Always Real, School, Snips And Snails

The Salt Shaker

Sean does not yet hold his pencil properly.  I know.  If I were inclined towards over-parenting, I might be wringing my hands right now and consulting experts or at least Googling something. But I’m not.  As many of you know, I’m more inclined towards “Whatever Dude” parenting.


It’s not that he can’t hold the pencil properly; it’s that he won’t hold the pencil properly. He holds it in his fist like a little caveman.


When we sit down to color, I correct him.  Using the jaws of life, I loosen his little fingers from around the crayon and then reshape them into the proper position, the position that Harvard graduates and scholars everywhere use.


He immediately readjusts his grip to the caveman.


We stare at one another, like two chess players, each plotting their next move.


“Whatever dude,” I say. “If you want to be the only kid in class still holding their crayon like a caveman, that’s up to you.”


“Sometimes I just need to do things my own way,” he says defiantly.


I sigh. 


I know about having to do things ones own way.


“Well Sean,” I say, “You’re going to make life really hard for yourself that way.”


He’s four. He doesn’t know what I’m talking about. 


I don’t want him to be like me, always having to do things my own hard way. Life is much easier when you are marching with the parade and not off doing your own Snoopy dance.


“I’m going to get a notebook,” he announces boldly, “And I’m going to write down all my rules of what I want to do.”


I think I know what he’s talking about.


“Oh?” I ask, extremely interested.   “What is it exactly that you want to do?”


“I want to shake salt on the floor,” he says quickly and decisively, with an edge.


I stifle a laugh and try to suppress the image of leather jacket clad bad boys with turned up collars and salt shakers.


Without a word, I get up and get the salt shaker. I hand it to him.


For a minute, he just looks at it in the palm of my hand.  He takes it.


We look at each other, expressionless, like two poker players.


He hands the salt shaker back.


“Ah,” I say. “Good choice dude.”


It wasn’t the salt shaker he wanted. It was the power to make the decision.


Tomorrow he may decide to shake salt on my floor.



50 thoughts on “The Salt Shaker

  1. There’s much to be said for parenting older in life, such as yourself. You’ve learned much of what matters and what doesn’t, and that’s valuable information to have when parenting. I had chilled majorly between my first child at 19 and my second one at 28. Why, by now, at 52, I’d probably be a freakin’ genius at parenting…but I’m too pooped. 😉

  2. Sjoe, this story really touched a chord with me, I too like Sean was always wanting to do things in my own way… Great way to deal with it though, I hope that one day when I am blessed with children that I can handle situations like this with such aplomb.

  3. If he HAD shaken it on the floor, perhaps he knows (or at least suspects) it would be him having to clean it up? Good choice indeed.

  4. Too funny. We have the same pencil/crayon-holding issue here with our 4-y/o. I try every now and again to correct him, but he resists too. I figure it’ll all work itself out in kindergarten or so.

  5. Doing things differently may not make it easier, but the memories stick with us different-beaters a little longer. When I went back to my high school reunion, most of my friends stated that they always appreciated my differentness. They look back with a touch of regret that they didn’t join in as often as they wish they had.

    Different can be very good. I don’t have a whole lot of regrets about trying to buck being usual. I think that because Sean has such loving parents, he’s going to have that same security when he does choose to do things his own way.

  6. My eldest started kindergarten at 5 1/2 defiantly choosing the caveman hold. I knew he could hold the pencil correctly and sure enough, after a couple of weeks he made the decision to join in.
    I try to subscribe to the “how to talk so kids will listen…” style of parenting. It’s all about helping them come to their own decisions, instead of lecturing.
    I love that you called his bluff and I love that he made the “right” choice. My 4 year old would probably be happily shaking that shaker (albeit in the knowledge that she would have to clean up afterwards)…

  7. It’s the same with kids who are late to toilet-train…you have to remember that most likely he or she is NOT going to kindergarten in diapers!

    I teach preschool and in the second half of the year we bring a computer into the classroom. In order for the kids to use the computer, they have to “sign up.” It doesn’t matter what they put on the list – their name, a line, a scribble – they just have to attempt their name.

    We had a very bright child who was just drooling over the computer. We encouraged him, took him by the hand, handed him crayon, pencil, marker. Did he want to put a sticker on the sheet to mark his turn? Nope.

    After about two weeks he went over to the writing center, picked up a marker, and wrote MATTHEW in plain, understandable, beautiful, almost perfect letters.

    Yep, he didn’t want to be told to do it. He did it when he was ready. I am quite sure he could have done it that very first day.

