Category Archives: Children
Your Summer Challenge: To Figure Out How to Inflict Mind-Numbing Boredom Without Getting Caught in the Cross-Fire
My latest project has been to try and figure out how to make my daughter’s summer miserable. You have to do this, you know, so it makes life easier in the fall when it’s time to go back to school. If you’ve planned the summer right, your child will be begging you to take her shopping for school supplies by the end of June. In July, she will spontaneously volunteer to write a report on every country in the world, alphabetically. And when the postcard announcing “Meet the Teacher Night” arrives in the mail in August, she will exclaim, “Finally! Thank God! If you don’t drive me there right now, I’m going to start walking.”
Or, so I’ve heard. So far, I have never been able to achieve this Summer Nirvana. As an adult. As a child, I hit these milestones annually. So, I’ve been racking my brain to figure out what my mother did right and I’m doing wrong.
I remember the one summer that she decided I was going to summarize every book I read on little index cards and put them in a file. I don’t remember the purpose she expressed for this assignment, but in my head I heard, “Since you like to read so much, I thought I would completely stifle your love of books by requiring you to write something every time you finish one.” Maybe she was trying to make sure I was eager for school to start again – or maybe she was tired of filling her trunk with books every time we went to the library. Most likely, she was tired of looking for the books that we had filled the trunk with 2 weeks before whenever it was time to return to the library.
By the end of the summer, I hadn’t completed any books – just started 103 and read until the 2nd to last chapter. In my spare time, I participated in a weekly scavenger hunt for lost books, and started my own school in the basement for stuffed animals. One of the subjects I taught my extremely well-behaved class was Handwriting, which obligated me to pretend to write in 15 various styles every day so I could “grade” their writing. The irony is not lost on me that I filled about 1500 pages with the writing of my stuffed animals while simultaneously avoiding to set a pen down to the index cards that remained blank for 2.5 months.
Now that I’m a mom, I’ve tried to carry on the tradition of mind-numbingly boring summers for my own daughter, but I seem to be failing in this area. I call our summers, “Mom Camp”, and the provided activities have consisted of: Closet Cleaning, Drawer Depuration, Find Something to Do Besides Playing on your iPod or Watching T.V., and For God’s Sake, Run Around in the Backyard with the Dog Because You’re Both Driving Me Crazy (I Don’t Care if It’s a Hundred Degrees and There are Giant Mosquitoes Out There).
But every August, my daughter becomes increasingly depressed as the first day of school approaches.
Obviously, I need to change the program of “Mom Camp”. The challenge is to do this without ruining my summer. I mean, I think we can all predict the response to me saying, “Here’s some index cards. Every time you play an app during the next 8 weeks, you need to summarize it in complete sentences. Oh, and teach your Build-a-Bear how to write, for crying out loud. That thank-you card he sent me for the blue tropical swim trunks looks like chicken scratch.”
Of course, making her increasingly question my sanity could be my new strategy…
Son, I’ve Made My Life Out of Readin’ People’s Faces, and You Don’t Know What the Heck I’m Talking About
To this day, probably the scariest two words you can say to me are, “Talent Show.”
“Hey Mom, guess what? I’m going to be in the 5th Grade Talent Show,” my daughter announced the other day.
“Really? Um, have I mentioned what happened when I was in my 5th grade talent show?” I asked.
Because it’s all about me.
“Well, I was with two other girls, and we were going to sing The Gambler, and I promised I would learn all of the words but I didn’t. And I stood there like an idiot, making up words to everything but the chorus, and completely embarrassed myself. In front of the biggest crush I ever had.”
“So, what are you doing for the show?”
“A Taylor Swift song.”
“Do you know the words?”
“Just the chorus.”
“That’s exactly how much I knew of The Gambler,” I said with a raised eyebrow.
I was pretty sure where this was leading, and I thought maybe nurture (or lack of it) could bypass nature, but a feeling of doom settled in my stomach.
This was going to be The Gambler all over again. The Circle of Humiliation following its inevitable path.
But it turned out that she changed her mind. She is now doing a skit with her friends. Which could still lead to embarrassment – but it will not be a musical one at least.
That, of course, is not the end of the story.
After school yesterday I ran across one of my students sobbing uncontrollably.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s Lyric Check Day for the talent show, and I forgot to bring my song,” he sobbed.
“Well that shouldn’t be a problem,” I said. “Tell me the song, and we can go print it out real quick.”
“The Gambler,” he choked.
Wow. It really is all about me, I thought in amazement.
“Are. You. Kidding?!!!” I exclaimed. Probably not the best way to calm down a hysterical kid.
