* What's wrong with paperclips?

Oh dear. Keeping up with this blog has been difficult lately, and the longer I wait to post, the more daunting the task becomes because everyday yields more news and stories and anecdotes and I cannot possibly catch up! Oh dear.

Oh well.

So let’s just hit the highlights, shall we? My last post was on Tuesday, but all that carefree reassurance came before the first phone call from the principal. Her number is now saved in my cell phone, so when she calls her name flashes like a warning on the little screen. I should have saved her as “Rio’s At It Again.”

She informed me that Rio had punched 4 kids in the face during recess that day. FOUR?? I imagined some kind of rowdy brawl, like that part in Rio’s new favorite song, about “the mud and the blood and the beer.” Well, maybe without the beer. They frown upon that in Kindergarten.

In fact, it was some kind of game called Guns and Robbers, which, as it turns out, is also frowned upon in Kindergarten. And actually, Rio didn’t mean to punch anyone, or at least he didn’t do it out of anger, thank goodness. Therefore, the principal deemed that since there was no malicious intent, little Hercules would be spared from suspension (this time) and instead he would spend the remainder of the afternoon in his “buddy” classroom (a sort of timeout area), AND for the next 2 days he would spend recess in the principal’s office. OK, fair enough. At least he didn’t get suspended again.

That was my first call from the principal this week. I received another one on Thursday. This time, she was inquiring about some paperclips in Rio’s possession. An awful lot of paperclips, apparently. He told her they came from home, but she was doubtful, so she called me hoping to bust him. I assured her that yes, those paperclips did come from home. As a matter of fact, over the weekend Rio had made a chain of them about 5 feet long so it was entirely possible that he had brought them from our house. She still seemed doubtful, and asked me the same question in about three different ways to make sure she heard me right.

“Are you sure he has access to that many paperclips?”

As if they were bullets or crack or something. Sheesh. Still, I must say that I didn’t even mind her hypervigilance at the time, so relieved was I that Rio hadn’t committed any serious offense. Paperclips? I can deal with paperclips. But I think that principal needs to consider these words:

Choose
your
battles.

I mean, paperclips?? Gimme a break.

There was a spring in my step when I picked up Hercules at school that afternoon, so pleased was I with the innocence of his fondness for paperclips. So pleased that I decided to take him to the library. It was, after all, time for the final installment of the Narnia series. And I wanted to get some EZ Reader books for him to read to me, too. So he skipped merrily over to the children’s area and claimed the kitchen play set while I browsed for books.

I had to enlist the help of the Children’s Librarian to locate the sort of books I needed, but all the while I had one eye on Rio. His animated play attracted the attention of two curious toddlers. They looked so small and fragile next to him, I was a little nervous. After the Librarian finished with me, I dropped in to encourage Hercules to be extra gentle with the little ones. One of their mothers was lurking nearby, quietly observing their interaction as well. I smiled at her and she smiled back. She didn’t seem concerned, so I went back to my browsing.

At last, I found everything I wanted and returned to the kitchen to help Rio find his coat and move towards the check-out desk. He did so happily, and as we were leaving a woman smiled at us and asked me, “Does he have any younger siblings at home?”

“No, just a few older ones.”

“Well, I’m surprised. He was just so sweet with those two little ones over there. I was really impressed.”

Rio beamed. I beamed and squeezed his little hand. Yep, that’s my boy! Gentle! Sweet! Would you mind putting that in writing so I can show it to his principal? That would be swell.

I guess that pretty much covers the Best of Hercules for this week. Except for the grand finale, the best news of the whole week:

Rio read a book to me all by himself!

Well, maybe I coached him a little, but you know, some words really are just spelled weird. Yep. He’s a reader now! It’s true. I’m the proudest Mama:) Who cares about paperclips?

* Life is Good


Stylin' 1
Originally uploaded by Renee May.
Despite the winter blues and some minor setbacks, we just keep on keepin' on. Here's Hercules playing Master of Disguise. He informed that he was disguised as a lawyer. I would like to know where he met a lawyer dressed like this, because if there is such a lawyer, he must be quite a dapper fella!

Click on the photo to see more in the series.

* Having Issues

It's been a hard week for little Hercules.

It started on Tuesday night when he had his first major meltdown in weeks. It was awful. Shut inside his room, he shrieked "LET ME OUT!!" repeatedly as he hurled everything he could reach at his door. I went to the far end of the house and just cried.

He was sent to his room for behaving badly at the automotive shop. After we left I lectured him all the way home: how I won't take him with me anywhere because he pulls stunts like that, so this weekend I'm getting a sitter instead of taking him out to dinner with our friends. That really set him to crying and wailing, so when we pulled up to the house we were both in a pretty pissy mood.

