Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cat poop=OCD explosion=flooring=money anxiety=Christmas

Our cat, Shanks, is approaching 17 years, but I doubt very seriously that he will last much into 2015.  He is absolute skin and bones, and I can tell it is getting harder for him to climb the steps.  Still, he is spirited enough to jump onto the toilet and then the countertop in the kids' bathroom in the hope of getting to sip water from the faucet.

This week he had an episode of diarrhea in the basement, where we keep him at night.
Now I can handle blood.
I can handle vomit.
I can handle snot.
I can handle pus.
Basically, anytime I have to deal with poop, be it human or animal, I fight the urge to douse myself from head to toe in isopropyl alcohol.

My brain cannot get poop out of its network, and our light beige 14-year-old Berber carpet in the basement cannot get poop out of its fibers.  Basically, from here on out anytime I see the basement carpet poop stains from our cat, I'm going to go all heeby-jeeby just thinking about the lingering E. coli.

I had already told D that as soon as (like seconds after) Shanks bit the dust, I was going to get new, darker, less-likely-to-show-every-stain carpet in the basement, but this poop thing has changed the plan.  We're getting laminate tile in the basement.  Like now.

The best thing we ever did in this house is pull up the light beige carpet on the main floor and put in hardwood.  (I'm reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry right now, and I'm really thinking life was much better in the days before carpet.  Packed dirt floor or wood planks=wonderful concept.)

So, the good thing is new flooring that will clean easier.

The bad thing is that spending money (especially a sizable chunk of change) always, always puts me in a different kind of anxiety spin.  Even when we have the money to spend.  Even though we live in such a way that we don't have any debt except our house payment.

I always think to myself that we're right-smack-in-the-middle-middle class.  But I recently had to admit to myself that we're upper middle class.  Maybe even rich.

I don't like admitting that.  I don't want to be that.

That sounds idiotic.  I want the security that comes with having savings, that comes with money.  I guess what I mean is that I don't want to lose sight of "there but for the grace of God go I."  I don't want to lose sight of other people's struggle, of those I know who are working poor.  Who work hard but live paycheck to paycheck for a variety of reasons.  

And I think having money, having security, makes you lose sight of other people's struggle.  You take for granted all the things you have, and you're not even away that you are taking it for granted.  You are just used to what you know.  Then, when you have occasion to visit someone who lives very, very differently from you, you are reminded:  "We have so much."

For me, the guilt comes next.  Even though I know that D and I make choices to live as we do, I also am fully aware that we were lucky.  We had functional families, not broken by divorce, which in and of itself, changes the economic dynamic of a person.  We had parents who did everything in their power to support our education: encouraging us, paying for it.  We were given a foundation that automatically gave us a leg up over others.

We didn't have unanticipated pregnancies when we were starting out or health issues or anything beyond our control that can lead to financial problems.

So even though we try to make smart financial choices now, and have been trying to for the past 17 years of our marriage, we had decades of fortune behind us that were often out of our control.

And, perhaps, this is one of the reasons why I struggle so with Christmas, with the story of Christmas, of the poor couple coming with virtually nothing into an unknown land, an unanticipated pregnancy, with everything hopeful that such a story could entail....of being cared for by others.

But along with that the knowledge that Christmas has become such a materialistic, consumer-driven, outdoing others, look-at-what-I-got occasion that drives so many people into debt, further into living paycheck-to-paycheck.

This is how my brain operates.  Cat poop leads to all this thinking.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

AP test results....and knowing what you know about your kid

The other day in the mail we got N's AP test results from her third (and final) go round, the one we had her take in October thinking, "What if she were to get 1 point higher than what she got in 3rd grade (a score of 23) which would allow her to get into NMS's Gifted and Talented Program?"

She retook it in 4th and got a 21.
She retook it in 5th and got a 21.

The district keeps whatever the highest score is.

We had already registered her for CroMS as soon as the system was open, so NMS was long off the table and out of the picture, but the test result is validation for me.  We made the right decision.  Even without knowing the test result, we made the decision based on her personality, her motivation, our understanding that while our daughter is bright we know she isn't that.bright.

I try, with all my kids, to keep realistic, to see them for who they truly are, to not be blinded by sheer unadulterated love of them.  Truthfully, I don't struggle with this; I actually have a difficult time seeing them as anything especially wonderful.

But then, sometimes I am sorta amazed at unexpected successes they experience.  Like last year when N won 3rd place in the district elementary written assessment for the pool of schools in which her school competed.  Like yesterday when she came home and said she gets to compete in the school Spelling Bee because she won in her class.  Like G being in an enrichment science group and reading at an early 2nd grade level.

I don't think my kids are all that and a bag of chips, so when they do something that is all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips-ish, I'm a bit stunned.

My mother asked me the other day if I ever think about what my kids will be when they grow up, and I don't.  I really rarely think about their future.

Honestly, I'm too busy in the moment of raising them and hoping I'm doing right by them this second that I can't consider what I'm doing in the raising of them will mean as time unfolds.

But if now is any indication, I will be pleasantly surprised.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Library memories, childhood books, and parental censorship

My parents did a lot of things right when it came to raising me and my brother.  I certainly didn't think this when I was a child, a teen or in my twenties, but LAWD I think so now that I am bringing up my own children.

One of the things my parents did, specifically my mother, was take us to the library.  I distinctly remember selecting books at our local branch, which was also the library at the nearest public high school.

I had a habit as a kid of reading the same books over and over again at the kitchen table when I was eating.  I guess I couldn't handle eating and reading something new that required my undivided attention, so when I wanted to snack I would pick a book I knew backwards and forwards.  (I'm STILL not terribly good at this as an adult).

One book I read repeatedly was Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade.

I had to do an online hunt for this book this morning because I could remember the premise and the cover but not the title or author.

There were 3 other books that I read constantly:

Then Again, Maybe I Won't (middle school)

Jimmy Reardon (high school)

California Dreamin' (college and older)

I suppose thinking about my own childhood reading makes me think about what I "allow" my own kids to read.  N is reading the Harry Potter series now; she is on Book 3.  She started the Divergent series, but took a break to focus on Hogwarts.  I make her read award winners periodically, but otherwise I try to let her select things she would like to read.

This is the Language Arts teacher in me, I guess.  I know my mother never asked what I was reading.  I think she just wanted me to read.  Seeing her read and taking her to the library was how she modeled what she wanted.

It can be a dangerous thing to too strongly censor what kids read, ESPECIALLY if the parents have never read the books in question.  I've seen this happen, and it makes no sense to me.  If a parent HAS read the book and thinks it is inappropriate, I have no problem with their decision.  But to censor a book simply because of what one has heard, or even from a book review, is thoughtless, in my opinion.

Take Anna Karenina, for example.  Someone who has never read this book and only read blurbs might just think it is a book about a Russian slut.  They might automatically write it off their list because it is about a woman who commits adultery.

Anyone who HAS read the novel knows that the entire book uses another character as a foil for Anna Karenina; a man who spends the entire novel in a constant state of moral consideration.  A man who ultimately chooses a much different path from Anna and not only survives but endures, thrives, finds a measure of peace that Anna never was able to attain.  He is a man who chooses God, who chooses hope and belief.

Of course, a certain amount of age-appropriate censorship is normal.  I won't allow my 5th grader to read The Great Gatsby.  It is too adult for her.  I would never condone my child reading any of the Fifty Shades of Stupid of Grey books.  But I have read the first one; it was terribly written.

Sometimes censoring stuff only makes the draw that much stronger for a kid.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas a year later--G and his sensory issues

We are 15 days into December 2014, and it is markedly better than last December.

G has been in OT for almost a year.  He has a year's worth of maturity behind him.  He and I did a few months of CBT together last winter and spring.

He isn't crying before school every day, commenting on his coat itching and his sleeves bothering him.  He isn't hitting me.  He isn't a complete wreck of nerves about what gifts may come.

This isn't to say he is "fixed."  We are managing him better.

He knows what gifts he is getting from Mommy & Daddy.  He knows the general category of what he is getting from his Nana/Pa and my brother/sister-in-law (a board game & a video game figure). I had him make a list of 3 items for Santa, and I told him that Santa said he would get all 3 items because they are small.

We've had to take as much of the surprise out of Christmas as we possibly can without ruining it for N and M, who are much, much easier going and happy with whatever they get from anybody.  Who don't get freaked out by the idea of Santa coming into the house.

I have had to let go of whatever I think I am "supposed" to do with him and just modify as I need to.  If peeling the skin off a red pepper means he will eat some red pepper, I will do that.  Eventually, he can peel the skin off himself with a knife.

