Groversary

We have officially been dog owners for 12 months. Here are 12 things I have learned so far about owning a dog.

  1. When the kids lie to your face and say they will “help with the dog” and you know in your heart that it will be all your responsibility but they look so earnest and sweet and you want to believe them. Trust your gut.  Those sweet cherubs are completely full of crap and yet you will be in charge of picking up ALL of the crap.
  2. Rescue dogs can be fearful.  They can be afraid of expected things like thunder and fireworks and car alarms.  Also, they can be fearful of unexpected things like falling acorns and boys and wind and a weird sound 20 miles away and 1000 other things yet to be discovered.
  3. Our dog came with a file and a given name.  Grover.  We were very high and mighty and let him ‘keep his original name’ because we didn’t have the deep need to name him something we chose.  Because we are mature that way.  Also-there is no way the five of us could agree on a name.  So now we call him Grover and Groves and Grovey and Grove Town Brown and Groveydoodle and G-Money. And Boodler. And the Boodle Boy. And occasionally Mr. Fluffnuts. He responds to all equally.
  4. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.  Grover was 7 when he arrived.  But when I pick up my keys he races to the door and plants himself in front of the garage door.  If he refuses to eat but I say, “Grover…do you want a treat?”  He peeks his head around the corner. After the years in a mill in seemingly terrible conditions, at our house Grover changes position based on the sun.  He loves a good sunbeam.  He is learning.
  5. I thought the kids would be disappointed.  Grover doesn’t run up to greet us.  He runs upstairs if the kids have friends over and it gets loud.  He freaks out if you are male and try to pick him up.  He only will ‘play’ late at night and only if he is in the mood. He almost never barks.  He is just himself.  Quirky.  The kids are not disappointed.  They talk about how hard life must have been for Grover in the puppy mill.  They are patient with him.  They pontificate on what might have happened to him.  They want to make up for it.  They worry about him when the weather gets bad and anticipate his fear.  They celebrate the tiniest of successes. They have grown in empathy.
  6. You tell yourself you will not spoil the dog and you just spoil the dog in ridiculous ways including but not limited to: (sprinkling favorite treats over his food, pointing a space heater at him after a bath so he doesn’t get cold, bringing him on errands so he isn’t lonely, turning on white noise during a storm to help calm him, buying him 46 different treats to try to find what he likes best, leaving blankets in ALL his favorite corners so he is cozy, getting a teeny tiny dog life jacket in case he ends up on a watercraft?, leaving the television on when you are gone but choosing Paw Patrol and Mutt & Stuff and other shows you think he will like based on his vast experience with television, etc.)
  7. Owning a dog has set off a Yorkie themed episode of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.  As in, now that we have one we notice everyone on the planet who has a Yorkie, has a rescue dog, photos of Yorkies, people carrying Yorkie’s through the airport in leather boho bags, Yorkie greeting cards, people who have mixed breeds with a Yorkie and speculating on the Yorkie side personality traits.  Yorkies.  They are everywhere now.
  8. I decided one year ago to save every receipt for “Grover related expenses” to see what the actual cost of dog ownership is.  Mistake.  It turns out I don’t want to know.
  9. It is JUST as thrilling to take the dog in for a haircut as it is to get one yourself.  Also-it costs the same and yet he smells far better for far longer.
  10. You will look into the eyes of your dog and you will sense on a cellular level that he is thirsty and you will buy a $6 artisanal spring water at Whole Foods since that is where you are. Later you will realize that if it were your own children, you would have told them to “just calm down and wait until we get home.”
  11. Other people who have rescue dogs are right.  It does get better.  They make great strides. Maybe we make great strides.  They do become ‘an entirely different dog’ after a year.   We have often found ourselves catching Grover ‘acting exactly like a dog’ and calling everyone else in the family over to witness it.  We shriek- “HE’S DRINKING WATER!” It’s very exciting.
  12. I am still officially not a dog person.  I’m not snuggling up with other dogs. I’m not excited to meet a new dog and have it jump around and lick my hand.   I’m not planning my next 4 dog breeds to own.  However, I have become a Grover person.  I so love Grover.  I have no regrets.

testing testing 123…456,789

I have test anxiety.

The testing of my children and presumably all children seems to be spinning out of control.  It’s ridiculous.  Not only time consuming and anxiety provoking-I’m growing concerned that we are raising a generation of robots.  Test taking robots.  And if this next generation of children turn into robots…well-any good sci-fi movie can show you how that turns out.  Spoiler alert: They take over and kill us.

