The Holiday Shop

If there was one thing I thought I knew about my child it is this:  He cannot keep a secret.

Early in December, Sean brought home a flyer from school announcing the annual Holiday Shop!  I put the exclamation point there so you might know just how thrilled I was with this news.

The flyer reported which classes would visit the Holiday Shop on which days and at what time.  The flyer also stated with vehemence (probably inferred on my part) that there would be NO preview this year and that the vendor was the same as last year and that it was NOT a school fundraiser.  It was totally for-profit crunk selling.

As it turns out, we were not at the school last year, so that information, vehement or otherwise, was not useful to me.

What information I did require was the following:  What in the heck is a Holiday Shop? What kind of holiday crunk is stocked in Ye Olde Holiday Shoppe, and most importantly how much does this crunk cost?  Oh, and hey, what about the kiddos who have no Holiday Shop spending money?  And then the question I always have when it comes to these kinds of extra-curricular events:  Can’t we just do math or phonics instead?

So as usual when faced with a conundrum, I called my friend Jennifer who knows stuff.  She gave me the low-down on the Holiday Shop and a suggested a budget of about $5 to $10.

When I talked to Sean later, I asked him about how much he thought he needed for this shopping spree.  He said about $30.  So I said, how about $5?  He said how about $10?  I said how about I give you $5 and you take $5 out of your bank.  He said, “Deal!” and we shook on it and signed the papers.

Then we had a little chat about how this was Christmas, not Seanmas, and that the purpose of the Holiday Shop was so that he might buy presents for others, and by others I meant People Who Are Not Sean.  Then we had a discussion about fractions and percentages as we negotiated about how much he could spend on himself.

The next day I sent him off to school with his $5 and my $5 expecting the same winning results you might get in Las Vegas.  When he came home from school I asked to see his purchases.  With much pride he showed me the Cowboys pennant he bought for his father and the camouflage-motif pencil he bought for Papa George.  And then he showed me the dog-tag style necklace with a soccer pendant he bought for himself.

“Did you get anything else?” I asked coyly, “Anything for anyone else?”

“Nope,” he said definitively and handed me the $7.25 he did not spend.

I chuckled to myself as I turned his backpack inside out looking for the other gifts. Surely there were other gifts, surely.  But no….

We wrapped the pennant and the pencil and put them under the tree and I thought no more of it because I knew my broken and wounded heart would someday mend.

On Christmas Eve I unwrapped the gifts from my big boyfriend and my little boyfriend — an ornament from Target which I had purchased myself and handed off to big boyfriend for wrapping, and a pair of much-needed slippers which I requested.  No surprises there but much delight all the same.

“Oh, one more thing Mom!” Sean said as he dove under the tree.  He returned with a tiny package, merrily wrapped with a ribbon and secured with a lot of tape.  He handed it to me, glowing, as though it were a jewel he had just plucked from its slumber in the earth.

I couldn’t imagine what it could be but suspected it was something that he had made at school, something with glitter and glue and probably macaroni.

Inside was a pretty little ring with a blue stone that he had purchased at the Holiday Shop.

“Are you surprised Mom? Are you? You thought I forgot you, didn’t you!” he laughed.

“It cost a dollar!” he enthused, then  quickly added, “I’m sorry it’s not a real diamond.”

“I love it,” I said with all honestly.

I slipped it on my finger, adjusted the band for a custom-fit and then held out my hand to admire it.

It was a complete surprise.

It was beautiful.

It pinched my finger.

And my heart.

Pajama Day

The thing about elementary school is that nearly every day is a “special day” of some sort and I can’t keep up.  I find calendars to be sort of a complicated device to begin with, but school calendars are incredibly complicated.

Every week there is at least one “special” day.  It’s Team Day! Wear your favorite football team jersey!  It’s Spirit Day! Wear your school mascot t-shirt!  It’s Story Book Character Day! Dress as your favorite storybook character!  It’s Camouflage Day!  Wear Camo!  (That could just be Texas.)  It’s Baseball Cap Day!  It’s Stuffed Animal Day!  It’s Pajama Day!  We have had Pajama Day at least three times this year.

