Wednesday, October 28, 2009

friends

We were at the dentist the other day, where Joris waited very patiently for the dental assistant to finish scraping the layers of plaque off my teeth before it would be his turn. He was playing with some cars on the floor, being a surprisingly cooperative, charming version of himself when the dental assistant asked him, rather out of the blue, if he has a girlfriend. With that insinuating tone of voice that is just a heartbeat away from a chuckle. Joris looked up at her and told her yes, he has a girlfriend.

"What's her name?"

"Avery"

"Avery? Oh! Is she pretty?"

"Avery is my friend."

This conversation, or really, the question and insinuation, immediately made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and when I thought about it over the following few days, I realized why.

When I was little, my mom would arrange play dates for me with a small collection of similarly aged kids. I remember playing with a little boy called Gijs. We had similar temperaments and I liked playing at his house with him, his two sisters and his toy train. And one of my earliest memories is of that same insinuating tone of voice, used by my dad, when he'd question me about playing with Gijs. We were 4 or 5 years old. The words "boyfriend" and "being in love" were being thrown around. I remember the confusion about that tone of voice, wondering why us playing together was so funny to him.

From what I can gather, my dad, like probably most people of his generation, never did get raised with the proper skill set to express emotions and his way of dealing with, well, basically everything, has been with humor - or poking fun at things (Funnily enough, the last 10 - 15 years or so he has gotten much more comfortable with expressing emotions and I wonder if that just has to do with the fact that Americans wear their emotions on their sleeves compared to their Dutch counterparts or that he just finally feels confident enough to do so). Not that he meant badly, of course, but the message that I inevitably received was that playing with a boy is somehow shameful. The expectation being that if you were playing with someone of the opposite sex, you must be in love with them.

The same was true for my brother. He was friends with a pretty little girl called Vanessa and endured our dad's relentless teasing about his "girlfriend". The only difference being that Dirk-Jan agreed to and reinforced the idea that they were in love, whereas I would rather have been swallowed whole by a giant earthworm than repeating anything like that.

So I said I did not want to play with Gijs anymore. He ended up being a classmate all through elementary school and although I admired his ability to draw the most detailed pictures of ships from afar, we never did exchange more than a handful of words through those years. And I never had boys for friends again (unless associated through my brother) until well after high school.

I know most kids go through a boys/girls are yucky phase and it would have probably been unlikely to have nurtured a friendship with someone of the opposite sex through grade school, but I do feel like with all the shame (from home and from much of society - or at least ours - at large) heaped onto the idea, I have missed out on some good conversations, other perspectives and some much needed confidence around boys. I ended up having a couple of boyfriends who I was really only interested in as friends, but because of the expectation that boys are for dating, not for just hanging out with, I mistook my interest for love.

Over the last few years, from the safety of my marriage, I have finally found the confidence to successfully developed friendships with men; some as mutual friends of Jacob and I, and a few all on my own. And I enjoy the variety it brings to my circle of friends and the conversations and discussions that I have.

Joris has formed close friendships with both Avery and Isla and I hope he will always feel confident enough to nurture those friendships (and with other girls he enjoys playing with). Neither Jacob or I have ever mentioned anything about being in love, having a girlfriend or have used that mocking, insinuating tone of voice. I'm enjoying the fact that Joris talks about the girls and his classmates at school, as his friends and treats them as such. I also enjoy the fact that he prefers to eat his cereal out of the pink bowl. That he has no qualms about wearing a pink diaper with Dora the explorer on it. (One of my pet peeves is that EVERYTHING marketed for babies and kids is completely separated by gender; diapers have either cars or princesses, cups either feature pink flowers of sports playing dinosaurs and it is nearly impossible to find gender neutral tea sets or similar pretend play toys. And don't even get me started on the low-rise fit pants for toddler girls!)

All too soon he will have to start dealing with comments, insinuations and attitudes from the 'outside' world which, being as sensitive as he is, I have no doubt he will quickly pick up on, so I'm trying to enjoy this time where I can still mostly shield him and he can go on playing oblivious to what he is 'supposed to' like for a little while longer...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Skipping off

Joris has been loving preschool. It took him a few days to get used to the routine, but he looks forward to it every day now and comes back bouncing with excitement to tell us about his day.

We feel very lucky to have found the Listen and Talk school. My friend Sue, who lives just a couple of blocks away, stumbled on it while walking her dog and forwarded me their information because she thought it might be a good fit for Joris. It's a preschool and pre-K program for kids with hearing loss. Most of the kids have either cochlear implants or hearing aids and the program is focused on helping them deal in a hearing world. So, as the name implies, the focus is on communication. The classes are blended (with a balance of hearing and hearing impaired kids) and can have a maximum of 6 kids - with two teachers in each class.

