Friday, July 29, 2011

"Don't complain that you had to wait to eat."

I grew up with a dad who worked construction.  Mostly heavy construction - roadworks and sewer and water - when I was a kid.  If he wasn't away in that vagueness us Canadians call "Up North" for a few weeks to a few months at a time, he was working long hours all summer, effectively gone to me with my early bedtime and his early wake time, and then laid off all winter.  This was also in the days when there were no cell phones.  I remember how excited we were when my dad got a pager and we could page him, knowing he'd call us back as soon as he got to a payphone or the office.  Before that, we had no clue most nights what time he might come home at.

I remember sometimes on weekends my dad would take me with him running errands.  This often meant stopping at various suppliers' warehouses or showrooms for work-related stuff, going to the dump (we lived in the country and my dad likes to scavenge for stuff he can fix up), washing the car, stopping in at Beaver Lumber (where they had full size play structures on display outside to play on), going to my Uncle Luther's studio (he's an artist and collector - I loved looking at all his things and artwork), stopping in at friends' houses (images of Lynrd Skynrd records, motorcycles, full ashtrays, stubby beer bottles, dirty garages full of car parts and greasy jean jackets are conjured up) or milling around in Princess Auto.

I have this one memory...  I'm too big for my car seat now, a big girl.  I like my car seat.  It's familiar.  White plastic form with light brown waterproof lightly padded cover.  My mom says I'm going to go with my dad to take the car seat to the dump.  We go and my dad just gets me out, takes it out of the car, chucks it, we get back in and drive away.  I feel strange in the big seatbelt - loose and insecure.  I'm sad that my car seat is gone.  My dad wants to cheer me up.  We're on a gravel road and there is a bump coming so he speeds up a bit so we can get butterflies as we go over.  This is not something I would enjoy but it is something he would enjoy.  My father has trouble making these distinctions.  There's a pothole when we land and I bounce up too high, hitting my head on the ceiling of the car.  I'm upset, he's uncomfortable and he doesn't know how to comfort me.  He makes some jokes, tells me to tough up and I try.  Now we're at the car wash and he leaves the radio on for me while he soaps up the windows.  As he cloaks the car in white darkness I wait in anticipation for him to make a peephole with the clean water and smile and wave at me.  George Harrison's Got My Mind Set On You plays on the radio.  This is a nice memory for me, this time in the car wash with my dad, peeping in the window, smiling and waving at me in the dark carwash.

As I got older, my dad got better jobs and in my teen years he was typically gone five days a week but home all weekend.  Because I was a teenager and he was absent so often, I think he felt some responsibility to pick up the slack parenting on the weekends which is a noble deed, to be sure, except that he did it in a disciplinarian, authoritarian way.  We never really had a close relationship because he was so often absent so this compulsion to just "enforce the law", as it were, made it even harder for us to be close.

My Dad Walks Me Down the
Aisle Four Years Ago
As a little kid I didn't really understand that my dad was doing anything different from other dads.  As I got older and teen angst grew stronger and our relationship grew more tenuous I was glad when he'd leave on Mondays because my mom and I had a routine and she was predictable.  As an adult, I am sad that I don't have a close relationship with my dad and I can see that it is at least in part due to his often being absent.

Now, I'm married to a carpenter.  We have been fortunate that he has generally had work close enough to home to sleep in our bed each night, though we have had separations typically a few times a year for work for anywhere from a few days to six weeks.  Since The Smiler was born, though, The Carpenter hasn't had to go away for work.  Until now, that is.

For the past month my husband has been gone five days a week and home only on the weekend.  For the past five months before that, he worked 60-70 hours a week, at least six days a week, starting early in the morning and working until late at night, often not seeing his son or only being able to say good night to him quickly before he fell asleep.