Is it near impossible for teachers to have any time to teach?  Has it become impossible to give students adequate time to learn?  Do we have any time left in the schedule for thinking? Pondering? Questioning?  Do teachers have flexibility within the curriculum to do things in their own way in their own time?  Is the Socratic method still alive and well out there? Or is almost all of the time devoted to preparing for and taking the next test?

I think it might be.  I give that an F.

My first grader has 44 assessments that are entered into his report card.  This doesn’t include general assessments under”work habits/social development”, or any special classes like physical education, art or music.  This also does not include twice annual standardized testing in reading and math which is also scored, entered and analyzed.  44 assessments in 174 school days.   He is 7 years old. His teacher has 23 students. The one I contribute to her daily burden counts as twins so I’m sure it feels like 24.  My point is that his teacher distributes, scores and enters about 1500 items each year not including the standardized test data.

My sixth grader has twice annual standardized testing compared to national norms.  (last year he also had state testing in 3 subject areas)  He is graded on a 70/30 system.  70% is “academic achievement” which primarily means tests.  30% of his grade is “academic practice”-homework, small quizzes,written reflection, etc.  If you are middle aged this is what we called “daily work”.

My freshman.  God bless her.  It has been quite the school year.  She is on an 85/15 system.  85% of her grades are based on tests.  15% is the rest.  It’s suffocating.  I wouldn’t survive in this atmosphere because when I was a student, my daily work propped up any less than stellar test scores.  Example: If I did poorly on a synonym test, I could turn in a nice little worksheet or essay or extra credit or large project something to balance out the score.  In this new world, you MUST do well on the tests or your grades are screwed.  Synonyms for screwed include: hopeless, ruined, broken.

I fear my children aren’t learning as much as they could be.  Learning is different from studying.  They are studying. They spend hours studying.  And I have one that would be an excellent Jeopardy contestant.  Steel trap memory.  Great test taker.  But I’m beginning to wonder about long term outcomes for their brains because it appears that there is little practice of critical thinking skills in school.

Most recently, the middle school instituted a modified “lock down” for grades not performing standardized tests.  They sat in the same room for a couple of hours (with no access to wi-fi or the bathroom)  quietly reading or watching movies so that the other grades could take their tests in relative silence.  My son watched Shaun the Sheep. Huh?     I mention no wi-fi because now that they have been issued iPads, their homework and reading material and school life is all on the device.  So-during this testing time for other grades they couldn’t have any academic instruction themselves and likely developed some bladder infections too.

The high school has juniors sit for the ACT all on the same floor of the building.  Seniors have that day off. Sophomores take a practice exam that day. Freshman have regular classes in different classrooms than the norm (since juniors are all on one floor) and an early release.  All of them reminded to maintain the utmost quiet for the ‘test takers.’

Really?  Will an atmosphere of absolute quiet make that much of a difference in the score?   These kids are going to be our future electricians and doctors and police officers and architects and researchers and salespeople and NBA players (I threw that in for the delusional basketball parents…ha ha ha)   These jobs don’t offer quiet.  Don’t firefighters make important decisions amidst chaos?  Don’t teachers?  Don’t we all?  Surgeons make critical decisions every day.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want any surgeon working on me who might be rattled by ambient noise.

Clearly, the militant enforcement of an atmosphere of quiet amps up the drama of the importance of testing.  Performance. Achievement.  Data points.  Is it any wonder we have a large and growing population of kids on anti-anxiety medication?  It may not be a direct cause and effect.  But it isn’t helping.

The poor teachers.  We have shackled them to testing schedules and pigeon holed them into narrow curriculums.  We are squelching their creativity so they can in turn squelch it in their students.  They have so many kids all along the continuum to shepherd (shove) into performing well on tests or their jobs are on the line. When does teaching just disintegrate into rote ‘training’ for the exam?

The kids eventually end up learning how to play the game.  They turn in a couple assignments and spend the rest of the precious time studying for tests.  Sometimes they retake one to get a better score.  This causes extra anxiety as the new and old tests start to stack up.   They read the SparkNotes instead of reading the book.  This causes me sadness and rage.  I love to read so skipping the book to skim through Spark Notes just seems tragic.  Plus, in time will they think about that book the way I do?  No-because they won’t have a life experience that reminds them of the SparkNotes.  They missed the experience.  The rage?  If I have to be honest, there isn’t time to really read the book sometimes.  They don’t write many papers.  A few.  They do take tests about the book and the answers to the test are in the SparkNotes. Putting down 150 pages of a novel on top of everything else just isn’t practical every time.  I get it.  We are training them to cheat themselves out of an education.

