Sunday, August 25, 2013

I'm a Better Teacher Now That I Have Kids

I'm a better teacher now that I have kids. 

I realize now that it's a little funny typing that sentence--because of course I've had "kids" as long as I've been teaching. My kids. The kids in my classes. 

But that's not the same thing as having your own kids. And that simple realization is something that has come to me only after holding my own red, wrinkly babies in my arms. 

No, those kids at school aren't really my kids at all. They are merely lent to me for a brief period--yet I have the potential to have a powerful impact on their lives. 

If you'd asked me before the days of pregnancy, I might have said that I knew what my students needed. And, to a degree, I did. I knew what they needed to become better readers, to become better writers. I knew what things were like for me as a student, knew what I liked about classes I'd attended, knew what motivated me, what annoyed me, and my goal was to replicate all the wonderful things about courses I'd taken and to leave out the bad--to bring that experience to my students. 

But what I didn't know was what it was like to be the parent of a student, and I hadn't seen my students in their weakest, most vulnerable moments like their parents had.

I had no idea what it could be like to put your whole world onto a yellow bus and hope that the driver would be safe, that the kids on the bus wouldn't be like the kids I remember on my bus. I had no idea what it would be like to turn away from the bus and realize tears are streaming down my face, no idea what it would be like to continue to cry the whole way back to the house, while all I could think about is how my oldest baby is in the hands of adults I don't know. I had no idea what it would feel like to cling to the 2 year old in my arms as I watch the rickety bus head down the road.

I didn't know what it was like to help a child with her homework. I never imagined those nights of scrambling to fit it all in, homework, snack, play, activities, a bath, reading before bed...Honestly, I had very little sympathy for kids--and their parents--when they didn't have my assignments done. I never imagined the crying, the emotions, when a child can't do an assignment perfectly (or doesn't want to do it at all). Now I know better.

I didn't know how much--how incredibly much--I'd appreciate an organized homework folder, with a spot for communication with the teacher, a spot for returned papers, a spot to send papers in. How I'd have organized my classes differently if I'd only known what  a lifeline this could be for a mommy trying to keep up with the child who's separated from her for most of the day! I teach high schoolers, and my oldest is just starting 2nd grade, but I now realize how much it helps parents--parents of any age--if they just understand how things are working. It's security. It's giving the student and parents a sense of what is happening. 

I knew a routine was important...but I didn't know how important. I didn't realize how hunger or lack of sleep could affect a kid's ability to think and behave like a human being. (I didn't understand how these things could affect a mommy's ability to think, either!) 

I didn't really comprehend the power I had to build students up or tear them down. I didn't realize that all those little anecdotes I would share in class would come home with students, be shared around a dinner table, among siblings. And I don't think I ever realized my name was being mentioned daily in houses around the community. 

I didn't realize that an award I gave a student could inspire them to work five times harder all summer long. I can only imagine the power that a negative comment or a mark on student writing might have had over the years. 

And even though I always knew every kid is different, it wasn't until I had two very different kids of my own that I really understood the gravity of those differences.

When I have my own classroom full-time again next year, I go back knowing that I'm better prepared to teach the kids that other parents share with me--and so much of my confidence comes from my sweet little girls and the lessons they have taught me.   

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hours of Entertainment: A Shoebox TV

This activity is something I read about in some book YEARS ago when I was a kid. So--full disclosure--I did not come up with the idea myself. Like most ideas I ever had, I swiped this from somewhere else and forgot where it came from.

So, of course, my kids feel as though I've been holding out on
them and that I should explain why I hadn't already made it with them, like, a long time ago. Well, friends, I've been holding out on you, too, so here's how you do it, with step-by-step photos and adorable kid models. (My kids, of course. Who else did you think I'd get to do this?) And since we're in full disclosure mode, you should know that the pictures were hard to take, because Olivia refused to put on any clothes. So, for her...only one measly head shot.
How to Do It
It's simple enough that I could explain it in a paragraph paired with a picture, I guess. I used pencils, tape, scissors, newspaper, and a shoe box. I cut up the comics from the newspaper and made my own shoebox television for my Barbie dolls. The "show" is reminiscent of the film strips you other old people used to watch in school...there's a roll of "story" and some scrolling that has to be done with the pencils, which are lodged in holes that you poke in the cardboard shoebox. It entertained me for hours when I was a kid. 
Here you can see the shoebox with a rectangle cut out to make a "screen." We punched holes in the top and bottom of the box with scissors and inserted unsharpened pencils. This was before we attached the "films" the girls designed.
The box from the front and Olivia's favorite new toy, Lamby.

