Thursday, December 30, 2010

People who've made a difference in my life

Many, many years ago I went off to college and discovered things about myself. I discovered that being successful academically meant I had to do at least some work. I was amazed to learn that others enjoyed good literature. And I found that the most interesting people were those who always had a long list of things they wanted to read/learn/experience.

At the end of my sophomore year I drew perhaps the worst housing lottery number possible. It looked like I was doomed to the boonies, alone. And then Maggie, an upstairs neighbor, came to my rescue. She and another neighbor wanted to get a suite in our dorm, and they offered to adopt me. Why, I don't know. We weren't close friends.

One thing I liked about Maggie was that she had a good laugh. (It's one of my requirements for friends: laugh well and have a sense of whimsy.) She knew way more than I did about classical music. She had long, long blonde hair. We ended up getting along well. And the following two years we roomed close to one another in single rooms.

I don't quite know when or how Maggie and I got in contact the first few years out of school, but I do know one thing: she did all the contacting. In those days it had not yet occurred to me that I could retain friendships even if my immediate world shifted location. I'd moved twice in my childhood, and left friends behind, never to hear from them again. So I left college, not really expecting to ever see my pals again. I went off to live in Puerto Rico for a year, and somehow Maggie stayed in touch. She moved to France, and somehow stayed in touch. I moved to Philadelphia, and we (or she) stayed in touch.

In Maggie I discovered someone who liked me enough to continue being my friend across time and oceans and foolishness and growing up. And I decided I wanted to be that kind of friend, too. The kind that would call once in a blue moon to chat, or go to the ballet, or meet for supper. The type of person who wants to be at your wedding, and who likes your kid, and who just plain exudes I like you. Because there are people I really do like, and it's worthwhile to let them know. Even if we're not physically near each other.

My resolution to learn how to be a good friend doesn't mean I'm good at sending out Christmas cards (I'm five years late, and counting) and I truly stink at remembering birthdays. But today happens to be Maggie's birthday. I am remembering it, and appreciating her friendship for all these years, and I am very, very thankful to have her in my life. Cheers, Magpie. I love you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

By the Fourth Day of Christmas...

It's been a busy week. Dancer made a knock-out orange-raspberry cake for Christmas dessert:

Snuggler and Little Guy got dressed up for church on Christmas Eve:

And Little Guy slept by the Christmas tree:

Big Guy came for an overnight visit, and enjoyed the mustard-coated roast beef we had for Christmas dinner. Eldest hung out with him, read, and recovered from her cold. Dancer spent hours putting together the complicated marble run. My parents decided to drive up from my brother's house before (rather than during) the blizzard, and made it safely.

Then yesterday someone turned seven. We celebrated with apple pie and homemade French vanilla ice cream:

I have been reading book after book (in between cooking and etcetera-ing), happily sipping coffee with steamy milk made in my new milk frother. Perhaps I will have more profound thoughts another day, or week. But for now I'm happily living out the relaxed days given to me, picking up errant wrapping paper scraps and making sure my hips have enough extra cookie padding to merit a significant diet come January 1.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Handel's Messiah and parenting

A friend gave us tickets to see Messiah last night, done by a superb chorus. Box seats, no less! It was a major treat, in more ways than one.

As I sat listening to the music twine familiar words into glorious patterns, I thought about how the oratorio repeats phrases in different ways, with some voices coming in from above, while others rumble in unexpectedly from below. Whole minutes and a myriad of notes were devoted to the two words comfort ye. The pile-on of voices in He shall purify brings us a little bit closer to understanding with each repetition. And after a soul-floating stretch of hearing Unto us a child is born tossed back and forth between sopranos and basses and altos and tenors it dawned on me that there is a great deal to learn about how we absorb words and what parenting is about by listening to Messiah.

I heard the words Unto us a child is born at least once a year since I was a child. I've read them in the Bible, and I know the back story. And yet listening to them sung in a glorious concert hall by an excellent choir, they worm their way into my heart in a new way. They come at me from different angles, and in their persistence and echoes and variations of voice, I start to absorb them all over again. I begin to grasp them for what they are.

