Table for one: Join the club

I’ve been thinking about loneliness lately.   I am not lonely.  Or alone.  Nearly ever. The last time I can remember feeling lonely was in college. It was junior year. 1992.  Folks, that is a long time ago.  And the ironic thing is that I was not alone.  I was surrounded by people.  People who I loved.  People who loved me.  Living with my sweet,  gentle, long-suffering roommate/best friend.  I think I felt misunderstood. I was likely depressed. I felt isolated from others. Left behind. And quite full of self-pity.  It passed. Tip: If feeling lonely at 20 years old AND assigned to read The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day AND then choose to fill other hours watching Oprah (often about weight loss or family estrangement) -You will feel worse.

Being alone has never been a negative for me.   I know that some people hate it.  I relish eating lunch alone.  Coffee out somewhere by myself.  Lunch alone. I see movies alone.  That is certain bliss.  I can choose the movie, the time, eat my popcorn without passing it, think my own thoughts and nobody interrupts to talk to me.  (I know I’m so selfish)  I enjoy a long drive alone.  I enjoy a few quiet hours in the house when the dog is at the groomers.  I think this means that although I fall squarely in the middle of the extraversion/introversion scale…I need introverted time.  But also…I’m very spoiled because I have options if I want people.  I have the people. They are everywhere underfoot.  My people are very loud people.

We volunteer as a family at a housing complex a few miles from our house.  We do odd jobs like cleaning windows and moving furniture, flipping mattresses, hanging art and boxing up holiday decorations for residents.  And then we also make and serve them lunch.  This is my favorite part.  That crew loves a good lunch.  I love to try to serve a good lunch.  I am always struck, every single time, how lonely people seem.  They are desperate for connection with others, with us.  They are excited to see us and see our children.  They just want to watch and talk to my children.  What classes are they taking? Do they LOVE school?  (they are begging my children to lie to them)  Do they like to fish? Do they play football?  They love our stories about pedestrian things.  They ask where we bought our spinach leaves and where I got the recipe for the egg bake.  They want to know if I know that HyVee will cut whole fruit for only a $1. I did not!  Many of the residents are elderly.  Most live alone.  Some are good at joining in.  Some are not as comfortable doing so.  There is a cool table.  I kid you not.  There is a cool table at the senior housing complex.

But when we leave, and this may all be in my head, I feel a lift in the mood.  The energy is good.  They have had a meal together.  Literally broken bread together-some of it gluten free.  They have had camaraderie.  A laugh. If someone is under the weather, someone brings up a plate.  They discuss the new changes at the building, the weather, politics.  They have heard a new story from outside the four walls of their apartment and shared a story of their own. (below a 2015 photo of dessert service)

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We all end up there, if we are lucky.  Living more on our own and with more strangers than family. Such is the cycle of life.  Some people seem better cut out for it than others.

I wonder how much craving a sense of belonging contributes to the strife in our crazy world.  Humans so desperate to belong that they will belong to the wrong things.  Young kids who don’t stand up for a classmate who is bullied.  Teenaged girls who get drawn into a rumor mill out of fear they too will be cast out of the group. All the hurt and vitriol when the student athlete doesn’t make the top team.  Neighbors who don’t include “that family” at the BBQ.  An employee who goes against personal ethics because coworkers expect them to protect the company.  Groups united by hate against something/anything/anyone because being united in rage is more important than being civil, moral, compassionate.  Is membership more of a survival skill than empathy?  It was MLK day two days ago.  I think he might openly weep at how few strides we have made.  If I read too many news stories, I think we are sliding backward if not standing still as a society.

Last week I dropped off my middle schooler at school in the morning.  There were groupings of kids standing around outside.  Girls with matching hair and matching backpacks and matching everything.  Boys playing basketball.  Kids at the curb on their phones.  My son had his backpack, his ski bag, his skis, and 3 other things in his hand.  He awkwardly hauled it out of the car, banging his bag on the side of my car.  A lot of the kids were watching as he got out of the car and I was thinking how lonely middle school can be.  I imagine there were lonely kids on that curb standing in a group but not invited to a birthday party.  Left out of the group text. Not included at the lunch table.  If loneliness was ever a mental construct , surely that age group has nearly perfected it.  Lonely plus narcissistic is a deadly combo.  As he shut the car door and juggled all of his things I heard someone yell, “JACK!”  Then another, “Jack!  with a wave.  He smiled.  And it made me smile.  And I held back any tears since Jack really needs me to ‘calm down’ these days.  Someone was happy to see him.  Someone called out.

