I have a confession to make. I'm a writer and live in a home filled with books, yet the Boy hates to read. I mean really hates to read. It's always been this way. His daily assigned 20 minutes of reading is only achieved through the extraction of blood, sweat, and tears. By the end, I wonder if I've really won. Is it worth it I'm starting to ask?
He never picked up reading quickly like kids are made to feel like they're supposed to. By the tender age of 2nd grade he was already being trotted off to the 'Reading Center' in school with the other 'slow' readers, where I think more of what went on was the slow inculcation of not being good enough, rather than fostering any love of reading.
If you're a parent with a kid who doesn't particularly like to read, you're probably familiar with the following oft spoken words:
It's just a matter of him finding the right book, and he'll take off!
He'll come to it in his own time.
And maybe even:
Reading is the gateway to all knowledge.
Is it really? Don't get me wrong. I'm about as voracious a reader as you'll find. I often have two or three books going at the same time, a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I've always been this way and I read from an early age. And the Boy has been read to since he was in the womb (maybe too much of a good thing?) So it is not for lack of exposure in his life, that he hasn't particularly taken to books. Of course, it is also well known that boys often don't like to read nearly as much as girls and come to an appreciation of it later – if ever.
I am happy to finally report that I just published my Down and Dirty Survival Guide for Newly Single Parents on Amazon Kindle (Kobo coming soon!). I decided to cull what I consider to be the most succinct and most needed advice into 21 easy to reference tips into a short guide.
The first phases of single parenting can be a mixture of feeling completely overwhelmed by the tasks that lie before you, and the being(s) so dependent on you. Sometimes you may actually feel relieved that you don't have to consult anyone else in your day to day decision making process as a parent. It depends on your situation of course. This guide is meant to help people - both women and men - navigate these first phases.
I entitled it the 'Down and Dirty Guide' mostly because it's short and gets to the point (sorry, fairly G-rated, except for a brief section on online dating). Who has time to read War and Peace when you just want some quick tips and inspiration for getting through the early days of flying solo in the parenting seat? I cover a range of topics from building a tribe, automating your financial life, questioning conventional wisdom, and getting a dating life, to name a few.
I'd be grateful to hear any feedback, or any topics you think I might have left out. I will upload a revised edition to incorporate future suggestions in the not too distance future. Please feel free the first few pages of it here….
My son, as I may have mentioned before, is I’m sure a lot like other boys his age (nearly 12) in that he likes to spend as much time as possible doing two things: playing soccer (insert sport of choice) and playing with his PS3 or computer games. Often trying to get him to do anything other than these things involves a form of very slow Chinese water torture (to be endured by me, not him). So it is with some degree of delight that this week I observed that Luc likes to get into the weightiest of topics at the strangest of times – always when we are biking in city streets, usually through challenging traffic, on the way to his soccer practice, which is at least 20 minutes each way.
On the way to practice the other day he posed the question: “Mom, what’s it like to be a woman?” which he has admittedly asked before. But after my initial glib response of “I don’t know because I’ve never been anything else,” he kept pressing for details. Now I know a window when I see one! I will certainly not ever miss the chance to help him grow into the progressive, aware, strong, and good man that I know he will become. So, this led to a discussion of what women’s place has historically been in the world and is today, in some places still.
I have to say it all came as quite a shock to him and in his lovely innocence he couldn’t begin to understand why a woman wouldn’t always have the same rights as a man, why they might get paid less for the same job, or why I have to be more careful going home at night by myself than he will ever have to as a grown man.
On the way back from practice the question was “Mom, what happens when we die?” which sparked a discussion on religion, what some people believe happens when you die, with each of us pitching our own pet theories on what awaits us all eventually, all the while dodging Italian drivers and navigating roundabouts.
I can’t quite figure out this predilection of his for heavy-duty conversations while in motion. It has happened before, sometimes in cars too, anything involving wheels apparently. But all I know is that his curiosity is alive and well and I’ll go with the probably still contrarian theory that gaming makes you smarter!
Check out these great TED talks on gaming:
Gabe Zichermann – How Games Make Kids Smarter
Jane McGonigal: Gaming Can Make a Better World
Venice at dusk, on the way to station.
There is a well worn truism that every parent knows, and possibly those who have chosen not to become parents: if you want to come face to face with the deepest, darkest, and ugliest part of your soul – have children. For through parenting you are forced to view yourself anew, and often those parts of yourself you would rather not contend with are reflected back to you through the eyes, and behavior, of your children.
Of course, it’s not all sturm and drang, there are occasional pinnacles of great joy, with a more common peppering of cozy, contented moments. I believe this same truism can be applied to the light that is shed upon yourself from the experience of travel. My friend Scott, a journalist among other things, conducted an interview with the well known travel writer, Pico Iyer, who said that “[Travel] confronts you with emotional and moral challenges that you would never have to confront at home.” I couldn’t agree more.
