Category Archives: Parenting

Boomerang!

IMG_0593One sunny Sunday, a mom, dad, two teen boys, and a boomerang went to the park. It was hot and shade was small. The middle of the field baked, so, seeking shadows the family pushed their throwing game to the edge of the grass near a tall wide-branched tree. Beneath that tree picnicked a small boy, his dad, and pregnant mom.

Boomerangs are supposed to return to their tosser. But sometimes they don’t.

On that Sunday one sailed out and kept sailing till it landed in that tall tree.

“Oh well. Let’s leave it,” one teen said.

“We can’t get it out,” agreed the other.

“What could we use?” I said, turning to Doug.

“What do we have?” he said, looking at me.

The small boy who had been sitting under the tree began tossing his soccer ball into the air.

The boomerang smiled from above.

Opening my backpack, I pulled out a water bottle.

“Let’s leave it,” the first teen repeated.

“We need rope,” said Doug, walking to the nearby railroad roundhouse tool area to borrow some.

Waiting mom tossed her water bottle into the air.

Doug returned with rope.

Using his knot knowledge, he tied the rope to the water bottle strap,

No longer beneath the tree, the small boy and his family watched my family while the dad kicked the soccer ball to his child who received it and tossed it into the air.

My teen who’d said, “Leave it,” tossed the roped-water bottle into the air too. The bottle missed the tree.

My other teen moved closer. “Throw it straight up.”

“Leave it kid” threw again, this time knocking the boomerang down a branch.

“Throw higher,” my other teen instructed.

Another toss nudged the boomerang lower.

A third scooted it further down.

About five tosses later, the boomerang sailed back and “Leave it kid” caught it.

Me, I philosophized.

What did we learn today? Did we teach something to our kids? What did the small boy learn? What about his parents? What would have happened if my family had left the boomerang stuck in the tree?

Were the responses generational? I wondered why Doug and I turned first to problem solving. It never occurred to me to leave the boomerang in the tree. I wondered why at first our kids wanted only to walk away. I noticed that when we stayed, eventually our kids (and maybe that small boy) caught on.

Sometime ago Doug and I, from our parents perhaps, learned to stick with finding a solution. On Sunday American ingenuity became the mother (and father) of invention.

I think today we showed our kids they could stay,  dig in their backpacks, borrow things from others, try, and not give up.

I don’t think there was a right way to solve that stuck boomerang situation. Leaving was an option and could have taught the kids that sometimes it’s good to cut your losses and walk away.

But I’ll admit I’m happy we stayed, and that because we did, the boomerang (and it doesn’t always) came back.

Any boomerang-stick-to-it-don’t-walk-away-until-you-try-learning happening in your life? Send me a story. I’ll write one back.

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Step-By-Step French Toast

Do your kids (or anyone you know) need a new idea about what to cook themselves for breakfast? Here’s a step-by-step recipe for making French Toast.  If they are not used to using the stove on their own, stand next to them while they follow these steps.

French Toast on an Electric Stove

Part 1

  1. Crack one egg into a bowl. Add pinch cinnamon, one small shake vanilla. Mix with fork.
  2. Cut with butter knife or fold in half one slice of bread.
  3. Soak bread in egg mixture until egg is gone from bowl.

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Part 2

  1. Put frying pan on burner, turn stove on high, set timer for one minute.
  2. Put small slice of butter in pan.
  3. Turn down heat to four.

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Part 3

  1. Put egg-soaked bread slices in frying pan.
  2. Turn timer on for two minutes. Watch carefully. Using a spatula, lift slice.
  3. If it’s golden brown, flip. If not, leave for one or two more minutes.
  4. Repeat #2, #3.
  5. When toast is done, turn off burner, put French Toast on plate.
  6. Eat. Yum!

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To Move or Not To Move; That is the Question

durvishPracticing the art of not moving things is a challenge. Out for the morning one Saturday, I come home to a piled pair of people on the sofa. Noon, it is, and one is reading, the other researching.

Walking in, I notice, birdseed, dust, and wood chips, on the floor. Couches are covered in games, books, and pillows; no place to sit.