There are 16.5 school days left before summer.  I can’t wait.  My kids can step back into being children and step out of being students.

Maybe they will read books. Maybe they will think long, slow, winding thoughts and draw their own conclusions.

Maybe they will learn something new.

I am a Cross Country running champion (spectator)

If you are a parent, one of your primary jobs seems to be serving as a witness to the lives of your children.  I’ve witnessed a lot.  Although if you ask my youngest son, he will tell you I missed one preschool field trip to the apple orchard and ALL the other moms were there and he was completely and utterly alone.  So-we both have to live with that failure.

So far, my children have participated in what feels like 1,000 school, church and extra curricular activities that include t-ball, soccer, football, dance, choir, scouting, orchestra, cross country, knowledge bowl, and a few others I have blocked from my mind.

A lot of it has been fun.  Some of it has been not so fun.  Some of it has been downright irritating.  I’m not a great spectator because I lack a fiery competitive spirit and yet am sitting amongst the superfans.  I don’t care who wins.  I don’t get any great thrill when one team wins over the other or when one person beats out all the others.  When I watch the Olympics, and I LOVE the Olympics, I fall in love with the personal back story of all the athletes.   I will always root for the person with the toughest personal history every time. I will pray for the athlete with a compelling twist in their journey where they almost didn’t make it to compete after years of effort. I will root for the athlete who tells a story about how his mom drove him to practice for 15 years without complaint. (maybe I’m rooting for her)   But I’m not a great spectator. My cheers are very vague, “Oh go YOU!”

Until I discovered my love of spectating at cross country meets.

At most kid sporting events, you can hear spectators cheering/yelling at the kids, yelling at the coaches, yelling at each other. There is lots of yelling.  More yelling than cheering sometimes.  It took up all my yelling energy just to get everyone clean, packed, dressed, fed and in the car and at the destination on time. I suspect by the time we arrive at the event, I’m all done with yelling. It’s time for me to sit in my chair with an iced tea.  But I can hear a lot of other parents that have plenty left in the tank to scream on the sidelines. Calling plays. Making position suggestions. Lamenting the amount of play time doled out to their kid.  Complaining about the referees’ ability, a particular call, their age.  Screaming at their own kid to PUSH themselves.  Reminding their kid (loudly) that they will get ice or or $5 or other such incentives if they score.  I heard a coach on an opposing soccer team tell his team, “Swarm them like angry bees. Swarm them!”

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Dance is no better.  Studio dance culminates with a recital. There is a quiet subversive chatter at those events.  Kids didn’t get the part they wanted.  Kids got put in the back that should have been in the front.  Wrong kids featured.  Kid with poor attendance got the lead. Music choice sucked. Recital is too long. Teacher wasn’t good so choreography is too hard/too easy/too jazzy/too old/too young/too much.  (I should know the teacher critiques-I taught dance for years.) I love watching dance.  But even I find it difficult to watch a 3 hour recital where I can see 2 minutes of my child after they have put in a year of instruction.

I watched competitive dance this year for the very first time. That’s a whole new world.  It’s not your mother’s dance team.  There are some phenomenal dancers on high school dance teams.  Seven, eight, nine consecutive pirouettes.  Please.  I bow down to you.  However, I sat next to a mom who clapped when a student on a different team fell down.  Seriously.  She clapped.  She followed it up with verbally blasting her own daughter because she missed a turn.  We can’t be friends now. Ever.

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Music.  Generally not too bad.  Choirs is virtually painless.  Orchestra?  It’s almost an endurance test in the early years.  Have you heard a 9 year old try to play the violin? I have.  Two different kids.  Please no. No.  My daughter has played for 6 years now.  I have to say…it didn’t sound like music until 7th grade. That was year FOUR for those of you keeping track.  Even at the music concerts there is chatter about private lessons, what ensemble group to audition for next year, who got the solo, first chair, practice habits.  I’m coming clean.  Kids in this house-they didn’t get in their 5,438 minutes of music each week.  Never.  Math comes before music. I can’t fight ALL the battles.  I’m only 1/4 Chinese rendering me virtually useless when it comes to being a Tiger Mother.