  8. I’m with you on the “Whatever, Dude” style of parenting. It drives my mother-in-law crazy. (And I love the Snoopy dance; nose in the air, arms flung out and feet moving joyfully!) I think you are very wise. And Sean is, too, at least today. lol.

  9. I have one of those beautiful stubborn children. My heart aches for the troubles she’ll cause herself in life even as I rejoice in her independence and unique spirit. Where was this post two years ago when I was banging my head against her stubborn caveman grip? She’s teaching me to be much more “Whatever, Dude” 🙂

  10. “off doing your own Snoopy dance” WILL find its way into my list of things to say. And I’ll even give you credit. . .Dude.

  11. Giving our children the confidence and power to make decisions is one of the greatest gifts we give. Back in the 50’s, my aunt decided she wanted to smoke cigarettes. My wise grandfather, who did not smoke, bought her a pack. He handed it to her, she handed it back to him and that was that. She never smoked. The sad and ironic thing–years later,at the age of 56, she died of lung cancer, having never smoked or ever lived with a smoker. My dad, her brother, smoked for 40 years and he is 74 and walking around very healthy.

    On another note–children who do things their own way do have a harder time. However, these are the kids who make a difference. These are the Einsteins and DaVincis. These are the recyclers and the ones who care for stray animals. These are the kids who keep the world moving forward. These are the ones who design the path. If you haven’t heard Flowers are Red by Harry Chapin, check it out.

  12. fern, I think that what you are saying is true, but not universally. Sometimes the Snoopy dancers do great things, but other times we just end up writing blogs and over-sharing with the internet. 🙂

  13. Hey, not to worry. He will come around to your way of thinking, somewhat, when he’s twenty or thiry something. Then you won’t care. lol

  14. I don’t know how strong-willed Sean is normally, but I think you handled this one well! Although all kinds of people can achieve spectacular things, the strong-willed personality type does have a special ability to endure pain, loss, hunger, opposition in order to achieve what they determine to do, whether for God or for self.
    Two books that been a great help to me as a parent of 2 strong-willed types are:
    “Different Children, Different Needs” by Charles Boyd and “You Can’t Make Me!” by Cynthia Tobias, both Christian authors.
    Great story about Sean; I hope you keep it.

  15. antique mommy-
    don’t underestimate yourself and all that you do. If your blog and “oversharing” helps other moms become more confident or feel less alone or inspires someone–then you have changed the world.

  16. He’s only 4. He’ll get it. But I do agree that teachers do not teach kids to hold a pencil correctly anymore. You see everywhere with people. I worked at elementary schools and saw it all the time.

  17. One thing I did with my daughter when she wouldn’t hold a pencil correctly was challenge her to hold a piece of tissue with her 4th & 5th fingers and write with the pencil using only the other 3 fingers. She can do it without the tissue now.

    I love saying, “Whatever, dude.” I think Kevin Leman (author of several of my favorite parenting books: Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, and Have a New Kid by Friday) calls it, “pulling the rug out and letting the little buzzards tumble.” You’re definitely on the right track.

  18. Have you tried triangular crayons, etc.? We used them for one of yours. It helped a little.


  19. My third grade teacher kept coming by my desk and making me change my grip– quite instilled by 3rd grade– to the proper one. I was not happy with her at the time, but now I am glad she cared enough to insist. Whether my previous 3 teachers noticed or cared not to fight the battle, I don’t know. I don’t know if my mother had commented or not. I believe the hand is not as fatigued when using the correct grip. I also believe there is more freedom of movement for creativity when using the proper grip. Of course, in younger years as children are taught how to make correct letters, the creativity is ususallyh to be reserved for their names or such things. As I later taught 3rd grade, I worked on getting children to use the standard grip because I was glad my teacher made me change.
    I also remember when I was so fast at the “hunt and peck” system of typing that using the correct keys was slower for me. My mother made me take typing in H.S., and I learned the correct placement– fortunately before college. Now, I am so glad some schools use programs that make correct finger placement the first thing the children learn on the computers.
    I can tell your love shines thru with your decisions for Sean. He and you are both blessed.

  20. Having a non-standard grip isn’t exactly the end of the world; I had one well into high school. I held the pen/pencil between my 3rd and 4th fingers instead of my 2nd and 3rd. I finally only quit when I developed a wart on my 4th finger and writing pressure made it hurt.

    I had (and still have) excellent penmenship. I draw quite well. I was an excellent student. And I always marched to the beat of my own drum.

    Sean sounds just perfect from my point of view!