Creating Your Own Story Pages
Not to be outdone, Rosemary has to make every idea better than mine, so she elected to create her own movie to scroll across the screen. That and we didn't have any comics in our house when I introduced the-best-idea-that-I-withheld-from-my-children-for-way-too-long (i.e. this little TV project).
We used regular computer printer paper and cut it in half horizontally, then just taped the half-sheets of paper together to make super long paper that could be rolled up. 
Rosemary creating her film...a masterpiece.

Olivia ended up drawing a lamb multiple times. Sorry...I couldn't get a good pic of her face. It's hard to photograph a naked child.

Look! I made the cast for Rosemary's movie. Better work on my Oscar acceptance speech...
And this one, just because it makes me smile.

Putting Your TV Together
To get the "film" up  on the screen, take the pencils out of the box. Carefully tape the end of your super long paper to the side of one pencil that will go in the box, then roll up the paper on that pencil. Then just tape the remaining end of the paper roll to the other pencil. 
See? Put tape on the side of the paper. Then roll it up. You will have to attach the papers with tape on both pencils. Voila! Homemade "film strip".
Then, still being careful, put the ends of the pencils back in the holes in the box.

Here's what it looks like once the pencils have been put back in their right places. Set the box down on the erasers so you don't scratch your floor. Spin the nubs sticking out of the top to move your film forward and rewind when you're finished.

"Performing" the Story
Oh, and not to be copycats, the girls refused to use simple-minded dolls for their TV "performances". This meant their daddy and me sitting in absolute anticipation while they both scrolled through every inch of the 8-page "movies" that I'd just watched them spend 2 hours making, and sometimes Olivia doing interpretive dance in the background. And it meant clapping afterwards, of course. Lots of clapping.
Showing off her hard work. Olivia was present, but still not pictured. You know why.
They are pretty sure they're going to work on their movie careers next. Olivia is a little disappointed that they didn't get a real movie made by the end of the day, but there's always tomorrow...By then she better have on some clothes.
The finished product!

What have you taught your kids to make on a rainy day? Share it in the comments!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hey Kid

Hey kid,
if you think it would be a good idea to ruin vacation
by peeing on the hotel room floor
in a passive aggressive 4-year-old version of F-you
and then call it an "accident"--
it wouldn't.

Hey kid,
if you think it would be lots of fun for everyone
if you attempt another all-nighter--
for us to to spend what should be resting hours
watching you kick your feet up in the air
so the bed sheets in the hotel room are like a parachute
while you chant, "I cannot go to sleep! I cannot go to sleep!"--
think again.

For the love of God, be quiet, kid.
Hotel rooms aren't cheap, and we all need some rest.
And without some rest, you're gonna be even worse tomorrow.
Stop roaring your terrible roars, 
gnashing your terrible teeth, 
rolling your terrible eyes, 
and BE STILL. 

What would Sarah say? 
You remember Sarah, kid? The lady we met on the playground?

She's the lady with the New Jersey accent, 
the one who seems to think we're staying on a real cruise ship,
instead of in a hotel that sort of looks like a ship,
and she's staying in the hotel room next door.
She's the lady who just about knocked me down on the playground 
so she could confirm whether or not I was Born Again 
in the first 5 minutes that she met me, 
told me how lucky you kids are that I'm a teacher 
so I can help you with your homework, 
but that I should send you to a Christian school, 
then she said "God Bless You" before she left, 
probably to go pray somewhere--

You know her voice. 
She's the one who keeps barking at her grandkids so loudly at 11pm 
while I'm trying so incredibly (incredibly) hard 
not to rip out my own hair
while you're squealing and giggling and rolling around on the 15 pillows that go on the fancy hotel bed...