Most People Have Chairs in Their Breakrooms.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn't think about this when I married him.  I know what it was like having an absent father and I'm worried the same thing is going to play out for my son, now.   The Carpenter tries very hard to be home as much as possible but sometimes you have to accommodate in order to keep your job.  His employer isn't bad to him and it's the same way everywhere else in the construction industry.  I remind myself that many other places are in recessions and no building is taking place.  We have a short summer in Manitoba and we try to do as much construction as possible during those months, I get it.  I really do.  I try to be thankful for the work that IS available.  I try to be grateful that my husband has a good enough job that we can squeak by on one income and whatever I get from odd jobs here and there.  I try to be grateful for all the stuff I have that others don't but when there's a crying toddler and I haven't had a break all week and I'm hungry and tired or when my hair is dirty and the kitchen needs cleaning and my vehicle needs repairs or when I skooch over out of habit to make room for someone who isn't there next to me at night I miss my man.

The Smiler is missing his daddy, too.  He gets so excited when The Carpenter comes home and when it's time for him to go again on Monday, The Smiler just keeps hugging him and doesn't want to let him go.  He cries when the door closes behind his daddy.

My Monkey Man Up Six Stories in the Air
I'm sure The Carpenter sometimes wonders why he didn't choose a different career path, too.  He's amazing at what he does and truly loves it, though, and I would never ask him to give up a career he loves (to be clear, he loves carpentry, not being away from home).  At the end of the night, after he's worked all day and has only a shared hotel room to go "home" to after eating restaurant food for supper AGAIN (trust me, this gets old fast), after he's hurried in the shower to accommodate his roomie(s) and lays down in a foreign bed, my man misses his family.

So what am I saying all this for?  Here it is.  Sometimes, when I was a little girl and my dad was working heavy construction, on rare evenings when he'd be home for supper and we'd eat as a family, my mom would complain about traffic hold-ups on the way home from work.  My dad would say, "Don't complain that you had to wait to eat."

The Carpenter Was Mere FEET Away When This Crane
Fell and Nearly Killed Him and Several Other People
Next time you find yourself stopped in the car, staring at a "SLOW" or - even worse - "STOP" sign and maybe getting a little perturbed, or unable to find what you need in the grocery store because of renovations or having to park on the far end of the lot because they're repaving, remember that those people working there bust their asses every day.  They get up at the crack of dawn, they work in conditions postal workers wouldn't even consider, they work in the blazing heat and the freezing cold, in pouring rain and mucky spring muds.  They skip their breaks and lunches, they run out of water and can't access more, they hurt their hands, knees and backs, they work late, late, late to get it done (as the saying goes in the industry, "Time, tide and concrete wait for no man"), they work nights, they go up and down in crazy machines, risking their lives and they work HARD.  Physically HARD.  They have families waiting for them at home and they don't want to be at work any more than the next person does.  They certainly don't want to hold up your day, either.

These are the people who make the roads we drive on and the sidewalks we walk on.  They make the grocery stores we shop in and the malls we walk around.  They make the museums we take our children to.  They make the skate parks and amusement parks.  They install the sewer systems we don't give a second thought to when we flush away.  They make the swimming pools we swim in and the stages we are entertained on.  They make the stands we cheer from.  They make the driveways or garages we park in and the homes we sleep in.

They are my father and husband.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stop! No! Don't!

Today a friend and I hit up the Winnipeg Fringe Festival for a while.  We were meandering along the alleys of street vendors (may I just say that I don't like the way it's set up this year because Market Square is under construction (and has been for seemingly EONS...  come to think of it, I never see any one doing any work there....) so they're using Arthur and Albert for street vendors, instead).  We also enjoyed a gelati but that's not what I'm here to talk about today.  I overheard a few parents using negatives in their language with their children and it got me thinking that I actually hear it a lot.

"Stop fighting."
"No running."
"Don't touch that."
"Quit it!"
"Get out of there!"

You get the picture.  I'm not entirely innocent of saying some of these things myself and before I go any further I'll say that I have much understanding in my heart for the parent who is having a rough day so I always give people the benefit of the doubt and try not to judge.

With that said, I can't help but put myself in the child's shoes at times, though, too and think of what it must be like to live in their world of nos, cannots, don'ts and stop its.  So I've come up with a few thoughts I'd like to touch on regarding negative guidance.

1) Children Live in a Near-Constant State of Uncertainty
No decision is their own, the schedule revolves around adults' agendas with little to no regard for children's wishes or plans.  They are often not even informed of what's going to happen throughout the day or even what is happening at that very moment.  When we tell children what NOT to do all the time we add to their uncertainty and make them anxious.  When we empower them by showing and telling them what IS acceptable instead of what IS NOT  they gain a sense of security from knowing what they are able to do.