Think about it: when you became a parent, the words you put on the birth announcement (Susan Smith, 7 pounds, 9 ounces) came nowhere near to the world-changing fact that Susan Smith had arrived and changed your life forever. If you pull yourself back in time and re-live the first time you held your baby, you'll know Handel had it right: Unto us a child is born needs to echo and resound in different pitches for a very long time. The older your child is, the greater the song in your heart -- if you pause and reflect and let it emerge.

And here is where I think Handel's interweaving of words and song can help us as parents: If you could reduce all that your child means to you to three Playbill-size pages of lyrics, and you were to put those to music, you wouldn't sing each word once.

  • How many different ways would you voice "I love you"?
  • How often would you repeat "You make this world a bigger and better place"?
  • How would you weave "You are breathtakingly precious to me" throughout your piece?

We human beings don't learn by hearing something once. We don't absorb things fully by being exposed to knowledge in just one way. Whatever themes we want our children to grasp -- whether it's our views on human relationships or simply how much we love them -- we need to weave those into the very fabric of our (and their) lives. We do this by composing our lives so they contain the melody of the big things we believe in.

Here's hoping your composition becomes a masterwork.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dealing with labels on children

Someone wrote to me yesterday, a mom who was feeling sad because she'd had her son go through  psych-ed testing and she'd learned some difficult things. In a sense she was grieving that he'd be labeled, and wondering what that would mean.

Here is what I've learned about labels:

1. Labels are heavy when they stick to your heart.  The hardest part of labels is that we mistakenly see them as an indicator of brokenness in our children. In reality what they do is put a name on an obstacle -- and we can either surmount or adapt to most obstacles.

2. Labels grow lighter when you look at them as tools. If giving my kid a diagnosis will get him the services or accommodations or medication he needs, label away! A label gives me keywords to search on, a starting point for finding out ways to help my child, and a means to build a support network for myself. A label that gets my child an IEP or 504 gives me negotiating power with schools.

3. Labels don't change who your child is or doom your child's future. What you do with the information a label gives you, and how you adapt to it makes the biggest difference of all. And unless it really is your fault that your child faces challenges, you don't need to feel ashamed or guilty.

4. Labels sometimes change. Kids grow, frontal lobes develop, and we get better at figuring out ways to help our children learn and adapt and behave.The label you have today may not apply five years from now. Keep focused on the next best step you can take, and keep moving.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Awesome Cookie Project

Seven years ago I was looking for something to do around Christmas to introduce Snuggler to the idea of helping others. I wanted it to be something that was genuinely helpful, and concrete enough that she would remember it. I hit on the idea of baking cookies for those in need, though I wasn’t quite sure how we could bake enough to make a dent in the needs of our local food pantry. And thus the idea for the Cookie Project was born.

The Cookie Project asks people to bake holiday cookies (preferably sturdy ones, without nuts because of allergies), and package them four to a ziplock bag. We set up a drop-off point at our local real estate agent for a weekend. The following Monday we bring the collected cookies down to the food pantry. end result: each bag of food distributed during the week before Christmas has a baggie of home-baked cookies in it.

This is a super-easy project to coordinate, and it’s a win-win. Parents spend time with their kids doing something special, with an opportunity to help others. It's not expensive, and no one has to do anything heroic. The food pantry staff are always uplifted by this project, knowing that there are other people out there who care.

All you need to do this next year is find a way to let people know about the project (an email list, school group, church, whatever) and set up a drop-off point. Get clearance with your local soup kitchen, senior drop-in center, halfway house, or nursing home ahead of time, and find out how many cookies they need. Here's our haul for this year:

I don't know exactly how many cookies we received, but somewhere between 30 and 40 families participated. Most people contributed 2-3 dozen cookies, which means we'll come close to our goal of putting something special into 300 bags of food. 

Here's to community!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Look who's here!

Eldest arrived home -- first semester of college completed! -- on Thursday night. Big Guy was able to come home for a day visit today. We walked through the park (at least until we hit a 100' stretch of ice on the path, at which point we slid) to go see Little Guy and Snuggler perform in Jack and the Beanstalk. It was a fun show with good acting, and it was nice to have most of us under the same roof.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Adapting to new things

I took Snuggler and Little Guy to a zoo class yesterday. I met a homeschooling mom there whose son started public high school this year. He's attending one of the good, target schools. I asked her how it was going. She suddenly looked unhappy and uncomfortable. Apparently she's not wild about giving up homeschooling him, and he's very stressed from the workload and lack of free time.

