Wednesday, March 4, 2009

tinkering.

I like to set up systems. I like to try to organize the small aspects of our lives, to try to soothe tensions or ease conflicts. Often the systems I set up are short-lived. This has given me sort of a complex... I have this perception of myself as someone who never finishes what she starts. I think my long struggle to lose weight contributes to this image too. But I hate to think of myself that way, and I'm trying to tweak the way I see all these failed systems. My friend Janna once mentioned that she thinks of herself as a scientist, specifically in her role as a mother, always puttering and tinkering and trying to work out the kinks. I like that image and am claiming it for myself, choosing to frame my efforts and campaigns as experiments. I set up the experiment, observe the results and see whether the plan sticks. If a system falls by the wayside, I don't think it means I am incapable of consistency or follow-through. It just means that system didn't work for our family. On to the next.

You may wonder what the hell I am talking about. Allow me to share examples of my most recent systems. One was implemented a few weeks ago and is working brilliantly. The other has just begun so the results are still out.

S received his first video game for Christmas. Lego Star Wars. He loved it. He and Nate played it every day over his holiday break from school. When school was back in session, he had a hard time to adjusting to life without Star Wars. There was a lot of begging and moaning and crying and fit-throwing. I was ready to throw the game, and possibly the whole tv, to the curb. We tried to transition him to board games. This helped, but he was still in the habit of begging for game time every night, and we just didn't have the time/energy/patience to do it every night. More moaning and carrying on.

Finally we sat down with him and wrote a list. A special night schedule. Monday = board or card game, Wednesday = drawing time with mom, Friday = board or card game, Saturday and Sunday = video games, one hour or one level, depending on the game. The Special Nights Plan is posted on our magnet board, but S has it memorized now. It has worked like a charm for over a month. We all know what to expect, Nate and I are prepared to postpone our own plans a little bit on these nights, and we can also use these activities as incentives for good behavior. Or, I guess more accurately, we can threaten to cancel a special activity if bad behavior persists. System in place. This one seems to have some staying power.

Our newest system involves the food we eat for dinner. I have not been happy with the dinner situation all winter. When I am not shopping at the farmer's market and planning meals around the produce I buy there, the meal planning is pretty poor. Winter this year involved a lot of scrounging, a lot of you have that left-over soup, I'll have a Smart Ones, the boys can have grilled cheese AGAIN. Or quesadilla AGAIN. Or PB sandwich AGAIN. They have about five items on a rotating menu, and they are the same items I feed them for lunch. In addition to the lack of variety, another problem I see is that all their foods are some shade of white, beige, or orange. It's still ridiculously cold outside, but winter is almost over, and I have just decided, enough is enough. It's time for these dudes to eat better and more variety.

I had a meeting with S and tried to gently explain that we are going to start trying new foods at dinner time. He immediately dissolved into tears, shouting in a paniced voice, "What if I don't like it???!!" I kind of avoided his question, telling him we'd talk about it at the time, but also encouraging him to keep an open mind. If you think you won't like it, I said, you probably won't. But if you think you might, well then you just might. I don't know how many thousands of times I have given him this mini-lecture. More tears and theatrics.

I forged ahead, and here is the system I laid out. We are going to plan meals for dinner again. S may or may not be familiar with the foods we serve, but they will be dinner for everybody, no exceptions. I haven't decided what I'll do yet if he refuses to eat something. He has to at least try it, right? Maybe we'll have a 3 bite rule before he's allowed to have something else, like a yogurt. Also within this system are two special nights. Tuesday nights I am gone, the boys eat alone. They always do something easy and universally pleasing, like frozen pizza or pasta. One other meal for the week will be chosen by S, with the catch being that it has to be something new for him. He will look through my cookbooks and magazines that have pictures of the food and choose something that looks tasty to him. Otherwise, mom and dad pick the meals, and the boys have to give them an honest try before they are allowed to eat anything else.

We've done something like this before, but we fell away from it as winter came and I was cooking less. One new twist this time is that I'm directly framing it against lunch. Lunch, I explain, is a time for all your favorites. You'll never have to try anything new at lunchtime. Promise. Dinner time is for adventures in food and trying new things. Plus, you'll always have Tuesdays, I tell him.

Last night was our first night of enforcement. We served curried chicken with white rice. He ate the rice and whined a lot about the chicken. Finally he ate some rice with curry sauce on it and liked it. But he still wouldn't touch the chicken. Oh well.



