironic that I am the mother of three, the total number of people in the household I grew up in.  And my husband is practically an only child himself as he is four years older than his sister.  We often wonder how in the world fate thought he and I could handle a “zone defense.”  (I’m not even sure what a zone defense is, other than it’s a basketball thing.)  But parenting has been a rewarding adventure, one we wouldn’t change for the world, and one fueled by advice from loads of parenting books.

So I have been fascinated by the idea of only children having multiple kids of their own…why they do and how they may parent differently from parents who grew up with siblings.  When I found the “Only Child Adult Blog”  not only was my mind blown that someone else had the same curiosity, but that someone wanted to write a book (a book!) about it.  Unfortunately, she received only a handful of responses to requests for anecdotal information, and that was years ago.  And disappointingly, there was no followup from her about a published book, or even a rough draft of one.

No published research.  No compilation of only-children parenting experience.

So I will write from my own personal experience, with a little help from a different Google search: “characteristics of an only child.”  And there it was, hard to miss, from newkidscenter.com.

“However, experts do report that only children do have some very positive personality traits.”

However.

We can all speculate what comes before the however (more on that later), but what comes after is more interesting (and maybe surprising to some).  What about only children and our unique and singular upbringing could make us good parents?  According to the newkidscenter.com article one of those “positive personality traits” is confidence.  Another is a tendency to be private.  As a group our academic success is “better” (good test scores and a higher rate of college admission).  We are independent and organized.

Of course, these are not the exclusive traits of only children, but simply a pattern regularly seen in this group of people.  I hope I speak for my tribe when I say this is good stuff, and reassuring when it comes to our parenting potential.  So let me elaborate:

Confidence:  An I-can-handle-this attitude is imperative at dinnertime when the dog pees on the floor and the kids now need a bath because they were delighted to find a warm puddle to splash around in… and it’s inside the house. (I can’t make this stuff up…really, I am not creative like that.)

Private:  As in when you tell your son (looking over your shoulder while you shop online):

Close your eyes so you don’t see me type in the credit card number because you have a photographic memory and will use that number to buy up all the 5 pound gummy bears on Vat19.  Because you did it before and it took an hour to cancel shipment.  (For more on that story, click here.)

If what the experts mean by “private” is actually “slightly paranoid” then I’m good.

Better academic success:  Yes, I got into college.  But others laughed at my ACT score (which I’ve been reassured was fine, really).  I suppose as my degree relatess to parenting, I’m able to read parenting advice critically and handle stats on the effectiveness of vaccines.  But I don’t think my taking organic chemistry in college makes me a better parent.  Nor does having worked in medicine.  In fact, I think that works against me…because I assume the worst when my kids get sick.  For example:  He has a stomachache?  It must be his appendix!  No?  Well, maybe it’s the 5 peaches he ate after the three hamburgers at supper…

Independent:  I do like my “alone” time, to do with as I please:  get stuff done, go for a run.  Carving out that niche of time to recharge is not my strong suit, though.  My “independence” suffers during weekends and school breaks and it’s not pretty.  I need to just give myself permission to take some “me” time.  Because it’s obviously better for my entire family for me to embrace independence sometimes and later play legos or Farkle.  It’s just the healthy mental move.

Organized:  Good trait for planning a week full of school field trips and extracurriculars, bad for dealing with the chronic state of our art closet or my son’s inability to get ready for school every. stinking. morning.