Is that all it takes to not feel alone?

We need to have someone call out our name.

We need to call out to one another with a wave.

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.

Delta Chi Latte: Accepting late pledges

I have never had a huge group of friends.  I have many good friends.  Cherished friends. But generally, even as a little girl, my friends were not all friends with each other.  The biggest group I was ever part of was maybe three or four girls.  Groups of friends in elementary school formed pretty naturally driven by activities or geography or moms.  But by middle school I had narrowed the field quite a bit.  I think I almost preferred it that way.  I’m a secret introvert and even now if I go to a party where I know I have to make small talk with 30 people, I feel a little ill.  I want to grab one person and hold their face in my hands and discuss their relationship with their mother at length.  I know.  Now you won’t invite me for coffee.  It’s ok. I just generally suck at making ‘light conversation.’

In late high school when we were actual women making friends with other women, I had one ‘best friend’ and we floated between groups of other friends and hung out with a group of boys as a duo. This totally worked for me.  The guys were a blissful counterweight to any drama she and I might attempt to stir up.

1989 and 2014 below…


College was similar.  Again, I had lots of women I spent time with but not a sorority atmosphere certainly. I have several friends from those four years-but they aren’t friends with one another.  I found my future maid of honor in college.  We disliked each other a great deal the first few weeks of freshman year.  She found me bold and over confident.  I found her shy and irritatingly not wanting to be the center of attention.  Plus, she wore mysteriously preppy rugby shirts and I was trying out my REI meets goth look with all black clothing, dark red lipstick and hiking boots.

We must have pushed past all that since now she is the executor of my will.  Below you will find a montage of our early relationship and no, no alcohol was involved in striking any of these poses. Sadly, no mood altering chemicals were involved when I chose any of those haircuts either.  I can own it.

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Then I made “couple friends” and anyone who is over 14 knows how difficult that is to navigate.  The odds of both people in one pair really enjoying both people in the other pair are well…let’s just say even match.com or tinder wouldn’t dare try to code that algorithm.  And then large groups of couples who all enjoy hanging out together?  Even more tricky.                                                                 (note: 3 of my favorite couples to hang out with in our 20’s…all divorced now-maybe it was me?)

Graduate school.  In two years of seeing the same people every.single.freaking. day, I made a few friends.  Three.  And I made one lifelong close friend.  We were like hecklers at a comedy club except we were in Psych classes.  I’m not sure everyone appreciated our bond.  We thought all of the same people were exactly the same kind and same amount of crazy.

Work.  Various settings.  Various people.  Please.  I have yet to find an adult human who relishes attending their own company party let alone hang out with their co-workers every weekend. Worlds colliding.  It rarely works out ideally.

Church.  Surely church is filled with a lot of nice women.  I never did find 6 that all wanted to hang out together though. Never.  Acquaintances yes. Cohesive friend group?  Nope.

Neighborhood.  No.  We live on a street that ranges from newly married to retired couples. There are no block parties.  No progressive dinners.  No pool parties.  Last year we had 0 trick or treaters.  One banner year we had five.  They must have gotten lost. My closest neighborhood friend lives next door and I surely couldn’t have survived the last 18 years without her but we have our differences.  She is 69.

So-over the years when I see on social media photos of 8, 10, 12, 15! women together on trips or dinners or book clubs or scrapbooking weekends or reunions or 5k’s or wine tastings or etc…I always think…really?  How?  How did I never end up having a group of friends?

And then I realized I have one now…my first friend group.  At 44 years old.

I have finally found my sorority.  Accidentally.  It’s my ‘mom friends’.  The extensive group of women who surround me who are raising their children alongside me are my tribe.  Phenomenal, intelligent, strong women.  They know me.  They know each other.  We have a lot in common and the kids bond us together even though some of our kids are different ages and don’t even hang out with one another.  Doesn’t matter anymore.  They are women who work outside the home and women who work inside the home.  They have one child, they have four children.  They are single, married, widowed, divorced.  They are estranged from their parents, have ailing parents, have dead parents, have under involved parents, have over involved parents, all while parenting their own kids.  A few are over the top optimistic and a couple are intensely sarcastic and a couple are so wicked smart and a couple are wild procrastinators. They are volunteers and coaches and organizers and entrepreneurs and piano teachers and writers and religious and not religious and some are great cooks and some are ultra crafty and some exercise and some talk about exercising but never actually do and some are loud and outgoing and some aren’t and I value and cherish them all for their gifts and their challenges and their grit.