It hasn't been an easy road, but I like being around my kid more.  I can appreciate all the great things about him better than I could twelve months ago.  He sat this morning for over a half hour putting together a Lego set--completely focused, completely quiet.  He didn't get frustrated, or if he did, he managed and kept at it.  He didn't fall apart.  That is huge.

I am able to accept that he is going to awaken every day at 6:00 and start talking from the instant he gets up.  We started him on melatonin in October, which we give him Sunday through Thursday nights, and that has made a tremendous difference for both him and me.

He is a super, super smart kid.  His IQ test showed him as average or slightly above, but I know from his questions that he is a deep thinker.  On the way to Nana and Pa's house yesterday, he asked about the number infinity (his second go-round on the concept of infinity).  He keeps trying to grasp what it is and how would a person know if they had gotten there.  How many 7-year-old kids know that infinity is a mathematical concept and attempt to grapple with it?

His next question was, "If someone was hanging at the bottom of Earth and let go to float into space, what is the first thing they'd hit?"  He knows that gravity keeps a person on Earth, but he is fascinated by space, by direction, by the lack of direction in space.  He asked whether if someone cut the earth in half at the equator whether the line would be vertical or horizontal.

Driving while being questioned like this seems somewhat more dangerous than being intoxicated.

I am better able to appreciate his sweetness.  He asked if we could buy Santa a special box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and leave it for him on the kitchen table.  When I suggested we just leave him one of the doughnuts that we will eat on Christmas morning (from another bakery), G got teary at the prospect of not being able to do his idea.  "I just want to do something really special for Santa to thank him," he said.  And so Santa will be getting 2 Krispy Kreme doughnuts in a box because I can't crush that instinct to be both sweet and thankful.

G is still maddening.  Persnickety and complex.  The snowfall in November was a nightmare getting him into his winter clothes that first time, but it was better the second time later that day.  He experienced some sensory issues on Halloween, but it wasn't a full-on battle.

Getting a handle on his sensory issues and giving him (and us) tools, with the benefit of time, has made a tremendous and positive difference.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas is not a holiday for minimalists

On a typical Christmas Day I spend the hours wandering around the house searching out clear plastic bins in which to store all the new crap.  Newly opened gifts don't sit under the tree for very long.  By mid-day, preferably, they are put into their new homes.

Christmas is, without a doubt, the bane of minimalists.

This year I have been trying to keep from spending all of Christmas Day in a fit of anxiety.  I have, therefore, spent the entire month in a perplexing state of both buying new stuff (because I have to) and unloading lots of old stuff (because I want to).

If I had my preferences, every adult in both mine and D's families would forego gift-giving.  We would get together to eat, watch the kids open gifts and chat.  And every adult would be limited to giving each child  But that isn't going to happen, so I go buy stuff for gift exchanges and try to accept that my children will be lost in a pile of stuff from grandparents, aunts, uncles and Santa.

At the same time that I've been shopping, I have been throwing out stuff that is either outright junk or stuff I don't truly love.  Earlier in the month our neighborhood had a bulk pick-up so I tossed baby bed parts that I had thought, "Maybe some day I'll become a carpenter and up-cycle something completely cool."  

After 17 years, we shipped our first Christmas tree to Goodwill.  We bought it for our first married Christmas when we had zero furniture and 3 fewer children.  It was huge, and over time simply didn't fit into the space.  A number of years I didn't even put limbs on the back and held the bottom down with hand-weights to keep it from being quite so huge.  I felt like 17 years was a good run for a tree, so didn't mind spending $100 for a smaller tree.  I also donated tons of Christmas items that had been given to me over the years; things I didn't love.

I've gone through toys and clothes and pulled aside things the kids no longer touch or wear and have them in the basement, ready to be sorted and priced for the spring consignment sales.  This week before the kids are out of school I'll be going through their bedrooms and desks, pulling aside precious items of half-written on paper, rubber bands and other things that qualify as trash in my book.

It is terribly difficult for me to reconcile within myself what Christmas should mean with what Christmas actually is.  My long-standing issues with Christmas date back to my childhood, so I think it is mostly a personality thing, although the materialism of the holiday worsens every year.

I think I've decided that my favorite holiday is the 4th of July.  No gifts.  No madness of grocery shopping for pumpkin-oriented items and stuffing.  No overabundance of candy and rabbits and plastic eggs.

Simply getting together, eating, playing outside.  The only downside is the humidity. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Introversion as a result of motherhood? Or aging? Or busyness? Or medication?

When I was younger, I definitely skewed more extroverted.  I felt like I needed to be around other people for energy, in order to thrive.  I was neither comfortable nor happy when I was alone.  I didn't know what to do with myself if I was by myself for very long at all.

D told me tonight that I have become an introvert, which I found surprising, not because I hadn't thought it but because it is obvious enough for someone else to notice.  I tire of people so easily now and really welcome nothing but silence when I have moments to myself.  By the end of the day, I find myself saying, "I really need for you to stop talking to me," to both D and the kids.  My ears simply can't listen anymore.

I'm not certain whether this introversion is a function of motherhood.  Perhaps being with one or more of my children for all but 9 hours of the week for over a decade will do that to a person?  Perhaps because I am being talked to I am simply worn to a sensory nub and require quiet to decompress and revitalize for more chatter the next day?  

Or maybe it is a function of having a busy life?  Because of the kids I feel like I am always running errands or planning something or taking someone somewhere, so I relish any time I get at home, inside, where I am not around tons of other people.  

Or maybe it is a function of being medicated and having my thoughts not drive me crazy?  Maybe having a quieter, less worried mind has made it easier and more pleasant for me to spend time with only myself?

Or maybe this is just what happens as a person gets older?  
Or maybe it is a function of being married to an introvert for 17 years and picking up habits?

Some time ago, I took a Myers-Briggs test and was smack dab in the middle between extroversion and introversion.  Perhaps how much I lean toward introversion changes depending on how much people/chatter time I've had?  

I think because I like to chat with people and am pretty approachable and friendly, people automatically put me in the extroversion category and might be surprised by the notion that I'm moving more towards introversion.  

But introversion doesn't mean a person doesn't like to talk;  I'm not shy; I just find that talking too long....or being talked to too my energy; wears me out.  Makes me feel like I need to go away and recharge with silence. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I'm a yeller when I'm yelled at first

Our financial advisor gave me a brilliant piece of advice I've tried to remember (and I've probably blogged about it).  He likened parenthood to investment.  

If you put money in the bank or investments, and you consistently do it, then on the rare occasions when you have to take money out to buy a faulty water heater or some other hardship, it isn't such a big deal.  

Same with parenting.  

You make "deposits" into your relationships with your children and then, on those occasions when you completely*t., you have plenty of good feeling in the relationship bank so it isn't such a big deal.  

Today, I made a big OLE FAT withdrawal from the bank that was precipitated by M screaming his head off in the car and kicking the side door and window of the minivan.  Of course, I was the evil mother who made a 5-minute errand to buy his preschool teacher a gift card after picking him up in carpool.  Call CPS!  Mom made me run an errand!

I know all the parenting books and articles and manuals say, "Don't yell at your kids!  You'll scare them."  

But here is what I think, and the parenting experts can bite it:

1. I don't yell first.  I give options.  I talk calmly.  I try to ignore.  But when I do these things and get a giant stinking pile of psycho-kid-behavior launched directly at me, I can and will go ballistic on my children.  

2. While yelling at my children, I am very clear to point out that the reason Mommy is yelling is because they launched a giant pile of stinking psycho-kid-sh*t at me, and perhaps, if they had not done so I wouldn't feel like I'd give a zillion dollars to NOT BE AROUND THEM RIGHT THIS SECOND.

3. While yelling, I also take away a privilege.  I want them to understand that in addition to being disrespectful (or downright dangerous if they are doing this crap while I am trying to drive, as M was today), they made me angry, and so their tantrum didn't get them anything they wanted at all.  It made me mad, AND they lost a privilege.  

4. If we don't occasionally have mass blow-ups, we miss the opportunity to talk about what a dreadful thing it is to have blow-ups.  Today, M said "I'm sorry" (something he has never done), and I said, "I'm sorry for yelling," (something I have often done).  (When it comes to setting a marriage example, D and I are not yellers at all.  We get annoyed at each other, of course, but we don't raise our voices or call names or do any of that stuff.  I'm not sure if built-up resentment is better, but somehow we've managed to stay mostly happily married for 17 years.)