Joris' class has 5 kids and I believe a sixth one will be joining them in January. It is surprisingly diverse for a class of five kids in a North Seattle school; there are two Latino kids, an African American boy and two caucasian kids. His teachers, Betsy and Carlita, are absolutely wonderful and each day they send the kids home with a picture page which shows what they have been up to during the afternoon. We put the pages in a binder and Joris loves showing it off to anyone who comes to visit.

School is four days a week, Monday through Thursday, from 12:45 - 3:15pm, which means that on most of those days Joris doesn't nap anymore. It's been working out better than expected. He usually goes off to bed early (7:00pm) on school days and will sleep for about 12 hours. Then on the days that he doesn't have school he still takes a nap and seems to kind of tank up for the following week. Every now and then he gets too tired and will take a little nap after school, but more often than not that means that he'll wake up disoriented and cranky.

They get a weekly music class (which is Joris' favorite activity) as well as a weekly alternating art and movement class from specialized teachers. Joris seems to thrive on the routine and his favorite part of the day is circle time, in which they all participate and have specific assigned, weekly rotating jobs. They refer to the other kids as each others friends and they really seem to function as such.

I really can't say enough good things about this program. I love how Joris will come home singing parts of songs I would have never taught him and how he will offer me whatever he is playing with or eating, proudly proclaiming "I'm sharing!". I love how concerned he is when one of his friends wasn't at school that day. And I love how it has helped him gain confidence already; when it is time to say goodbye I give him a wave and a kiss and he happily goes skipping off.

For my friends who are still looking for preschool options, check it out - they have openings throughout the year, are totally affordable and don't require kids to be potty trained! www.listentalk.org

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Moping about

It's hard to know where to start this update. I feel like so much has happened, so much is different and yet I'm not sure if I can put it completely into words.

I'm at the end of my first weekend without doing the show. No rehearsals, no frantic paperwork upkeep and no show to call or fret over. It's nice in that I feel like I'm finally catching up on some sleep and I have been able to take my time cooking and eating and seeing Jacob for more than, say, 15 minutes at a time...

But, I have been in a bit of a funk as well - undoubtedly partly due to the fact that I'm not checking in with the actors, trying to get my cues right and somewhat nervously anticipating the next technical melt-down. Maybe I'm missing the excitement of the unknown; will an actor pull something crazy? Will the light board spazz out again? Will the audience actually laugh in all the right places? Or maybe I'm just missing the camaraderie that the stress of pulling off a show often brings to a cast and crew.

I have really enjoyed feeling in my element throughout the rehearsals and the run of The Producers. It was great to be back doing something I love and am reasonably adept at, and the feeling of accomplishment that it brings. Not that being a mom isn't a great(er) accomplishment, but it's harder to look back at a day where all you have is a stack of dirty diapers, a sink full of dishes and the knowledge that you and the kid made it through another day to show for it. In theatre there is instant gratification; the audience's applause, the actor's excitement, the instant high when a series of cues is executed perfectly...

And yes, I'll be honest - I love the recognition I get for doing it. Hearing that I'm great to work with, being thanked for solving a conflict. And also, being listened to was a nice change of pace...

Joris is the greatest little guy in the universe, but he is going through the usual protesting-at-everything-and-doing-the-exact-opposite phase. And it's hard enough to deal with when it's just him (he actually responds remarkably well to both reasoning and threats - of the "if you don't cooperate we won't be able to go to ____" variety) but when he's with Avery or Isla and gets them on board with the mutineering I am often tempted to just sit in the middle of the room to make sure they're safe but otherwise just letting them do whatever it is they want to do do 'cause hot damn, I just don't want to argue, referee, threat, plead and cajole anymore.

It is really quite disheartening to have #1 pull off the socks and shoes you just wrestled on while you are trying to get the same accomplished for #2. All because you want to get out the door to go to the goddamn playground - as a favor to the little hobbits who are now screaming "no, no, NO! Run away!" and then promptly run into another room.

Contrast this to me telling the actors that it's time to take their places. This announcement is followed by a chorus of "thank you, places!" and then... lo and behold... they get to their places. By themselves. And put their own shoes on!

So, I guess I miss my power. And I miss working with creative, smart, egomaniac lunatics. Or, at least, the adult conversation that it brings about. 'Cause what childcare and script writing don't provide is a merry band of colleagues to share your experiences with.

Anyway. I'm thinking about the future. What I want to do. What I can do. And how to combine the wanting to with reality.