From The Little Gym To The Big College

Today Sean and I are heading to a local community college so that he can take a math test which, if he passes, will allow him to do more challenging math type stuff this coming school year, which if my calculations are correct, is 4th grade.  (GULP!)

The reason Sean is taking a math test at a college campus instead of an elementary school, where 4th grade is generally located, is because through a red-tape snafu accounting error — or his mom wasn’t on top of the calendar — we missed the deadline for the spring testing.  And so, because we, meaning me, missed the deadline, Sean now has to take a math test in a college testing center with college people who have beards and cars, of which he has neither.  And there is more good news!  Sean’s mother has to pay $100 to have the test proctored instead of $18.  If ever there is an opportunity to pay more money for something – sign me up!

So as you can see, Sean not only has to be super smart at math, he has to develop a lot of other skills to offset the ineptitude of his mother.  But that will serve him well in life, because that’s pretty much how the world works.  So there’s that.

As I’m getting ready for this big day, for some reason I’m thinking back on when Sean was like two, and I felt like I had to sign him up for activities, because all the other moms and kids did activities, and I desperately wanted to do this mothering thing right and all I really knew about mothering was that I didn’t know ANYthing about it and therefore I should see which fork the other moms used for salad and do that.  But the fact of the matter was this, all we both really wanted to do was stay home and play on the floor in the den and pretend and read books.

So in an effort to do it right, I signed him up for a class at a little gym type place and I paid $100 or something ridiculous like that.  And every week I would take him, and he would not want to go, and I would not want to go, but I paid $100 dangit, so we went. And he would want to play with the water fountain, but he did not want to run under the parachute that was flapping up and down and he did not want to swing from the tiny little pull up bar.  And I would spend all my time trying to keep him out of the water fountain and redirecting him back to parachute (all for the low low price of $100!!). It was a great workout FOR ME.

And I was sort of blind to the fact that we were different, Sean and I.  We were happy doing our own thing just the two of us and the little gym thing made us both a little cranky when we were supposed to be having an Instagram moment.

So now I’m nine years into this gig, and once again, I’ve paid $100 for him to do something and at times in the past few weeks, I’ve had to push him to prepare for this test when he’d rather play on the iPad, and I’ve wondered if maybe this is one of those “little gym” scenarios.  Maybe he doesn’t want to run under the parachute, maybe it’s me who wants to run under the parachute.

I don’t think so, I think he wants this.  But we’ll see.  I’ll be waiting outside the testing center.  Near the water fountain, just in case.

Whining Is Not A Strategy

There is an old saying that we all know:  The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

In other words, those who complain the loudest and the longest and in the most annoying repetitious way possible —  get what they want.  Except from me, then no, they get nothing.

My policy is this:  I don’t negotiate with terrorists or toddlers. Or those who behave as such.

At the House of Antique, if you are whining, the answer is automatically NO.  If you continue whining, you will get the Antique Mommy fish eye, which has been known to stop a charging rhino in it’s tracks.  And if you still insist on whining, well let’s just hope you’ve got your salvation plan worked out.

It would seem that whining is built into children, as a survival mechanism, as all children try it out at one time or another.  Which, now that I analyze that, it would appear as though I am devoid of the instinct to see to the survival of my child.  Yet?  So far, so good.

Some people are gifted in their ability to tune out annoying noise, and those people become teachers.  I can’t think or have a conversation if the TV is blaring, and the leaf blower makes my eardrums ache.  But I would take 1000 leaf blowers over one 40-pound child whining PleasepleasepleasePLEEEEEaaaasssee-PUH-leeeze-Uh!

Sean is a super bright boy and he figured out early on that whining and saying “please” in various intonations four hundred times in a row was not going to work with me.  I think he tried it out once or twice, and after he fully recovered from the sting of the fish eye, he moved on in search of other more civilized candy-getting tactics.  Back in the day, when he was my grocery store boyfriend, we’d pass a kid who was whining and he’d just keep licking his Tootsie Pop and shake his head as if to say, “Whining – what an unsophisticated strategy.”

Last year, I was doing a project in Sean’s classroom and this one particularly energetic boy jumped out of his seat and ran up to me and started jumping up and down waving his hand in my face (which is a good way to lose a hand) and started in with the PickmePickmePleasePleasePleeeeeezPrettyPleasePickMe!  Sean came to my rescue (or maybe he came to the boy’s rescue) and nudged him and quietly said, “Dude.  She won’t respond to that.  If you’re whining the answer is automatically no.”

I gave the boy a my crazy lady half smile-half fish eye and he slunk back to his seat.

Jackets Lost And Found

So far we have had two chilly mornings.  So far Sean has worn a jacket to school two times. So far Sean has lost two jackets.