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Knowledge Bowl.  Have you witnessed this craziness?  Hundreds of kids from everywhere battling it out to answer questions like, “In what dystopian novel could you find the quote ‘We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought'”?  Buzzers are rung all over the room while I try to think of more than one dystopian novel.  Wow.  By the way…It’s from Fahrenheit 451.  These kids are middle schoolers who are well versed in Bradbury.  I was reading the Sweet Valley High Series in 6th grade.   Those crazy Wakefield twins and their romances NEVER said anything deep or memorable and I liked it that way.  Hundreds of parents are walking up and down the hallways watching kids answer questions and discussing how their school runs practice, what teams are the best, and other things I’m not interested in.

This brings me to Cross Country.  Watching cross country is my thing.  Finally, I’ve found my sport.  Truth be told-I cried at nearly every meet.  Cried.  This is why.  It’s all outside at a school on (mostly) lovely fall days for about an hour.   They run in huge groups divided up by grade and gender.  I can pick out a couple of kids I know in the blur that go by but I’m keenly watching for my son who is fairly easy to pick out since he refuses to wear actual running shorts because (“Mom-they are insanely short”)

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On both sides of the course, the spectators watch and wait and cheer.  And everyone cheers and claps and smiles.  For everyone.  I learned some things from the high school runners who were there watching the younger kids.   They yell, “Pace yourself!”  “Pass a couple!” “You’ve got this!” “Go go go!” “Finish strong!”  Now I say those things.  I can belt out a really good “pass a couple”-it’s such a reasonable cheer for a non-competitive person.  And when they are finished…many of the runners go back to cheer on those behind them…their teammates and those who are competing against them.  And some of the kids have buddy runners who run with them and encourage them to keep going and to finish. This makes me cry every time.  The kids who need the extra help giving it everything they have and the kids who are giving the extra help giving it everything they have make me cry in equal measure.  And everyone cheers those kids on until the very last one crosses the line.

This. This is what appeals to my deepest sense of what I think is right and important about athletics.  Participation.  Being part of a larger team.  Belonging to the group.  Get out there and do something and try even if you are not first, or second, or twelfth.  Do this with joy.  Do we not all benefit when everyone crosses the finish line?   The pure joy of participation is not exclusively owned by the winners.

Next up for my professional spectator role: Track!?  My son said he would like to try track.  I said, “Great.  I’ll sign you up. What made you decide to try track?”  He said, “It sounds fun.  It’s all the cross country kids.”   I hope he does his very best.  I hope someone in front of him is pulling for him and mostly I hope he turns around at the finish line to root for anyone still running.

I plan on swarming them all with cheers. An encouragement swarm. Finish strong!

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If these children are our future-I hope I go deaf soon.

This post was created with the full consent of my daughter. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty but I know who you are and I forget nothing.

I needed to apologize to my teenage daughter the other day. It was a really nice moment. For her.

So…it’s nice when you recognize something about your child that is also like you. When it’s positive and fun. She likes to sing loudly to pop music and enjoys sparkly nail polish and has some good one-liners.  ME TOO.  Yay us.

When it isn’t so great a quality…maybe not so flattering-it’s humbling and it can cause alarm bells and you can take it on as a campaign to root it out of them.  My girl. My happy, joyful, animated, teenagery girl can get really irritated sometimes.  Sometimes, when people cross a line with her or cross her, she will get mad.  And when she is mad at you, she can go into a little dark place in her mind to process things and if you are on the receiving end of this-it’s quiet time for you. Crickets.

I wonder where oh where in the world she learned this strategy?   Oh.  Me.

Now.  In her defense, she is a much milder person than I am.  Truly.  She is kinder, gentler, and more forgiving than her mother before her.  Always has been.  In fact, I am bookended by a mother and daughter who give second and third and fourth chances.  They are olive branch extenders. I am inspired by them but alas, I’m not them.  I’m more a “one and done” type of personality.  Show me who you are and I believe you.  Cross the line? Cross me?  I’ll prune the branch.  Snip.

My girl, she might take a cool tone with you.  I will ice you out for 50 years without another thought.  Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to say something I will regret.  Contrary to popular belief, I’m deliberate about what I say and calculated about who I am close with.  It’s not my fault.  My mother thinks I’m missing some standard issue ‘woman  gene’ that causes them to say yes to things, experience guilt and exude diplomacy. Apparently, I have been like this since birth. There is no known cure.

I don’t want her to be like me in this way.  I want better for her.  She is better.  She cuts people a break and is a more tolerant being.  The world needs this so desperately.  I want her to retain her sweetness and her extroversion and her true love of and interest in people.  I don’t want her to shut down and cut people off.  So I have been trying very hard (for years) to encourage her to work things out…with everyone.  This is both time consuming and frustrating but it’s well worth it to sort through the easy hurts and I have learned (baby steps) to do better myself.

