Friday, February 25, 2011

A book recomendation

I just finished reading Raising Children Who Think for Themselves by Elisa Medhus, M.D., and it was incredibly thought provoking. I didn't always agree with her approaches or suggestions, but the main theme of the book - that children should be learning (through discipline, their environment, our role modeling and other means) to evaluate and assess their own behaviors, internally, based on their own expectations of themselves (that we've been teaching them) rather than external (either parental or societal) expectations of them.

In other words, kids who think for themselves. She raised a lot of interesting points, and provided a lot of practical examples of how to "guide, then step aside." I was really impressed with her knowledge of kids motivations for certain behaviors - and how to best guide them into turning their attentions in more positive directions.

I was, of course, horrified to see myself (or family members) in some of the more negative portrayals, because I know that the reasons we've done certain things have always been with the best of intentions, but the (often negative) outcomes are so easy to see when they're on paper like that. I recognized myself most when she talked about how often we step in to spare our kids (or, in my case, the nephews and niece in my life) from suffering & therefore eliminate their chances of learning from mistakes or problem solving their way out of them. I've noticed lately that I've become a 'warner' (my term, not the author's): I'm constantly saying "Maybe it's better if you tried it this way," or "do you really think it's a great idea to balance all of those dolls in one trip, why not make two?" Why not just shut your whore mouth (sorry: If you're not a Prankster, that probably seemed like it came out of nowhere, but I've been reading Aunt Becky a lot lately, and couldn't help myself) and just let the kid figure it out on their own? What's the worst that could happen? She drops the dolls and has to make clean up the mess? The horror! So I definitely recognized that I have a real need to step aside and just let them learn on their own - The worst part of this whole thing being, obviously, that I am a teacher, and know this already, so how did I get to this point of having to open my mouth all the time, but if I'm going to teach them to be willing to recognize when they've made mistakes, I have to step up and recognize my own as well. That's a problem area for Auntie NTE, and will be addressed posthaste.

So much of the strategies that Medhus proposes in her book are not new to me, but the practical parenting examples she incorporates into the text really made me think about how I am applying my training (and where I am failing to apply it), and how often, in the heat of any given situation, discipline doesn't stay true to it's logical guidance roots and instead turns into a form of punishment or control. It's easy to forget, when a four year old is throwing a tantrum in the store, that their problems are their problems, and I don't need to make them mine.

I will give myself a lot of credit for being the "this is unacceptable behavior" line draw-er in our house, but it's kind of hard to hold the line when there isn't a lot of follow through on the part of other people. After all, I am not these kids parents: They have awesome parents who love and care for them. But when the rules are so much different at Grammy's house then they are at home, it's hard to keep the behaviors that I consider unacceptable (whining and nagging, bickering and meanness) from bleeding over: Kids are going to get away with what they can get away with, and trust me, the kids in my life are no exception. So we have a little issue with consistency, and I know that doesn't help them to internalize things, but I'm really going to work on it for my part (and see if I can't convince my brother that he'd like to read this book as well).

Aside from "guide, then step aside", some of the other concepts that the author did a great job of explaining include the need for using guiding questions to help kids arrive at the right answers; the benefit of empathy in creating kids who aren't just focused on their own needs, but on the lives of those around them; the idea of respecting failure as a key step towards growth and that personal excellence is greater than perfection; the need for all consequences to arise as naturally as possible from a given behavior (and to be logical); and the vital role that adults play in modeling appropriate behavior.

It was all reasonable, common sense stuff, and it was presented in such a way as to not be overwhelming or tell you what a horrible job you were doing raising your kids: in fact, it was an optimistic and enthusiastic book whose title really reflected its overall goal - you can make changes in your behavior to help your kids make lasting changes in theirs. You can have kids who aren't motivated by whether or not they're going to be punished for doing something wrong, but rather on if something feels wrong to them and how important it is for them to follow that instinct. There are so many strategies for helping children gain confidence in their own decision making skills, in their ability to recover from mistakes, in their intuitions, and in their ability to do what's right when they recognize it.

I thought it was a worthwhile read, for parents and teachers (and aunties ;) ) because it helps you clarify what your intentions are as you raise your kids, or as you contribute to the raising of children: I know I want the kids in my life to be able to make their own choices and find their own ways in life, to be able to recognize happiness in whatever form it takes for them, and to have the courage to reach for it (regardless of if society says it is something they should strive for or not). I want them to be able to think for, and act, and believe in themselves, and I'm glad that I've got some more strategies to try in order to help them achieve that.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Thanks a lot, Oprah, for blowing my cover.