This is where Rio and I slip into a terrible pattern: we feed off each other's anger and frustration. This is where I feel ashamed of me, because I am the adult, and I should set an example and have more control over my emotional reactions.

It's difficult to describe the dark shadow that passes over my heart whenever Rio goes into a meltdown, because my heart fills with such anger as I have never known before. I hate him right then, and then I hate myself for hating him, and I blame myself for all of his anger. It's an ugly thought pattern and one I really need to shed. It used to be much worse, but it hasn't quite gone away, either. And I still judge myself very harshly for having those feelings. It's not exactly acceptable to hate your own child. And of course I don't hate Rio, but at certain moments my darker emotions override everything else.

I'm trying to shed some light on my dark side. I cannot slay the beast, but I can learn to understand it.

Once the meltdown was in full swing I handled my emotions better than I have in the past. I didn't yell at him, I barely even spoke to him. I knew I had already blown it with him, and nothing I said would make a bit of difference while he's in that mindset. So I waited. And I cried a bunch, and then I felt a little better, so I decided to do some dishes until The Diva showed up for yoga.

I had all of them done when she arrived, and by then Rio was slightly subdued. Still yelling, but not shrieking much anymore, and the toys were hitting the door with considerably less force. I filled The Diva in on the scene, cried some more, and then she took over, bless her.

(God, bless That Diva the most. She needs some blessings)

In a few minutes it was all over. They called me in and we negotiated a truce. Reluctantly at first, Rio agreed to clean up all the stuff he had thrown and/or dumped all over his room. So while we did yoga in the next room, little Hercules transformed himself from Hell Boy to Charming One. He was cooperative, sweet, and even remorseful. There was no trace left of the previous devilry.

That night I was reminded of a couple of things, things that I know but often forget to do at the most critical of times:

  • Before I discipline Rio I have to cool down myself.

  • During a meltdown, it's too late for lectures about choices & consequences. Rio needs to be physically comforted and calmed down (Rio is a very physical little guy and he really responds best to actions, not words). Then he can be disciplined appropriately.

  • Control is an illusion.
The last one relates to my own control issues concerning Rio, which is exactly what this all comes down to. I want to control Rio's behavior, but I cannot, and this makes me feel powerless, and I rebel against that. It stirs up the worst in me. I'm really grappling with this, so I obviously have some control issues that I haven't dealt with fully yet. It has a lot to do with my perfectionist nature.

In spite of that dramatic evening at home, Rio had had a pretty smooth week at school, until today, that is. Today his principal called me at work. Rio punched a boy at lunchtime for laughing at him (don't they know not to fuck with Hercules??), and he had already kicked another kid earlier for some unknown offense. The principal, therefore, deemed that he should not be allowed to go on the school field trip this afternoon and asked me to come get him.

So we went home and I put Rio to work cleaning his room and vaccuuming. He was remarkably cooperative, and even remorseful. He apologized to me for making me miss work! He accepted his sentence (grounded until 4, then no TV or computer) without a fuss. We discussed what happened at school, and he understands very well that what he did was unacceptable. The problem is, Hercules doesn't ever think about hitting anyone. If he did, it wouldn't happen. Unfortunately, Hercules only feels, then acts, and thinks about it later. We're trying to retrain him in that regard. It will take some time, but with lots of consistency I'm confident he'll get the hang of it. Eventually.

Meanwhile, here's a little tip for any child that encounters Rio:

Don't piss off Hercules, he's a bad ass when he's mad!

Please, for your own sake!

* Even long weekends aren't long enough.

Rio and I are enjoying a 3-day weekend, and we’ve been languishing in the warmth of our cozy little house on this lazy holiday while it’s freezing outside. We’ve also been indulging in some guilty pleasures: cookies, m&m’s, and video games.

On Saturday Pa purchased this tiny little mini-arcade loaded with the best of 1981 arcade glory. The only one I recognize is Frogger, but that’s because I was never a fan of video games, even as a kid. This little package is basically just a joystick that plugs into the TV. It’s seems so simple and cheesy and innocent compared to its hip progeny. Normally I’m vehemently against video games of all sorts, and refuse to spend my scarce & piddling wages on that mind-numbing kiddie crack.

I may be an idealist, but I’m no purist. Make no mistake.