But then…there is this issue.

I am absolutely horrified by how teenagers speak to one another.  It disgusts me.  It scares me. The language.  The name calling. The rudeness. The insults. The ridiculous comments on social media.  The ridiculous retorts to the comments on social media. The need to verbalize everything that passes through their minds to one another.   In the last few months, some people have said in person and texted some things to my daughter that are not great.    People she has just met. Some minor things.  A little crude.  But then…a couple of vicious things.  Vitriol.  Profane.  Bizarre.  They have said things that I have yet to unleash on anyone, for any reason.  But why?   Is it necessary to tell someone to “F-off” because they weren’t invited over for pizza?

Is it her? It’s not just her.  I’ve seen dozens of screen shots from her and her friends of these messages.  Group threads. Instagram.  Twitter.  It happens a lot.  The drama that begins in the virtual world is plentiful and relentless.  She assures me this is just ‘normal’.  She tells me people at school swear at each other.  Boys and girls alike call each other derogatory names. Girls call other girls terrible, deplorable names.  It’s the new status quo. Everything is out in the open now.

Someone asked her this year (IN PERSON) if she does extra squats at home to get that booty so she can ‘get more guys’.  Seriously?  First of all-No.  Wait. What???  Who asks that?  Who walks up to someone they barely know and opens a conversation with that?  Plus-would that work?  I should start doing squats. That’s not the point.  Sorry.

I have to ask myself why?  Why does this seem more intense than 25 years ago?

Some theories…

  1. Kids are lonely?  Alone.  On their own in their houses for hours on end with only their phone to entertain them and connect them to the world.  Bored.  They reach out into cyberspace but have developed zero true social skills?
  2. Kids have been trained to be bold through social media and anonymity and this is transferring to in person interactions?
  3. Kids have been raised worshipping people like The Kardashians and other ‘celebrated’ role models and think that it is cool and normal to speak to other humans like wild animals?
  4. Kids think there are no long term consequences?
  5. Kids have underdeveloped pre-frontal cortexes and just have bad judgment?
  6. Kids are broken, hurting, damaged?  Lashing out is the only answer?

And does it matter?  Does anyone care that I can’t stand it?  It doesn’t bother her nearly as much as it bothers me and that bothers me.  I’m sickened to think we are now in a world where F-You is tossed out casually with people you don’t even know.  Name calling might not seem like a big deal.  I guess. But can’t it be the seed of evil that flourishes into bullying?  Kids have taken their own LIVES because of what other kids said about them.  True things and untrue things.  Is it funny now for a girl to call another girl a bitch or a slut on Instagram with 1000 people to witness it?  It’s not a big deal?

Will we look back and think it was just part of growing up and the shortsightedness of youth?  We all say and do things as teenagers that we regret later.  Maybe.

Or… Is this the new normal?  Is this going to be a new generation that tolerates any and all rudeness?  Is the world just one giant comment section? Is there no room for simple disagreements?   Do we not care about civility because that gets in the way of our stalwart adherence to free speech?  Because we can say anything we should say everything?  I’m worried.

Are these kids going to be verbally abusive to their spouses, to their kids, to their friends and neighbors and employees?  Are these kids going to be the teachers and coaches and politicians and clergy who use verbal threats and rage and coercion to garner compliance?  Is this the beginning of how they will relate to the world as adults?

A couple of days ago things hit a high intensity level with this kid over text message.     My girl looked at me and shrugged and said….”Well. I’m just sending him the snowflake.”  I said, “What do you mean?  What does that do?”  She said.  “That’s my thing.  Like, I give up. So-you get a snowflake. I have nothing left to say.”  So she fired off a snowflake to him and then did her homework.

I had to laugh.  That’s my girl.  I mean, that is a strategy but not one that I would have come up with.  It’s a way to take a break from the tension in a thoroughly modern way.  And I felt urged to apologize. I told her she absolutely has the right to shut down sometimes.  Block people out. Ignore what they say. Walk away.  There absolutely still has to be a minimum standard of behavior.  She can’t take it all in and sort it all out.  It’s too much these days.  It’s on tv, on their phone, on 6 sources of social media, and even in person.  So-send up your big fat snowflake as many times as you need my love.  I am sorry.  I really had no idea how it was…It is a relentless siege of unwelcome and unwarranted opinion.  I am wrong and she is right and it doesn’t have to be either extreme of complete absorption or complete isolation.

