Category Archives: Parenting

Meet The Kids: The King

Yesterday, I introduced you to my youngest, The Supplanter. I’ll dedicate today’s post to my oldest, The King.

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As I mentioned yesterday, we named him after our grandfathers. A few weeks before we discovered I was pregnant, we were celebrating our final Christmas with my grandmother. She was in kidney failure, so she spent much of the afternoon in bed while the family took turns entertaining her. As we gathered to say our goodbyes, she asked me when I was due. I was trying to figure out what she meant, when she announced to my mother and cousins that I was pregnant. This was news to me and Hubby, but it turned out she was right, since it was shortly after the New Year that I got a positive result on a home pregnancy test. It felt like this was her gift to us, and I knew we had to name the baby after her or Pa, depending on whether we were having a boy or a girl, with the middle names coming from the grandparents on Hubby’s side.  The King arrived in mid-September, and helped make that first Christmas without Grandma a little less painful.

It wasn’t long before he earned himself the nickname of Shark Child, based on the notion that sharks never stop moving. The day he learned to roll was one of the happiest days of his life, since it meant he didn’t need to depend on us to explore things just out of reach. I still think he didn’t learn to walk – he learned to run. He ran almost everywhere, and explored almost everything. While he’s not as social as The Supplanter, he was often one of the leaders of the packs of children that would form at the playground, simply because he was one of the most physically daring. Kids followed him because he was the one climbing up the outside of the play structures, or jumping from the top of a platform, or doing some other crazy stunt; he was doing his own thing, and if kids wanted to join in, that was great.

As he’s grown older and bigger, his reserved side is showing more. The fearlessness that he had early on is being replaced by caution after some pretty spectacular accidents, and I’ve noticed him more on the fringes of groups of kids rather than at the center as he used to be. I think it’s been a pretty big adjustment for him, as kids caught up to his physical abilities and some have surpassed him. He was used to being the center of attention because of the things he could do, and it took him a while to learn how to get appropriate attention when he’s not running and jumping and doing stunts. He doesn’t always tell me details, but I think he’s lost a few friends over inappropriate things he’s done, and I think he’s working hard at slowly building up his good reputation again. It’s fascinating to watch how his interests evolve in relation to the people he wants to be friends with, and sometimes it’s a challenge to bite my tongue and let him make his own decisions.

I think it’s probably because he’s always on the move that I feel like it’s a gift when The King curls up with me and tells me about his day. He reads a lot of non-fiction, so he’s full of interesting facts that I never would have guessed he knew. I love talking with The Supplanter, too, but conversations with The King can be surprisingly deep for someone his age; he loves science, and asks thoughtful, detailed questions. Of course, he’s also 8, and takes great joy in anything gross or inappropriate. He has the best giggle, and sometimes Hubby and I go along with The King’s silliness just to get him laughing.

He’s a multi-faceted, complicated child and he’s not always easy to parent, particularly because I think he gets jealous of the attention The Supplanter gets with his much bigger personality. On the flip side, though, the qualities that make The King complicated also make him a really interesting person. He’s hard work, but getting to watch this smart and funny person emerge is just reward.

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Meet The Kids: The Supplanter

I find myself writing about my children a lot, which is strange, because I’ve abandoned my other blog that was dedicated to kid-type stuff because I felt I didn’t have enough to write. Apparently The Universe works in mysterious ways, and enjoys taunting me.

Since they’ll likely be featured often going forward, I decided I’ll take a blog post or two to properly introduce you to the boys. I commonly refer to them as The King and The Supplanter – my oldest (The King) is named after our grandfathers, and in baby books, the meaning of his first name usually comes with some variation of “the King of the House.” My youngest was harder to name,  because my family tends to have really old-school New England names that we felt were either too old-school to use, or too frequently used. The irony is that we agreed on a name, but didn’t look at the Social Security baby names data, and so blindy chose the top boy name for him. Neither did we look into the meaning of the name in the baby name books until after the fact, but found it greatly amusing to discover that one of the meanings of his name was “Supplanter.” The names suit both boys very well, and in many cases, so do the name meanings!

Today, I’ll tell you a bit about The Supplanter. He’s in Kindergarten this year, and is a little bundle of energy. At preschool graduation last year, his teachers voted him “Class Politician” which is spot on. He makes friends wherever he goes, but he has a particular knack for befriending teenage girls. I think a big part of it is his freckles and his long, fluttery eyelashes; he knows how to work the cute. He’s one of those kids who does great in a group, and usually tries to make sure no one is left out. He’s kind and caring, and loves the spotlight.

I’ve been trying to raise the boys to be open minded, and I frequently challenge their ideas about what’s a “girl” thing vs. a “boy” thing. While The King remains skeptical that boys can openly enjoy things that aren’t traditionally boy things, The Supplanter embraces nearly everything. A few days ago we were driving around town, and he saw a strip mall nail place. He’s in that phase where he reads EVERYTHING because he can, so he sounded out the word “manicure” and then had to ask what it meant. I gave him a brief explanation, and he responded “oh, so girl stuff.” He was surprised when I told him that there are plenty of men who go for manicures, too, but he was intrigued by my explanation of pedicures. “Man, I need one of those,” he told me from the back seat. “My feet are really peely.”

