My school year began and ended with a wooden spoon.
At our first faculty meeting, we each received a wooden spoon. We were directed to think of someone we admired, and a trait that person exhibited that we treasure. On the front of the spoon, we wrote the trait. On the back we dedicated it to the person. Then, we were told to secretly put the spoon in the box of a faculty member who also appeared to exemplify that special quality. The spoons were supposed to be passed on throughout the year.
You can read about the hilariously ironic spoons I received here. I’m new to the faculty this year, so it’s quite obvious that no one really knows me very well.
Yesterday, the end of our school year, we got back our original spoons. To be honest, I had completely forgotten what I had written on mine.
Aside from receiving a spoon, yesterday was also notable because my daughter finished elementary school. To celebrate this distinguished occasion, I gave her a book, signed by all of her teachers, called, Heroes for my Daughter.
Last night, I told her that each night that I read to her, I also wanted to read one of the chapters from the book.
“Choose which one you want for tonight,” I said.
She skimmed through the notable names: Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie, Gandhi, Lincoln, etc…. She suddenly erupted into what I affectionately call her “Beavis and Butthead” laugh.
“Guess who I picked?” she said.
“Dolly Parton?” I asked, knowing that she was well aware that I’m not a huge fan of Dolly Parton and it would be perfectly in character for my daughter to choose my least favorite person on this list.
“Nope.” She displayed the chapter for me.
“The Three Stooges,” it was titled.
I laughed. Then I remembered my wooden spoon.
“Hold on,” I said. I came back with the spoon, and explained its origin.
“Guess who it’s dedicated to?” I asked.
“The Three Stooges?”
I showed her. “Dedicated to my daughter,” I had written.
“And guess what trait I admire?” I turned it over.
And so we read about the Three Stooges, and their use of humor to bring attention to the atrocities of Hitler in their film, “You Nazty Spy!” two years before the United States decided to get involved in World War II.
That’s how I ended my first and only year teaching at the school my daughter attended – a year fraught with my struggles with depression, but frequently illuminated by outbursts of laughter, particularly during the times I got to spend with Dimples, my 10 year old hacker with the “Purple Mustache” who thinks it’s perfectly logical to name a female chihuahua “Steve”.
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…
“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.”
Don’t tell my daughter that I said this, but it is entirely possible that our communication difficulties do not stem from the fact that she does not listen well enough, but rather from the fact that I talk too much…
“You can talk to me about anything.”
“No, you can’t watch The Big Bang Theory.” Because they talk about sex, and then you might want to talk to me about something.
“Yes, you must go to bed at 8:00. It’s important for you to get a good night’s sleep.”
“You better finish that homework; I don’t care if you have to stay up until midnight.”
“You don’t need makeup. You look beautiful exactly as you are.”
“Would you please stay still for two seconds so I can glop your lashes with mascara?” (It turns out that in synchronized swimming, natural beauty is not quite enough.)
“You should always take your time to do your best on your work.”
“Aren’t you finished, yet? Why on earth are you taking so long?”
“Do not put personal information on the internet.”
“Do you mind if I blog about your most embarrassing moment?”
“You shouldn’t base your decisions on what other people think.”
“You should be part of this special group because the Principal invited you, and that means she thinks very highly of you. Plus, she’s my boss.”
“You should follow your passion.”
“Are you kidding?!! Do you have any idea how much horseback riding lessons cost?”
“I really wish you would be more adventurous and try to eat different foods.”
“I don’t care if she’s one of your friends! When someone offers you a mysterious white substance from a Ziplock bag at lunch, YOU DO NOT ACCEPT!” (It turned out to be sea salt.)
I find moms intimidating. Especially in large numbers. Like when they are supporting their daughters’ sports teams.
All of these years I’ve been preaching to my students about not caving in to peer pressure during their teens, and it turns out that adolescence is merely a brief introduction to the angst you will experience as the mother of a female involved in athletics.
I sang in the choir when I was growing up. My mother’s only responsibility was picking me up on time after school from rehearsal or performances. And her success record in that department was only about 50%.
So, I thought I was doing pretty good when I started shuttling my daughter to and from her swim practices three times a week in a timely manner. Sometimes, I even go above and beyond and actually stay to watch the practice.
It is becoming more obvious each month that my participation would register about .01 on the Richter Scale of Supportive Moms.
On competition days, when all of the other moms wear the same blinged-out t-shirts, loudly proclaiming the name of the team, I shamefully wear a non-denominational blouse whose only writing can be found on a small tag in the lining that says, “Hand Wash Only.”
When all of the other moms wear 20 inch photo buttons on their chests of their daughters’ smiling faces, with ribbons trailing from the bottom, I forget my button at home, and hope that I will not have to admit to anyone that I am not even certain of its current location – which means that I could have used it as a coaster, the bulldog could have eaten it, or it might have been thrown into the box labelled “Miscellaneous Christmas Decorations that are not Ornaments, Candles or Nativity Sets or That We Left on the Shelf Until February Because We Forgot About Them and We Never Dust.”