Good luck world.  I can’t take it.  There is a growing list of kids that will never, ever be welcome in this home.  My line in the sand begins at my driveway.  My girl will likely forgive all of them eventually. That’s just her way.  And I’m grateful.

She is already handling the brave new world better than I am.

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All I Don’t Want For Christmas

 

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This post is about Christmas.  If this offends you, I can’t help you…it said it IN the title.

This time of year…it’s full of joy. Joy and insanity.  One of my friends says, “Ah-the holidays. That time of year when nobody gets their way.”  She gets it.  It feels like there are a thousand extra things to do and the goal is to bring yourself to the brink of lunacy emotionally, financially, spiritually, mentally and physically. There are demands on how to execute the holidays, where they should be held, who should be included, who should be excluded,  when it should be done, what should be served, appropriate gifts to be given, events to attend, and what type of cheerful elf-inspired mood we should all be in. Except many of us aren’t.

Well I’m not doing everything this year and I’m typically crazy for Christmas. I’m in love with Christmas but sometimes I’m giving way more in this relationship than I am getting. (Don’t email me people: I know Jesus is the reason for the season) What I mean is-I can end up missing the whole thing in my efforts to do it all. I’m learning my lessons from the ghosts of Christmas past.

One year I cried (while drinking a Manhattan) while I assembled a wretched Playmobil Zoo until 2:00am so that my son would be overcome with Christmas cheer and fall down bawling with surprise and feverish gratitude and love for his mother.  The next morning when I waited for his delight, he strolled by and patted the tiny miniature seal and then sat on the floor to eat Hershey kisses for 2 hours.

One year I wore myself down so much, I got the stomach flu the day after Christmas and was confined to my room for 4 days and watched the kids ice skate from my sick bed.

There was the year Jack tripped and gave himself a seriously black eye Christmas Eve morning. While serving food, I rotated bags of peas on his face.

There was the year Isabelle had strep and we were at the clinic on Christmas Eve.

The year(s) people said they would show up and they didn’t and also a year they showed up when they said they weren’t going to. Yeah.

The years I’m pinned in the kitchen and can’t even see what people are opening after spending hours upon hours searching, purchasing, hiding, and wrapping.

So here is what I am not doing this year:

I’m not over-decorating. I’m not going to put up every single blasted thing I have collected for Christmas. It’s too much. I have my things, things I’ve inherited, things I’ve been gifted, heirlooms, things the kids have made. Things I can’t get rid of for a variety of reasons.  If I display everything it looks like Christmas puked and it makes me go pattern blind for it is WAY too much to look at and WAY too much to put away.  See favorite decoration below.  I smile every time I see it.

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I’m not letting the kids help me with everything. I know. Bad Mommy. I don’t care. I want to put things where I want them. I want to handle some of them gingerly so that they remain in one piece. Last year an ornament was broken that had been in my family for 40 years because it was tossed like a baseball.

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Also-please don’t help me with all the baking. No help necessary. I like to bake for the holidays and I love to have the kids help me with some of the baking. We usually make a gingerbread house.  It’s so fun and almost always involves a glue gun and a long discussion about the merits of cedar shake shingles (cinnamon toast crunch).  But I really don’t want their help with all of it. I get distracted and then things aren’t right and don’t turn out and taste like crap AND I really don’t need help from one certain helper elf that occasionally LICKS his hands. Gross. Nobody needs saliva in their baked goods.  He can busy himself opening and shutting the 25 doors on the advent calendar. And he does.  It’s like a cardio workout the way he handles that thing.

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I’m not going to fixate on loved ones that aren’t here. Now-touchy subject.  This is one of many, many reasons that this time of year throws people into a complete tailspin. Too many reminders. So much grief. The empty spot at the table. All of these loved ones will be on my mind. I will miss them. But this year I’m not going to obsess to the point that I miss out on all the people that are here including myself.   I’m going to focus on this year and this experience and this time that I have and try to not let it slip by as I rush through to January. It doesn’t serve anyone else well in my family if I curl up in the fetal position under the tree.

I’m not spending weeks dealing with the holiday card.  For real. I usually do.  I can’t even explain it.  But this time I had to let a few things go.  We had a lot of nice photos taken, I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like but concessions were made.  Actually, here is what happened this year.  I’m just going to say it out loud.  There is a penis on my Christmas card.  Yep.  A penis. Nothing says “celebrating the birth of Christ” like full frontal nudity. Jesus was nude in the manger right?