“I sang that when I was your age!” He looked at me doubtfully.
I decided not to relate the whole mortification in front of my possible future husband portion of the story.
“Let’s go get that printed out,” I said.
I realized what was going on. This was my chance. To redeem myself, to console this poor boy, to make a difference, to be a hero. TO BREAK THE CYCLE. We went to to the computer lab, and I pulled up the song.
He peered at the screen through his tears.
“That’s not it,” he said, somewhat hesitantly.
“Are you sure? You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to run,” I belted out. “By Kenny Rogers?”
“Who’s that? What are you talking about?” The tears had dried up. My singing has that effect on people.
“What are you talking about? Who do you think sings The Gambler?”
So, sure. That’s who sings it. And why he looked at me so doubtfully when I announced I sang it at my talent show. Before “Fun” was even born.
And the Humiliation comes full Circle.
I was reading the Sunday paper and came across this quote in an article about the recent spate of parenting books written by inept moms, “There wasn’t this acceptance about being this sort of less-than-perfect mother, but all of a sudden it feels like that is becoming the norm, rather than the exception.” This was spoken by Jill Smokler of scarymommy.com.
Well, that explains what I’ve been doing wrong. I need to stop talking about what I’m doing wrong, and start talking about what I’m doing right because there are far too many other people who are talking about what they are doing wrong, and they are doing it far better than I am. The wrong, I mean. Well, and the talking.
So, from now on I pledge to stand out from the pack and tell you all of the things that I am doing right as a mom. Starting today.
1.) My daughter has eaten hamburgers three days in a row.
Why is this right? Well, I am so glad you asked. Even though I would think it should be obvious. It’s right because my daughter has eaten three days in a row. Duh. Plus, she loves lettuce and cheese on her hamburger. So, there you have it – all 10 food groups in one meal. Three times. Two more and I will have Food Bingo.
2.) I bought my daughter a dress for her 5th grade graduation while we were shopping for clothes for me on Mother’s Day.
Why is this right? This is another no-brainer. We made one trip to the mall, and now I don’t have to make another trip to the mall until August. Possibly even September if I can find a post on Pinterest on how to transform a yellow lacy dress into a backpack.
3.) Oh. My. God. That is the best idea. Ever. I am going to quit my job and support my daughter by making Graduation Dress Backpacks.
Why is this right? Because my daughter will see how important it is to pursue your passion in life instead of saving up for retirement.
And then, she will be happy to support me in my twilight years (although I may have to explain that this is a different kind of “Twilight”) as she pursues her lifelong passion to teach bulldogs synchronized swimming.
And then we will bond even more.
Just Don’t Mix Up What Goes in Your Eyes and What Goes in Your Hair and What You Plan to Drink with Breakfast Tomorrow Morning
Okay, raise your hand if you knew that pineapple juice is good for getting Knox gelatin out of your hair. Now, raise your other hand if you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. Okay, put both hands down because you look kind of funny. Not as funny as I looked with Knox on my hair a couple of nights ago, but still kind of goofy.
Now, you’re probably tempted to Google everything in my first paragraph, and you will probably find confirmation for the milk thing, maybe in the goofy thing, too. Because the internet will confirm everything you want it to. But, if you think the internet is the best place to learn things, then you obviously have not attended a synchronized swimming tournament. You will get all kinds of information that you never knew you needed to know if you stick around a natatorium for three days with a bunch of experienced synchro families.
For example, if your eyes start burning from the chlorine in the pool, put milk in your eye. Yep, you read that right. Grab a pint from the corner store, tip your head over backwards, and douse yourself with the stuff. Of course, it helps if you can keep the eyes open while you do this – which might explain why that home remedy didn’t work for my poor daughter. To be fair to the milk, none of the more conventional eye drops purchased from the pharmacy helped, either. So, I guess we can’t say that we debunked that myth, just that my daughter claims that it helped, even though she still held her eyes tightly shut for the next two hours and spurned the sun like a real vampire (not like those contemporary pseudo vampires who can apparently go wherever they want.)
You can imagine my skepticism about the whole pineapple juice thing. A bunch of the moms mentioned their daughters had tried it, and that it really helped to get the Knox out of their hair faster. But I have a tendency to disbelieve completely subjective statements. If someone will conduct a scientific experiment in which everything is the same except the pineapple juice variable, and I mean everything – including the amount of Knox that was on there in the first place, then I might just give it a whirl. Maybe.