Kid, you have to be quiet.
Don't get us kicked out. It's our vacation, and I really don't want 
to sleep in the minivan.
And Sarah would certainly not approve of that.
You're already slated to go to public school, which might explain why you're turning into a heathen.

Hey kid, 
Why don't you listen? Just a little bit?

I could talk to the hotel walls, 
covered in striped wallpaper 
and prints of steamboats hung in plastic gold frames;
I could talk to the bleached white towels 
or the little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, or all-natural body lotion; 
the cleansing facial soap;
I could talk to the sheets on the bed; the hair dryer attached to the wall, the refrigerator hidden in the armoire, the Gideon Bible in the empty drawer.
(And Lord knows I could go over and talk to Sarah again.)
I'm starting to think I'd have a better shot at getting any of them to listen. 

But I'm scared they'd answer back and start telling me stories of what they'd seen, 
and when other people peed on the floor in this very room, probably just last week.
They might tell me about all the illicit things that had taken place here, 
but right now, all I know is that what you're doing in this room is NOT okay. 

You aren't being the kid I expect you to be.
And, really, kid, the only one I want to talk to right now is YOU.
I can talk all I want, but--HEY KID--if you won't listen, 
I'm wasting the little bit of energy I have left.

Come back, kid. Come back from that island 
where the wild things are.
That's no place for a vacation.

I hope Sarah will keep us in her prayers. 
If I put my ear to the wall, I bet I can hear her praying for us. 

Did you go on vacation this year? How'd it go?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Once Upon a Migraine

Once upon a time, there was a princess whose perfect forever indulged sight and senses. She wanted life to be bubbles and homemade applesauce. She imagined days that were the sweetest, coldest watermelon and still warm, fragrant herb bread slathered in butter. Her forever meant sitting on the deck of a cruise ship in Alaska, the wind whipping her hair away from her face, the sun slipping into the water. It meant her lap covered in a warmed flannel blanket, a friendly waiter bringing her warm split pea soup in a mug, polar bears snuggling each other on an iceberg across the glinting water.

Then the princess faced her dragon. She was attacked by a never-relenting migraine headache. There was no sensation, warmth or cold, that could rescue her; all the migraine exorcists in the kingdom had been given the night off, apparently, and must have all gathered at the local pub, singing drunken bar songs that would have, inevitably, hurt her head, anyway. (And, since this is a princess story, they probably would've tried to use leeches to bleed the migraine out, anyway, so isn't it a blessing they were gone?!)

She tried her own remedies. She guzzled coffee, cola, anything with caffeine, hoping that it might ease her pain--to no avail. She covered her eyes with a lavender pillow. It smelled good, but her head still hurt. She submerged herself in a warm bath, praying the pain would abate, but knowing that the migraine would leave her only when it was ready. In a last, pathetic effort, she downed 2 Tylenol, knowing all the while that she may as well have taken sugar pills. 

She was crippled, dazed, existing in a fog that presented itself to others as consciousness, but the reality was that she had completely lost the ability to think. Her two girls, tiny and demanding princesses in their own right, would ask her questions in a normal voice and it was as if someone had pounded her head repeatedly with a meat tenderizer. Periodically the princess would retreat to the bathroom, turn off all the lights, and sit on the floor, next to the toilet, with the door locked, massaging her temples and hoping for a miracle. Silence, darkness, still no relief. She pressed on, in spite of light that shot needles into her temples as though she were an alien's test subject, mainly because she wanted to keep up the faltering illusion that she was carrying on with her life. 

Her husband, the prince, looked particularly beaten by the migraine, because he knew the princess was rendered helpless and useless as she met her destiny for the next (extra long) 26 hours, which meant he was stuck with many of her princess duties: meal planning, endless child shushing, laundry; this wasn't the first time the dragon had attacked the princess, and this left the prince with his noble vow to help out in sickness and in health. Bummer for him. Bummer for the princess, too. Everyone in the castle was mourning the princess' inability to carry out her duties, even as she went through the motions of carrying them out.

Finally, satisfied it had completely obliterated its host, the dragon moved on.  