I don't say any of this to condone it.  It sucks.  I wish I could remain calm and reasonable.  My patience only goes so far.  Maybe because I generally keep my "parenting" bank account with my kids pretty full, I don't worry that they will fall into piles of pathetic rubble when I yell.

What I do worry about more is that if I pussy-foot around them, talking calmly and not showing a  "true, real" response, they will think it is perfectly ok to do whatever the heck they want around mom.  Push my buttons and drive me crazy, and I'll just take it smiling.  And should they ever do this kind of stuff around someone else, that someone else who doesn't love them will bash their teeth in.

I don't necessarily think a kid knowing "The only reason I am not strangling you with my bare hands is because I really do love you, but you will NOT treat me like a piece of crap" is a bad thing.  

I'm sure this will be good fodder for my "Mother of the Year" speech.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I remember when underwear for Christmas was a horrible gift

When I was a kid, we had a next-door neighbor whom we called Nana.  I remember she would buy us Christmas presents every year.  I also remember the feeling of disappointment because she would buy us underwear.  No kid wants underwear for Christmas.  From anyone. Under any circumstances.

And now, I think fondly on the underwear from Nana because I would LOVE to get undergarments for Christmas.  Like a new, well-fitting bra.

They say adults lose their ability to feel joy or magic, but I disagree. I simply think the things they find joyous and magical change.  Like underwear.  Or a new dishwasher when theirs doesn't work anymore.

D's family does a Christmas gift exchange every year so, for any of them who might have my name and might read this blog and might need this information, here are some suggestions of things I could use:

1. a new bra, which no one will buy me (so a gift card to Victoria's Secret or anyplace that sells nice bras would be fantastic so I could apply it toward a new bra.  I haven't purchased a nice bra for myself since almost 11 years ago.)

2. tall socks (the older I get, the colder I get, so I wear tall socks all winter long.  Including to bed.)

That's it.

I did order myself some new Old Navy long-sleeve t-shirts because most of mine are stained, have holes or are stretched out (and have a new life in my pajama drawer).  I called my mom (who, like me, abhors shopping) and said, "Want to give me some of these shirts for Christmas?"

As soon as the weather turned cold, I bought myself some new house slippers because my previous pair, which N had given me before M was born so I'd have something nice for the hospital, were falling apart.

All of this discussion of practical, boring Christmas desires reminds me of why I am such a terrible shopper.  I am so practical that it sucks the fun out of shopping.  I always think, "Is this useful?" rather than, "Is this a great gift?"

For example, one of the best presents I got for Christmas one year was a pair of rain boots.  I would have eventually bought myself some, but I would have stewed over the purchase because rain boots, while not a luxury item, aren't necessities either.  But I use my rain boots a lot.

The only time when "Is this useful" and "Is this a great gift" coincide is when I buy teacher presents.  I always, always buy gift cards, and I try to buy to locally owned restaurants or find out where the teachers get their hair done.

Ok, I have really bored myself to death by writing this post.  I just better stop.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It is easy to find God in the Bible; takes analysis

Again this year, I have had someone "complain" about the texts I've selected for my cottage school students.  This time, however, it is from a student; one of my 10th graders.

It is a difficult tight-rope to walk, selecting novels for homeschooling families, because while most kids are definitely more immersed in secular culture than I expected (all the boys in my middle school class play the aggressive video games or at least know about them), there are some students who seem more sheltered.

When I select texts, I look at whether they are award winners (Newbery, Pulitzer, Nobel), whether they are considered classics, and whether they are taught at other Christian homeschooling entities.  I then consult with my directors for final approval.

Everything I teach is from a Christian world-view, which isn't too terribly difficult to do given how all of them deal with ethically/morally difficult concepts: revenge, murder, betrayal, pride, infidelity, suffering, discrimination, etc.

After I learned about this student's moral problems with The Great Gatsby, I spoke with my middle schoolers and 9th/10th graders about my favorite class from college, a course called Theology in Modern Literature.  We read texts in which characters question God (Walker Percy's The MovieGoer) or struggle to find God within the suffering of life (Albert Camus The Plague).

I asked my students to consider the poor choices of characters they've read about (either last year in my class or this year):
Frankenstein--acting like God
The Count of Monte Cristo--seeking revenge; acting like God
The Odyssey--murder, mayhem, infidelity
To Kill a Mockingbird--racism, gossip
Medea--murder, revenge
The Great Gatsby--infidelity, drinking to excess, manslaughter
Maniac Magee--racism
Nothing But the Truth--outright lying or mismanaging the truth
Hatchet--divorce, infidelity

I then asked them to consider whether all of these poor choices made in these books are also made by people from the Bible.  The answer was a definite yes.

One student said, "Yes, but the Bible tells us not to do those things."  And I agree with her.  It is easy to know what God wants us to do if we read the Bible.

But I asked whether any of the secular texts we read encourage us to engage in these behaviors?  They do not.  They, too, serve as lessons of the pain, discomfort, and moral conundrums of poor choices.

God is in these texts, serving to help us understand other people's choices, their judgments, their weaknesses.  We have to work harder to find God in the works, and that is the point of the tools I give them for analysis.  We have to really think about our beliefs, about world beliefs, about what is right and wrong, what is compassionate, how Jesus would react to these characters.

And that, I think, is what living in the real world is like.  Life isn't black and white.  It is, most of the time, full-on gray.  Complex, difficult, forcing us to really think carefully about our beliefs and how we are going to choose to live.

Reading the Bible is good, but sometimes it causes us to too easily think and act in platitudes, to forget that in real life finding God is not obvious or easy.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson and "The Lady, or the Tiger"

My middle school students read the story, "The Lady, or the Tiger" by Frank Stockton, and we spent our last class of this semester talking about the narrator's suggestion, "Its perfect fairness is obvious."

We talked about how the king leaves the decision up to "chance" except for the fact that he decides who even goes into the arena, which is an act of judgment in itself.

We talked about what fairness means, specifically whether it would be fair for me to divide a meal and give each of my children (ages 10, 7 and 5) each 33.33% of it.  My students argued this would not be fair because the calorie requirements of my pre-teen are greater than the calorie requirements of the 5-year-old.

We then spent time comparing the king's system of justice with the US justice system (Miranda rights, judges and juries, etc).  We discussed which system is more "fair," and whether there are still unfair things that could be in the more "fair" system.

And so, today, in light of the Ferguson decision, the fallout from it, and the comments of FB as to the fallout, I am thinking about this story and wondering what is fair.  I have no answers; I rarely do.  I have questions, considerations.

I am thinking about how difficult it must be to be a police officer, to put yourself in potentially dangerous situations as part of your job, and not shoot to kill (in light of the human instinct for survival).

I am thinking about how difficult it must be to be an unarmed young black man who feels a constant threat and burden from law enforcement, and society at large, simply because he is black.

I am thinking about a community of law enforcement families who want their officers to survive each day.

I am thinking about a community of blacks who feel grief followed by a slight by the justice system.

I am thinking the Ferguson situation seems a lot more like the Frank Stockton story than I'd ever considered.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Here ye, here ye! Be-ist a d*ck to thou parents hath commenced!

Yesterday was a bad, bad day.  D was removing photos from my computer so I couldn't access phone numbers to call and do interviews or edit my articles or blog here to decompress.

It began when I picked up N from her sleepover.  We walked into our home and within 2 minutes she came to me holding her camera.
"Look!" she said, holding it out to me.
"What?" I replied.
"The batteries aren't here!" she responded.
"YOU have to go back and get them!" she said full of ire and snot.

Uh-uh sister.  I don't take commands from a 10-year-old whom I just drove home from said sleepover.  A 15-20 minute drive that I just.made.

I could blame her tone on tiredness or the inevitable fall from having fun to resorption into "real boring life at home" (I seem to remember that feeling when I was a kid post-sleepover at friends' houses).

On the drive home, I had told her she needed to take a shower and clean up her room when we got home.  So I told her that once she had taken her shower and cleaned up her room, I would go get the battery (knowing full-well this would occur hours and hours later if it even happened at all that day since my daughter is a profound procrastinator and putzer).

There was grumbling and eye-rolling and all other unsavory behavior on her part, which resulted in me yelling that her behaving in such a way probably wasn't going to induce me to want to help her.

So I am without my computer, and my daughter has just treated me like a poop dropping.  Good times.

The boys start haranguing me for candy, which I think is their way of saying, "Hey mom, we missed you!  Dad ignores us, and we see your discipline as an act of love and care so please discipline us so we are reminded of how instilling boundaries is a way of showing parental adoration."