So on Saturday when it was 12 degrees and snowing outside and I was cooped up with 6 kids under the age of 14, I couldn’t have been happier to see that little joystick, aptly named for the joy it brings parents and children alike on days such as these. And there we were, all 8 of us (give or take a couple of stragglers) piled on and around mine & Pa’s big bed, transfixed by Frogger’s dogged attempts to cross the freeway and defy death on the raging river of doom. Pa and I played, too, and refereed disputes over the play sequence and jumping on the bed. Quality family fun, let me tell you.

Sunday was nice, too. After The Kids left, Rio and I took a walk to the downtown cemetery. There was an inch or so of fresh powdery snow from the night before and I wanted pictures. It turned out to be an excellent adventure. We got to make the very first footprints in untouched parking lots along our route. At the cemetery we spied lots of animal footprints and followed them all over the place. When I became engrossed in my photographs, Rio skated on icy patches and then ceremoniously stomped and smashed the ice to bits.

The rest of Sunday was alternately productive and relaxing. I cooked a lot this weekend, it’s a new thing I’m trying. Cooking, that is. I’ve been inspired of late to eat better and thus cook better, thanks to an old cookbook I unpacked recently – The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. It was published in the 1970’s but I picked it up at a yardsale in Tampa. It’s a grubby, well-worn old book, but it’s full of some mouth-watering recipes. And healthy too, which is what I’m after, with as little effort as possible. I’m doing well so far. This weekend we ate:

Spinach Quiche
Potatoes Romanoff
Potato Peel Broth (from the peels of the above dish)
Lentil and Tomato Soup (with the potato peel broth)
Biscuits and Gravy (this was Pa’s doing, but popular with the kids on Sunday morning)

Tonight I made a Potato Curry with brown rice and a garden salad. I could get used to this. We’ve been eating more vegetables and unprocessed foods and I can feel the difference already. And I don’t mind the cooking nearly as much as I thought. I also smartened up and started doing menus for the whole week before I buy groceries. It’s much more efficient and we’re eating better than ever.

This is just one step in my plan to get more organized. It’s been so long since I’ve settled in a place with the intent to stay, I’m still trying to create a space for everything, and to establish a routine that optimizes my efficiency. Efficiency is key; I’ve got a lot on my place yet I can never seem to do enough.

Time. If I were rich it would be time in my pocket, under my mattress. And all my punctuation will call for ellipses, for all the pauses I will take along the way . . . Someday, I will have whole days to call my own . . .

Imagine the luxury!

Today is MLK’s birthday, so I told Rio one of his favorite stories: The Story of Rosa Parks. Exactly two years ago on this day, Rio and I were driving in the car on the way to his preschool and we were listening to public radio, and they were doing a feature on Rosa Parks. Rio listened intently, and when the special feature was over he drilled me with questions. Every morning ever after on our way to his school, Rio would ask me to tell and re-tell the story of Miss Rosa Parks and how she wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus. I never did mind telling it over and over again, and he never grew tired of hearing it.

* American Music Dance Party


American Music
Originally uploaded by Renee May.
I picked up Rio from school yesterday and checked his chart - three sad faces in Music, otherwise mostly smiles as well as lots of reminders. Not bad, but we need to get to the bottom of this problem in Music class. Hercules is a rock star, Music should be his favorite class!

I discuss this (and many other things) with The Diva during our yoga session. While we're upstairs stretching and breathing loudly, Rio is downstairs rocking out to his new favorite songs. These include:

Rawhide
The Ballad of Davy Crockett
Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley
I Want You to Want Me by Cheap Trick
We Want the Funk by Parliament

And the current #1 Hercules Pick of the Day:
American Music by The Violent Femmes

He has recently figured out how to navigate the playlists in my iTunes library, and of course he found the one with his name on it. I put the first four songs in there knowing he'd be into those. The others he found on different playlists I'd made for my friends. On Sunday he played Rawhide on a continuous loop for hours. Witness Rio hollering:

"ALL THE THINGS THAT I'VE BEEN MISSIN'
GOOD VITTLES, LOVE AND KISSIN'
ARE WAITIN' AT THE END OF THE RIDE!"

He especially loves the part where he cracks the whip and cries "HAAA!"

But last night Rawhide came in second to American Music.

"I NEED A DATE TO THE PROM
WOULD YOU LIKE TO COME ALONG?
BUT NOBODY WOULD GO TO THE PROM WITH ME
BAAAABY
THEY DIDN'T LIKE AMERICAN MUSIC
THEY NEVER HEARD AMERICAN MUSIC
THEY DIDN'T KNOW THE MUSIC WAS IN MY SO-OOUL
BAAAABY!"