And the addendum, a nod to the “before the however” unpalatable traits of the only child:  an inability to share.  No other kids with whom to share toys, a bedroom or parents makes the concept of sharing trickier to teach only children.  But that said, I have an argument in favor of this disadvantage being a good parenting trait.   I will confess I’m not so good at sharing my pen.  Or my carrot cake.  In fact, I’m kinda weird about both.  My pen I’ve had for a couple decades.  Yes.  Decades.  (Can I credit this to being organized?)  I got it from a drug rep.  The drug name has since worn off, so it looks pretty classy (no offense, kind drug rep)…burgundy and gold.  No way in heck am I going to let anyone else use my pen.  As for the cake, well, it’s my version of Mommy crack, so there.  How can this behavior be good for my parenting skills?  Well, as for the pen thing, I have to somehow make it look like I’m not not sharing…even though I’m not sharing.  As in, I need to be creative:  Why don’t you find a pen you love to use…you’ll want to do your homework if you have a cool pen of your own!  The cake is easy:  Oh, this may have vegetables in it but it’s terrible for you…too much sugar and wheat.  Just have some carrots for dessert.  See?  I’m promoting healthy eating for my kids and scarfing the junk food while sitting in a closet.

Ok, weak argument.  I’ll give you that.

But in all seriousness, what else can only children can bring to their parenting style?  I reflect on my own upbringing and was lucky to have a devoted dad and mom who did not always give me what I wanted but always gave me what I needed.  They helped me with math and reading comprehension, came to all my music concerts (even the ones that sounded like a barnyard massacre), and travelled across the state when my theatre group had competitions.  My parents set a high standard for parenting and now I can only hope to give my kids the same kind of love and support I had from them.

And still do.

[Did you know there is a National Only Child Day?  There really is.  The last National Only Child Day was April 12, 2016.  And I can’t believe I missed it!  Next year’s is already on the calendar:  April 12, 2017.]

 

Kids and Antiperspirant Use

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My twin boys are rapidly approaching adolescence.  Moods are swinging, zits are erupting here-and-there, and oh, yes, BO is making its presence known.  Of course, my younger, sweatier son would be the first to need the Speed Stick.  Because in direct opposition to his brother’s love of the shower, he can turn on the water, physically get in the shower, and emerge with a perfectly dry head.  In other words, hygiene is even less on his radar than his brother’s.   Brushing his teeth is a small victory; getting him to use his “deodorant” is nearly impossible.  Fortunately, he is only starting to need it, so there is time to develop the habit.  Maybe.  Fingers are crossed.

I use “deodorant” in quotes as it is something of a misnomer, like we tend to call all facial tissues “Kleenex.”  The name is misleading:  it implies the actual removal of odor.  Plus there are “deodorants” that are just deodorants, which mask, or simply cover up, odor (they don’t eliminate it). But then there are “deodorants” that help prevent odor from happening in the first place. Continue reading

Don’t Get Burned by Your Sunscreen

Small victory: he's wearing a hat!

Small victory: he’s wearing a hat!

A couple years ago I was walking through town with one of my boys when a complete stranger exclaimed, “Oh, my, you’re sunburned!”

The concerned individual was referring to my son, whose face looked rather like a strawberry, red with his brown freckles like berry seeds punctuating his nose and cheeks.  My guilt resurfaced, a day after my son’s sun-soaked adventure.  Even though I had done my best to slather my son with sunscreen, he, like every time before, wiped his face immediately to remove the offensive gooey cream he hates so much, and keeping a hat on him is akin to bringing two repelling magnets together.

In short, much as my husband and I try to keep our kids protected from the sun, we aren’t always successful.  Like, for instance, our family’s recent trip to the beach for spring break.

Especially like our recent trip to the beach. Continue reading

Nurturing Creativity in Our Children: More Mess, More Time

 

"Creativity comes through us, not from us." ~ the concept of the muse.

“Creativity comes through us, not from us.” ~ the concept of the muse.

Creativity:  putting things together in novel ways, or seeing the world, or a given problem, with fresh eyes. (ahaparenting.com)

“Oh, my, he’s such a mess!!”

Grandma could barely get the words out through her laughter.  Her loving observation of my older son at age three was spot on.  There he was, sitting at our kitchen table working on crafts:  stuff was piled everywhere, stuck together randomly with glue from a dripping bottle.  His clothes were streaked with food (oddly, even now, breakfast is on his person before he’s even had any), his face mustachioed with lunch.