I reassured her that stress is normal the first year of high school, even for kids who have been in school their whole lives. A big part of freshman year anywhere, for anyone, is getting acclimated to a new environment. I told her about telling Eldest (who was homeschooled through 8th grade) that there were two different sets of stuff she'd be learning in 9th grade: academics, and how-to-get-along-in-this-new-place... and that the latter part was likely to be harder.

This mom seemed unconvinced. She said, "I feel I'm a failure either way: if he decides to stay at high school I'm a failure because he didn't want to homeschool, and if he comes back home I'm a failure because he wasn't able to handle it." I mentally gaped at that, wondering how to respond. I said something vague about supporting her son in the choice he had made, and then nattered on about how learning to adapt to new situations is a major life skill, and how we all get stressed by change, and how it takes at least six months of anything new before you can even assess whether or not you like it. I pointed out that we get better at things, especially logistics, with time.

The woman still looked unconvinced. So I added, "Remember how you felt when you had your first baby? You couldn't even take a shower those first months! But eventually you figured it out. New situations, especially ones where we have to reorganize our days, are hard. But we do get better at them."

A bit of light finally dawned.

And it dawned on me that this is the value to us, as parents, of the hard situations we've been through in the past. We need to hold on to our memories of stressful situations. They can help us be better parents, help us empathize with our kids, and help us remember that how we feel at the moment is how we feel at the moment. New stuff is tough. Things change. We change. Life can get better.

Do you remember how unfamiliar your body was when you reached puberty? How conscious you were of whether or not you fit in at school? How brutal it was when the guy you thought was kind of cute told someone (who told everyone else) that he thought you looked like a dog? And how much you would have loved to hear someone say, "Oh, I remember feeling that way -- and it's hard. It's yucky and you feel dumb and you want to crawl under a rock. But even though it's hard and miserable, it's normal. Almost everyone goes through feelings like that. And eventually the feeling will pass. It will pass."

Learning to deal with stress, with disappointment, with uncomfy feelings is just as important as learning academic subjects. For it's possible to be brilliant and unable to handle life, and it's possible to be a plain 'ole Joe and handle stress well. The world doesn't give us an either/or choice between academics and coping skills. We (and our kids) have to learn both.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I've been getting up early this week because Eldest is in the midst of final exams, and I promised to pray for her. I suppose that might hint of asking to win a football game or battle -- whose side is God on? -- but I've simply asked that she have a clear head and a calm heart. No magic answers, no miraculous influx of knowledge. Just the ability to use what she knows.

I'm not fond of the view of God as a magician, who waves His magic wand and makes problems go away. Nor do I care for the image of God as Santa, someone grants every deep-seated wish if you're good. And don't get me started on God as Superman, the hero who will swoop in to avert danger and bosh the bad guys.

If God is really God, He can do anything a magician or Santa or Superman can do, and then some. To limit Him to being an ace-in-the-hole supernatural lackey whose job is to make my world comfy seems a bit ridiculous: someone who created 400,000 different kinds of beetles and 170 billion galaxies almost certainly has a far more sophisticated understanding of what's really needed in any given situation than I do. That doesn't mean I am insignificant, or that my needs don't matter. It means that my personal view of what's important/tragic/needed won't consistently map up correctly with the bigger picture. 'No' is always a legitimate answer, even if I don't see why, and even if I don't like it.

So I don't think the main point of prayer is to persuade God to come over to my point of view. If there's persuading to be done, it's quite likely I'm the one needs to shift positions. Prayer is about articulating, as best I can, a yearning of the heart, and directing and offering it to someone who can either do something about it or who can change my perspective. There's only one way to start that process: with communication. Which is why I pray.

P.S. Eldest texted to say she's done! She's coming home tomorrow.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Sour Santa

Someone gave us comp tickets to see a new kids' show today, so I took Snuggler and Little Guy. I'd read the reviews, and they were good. But I came out of the show feeling out of sorts and rather depressed: the underlying premise of the plot was that the only thing that brings magic and imagination into the world is Santa. I hadn't expected anything related to faith, but there was no hint -- none -- that Christmas is about, say, giving. Or family. Or being kind.