The next day, we attended a birthday party at a place at the mall. Afterward, Hubby wanted to buy a cupcake from the high-end bakery, but I wanted to pop into Lush, which offers specialty bath products and cosmetics. I discovered the franchise when I was in Covent Garden in the late 1990’s and have been a fan ever since. Since we don’t make it to this particular mall very often, I thought I would pop in and buy a birthday gift for my mother. At first, The Supplanter didn’t want to come with me, but then the pretty girls in the shop started talking to him. Then, I showed him the bubble bars, which look like colorful marshmallow candies. The final nail in the coffin was the bath bomb demonstration – warm water in a bucket, a bath bomb that produces first pink, then blue, and finally lavender foam, with a gorgeous scent – The Supplanter was hooked. He wanted to buy the whole store, but I convinced him that one bath bomb for the tub was enough, and that he could come back some day and buy the lip scrub he discovered at the cash register. He got back to the car smelling like neroli and lavender, and covered in glitter (in addition to the regular dirt and a blue tongue from the candy at the party.)

Blue Tongue!
Blue Tongue!

The King thought the bath bomb was a girly thing, until he realized that The Supplanter was going to use it in the tub, and then suddenly bath time was cool.

The Supplanter is also as sensitive as he is outgoing. He loves to explore, but he gets spooked easily. Take, for example, the day we went to Broad Meadow Brook to sign up for summer camp. He wanted to play in the nature area, but my shoes were all wrong for hiking. I told him I could see him down to the bottom of the hill, if he wanted to run down and back before we left. He took off with his usual eagerness, but was back within a few minutes; he was pale and looked very concerned. “I think I heard a fox,” he said. “Can we leave?” I knew there were other people on the path below him, and doubted that he’d really heard a fox less than 200 feet into the woods…and really, who could resist that opening, right? “What did the fox say,” I asked? The look he gave me would have turned Medusa to stone. “It’s not funny,” he replied. “I’m really feeling nervous. Can we go, please? I’ll be fine if I have a camp counselor with me this summer, but I really want to leave right now.” By the time we were back at the car, he was singing, and I bet you can guess which song.

So, that’s The Supplanter in a nutshell – adventurous, sensitive, outgoing, loves to shop, enjoys the finer things in life, and full of equal parts humor and love.

Summer is Coming…and I’m not ready!

Memorial Day is right around the corner and I, once again, am scrambling to figure out summer camp for the kids, before it’s too late. Like many families these days, we are so woefully over-scheduled that I can barely figure out what we’re supposed to be doing this week, let alone what two kids with different interests would like to be doing all summer.

There are all kinds of great opportunities where we live, including nature camp at the Audubon sanctuary. Both boys are of the opinion that if they don’t come home from summer camp covered in dirt, they didn’t have enough fun, and the Audubon happily supports that opinion.

There are a few sanctuaries in our area, but we are particularly partial to Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester, MA. If you’ve never visited Broad Meadow Brook, you might not think it’s worth a stop, but it definitely is. The sanctuary is tucked away in a residential neighborhood, and the visitor’s center is set back from the road. While there are plenty of signs out front, the driveway is easy to overlook. The parking lot holds about a dozen cars, and doesn’t leave a lot of room for maneuvering, though there are often more spots in the side lot on non-camp days. The visitor’s center has a desk where you can purchase a membership, pick up a trail map, and buy snacks and drinks. Don’t forget to stop in the multi-purpose room to see Clem, the resident painted turtle. There are also clean restroom facilities, so you can hit the trails at your freshest.

The front of the visitor’s center features a butterfly garden, full of color and fragrance and, of course, butterflies. It’s a lovely spot to spend a few minutes, but there’s so much more to see! The back deck of the visitor’s center, for example, is surrounded by bird feeders. There are a few comfortable chairs to relax in after a hike; you can sit back, have a sip of water and watch all kinds of birds stop by for bite. If you prefer, there’s also a bird blind with plenty of viewing spaces for everyone.

The trails start behind the visitor’s center, with plenty of options for all types of explorers. A rope guided sensory trail makes nature accessible to everyone with available audio tour, Braille signs and tactile maps. The Holdredge Trail is great for younger kids; it snakes down the hill behind the visitor’s center and around the Nature Play Area. Umbrella strollers might have some trouble, but some of the more sturdy strollers usually do ok along this trail. Parents can descend at a leisurely pace while kids explore and make their own paths down the hill.

At the bottom of the hill, there’s a boardwalk that extends to the left, leading to the frog pond, which is a favorite for my kids. The area around the frog pond has benches where one could sit quietly, but who wants to do that when you can lay down on a giant rock overlooking the muck? Even on the hottest days, the noises of the city melt away, and the frog pond is simply quiet, cool and green.