I don’t get all these special days because I am old.  We did not have special days when I was growing up.  I wore an ugly uniform to school every day and it was a special day if you made it home from school without getting whacked upside the head by Sister Mary Clyde.  Special days are a new invention.

But I go along.  When I remember.  Which is almost never.

So then, the other day I walked Sean to school and when we got there, I noticed that everyone was wearing pajamas.  Except for Sean.  Sean stopped dead in his tracks. “Mom!” he cried in despair looking down at himself as though he were naked, “It’s Pajama Day!”

He heaved a mighty groan.  “I’m supposed to be wearing my pajamas!”  He made the saddest of sad faces and cast his eyes downward in sorrow. He huffed.  That he was not properly attired was my fault.  I am the George Bush of motherhood —  everything is my fault.

“Just tell’em we sleep in our clothes,” I said.  I am a problem solver.

“Mom, you need to bring me my pajamas!”

I shook my head. Nope. No. No way.

I might have gone home for a library book or a forgotten lunch, but not PJ’s.  The fact of the matter is, I’m trying to raise Sean to be the kind of person who does not wear pajamas in public.

He groaned and schlepped into school, making the best of an unbearable situation. It is these kinds of life challenges that will make him into a strong and confident man with coping skills.  Or an insecure teenage girl with fashion issues.

After I dropped off Sean, I made my daily trip to Wal-Mart where I saw a number of adult humans wearing their pajamas.

Everyday is Pajama Day at Wal-Mart.


He Speaks

AD and I think it is important for Sean to learn how to stand up and speak in front of others with confidence so that he might grow into a man who can influence others for good, so that he will have the tools to articulate his ideas, dreams and visions with clarity and confidence.  No matter where his life’s journey leads, we think this is a valuable life skill that requires practice more than anything else, and that it’s never too soon to start.

Since Sean was about three, we have had what we call Family Fun Night or what non-geek families would likely term as misery.  We start off by reading a Bible story, then we talk about it a little bit and then we take about 15 minutes for each person to draw a picture of what they got out of the story, what they thought the story was about or whatever they found in the story that inspired their artistic spirit in some way.  Then each person has to present their work to the others.  And by presenting, I mean you are required to stand up in front of the group, identify yourself and then talk about your work.  (You should know, being a guest in our home requires you to participate in FFN.)  I have gathered these tiny works of art into a collection and it has been fun to look back upon them and see Sean’s artistic and conceptual growth.  And I have to say, when I look at his art, I am awed; I have a glimmer of clarity about what Jesus meant when he said that we are to be like little children.

Having said all that, we are always looking for opportunities for Sean to practice speaking in front of groups larger than our small tribe or other friendly folk who might be at our house.  So the other day I arranged for him to read Snowmen at Night to the kindergarten class at his former school.  We had him practice a few times, coached him to make eye contact and to speak slowly, loudly and with expression.  And he did a great job. So if you are looking for a speaker, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with his agent.

As we were driving to take him back to his school, we passed a nursing home.  On a whim, AD whipped into the parking lot.  “Let’s go in here and see if they need a reader!” he said.  “I’ll bet they would love to have a little boy read to them!”  So we did and they did and Sean did.  The activities director was delighted to see us and gathered up a few of the residents in the dining hall to hear Sean read.  He stood in front of the small group, told them his name, the book he was going to read and who wrote it.  Then he sat down and began reading the book with joyful expression, taking care to show the pictures.  And those who were not borderline comatose were thrilled.  And those who were comatose, well, I know they were thrilled in their hearts even though they could not express it.

