Monthly Archives: February 2012

Redshirting: Why We Think We Made the Right Decision

It was during this time two years ago that I was really starting to stress. We had to decide whether to send our daughter to kindergarten in the fall or hold her back a year. Her late August birthday meant she would probably be the youngest in her class or the oldest if we held her back. She turned five the day before kindergarten, and we sent her.

For my husband, there was never an issue. He had a late September birthday and he did fine. She would go. For me, every possible outcome needed consideration. Nearly everyone we knew suggested redshirting, a common trend of holding kids back from school a year, giving them what’s considered the gift of time.

My husband and I thought this practice was a bunch of baloney. She could already read. She knew her numbers to 100. And kindergartners spend a lot of time on numbers to 10. And shapes. And lots of other simple things. But there were factors to consider beyond kindergarten. Could holding her back guarantee that she’d get into gifted programs? Or could holding her back eventually backfire? Would boredom cause a child who didn’t feel challenged to act out in class?

Faced with this decision? Do your homework. Know your kid.

My gut told me to send her, but it didn’t keep me from constant worry about whether we were doing the right thing. I spent hours searching and reading about other people’s opinions and experiences online. I could never find much supporting what my gut told me and what my husband already knew: My daughter needed to go to kindergarten. Why hold her back? She was ready.

I found articles stating boys with a birthday of January or later should be held back. Really? My son with a February birthday has never had a problem. Strangers I talked to facing the same issue, even friends who weren’t, looked horrified when I revealed we planned to send our daughter to school on time. I felt a lot of pressure.

People told me that holding her back a year would give her confidence. She’d be the smartest kid in the class. But it felt like cheating.

My husband just always shook his head. “She’s going,” he’d say. And I knew he was right, but I still needed validation.

I worried that if everyone else held their kids back, she would be behind. She would be so young. But in the end, that was really all I worried about. I knew she could do the work. I had to believe in her. Deep down, I knew giving her a chance to show what she is capable of would be best for her. Challenge isn’t a bad thing for kids, and parents shouldn’t be scared of it. Challenge and struggle are different.

Some of the most successful people I know were not the kids who were the best in class. They weren’t the valedictorians or the kids who had it easy in school. They were the middle-of-road kids who learned to work for something. Challenge is good.

Having things come too easily can backfire. Not having to study, not having to work hard at first. I know those are skills you don’t want to learn in high school or college.

I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten classroom every week, so I knew what my daughter would face, and I knew she could do it. I asked teachers about kids with late birthdays and I got mixed answers.

I asked the principal. He said his oldest daughter had a late birthday and they sent her on time. They’ve never regretted it. I could have hugged him. Finally, someone understood. Someone else had guts.

Two years later, my daughter is in first grade and finishes all of her work on time. She follows directions. She behaves, sits still. She understands her work. She tells me everything about her day. She moved up to the highest reading group this year. She is in a class with kids who are a year older than her, and she does just as well as they do. And she’s also not the youngest. Two other girls have birthdays later than her. Sure, it all depends on the kid, but I didn’t do it because of a date and I have no regrets.

In the end, we knew that none of this would stop our daughter from being a doctor or a lawyer if she wants to be. And we decided that her “gift of time” would be better spent at the end of her eighteen years. Instead of an extra year of preschool, because she will be younger than her peers, she can take a year off to travel, to study, to work, to start her life. That is the gift we gave to her.

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Filed under Tough Choices

Oscar Fashion From the Stained Carpet

There’s nothing like the Oscars to remind me that my fashion lacks star quality.  While celebrities sashay down the red carpet in Vera Wang and Versace, I spend my days as a mom dressed in the best discount stores and clearance racks have to offer. And it’s not necessarily a bad attempt most days. When I parade down the sidewalk during afterschool pick-up, other moms in their daily uniform of T-shirts and black yoga pants shout, “Karen, who are you wearing?”

“Vintage Mossimo for Target,” I say as I gracefully dodge a path of gumballs in my three-inch Dansko clogs. Really, anything matches a pair of Levis.

I’m not into the whole yoga pants as fashion thing. I do make an effort to dress in something remotely considered an outfit every day. But fashion forward? Not quite so.