  21. After sending a bunch of kids through the public school, having a child who is not dyslexic write his name backwards all through the first grade because he liked it that way, I applaude you, your Snoopy Dance and your “whatever Dude” attitude. I now homeschool our youngest daughter & trust me, the “Whatever Dude” attitude works quicker & easier than the black & white expectations we encountered with Mr. Ydnar. He has a daughter who insists on making her secondr “f” in her name backwards. Tiffany is just a chip off the old block & I am loving it!
    Sean could play here & fit right in. LOL

  22. I’m with fern — and you: you all go on and march with the parade. I’m doin’ the Snoopy dance — ESPECIALLY if you tell me that I HAVE TO march with the parade!! I am Snoopy dancin’ all the harder! But, yeah — not a lot of good has come from that, but I am definitely my own person! 🙂

    I love Sean. He’s a blast.

  23. Very wise. Sometimes, they just want to know they have th e power of choice, even if it’s to make bad a one.

  24. I could really use you around on days when I’m clueless as to what to say or do with my kiddo’s antics….that was a great post! btw: my four year old son holds a pencil like a cave man too….and I’m the preschool director at his school (so there’s just a little added pressure…ok, there’s a LOT of added pressure!). Neways, I too am trying to take on the “whatever, dude” attitude! 😉

  25. My question is “what would you have done had he chosen to shake the salt all over the floor?”

    I’ve often done the same sort of things with my now 10 year old… I would always just make him clean it up… natural consequence to making a mess, ya know!

    You are a great mom…

  26. I don’t hold my pencil properly either – I hold it between the wrong fingers. But hey – I managed to get through college just fine!

    And I love the salt shaker story!!

  27. Reading these comments reminds me how much things have changed over the years. I have aunts who are twins and in their later 70’s. They were both left handed. The ‘teacher’ was able to break one (change her to write right handed) but one never learned—and is still left-handed. Glad that in that aspect, at least, everyone has learned to say whatever dude.

  28. You are such an awesome, awesome mom.

    I remember one summer, when my son was about Sean’s age, asking if he could take his “shower” outside in the sprinkler. My first thought was, what will the neighbors think? And gosh, how silly! Then I thought, but wait — how neat would it be for Chad to look back and remember what a silly mom he had who would let him do things like take a shower (wearing swim trunks, of course) outside in the sprinkler! And who cares what the neighbors think, really?!

    So I promptly went in, got him a washcloth, soap, shampoo and towel, and told him to have fun.

    They’re only little once. Every time I want to say no to something that seems just slightly different or out-of-the-ordinary, I try to remember that before giving my “final answer.”

  29. I love the fact that the most outlandish thing Sean could think of was..”Shake the salt shaker on the floor”

    I love it.

    Had he said, “Get a tatoo or I want a monkey for a pet” there would have been some scrambling.

  30. My ears always perk up when I hear talk of the correct way to hold a pencil. I’ve been told countless times how “ugly” I hold one myself! I guess I never realized there was a right way, and now as a homeschool mom my children don’t know there’s a right way, either.

    ~Ah well.~ (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  31. Great story. Wish I could answer some of my kid’s challenges (he’s never met a boundary he didn’t push) with such calm. Your stories help me get through some of these … days.

  32. LOVE IT. Yes. The control of the decision. Isn’t that what we all want? And DON’T have?? And then, learn that we really don’t want it anyway?

    Thanks for the post. Fabulous lesson.

  33. Oh yeah, those decisions! My eldest initially decided to be a garbage man when he grew up. I said “cool! Then you could hold on to the back of the truck too! Honey, you work hard at school and YOU TOO can be a garbage man!”

    I thought that his major life decisions could only get better. I was wrong. Within a week of starting school, he decided that he hated it so much he had to become a caveman instead. Now, at ten years old, I believe “caveman” is still on his list of potential careers.

  34. Parade be damned and let the Snoopy Dance Commence…Having lost the ability to go off and do my own little snoopy dance…I think it’s great that you give him the power to decide.

  35. Makes me think of my aunt that always throws salt over her shoulder to ward off back luck when she accidently knocks over the salt shaker. Even in a restaurant. I never go barefoot in her kitchen….it’s too salty!

  36. The last time I told my nephew he was allowed to do anything he wanted, he didn’t know what to do.

    It’s when I tell him what he can’t do that he knows exactly what he wants to do.

  37. We had a friend who sent her 3 y/o to “handwriting camp” last summer due to concern about his future penmanship. Whether this is necessary or not, I don’t know, but the image of a 3 y/o at summer handwriting camp greatly amused me.

  38. When I was in the 3rd grade I had the same problem with how I held my pencil. My parents even payed for a tutor to try and help me learn to write “properly”. I am a supply teacher now and graduating from university next year with my BA, I have beautiful penmenship and I still continue to hold my pencil the same way. Some kids just march to the beat of their own drum. 🙂

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