Ok-it’s the dog.  But still.

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I’m not going to see the Nutcracker Fantasy. I LOVE the Nutcracker. (maybe I should not have had this paragraph immediately following the penis one) Anyway, it’s as big a part of my holiday memories as anything else but this year I’m going to skip it. I just have to. I went last year to the big anniversary hullaballoo but trying to cram it in this year doesn’t look likely and I’ve nearly made my peace with it.

I’m not going to make up Christmasy excuses that I’m too busy to fit in a few things that I really want to do. I really wanted to host a holiday breakfast for a few friends. NO.BIG.DEAL. I have 35 people on Christmas Day so 8 women is practically a vacation.  Except it is one more thing to do and one more thing to ask of them just to show up. But I am going to make it happen and not talk myself out of spending 2 little hours with people I really enjoy. I also had a few things that I wanted to make myself to give as gifts. I’m not going to let myself pretend that it cannot possibly get done.  I’m going to carve out a little time and have some fun making my funny homemade gifts. (I’ve already said too much. :))

I’m not going to cut down our Christmas tree this year. We have gone for years now to cut down the tree together as a family. We ride on the wagon, trudge through the snow, bring the saw, I take dozens of photos. (below) Here is the thing though…If I wait for the perfect 6 hour window…the tree will be here January 5th. So we are going to the tree lot. 20 minutes. Easy peasy. We still will all be together.  We will have a place to hang the ornaments.

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I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t find the perfect thing for every person. I know there is a lot of “remember the reason for the season” platitudes. It’s not about the gifts. But to me, the giving has always been central to the very spirit of Christmas.  It is a symbol of the celebration and the care in which I choose gifts has always been important to me.  It should not be careless.  I like people to feel well loved. I show love through thoughtfulness.  But I’m cutting myself 3% slack this year.  Sometimes the exact thing I’ve conjured up simply does not exist. I will have to give a few people an extra hug.

Oh- And I’m not going to get sick. Do you hear me God???   I am NOT going to get sick.

I don’t want to miss the forest for the tree.  (hee hee) The truth is that there is a pressure to keep up ALL the traditions. And then the family gets larger and there is more to keep up. And then everyone has their own set of expectations and it grows to a level that would drive even the most grounded person to run and drown themselves in the punch bowl. And really, every year is different. Every single year. The decorations, the traditions, the events, the people gathered around the table are a changing cast of characters each time.

And that is ok.

So Santa, if you are reading this: This Is All I Don’t Want For Christmas

 

2015 Back to School Speech: Please please please don’t be a Jackhole

It’s back to school time.  My kids start next week.  Fresh pencils, shiny non-marking soles on clean shoes, class schedules, haircuts all around, locker combinations and the fresh hope of a new school year with possibilities of making a new friend.  A clean slate.

We have done our ‘meet the teachers’ and walked the halls to find classrooms. We went to the orientations. We have signed slips and sent money for the lunch accounts. Everyone has a backpack. It’s time for the annual back to school lecture.

I usually have a talk this time of year with each of them as my kids face their excitement/anxiety/anticipation about the up and coming year and I’ve given all 3 of them some pointed lectures as they transition to high school, transition to middle school and transition to first grade respectively.  3 different schools. 3 different start and stop times.  Big changes are underway.

In fact, everyone around them keeps commenting, “WOW. Big transitions. How do you feel? Are you excited? Are you nervous?”  Over and over and over and over.  I say it too. To other kids.  Isn’t that what we do as adults?  Promote excitement laced with hints of our own anxiety?

My back to school lecture series usually are cheerful pep talks about having a great year and not sweating the small stuff.  Big transitions are happening for me too.  I’m hitting them hard this year.  I’m getting deliberate with my message and I have needed to spell.it.out.

My theme-Don’t be a jackhole.  You are better than that.  The world is filled with jackholes and you are NOT to be one of them. Ok.  I haven’t used that exact phrase (I do NOT need the first grader to have that in his repertoire) but basically I expect better from them because they have no excuses. None.  They have it easy.  This year should be about making it a great school year-for someone else. 

School can be wonderful.  School can be terrifying.  While I appreciate the vast efforts on the part of the school as a whole, wonderful teachers and support staff to encourage kids, help build bonds between students, teach respect, fight bullying, create a tight knit community, it ultimately falls to the kids to build a positive culture.  The atmosphere created in any group is largely dependent on the participants. I want my kids to be an active, purposeful part of building a positive and welcoming atmosphere because they can.  They have all the tools.  And if they are either mere bystanders or pulling in a negative direction-I’ll…I’ll…I’ll..well-they will regret it sorely. Kids are the real foot soldiers in the war against school misery.