In my Knoxing internet searches, I found a thread about using Elmer’s Glue to make your mohawk spikier. (It’s amazing how quickly an internet search can devolve into something completely not what you were looking for.) And I thought it might be fun to surreptitiously spread the word throughout the synchro circles that I’d heard you should mix glue with the gelatin to make the perfect shiny hair helmet. Just to see how fast it would get sprinkled all over the internet and back to me.
But no one would be dumb enough to believe that.
So, I Knoxed my hair tonight; what have you done for your daughter lately?
Here was our conversation in the car today:
“The coach says we need to be at the pool by 7:15 am. Knoxed.”
“Hmm. I guess I’m going to have to Knox your hair then.”
“But you’ve never done it before!!!!” Complete panic.
“We’ll, I’ve got to learn some time.”
“But not now!”
“What’s wrong? Don’t you trust me?”
Full confession, My daughter has been involved in synchronized swimming for three years, and I have never Knoxed her hair. Oh, it’s been Knoxed – just not by me. And if you don’t know what I mean by “Knoxing”, it’s the wonderful secret of waterproof synchronized swimming hair. Mix hot water with Knox gelatin (unflavored, though we’ve all secretly been yearning to experiment with cherry because it could taste good and give your hair a nice tint) and paint it on wet. Then it hardens into a nice plastic helmet.
Ask 100 Synchro moms about their Knoxing technique, and they will tell you a hundred different ways to do it. The variables aren’t just the water and the unflavored gelatin packets. You can do the hair several ways, and use a variety of utensils to do the mixing and painting – including, but not limited to, a paint brush or a basting brush.
I didn’t want to fight with my daughter at 5:30 in the morning, so I thought I better settle the issue tonight. I decided to prove to her that I could mix the concoction to the right consistency since she seemed pretty doubtful that I could even do this, much less paint it on her hair. (She is right to doubt me. My sister, Crash, once tried to make Jello. It sat in the fridge for a week and never jelloed. I used to tease her relentlessly about this, and I have a feeling there is such a thing as Knoxing Karma.)
As I was mixing, it suddenly occurred to me that I should paint it on my own hair to put everyone’s doubt to rest. (I have a feeling that it is no coincidence that my medication usually wears off about the exact time of night that I had that genius idea.)
It worked, though. My daughter couldn’t believe I was doing it.
“I bet no one else’s mom can say she’s done that,” she said, proudly.
Okay, I said it. But she agreed with me.
The only problem with this great plan was that I then had to get in the shower to wash it off. That is when I realized that my daughter is not exaggerating when she complains about what a pain it is to get that glop out of her hair. I rinsed 5 times, got out to dry my hair, and realized there was still an entire section over my ear to which the goop had stubbornly clung.
So, tomorrow, if you see a 40 year old woman with hair sticking straight out of her head over her left ear, don’t point and laugh. Bend over to your child’s ear and reverently whisper, “Now there goes a great mom!”
My hair; don’t worry, I got better on the other half of my head.
There is nothing like a weekend spent out of town with my 10-year-old daughter at a synchronized swimming tournament to re-affirm my complete ineptitude as a mother.
Once again, I was faced with the fact that I am unable to do the following: brush my daughter’s hair, put it in a ponytail, make a bun, mix Knox gelatin with warm water to the right consistency, paint the Knox gelatin on my daughter’s hair without burning her scalp, attach a headpiece to the plasticized hair without skewering her with a bobby pin, apply garish eye makeup, make the judges give her first place in everything, be the cool mom that lets her stay up late with her friends the night before she has to be at the pool at 7 a.m., bring her parka to keep her warm despite the fact that she told me in no uncertain terms that she would not need it, take pictures that don’t look like I was having an epileptic seizure that lasted the entire 48 hours.
I am not Swim Mom. I am Teach Her How to Program a Robot Mom. I am Sure, I’ll Ice Skate with you Since Your Friends Won’t Leave the Wall Mom. I am Let’s Ride the Roller Coaster and Get Scared Out of Our Wits Again Mom. I am Thank God You’re Finally Old Enough to go Ziplining with Me Mom.
And I thought that was enough. But a weekend spent confronting my own shortcomings in the Swim Mom department was a bit defeating. Particularly as I listened to my daughter’s pained yelps every time I attempted to do anything that might involve her scalp.
By the time we returned to school on Monday, I was feeling like one of the most incompetent mothers in history, rivaled only by the leathery mom who gave her daughter a sunburn in the tanning bed.
I halfheartedly invited Dimples to assist me in a “practice eye dissection” after school, and she agreed, “because then I don’t have to go to after-school care.” She hates after-school care. Another failing on my part.