When a princess enters the calm after the migraine, she feels light-headed, hung over, like her head was squashed between cinder blocks for well over a day. Everyone in the kingdom is ready for her to assume the normal responsibilities from before she inconvenienced everyone with her migraine, and she is keenly aware of that. They are ready for her to juggle puppies while painting frescos on the castle ceiling again; after all, that IS her job. But she is not ready. Relief has to take its time, too. The princess feels beaten, abused. She is not yet whole. She needs to recover. Sometimes a princess needs a fairy godmother to intervene, even after the dragon goes away.

Bibbity, bobbity, boo, Migraine! Thanks for ruining what could've been a perfectly wonderful day.

They say a mommy never gets a day off...yet sometimes, nature intervenes and there's very little we can do about it. Have you ever had a day like that?


Friday, August 2, 2013

Check me out at It's Fitting!

Today is my first ever guest post! I'd love it if you'd head over to It's Fitting to read my latest.  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mischievous Mondays: A Mischievous Moment Gone WRONG

Help! Somebody get Prince Charming to rescue me! It stinks in here!!

I’m so excited to be co-hosting the Mischievous Mondays blog hop! It doesn’t take a lot of effort to prove my girls are mischievous. You might remember my post about Olivia stealing brown sugar from last week. 

Here’s a mischievous moment that repeats itself over and over around here: Rosemary writes the script for a prank in her mind before she actually pulls the prank.  She plans to stuff her daddy’s shoes with princess figurines so that when he goes to put them on…Whoa, Nellie! Princess figurines in Daddy’s shoes so his feet won't fit. Absolutely hilarious. This is pranking awesomesauce. She can’t hold it in any longer. She tells Olivia. They are now prankster partners. They plot and plan for a good 7 minutes. There is giggling, whispering, secrets.

Then just a little more time passes and it gets quiet. Quiet is never a good thing.

Olivia goes straight to the shoes, alone and armed with princess figurines. She’s loading the shoes herself. She lugs the dirty Newbalance sneakers, now full of plastic Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, into the kitchen. They land with a thud on the floor,  right at her daddy’s feet. “Try on your shoes, Daaaaaaaddy,” she says with a singsong voice, an evil grin on her face.

She turns, walks back to her sister, and smirks, “I gave Daddy the shoes, Sissy. He’s putting them on right now!” A moment of pure, unadulterated wickedness.

Rosemary cries big, fat tears. She does the ugly cry. Her plan is foiled. “Olivia ruins EVERYTHING!” she wails. She cries for 20 good minutes while I say "I know" a lot. Olivia is still jumping around, satisfied. I send her away just so Rosemary doesn't have to look at her.

Finally, I give up and put them in the bath. By now, everything just feels…dirty. Baths wash away the most mischievous of moments.

By tomorrow, it will all be down the drain, and they'll be plotting together again. 

For more mischievous moments from other moms, check out some of the links below! Then check back later, because there will be even more links.
Mischievous Monday Blog Hop

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Classified Ads

For sale:

Tiny house with one postage stamp-sized bathroom. 

Pantry not included. Dining room not included. House has a door to the back yard inside the closet in the master bedroom, which is convenient if you want to take guests through your entire house, including your bedroom and closet, so they can get to the back yard. 

So, if you have guests, don’t plan on hiding any of your mess in your bedroom or your closet, either. Basically, you should just plan to either keep things mess-free or plan on being embarrassed repeatedly.

Home lacks pool and hot tub. No sauna.

Would gladly leave lots of junk (read: “treasure”) inside for new owner to possess as his/her own upon closing.

House contains lots of happy memories. Someone else owns the cows that come up to the fence in the back yard, which means they're maintenance-free pets. 

All child and pet vomit has been previously removed by owner…multiple times.

Purchase price is negotiable, but should be enough to cover the home described in the wanted ad below.

Trash pick-up is on Wednesdays. Those guys will wave at you if you look out the window each week at 8am.


Bigger house.

Home should have a pantry the size of a grocery store. Or, really, just a normal size. Whatever.

Should also have miles of granite counter tops in the kitchen, and must have a dining room. And what you’re thinking is wrong. You’re about to say, “But we never eat in our dining room, anyway. You don’t want one of those. Nobody eats in their dining room.” Oh, yes. Yes, I do want one. If it means more space, I want it. I am tired of having to move junk off the tiny table that doubles as our counter/cooking preparation area and onto the washer every time I want to sit down and have a cup of coffee.