Me on a beach in Senegal with two of my brothers
I have been pondering this question more than usual lately as I was challenged on this question at a dinner party not long ago. My reactions in such situations where I feel put on the defensive to explain my choices are akin to running in quicksand. They suck. And I spend the rest of the night and next several days kicking myself for not being as quick and adept verbally as I should have been.
This person’s take clearly suggested that I was not considering L’s emotional life and desires enough in my choice to travel with him and disrupt his stable life. I tried to draw on my own experiences growing up as the daughter of a travelling family, and that in fact I had much more upheaval than L has had, and yet I am still happy and grateful to have had those experiences, even though it wasn’t always easy. I also suggested that it is the natural order of things that kids follow their parents and these experiences shape who we end up becoming. In response to this, the person said that “was bordering on child abuse.”
I am back in the saddle of Have Son, Will Travel after a couple of weeks off in London where L visited with his father while I buckled down to get a chunk of work done, as well as enjoy a bit of time to myself.
We have now returned to life in Vicenza, which we are calling home for the next few months. The apartment is shaping up to be extremely comfortable, Italian vocabulary and verbs are accruing in both our brains, and I am learning how to cook dinner in three courses (1) pasticcia (or pasta), 2) meat and veg, and 3) salad and/or cheese). I have found my favorite ‘local’, or Enoteca/wine bar, just down the road where I have learned to drink my espresso standing at the bar, black and with lots of sugar. It’s also where I can enjoy an apertivo and an assortment of tapas-style bites of food and write while L is off at his football practice or hanging out with neighborhood kids.
This might sound petty but one of the things I truly enjoy about being in Europe, or even just a more urban setting, is that one can dress with raising the ire of the locals. Meaning, back in the Midwest, if you put on a good pair of shoes, or a dress and jacket, you will undoubtedly be asked repeatedly throughout the day, ‘Where ya headed?’ or ‘What’s the occasion?’ which always, I must admit, make my blood slowly percolate.
So today I relished not turning any heads when I wore my new, black, spikey Donald Pliner boots, bought for a song in a London charity shop, on the bike down to the market at Piazza dei Signori. Two things that I’ve noticed about Italians and bikes that you’ve got to love: 1) they’ll wear anything and ride bikes – 4” heels or a tuxedo, no matter, and 2) if it rains, they ride their bikes, steering with one hand while holding a large umbrella with the other -- the rain will not ruin the look. How they do this balancing act safely, while navigating city traffic, I’m not sure. I’m not yet so brave as to try it.
All this talk of fashion leads me to another observation that I have been making for a long time and at some point I will produce a photo study of it: that British and European men wear their shoes so damn well. Or more precisely, they choose their shoes with care yet manage to project an effortless sense of style. They are, of course, largely working with a greater stock of well-made shoes, and such a man’s shoe is a beautiful thing to behold indeed. All right, let it be known: I covet European men’s shoes. They are also not afraid to pair them with colorful socks, and such a subtle nod to expressive style does not automatically suggest a sexual preference, as it might in America, the land where the utilitarian still reigns supreme and men are trapped in a suffocating sandwich of black, brown and grey.
While L is happy to be back in Vicenza as well, and playing soccer with 'Club Calcio' again, he has been suffering a bout of homesickness and there have been ample Skype playdates with friends back home. He insists he still loves travelling but just wishes that everyone could be in the same place. Then all would be right with the world. I just keep telling him his friends will still be there, and his cat, and be happy to see him when we go back.
Setting bikes, shoes, and umbrellas aside, after raining biblically most of the week, Vicenza is gleaming in a smoky, late autumn light that sets the hills surrounding it, and the silhouette of Monte Berico, perched above the city, in stunning pastel hues that no doubt have inspired many a poet, painter or architect for ages. Meanwhile, we crack on with our more mortal work, on a plane much closer to the mundane, but perhaps, important in its own way.
My pace of progress
I realize that I subtitled this blog ‘Adventures in Parenting, Traveling & Creativity’ but I have not really even begun to touch on the creativity part. It would probably come as little surprise that between traveling, parenting, working, and homeschooling I have had little time for my own creativity. This is a problem, but one I’m used to. In my laptop I have two screenplays that need major overhauling, one chapter of a young adult novel completed, and several plays that I should be sending out to try to find production. I am lucky to get two blog posts in a week though right now.
While the limits on my time are plenty, I don’t think that is ever not the case as a writer, or just a person alive today, plain and simple. Believe me, there is always something easier to do than to sit down and write! If I were on home turf my time would be equally filled with things to do. In my ongoing battle with time and procrastination, I have become somewhat of an expert on the Creative Process and reading everything I can about it in order to inspire, understand, conquer, and of course…procrastinate.
I have a son for whom the order of the day, if it were left entirely to him, would go something like this: 1) get up, eat, and play hours of soccer; 2) play hours of PS3 games or have other such electronic experiences; and 3) eat, sleep, get up and do it all over again. I’m not meaning to suggest that he doesn’t have other interests, but these are just the overriding ones. He does actually have a vibrant curiousity about the world around him, he loves animals and nature, he is social and makes friends easily. And he is quite a conversationalist – he can hold his own well with adults.