N later asked me for my help in cleaning up her room, but when I came in and started giving directives she balked, at which point I told her a variety of the following:
1. Don't ask for my help and then complain about what I instruct you to do to clean up your room.
2. The next time I can't vacuum in here on a Thursday because there is so much stuff on the floor I am picking it up, bagging it and taking it to Goodwill.
3. Silence accompanied by the sound of me turning on the vacuum and rolling it, causing her to quickly throw crap onto her bed.  Ultimately, I just want to vacuum the fricking floor and really don't care about her feelings anymore.


This was followed by the psychotic 5-year-old who wanted me to bring a poster over to him (the poster is on our kitchen floor since the boys like to look at it) while he was making a card for his cousin's birthday.  I refused (because honestly, given the day I've had, I really have no energy left).

I showed him how he could get his butt up, walk himself, his paper and his marker to the poster, and sit on the floor to finish the card.  His response was to scratch out what he'd done and throw a big fit.  My response was to say, "You may stay outside until you can be in the house without screaming" and placed him on the front porch (and locked the door).

I don't spank my children, but I will toss their butts outside and refuse re-entry if they cannot control themselves within these walls.  (I went out and took a walk myself during the day in my own effort to "give myself a time out."  Later I went running errands (another mommy time-out).  I would give myself time-outs within my home but my children follow me and bang on doors.)


Shortly after, we got the kids in the car to head to my nephew's, which resulted in the 5-year-old screaming for most of the ride there and kicking the windows because, according to him, I was mean since I didn't let him finish his card (that he had scratched out and ruined because I wouldn't deliver the poster to his lazy butt).

This is what I went off the pill for?

It was a case of bizarro world because G, the child who normally presses every button, was seemingly normal compared to the other two.

I am hoping that today is a better day.  

Discipline (and my sick sense of enjoying it)

I am not a procrastinator.  If I am told today that I need to do something (and it is due in 2 weeks), it bothers me that I couldn't start working on it yesterday.  I'm totally one of those annoying people, but my editor loves me.

It isn't something I strive for and work hard to be.  Putting stuff off feels painful, and getting it done gives me infinite peace.

Wednesday night we put the kids to bed as usual.  About 15 minutes after turning out N's light, she came downstairs crying.  Full-on "someone just stole my dog" crying.  I couldn't imagine why.

She said her math study guide was due Friday, and she wasn't finished.  We had plans for me to take her on Thursday night to her school's skate party, so I said, "Well, I guess you don't go to the skate party."

Bear in mind, she'd had the entire previous weekend and a full SNOW DAY on Monday when she could have worked on it.  She had mentioned something about it to me, but I don't keep tabs on her work.  In 5th grade, she should be able to stay on top of what is due without me hovering.  My goal is to put myself out of a job as nanny goat for my three children, so helicoptering is not something I'm interested in.

When I said, "No skate party," that resulted in more tears, and I am not sympathetic to crying about a situation you brought on yourself (which is probably how people feel about me when I complain about motherhood and how being around my kids all the time blows).

D, who IS a procrastinator and can understand N's situation better than I ever could, suggested if she could get it done before Thursday at 5:30 then she could go to the skate party (she did have about half of it done, so she wasn't starting from scratch).

I grudgingly agreed to this although I admit to wanting there to be some kind of punishment simply for being a dumb-ass.  She had her fun last weekend and on Monday's snow day, so I wanted her to understand that there is a cost, and she had better learn the art of prioritizing her time and activities.  I told her if she putzed around one.single.second when she got off the bus on Thursday we would not go.

Her desire to attend the skate party motivated her to complete it in a way that I found satisfactory, but I told her if she does it again, she would (without any doubt or hesitation on my part) NOT get to do whatever fun thing she had planned.

Maybe there is something wrong with me but I don't feel any compulsion to save my children from situations of their own making.  I think I lack a sympathy gene or an empathy gene or maybe I don't know how to love people properly?  My heart doesn't break in half at the thought of my children learning a life lesson or having to step up to the plate and take responsibility for themselves.

A month or so ago, when N forgot her orchestra instrument and called me from school asking if I'd bring it, I didn't for one second want to take the discomfort off her hands.  I sorta enjoyed having her squirm a bit.  I was going up to her school for a meeting that day, but I sorta wished that I wasn't so I wouldn't have any reason for bringing the instrument.  To not bring it when I would be there would be cruel, but to make a special trip would be saving her.  I told her, "Since I am coming up there anyway, I will bring it, but I will NOT DO THIS AGAIN."

The next time she forgot her instrument at home, I did not get a worried, frantic call from her.  I guess she knew I really meant it.

Maybe when the next math assignment coincides with skate party week, she'll know I mean it then too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The last word on middle schools (maybe)

Last night we visited our resides middle school's Open House (CarMS).  Having never set foot in the building, I didn't know what to expect.

I liked it.

I liked the fact that the halls are wide, and the space feels open.  I liked that the teachers talked about the content they teach.  I like that this middle school is smaller than my kids' current elementary school (by about 200 students) and three times smaller than CrosMS.  I like that they send many of their students to the regional science fair, and that sixth graders make robots in a technology class.  I like that there is bus service to my house.

I liked the "feel" of CarMS more than I liked the "feel" of "CrosMS."

But, I'm letting go of this one.  All my daughter can see is "where is my BFF going."  And that is ok.

I felt something similar when I selected my high school, although mine was "Wherever the biggest assh*les from my elementary school/middle school are not going is where I want to be."

I have made it very, very clear to N, however, that if she wants to attend CrosMS, then SHE is responsible for doing the work to apply.  I'm not asking teachers for recommendation letters.  I'm not asking for grades.  I'm not writing an essay or bugging her to write an essay.

I am perfectly a-ok with her going to the resides where I don't have to do squat to apply.

The onus is on her (which actually feels quite hard on me, but I think that is called "letting go" or "tough love" or something of that sort).  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Snow day for a kid with sensory issues (and a mom with a mood disorder)

Today is a snow day, and though I would prefer my two oldest kids be in school, I was ok.  Not particularly out of sorts.

The boys played video games in the morning, and N was happy watching old episodes of The Wizards of Waverly Place on Netflix.  I went through some school papers to recycle and used the Dremel tool to cut holes in some dried gourds with the intention of having the kids paint them and make them bird feeders.

In a lull, the kids decided they wanted to go outside to play in the snow, which led to the ordeal, from which I am still trying to recover a few hours after the fact.  Parents of kids with sensory processing problems know about the ordeal of winter dressing.

N and M just put on their ski pants, their coats, mittens and boots and head outside.
G is an altogether different matter that involves at least two episodes of tears for him and a surge in my blood pressure that lasts for hours.

I got his snow pants on with minimal squirming because I reminded him that I would pull his inner pants' legs down.  He wanted to wear the liner of his jacket, so I put that on him and then put the coat on top of it.  He became upset because he wanted the liner attached to the jacket; the liner zipper was touching his face and bothering him.  Now this could have easily been done without him disrobing, but the zipper set him off so much that he had to take both off.  Crying ensued, so he had to calm down.

When I got them on again (with the liner attached to the jacket), he then began complaining about his sleeves, so I pulled his shirt sleeves down inside his liner and jacket.

He complained about the boots next because they hurt the inside of his foot, which I had tried to prevent by putting him in high calf socks.

And then it was mitten time.  Even though he is 7 years old, I cannot buy G gloves because getting his fingers inside the slots is just a sensory nightmare.  He still has problems even getting his thumbs into their slots in the mittens.  And then there is the dilemma of fitting the gloves underneath the coat ends so he doesn't get snow down inside his globes.  The coat ends have to be snapped or he gets upset.

After who knows how long doing this, he and I headed outside.  The kids played, and I shoveled the drive.  In the 15-20 minutes that I shoveled the drive G came to me no less than 5 times to complain about his gloves, his boots coming undone, his gloves coming off again, snow in his hood (because he refused to wear a hat because it bothers him), and a knot being tied in the rope of the sled (which he couldn't stand either).

Basically, one minor thing sets him off which is followed by everything setting him off for a good long time.

I know he can't help it.  I totally empathize because I have my own clothing sensory issues.  But I'm never in a good place when my "routine" is interrupted (by a snow day or sickness or anything), and having to attempt to appease and settle a child who is freaking out about how a texture feels is unsettling because sometimes there is nothing I can do to make it not feel weird.

In my effort to decompress, I did find this, which made me feel better.