The perfect picture of a creative kid.

“Fresh” is not a word I would use to describe my now eleven-year-old son (he prefers to play with water balloons in the shower rather than lathering up), but “novel” certainly does.  He struggles with actual math but can reason out a correct answer.  He brings motion to a lego beach scene by adding a surfer riding a wave.  He is so not me in this respect and my jaw drops at his way of manipulating and perceiving the world.

Which got me thinking…is creativity something we are born with or something we can practice and develop? Continue reading

Standardized Testing: a Primer

Bummed about bubble sheets? Don't blame you...

Bummed about bubble sheets? Don’t blame you…

March Madness!!!!

I never realized how zany a month March is.  I mean, take a look:

~Will March arrive like a lamb or a lion?

Wait.  No one really cares that much about that anymore, do they?

~NCAA basketball, the ultimate in cager mania.  Go Skyhawks!!! (Fort Lewis College, NCAA II tourney, in case you b-ball enthusiasts were curious.)

Wait.  They lost.  Darn.  Well, there’s always next year…

~The beginning of daylight savings time!  More sunlight after dinner!

Wait.  Actually, who likes “spring ahead?” I was so tired I accidentally made decaf the morning after.  Not. Good.

Anyway, what seems to be really ca-razy about March, and parents, I’m sure many of you will agree, is this:

Standardized testing in our kids’ schools.

True March Madness. Continue reading

The Creative Thinker: Is Your Child One of Them?

This is awesome, but...

This is awesome, but…

Legos (and Grandma’s sugar cookies) are like crack for kids…at least they are in our house.  Once any of us, dad and mom included, starts snapping together those technicolor pieces, time and reality disappear.  But for my older son, Legos are a way of life.  He eats, sleeps and breathes Lego creations, and he is truly Pavlovian when he watches a Lego master build ships and shopping malls on YouTube.  He is well on his way with logging his own 10,000 hours to attain Lego mastery.  His goal is to be an architect but his dream?  To work for Lego.

Lego blocks are his passion but his stumbling block is math, and school in general.  Without success at either of the latter, he will find it difficult to become a master designer or builder of any kind.  In last week’s post I described how he is a bookend on the bookshelf of traditional schooling, but is something else, too.

A creative thinker.

I was actually doing research for a related post when I stumbled upon a chart put together by Bertie Kingore, PhD, author and teacher.  On this chart he compares the characteristics of creative thinkers, high achievers and gifted learners.  And the column for creative thinkers may as well have included a picture of my son, captioned “Yeah, like this kid here,” because, wow, Doc Kingore has him pegged.

And no wonder my son struggles in the classroom.  And socially.  He is fully as Kingore describes.  And maybe your child is the same way:  he may have trouble with school not because he can’t understand the work, but because he approaches it and his environment in a different and unique way.

 

Could your child be a creative thinker?  Perhaps,  if he or she:

•daydreams (easily mistaken for inattention)

•is an idea machine…but rarely fleshes out any of those ideas

•starts multiple projects and finishes few

•doesn’t care about school performance or good grades (think of homework power struggles…)

•shares offbeat ideas and opinions (for example, “Those cows are staring at us because they are maniacs” ~my son, age three)

•likes to work alone, but thrives in a small group of other creatively-minded peers (even after a full day of school, my generally-fried son, is the life of the party in his Destination Imagination group)

loves to make, create and invent

(taken from Bertie Kingore’s chart, posted on exquisite-minds.com)

 

My favorite part, however, is how the creative thinker likes to ask questions.  Two in particular.  The first is “What if…?”  The second (my interpretation):

“Do I have to know this????”

The creative thinker, according to Dr. Kingore, questions mastery.  When I read this, I could glimpse understanding of my son’s hatred of school work.  No wonder he and I clash over our after school sessions at the kitchen table.  He feels homework is a waste of time because he has to log on to Sims to complete a challenge or tweak and revamp his latest Lego creation.