I guess I'd assumed that a story involving Santa would contain some sort of caring-for-other-human-beings theme. This one didn't. The gist of the plot was that Santa got fed up with snotty, ungrateful kids, and so he quit. Vanished. Disappeared. People tried to find a replacement, but that didn't work. The witch who ran the local coffee shop lost most of her magic, because people's imaginations deteriorated. The mad scientist couldn't think up new inventions, because his creativity diminished. The little girl who sets out to find Santa eventually discovers him in the Australian outback, where he denies that he's the real thing. He's still bitter.

But of course the little girl succeeds in convincing Santa to return, and he apologizes for being so selfish, and all is well in the world again. People can write and invent and cast spells again. All is well again, because Santa is the key to all happiness.

So I ask you, What is wrong with this picture?

I guess we can start with the idea that the key to happiness lies in the hands of someone else. Someone who could get pissed off and walk out on you.

Then: if you are unhappy, the way to happiness is to hunt down the magic person who makes all things well. Becoming happier has nothing to do with using your brains or imagination or figuring out what's wrong with your life and doing something to improve it. It has nothing to do with uncovering what is right and true and good, and trying to align your life with that. It has nothing to do with finding what you can do to bring joy into the world.

If this is Santa and Merry Christmas, bring on Happy Holidays. Oy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A big carrot

I've had an eye on Little Guy's reading for a while now. I know he has the ability, but he doesn't pick up books for fun. In our home, that's weird. Everyone here reads. I mean, we have 13 floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled 2-books-deep. And we still don't have enough space for books.

It's possible that Little Guy is a late bloomer. But I've also been watching to see if there's a bit of dyslexia or some kind of eye convergence issue going on. Then again, it could be insecurity, or lack of confidence, or anxiety. 

So yesterday I gave Little Guy a challenge. I handed him a Magic Tree House book, one of the longer, more advanced Merlin Missions, and told him that if he read the entire thing in one day, I'd pay him the outrageous reward of a dollar a chapter. It was okay if he chose to stop reading part way through, but then he'd get only half that amount for each chapter he'd read. (Kids being kids, I've learned that if you want follow-through it's better to make the reward contingent upon completion. Little Guy would be very happy with five dollars, especially if his eyes were tired and he felt like stopping.)

I don't normally do this kind of thing. Snuggler, in fact, was scandalized. But what I wanted to find out was whether Little Guy's reading reluctance was organic or motivational in nature. And the best
way I know to figure that out is with a big carrot. Put a jaw-dropping reward out there, and if a kid who really, really wants the reward still can't do what it takes to get it, you can be pretty sure that he truly can't do it.

Magic Tree House #43: Leprechaun in Late Winter (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))So Little Guy read yesterday. And read. And read. I learned some things, and he learned some things. He figured out that if he couldn't read a word the first or second time, he could sometimes figure it out himself on the third time. I learned that he is a slower reader than I thought. His silent reading goes at about the same pace as his reading aloud. We both learned that his eyes skip words, and sometimes skip lines, and it's hard for him to keep track of where he is.

At about 4pm, when it was time to start getting ready to go to his dress rehearsal for Jack and the Beanstalk, he'd read seven of eleven chapters, at a pace of about 30-40 minutes per chapter. He'd been diligent and focused, and I knew that if he'd been unable to finish it wasn't for lack of trying. So I told him that I would extend the offer through this morning, because he wasn't going to be home in the evening.

He got up this morning, and finished the book. All 114 pages of it. He is feeling very good about himself, and more confident in his reading ability. I am very proud of him for his perseverance. And this evening, after we drop off Dancer to see the Nutcracker she danced in last year, we will go to a Pilones store (where they sell very silly things), and he can splurge on something he'd otherwise never buy.

I'm still not certain what kind of issue we're facing -- I'll have to revisit Mel Levine's The Myth of Laziness -- but I'm pretty sure now that reading is harder for Little Guy than I thought. If we can do something to make it easier for him to read, great. And if all we can do is teach him that if he sticks with it he can do it, that's worth $11 to me.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas gifts for kids, the less expensive way

I am cheap. Not by nature, I hope. I'd like to have a generous heart, even if my wallet doesn't allow for largesse. In some ways I think being on a tight budget facilitates thoughtfulness, because it exercises parts of your brain that have nothing to do with convenience or excess.