His worst and my worst (needing routine and not being able to get out of a bad mood once one has settled upon me) coincide on days like this to make it feel much longer than what it actually is.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The next year is gonna be busy

cause I'm pregnant.

Just kidding....
although the last time I took an online class through the University of Wisconsin to renew my teaching certificate I found out I was pregnant and had to tolerate horrible nausea and dry heaving while studying developmental reading.

If that happens again, a certain urologist is going DOWN.

In January I will take a UW course to acquire 3 of my 6 graduate hours of credit for certificate renewal.  It sounds interesting---Mobile Learning Instructional Design.  I decided to take it to catch myself up technology-wise with my students and learn some cool applications that I can work into my instruction.

Next summer, I will take an adolescent psychology class locally (at my alma mater) to complete the 6 hours of state-required certification renewal, 3 hours of which will count toward my secondary education certification.

Next fall I will possibly take the second class at my alma mater toward secondary ed. certification.  I figure since I have to take graduate classes anyway for renewal (since I don't teach full-time), I might as well put them toward a new certification.  This class will require some field time, but all the kids will be in full-time school then so I won't have to worry about child-care.

Provided I don't get the boot from my current cottage school position, I will continue teaching 2 or 3 literature courses.

Oh, and when the magazine calls, I'll likely pick up some freelance stuff too.

The kids are at an age where they don't really want me to play with them, so I am just around.  Available for stuff if I'm needed, but otherwise just spending my time puttering, and I am generally not good at finding puttering-type stuff to do.  I don't clean clean or any of that nonsense.

Coursework, planning lessons and freelancing tend to be good puttering stuff for me, that I can drop in and out of without too much trouble.  I sit and read until needed, or I search the web for teaching ideas until needed, or I write a bit of an article until needed.

Plus, I don't watch television, so unless I want to go to bed at 8:30 every night when the kids go to bed, I need something to do with a couple hours per night.

I am nervous about all this, though, if for no other reason than that it is transitioning me into life with all the kids in full-time school.  In 2015, I will have been a stay-at-home mom for 11 years.  Even though I'm doing the cottage school gig, I am only away from the house not even 1 full day a week.  Most of my time is still spent with one of my children.

It will feel really weird to have so much time to concentrate on improving me.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

All our kids are weird

My three and however many you have.  They are all weird.

For a long time, it was difficult for me to disengage myself from my kids.  If they acted weird or oddly shy or behaved in a way that was embarrassing, it really bothered me.  I was too tied up in the whole "this child doing whatever he/she is doing is a reflection of me" idea.

Maybe due to G's occupational therapy and his particular oddness, which really isn't that odd or unusual given some of the other kids I see floating in and out of OT, I have let that idea go.  Instead, I have adopted a "my kids are weird but so are everyone else's" idea.

I write a lot about G's weirdness simply because it is 1. so similar to my own weirdness (and therefore very challenging for me) and 2. requires outside assistance in the form of therapies.

But the other two kids are also weird.

One thing I find really strange about N is her self esteem.  She isn't terribly coordinated, limber or naturally athletically skilled, and yet she will do some weird leg lift and say to us, "I am so good at gymnastics" or "I am so limber."  She took one year of dance lessons when she was 4.  She will now do a turn and say, "I am such a good dancer."

I just sorta stare blankly at her.  I might sorta say, "Uh-huh" with a slight questioning tone at the end.

It drives me a little bit crazy, this self-esteem based on delusion.  Not that she couldn't become more skilled and talented in the physical realm with dedication and considerable practice, but she comes across to me like an idiot when she says this stuff (especially since she has shown zero motivation to actually train and practice in order to be more skilled).

Having high self-esteem is great, but sometimes I worry she comes across like a turd if she says this kind of junk very often to other people.  (And I know she does because I've heard her say stuff like, "I am really awesome at this song" to her piano teacher even though she is still clunking along the keys.)

I don't talk to her about it because I don't want to knock her down; life will do that on its own.  But I definitely don't praise her for things that don't honestly deserve any kind of praise.  Wow, you can sorta lift your completely bent leg up into an Elaine Bennis like dance move.  Bravo!

M is newly 5, so his weirdness is just now coming to fruition.

Next week he'll be screened for speech therapy (having both our nurse at the clinic and his preschool teacher ask two days apart, "Have you ever looked into speech for him?).  After taking our preschool music class since August and being in his second year of preschool, he is just now (in November and after being talked to about it) starting to participate and talk to his teacher when asked a direct question.  He has a strong embarrassment streak and takes an unusually long time to warm up to people, which is unlike his siblings and therefore weird (at least to me).

Accepting their weirdness has made me both more accepting of my own children for who they are and who they probably won't ever be and more understanding and compassionate to other parents whose kids are differently weird from my own.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Our visit to Appalachia

The week has been a blur (hence my lack of blogging) due to our visit this past weekend to Appalachia to see Papaw Chester's two sisters.  I have been playing catch-up.

Papaw will be 90 next month.  His sister, Barb, is 85.  His youngest sister, Juanita (whom everyone calls Dude because the kids in the family could never pronounce Juanita), is 84 and in poor health.  I'm not sure what her official diagnosis is, but it is in the realm of dementia/Alzheimer's.

The sisters never married and live in the house in which they grew up.  Papaw lived in that house as a child, and when he married Mamaw Mollie, he built them a house directly across the street from his childhood home.  Straight up from the house he built is a mountain.  There is no yard; only rock.  Mamaw (D's mom) lived in Island Creek until she was 13. I think she was 10 years old before they had indoor plumbing.

The house that Papaw built, and the house that Mamaw (my MIL) grew up in.

I had been wanting to visit there for years, to see where Mamaw and Papaw Chester grew up, to get a sense of what life was like in the mountains.  I have been hearing the stories for 17 years, and I also wanted the kids to have a chance to see where part of their family is from.   My children are so very fortunate to have a living great grandparent and great, great aunts.

Having never been to Appalachia I didn't know what to expect, really, although I anticipated quite a bit of podunk.  It wasn't as bad as I thought.  They did watch local channel gospel music shows all day on Sunday.  At one point, G leaned over and mouthed out This is terrible! to Mamaw.

It was cool to learn that Papaw Chester's parents are buried at the top of the mountain down the road.   It was cool to see the church where they attended and see the spot where Mamaw's 2-room school was (it is now a valley filled with trailer homes).  It was cool to hear Papaw tell of how he would cross the creek by horse as a kid.  How he climbed the mountain on which his parents are now buried to mine coal.

Papaw Chester's childhood home, and the mountain right behind it.

The house that Papaw Chester's mother had grown up in, just a little ways down the road.

I was already in love with Papaw Chester, and this visit just upped my "I adore Papaw" feeling.

However, as much as I loved learning about the family, there was sadness too.

Barb, at 85, is struggling to take care of Dude.  Dude said repeatedly most of the time we were there, "Theys some pretty fellas."  She forgets that she has eaten and insists on eating more.  She fell (or slid off the bed) 2 times while we were there.  The first was Sunday evening, and EMS had to be called to get her off the floor (since Barb, Mamaw, Papaw Chester and N couldn't do it; me, D and the boys stayed at a hotel).  On Sunday morning when the four of us arrived back at the house, Dude was on the floor again. D and I got her back up, but it was awkward and tiring.

The house is, more or less, falling apart due to its age, the age of its owners and their lack of money to pay for repairs.

Sadly, I took the opportunity to visit now because it probably won't be available too much longer.

The kids, despite the gospel tv show and the smell of cat litter and the ceiling plaster falling in and no toys, were well behaved and even had fun.  M and G goofed off outside, playing on a decrepit swingset, smacking tree stumps with sticks and crossing over the small creek that runs beside the house.  N was happy to dress her dolls.

Playing with rotten apples.

It brought me great happiness to watch G and M playing on the living room floor with their great grandfather, who had also played on the floor with his brother (now deceased) when he was a boy, watching them.

Returning to the roots of a family is always both a happy and sad journey.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Trying not to be one of "those" parents

Perhaps the worst thing in all this middle school rigamarole is seeing how precariously close to the edge of "nutso" parent territory I may have been veering.  Acting as if determining the best middle school for N is the be-all, end-all of my existence here on the planet.  Maybe giving it a little more of my energy than it should have taken.

Having been in the classroom and speaking with parents who understandably think their child is awesome but who forget that the world likely doesn't agree with them, I really try to not be annoying.
I try to be 110% supportive of the teachers.  To tell them I am always happy to help, to volunteer, and if they ever have the slightest problem with my child to call me, and I will be up at school pronto to figuratively box my child's ears.