Non-negotiable requirement:  another bathroom, and even better yet—an additional 2 or 3. This way, every single time I have to pee, there might not automatically be somebody banging on the door and whining, “But I had to peeeeeeeeee, Mommy! Why do you always go when I have to gooooooooo?” All bathrooms must have working locks on the doors.

While I’m at it, I’d also like a kid-free room I can call my study, with books on built-in bookshelves all the way to the ceiling, a leather chair, and a fireplace. There should be a location for stashing Cheez-its, chocolate, and wine.

Also desired: double sinks; a whirlpool tub; crown molding in every room. Loads of bedrooms for kids and guests.

Could I also have a gardener for all lawn maintenance? 

Would like an outdoor fireplace and pool house. Oh, and a pool and a hot tub would be great. Breakfast nook should overlook the pool, fountains, and gardens.

I would love to set up the house with bells, so the servants downstairs could come up when I want them, then disappear back downstairs when they’re dismissed. Oh, and have I mentioned that I will be needing servants? They can live in the crawl space for free.

Or, better yet, I’d like to introduce self-cleaning elements to my home. I mean, this is 2013. I want my home to have up-to-date self-cleaning technology.

I want a playroom in its own wing of the house. That room will be soundproofed and should be completely self-cleaning.

I’d also like self-cleaning floors, and the appliances could just keep us fed and clean. 

So, basically, I want to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast before the servants turned into real people. How much does an enchanted castle run these days?  

If your home meets all these requirements, please let me know immediately. Feel free to contact me in the comments area below.

photo credit: Images_of_Money via photopin cc 
photo credit: spablab via photopin cc

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sugared Up

The Costco bag of brown sugar was gaping open, and it was empty almost all the way to the bottom.

Every time I see that bag when I’m looking through the cabinet for a jar of tomato sauce, popcorn, beans, I always think, “I need to buy one of those ‘brown sugar bears’ so every bag of brown sugar won’t transform into huge rocks.” Somebody asks for cinnamon toast for breakfast, and I cringe. I don’t want to scrape sugar off the top of the mass that is now our Costco bag of sugar. I’m obligated to do it until I use up this bag, but I don’t want to do it.  
This is part of the reason I thought it was odd that the bag was open.  Nobody ever touches that bag of rock-hard sugar but me.

The other reason is because my husband typically buys his own little bag of brown sugar when he feels a need to add it to barbecue sauce. (Does your husband do that, too? Purchase special ingredients every time when he cooks, whether you have the stuff at home or not? Because he “can’t remember” if we have any, but what comes home for special cooking projects always seems to be name brand and not on sale?)

Anyway, I was cooking, so I grabbed a can of black beans, closed up the industrial-sized bag of brown sugar, and moved on.

I finished what I was doing, and 30 minutes later, I was sitting in the living room on my couch. I was just settling into vegetation mode when I heard a rattling in the kitchen…cabinets knocking, the crinkling of plastic. The crinkling went on for awhile.

“Olivia? Rosemary? Who’s in there?” I half expected to have to chase the dog away from the trash can again. I never noticed anybody go into the kitchen...

Finally, Olivia came out and stood in the doorway, her mouth full—FULL—of huge chunks of brown sugar. “Hi, Mommy,” she croaked, her cheeks full of the stuff. She still had some in her hand. And somehow, even with her cheeks full, she was grinning.

The grin on her face…that grin

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You look like you just stole cookies from the cookie jar.” That’s the look she had. It’s the face that means, “I just got a whole handful of brown sugar, and it’s in my belly now, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” It’s the face that says, “I've totally been playing you on the brown sugar, Mama. And if you turn your head, I’m totally doing it again in 5 minutes.” 

Let me just say, when I figured out what she was doing, I wasn’t sweet. Pun intended. I will save you from the details of yet another exasperated mama mean...parenting opportunity.

But I assure you--I moved the sugar.

One day, that kid is going to be a Mama herself. And I predict that she's going to have her own secret stash of brown sugar and a spoon, and that she will pull it out when nobody is looking, probably in the same way I pull out my stash of chocolate in those desperate moments.