When all of the other moms get together and plan yet another party to celebrate Winter or Groundhog Day or Surviving Two Whole Weeks Without a Party, I am the only one who meekly says, “Um, is this really necessary?”
When all of the other moms help their children find the miscellaneous pieces of clothing that they shed all over the natatorium throughout the day, I am the one who shrugs and says to my kid, “Well, you wore it here, so it has to be somewhere.”
When all of the other moms stand by with towels for their shivering daughters in between competitions, I am the one whose daughter walks up, turns to the person to my side, and says, “Daddy, can you hold my towel for me?”
Some day, the other moms are going to have one of those meetings that I never attend, and they are going to kick me out of the ‘hood. The Mother Hood.
I’m going to stand strong, though. You don’t have to join the Mothers with Unlimited Gem-stoned Shirts to prove your love to your kid.
Just get her an iPhone, and she’ll get the message.
It’s been almost 24 hours, and I am still mad at JLo. You will probably argue that I should not be upset with her. But then I’ll just be mad at you, too.
It all started with a “project.” * I am seriously beginning to hate that word. It is an obvious euphemism for “homework assignment that will cause family turmoil and erode the already tenuous bond between a parent and her 10-year-old daughter because the father would much rather stay out of the whole thing.”
My daughter was assigned a landform, archipelago. She informed me a couple of weeks ago that she needed to make her landform out of salt dough on cardboard and paint it. I will not get into the ins and outs of why this “project” did not get done until the night before it was due. I’ll grant JLo this; it wasn’t her fault that my daughter started it late.
So, last night my daughter started painting her archipelago before synchronized swimming practice, then pulled out a paper that detailed the other part of the project about which she had neglected to inform me.
At 8:40 PM, after synchro practice and dropping off our carpooler, my daughter finally started Part II. This included researching, folding, decorating, labeling, and finding the square root of Pi. She is now the world’s Greatest Expert on Archipelagoes. We will be putting that on her college application, I am sure.
At 9:40 PM, our golden retriever came indoors with poop all over one foot, and managed to smear it all around our living room archipelago of furniture before my husband realized it. He cleaned up the concrete floor. I got the job of getting the poop off her foot.
At 10 PM, our daughter informed me that the printer would not print out the non-mandatory picture that she had decided to add to her masterpiece.
At 10 PM and 5 seconds, I said, “If it’s not on the instructions, you don’t need it.” Thus, completely reinforcing her notion that she should never have to do more work than the actual minimum required. I will be contradicting this notion the next time I ask her to clean her room. “I am not fixing the printer right now. Go to bed.”
At 10:20 PM, I was watching Jon Stewart, who was interviewing JLo.
“You have twins, don’t you? How old are they now?” he asked.
“They’re about to turn 5,” JLo said, proudly.
AND THE AUDIENCE CLAPPED AND HOOTED ENTHUSIASTICALLY.
For JLo. Because she has kids. And they are about to turn 5.
Yeah, JLo. You rock. What a great mom you are. For keeping your kids alive to the age of 5.
Have you had to work a long day, come home, fix dinner, ride herd on your child to finish her project (even though you agree with her that it is a complete waste of time), drive carpool, ride herd some more, clean a poopy dog foot, and shove your bulldog to one side just so you can fall into an armchair to rest at 10:05 as your daughter glares at you for not fixing a printer or reading to her before she goes to bed?
I think not. And, I don’t think you ever will.
That is why I am mad at JLo.
Because it’s completely pointless to be mad at the half-witted audience who applauded her just for being a pop star with two almost-5-year-olds.
Or an archaic school system that feels it is necessary to pit parents against children on a regular basis in the name of “education.”
Plus, she was a little bit too flirty with Jon Stewart.
You can only push me so far.
*(If you are interested in more of my commentary on school projects, you might want to read “The Science-is-Not-Fair”, a titillating expose of the negative impact of science fairs on unsuspecting families. And, yes, I know expose is supposed to have an accent mark, but I am so blindly angry at JLo that I cannot remember how to add one.)
Beth died last night. She was supposed to die tonight, but my hard-hearted husband hastened her departure by going to bed early. Of course, he did not know that he was killing Beth by doing this. And the alternative would have just prolonged the inevitable. But still.
I had put off preparing for the death because I thought I would have more time. But Cap’n Firepants threw the zinger at me at our daughter’s bed time that he was pretty exhausted, and could I please read tonight? He stepped back from me a bit when I acted like he had just asked me to climb the roof at midnight and clean up squirrel poop. Generally, I jump at the chance for an extra night to read to our daughter. But I dreaded the chapter that I knew was next.