These women, they make my life so much better.  My circle of trust.  They make the grind of life tolerable.  They are my go to when I have a question about what the heck is wrong with my kid(s) or to tell when something goes well with my kid(s).  They celebrate my successes and lament with me when it all goes to shit.  Some of them I see in person 3 times a year, others I see weekly.  We go on mom field trips and do important ‘doughnut research.’  It is my first experience of having a large number of women who make me feel “we are in this together”. I have 20+ women who would drop everything and pick up my son if I needed it.  I would do the same for them.  They are my emergency contacts.  I have cried with them in Target.  In Target.  Right there next to the light bulbs and laundry detergent and bananas.  That is friendship.  It is an intricate but strong and supportive web of friendship that holds me together some days during these intense parenting years.

These women…they teach me.  They educate me on camps to look into, where to buy something for less, why a particular teacher is so valuable, what to open my eyes to and when to shut my ears.  NO KID REALLY NEEDS TO BE 6 YEARS AHEAD IN MATH.  They know stuff.  They recommend books and doctors and websites and restaurants.  They gently explain the reality of why I could never actually survive being a hockey mom and how many things are likely going to turn out just fine and probably don’t need my micro-management.  They point me in the right direction when I need to get whipped about something and present convincing arguments for when I really need to calm the hell down.    (It’s almost always the second one)

This photo was taken on my birthday last year.  Not even nearly everybody who is important to me is in the photo (obviously)…and I didn’t even have a chance to talk to everyone this day and hold their face and delve into their inner soul.  But it’s ok.  They know I care what happens to them.  I’ve got their backs.  I’ll catch up with them at school or on the soccer field or in the church parking lot or over lunch or maybe at Target.

We will cry at Target.  Together. Sisterhood.

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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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The Dog ate my Wi-Fi

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Ah…quarter one of the school year is almost over. We have settled in here and already survived our first round of sore throats. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy having a few moments to have a complete thought while the kids are at school. And I also must mention that having that complete thought is absolutely necessary since the hours between 2:55 and 9 are energy draining, patience testing and soul crushing juggling after school activities (and required drop offs and pick ups at various locales), last minute schedule changes, homework, some semblance of dinner, preparations for surviving the next day and the bedtime rituals that range from a peaceful drifting off to an epic meltdown.

One of the things the whole house enjoys during the summer months is no homework. But we are back in the thick of it and the homework is mind-boggling. As a student, I didn’t even complete have much homework until the high school years. And even then, I regarded homework as more of a light suggestion than a requirement. Now they brainwash them early and I’m hoping it pays off in the end…for me.

The first grader is already giving me a hard time over his 7 minutes of whatever and he knows I’m old now. I can see it in his eyes…he thinks, “I will be the one to finally break this woman. She’ll be 55 by the time I graduate from high school…there is NO way she can keep up this pace.”  We.will.see. I feel the need to enforce the homework to build the habit no matter how inane it is at 7 years old.  I was indeed questioning the necessity of (mock) wandering around our house with him looking for thermometers to tally.  Thermometers: one.  Such valuable learning.

The other two kids are in their homework routine. Truth be told, they don’t need my help nor do they want it with homework. They have surpassed me in math aptitude years ago; we all know it and they are polite enough to not bring it up. From time to time they will say something cute like, “Mom, do you remember the Pythagorean Theorem?” No. I don’t. So I’m just support staff for them now. I buy protractors, change ink cartridges in the printer, bring treats when they hit a depressive slump and give sympathetic looks when they have to read endless paragraphs about Mesopotamia. Recently, one of my children was found SLEEPING at 7:35 pm, having been lulled by an insufferable textbook into a quick eye nap. Now that I remember.

So I’m first in line when they need moral support but worst of all-tech support.

The school gives the kids their own personal ipad in grades 6-12. Yay? I like this idea in theory. It is equalizing. Everyone has the same access to technology and it is free. (as much as public school is free) So they are fortunate. Truly blessed students-21st century learners…blah.blah.blah.