And her kid is going to find her stash. Because this future grandma may or may not show the kid where it is and how to grab a great big handful.

Do you have a little sneak at your house, too?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Happy and Messy

Not my house. Because you knew I wasn't posting that on here, right? 

“So what do Mom and Dad say about us, then? Our family?” I ask my sister. We’re talking about our parents and their opinions about everybody in the family again, and I start to wonder what they’ve said about me. “Oh, you? They don’t have to worry about you.  They say you’re happy. Happy and messy.” I guess that’s about right. We are happy. And no denying it. We’re messy.

And I guess I wouldn’t prefer sad and neat. Cold and efficient. No, that’s not how I want my life to be.
But I wish I wasn’t so messy. I wish I could transform my space into the pictures I see in magazines, the spaces that so many of my friends have, the ones you, readers, probably have…where there are not toys all over the place, big plastic boxes in the hallway because I need to readjust my storage space in the garage to make room, cluttered mountains wherever there used to be surfaces, miles of laundry piled everywhere. I think I remember, when we moved into this house, that there used to be some counter space.  I wish I didn’t run out of room in my drawers, then start storing clean, folded clothes on top of the dresser, that every flat surface didn’t become a clutter magnet, that any spot in any drawer wouldn’t end up full of something, bulging, stretched until I need a bigger space. I wish I automatically cleaned things up—the kitchen, the laundry—without getting sidetracked and getting behind on everything.

I wish that when somebody called to say they were dropping something off at my house, I didn’t immediately respond with heart palpitations, anxiety, and self-loathing. Seriously—if you want to drop by, you really need to give me a week’s notice, or just pretend you’re in a hurry and have to leave it at the end of my driveway. Because no matter what, I’m going to be totally mortified that you’ve seen our mess and my inability to take control of it.

My house needs to go on a diet. I’ve never watched the show Hoarders because I’m afraid it will hurt my feelings, so please…in the comments…please, please don’t mention Hoarders. I don’t watch it because I am hoping that my space doesn’t belong on it. And if it does, I certainly don’t want to know about it. And know that there aren’t gross things in my house like I hear about on that show...Rat feces, bugs, that sort of thing. There may be more dirt than I'd like, but there are no infestations of anything, although people do keep holding the door open and letting flies in lately. It’s just that that sitting in a room in my house might give you a headache because we have too much stuff for the amount of room allotted to us in our little house.

Right now, while typing this, I’m worrying about the comments. And about what you’re thinking about me. I so want to hide my mess. If you are judging me for this description of my mess, please don’t post it here. Just lie to me and tell me your house is messy, too. Because it’s an emotional issue for me, and sending me to a personal organizer is not enough to fix it. And I’m already a Fly Lady failure. I mean, my sink isn’t even shiny now. And today’s Saturday. I have absolutely no excuse. A shrink? More likely to help, but only after years of sessions.  

My dad’s solution was to build extra storage buildings for his excessive stuff. He went so far as to measure the plastic boxes and build shelves tailor-made to fit those plastic boxes. Somehow, if you organize the ridiculous things you choose to keep forever, it makes things seem better, I guess.

But I don’t want to build new buildings to store more plastic boxes. Not ever.

I look through my girls’ books on their bookshelf. Get rid of some of these, I say. Then they pull out a book and toss it carelessly to the side, and my heart breaks. I remember holding Rosemary, pudgy, big-cheeked, squeezable, lovable, big-eyed, curious, golden-haired Rosemary, while we flipped those pages. We flipped those same pages hundreds of times. I can’t let go of that book. She’s tossing it to the side, ready to let go—and I want to hold on. Forever.  Not that one! Oh, and not the other one over there, either. I remember that one, too…But there’s no more room on our bookshelves, Mama, she says. 

I want to make room. There has to be room. So I stack it horizontally, across the other books. There’s space up there. I can fit this book if I put it that way.

Once, I let her fill a box and I gave those books away. I didn’t let myself look in the box. And I still worry about those books, and if any of them were ones that were really special.

So I’m happy and messy. But not really happy about the mess. And not ready to give up the mess, either.

How do you manage your emotional ties to things?

photo credit: sindesign via photopin cc