So this has been a long post all about some very small things. This is kind of what parenting is for me, though, or at least a big part of it. Trying to work it out, implementing plans that will make our days run more smoothly. That's the goal, anyway. I guess I'm sharing all this because I've had a rather monumental realization, which I attempted to explain at the beginning of the post. It's sort of a big deal for me to realize that a failed system does not reflect poorly on me. Seasons change, children and families evolve. I can see a new plan that didn't take hold as evidence that I am a flake and a loser who can't give her kids consistency, or I can see it as evidence that I'm sensitive to the needs of my loved ones and that I'm flexible enough to change with them. I'm trying to pick that second one. I think it's better for the whole household when mama isn't being so hard on herself. So that's where I'm at right now.


There has been an explosion of art in our house recently. The boys draw constantly in their sketchbooks. I love it.

Also, here are my chairs in progress. Having room to leave all of them out like this is so helpful. I love my new studio space so much. I only have two more weeks to complete these. If I didn't have all this new table space, there is no way I could make it. Even being able to work on them all simultaneously, it's a lot of work. And I'm feeling the pressure. Anyone who wants to take my kids for an afternoon so I can hit the chairs hard, I won't stop you. Just sayin.

6 comments:

maryflorence said...

Laura,
First I wanted to ask, is your youngest wearing butterfly wings? I just noticed that in the drawing picture and laughed! :)
And I wanted to say that my mother did the same thing, only make one meal and we had to try it otherwise, cereal. And my brother is proof that someone can live on cheerios until they are 12. :)
But I am going through something similar. While, I don't have any picky children, my husband Seth has recently informed me he is going to be a vegetarian. So I said that I will cook one meal and he can choose to eat it or make something (and clean it up) or have a bowl of cereal. So far he has chosen to just eat what I've made. But I refuse to cook 2 dinners. It takes a lot! Anyway, let me know how the dinners go or post any good recipes. I make chicken curry too. I love it!

Angela said...

Loooved this post. Completely understand that depressing self-reflective moment when you realize implementing systems is much easier and more fun than enforcing/maintaining them. Posting some sort of group-made reminder seems like a good idea. All the components of your dinner plan were inspiring. Sounds like you've done well involving Simon in the process. Must give some thought to some of our household things and get collaborating.....

Bonnie said...

Pick me! Pick me! I'll take Simon and Theo some day for you. You can drop them off after school, or I could come over and keep them busy while you're in the studio. If it's nice we could go to a park or something.
All I'm saying is, I'd love to help you out because your boys are great and so are you.
(And it makes Lydia happy.)

Colin said...

When I was Simon's age, I was absolutely terrible at the dinner table ----- I wouldn't eat anything. Maybe a few bites of whatever was the most bland part of a meal, and I'd drink my glass of milk, but beyond white rice and plain spaghetti, I don't know what the hell I ever ate.

Also, I would leave the table constantly. My parents resolved this by strapping me to my chair with a belt. Seriously.

So, worry not: he'll grow out of it. It only took me twenty-some odd years in total, and around age ten or so I would often take my mother up on her offer/threat of "I only cook one meal, if you want something different you can cook it yourself."
Which I did. White rice/ramen. Constantly.

I don't know how I got to be so tall.

Amylynn said...

Laura,
Your vulnerablility and guts to change your mantra and stop beating yourself up touched me. I think we moms underestimate how negatively we are impacted by our isolation and not meeting our own needs. As well as healty doses of the self destructive chatter in our heads. Our need to connect with one another is often pushed aside for the needs of the babes, right?. WHat does that word balance mean anyway? I was excited to see your art studio coming together and to think how much fulfillment you get from doing your art. What a gift you have and what a gift you are to your boys. A thoughtful and loving mother...who no doubt makes a mistake here and there. She IS human...I was always under the impression you were one of those supermoms. And still am. Your post helped me and I printed out your quote for my art journal. Thanks for sharing.

Amylynn said...

Laura,
Your vulnerablility and guts to change your mantra and stop beating yourself up touched me. I think we moms underestimate how negatively we are impacted by our isolation and not meeting our own needs. As well as healty doses of the self destructive chatter in our heads. Our need to connect with one another is often pushed aside for the needs of the babes, right?. WHat does that word balance mean anyway? I was excited to see your art studio coming together and to think how much fulfillment you get from doing your art. What a gift you have and what a gift you are to your boys. A thoughtful and loving mother...who no doubt makes a mistake here and there. She IS human...I was always under the impression you were one of those supermoms. And still am. Your post helped me and I printed out your quote for my art journal. Thanks for sharing.