So this morning, as he put on his 3rd and final jacket, I said to him that his first order of business today was to locate the other two jackets.

“Mom,” he said, “If the jackets are not claimed within so many days they give them to someone who does not have a jacket.”

“Sean,” I said, “That someone without a jacket may be you if you don’t come home with your jackets.”

And I was not kidding.  I am a big proponent of Love & Logic parenting. If he comes home with no jackets today, tomorrow he will be mighty chilly as he walks to school.

After seven years of parenting, I have yet to discover how to teach this child to keep track of his stuff.  I have tried to teach him that when you do not return things to their proper place, they become lost.  When you just put things down wherever you are done with them, they are not in their proper place and therefore — become lost.  When you do not put mommy’s scissors back in her desk, the proper place of scissors, they are not there when mommy wants to use them, and they become lost.  And that makes the vein in mommy’s neck bulge just a little.

The constant losing of stuff is a source of aggravation to me for two reasons.  1) It somehow becomes my job to find or replace the lost stuff, usually at the very inconvenient 11th hour and 2) I am not now, nor have I ever been, one to lose stuff.  I obsessively keep track of my stuff.

I grew up with not a lot and if I lost my stuff, I would have been transferred from the “grew up with not a lot” category into the “grew up with nothing” category.  There just wasn’t any getting more stuff.  Period.  Papa Ed and Vivian practiced Love & Logic out of necessity, long before it was a parenting philosophy, long before people said stuff like “parenting philosophy”.

Last fall, Sean lost his jacket the very first day he wore it.  It was a very distinctive beige and black plaid jacket that I loved that someone had handed down to us.  I had an inexplicable sentimental attachment to that jacket — probably because when he wore it with the hood pulled up, all I could see was my own 1st grade face and that melts my heart like butter on a hot waffle.

At any rate, several times a week I would go up to the school and rifle through the lost and found box of MIA lunch boxes, jackets and water bottles looking for that jacket.  And let me tell you, that is not an especially pleasant job.  That lost and found box falls into the category of “smells not that great.”

Finally I gave the jacket up for lost, grieved it and went to the resale store and bought him a bright orange jacket for $5.  I figured that maybe he would be less likely to lose an orange jacket, and if he did, I was only out $5.

But then in the spring time, when it warmed up, Sean came home with the brown and black plaid jacket.  Which was now too small.   I could never get clear how the jacket resurfaced, if Sean checked the box again and there it was or if at the end of the year, some kind soul looked through the box and saw his name in the jacket and returned it to him.   If the jacket could talk, I’d ask where in the heck it had been all year.

And maybe the jacket would say he went home to spend a season with a little boy who was growing up with not a lot.

School Dazed

The last time I wrote here, Sean and I were coming to the end of his of first grade year of school.  I say “Sean and I”  because, really, it was not just his first grade – it occupied a large share of my time and my thinking and my emotional space too.  It was my first grade experience by proxy; a much needed do-over of sorts for me.

It seemed to me that first grade would be a pivotal point in Sean’s academic career.  In that first school year, he would either decide school was a good thing or not a good thing, and it would have everything to do with his teacher.

I had a sour, joyless and surly nun for first grade named Sister Edwina.  I decided early on in that first grade year that school was an exercise in misery.  That’s a rotten way for a six-year-old to spend seven hours of a day, hating it.  Thereafter, I pretty much hated school and I was a cruddy student with a cruddy attitude and the grades to prove it.  All that changed when I was 30 and became a professional student, but I don’t want that for Sean.

For Sean, I wanted a teacher who would make him toe the line in terms of behavior, as we do at home. I wanted a teacher who would appreciate his creativity.  I wanted a teacher who would not allow him to get away with doing the least, as he is wont to do.  I wanted a teacher who wanted to be a teacher, whose nature it was to be happy.  And, as important as anything else, I wanted a teacher who would not make me feel like “that mom” or a big fat bother any time I had a question or an issue.

We got the teacher for which we prayed. She was Sean’s advocate, and for me, she was an encourager and adviser and even a friend.  It was a terrific first grade year that came and went in a flurry of papers and projects and lunches and parties and jackets lost and found.

And now, here we are at the top of the second grade school year and I’m still having trouble saying second grade instead of first grade and Ms. W. instead of Ms. S.  And by the grace of God and the awesome ladies who run the school, Sean was assigned a second grade teacher who is picking up right where the first grade teacher left off and we are off and running on our way to another exciting write-it-all-down-in-your-diary kind of school year.

One of my favorite quotes is that education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire, and thus far, all of Sean’s teachers have been pyromaniacs.  May it ever be so.  I’m sure it won’t ever be so, but may it ever be so at least until his learning spirit can’t be easily broken.