They can do better. Do more. It costs them nothing but means everything.

The high schooler got the “You can get over yourself.  You can. You might feel apprehensive in situations A,B,C…but suck it up.  Step out of your own mind for a minute…There are likely 50 girls around you who would give their LEFT leg to live your reality.  Find those girls.  Say hello to them. Walk with them to science. They need you. Find those people who have an actual problem.  A poor shoe choice that leads to a blister is not an actual problem. (that happened here recently-we had to have a discomfort versus pain conversation)  Look for the girl who just lost a parent.  Look for the boy who failed 3 classes last year and now is paralyzed with fear that he can’t cut it in high school.  The childhood friend who feels like they have been left out or left behind.  The kid you have known for years that didn’t get enough for breakfast and never does.  The transfer student who literally doesn’t know anyone.  The friend of a friend who looks ‘perfect’ but a lot of not perfect is going on and she is suffering. For real. Some of these kids are in disguise.  They are in real trouble but they have Uggs and Vineyard Vines and play competitive softball and get good grades. Outward appearances can be very misleading.  High school is full of kids facing adult problems.

The middle schooler got the, “I know it is all new for you too but it is PAINFUL for some of the kids…a new school, a much bigger system, it can be overwhelming and isolating.”  He didn’t get it.  He needed a specific example.  I asked him about a classmate he has known for years.  It went like this:

“Who is so and so friends with?”

“Oh-he hangs out with such and such.  Mainly just him. They are close friends.”

“Ok.  What if they get different lunches this year?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean if they DON’T have the same lunch…who will he sit with?”

Shrugs. “I dunno.”  Me waiting silently.  Watching to see if any synapses fire.  Waiting.  Engage deep breathing while waiting.  I can’t take it.  “In the lunchroom…where will he go…if his bestie isn’t there…he is kind of shy. Maybe he has trouble joining in.”  More waiting.

“Oh.  Mom, seriously.  What do you want me to do?  Find him? Track him? Watch for him at the door?” (synapses did fire)

“Yes.  That is what I want you to do. Watch for him.  Watch for others that you have gone to school with for SIX years.  Invite them over to sit with you if they look lost. Ask the girls you know to sit with you if they don’t have a spot.  They need a spot.  It is so hard when you feel like you don’t fit in and it feels good to be asked. It can be brutal for the girls.  Just cut them a break. It could change their whole day or week!  How would you feel if it were you? It just takes so little on your part.”

OKAY. Sheesh.”

We also then covered this diagram.  Not kidding. The school has tables that have fixed spots in groups of six.  If you have a group of 4 but then a group of 3 walks up there is an odd person out which inevitably leads to trauma and/or drama.  This led to the tutorial, “Then see with an odd number you could offer to go with the single person and start a new table.”  Honestly.  It should be simple.  But it isn’t.  It looks like a complicated football play.


The first grader got a modified speech (attention span of a fruit fly), “Be a kind friend to everyone because everyone needs a friendly face in first grade.  On the playground. Or on the bus. If other kids act up and get sassy or tease another friend, I expect you to act like a gentleman.  Other kids will follow your lead.   I know you can do this.  Let’s use all your charm for good.”

They might not get it.  I’m thankful I can’t be a fly on the wall.  They are coping with their own insecurities and stresses during the school day.  They might not be able to do it.  They might not be strong enough. They might think they are on the outside of the inner circle.  I keep reminding them “There really is no inner circle.  It’s an illusion.  You can just draw your own circle.”

But I hope they will try.  I hope they look around and are vigilant and spend just a minute thinking about someone else.  I hope they include someone who needs to be included.   I hope they say hello and use the other persons name.  I hope they occasionally notice what is going on with somebody else instead of focusing on themselves. I hope they make FREAKING EYE CONTACT to acknowledge they saw another classmate in the hallway. They are in this together even if it doesn’t feel that way to them.

I believe these 3 could do it.   They have nothing but their own self-consciousness standing in their way.  Self consciousness may be a developmental hurdle but not a real roadblock. And if they do, if they can get out of their own way and if these three can just bring in 3 others into the fold with circles they draw themselves I will be satisfied.   If they make even infinitesimal progress toward making school a calmer, safer, more tolerable haven for everyone this year, I will stop lecturing on this topic.

Until 2016.