Because, if you ask him, he needs the practice if he is going to build his mom a house with a real waterfall inside.

I mean, how can I argue with that?  He’s still learning.  Instead of taking pencil to paper he is using his hands and his imagination.  He’s experimenting to make future creations even better.  He‘s  approaching problems in new ways and finding new solutions.  He, like many creative, nontraditional learners, needs a Lego-type world in order to be engaged in learning (which I doubt, when in the “Lego Zone,” he even realizes he is doing).  The question is this:  How to teach creative thinkers without crushing the very part that makes them…them.  Is there a way to reach these kids effectively in a classroom’s structured, scheduled setting without squeezing the creativity out of them?  To answer this question we need an outside-the-box solution from a…

creative thinker.

Which our world needs.  A whole bunch of them.  We need cures for disease, or at least a better way of treating illness.  We have this big old ball of fire in our sky, begging for its energy to be harnessed and utilized.  I think I speak for most of us when I say a (cost effective) robot who can do the grocery shopping, vacuum and clean the toilets would be an outstanding household addition.

We just need the right creatively-minded people, educated in a way that reaches them, to do it.  And that starts with our children who like to experiment, ask “What if?” and, yes,

daydream.

These are even better!

…These are even better!

 

 

 

Bookends: the Kids Who Struggle in a Classroom Environment

mountain-view.jpeg

Imagine a single bookshelf.  Filling the entire length are books, books of varying thickness, topic and cover design.  They are different from one another but all are still books.  At each end of the shelf is a thin, metal bookend.  Present, but easily overlooked.  They are, of course, not books, but despite taking up very little room on the bookshelf, they still occupy the same space.

Now think of a classroom of, say, 25 kids.  Most of those kids function pretty well in that setting.  Each child has his own strengths and weaknesses, interests and personality, but these students can sit at their desks, listen to their teachers and work independently when needed, filtering out the natural hum of the classroom setting.  These kids are the books on the bookshelf:  each their own, but sharing the ability to function in the traditional classroom environment.

Then there are the kids who can’t filter out noise, are easily distractible, and perhaps not as mature for their age.  Some may need even more stimulation to get their work done and internalize what is being taught.  These kids may need absolute quiet in order to concentrate or the very opposite:  the need to talk things through or bounce on a therapy ball.  Maybe they have a diagnosis or an IEP, maybe not.  These kids are bookends:  on the same “shelf” (that is, in the same environment) as their more numerous “book like” peers, but certainly in the minority.  They function differently.

You see where I’m going with this.  It’s not a great analogy, but it’s how I see my sons.  One needs absolute quiet in order to concentrate; the other needs tools (whiteboard, markers and his sometimes very loud voice) to get his mind around school, math in particular.  Like a pair of bookends, their learning styles and needs are at opposite ends of the “shelf.” Neither can sit in class, like most of their classmates are able to do, and learn their best in a traditional classroom.  In short:

My boys are not books.

One of their teachers asked me what he could do to help my boys.  I almost said:  the very things you cannot realistically do.  But I didn’t.  I was, however, still honest when told the teacher exactly what they need.   My older son needs quiet.  My younger son needs the freedom to talk out loud and use the whiteboard.  Then we sat and looked at each other, thinking:

These things we cannot realistically do.

I have known for a long time my boys don’t learn and process information the same way, but the differences between them and their peers only recently became clear, as my husband and I have watched them struggle more and more with academics.  I know they are not the only ones in this boat.  This is a tough row to, um, row, as they approach middle school, where the material becomes more complex and the responsibilities upon them greater.  In early elementary school we enrolled the boys in a charter school, a project- and multiple intelligence-based curriculum that almost immediately embraced their differences.  For example, for a project on Native Americans, the teachers assigned my older son to completing dioramas of tribal villages and my younger son to learning music and traditional dances.

Then we moved and the school options became those of the traditional variety.  And the three R’s have become more involved as my boys approach middle school.  The academic slip began.  And what my sons need to be successful in school is becoming more and more obvious.