However, when it comes to academics and sitting down at a desk to do school work, the neighbors would think I’m administering slow Chinese water torture, to hear him tell about it. I am really not the strictest parent in the world, nor am I, hopefully, the most lax either. The same can be said about our homeschooling style which is probably somewhere between formal and Unschooling. I am using the Core Knowledge series (What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know) as a touchstone. It is a great series and I particularly like this book. It’s laid out well, easy to read without being pandering (to parent or child) and I’m fairly sure it includes more information and knowledge than your average fifth grader in public school covers in one year. No doubt more than we’ll actually cover. There are comprehensive sections on language, literature (excerpts from classics like Huckleberry Finn, Little Women and the Secret Garden), geography, European and American history, grammar, visual arts, music, math and science.
It might be an overused aphorism to say that soccer (or football, for the rest of the civilized world) is the universal game and transcends all nationalities and languages, but our experiences this week are definitely the proof in the pudding.
On Wednesday Lucas started practicing with a very diverse and international neighborhood team of 10-11-year old boys based in Mitte. The kids on the team hail from Germany, the Ukraine, Brazil, Portugal, and Iran, to name a few countries. Enough English is spoken that Lucas can chat with some of them but mostly they get right on with the game. The coach is of course fluent in English, which is a relief for both of us with our complete lack of German. It seems if you can kick the ball and just get on with it, you are accepted, at least on the field.
The kids straggled into practice which started at 5pm on a very well turned out pitch at the end of Klein Hamburgerstrasse in Mitte, with the Berlin Television Tower cutting a retro-futuristic backdrop to complete the scene. I could not help noticing that the majority of the kids - all 10-11 year old boys - turned up either on foot or by bike, and most all on their own steam. And they made their way home at 6:30pm the same way. Not a soccer mom with mini-van in sight (no offense intended to said soccer moms), but I do find it interesting that in the small towns and suburbs of the world it seems we tend to ferry and shield our children more than our urban counterparts. I notice the same thing when I am in London: kids are navigating the city at a much earlier age than we often afford them freedom to in the allegedly 'safer' suburbs.
The Pick-up Game
Today we took a long walk along the canals in Kreuzberg to a sporting area in a park, which has a small, caged soccer pitch, much like an urban basketball court. Lucas was planning on just shooting the ball by himself as I sat on the bench with my notebook and worked. But within two minutes of his arrival, six Turkish-German boys showed up, seemingly on their recess from a nearby school, and clearly eager to partake of the boy and his ball.
Lucas kept smiling and saying “I don’t speak German”, as they tried to talk to him. Finally, the one boy with a few words of English was pushed to the front of the group and within 30 seconds, they had organized themselves into teams and a game was underway.
I am always impressed to watch kids self-organize and it reminds me that we should spend more time getting out of their way and letting them get on with it. And of course, I cannot help being proud of my son for not letting the language, or feeling shy, get in the way of him playing, meeting kids, and having fun. The point being, speaking the same language is so clearly not an obstacle to the primary objective, which is simply – to play.
Once Lucas is involved with soccer he truly could be happy anywhere. He is already intent on staying here. However, there a few other pieces that need to click into place for us to continue to stay and explore Berlin beyond the end of this month – namely, a very affordable sublet and some work coming in for me.
Flamenco in the Turkish Market
This morning’s beautiful game outing was capped with a mouthwatering stroll through the Friday afternoon Turkish market where one can buy anything from buttons and zippers, to organic produce and Turkish food specialities, all at great prices. It was hard not to get carried away buying great cheeses, fresh gnocchi and hummus. But the pinnacle for me was a Spanish trio of buskers singing and dancing flamenco tunes. The odd synthesis of being in a Turkish market in the middle of Berlin and listening to passionate and gut-wrenching Flamenco music, did, I have to admit, rival the beautiful game for me. Lucas however, kept pulling on my sleeve so we could get home with plenty of time to get ready for his next football practice.
Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London
When you tell people you are going to take your child out of school, spend the next 6-12 months traveling around Europe, that you have transitioned your work online, have sold half your stuff, put the other half in storage, and boarded your cat with friends, you will get reactions ranging from admiration and envy to criticism and not so subtle hostility.
For many, the concept of extended or long-term travel is still the purview of the rich, idle or both. Far more so than the British or Europeans, for most Americans, travel abroad is still a relatively rare occurrence. Making long-term travel still a bit more out there. Granted, not everyone has jobs they can take a sabbatical or leave of absence from without serious impact on lifestyle and well-being. Whatever your circumstances are, for those of you determined enough to orchestrate the necessary work and family arrangements, either by taking unpaid leave, getting your employer to let you telecommute, or saving money then quitting (for more useful advice on quitting your job, check out www.i-resign.co.uk), deciding to homeschool, the following are some thoughts to keep in mind if you still find there other things holding you back:
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, general renegade and rabblerouser.