When I pulled the sheep eyeballs out of the jar, the other adult assisting me had to “take a moment” before we started cutting in. But Dimples surprisingly seemed untroubled by holding a detached organ in her gloved hands. She approached the task of slicing the eye with great gusto that, quite frankly, had me a bit concerned about her own detachment.
Her favorite part was the inside section called “the vitreous humor”, and she plopped it up and down zealously, fascinated with the consistency. I had a vague impression that I had seen this substance before, and finally realized where – it looked exactly like the unflavored, dissolved Knox gelatin that had been painted on her hair all weekend.
“Gross, Mom,” she groaned when I pointed this out. But she grinned.
And I thought, “How many other daughters get to hang out with their own mother dissecting a sheep eyeball?”
You may bond with your daughter by teaching her the art of the perfect ponytail, but my daughter and I will always have our successful hunt for the optic nerve that brought us closer together.
I used to be scared of Kindergarteners. I teach gifted students, so this means I have students in K-5 at various times during the week. But I started my teaching career with 5th graders for 8 years. Once I began my current position several years ago, I hummed right along – until January rolled around and I started testing Kindergartners for the program. That is when I realized that my piddly experience with mouthy pre-teens with raging hormones was simple compared to spending an hour with a bunch of 5-year-olds who haven’t quite gotten the handle on their bodily functions yet.
Over the years, I have grown to accept that absolutely nothing goes the way I planned with my Kinders. Instead of fighting their unpredictable divergences from my lesson plans, I’ve started joining in on their wild rides, and I’m finding it to be a whole lot of fun.
This year, I have a group of five Kinders, and their conversations are just as entertaining as last year’s batch. I usually start the class with “Share Time”, so they can get their news out of their system. They are dying to tell me about their father’s uncle’s nephew’s birthday or the tooth they lost, or the tooth they’re going to lose even though it’s not even loose yet. But there’s one student who always likes to deliver a different kind of news:
“Okay, who has something to share today?” 5 hands go up.
“So, let’s start with Richard, and we’ll go around the table.”
“I have a soccer game tonight!”
“I do, too,” says Jacob.
“Is that what you wanted to share, Jacob?” Jacob nods.
“Well, I hope you both have great games! What about you, Lauren?”
“I have a wiggly tooth. And I love to draw.”
“I went to my father’s cousin’s birthday party yesterday.”
“Oh? What did you do at the party?”
“Well, we found a cockroach in the garbage can.”
“Hmm, you guys sure do play different games than I did when I was a kid. Alex, what did you want to share?”
“Wel-l-l-l,” he draws it out with great emphasis, ”I learned that there’s one good thing about cancer.” Big pause. Deep breath. ”It’s not contagious.”
Silence. The soccer players stare at Alex with slightly open mouths, and I try to think of an appropriate response.
“Gosh, Alex. I never thought about it that way. That is a silver lining, for sure. Thanks for pointing that out.”
This is the way it always goes with Alex. So far, we’ve learned that brains stop growing when you are in your teens, ladybugs chew from side to side instead of up and down, and that leprechauns used to live but now they are extinct. (We may need to have a small talk about reliable sources on the internet.) I’m a bit worried about Alex. Actually, I’m a bit worried about me. I’m probably going to be teaching this student for the next 5 years and, other than the internet source thing, I think I’ve already maxed out on the actual knowledge I’m going to be able to impart to him.
Yep – teaching 28 5th graders was a whole lot easier.
“What exactly does that expression mean, ‘friends with benefits’? Does he provide her with health insurance?” Sheldon, Big Bang Theory
I am really beginning to dread springtime. Some people associate spring with warmth and new life, looking forward to the promise of summer and dreamy vacations. Not me. Since about two years ago, I associate spring with one thing – the Annual School Sex Talk.
In our little pocket of conservative, gun-totin’ Texas, I am a bit surprised any kind of sex education is undertaken by our public schools, but I support it whole-heartedly. The problem is that my daughter does not, which is probably better than the opposite extreme – a ravenous hunger to discuss every detail. But it still bothers me.
My own mother raised me to talk about things, and I had no problem asking her questions about the topic. I also had no problem giving my opinion about it the first time I saw “the video” in 5th grade. ”That is absolutely disgusting, and there is no way I’m going to do that! Ever!!!”
I hear horror stories from many of my peers about how prudish their own parents were, and how they had to learn everything, most of it wrong, from their friends. So I resolved that my daughter would feel just as comfortable talking about the topic with me as I had been with my mom.
All of the experts say, “Answer their questions honestly, but don’t go into detail. Don’t give them more information than they request.”
“No problem,” I thought.
Only my daughter refuses to cooperate with this plan. According to her, there is nothing to discuss.