Resorting to the kitchen to cook lunch. I vow not to move or wipe anything. My vow is impossible. All the stove burners are piled with pots.

Exiting the kitchen, a yellow clump catches my eye. Stooping to investigate, I learn it’s butter. Committed to my rule, even if it gets mashed onto the bottom of someone’s shoe, I leave it.

Daily I wonder what would happen if I stopped picking up, cleaning, clearing, wiping, replacing, and reminding about all of the above. Would someone else do it? And if I find out it doesn’t get done, then what?

But here’s a better question. Does it need to?

Sadly, or perhaps happily, all of this mess has always been here, and until recently, I’ve been spinning myself into a frenzy trying to keep up with it. All of the swirling to see how many plates I can throw and keep in the air, tossing them higher and collecting more with each trick, so that I’m juggling first three, then eight, then 10, then 20, or more — is me, a dervish, twirling.

But not in a pretty, sequined colorful Turkish skirt. Instead, and unfortunately, it’s a “Watch me. I’ll do it all. I’ll make the house orderly and then we will feel settled and happy, and we will live this way.”

But we won’t. Because all of the mess is activity. It’s life, and it’s here to stay.

The real work is for me to stop cleaning and clearing. Make and leave more messiness.

The cleaning and clearing of other’s things, and the self-assigned task of reminding them to, are avoiding life. I’ve got things to do, and need to step to.

Got a cleaning or clearing task you don’t need (or want) to do? Got something more meaningful and important to create?

 

 

 

 

 

Giggles At Screen Free Week

Mother's Day adviceAsked by Wooden Horse owner Kevin Mukai what can you do without a screen, kids said, “Swing on the swings, dig in the sand box, play a game, eat, read a book,” and “build a robot.” Launching the Wooden Horse’s annual Screen Free Week was Elementary School Teacher Susan Shirley reading stories in her lovely performing way as some 25 kids and parents listened entranced at the Wooden Horse Pajama Party. I also got to read MOM ME and hear familiar giggles from kids and parents on hearing that first line, “My mommy is not a…” What a fun night at the Wooden Horse. If you’re local, visit the shop on Thursday for a game night when a special guest appears.

Seduced by Paul

After nearly 13 years of holding strong, I gave in to Paul. I still can’t decide if’s wrong.

I rationalize that I’m not so bad, and that at long last, I have joined the 21st century.

After all lots of people do – buy Newman’s Own Ranch Dressing, and a host of other prepackaged this and that.

Still, I struggle with the pre-made. But equally, I tire of researching recipes for homemade, making it, and then hearing my kids still want his ranch dressing.

What is wonderful about store bought? Is it the buttermilk fat solids?

A mom friend once told me her then 5-year-old son requested store bought hot chocolate. He didn’t want real chocolate mixed with sugar and milk. Paraphrasing, he told her, “Mom, I like corn syrup.”

Boxed macaroni and cheese was the favorite in another friend’s family. Researching the secret ingredient, she learned it was whey, bought some, and made her own. She succeeded.

About mac and cheese, my kids like the real thing, but offer homemade rice or chocolate pudding over the stuff in a pint container in the dairy section, and the pint container wins, chicken tenders from the barbecue restaurant star over a home collection of spices to bake it at home.

Is it wrong to buy foods containing soybean oil, buttermilk solids, natural flavor, and xanthium gum? Possibly not. Even so, I struggle. In the end, I buy them once in a while. What foods do you give in to? Any once-in-a-while-foods in your refrigerator or cabinet?

 

Lemonade Stand

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When I see a kid selling lemonade on the corner, I stop and buy a cup. If they’re like me, when I was 10, it will make their day. When I witness the happiness evident by the swing in their arm pouring my kids and me a glassful, while happily accepting my $1.50 cents, it makes my day too. Let’s adjust the slogan, “Drive like your kids live here,” to “Support your small local business like your kids are selling.”

Maybe you remember your small business ventures as a child? I do. Laughing now, I am shopping at Gristedes Market in New York City. My sisters and I would buy apples along with lemons and quarter them. We set up our market next door to the Guggenheim Museum. If location, location, location rings true, we had it, because the museum was around the corner from our apartment on 4 East 89th Street.