I do attend parent-teacher conferences each time they are offered, even though there is no real reason for me to be.  I don't go to hear the teachers say good things about my kid.  I go to ask questions that generally have zero to do with my kids' grades.

Questions like, "What DRA (directed reading assessment) level are they at?" so I know what books to help the kids select.  Questions like, "Is my kid nice to others at school?  Compassionate?" because there is no category for this on report cards but I don't want a mean girl or boy on my hands.  Questions like, "Do you notice any anxiety?" since N tends to freak out in math, and G is just a bundle of nerves in general.

This year I did introduce myself to N's math teacher when she was having her geometry-related issues in September.  I think the first thing I said to him was, "You know, usually I only drink a lot in the summer when all my kids are at home, but your class may have me drinking a lot this school year."  And then I proceeded to explain how N was acting at home in preparation for the test---crying, moody, confused.  I wanted his guidance on what to do so that I could help her practice more and feel more confident.

This weekend, for some reason, I thought about the spring's written assessment (WA) competition, which N did last year.  I looked on the district's website to find the books they need to read and emailed the WA coach to know whether kids who did it in 4th automatically do it in 5th or if there are tryouts.

As soon as I hit send, I thought to myself, "Oh my god, she is gonna think I'm one of these bonkers parents who expects my kid to make the team because I think my kid is such hot stuff."

When I saw Ms. A today in the hall and she mentioned something about it, I said to her, "As soon as I sent that to you I thought, 'She is gonna think I'm expecting N to have a place on the team and that I have no life because I'm thinking about this in October.'"  The latter is true.  I evidently don't have enough going on to occupy my brain.  But the former is far from the truth.

Fortunately, I think Ms. A knows me well enough to know I'm not a "my kid's stuff don't stink" parent.  She told me I was actually the third parent who had emailed her.  I said, "Well that makes me feel better.  I'm not as bad as parent #1."

I think the one thing that saves me from completely falling into the abyss is that a good portion of the time I don't even like my own kids, so there is none of that "My kids are so fricking awesome and I just know everyone sees this as clearly as I do!"

My kids, like their momma, are good enough.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A strangely busy, but not typically busy, October

It seems like in years past we have done weeks and weeks of fall/Halloween activities in the month of October, but this year felt different.

The first weekend of the month we were busy with M's 5th birthday and a visit to Columbus, IN when the kids were out of school.

We did fit in one Halloween event that weekend at a local nature preserve where the kids got candy, and D and I got to meander with them through a nature trail (which is my kind of meandering).  It was a little chilly and there wasn't much to do after the trail, but that was ok since we were squeezing it into an already full weekend of birthday and road trip.

The following weekend I took the boys to see a children's play, and the next day N and I saw an American Girl fashion show, which is all the evidence I need that we have more income than what is necessary.

Last weekend we visited a pumpkin patch on Sunday with almost every other family within a 50-mile radius of the patch.  It was crowded and.....well, just really crowded.  We have been going there since N was 18 months so apparently the word has gotten out how great a place it is.  Unfortunately for me and D, crowds typically make a place not so great anymore so I don't know what next year will mean for our pumpkin foray.

This weekend we did nothing festive.  I finished up some home improvement projects.  G had his first ever sleepover with his best friend and, in a move that shocked me to my core, did not call during the night demanding to come home.  Apparently the invisible umbilical cord that keeps him waking me every single night at age 7 is severed when he leaves the confines of our abode.

The busier my life gets during the week the more I am happy to stay at home and do a whole lot of nothing or just piddly stuff on weekends.

And my kids get so much candy at their class parties and during neighborhood trick-or-treating that I don't mind not going to a zillion different events in which they get bogged down with treats.

Yet, the slow slackening of our Halloween festivities makes me a bit sad.  They, and we, are branching into other interests, finding ourselves asked to other activities that we'd rather do more than a Halloween event.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I started reading the book Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck because I really want to encourage a growth mindset in my children.

I think I tend to already have it when it comes to most things, although I know there are situations in which I don't.

Life has proven to me that intelligence is not fixed.  Just the fact that at age 41 I understand The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock when it made zero sense to me at age 19 is evidence of this (and I haven't been studying the poem these 22 years).  I think life experience, reading, effort and practice can change a person's ability in most everything.  I try to instill this in my children as well as my students.

One of my students, a senior, sent me an email in which she was concerned that she wasn't seeing symbols and a lot of things I bring up in class to discuss with them.  I had to talk her down, encouraging her to jot down what she thinks she sees and what she feels about a text because students have often shown me things that I didn't see.  I also had to remind her that she is 18, and time and practice tend to make one better at analyzing novels.

I do think people have innate abilities and gifts which are easier to hone and sharpen.  Mine is writing.  The desire to write, the words, come naturally.  This doesn't mean I set the world on fire with my writing, but I am content to perhaps warm a little snippet of the world up with the candle that is my writing (my local freelancing and blog writing, as it were).

I will never entertain the masses with my piano playing, but I am proud of what I have learned in just under 3 years, from not being able to read music at all to practicing a version of Scott Joplin's The Entertainer.

I worry that my children have more of a fixed mindset.  Every time N starts a new piano lesson, she frets that it is too hard!  I'll never get it!  And yet, after two weeks of practice, she not only has it, but has it well.  Plays without error, plays with dynamics and has fun.

I try to stress to them that no one gets better at anything without practicing, without putting effort into it.  You read more to become a better reader.  If math is difficult, you keep practicing, doing problems and in time it will become easier.  You may never love to do it, but you will understand it better.

The book talks about depression and how that plays into people who have a fixed or a growth mindset.  Even during my worst bout of anxiety, I didn't think it couldn't be made better.  I knew I needed help and I took steps to get it.  To do whatever it took to try to make myself better.

Sometimes my anxiety seems to want to reel me into a fixed mindset.  Health/germs/disease are my biggest issues, so whenever a bout of anything comes upon me or my family I tend to think the situation is fixed and there is nothing I can do about it.  That it is the worst thing ever and cannot ever be resolved.

Despite this, though, I still somehow tend to fight against this thinking.  To seek out help, answers to questions, do whatever minor little things I think I can do to resolve the situation.  So even if my mind worries that there is nothing that can be done, I sorta disregard it and plow ahead.  So even in my pessimism, there seems to be an optimist in my depths that spurs me on to at least try.

Reading this book also reinforces my strongly held feelings that education and its focus on tests to determine so much about children and where they need to be is really so very narrow.  I know there has to be a litmus test of some kind, but we (and I sometimes) get so hung up on one little measure.

We lose sight of the importance of the process, of trying, of struggle.  God, we hate to struggle.  But to me, struggle is a lot like change. Change, taxes and struggle are three things one can count on with anything resembling reliability.

When I think of some of my favorite novels, A Room with a View being one, I am reminded how much of a character's struggle is deeply troubling to them but also the thing that ultimately brings them a sense of purpose, a sense of identity, a sense of peace.

We could learn so very much from the characters that inform our imaginations.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A school tour and more on the blah, blah, blah

D, N and I toured one of the middle schools this week (Cro).

Being inside made me feel much better about it being very crowded (1,400ish students).  I left feeling that N, if she is accepted to the optional program, wouldn't be run down like an armadillo on a Texas highway.

However, it did bring up the issue of whether N, who will leave her elementary school kicking and screaming, would be better at the resides school (Car) for no other reason than that it is small (500ish students).  Would N stand out even more and have greater opportunities in what is offered if she truly is a big fish in a much, much smaller pond?  Would she have an easier time trying out for things and making teams if there isn't 3 times as much competition?

After Halloween the three of us will tour the resides school (Car) and see what kind of feeling we get from that.

Last night D and I attended a 5th grade parent meeting given by the elementary school's two counselors.  It reinforced my feeling that we are doing what is best for N, but one thing ticked me off.  Primarily the divorced parent who asked if her kid could use one address to see if the child could get in one certain school, but then switch back to the other parent's address for the "better" resides school if the child didn't get into the magnet program.

I felt like saying, "I realize this system is screwy, but how about you play by the rules that everyone else has to play by instead of trying to work the system to your advantage?"

It also made me consider my feelings about parents who are only worried about their kid being around the unsavorables.  Even though parents won't admit it, there is a feeling of "I don't want my kids hanging around, I mean neighborhood kids."  I suspect this because they ask questions like, "Do the AP students only travel with other AP students?"  Another question that is similar is "Will the 6th graders be around 7th and 8th graders?"  Someone asked whether middle schoolers ever ride the bus with high schoolers.