So now what?  They certainly won’t qualify for an IEP, we’ve been down that road before.  There are tutors.  There is homeschooling.   The question my husband and I are facing is this:  what can we do for our boys now until they can choose their own academic path, in an environment that works for them, after high school graduation?  There are options, fortunately, and hopefully we will land on the right formula for academic improvement.

Bookends (the literal kind and not the “kid” kind) support books and hold them upright.  As I thought about how that definition may figure into my already loose analogy, I thought about someone my husband and I went to school with.  He was clearly a bookend:  obviously bored with school, and labelled a troublemaker for it, fiercely creative and crazy smart (he scored a 32 on the ACT).  Today he is a widely-known and internationally-respected photographer.  Maybe this bookend didn’t support his “books,” but in the end he has added integrity to the shelf, made it whole.

Nontraditional learners, “bookends” have so much potential, their differences in perceiving and interacting with the world make them the ones who may change it.  I’m not saying my boys will figure out a way to harness the sun’s energy or find a cure for cancer (if one of them does, awesome), but I truly believe if we can tap into their way of learning and help them use it, they will contribute something amazing.

Here’s to our bookends on the bookshelf of living and learning…

related posts:

I Love You…Quirks and All

Life Lessons, By Temple Grandin

Am I Supposed to Check My Kids’ Homework?

 

I'll admit this homework was pretty cool…building a machine to measure lung capacity.

I’ll admit this homework was pretty cool…building a machine to measure lung capacity.

I don’t understand homework in elementary school.  My past, and likely yours, too, had many hours devoted to homework…but I never did any, had any, until middle school.  And I settled myself after school at the kitchen table with paper and pencil because teachers told us do this at home and turn it in tomorrow, and I did (yes, I was one of those kids…).  But it’s a different ballgame today for families: homework comes home for our elementary schoolers, and they really need some supervision, unlike (mostly) the older kids.  It can be a time-consuming process, especially when kids are tired and may also have after-school activities.  It’s a lot to fit together in a short amount of late afternoon and evening time.  And often, in our family’s experience anyway, homework is like a moving target…some teachers give it every week, some give it out sporadically, and others don’t give it out at all.  (And some is given and it never makes it home…)  So I need some help.  The why of homework…well, I’m interested, but it’s not my most pressing issue.   The when to do it is individual.  But here’s what tops my need-to-know list:

Am I supposed to check my kids’ homework?  And if I do, do I help my kids correct their mistakes? Continue reading

“Infertility Unplugged:” the Outtakes

In case you were wondering, a cheeseburger in paradise is way more fun than a progesterone shot. (My husband and I, pre-IVF days, at Stanley's on the island of Tortola.)

In case you were wondering, a cheeseburger in paradise is way more fun than a progesterone shot. (My husband and I, pre-IVF days, at Stanley’s on the island of Tortola.)

Last week, in Happy Birthday, Boys: “Infertility Unplugged” by the Numbers I wrote about my husband’s and my infertility experience from a mathematical point-of-view.  This week,  I turn to the lighter side.  It’s hard to believe, even years later, that some aspects of infertility could actually make anyone laugh.  And I wish I could have at the time; laughter is great therapy.   But better late than never, right?  So here are some of the absurd instances in our infertility journey:

~The Folly of the Pharmacy.”  Pharmacology was the toughest class I took in school.  Anyone who can get a PhD in the topic has my respect…most of the time.  In my 20’s a pharmacy screwed up my birth control prescription twice, as if willing an accidentally pregnancy at a time my husband and I weren’t ready to start a family.  Then we were unable to conceive when we felt emotionally and financial stable.  When my doctor prescribed Clomid to help me ovulate, a different pharmacy decided to mess with us:  my prescription came in a container without a childproof cap.  Oh, it had a lid…of the screw top variety.  Really?  Prescription for clomid=child-free home?  I should have complained. Continue reading