But apples? What were we thinking? How did we keep the sections from turning brown while waiting for customers, which In my mind’s eye, created while standing in line at Gristedes, imagined hoards of crowds lining up for our lemonade and fruit stand.

Alas, I think we may have had one or two customers, likely a mom or office worker buying a cupful because they felt sorry for us. Usually those afternoons turned into roller skating and scraping together some odd cents for the least expensive Good Humor bar. How come he captured all the business? He had a name brand.

In Lawn Boy, by Gary Paulsen, a twelve-year old boy, lands a lawn care business while practically falling off a log. When a neighbor joins his enterprise and encourages him and explains how to expand, he quickly becomes successful. In real life, starting a business usually is not that easy, but supporting and encouraging our kids now may pave the way for a lucrative future. If nothing else, believing in them will give them the confidence to try.

So as you drive around town this spring and summer, support your local lemonade (or plum) stand and consider this:  What other small kid (and adult) businesses can you support? Maybe shopping local at a kid’s small venture will lead to their starting a business as an adult. Have any thoughts or memories about your small businesses? Share a story or two!

Tennis Balls and Connect Sticks

IMG_0260All old objects are useful at Rock-it Science even tattered tennis balls that are cut open and mashed onto the bottom of chairs so they can slide easily across the floor. Who needs furniture pads?

Rock-it Science is staple science for kids in Silicon Valley, and for our family too. Kids meet weekly, hear a silly story and then investigate a fun and,  in my son’s words, dangerous experiment.

No minutes are wasted at Rock-it Science either. Arrive early and you’ll hear the seemingly unplanned part of class.

John McChesney, Mr. Mac, founder and teacher at Rock-it Science, who at the end of class tells kids to “wander wherever you wander” begs this writer to wonder if Mr. Mac wanders around his own classroom until he lands on a seemingly spontaneous story.

Consider connect sticks.

The story goes that college kids were trying to figure out how to make a circle with straight lines. Turns out that’s how connect sticks were invented. Connect Sticks are those plastic rods that when linked together form spheres that can be contracted and expanded into spiky and hollow balls.

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Mr. Mac’s invention story made me wonder (not wander) about what other lessons young kids learn when they hear about college students who invent circles from straight sticks and from a teacher who re-invents many things including furniture pads manufactured out of old tennis balls.

  • That everyone can invent.
  • That every idea begins with a vision, even if it’s not yet defined.
  • That straight lines can be shaped into circles.
  • What else?

What do Rock-it Science and other open-ended science class graduates invent? Are they sitting at university tables pondering shapes and straight lines and then churning them into something no one thought was possible? Rock-it Science and Mr. Mac’s stories are a precursor to youthful inventing.

Click below to read about Zome, a word invented in 1968 by Steve Durkee. Learn about a toy inventor whose ideas began while studying math in Switzerland. In graduate school there, he explored the possibilities of building structures using polyhedron shapes rather than rectangles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zome

Got an invention to pass along? Share your link at jenncastro.com

 

 

Gun Maw At the Okay I’ll Play Corral

IMG_7607I rose a few notches last night when while in the all-boy barroom, I hit the opposing team with 12 bullets. We was playing High Noon Saloon.

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/46362/high-noon-saloon.

Most of the time I’m invited to a family game, every ounce of me wants to decline. It’s not that I don’t like games, it’s because my game choices are usually outlawed.

My idea of a game involves square wooden tiles with letters on them rather than zillions of multi-colored square dwarf decorated cardboard pieces that respond when many-sided dice tell them where to move.

And when I play a card game, I pick a deck that has kings, queens, jacks, and aces rather than a Phrexian Hydra or Phrexian Dreadnought Oracle Revert card that yields plus one minus minus six points that add up to 17 hit points subtracted from 15 that you tap and turn when it’s your turn to fight.