I have never even thought about that.  I've been all overwrought on what school will fit my kid's intellect and personality.

Do kindergarteners ride the bus with 5th graders?  Yes.
And does all hell break loose?  Um, no.
Are 5th graders sometimes in the hall with 1st graders?  Yes.
And does all hell break loose?  Um, no.

I admit that middle school hall changes are crazy, but I've also been in kindergarten classes and there ain't much difference in the amount of nuts that goes on there.  At least middle schoolers don't wet themselves or cry for their mommas.  I am way more worn out after being around kindergarteners than I ever was around middle schoolers.

As my blog post title indicates, I am getting tired of thinking about and talking about this whole middle school shopping drama topic.  We will be putting this baby to bed very, very soon because I really, really hate shopping.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One hymn and a childhood comes rushing back

This weekend, the church that I've been attending for a bit celebrated its 175th anniversary.  Church members had voted on their favorite hymns which would all be sung/played on this special date.  I didn't vote nor stay up to date on the results because church music, as a general rule, isn't my thing.

Now I do have some church-related songs that I especially like, "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace" being two....both of which were sung this weekend.  But just as I connect with the spiritual in classic literature over the Bible, I tend to find spiritual salve in non-religious music.  Religious music is just too religious for my taste.  Maybe it is my too-analytical mind....if it is too easy to spot the spiritual it just isn't fun and a challenge anymore.

I heard a song that I hadn't heard since I was a child, "Here I Am" by Dan Schutte.  I didn't sing aloud but inside my head I remembered and sang every verse of this tune, which brought up all kinds of weird and mostly unpleasant feelings.

What my head and heart seemed to remember is attending church with my classmates every week, and this was a go-to song since it was easy for kids to sing and remember.  Hearing this song this weekend drudged up how much I felt awkward, disliked amongst my peers, made fun of for my "buddy" shoes, not athletic and therefore not popular.

I remember how, as a kid, I would sing the lyrics almost as a plea to God.  "Hey God, here I am!  Um, I'm happy to do whatever you ask but can you please get these kids to stop being jerks to me????"

Being surrounded each week in church by a whole slew of kids who seemingly hated me (and whom I hated back) didn't really make me love church.  I never could feel the peace of God in the midst of feeling like a pariah.

Of course, as I write this I feel childish because I know my perception of my experience was through a child's lens.  I'm sure it wasn't wholly accurate.  I don't know what my peers actually thought of me.  When I think of my Catholic school experience it is largely through a gray lens of terrible, but in truth I think I had plenty of ok experiences that I have forgotten smattered in with some really crappy ones which I remember larger than life.

It is at once interesting to me and bothersome how so many unrelated things can impact one's spiritual health. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A little closer to coming to terms

Yesterday morning, D, N and I attended the convention of schools in our district.  Every middle and high school has a "booth" and can answer questions, provide information, distribute pamphlets.  One-stop shopping, as it were.

Even though I was most definitely not gung-ho about attending, it did help clarify some things that I already knew about my kid.  I had, though, allowed other people's views to muddy my own original thinking.

N is a bright girl.  Creative and sweet.  She has great test scores.  But ultimately, her personality is not the kind that would allow her to thrive in a setting where there is great competition.  She doesn't want to master any one thing but would rather try a lot of different things.  She admittedly wants to be Peter Pan and is not at all prepared to grow up with anything that resembles enthusiasm.

We are having her take the gifted & talented (G&T) test again next week, but even if her score goes up, D and I determined that the G&T program at a downtown school is not for her.  Even if intellectually her brain is capable of G&T stuff, her spirit and her esteem are not.  She is not a competitive person in the least, with herself or with others.  Grit may come to her as she matures, but she struggles with it now.

All of this means that she will be staying close to home.  She wants to apply to an optional program (Cro) only because her BFF is, and we will let her (even though it rubs me the wrong way).

I would be totally happy if she didn't apply and went to our resides school (Car).  Honestly, after talking with the folks from both schools I really didn't see anything substantial enough between them that I think, "OMG!  Cro offers SO MUCH more stuff and should be an obvious choice!"

There is a 3-point difference in these two schools in state test scores which says more about Car than Cro because Car doesn't hand-select a sizable chunk of its students.  It is a resides school and gets what it gets.  It, like Cro, is in the top 10 middle schools in the district.

If N is admitted to Cro there is no bus transportation, which means we will either have to carpool or D and I will have to take and pick-up every day.  For three years.  Even if Cro does have like 2 additional bells/whistles that Car has, I personally would rather have bus service to my front door.

What all this does is make me yearn for a district in which bells & whistles are offered at all schools so there is none of this rigamarole.  Where there is no hype and no grandiose efforts to make a minor benefit seem like or feel like some GREAT BIG HONKING DEAL.

But I am coming at this from a "my kid is AP" place, and a lot of parents are coming at it from a "my kid is not AP" place.  Ultimately, I have two more kids coming up the ranks, and so their experience will be different from N's.  They might not test into AP classes, and so then I will face a different kind of challenge, although I think there is also tremendous fear and hype about having one's child in a comprehensive or honors class.  It's not Rikers Island, for pete's sake.

I will talk myself down from that drama when the time comes, I guess.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Middle school decision is a lot like ice cream

Something happens to me when I go to Kroger and stand in the ice cream section.  I become paralyzed by indecision, mouth agape.  So much to look at; too many choices.  Trying to manage in my head what is on sale while coordinating conversation with my stomach as to what flavor actually sounds appealing.  (This doesn't often work; I once bought blueberry-pomegranate chocolate chip.)

There is also the dilemma of considering what I think D would like.  I'm not making a decision for just one person, I'm making it for two (and possibly 5 since sometimes the kids like to try a flavor that isn't sprinkle-infused).

Sometimes, if my freezer is particularly full, I also have to wonder about size of container.  Will it actually fit once I get it home? Whether I have a coupon for it or not also comes into play.

I hate buying ice cream.

And I hate this damned school selection ordeal.  (And I say that knowing full-well it is a minor ordeal in the grand scheme of things.  Ebola in Liberia=really, truly big deal.)

In my lazy, ornery, "I don't want to play the game" heart, I want to do absolutely nothing.  I want to send N to our resides school and be done.  Allow my antidepressant to cease working overtime or to just work on Ebola-anxiety.

But, like the ice cream section, it gets complicated when one's child did test into the gifted & talented (G&T) pool, has awesome state-test scores and grades.  When one asks the teacher at conferences, "So, do you think we ought to apply for a magnet or optional program for N?" and are met with the statement, "Oh my g*d, yes!"  When other teachers bring it up to me in the hallway, suggesting we try to get N into certain schools.

It makes me think that I might be a bit of an idiot not to apply for a program that could potentially give her a little something extra, especially when the cost of doing so is her writing an essay.  (There is a slight cost to momma in "playing the game," but I need to get beyond that.)

What makes it more complicated is that N is 1-point away from applying to a special downtown G&T program, and though her school gives the G&T re-test in a week, there is no guarantee she will bridge that 1-point margin.  It seems a little too gambly to me to bet on something like this, a little too assumptive, and I'm highly risk-averse.

So we are left with considering the school that she has a really good shot at of getting into; not a magnet, but one that offers a little more than our resides school.  (This middle school is also the one that lots of parents at my kids' elementary school want to get into because they think it is head-and-shoulders better than the resides school, and that is the rub for me.)

This optional school is the one N wants to get into because her best friend is applying there, and though the adult part of me thinks wanting to go where your friends go is dumb, N is 10 years old, and I would be dumb to not recognize that this plays a huge role for her.

So that is where we stand today, 11 days since my last post on middle school decision-making.

I will be glad when rigor mortis sets into this horse.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Contempt, celebrities, and society at large

So I have been thinking about my feelings regarding celebrities since my best friend remarked that I seem to have contempt for them.  I've yet to find a topic that didn't warrant at least a little bit of consideration (since I'd rather engage in analysis than do just about anything), and here is my preliminary determination.

First, the background:

I don't watch television.  I've never seen Downtown Abbey, The Walking Dead or any reality show since the first season of The Real World on Mtv.  The last show I watched religiously and loved was Seinfeld.  I will watch one movie a week, but I am very selective about the ones I watch.  I have never met a celebrity (unless you count one local radio channel personality friend whom I worked out with for 3 years).  I have had my photo taken with one author, Richard Marius, whom I met in college.  I think I got a book signed by Bobbie Ann Mason in college, too.  