In 3rd grade, she learned about the menstrual cycle.
In 4th grade, she learned about her anatomy.
This year, I got wise. I told Cap’n Firepants that we needed to stop shielding our daughter from “risque” shows, because it was probably making her think that we were embarrassed by the whole topic of sex. My reasoning was, if we don’t make a big deal about it, then she won’t feel like it’s a big deal to ask questions. Hence, no more switching to the Disney Channel every time she walked into the room while we are watching The Big Bang Theory. The Cap’n seemed pretty doubtful about this reasoning. But since his name is Cap’n Firepants, I don’t see how he really has any room to talk.
So this year, in 5th grade, she learned about the male anatomy, and fertilization of eggs. No mention of how the sperm gets there in the first place…
No. Questions. HOW CAN YOU NOT QUESTION THAT? First you have eggs, and suddenly they are dodging sperm missiles. Sperm missiles that you were just told are in the MALE ANATOMY. Does it not occur to the kids watching this film that a key part of the story is missing?
Sheldon would question that. But my daughter is obviously not Sheldon. Which I am thankful for – most of the time.
“So, how was Maturation today?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Did you learn anything you didn’t know before?”
“Do you have any questions?”
The experts don’t say what to do about that.
I don’t want to scar the kid for life, but what if she thinks she knows something that she really doesn’t know? How am I supposed to know?
More importantly, what if she never talks about it, and then she grows up and tells everyone that her mom never discussed the topic with her so she had to learn it on the street?
I’m not sure what street she would learn it on, because our suburban cul-de-sac inhabited by octogenarians who never come outside seems an unlikely place to get educated about sex, but I guess you never know.
The point is, I could get the rap for being a bad mom, which is completely unfair because I totally tried.
Of course, I could also get the rap for being a bad mom because I included my daughter in the same post as sperm missiles.
“Do you have anything for me to do?”
“The thank-you card for your grandparents? Or how about cleaning the – “
“Oh yeah, I forgot. You’re not good at that.”
“Giving me something fun to do.”
Someday on my tombstone it will read, “Here lies my mother. I hope God doesn’t ask her for anything to do.”
Long before I took on the burden of humiliating myself on a regular basis, my step-father was more than happy to perform the job himself. It wasn’t a difficult task. Unfortunately, I cared way too much about what other people thought of me, and my step-father was good at leveraging this weakness.
One Saturday, when I was about 11 or 12, the doorbell rang. It was early afternoon, but I was still in my pajamas, my hair tousled, my teeth unbrushed. There were four people in the house at the time, three of whom were actually dressed. I was told to look out the peephole to see who it was. I did, and reeled back quickly from the door.
“It’s John Doodah*!” I whispered frantically.
John Doodah was our paperboy. He was also the cutest boy in my class and I had a wild crush on him.
“Well, answer the door,” my step-father said.
I was horrified. ”No, please don’t make me answer it,” I begged.
“Answer it,” he said sternly.
And I did, mentally rehearsing what I would say that Monday when I got to school, “Oh, John. I hear you met my cousin. Isn’t she a mess?”
I never said that to him, mostly because I could never get up the courage to speak to him. To this day, I am convinced that my ascent to the Peak of Popularity was effectively derailed that Saturday morning, and as soon as John told all of his friends about my disheveled appearance, they took out the tracks and the ski-lift and anything else that could get me up to the Peak.
Fast forward thirty-four years to today. I am taking one of my infrequent Days of No Obligation. This is when I give myself permission to lay around all day, reading books, in my pajamas. At around 1:00, I decided to eat lunch. My 10-year-old daughter, who was also in pajamas because I did not feel the obligation to tell her to change, was watching T.V. in the living room.
The doorbell rang. The dogs leapt from their resting places and barked frantically.
We looked at each other. My daughter snuck over to where I was. We peeked out to the living room window, where we could see the caller standing on the front porch.
“Who is it?” I said.
“It’s the boy across the street.” (Who happens to be in her grade level. At her school. Which also happens to be the school where I teach.)
“Go answer it,” I said.
“No!” she said, horrified. ”You go answer it!”
“I’m in my pajamas!”
“So am I!”
I thought back to the John Doodah Fiasco. How it had essentially ruined my life. How this was one of those decisive moments when I could teach my child about character, how appearances shouldn’t be so important, how parents are in control and can make their kids do whatever they say.
“Let’s keep hiding back here,” I said.
And we cowered in the kitchen until the coast was clear.
I think I made the right decision.
*This name has been changed to protect
me from being further embarrassed in case John Doodah ever reads this post the innocent.