At one point, one gentleman got into a coughing fit and I became slightly alarmed and concerned that he was going to code out right there in the dining room and what a bummer it would be if on your first public speaking engagement someone DIED.  But Sean did not miss a beat and kept reading.  When he finished he thanked them for their attention.  They clapped and said what a good boy he was and my heart swelled with humility that God would bless stupid old me with such a marvelous little boy.  Grace is the only explanation for that.

When we left the nursing home, Sean was enjoying the speaker’s high.  He had done well and people liked him and he was energized by the experience. “I’d like to do that again!” he said.

We returned Sean to school about two hours beyond tardy so I checked him into the office.  The office lady asked me if he had a doctor’s appointment and for a split second I was tempted to lie and say yes so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the impending disapproval, but Sean was standing right there, so I told her the truth:  He had a speaking engagement.  “Well, you know he’ll be marked tardy, don’t you?” she said.  And I said, “Oh. I see. You think I care.”  No I didn’t say that because how snotty would that be?  No, I said I did not really care about tardy marks, I only care that he is learning and that we felt what he was doing today in the community was important.  In retrospect, ‘yes ma’am’ would have been sufficient.

I understand the school’s view that punctual attendance is important, but important things are also learned outside of the classroom.

So Big, So Small

As I was getting ready to walk Sean to school today, I looked in the bathroom mirror to see him standing behind me, dressed and ready to go.  I was surprised to see that he had on the clothes that I had laid out for him.  Usually, he will wear anything BUT the clothes I lay out.  We are in that stage.

I noticed that he had his shirt on backwards, as usual.  It’s not his fault.  He is genetically predisposed.  Nine times out of ten I’ll put my shirt on backwards too, which in and of itself is amazing given the 50/50 odds.  Wearing a shirt backwards is not too bothersome, unless you are coming out of a dressing room and you don’t notice it until you are in the food court in the mall.  Not that that’s ever happened to me. No, I’m just saying it could.  I also noticed that his hair was a crazy mess, also genetic, and he looked a little bit like a cross between an elf and Howdy Doody.  The sum of those parts made me smile.

Along with the backwards shirt, the pants he had on were ridiculously small — so small, that he couldn’t fasten the snap.  I am pretty sure that it was just earlier in the week that I had cinched up the adjustable waist band in these pants as far as it would go and rolled up the cuffs.  Apparently children really DO grow overnight.

I would have liked for him to change into pants that fit, but once you have your shoes on, changing pants is a terrific chore, and he could not be persuaded.  So I let out the adjustable waistband as far as it would go and through the force of will and magic, I managed to snap his pants.  If worse comes to worse today and the pants won’t stay snapped, he’ll just have to wear his shirt out.  Which I freely admit, I’ve done myself a time or two in recent years.

Maybe it was the pants, or maybe it was my own uneven hormones, but as we trotted to school, something about him just seemed bigger today than yesterday.  Or it could be that since he makes me run the whole half mile to school carrying his backpack, I was a little light headed and my perception was skewed.

Usually I walk him into the school and to his classroom but today I decided that I would stop at the edge of the school yard and let him take it from there.  I handed off his backpack and told him I’d see him later.  He took off running towards the school, stopped abruptly and turned to blow me a kiss and then ran the rest of the way into the building without looking back.

I stood there at the top of the hill, watching him run towards the school, taking note of the too-small pants, the too-big backpack, his copper hair bouncing and sparkling in the morning sun.  I watched him as he disappeared into the sea of children flowing into the school and suddenly he didn’t look so big anymore.  He looked small, really small, three-year-old small. And three-year-old’s have no business walking into a big school by themselves.

How did he go from being so big to so small on the half-mile walk to school?  How does that happen?

I sighed and shook my head in disbelief.  Or maybe I was shaking off something else.

I turned and headed home so that I wouldn’t act on the urge to go get him and take him home with me.

Walking To School

Hands down, my favorite thing about first grade is walking to school.