Anyone who has had to downsize on any significant scale has learned that you either have to think outside the box or hyperventilate within it. You can nip here and tuck there, tighten your belt and let down your hem, eat rice and beans and then eat beans and rice, but eventually there's nothing obvious left to cut back. Then you have to have some sort of paradigm shift. And one of the shifts that can be made is to start thinking in terms of what it means to give a gift.

My philosophy is that the ideal present shouldn't (in and of itself) cost much, but should be something the recipient would never buy for himself. Consider the following under-$15 gifts:

  • For preschoolers: A couple of sheets of REAL stamps from the U.S. Post office (the two-cent variety work fine for pretend mail);
  • For a young boy: A personal supply of tape (regular, masking, electrical or duct), or his very own flashlight;
  • For most kids under age 10: two or three bottles of bubble bath, different scents;
  • For a child who desperately loved the gourmet jar of ________ that someone gave you: a jar of his own;
  • For a teenage girl: her very own box of Godiva chocolates. 
It doesn't have to be a game or a toy to be a splendid gift. A hole punch, pack of index cards, kiddie scissors and a box of brass brads makes a lovely activity set. We went through several years when my girls were thrilled to get their own packages of Post-It Notes (they weren't allowed to use mine), and I think we still have some carbon-copy order forms that were used to play 'diner'.

Think through all the everyday things you've said no to for your kids because it's not in your regular budget. That cute $1.59 box of animal crackers may be expensive as a snack, but as a gift -- wow! How much better does it get?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One tough guy

You may recall that my 77-year old father recently spent a week here, plastering and painting my bathrooms. It's the kind of thing he likes to do, and the way he shows he cares: fixing things for others.

My dad is of a stoic generation, a guy who grew up chipping mortar off of used bricks so his parents could build a house, who climbed a ladder to get to his no-stairs-yet bedroom, whose family went camping in northern Canada for fun.

I have piles and piles of stories of his near-brushes with death and major injury. He has been knocked off a sailboat (solo) into the middle of a lake as a storm was rising, tumbled down various rivers and ravines while hiking, broken his back twice, scraped the skin off the top of his balding head without noticing more times than I can recall.

When I was in college Dad came to visit, and upon being served authentic Szechuan food for the first time and being told to avoid eating the hot peppers promptly downed a few and said, with astonishing calm, "Those were a little hot." The guy is either indestructible or has some seriously powerful guardian angels.

Yesterday I got an email from him with the subject heading, "I lost the battle". Hmmm. The contents relate how, during his early-morning multi-mile walk with a friend, he was crossing the street at the designated pathway, when a stopped car suddenly revved forward to move into traffic on the adjacent street. Next thing he knew he was coming to, 20 feet down the road. His buddy was also hit.

His narration continued, "We got out of the road, ambulance and cops came, I phoned Joan (sirens screaming in the background for good effect) to tell her I wouldn't make that trip in half an hour to pick out a granite counter top. "

He got in the ambulance and went to get checked out by the doctors. His email continues,"So Joan came up a hour later to find me back from a CAT scan and x-ray, no detectible serious injuries. We then went to look at granite. "

Yep, that's my dad.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nutcracker, St. Nicholas, Advent

Nutcracker was lovely: witty, whimsical, well-danced. Dancer, at 12, is moving into the ranks of the big kids. She had three parts this year, and suddenly we can see the trajectory into the upper echelon clearly: girls a year or two older are flowers and marzipan.

Of course, I forgot to take pictures backstage. I always forget to take pictures. Instead, I offer these:

Last week's chemistry lesson...

Led to a demonstration of carbonization, as Little Guy insisted on an indoor marshmallow roast.

Today's sweets, however, are in honor of St. Nicholas. 

Call me a heretic, but we don't do Santa at Christmas. It's not that I dislike the fat guy, just that I never felt he was mandatory. There's already plenty of magic about Christmas. And there's already way too much get-it-get-it-get-it frenzy. We opted out of Santa early on.

I guess we don't do Christmas in the modern American way at all. We're a hundred years behind the times, and do Advent first. The idea of Advent is to set aside a time to prepare the heart for Christmas. We use December to think about how we can be better people, how we can help others, how we can grow in faith.  We do not always do this very consistently or well. But we do try.