The other morning, Sean got up and got dressed for school and came to the breakfast bar for the most important meal of the day.  I asked him if he had had any dreams.  He said he knows that he has dreams, but that he never remembers them.

I stood on the other side of the bar wringing a dish towel in my hands for no reason and watched him eat his toast.  I noticed the jelly marking the corners of his mouth and how he is still unable to resist the urge to use his shirt for a napkin.  In the haze of a morning-minded fog, I saw not a long-legged soccer-playing second-grader, but my kindergartner, the one I could still carry on my hip, the one I picked up from school at 1pm and took with me to the grocery store in the afternoon.

“As soon as I open my eyes,” he said, “the dreams rush out of my mind, like the tide, and I can’t catch them.”

I loved how he said that, loved the imagery.

I thought about how that is exactly how it is with each passing school year – dream like and slow motion and mixed up when you’re in the middle of it, and then before you know it,  it rushes away and you can’t hold onto it.   And when you look back, even from a short distance, you don’t really remember it.

You just know it was.


excels at soccer, second grade and being seven

Why There Are No 1st Graders In The Secret Service

As he walked towards me, I could see that something wasn’t right.

That is not to say that I saw anything unusual, but my momtennae went up. There was something about his posture and his expression, something that telegraphed that all was not well.

His hair was a crazy mess.  Nothing unusual about that.

He had a red popsicle ring around his mouth which matched the red splotches on the front of his t-shirt, also not so very unusual.

I took his backpack from him and slung it over my shoulder.

“Hi dude! How was your day?” I asked as we turned and walked towards the car.

“Okay,” he said unconvincingly.  I noticed the spring in his step was missing.  He did not run off and play tag with the other kids as he usually does.

Instead, he heaved a heavy sigh and watched the ground pass under his feet as he walked.

I decided not to push it and instead wait to see what he would offer.

He reached up and grabbed my hand as we walked along.

I looked at his fingers interlacing mine – dirty jagged nails, scraped knuckles, long slender fingers, red and sticky with popsicle and marker and who knows what all else.

I reflected back to the days when those same hands would reach up for my face as I cradled him and gave him his bottle.  He would gaze into my eyes as though he were trying to figure me out and play with my chin as he slurped and gnawed on the bottle.

When we got to the car, he confessed.

“Actually Mom,” he said, “I had a bad day.  A reeeeeallly bad day.”

“Oh no,” I consoled, “Tell me about it.”

And he did.

He told a friend at school a secret, that he liked a certain girl in another class. The so-called friend didn’t keep the secret, but blurted it to everyone instead.

The bandwagon was a 1956 Chrysler, big and wide, with room for everyone in the 1st grade class, save one little boy named Conor.  There was chanting and teasing.  He said he started crying, so he pulled his sweatshirt up over his face.  He said he cried because he was embarrassed.  I don’t know exactly how it all played out but the teacher sent Sean and Conor for a slow walk around the school while she chatted with the class.

We sat in the car and talked about what happened for a long time.  As painful as it was for Sean, for me it was a gift – a golden opportunity to talk about trust and compassion and other important things, all wrapped up in a real life experience.

We talked about the importance of trust, of figuring out who you can trust and the importance of being someone who can be trusted. I told him that at school, at least, if you don’t want everybody to know everything, don’t tell anybody anything.  I told him that first graders are notorious blabbers and that’s why there are no 1st graders in the Secret Service.

We talked about compassion, about how it felt to be teased and what a good and noble thing it was for Conor to choose not join in the teasing.  I told him Conor’s mom and dad could be very proud of him and that is exactly how I would want him to respond if someone else was being teased or picked on.

We talked about how sometimes you have to just not care what other people think, that there will always be people who don’t like you or what you are doing and want to make you feel badly about it.  We talked about how you can’t control what others think, you can only control your own response. Although I was quick to admit that that was a hard one, one he might have to work on his whole life if he is anything like his mother.

Then I told him the true story of how one time when I was in 1st grade, I had to go pee, but I was afraid of the nun and too scared to ask to go to the bathroom, so I just pee’d right there in my seat and it puddled on the floor by my desk and ran clear down the row to the back of the room. When the other kids saw it, there was a mighty uproar as they all laughed and made fun of me.

“What did you do?” he asked aghast.

“I cried,” I said as a matter of fact.  “I pulled my shirt up over my head and cried.”

We both laughed about that just a little, because after 45 years, the humiliation has worn off a little bit and it’s kind of funny.

He looked me in the eye and squeezed my hand.  His eyes shone softly with compassion.

“Mom,” he said, “I’m sorry that you pee’d, I mean, you know, that that happened to you.”

“Yeah, thanks buddy,” I said.  And I squeezed his hand back.

And I tried not to cry.

Public School. So Far, So Good.

Sean’s first grade school year is about over and, for the most part, it has been a good year.