Although I love our car time, it’s really nice to not have to get in the car of a morning as we have for the past several years.  Seeing the world through the car window is one thing, but being able to stop and examine a spider web or a willy worm or the perfect yellow leaf is a deeper richer experience that engages all of the senses and not just the eyes.  And what I especially admire about Sean is that he always seems to be tapped into the sensory data.  He has an acute awareness of that which is invisible to most.  The other day as we walked under the trees that line the sidewalk, he turned to me and said, “Mom, I just love the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, don’t you?”  Indeed, I do now.

Most days, AD will join Sean and me on our half-mile walk to school.  There are a few other families in the neighborhood who walk to school occasionally, but for the most part we have the sidewalk to ourselves.

When I was growing up, I never had the sidewalk to myself.  Everyone walked to school and there were plenty of us.  No one’s mom drove them to school.  No one’s mom or (gasp!) dad walked them to school.  Mom kicked us out the door, sometimes before the sun was even up, rain or shine, sleet or snow, and we joined up with the passing human train of children heading south towards school.  The older boys, who were too cool to walk, rode their bikes.  They would blaze up behind us hollering something like, “Watch out! No breaks!”  All the girls would scream and scramble off the sidewalk just before they slammed on their brakes leaving behind a screeching black skid mark three-feet long.  Then they would ride off laughing and popping wheelies with smug satisfaction.

After the long, long, very long walk to the end of the street, about 200 yards, we would have to cross a busy two-lane road. Sometimes there was a crossing guard, but usually not.  We were street-savvy Catholic school kids though, so if there wasn’t a car within 20-feet either direction, or if we didn’t think they were coming too fast, we’d bolt across.

Beyond the busy road lies a set of train tracks.  About 85% of the time, a train would be sitting on the tracks.  Just sitting.  So then a decision had to be made: Would it be better to risk death by crawling under the train or risk the wrath of Sister Mary Somebody for being late.  Always, we crawled under the train.  If you got your shoe caught on the track and got your leg cut off, as legend had it had happened to some girl whose name no one ever knew, then at least you’d have a good excuse and you could be certain that even Sister probably wouldn’t whack the hands of an amputee.

Once you made it past the train tracks, then came real danger.  Then you had to walk past a rat hole of a doughnut shop.  And my oh my, the smell of fresh baked doughnuts on a cold Midwest morning could lead a girl into temptation.  I never had the 20 cents it took to buy a doughnut and therefore never had any hope of getting a doughnut, but my saliva glands never gave up hope.  To make matters more unjust, my brother Jim who always seemed to have money, would get one.  I’d see his bike leaned up against the building and when I looked in the windows, sure enough there he’d be sitting at the counter eating a doughnut.

On the walk home from school, we’d go the reverse route; past the doughnut shop, across the busy road and under the train, but on the way back we’d traverse a fairly steep ditch just on the other side of the tracks.  The ditch was home to unsavory creatures like chiggers and cockle burs that would stick to your socks and shoe laces.  On the other side of the ditch was an old-timey garage that had a Dr. Pepper machine inside and one of those 10-2-4 signs.  Sometimes four or five of us would manage to scrape up 15 cents among us and we’d go in and buy an Orange Nehi or a Dr. Pepper out of the soda machine.  And when the cap was popped, oh the sound!  ChhSsshAAAaaah! — the sound of impending pleasure.  The bottle would come out of the machine so cold that it had frost on the outside and the soda was actually icy.  We’d each take a swig and I have to tell you, to this day, it remains the coldest most refreshing thing I could ever hope to put to my lips.

So yes, at the root of my love of walking to school is my own nostalgia.  I walked to school for eight years and have mostly fond memories.  And I want that for Sean. Of course his memories will be quite different, safer and more sanitary hopefully, but they will be his own.

My hope is that the memory of the three of us walking to school will burrow somewhere deep into his brain and return to warm his heart long after my bones have returned to the earth.  And maybe when he thinks back on these days of walking to school he will be reminded not just of the how the leaves crunched underfoot or of some silly or dangerous thing he did, but how much his mommy and daddy delighted in him.