Maybe it's just me, but everywhere I turn on the interwebs lately, people are talking about Internet anonymity and how it's truly a farce. How there's no such thing, and you should never write anything on your blog that you wouldn't want broadcast on the evening news. How easy it is for people to find out who you really are, and any attempts at anonymity are both fruitless and delusional.

Cue intense fear and current radio silence here at Never That Easy.

I mean, I know that what I write here is not secret, but, back when I first started, I thought it would be impossible for anybody I actually knew to track me down. This is not because I am any great whiz at the complexities of Internet anonymity, but more because I am stupid: I was using my own, very first ever and totally known by everyone in my life e-mail address, and - as I found out when one of my sisters did find me - this site was the Google search result of entering my e-mail address. Talk about naive. (Although, in my defense, I couldn't imagine that anyone in my family would actually be bored enough to put my e-mail address into a search engine, but it turns out that I had obviously underestimated the extent to which certain people would procrastinate at boring office jobs.)

I have since published pictures of just about everyone in my family and written posts with enough identifying information that there could be no mistake - if someone who knows me happens to wander past, then they will know it is me. Which made me start wondering if I should just stop trying to hide behind the three initials, and start using my own name.

It made me wonder that for about .3 seconds, anyways.

I admire people who write under their real names, or even pseudonyms but you know who they are in real life (Dooce = Heather, for example), but I am just not ready to be one of them. I had a horrible nightmare a while ago that Oprah used one of my Internet comments - a comment I am particularly proud of because I managed to say what I wanted to say and avoid the Internet trolls at the same time, which you might know is particularly difficult on some sites - in a show about the topic we were discussing (budget cuts and Planned Parenthood's cuts, specifically). And when she read the comment, behind her on that big screen, she showed a picture my site. And she mentions that I am a blogger with a chronic illness, and you can read more of what I said at the site name.

And of course, in the dream, I am watching it with my mom, who is not focusing 100% : like me she's a TV multi-tasker, so she's usually on the computer or crocheting while she mostly listens to what's going on. And I am breaking out into a cold sweat, and trying to not show that I am panicking and - here's something you all don't know about me, because we haven't met in person, but in person? I am a horrible liar.

Everyone in my family agrees (although I don't, because I can keep secrets, which is a form of lying, so there) that between my not being able to make eye contact & a dislike for lying on a whole, I am served particularly unwell when presented with the task. I mostly get a lot of "Why do you even bother trying to lie?"

So in the dream, trying to hide that I am going to throw up because there is my baby picture up on Oprah's show (and while many other people might not recognize my baby picture, which was good thinking six years ago when I was trying to pick a damn avatar), my mom certainly would, so I must keep her from looking up.

Thankfully, since I sleep like crap, I woke up then and got to obsess over the dream while wide awake and tossing and turning. And all I could think of was that instead of being proud that someone had liked what I had written well enough to quote it, and to say to other people, 'hey, check this out,' I was so worried about my family knowing about the site that I wanted to throw something at the TV just so she wouldn't see my picture.

I think that shows a certain reluctance to embrace the openness of using my own name, how about you?

I've definitely said some things here that would hurt them, and I don't have any interest in doing that. I've definitely said some things that they wouldn't understand or that I'd rather not have to defend to them. It's just more drama than it is worth, basically.

So I'm going to keep writing, and be proud of what I'm writing, but I'm also going to continue keeping it to myself, because, as much as I love them, I love this too. And I wouldn't write like this if knew that when I went into the kitchen, people would be discussing and dissecting it. I wouldn't write like this if I had to keep thinking about whose reaction I just didn't' want to deal with. And if/when anybody else finds me, I will deal with that, and hopefully convince them it's in all our best interests to keep our mouths shut.

Monday, February 07, 2011

I figured it was time

for an update to my family tree link, so that if people are interested, the information is centrally located and clear. So here's the deal

Me, NTE age 31, chronically ill auntie and educator, currently living with my parents and one of my sisters and her husband.

My Mom & Dad , ages undisclosed (because if they ever find this, my mom will want it that way), who own the house I'm living in now, and have been together almost 30 years now. My mom is also my bosom friend and my Personal Care Attendant, which makes our relationship a tad complicated. My dad, well, he's a hard worker, a fabulous cook, and a lot of other things both good and bad.

SisterS is going to be 35 when November rolls around, and she lives in Cow Hampshire, about 2 hours away. She's lucky enough to be the mama of my wonderful oldest and youngest nephews, Oldest Nephew who is 14 and actually enjoying his freshman year of high school, and BabyB who just turned one and has more energy than everybody else on this list combined.