I don't watch television news, either.  I rely on D to tell me the weather outlook every day, or I look out my window.  

I do, however, have a great fascination with  When FB is boring and I've read the couple blogs I check regularly, I usually head over to see the stink about celebrities.  So I sorta stay marginally in-the-know about celebrities.

I think the arts are very important to society.  Obviously, I love literature.  I like music.  I like theater.  I appreciate the thoughtfulness of some movies, and I appreciate (on occasion) the stupidity of movies that get me to laugh and ramp down my anxiety.  Heck, I'm having my juniors/seniors watch two versions of Jane Eyre this week on Netflix so that they can compare them to the novel.  I think there is much to be said for what film can do for our understanding of ourselves and the world.

Ok, now the analysis:

Celebrities, in my opinion, do not live in the real world.  Nor do politicians or athletes or heads of corporations, which might explain my apparent contempt for these people too.  Anyone who makes millions of dollars for their jobs and lives in luxury cannot remain "normal" in the lower- and middle-class senses of the world.  Fame and money and the power that go with those things make it tremendously difficult and, I would argue, impossible. 

I recognize that celebrities, politicians, athletes and heads of corporations are human, have feelings and deserve the same rights as others.  But I think the fame and money and power often give these people the sense that they are deserving of "more" than the rest of us or that they can have their cake and eat it too.

For example, a person who becomes very famous gains the adoration of millions of people, gains millions of dollars per film or episode of television, gains lots of perks (like designer dresses and jewelry and other goodies at awards shows), gains a certain amount of power and prestige.  People listen to them simply because they are famous.  Leonardo DiCaprio is not a climatologist or any kind of expert in the field, but his voice is powerful enough from acting in films that he spoke before the United Nations.  Emma Watson did the same (on feminism).  

But in gaining all of this, they lose their ability to live life like a "normal" human.  They lose their privacy, their ability to blend in and go to the grocery without having their photo taken.  They lose their ability to say whatever they want and have it go unnoticed.  The cost to them of fame/power/money is that they live their lives under a microscope, at least until the height of their popularity/celebrity is over.

This is the way it is, and it galls me when celebrities forget this, when they seem whiney or forget what the fame & fortune contract means.  When they "want it all" (a mentality that I dislike in general since no one in any situation can have it all).

But beyond the celebrities/politicians/athletes, what I have contempt for is the structure of society that gives these folks the money and fame and voice of power when so many people who do much greater things of value for society at large are devalued.  Like the men and women who care for residents of nursing homes and make $30,000 per year (and that is being generous).  Like the people who work in daycare centers and are playing a huge role in the raising of society's children.  Like EMTs and police dispatch workers.  

Society at large makes it possible for celebrities/athletes to live as they do.  We value entertainment above all else, and that is what I have contempt for.  The celebrities and athletes are simply the scapegoats that I blame because they have a voice and a face and their voices/faces are plastered everywhere one looks.  

Their voices and faces everywhere is also a constant reminder to me of my white privilege, of my upper-middle class privilege.  Essentially, celebrities/athletes remind me of the battle I feel every day to strive to be charitable, to be kind, to feel compassion, to not get wrapped up in my luxury (which though not as luxurious as celebrities is far more luxurious than people in other parts of the world.  

I am not bitter that these celebrities/athletes have what they have or do what they do.  I wouldn't trade places with them (and personally working on a movie set and just "hanging around" between takes sounds about as interesting as watching paint peel).  

If they remind me of my battle every day against privilege, I would not want to step in their shoes and feel more guilt.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Maybe I'm not a feminist

I inadvertently opened a sh*t storm of discussion on FB when I posted about Jennifer Lawrence's nude photos and her Vanity Fair interview in which she calls the theft a "sex crime."

My post:  Far be it for me to be a voice of common sense, but perhaps if one wants to avoid having nude photos of oneself leaked, one might reconsider allowing nude photos to be taken in the first place.  hashtagcelebritiesareidiots

Apparently I am not a feminist because I think it is, in general, for man or woman, a bad idea to take nude selfies because one never knows into whose hands such photos might fall.  I thought this was common sense.  

It is not a moral issue with me at all.  I don't think it is slutty or weird or sick or anything of that nature.  I simply think it is the kind of stuff that can too easily get "out there."  If in someone else's hands/computer, it is too easy for the relationship to sour and those photos to come back to haunt someone (ask Stephen Collins, although in his case it was comments, not photos).  If they are in one's own hands/computer, it is too easy for them to be stolen or accidentally texted to one's in-laws (ask Kelly Ripa).  

Maybe I'm missing the point.

Does J-Law have a valid reason to be angry?  Of course.  Her computer was hacked.  Her property was stolen.

Is it a sex crime?  Good lord, no.  
That is what I took issue with initially.  Not the photos, but her reference to her violation being on par with women who have been raped or molested or had photos taken without their permission.  

But what happened on my FB post brought in other issues that I have been reflecting upon which, I guess, is a blessing.  Better than stewing over Ebola and Enterovirus, which is what I'd be doing otherwise.  

So what does it mean to be a feminist?  

I always thought it meant to support women's choices, and I think I generally do.  I think women should have the same opportunities as men and the option to pursue those opportunities if they wish. I think women (and men, for that matter) have to understand, though, that with every choice comes a cost.  Somehow I think women have been fed a line that we can "have it all," and I think that is bunk.  Something, and maybe many somethings, is going to be sacrificed in the attempt to have it all.  Maybe it is free time?  Maybe it is money?  Maybe it is sleep?  Maybe it is building a network of colleagues?  

No person, man or woman, can have everything they want at the exact moment they want it.  

Here is one issue I struggle with regarding feminism:  women (myself included) want to be treated the same as men, but we are not men and due to our bodies we have certain limitations that men have never had to consider and will never have to consider.

I have a daughter and sons, and if they ever wish to be sexually active, I will tell all of them to protect, protect, protect at all times.  My daughter is not to rely on the guy, and my sons are not to rely on the girl.  But my daughter, simply because she is a female, would be way more invested in the outcome of an accidental pregnancy than my sons.  That doesn't mean my sons would or should get a pass.  With power comes responsibility, but that responsibility is hugely different for women and men for no other reason than biology.

So what does that mean for women?  For feminism?

When I read about college girls who go to frat parties, get very drunk and are raped, I don't think to myself that they deserve it.  I think the boys who do such things should be punished to the full extent of the law.  However,  it seems to me that sometimes feminism means I can't acknowledge that perhaps going to a frat party and drinking until one passes out is not a good idea.  That doesn't excuse the crime; nothing does.  But in supporting women do I have to not say what seems like common sense?

If I walked into an Ebola isolation ward without taking any protective measures (gloves, mask, etc) and I got Ebola, does that mean I deserve to get Ebola?  Does it mean I shouldn't receive treatment?  Well of course not.  But would someone be evil and anti-Carrie if they acknowledged that maybe going into such a situation without taking some protective measures might not have been a well-considered plan?

Then there is the issue of women's bodies and feminism.  I thought feminism was the struggle to go beyond objectification, to not just be T&A.  In the J-Law case, she was interviewed by Vanity Fair (and this smacks of irony to me), and in the photos she looks very sensuous.  There is nothing inherently wrong in that.  Some would say because she is choosing to look sensuous that is ok, and women are making progress.  But I have to ask whether her choosing to do this is progress for herself or women as a whole?  If my 10-year-old daughter sees these photos in the magazine, is she learning about the feminist struggle to avoid objectification?

I don't know the answer to these questions.

Reading the article she says she was ashamed, embarrassed to have to talk to her dad about the photos that were hacked.  Am I not a feminist if I think to myself it is generally a good idea to avoid doing things that you would be embarrassed to have your parents find out about?  I would think my daughter and sons would be embarrassed to have to share such information with me.

In the FB showdown, it was suggested that I am bitter towards J-Law and celebrities and don't they have rights too.

I have no bitterness towards J-Law or any beautiful rich celebrities.  Bitterness would suggest I care a tremendous amount about them, and I don't.  I think they are good for my entertainment.  Bread and circuses.  Celebrities and the very, very rich and powerful do not live like regular folk.  As much as they may try to seem "normal," their lives are not normal, and I feel pity for them, really.  I certainly wouldn't want to trade places with any of them.  But, for better or worse, celebrity is what it is, and there is a very fine line between using one's own celebrity and having one's celebrity used for you.

So, where does this leave me?  Am I a feminist or not?  Am I so indoctrinated in the patriarchy that there is no hope for me?

The jury is still out.