Cap’n Firepants reads a different book with Dimples, so he can be forgiven for not knowing that he had just asked me to walk into the Valley of Death. And, I am sure that he would point out that I was the one who picked the book in the first place.
It’s just that I did not realize that Beth’s death in Little Women would occur while I am still in mourning over the approximately one hundred and thirteen people who perished in Les Miserables. I am still reeling from that massacre, and the repercussions of its soundtrack, and now I had to add one more body to the pile.
Plus, Dimples and I had just recently had our class picture argument, and I was pretty sure that reading an entire chapter to her about the death of a beloved character was not going to endear me any more to her. She makes it a point to avoid sappy death scenes in books, and I had kind of tricked her into this one.
Of course, Dimples handled it much better than I did. She is not a middle-aged mother fighting depression and haunted by visions of Anne Hathaway dreaming a dream as she is dying in a filthy street in Paris. And, I think that it is entirely possible that she would be happy with all of the characters being killed off as I have probably referred to these paragons of virtue a little too often. (“Do you think Beth would complain if her mother asked her to clean the toilet? Do you think Beth even had a toilet?”)
Fortunately, she has not compared me to Marmee, yet. Because we all know how that Battle of the Moms would shake out.
So, at the end of the day I cried more than she did. And that night, I dreamed my dear daughter was in the hospital dying from the flu.
I try not to censor my daughter’s reading, but I’m beginning to think someone should probably censor mine.
When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not. ~ Mark Twain
It’s picture day tomorrow. Dimples is 10. This is her last year in elementary school. Her last class picture with less than 200 people in it. I get it. I should buy the picture. However, she brought home four order forms.
“For clubs. We have to do a separate order form for each club.”
There are four clubs taking pictures. Dimples is in three of them, in case you have not done the math.
Each picture costs approximately $500.
Just kidding. But, they are relatively expensive. Especially for someone who just had to pay to recover data from her not-dead-yet hard drive.
“So, I’m just wondering. Do you know where last year’s class picture is?” I asked.
“Oh, we didn’t get one last year,” she quickly responded.
“Yes, we did. What about the one for the year before that?”
“Oh, we haven’t bought any for the last couple of years.”
“Yes, we have. I’ve bought one every year.”
“Well, where are they?”
“That’s what I asked you. But since you obviously don’t know, I will tell you. They are in a file drawer.”
“Well, why are they there?”
“Because every year, you toss them at me, and I stick them in the drawer. And you never think about it again.”
“But we should hang them up!”
“Really? This is what we should display on our walls? Photos in which 5 years from now we will be able to identify 1/28th of the people represented?”
“Well, we should put them somewhere.”
“I’m not hanging them in the hallway, and I’m not paying for 4 more pictures to stick in my drawer.” Even though I just lost your whole lifetime of pictures when my hard drive bit the dust. But let’s not dwell on the past. Or the complete absence of it.
Later on, she informed me that she was willing to deal. One club picture and the class picture.
I think there’s enough room in the drawer for them.
My daughter will be going to middle school (6th-8th grades) for the first time next year. In our area, there are several options for middle schools. We could sell our kidneys, and send her to one of the private schools, or send her to one of three middle schools which are free. One of them is our “home” school, and the other two are magnet schools to which she would need to apply.
I’ve broached the topic of the magnet schools with Dimples several times. Her response has always been that she wants to go to the same school as her friends. When I point out that the magnet schools specialize in topics that interest her, and that she is always complaining that school is boring, she re-asserts the vital necessity of attending the same school as her friends. When I told her the heart-breaking story about a boy who begged his mother to send him to one of the private schools where he could have a more challenging curriculum, promising to give up Christmas gifts until he was 18… guess what? Yeah, blah blah blah friends.
I worried that maybe I had somehow instilled in Dimples too deep a value of friendship, that by my own comments over the years I had given it a higher priority than things like academic achievement – or doing what your mother says is good for you.
The other day, the magnet schools presented to Dimples’ 5th grade class. Later in the day, I talked to one of the 5th grade teachers, and confided Dimples’ deep desire to remain with her friends.
“Oh, you know what the magnet school guy said to the kids about that?” she said. “Ask your parents how many of their middle school friends they actually still keep in touch with.”
“Oh, that’s great!” I said. I don’t even keep up with my high school friends, so I could use that ploy again in 3 more years!
That afternoon, I prepared myself for the magnet school conversation, armed with Mr. Presenter’s clever rejoinder. I asked Dimples if she had enjoyed the presentation.
“Oh, it was great!” she said. “But I could never go there.”
“Why?” I innocently prodded, ready for my cue.
“Because they wear uniforms, Mom, and they are so not fashionable. They have to wear khaki pants with yellow shirts! Yellow and khaki, can you believe it?”
And, for that I had no answer. Because I certainly can’t torture my daughter by forcing her to wear unfashionable clothes.
At least now I know that she has her priorities straight.