Nothing has happened over the course of this year which has made me regret my decision to put Sean in public school.  Which is kind of surprising to me.  I thought there would be something.

So, it looks like we’ll give public school a go again next year.  I say “looks like” because if there is one thing I’ve leaned as a parent, it’s that anything can change at any minute.  The minute I make a decision and plant my feet, it’s highly likely that something is going to change to make me look foolish.

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about how our plan all along, from the day he was born, was to put Sean in private school. But a few weeks before school started we we had not fallen in love with any of the private schools we researched, so we enrolled him in the local elementary school by default.  But not without some trepidation.

One thing that is important to me is that Sean learns how to behave appropriately in public and I wanted a school that would reinforce what we do at home, which is not tolerate uncivilized behavior.  And it seemed to me, at the time, that a private school would do — could do, would have the freedom to do — a better job in this regard.  While Sean is a pretty good boy, I figured that in public school I’d be dealing with the influence of a population of people whose values and parenting philosophy may not necessarily align with my own. Whereas at a private Christian school, that’s really what you are paying for – people and an administration whose philosophy aligns with yours.

Last April, when we were looking at private schools, we attended an end-of-the-year show the kindergarten class at a particular private school put on for the parents.  The admissions counselor invited us suggesting that it might give us a feel for the school.  And boy, did it.  The children stood on risers in their cute little uniforms and sang a variety of songs. Each child had a line to say or sing and it was apparent that they had worked very hard all year on the show.

Unfortunately one little boy in the front mugged and waved and danced around, and shoved and stage whispered to the the kids around him, and was just generally disruptive and acted liked an ass a spoiled brat.  This went on for the entirety of the 45-minute show.  He ruined the program for the other kids and their parents.  Perhaps his tuition-paying parents thought it was cute, I don’t know, but I thought it was terribly unfair to the other kids that no adult stepped in and put the skids to his antics.

Is it unthinkable that a 6-year-old boy would act up and be silly?  No.

Is it unthinkable that at an adult would not correct this child?  Yes.

Had that been Sean being so disruptive, I would have yanked him off the stage by the ear with the intention of inflicting upon him the maximum embarrassment one could possibly experience.   And because I’m just that crazy, I’d probably make him stand up and apologize to the entire room after the show thereby decreasing the odds that it should happen again.  I am a mom who means business when it comes to courtesy.

When the evening was over, and not a minute too soon, I asked Sean what he thought about the show. He shrugged and said it was nice but he noticed that the boy in front was being bad.  I told him I was glad he noticed that because if he ever did anything like that, I’d yank him off the stage so fast his socks would be left behind wondering where he went.  He found the imagery amusing, but he got my point.

After that event, I was soured on the school.  That not one adult corrected this child — not a teacher, not the kid’s parents, not an administrator – indicated to me a top down philosophy that I can’t abide.  That sort of thing ought not slide and I wasn’t going to pay money to a school which allows it.  I don’t buy the whole “boys will be boys” thing.

And then soon after it was August, and we put Sean in public school, and now it’s April again. (sigh)

I thought back on that end-of-the year show when Sean’s 1st grade class presented their musical program for the parents this year.  And to be honest, I was expecting a fair amount of bad behaving kids. For one thing, there are 100 first graders, so the odds of bad behavior rises exponentially just by the numbers and – I just have to say it – its public school.  You might just sort of expect less in the behavior department for a variety of reasons.

But you know what?  Not one kid misbehaved.  Not even a little.

Not one.

Paint me surprised.  Pleasantly surprised.

Will Jupiter Be On The Test?

A week or so back, Sean and I were driving home from somewhere just as the sun was setting and the moon was as big and orange as I have ever seen in my entire life.  It was such a wondrous sight, that I pulled the car over to gaze upon it.

“Wowee Sean!” I exclaimed. “Look at the moon!  That is awesome!”

We rolled back the moon roof and looked up at this giant golden orb that seemed to hang just above our heads and threatened to drop right into the car.

Sean, although impressed, was not as astonished at its magnificence in the same ignorantly blissful manner as I.

“Mom,” he said, “The reason the moon is so orange right now is because of Jupiter.”


“Yes. The moon, as you know, does not generate light on its own but reflects it off nearby planets.  Jupiter is orange and it is close to the moon right now, and that is why the moon looks so big and orange.”

“Yeah.  Sure.  Of course I knew that. Who doesn’t know THAT?”

“How old are you anyway?  Aren’t you supposed to be, like, seven?”

So then, yesterday, when the school sent home a letter saying that if Sean missed any more school this semester a “review” committee might determine that he can’t graduate 1st grade, I laughed out loud.

Yes,  I laughed loud and long.  Right after I smoothed all my ruffled feathers back into place.