Pretty soon, The Diva can't help herself and she's in there dancing along with Rio. If I hadn't been in the middle of fixing dinner I would have joined in, too. It's no accident that my son is a dancing fiend, you know. He's his mama's child:)

All the while that Rio is performing for us, he's also wearing my new pedometer. Between songs he pauses to check his step count. By bedtime he was up to 4354. Not bad for a night's work. I've already decided to get him one of his own. I may even get one for each of the kids, so they can all go out in the yard and run races and compete for the most steps or whatever. It could even become a very handy device. "Alright boys, go outside and don't come in until you've gone 6000 steps!" But I digress. I do that a lot. You'll get used to it.

Finally I had to put young John Travolta to bed. After that, Pa brought out his banjo so he and The Diva could work on some songs for their gig this weekend. They've been working on Dream a Little Dream, Fine Brown Frame and Summertime (a crooning Billie Holliday rendition). You should hear The Diva sing, she's a powerhouse. She was explaining to us that back when she was teaching herself to sing, she chose the most difficult songs and sang them over and over again until she could do them perfectly. It didn't take much prompting to get her to demonstrate for us. So she sang a couple of her favorites: Blue Bayou and I Don't Know How to Love Him (from Jesus Christ Superstar). She blew me away, as usual. I'm going to try to get a sitter Friday night so I can see her sing with the band and get some photos.

Nights like this remind me how lucky I am:) Yoga night is the best!

Hint: Click on the photo above to see more photos of Hercules in his groove.

* Meditating with Eggs


Meditating with Eggs
Originally uploaded by Renee May.
A discussion about this photograph prompted Rio to ask me:

"Mama, what is it like to meditate with an egg?"


"Well, let me think, Rio. Meditating on an egg is like wondering about the origin of life, a phrase which here means 'where life begins'. And then you think about the cycle of life and death, and how every ending is a new beginning. At least, that's how I meditate with an egg."

'Taken out of context, I must seem so strange'
-Ani Difranco

*

The first thing I did last night after work was to put on a pot of brown rice for dinner. Pa had made potato curry the night before, we just needed some rice to go with it. I set the timer for 50 minutes just as Pa was getting home. Rio asked for some snuggle time so we got on my bed. He brought his new favorite toy along too – Furby. Not the hi-tech talking Furby that was all the rage a few years back, but a deaf-mute plush version. Rio is enchanted by the silly creature. The only problem is that it’s not his Furby, it’s his stepbrother’s. Rio still has some Christmas money left, so I told him we could get him a Furby of his own. At first, he objected:

"No, I don’t want another Furby! I want this Furby!"

Eventually I persuaded him that if he picked out the Furby himself, he could select the very best Furby of all. At this point I was laying on the bed with one leg crossed over my knee, holding one corner of a blanket above the bed. Rio had constructed a tent for Furby and I was acting as a tentpost. Pa was nearby on his computer, and we were all relaxed and playful. I was kinda sorry when I had to get up and tend to the rice. But I did, and we had a yummy dinner. Afterward, I was planning on uploading some photos before I prepared Rio for bed. Oddly enough, however, he was begging to go to bed already, and it was only 6:30. On a school night I would happily indulge him in such an uncommon but healthy request. But it was Friday night, and I wanted to get some sleep in the morning, at least until sunrise. If I put Rio to bed before seven I knew he’d be up before the sun.

I persuaded him to amuse himself for a while until I was finished with my pictures. I told him it was his last chance to play before bedtime, but he just asked to go to bed now. I managed to accomplish my task, after a lot of shooing him away every few minutes. He was more clingy than usual last night, and it’s a little pet peeve of mine that I’ve got to work on. Because it makes me feel guilty at the same time, and guilt is a sure sign of bad thought patterns. But when he follows me to the bathroom and clings to me while I’m fixing him dinner, after I’ve just had a good hearty snuggle session with him in the big bed – I get worn out by him. His idea of attention requires direct physical contact. He’s a very physical kid. He can be pretty intimidating to smaller, frail folk. He moves like a bull-dozer, and even his displays of affection are forceful. Hell, I had a boyfriend who cringed everytime Rio came near him, and Rio was only two. My point is, I’m having some personal space issues with Rio, and last night I became intensely aware of it.

After a while Rio crawled into bed and began reading (reciting, really) his favorite book to himself: Castle Under Attack. He actually fell asleep before I was done with my work. I tried talking to him to rouse him, but he didn’t respond. Finally I got up and got him ready for bed, giving him the extra cuddles I promised him after my work was done. We read the next chapter in The Silver Chair, but before we started he informed me that he would let me know if he was ready to sleep before the chapter was over. Fortunately, he was absorbed enough in the story that he made it all the way through.