However, the ipads, the technology, the upkeep and troubleshooting are a 21st century pain in my ass. First, the ipads caused us to need a wireless printer. Fine. $60. We all use it printing from every device and every corner of the house. Still, I question the reasonableness of asking every family to purchase a number of accessories just to make your ‘free’ iPad functional.

The cords and chargers and keyboards and cases are everywhere.   Everywhere. Fine. I can live with it. Decorative basket to hold every necessary accessory is a jumble resembling a Christmas light nightmare despite my best efforts.

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yep.  That’s a Nerf bullet in there too.

My husband just built this last week.  He is quite hopeful that this will alleviate the need to charge things in 6 different spots.  I admire his optimism.


The apple ids, the downloading, ios updating, the charging, Wi-Fi passwords, password changes, logins, logouts, learning new apps, navigating the integration of everything. We have had tears/rage at 10:45pm when something goes wrong. (okay, they cry and I have the rage) Help me.

It really makes me rethink the college courses I selected. I took “Math for Poets”. Seriously. I should have taken classes in IT. Oh wait…there were no IT classes available because it was 1989-1993 and I was busy marveling over the word processor that my roommate owned. Magical. I remember one friend would “IM” her boyfriend freshman year and I thought she was absolutely part of the fringe of society.

A few days ago, my husband had to reset the modem and it booted my 9th grader off an online quiz. She can’t get back in because it is designed to only let you go through once to prevent cheating. He felt terrible. She wasn’t thrilled. We considered how to explain it to the teacher. What excuse was best to plead her case?

What excuses can they use? There are no excuses.

I literally could have said, “The dog ate my homework” in high school and a teacher might have believed me. I could have feigned illness, said I missed the instructions on the blackboard, conjured up some tears and it could have worked. I would have easily gotten an extension.  Honestly, I could have concealed my grades from my parents for months. They wouldn’t know a thing until the grades were mailed out. And they might never know if I intercepted them first. (Tip: If you find yourself in 1987 again, intercept 4th quarter grades because parents completely forget you even have grades after June 8th)

But now?

Everything in detail is at my fingertips and theirs now.  On the computer, and on the mobile app on my phone. I can see their schedules, their instructors, their standardized test scores, their lunch accounts, their grades, every quiz, and every 5-point assignment. I can set alerts to be pinged for missed assignments, a ‘grade drop threshold’, absences, etc. I can track and see their every move. Many pop tarts have been purchased this year. I’m privy to every single thing. I actually need to deal with the pop tarts limit after I post this…it’s out of control.

I had to download my defunct Twitter account to follow the high school principal. I don’t want to be on Twitter! I’m probably the only person in the world that is following Jimmy Fallon, 5 arts organizations and one high school principal.

So I’m sorry for holding you back kids. I’m sorry I have to learn alongside you starting at a significant deficit as a digital rookie. I’m a bad troubleshooter.

The only excuse they have now is this:

Hey, my mom makes a killer chocolate chip cookie when I’m neck deep in the periodic table and can give some pretty decent pointers in navigating dreaded ‘group project’ relationships but she doesn’t know SH&T about dropboxing a password protected Notability assignment with a Google link into a subfolder using a hot spot as a Wi-Fi connection.

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.

A Diamond in the Ruff

I am no fun.  Risk averse. Chaos averse. I’m in recovery for non-spontaneous behavior syndrome.  I lack impulsivity.  Looking for a wild evening that could lead to anything? Don’t go with me.  Looking for a vacation where I have researched, planned, and booked things with 5 contingency plans and 2 extra of everything in your suitcase? I’m your woman.  If I wrote a memoir, potential titles would include “Addicted to moderation: One woman’s adherence to balance.”  I’ve been avoiding obvious blunders like the plague for as long as I can remember.  I figure enough crap happens that I have no control over…I have plenty to fill up my ’embarrassing story’ bank.

I need for no more. But-

I’ve gone ahead and done something wild.  Truly flies in the face of all logic.  It’s unlike me.  Maybe 43 is the year I really start to lose my grip on reason. I told my kids yesterday that this is probably the 2nd craziest decision I’ve made on purpose.  This was a huge decision.  They asked me what the craziest one was and I said, “Get married to a human.”  They rolled their eyes. I reminded them I loved Daddy but it was by far the single largest and most important decision I’ve ever made.  And now this.