Big/Only Brother will also be 35 this year, and he's the partner of Soon to be Sister-In-Law as well as the daddy to two of the most fantastic children ever: NephTwo (who's turning 11 this May), and LilGirl, who is 4.5, going on 14.

SisterJ (otherwise known as the Sister who reads this blog, because she managed to find it a few years ago and was nice enough to not sell me out) is turning 28 in two days (Happy birthday girl, you are still not 29!), is awesomely crafty and sweet enough to live upstairs with my excellent brother-in-law BrotherlyK (who hasn't had a name until now, because I always just say my awesome Brother in law).

SisterCh moved out this spring and into an apartment with her fiance, and by the end of this year I will probably have a new brother in law, so we'll call him BrotherlyS. SisterCh is lucky that I have not renamed her the Cat Lady, because in the 9 months since she's moved out, they've accumulated four cats and they all have outfits. Many, many outfits.

SisterK is our baby sister, but we probably can't call her that because she'll be graduating from Harvard this spring, and you can't really call college graduates baby, can you? She's majoring in poetry and English and some sort of humanities, and has no idea what comes next, but who does, really?

You should also know about Grandmother who is 93.5 and beyond awesome, although unfortunately ailing as of late; Nana my other grandmother, who passed away three years ago and still has a huge place in my heart and in our family; and My Daddy , who will be deceased 12 years this July, my father was in the Navy for most of my life, and (unfortunately) an alcoholic for a lot of that time too. (But that doesn't mean I don't miss him.)

That's the basic outline of who's who here in NTE land: I appreciate you taking the time to find out more about us!

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Yesterday's life was full of nothing in the morning, a long game of Life Twist and Turns in the afternoon, a little Addams Family at night, and reading an outdated atlas with one of my favorite, favorite boys. I loved how he was able to identify just how out of date the atlas must have been to include things like the USSR and to exclude all the -stans. Never mind the half of Africa that was all confusingly different. Today we compared a current world map with the atlas from 1984 and we came up with 34 new or differently shaped countries in the past 27 years. That's pretty outrageous, especially considering that I was alive for all of those 27 years, and I knew about maybe 10 of them off the top of my head. (Germany as opposed to East/West Germany and the USSR being the major ones.) It was one of those experiences, though, that made me wish I could homeschool him, instead of him getting sent to public school: it was just such an authentic and child directed learning experience, the kind teachers are always searching for but the harder you try to manufacture it the further away it goes.

NephTwo (As I've decided to call No Longer Youngest Nephew) is such a smart kid, and he's genuinely interested in so many diverse subjects: When he was a baby it was cars, to the point where he'd point out the window and name the type of car and I'd have to say "Yes?" because I knew nothing about cars. At all. After that, we learned about dinosaurs. And not just "Oh, this is a T-Rex" kind of dinosaur learning, but "Well the Oviraptor was called ovi because he's an egg stealer and ovi means egg" and "All the ceratops named dinosaurs were herbivores which means they only ate veggies, which I don't like." When he was 2. Dinosaurs lasted for a good long time, and I had to memorize more than an entire era full of creatures that I really had no interest in.

Somewhere around the same time, he watched A Night to Remember with his Grandpa, and it lit something up in his brain. All of the sudden we had to learn about ships. About the Titanic specifically, but about any ship that ever sank. I had happened to go through a Titanic phase myself, way back when - when the original National Geographic documentary aired, my Nana taped it off the TV and we watched it over and over again that summer. I don't know why, but it sparked something in the seven-year-old me, too, so I was kind of excited when NephTwo was so interested in it.

Of course he was only 2 or 3, so we had to adapt somethings along the way. We read Robert Ballad's Discovery of the Titanic, and learned about the Knorr 's search and how Alvin and Jason Jr managed to get down there and take pictures of the wreck. We saw all the pictures of broken china and suitcases covered with algae, shoes with no matches and bathtubs encrusted with rust. We watched any version of the sinking that we could find (fast-forwarding through the little naked parts in the Winslet/DiCaprio version, of course). He managed to learn all the details, and would often play "Saptain Smith" and order everyone into our lifeboats, being a stickler and not allowing his dad on them, because he was not "a girl or a baby". He would recite the tragic tale to all of us, every day, or, if we were out and about, even to people in lines at stores.