* * * * *

Another walking home story, this one involving a pumpkin.

The School Vibe

For the last six years, the only question in terms of Sean’s education has been which private school he would attend.

Homeschooling has always been an option we’ve entertained; it’s always on the table.  Public school was never an option.  And now for some reason, at this point, I sort of feel like I should apologize for that sentiment or at least insert a feeble “not that there’s anything wrong with it.”  But I’m not going to because that sort of thing makes me weary of late.

So, for the past two years we have done all due diligence in finding the right private school for our one and only son.  We did all the research that any prudent person would do when making an important decision, not to mention a substantial investment.  We researched, we made spreadsheets, we talked to other parents.  We visited, we visited and we visited some more until we narrowed the list down to three schools.

But ultimately none of those three schools seemed right.  All are excellent, highly rated, well-established schools staffed by professional educators.  Their stats are great and the kids we chatted with on campus were impressive. Nary a red flag to be seen.  People who send their kids to those schools LOVE those schools and can’t say enough good things about them.  Those are all good things, things that make for good marketing materials.  But I tend to operate on intuition.  And after all the visits, I never got that vibe – that undeniable voice that whispers in your ear, “You are in the right place. This is it.”

In our area, private school tuition runs about $10,000 a year, give or take, and for ten grand, I need to have that vibe.  The ten grand isn’t for the education — it’s for the vibe.

Well, the summer kind of slipped past and before we knew it, it was the middle of August.  It was two weeks before school started and we still didn’t have our child enrolled in school anywhere.  And so because we couldn’t make a decision, the decision was made for us. We enrolled Sean in public school.  The one school we had not considered, not researched, not visited — was the right school.  God likes to rip up my plans into itty bitty pieces and throw them in the air like confetti.

We are six weeks into the school year and we could not be happier. We love walking to school, we love our teacher, we love the routine.

I’ve definitely got the vibe that at least for now, for this school year, this is the right place.

A Half Day Is A Good Day

When Sean was two I put him in a Mother’s Day Out program at the church we were attending.  The fact of the matter is that Sean did not really want to go to MDO. He wanted to stay home and play with Lego’s with me, but I felt some sort of societal pressure to put him in a MDO.  And because I was young and stupid, I did it. It was a mistake.

On his second or third visit to this MDO, after he’d been there about an hour, he told the teacher that he was ready for his mommy to come pick him up.  She told him that I would come pick him up after lunch. He said, “Okay then, lets have lunch.”

Up through Kindergarten, he went to school from 9-1. Which was perfect.  By 1pm I was more than ready to go get him and he was more than ready for me to come and get him.  I’ve discovered that if I can’t get it done between 9 and 1, it probably doesn’t really need to be done.

First grade, however, is a whole new ballgame. Now he goes to school from 8am to 3pm and that has been a bit of an adjustment.  For both of us.  In case you did not know, the longest span of time in recorded history is from 8am to 3pm, it’s like 72 hours.  This was true when I was in Sister Luke’s 3rd grade, it was true when I worked in an office and it is still true.  The fastest span of time is from the moment your child is born until the day they enter first grade. That is actually about 60 seconds.

I walk Sean to school every morning, and then I come home and do a few little chores and by about 10:15 I’m ready to go get him.  I’m looking at my watch and eyeing the big plastic bin of Lego’s that has been left unattended in the den.

On the second or third day of school, I walked him to school and took him to his classroom, and as I bent over to kiss him goodbye, he looked up at me and said, “Mom, go ahead and come get me ’bout noon, okay?”

“Okay, that sounds great!” I said.  No, I didn’t say that.  Instead, I just kissed his forehead and reminded him to be respectful and be obedient, as I always do.

“You know I will,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “See you later.”

Half-day kindergarten worked for me and half-day first grade would work for me too. And half-day high school. And college.


He oughtta be able to crank this assignment out by noon, don’t you think?