But, borrowing a page from Playful Parenting (http://www.amazon.com/Playful-Parenting-Lawrence-J-Cohen/dp/0345442865) has taught me that if I can muster energy (and enthusiasm) to say yes when my kids ask me to play their game, the payback is enormous.

Letting them choose, lets me enter their world of strategy, combat, and, tactics. I get to know who they are. Plus they get to be the teacher. It’s good role reversal. And when I assemble a play that blasts the other team with 12 hit grit points I get to see that look of surprise in my kid’s eyes. Maybe they didn’t know their gun-slinging mom had it in her.

Some might compare this moment to filling a bank account, but I liken it to filling a well. As teenagerdom and other life passages approach and perhaps threaten to dry up communication, my hope is we all can reach down and pull up a memory or moment when we found common ground, and continue communication from there.

What’s your favorite game, and what do you say when someone asks you to play there’s?

Wondering in the Pancake Aisle (with more parentheses)

IMG_7528Sometimes I wonder, in this supposed season of wonder, if my family would notice if I served them pancakes for dinner every night during the next three weeks. Something tells me my kids would be thrilled, especially if I used white flour.

The reason I wonder is, for nearly six months, meal ideas are unbelievably bereft. The refrigerator is empty too. If you took a peak (now you can) about all you’d find is a jar of pickles, a dozen egg box with only one left, half a bottle of milk, a dehydrated bunch of parsley, one-quarter bowl of left over cranberry sauce, various jars of several-year-old containers of jams, jellies, and mustards, an almost empty tube of wasabi, and an empty butter dish.

In the bread drawer are several empty bags (reminds me of the butter dish) with only the heal remaining.

But the bean drawer is, well, full of beans, and millet, and barley, and a bunch of other grains that, while on a vegan jag in June, and in a bit of inspiration while standing in the bulk food isle, I bought and, for a time soaked and cooked regularly, and now I am sick of beans.

Up until this summer, right around the time of the vegan vacation, for years, I cooked chickens (the indoor kind) two or so times a week and had a regular supply of broth and makings for stews and sauces. We’d eat something different every night. I’d pour over cookbooks (sometimes literally) looking for interesting recipes, and then cook them, enjoying nearly every minute of the creativity.

Of late, (and probably only me cause I don’t think my family notices) I am amazed when I can still put something on the table, cause inside I’m wondering if it will actually happen.

Food is an issue for many people these days. Most of my mom friends share they too live in a desert for ideas. And speaking of that, is it our job to create meal after meal that’s interesting? No! So onward to pancakes, and no I’m not going to puree and then add spinach and kale so the kids will get “their” vegetables. Because then I won’t get the meal prep reprieve I’m craving.

Here are three questions:  Any place in your life where there are no more ideas? Oh and what’s for dinner? Could we join you?

Reading to A Village

IMG_0327The reading hasn’t started. Curious about the audience, it spans from ages two to 65 or 70, I wonder how to reach them all. “Do you like to write?” I ask a seven-year old girl? “Here’s what it’s like in my two-boy club home,” I confide with another mom, comparing notes about her two energetic girls and my two sons.

Los Gatos, California’s Village House of Books, a cozy house-like bookshop of nook-sized rooms filled from floor to ceiling with books of all shapes and sizes, perfect for browsing and buying, invited me last Saturday, November 16, to read MOM*ME.

“I like telling stories, but I don’t like (and then the seven-year old mimes the motion of holding pencil and writing words on a pretend page).” I know what she means, cause my kids used to feel reticent about the mechanics of putting pen to paper.

“How long did it take to write the book?” another mom asks. “The ideas came in bits over time,” I tell her, wanting to convey an accessible project that can be completed, “…It took four years, but that’s cause I’m a mom.” The audience giggles. “Kids could create a book much faster,” I reassure, “All those moments I used to fritter away, are committed now to writing” Heads nod in understanding. “How long to publish it?” another audience member asks. “About nine months,” I explain. And then the reading, “My mommy is not a tissue…” I begin.

Visit Village House of Books. You won’t be disappointed. See you in April when I return for a second reading just before Mother’s Day. As for the seven year old, I got to sign her book, “Happy reading — and writing,” was my message! IMG_0330