2) Children Are Always Learning and Experimenting
They are curious and driven to acquire knowledge and explore, trying new things, experimenting with their environments all the time (which is often why they "misbehave" in new situations - they are not inherently bad!  They are driven to test boundaries when unclear, like little scientists watching what mice do in a new maze, to see what happens).  The child longs for a sense of knowing what is desired of him, it's actually very stressful for children when they aren't sure what to do.  When we use negative language, telling our children what NOT to do, we leave a void.  The child is already upset - obviously they wanted to be doing what they were doing because they were doing it - so they feel slighted and, on top of it, are being forced to find something else to do, risking being told no again.

3) Social Mores and Generally Accepted Behaviours are Foreign to Children
As discussed, children feel more comfortable when they know what to expect (this is why Mr. Rogers is so popular - the kids know what's coming next) and what is expected of them.  In new situations, we can tend to assume our children understand rules we inherently know from years of experience, inadvertently setting our children up to fail.  For example, children don't understand that it's inappropriate to wander around the restaurant, talking to strangers, tasting other people's foods, exploring the kitchen and servery, etc.  This is where we come in as guides!  It's so important to arm our children with knowledge of the expectations beforehand and discussing the situation and expectations the day before, the day of and on the way there is a great way to help the child understand and remember.  I am often simultaneously pleased and disappointed, though, when I hear parents doing this with "Do nots" instead of "Dos".  I love seeing parents prepare their children for new situations but it's hard when I hear it all as nos and don'ts.  There's sort of an underlying sense that the parent assumes the child wants to exhibit all these negative behaviours as well as a message sent to the child that these are things s/he should want to do since they're being specifically forbidden.  When preparing your child for an outing to a new place, consider discussing what the place will be like and what will be expected in positive, absolute, group terms: "There will be lots of people talking in the restaurant."  "We stay in our seats in the restaurant."  "We talk quietly in the restaurant." (add the because at the end of each of those if appropriate for your child) "We'll each get to choose what we'd like to eat and have our very own plate to eat from!"

4) Children Think in Pictures
A baby is born with no words.  When they want something, it is only a feeling at first, growing over time into an image along with that feeling.  When a baby thinks about wanting an object on the other side of the room, she doesn't think in WORDS, she envisions the item in her hand or sees herself moving toward it to get it.  As the child grows and acquires more words, they become associated with pictures in their mind (we cement this with puzzles, pictures, matching games, etc.) so when we say, "No running!" the child SEES running in his mind.  "No" is pretty hard to make a picture of so it is abstract to the child.  The image of running is very compelling and running is fun!  Some children will immediately want to test a "no" boundary to see if you really meant it, too.  "Slow down." or, "Please walk." will create a much better picture of what you want your child to do.

5) It's Just Plain Nicer
Guiding our children can fast turn into a long string of criticisms in the daily grind if we're not careful.  On top of noticing our children's good traits whenever we can, we can also try to be more positive in our guidance.  When we use too much negative language our children can't help but eventually feel like they're doing everything wrong.  Positive direction or redirection can really help our children to feel like we're with them on their journey, cheerfully helping them learn what is appropriate without resentment or judgement (which is, after all, what we want them to feel like, right?!)  Remember, too, that negative reactions don't have to be quelled all together; saying, "Oh, yuck!  Rocks taste gross!  Let's keep them out of our mouths." will still discourage rock eating just as well or better than, "Don't eat rocks!"

I challenge you to watch your language over the next week or two, being mindful of how you phrase things with your child and try thinking of positive phrasings to replace the negative ones you find yourself using.  Then, implement them!   I have found that if I think creatively enough, there is no situation in which I have to be completely negative.  When we have to tell our children not to do something or when we've slipped up and used negative phrasing accidentally, it should immediately be followed with at least one or two suggestions for what they CAN do.  It will take a few weeks to get into the habit of positive phrasing and it may take your children a bit of time to get used to it, too but I truly believe you'll all feel better for it!