So…(drumroll please) This happened.  Grover. He happened.

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We adopted him today.  I have a purse dog and I don’t have any clue what I’m doing. I ordered a book from Amazon on Yorkies.  It arrived the same day as Grover. Praise God for 2 day shipping.

I bought something called “Beef Fritatta” for him to eat.  I’m not kidding.

I went to Home Goods and bought a pet bed.  I literally had to whisper out loud to myself “The dog bed doesn’t need to be a fashion accessory.  You don’t need a chevron dog bed. Just pick something. Anything.”  Also, they sold Isaac Mizrahi designer printed bags for poop.  I don’t feel like I should pay extra for gift wrapped poop.  I resisted.

My son has already asked if we can buy him a sweater for Halloween and dress him up. Sure. What dog who has been rescued doesn’t love some fool dressing them up?  It’s not like he already has suffered enough humiliation growing up in a puppy mill.

Now, I’m not a huge dog person.   I’ve loved just two dogs in my life.  Snoopy was my childhood dog.  A hyperactive Brittany Spaniel.  My parents got Snoopy as a puppy to soften the blow of me getting a brother.  My mother readily admits it was not ideal to have a 4 year old, a newborn, and a puppy all being needy and helpless at the same time.  They let me name her (since they wouldn’t let me name my brother) and Snoopy was the only dog name I knew (Hey-I was 4!).  My poor dad would take her duck hunting and when others called out for Thor and Duke and Bandit and Maximus-he had to yell, “Snoopy, Bird down!”  That is me and Snoopy below. 8th grade. I can tell the year because of the unfortunate “I should totally get bangs!” idea.  See. Spontaneity-never pays.

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The only other dog I’ve ever loved was named Clyde.  Clyde, the massive black lab who belonged to some dear friends, was trained to play until you simply said “Game Over” and then he would sit and gaze at you with wisdom in his eyes.  He has his own theme song, “Clyde, clyde, the best dog in the world.”

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So, I’m not super keen on the dog thing.  I mean I’ve just recently trained 3 people to not eat things off the carpeting or pee on the floor and yet I find myself taking in something that will surely do both of the above and I can’t take away screen time as punishment.  I surely must be losing it.

The kids have been working on me for some time.  When I got pregnant with #3…my son said, “I want a boy. It has to be a brother.  If it isn’t a brother, I’d rather just have a dog.” That was 7 years ago and while he did get his brother, he hasn’t forgotten about the dog.

Then 3 years ago my two oldest children participated in something school called “The Principals Challenge.” It’s a summer challenge aimed at having kids keep up on reading/writing/math and if they complete The Trifecta (and they did because I cracked the proverbial whip ALL summer) they have lunch with the principal and get a gift card for the book fair.  The challenge requires each kid to write 6 stories.  At the end of the summer we had 12 original stories.  When I went to compile them for submission I realized there was a theme. 8 of them were about getting a dog, finding a dog, wanting a dog, dogs talking to other dogs, dreaming about a damn dog.

So why now?  Good question.  It’s the fault of the baby.  The baby is no longer a baby.  He said just two days ago, “Is it a thing now that people keep forgetting that I am six AND A HALF!?” Then a chain of events…One friend kept posting pictures of rescue dogs. Another friend knew of this specific rescue organization she knew and trusted (underdogrescuemn) This rescue organization was having a foster dog event 5 miles from my house. We went.  My two oldest sat in a pen filled with dogs that were in foster care.  I knew it the minute they set foot in there it was going to happen. Their eyes glassed over with happiness.  We talked to Grovers foster parent.  She said all the right things. AT the event was another friend from college I haven’t seen in 20 years. She works for the organization and is the one in charge of this breed of dog for adopting. She said all the right things. Except for the fact her own dog just had a $2700 surgery. I’m ignoring that.  Everything else she said was reassuring. Dog kismet.

It was meant to be.  I can’t even believe it.

I am not a dog person. Yet.  I’m very much a people person.  And my people?  These people. They neeeeeeeed a dog.  Badly.  So Grover it is.  Honestly, I couldn’t even live with myself if they don’t have this experience.

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend but dog is mans best friend.

If this doesn’t go well, next time I’m getting a diamond the same carat weight as Grover.

Ooooooooooh he is pretty darling though.

Help.Me.

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