When you’re finally done exploring the frog pond, you can loop back around to the beginning of the Frog Pond Trail and continue along the Holdredge Trail to the stream, which is a popular spot to collect crayfish. The trail here is much less stroller-friendly, though, so this is really an activity for older kids who don’t mind walking on their own. Our family adventures usually stop about here because we spend so much time mucking about, but there are plenty more trails to explore. Kids at summer camp walk nearly every inch of the sanctuary in their time there, so I’ve always got my own trail guide with me when I bring the kids.

If you live in the Worcester area, and you’re unsure your kids would like summer camp at Broad Meadow Brook, the sanctuary also offers birthday parties that are like a mini-camp session. Rain or shine, the birthday child and their friends go into the woods with one of the Broad Meadow Brook Naturalists (who have really cool code names like Moth, Red Tail, or Blue Bird), followed by time in the multi-purpose room for cake and presents. The kids come back dirty and tired, with big smiles on their faces. How often does that happen, these days, when there are no electronics involved?

Even though I haven’t actually found time to sign up the boys for camp at Broad Meadow Brook, it’s definitely my easiest decision about summer. This will be the first year for the youngest, but I know he’ll love it just as much as the oldest does; and I know the oldest loves summer camp at Broad Meadow Brook for a few reasons – there’s the look of exhausted bliss when I pick him up and the constant singing of the camp song, but most telling is the camp picture collage that hangs on my fridge. It’s been there for nearly 2 years, and I’m still not allowed to take it down. The summer was that good.

What’s your favorite summer camp activity, now or when you were growing up?

Is it a Dollar or Something More?

Last night, my family and I went out to dinner. After we were seated, we did the usual family routine: discuss what we’ll order, argue about whether or not the kids will be allowed soda, make sure everyone has an activity to keep them occupied until the food comes, etc.

Hubby and I were laughing about mistaking Hunan Vegetables for Human Vegetables, and wondering where one might obtain such a thing when an older man approached the table. With very little fanfare, he told us that when he and his wife are out to dinner, “kids at nearby tables get a dollar” from him. He handed a single dollar to each of my sons and continued on his way before we even had a chance to properly thank him. A minute later, our food came, and while it was being served, he and his wife walked out the door.

I was touched by the generosity of this stranger, and the boys were delighted to have a dollar to spend on something frivolous. I spent much of our meal pondering the motives of people who give money to kids for seemingly no reason. It’s not that I think there’s anything untoward about it; it’s more that it’s very much a relic of a by-gone era, at least in my part of the world. I did a bit of Googling, and it seems I’m not the only mom who has come across this practice and felt ambivalent about it. There’s a fair amount of “what would you do” questions on various mommy message boards, and it seems the moms are split between whether it’s sweet or uncomfortable. Those are the two reactions I had last night – first, how sweet and second, how strange.

Hubby, who we affectionately call “Daddy Hawk” because of his protectiveness of the kids, just kind of shrugged and kept eating his dinner when I finished thinking about my reaction and asked him what he thought. He’s often my barometer; I recognize that I can be hyper-vigilant about certain things, and if he’s not fussed about something, then I probably don’t need to be, either. Okay, I can accept that the man was simply generous, and that it’s an older generation thing. Can I let it go? Of course not! There has to be a teachable moment here.

The oldest had gone to the bathroom, so I took the opportunity to try to persuade the youngest that he should do something special with his dollar to honor the man’s generosity. “Oh yeah,” he agreed, “I’m going to spend it at…THE DOLLAR STORE!” I had to fight not to hang my head in shame. The oldest gets that spending your dollar at The Dollar Store equals spending your money on crap. The little one, though, he’s still a work in progress. I tried to convince him that, by special, I meant give the money to charity. He’s always asking me to put my money in one collection box or another, and here’s his opportunity! I told him about the Pay It Forward program at work, where 30 employees a year are randomly picked to gift $500 to a charity of their choice, on behalf of our employer. We talked about how glad we were to have adopted our two cats from Willy’s Kitty Angels, and how Mary Ellen volunteers her time, and how she could really use his dollar to help feed and vet the kitties who haven’t been adopted yet. In the midst of the conversation the oldest returned from the bathroom, and seemed to be pretty keen on the idea of giving his dollar to some worthy charity.

The youngest? Nope. Dollar Store.

In the end, I don’t mind if the kid wants to buy himself a chocolate bar with his dollar. It was a gift, and it should be his choice to spend it as he sees fit. I was just hoping I could give this generous man’s gesture some meaning that I can be comfortable with. I’d like my kids to learn that the dollar the man just handed them can easily be a candy bar, but it could be something bigger and more sustained if they choose to pass it on. I appreciate that the man gave only the dollar and no explanation, because I feel like he gave me a little gift, too – the opportunity to find my own meaning in his generosity.