For us, the Christmas season pretty much starts on the 23rd. (It used to be the 24th, but one year we went to buy a tree on Christmas Eve and the street vendors had packed up and gone back to Vermont. That was the year Andrew went uptown to find a tree, solo, and while he was hauling it onto the subway the conductor said over the loud speaker system, "Hey buddy! I hope that tree paid a fare!")

For us, Christmas starts on, well, Christmas. It extends out the traditional twelve days, and ends on the Epiphany, or feast of the three wise men.

Today we'll read stories (and the facts) about St. Nick, and I'll enjoy the treats my kids left in my shoes: a homemade Ugli doll by Little Guy ("I turned the sock inside out, Mom, so it didn't say, 'Children's Place size 3-4'") and a short book of poetry written by Snuggler, which included such profound haiku as these:

Add the area
It's so hard, I'm frustrated
But Mommy will help

Ow, my stomach hurts!
"Hey Mom!" She comes running fast
Gas-X forever!

Friday, December 3, 2010


Dancer came home from her first performance tonight smiling -- and delighted to be home so early. Dress rehearsals have caused many late nights this week. Tomorrow she has three shows, and then two on Sunday.

Secretly I'm in awe of this child. She is focused and organized and works hard. She keeps track of her rehearsal schedule, and gets herself to ballet class, bag fully packed. She showers without being asked, sets aside her delicate-wash leotards and tights in the laundry closet, figures out what the weather is, and remembers her umbrella. She does her own bun (except for performances), and applies her own stage makeup. She comes home tired, and gets herself to bed at a reasonable hour. And then she gets up early, to go back.

I'm not going to say how many of these things *I* could do, never mind how many I could do when I was twelve!

We go to see tomorrow's evening performance. I can't wait.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The sources of over-the-top feelings

Many years ago a friend commented to me, "Anger is of the present. Rage is of the past."

I'm still pondering that, because I don't think it's entirely true. Many over-strong reactions (rage, paralyzing fear, and despair included) do occur when an experience echoes feelings from another time. If we've been exposed to an irritant repeatedly -- an allergen, say, or a spouse's annoying habit -- we react to the current problem and to history, too. If you've just overreacted to your child's antics by screaming and inadvertently calling him your pesky little brother's name, this is the club for you.

But there are other times when the past isn't the problem. Sometimes too-strong feelings arise because we shape-shift our emotions, not realizing that we're equating a temporary state (how I feel right now) with a personal and permanent characteristic (what kind of person I am). This is what happens to Big Guy when he makes the mental shift from "I feel horrible about that" to "I'm a horrible person". He gets stuck.

And there are times when anxiety cranks up the emotional bass or pierces our heads with a shrill treble, inducing a fight-or-flight frenzy that precludes any rational view of proper proportion. Like what happened to Little Guy, yesterday. Anxiety = strong feelings = total irrationality.

All of which is by way of saying that when someone freaks out around you (or you're looking back on your own freak-out moment), it's sometimes useful to know which of these three mind-messers has taken hold. Because then you have some clue where to begin working on the problem. Maybe.


Last night I was thinking maybe I'd over-reacted to the incident with Little Guy yesterday. And then Snuggler went to bed. And got up. And went to bed. And got up. "I'm feeling really insecure, Mommy!" she whimpered, "I'm scared!"

So I held her for a while, and we talked, and I sent her back to bed. And then she was up again. She finally fell asleep in a huddle on a quilt next to my bed. Scared.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Climbing out of a parenting FAIL

We had a homeschool co-op field trip today. I was signed up to chaperone, but since there were many other moms going it didn't seem necessary, and when a friend asked if we could have a cup of coffee and talk about a problem she was facing, I said yes.

Dropped the kids off, had coffee, did a bit of Christmas shopping, went back to the museum. Paused outside the younger kids' group, and a mom waved me in. Little Guy was having problems with frustration.

Uh-oh. Things had been running so smoothly with outside classes that I'd completely forgotten to prep Little Guy for this one. Our usual conversation goes something like this:

Me: What's the price of admission?
Little Guy: Co-operation.
Me: What will you do if you get frustrated?
Little Guy: Some deep breathing.
Me: What else?
Little Guy: Get someone to help me.
Me: Or...?
Little Guy: Take a break.
Me: And what if you make a mistake?
Little Guy: I try to fix it.
Me: Or...?
Little Guy: I figure out a way to deal with it.

Note to self: do not forget to have this conversation for the three thousandth time.