That was yesterday. Today we have a house full of kids. We just returned from a sledding expedition, and now we're revelling in our favorite apres-sled delicacy: hot chocolate. We'll see what ensues next:)

* You gotta see this

I found this great Calvin & Hobbes remix courtesy of Media trips. I love it! Even though it's funny in a tragic sort of way. See for yourself:

Calvin and Hobbes ADD remix

Rio has a session with his counselor today, and no sad faces yet this week! He don't need no stinkin' meds:) Hurray for Hercules!


* Mighty Hercules


Warrior Pose
Originally uploaded by Renee May.
Here's a shot of Rio on an old railroad trestle in New England. Isn't he fierce? You can see the rest of this series on my Flickr pages.

Another good day at school yesterday, but afterward he was tired and cranky. This has become the norm, and I'm not crazy about it. I'm thankful his teachers are getting him at his best, at least. But once he gets home he's too worn out to handle the least bit of frustration. I mean, computer games had him in tears last night.

The problem is that Rio has always been a devoted napper. His system needs to reboot about halfway through the day, and then he's in a much happier mood when he wakes up. I'm not sure when he'll grow out of that, but I hope it's soon, since there won't be naptime at school anytime soon.

Right now I have to go pick up little Hercules from school. It's early release today due to an incoming ice storm. It seems a bit premature to me, but I don't really mind leaving work early:)

* Back to reality

The vacation is over and life is back to its frenzied pace once again. I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, because we certainly did. We were treated to some incredible New England hospitality wherever we went, and it was wonderful. I wish I could make it back there more often.

Our road trip was long and a bit harried, at least on the way out when we ran smack into a blizzard. Ohio was rather unkind to us, though Little Hercules was thrilled with our adventures, particularly when we got to sit in the bed of the pickup and make like sandbags so Pa could get us unstuck.

Otherwise, we listened to our audio books and Rio passed a great many hours working through the activity books he got for Christmas. He finished the entire math book, happily counting and coloring-by-number in his seat between me and Pa. When he works so quietly and contentedly like that for over an hour I wish his teachers could see him. I’ll admit there’s a lot more external stimulation to distract him in the classroom, but he has no trouble whatsoever focusing in the car. It’s amazing. I was seriously considering becoming a full-time nomad, just to enjoy the sedative effect that driving has on Little Hercules.

I’ll have some pictures from the trip online soon at flickr, please be patient. I took over 100 and I’ve barely had a chance to look at them since we got home.

I had set a goal for Rio’s Christmas break to teach him to read before he started school again, but I didn’t quite meet that goal. I really was only able to work on it during the drive, but we did get a lot of practice on the road. I’m eager for him to read, but I’m trying not to make him feel pressured. He’s making progress, which means he’s getting less frustrated with words he doesn’t know. I explained to him that reading is more recognition than sounding out letters, at least once you learn to recognize familiar letter combinations. So we worked on phonics a lot, and eventually I’m sure the repetition will pay off.

Anyway, he’s back at school now and I’m trying to be optimistic about his behavior report for his first day after vacation. Frankly, I’ll be pretty relieved if he gets through the day without getting suspended. He was great on our trip, but coming home was tough for him after all that excitement, and he’s been wound up tight and was especially defiant and combative over the weekend.

In other news, our household has shrunk back to its original size, meaning Big B has chosen to go live with his mom again. It was a bit of a surprise, but it turns out to be entirely amicable and typical of an adolescent boy’s priorities: he misses his friends and he gets to go to the skate park every day after school there. We just want him to realize that he can’t yoyo back and forth on a whim, so this move will be permanent. There will be no opportunity for re-entry until high school, and then he’ll get to choose his location. Meanwhile, I am having mixed feelings of relief and sadness. Relief, because it’s not easy to feed a teenage boy and I don’t like having to hide food just so it will last more than a day. Sadness, because I felt like he and I were just beginning to connect, and Rio was getting pretty attached to him, too.

My feelings regarding that whole dynamic are as complex as the situation, and all I can really say is that I just hope I can set a good example for those kids in what little time I have with them. Unfortunately, I am generally so emotionally exhausted from wrangling Hercules that I don’t feel like the other kids are getting the best of my efforts. I need to reconcile that somehow.

There's a lot I've been wanting to touch on lately, and I just haven't had the time to do it. I hope to be posting a bunch of short but frequent posts over the next week or so, now that I'm back to work. If I didn't work, I'd never be able to blog. Ironic, isn't it?