Eventually, the Titanic wasn't enough, and we had to learn about other shipwrecks and sea disasters.
I ordered a ton of books on shipwrecks off of Amazon, and he surprised our local librarian by reciting all the facts about how the "Californian was there, but they thought the rockets were for happy reasons, and so they didn't come, and then the Carpathia showed up and fished out the people in the icy cold water" when we went searching for even more information. He knew about Titanic's twin sister, Olympic, and the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria. He knew about underwater mines and missile strikes and the dangers of drifting in the fog.

After the shipwreck stage came trains (and Thomas the Train specifically, and let me tell you I did not enjoy that nearly as much as the ships), then space (he used to build little models of the galaxy and memorize the order of the planets and how many moons they had. He was crushed when Pluto lost its planetary status), and then, eventually his interest shifted to things on our planet. The geography of the world, the history of certain places, which countries did what and whose land was in a cold area and whose land had oil and which groups of people didn't necessarily get along with each other.

The geography thing has been high on his list for a few years now, and during most of our sleepovers, he drags out the giant world map we found at Costco for $3 and and DryErase markers and redraws the boundaries of the world. Sometimes he expands the United States into a true empire, conquering Canada and absorbing Europe; other times he usurps Mother Nature and decides it will snow in the desert and freeze in the tropics. Often, he tests my knowledge of the world, making a game of matching flags to countries or having me guess the capitals of places like Djibuti and Honduras (stuff I used to know, but my brain now protests trying to remember). It's amazing to watch him interact with the world this way, and it makes both the auntie and the teacher parts of me gleeful.

Today's experiment in finding the differences between the way the world looked when that book was published and the way the world looks now was only the beginning: We wound up talking about the revolution taking place in Egypt, and the recent voting in the Sudan on divvying up their country. (I swear, knowing that he will ask these type of questions is half of the reason I pay attention to what's going on out there.) He told me that he knew more than his teacher about something we'd been discussing two weeks ago when he was here last, and how the teacher had to Google it to check if he was right. How awesome is that?

Anyways, I've been doing a lot of (probably necessary) complaining about and assessing of the current status of my life, so I thought it would do me - and my loyal readers - some good to remember that I've still got some pretty bright spots here and there.

And this boy (seen here with his super ball version of our galaxy) is definitely one of them.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Snow what?

Welcome to our Second Annual Random Eye Infection Week! This year with added "oh, well it could be related to your shingles" action, and, for the very first time, now including special "It's the 'Snowmageddon' so you must a) come in every single day and b) find an open pharmacy that has this drug that no pharmacist has ever heard of before" complications!

Woo freaking hoo!

I hate having to put yet another sad depressing poor-me post up, but this is where I am right now, so what good is a personal blog if I can't complain about it a little bit? On the upside, I actually got to go out in the snow, which I haven't done in forever, and that means that I - in stark contrast to just about everybody else in the entire Northeast - really enjoyed being out in the snow. I always did: it's got a kind of a hushed, secretive aspect to it that I appreciate. It feels like the rest of the world is as isolated as I often am, and, in a weird way, that makes me feel more connected to everybody. It's difficult for me to get any place, what with the wheels and all, but sitting outside for a little bit this morning while we waited to see if yet another drugstore would have the eye drops I needed (nope) was a nice change of pace for me. The entirety of Massachusetts may be sick to death of the snow - which is too bad because we're supposed to get another foot or so before this storm moves out on Thursday - but I liked it.

Sure, there are some real drawbacks - I miss my days with LilGirl - this is our third day without her in a row, and Thursday ain't looking too good either - but since I can only half see things anyways, maybe that's for the best. SisterS, who lives in New Hampshire, in the middle of nowhere, was complaining about the snow up there today, on her Facebook page. But at least they've got lots of places to put it... around here, the streets have gone from kind of narrow to simply straw-like; there's not a whole lot of maneuverability on the roads. Which works out ok for me, most of the time, because I don't have to go anywhere. Until I have to go somewhere, like this morning's eye doctor's appointment, in which case I feel really bad for everybody who's got to dig me out and drive me down there, even if, on a good day, the office is less than 3 minutes from here. (Today it took us 15.)

I tried to take a picture for you guys of the beautiful snowfall and all of that, but I have one eye that I can't open and one that was still recovering from having bright lights shone in it repeatedly (Off topic a bit here - does that make anybody else want to fall asleep? As soon as she started shining those lights in my eyes, I was so drowsy. Note to self: maybe the cure for your insomnia is bright lights in your eyes), so I didn't wind up with the clearest picture. None the less, it'll give you some idea of how things look around here, I hope.

If you're having some snow, I hope you're enjoying it. Or, at the very least, having a cup of hot chocolate because of it. (mm... marshmallows...)