My apparel hasn’t changed much since college, so I can’t say I technically dress like a mom. But my hemlines have certainly dropped a few inches and my necklines don’t have quite the same plunge. A few sneak-peeks in a kindergarten class taught me that cleavage can’t be handled by anyone over the infant stage. I didn’t want to be the popular volunteer. And it’s not like there’s much of a peep show going on in that area.

The movie stars at the Oscars may be sequined, feathered, and stilted, but I need comfort around the clock. I need clothes I can bend in, take a nap in, scrape my lunch off and go about my day in, and good, supportive shoes that don’t make my back scream with pain at the end of the day. If clogs and Birkenstocks are those shoes, so be it.

When my husband comes home from work and sees me in layers of warmth and my newest clearance find, slippers purchased more for heat than beauty, I know he wonders whether I’ve gotten a sitter for the night. My favorite slippers may look like butchered Ewoks, but those lovelies are the only things to keep my feet happy till the spring thaw.

No Ewoks were harmed in the making of these slippers.

I could sit up all night oohing and aahing over all the glamour on TV, but this momma needs her beauty sleep. And I have a stained carpet to walk in the morning.

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Filed under About Mom, Everyday Life

Jinx!

A mother’s work is never done. Some days that old adage couldn’t be truer. The other morning at breakfast the kids kept yelling, “Jinx!” out of the blue when the other was saying any old thing and no one else was talking.

“Today I have PE and…”

“JINX!”

Sometimes the rules of childhood games are not spelled out clearly enough to my offspring. They don’t understand the concept so they fill in the blanks themselves, creating a jumble of nonsense that even they don’t quite follow when they play together.

“You call jinx when you both say the exact same thing at the exact same time,” I told them. I didn’t go into the penalties related to jinx, such as then not being able to speak until someone says your name. Specifics would only confuse them more. We could get into that later.

Oh, that’s simple. Now they got it. Now hearing jinx when other kids argue, “That’s mine!” over a splintered, chewed-up pencil would make perfect sense. When you’re one of two kids who simultaneously yell, “Stop it!” at the annoying kid who is singing while she reads, be the first to say, “Jinx.” Gotcha.

Breakfast resumed. And then my daughter spearheaded another jinx effort. “OK, let’s both say Milk at the same time. Milk.”

“Milk,” my son echoed.

“Ugh. Try again,” my daughter prodded. “Say Q. 1, 2, 3, Q.”

Pause.

“Q.”

Still not in unison. This could take some practice.

“You can’t plan jinx,” I told them.

Yeah, clear as mud.

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Filed under Everyday Life

Forgotten Purses and Memories

On our way home from dinner and a bookstore Saturday evening, from the back of the car came a shaky voice. “Mommy, did you get my purse?”

“No, why would I get your purse? You don’t have it?”

My husband swung the car around and we headed back to the bookstore where we’d just spent nearly an hour going back and forth from one part of the children’s section to the other. I knew where my daughter set it down, but I didn’t know how long it had been missing.

I began making mental notes of the purse, sure that someone had seen it lying on the floor and taken off with it. It doesn’t look like a child’s purse and I was afraid a dishonest person would think it was chockfull of valuables. And it is, to a six-year-old. I worried too because I knew she brought money to buy something, but I didn’t know how much. It could have been a quarter; it could have been all of the loot from her piggy bank.

You never know when a pig flashlight will come in handy.

Fully ready to fill out a missing purse report, I had a visual in mind. Description: ruffled, white, with silver chain. Contents: an old black flip phone that she pulled out at dinner, red wallet with a pink poodle on the front. What else does a busy six-year-old need? Oh yes, a comb, a nail file, a tub of lip gloss, a pig flashlight, a Dracula Pez dispenser, and Harry Potter glasses. One never knows when one needs to appear studious.

I prepared myself to run into the store, ready to deal with tears when the purse turned up missing, snatch the purse from the hands of a stranger compelled to play finders keepers, or go on with my report. But my husband jerked the car in park and jumped out before I could unbuckle my seatbelt. Minutes later, he and my daughter emerged with the purse and a smile. Crisis and tears averted. The money, the pig flashlight, the Harry Potter glasses, all of it still stuffed safely within.

In the car, my daughter’s forgotten purse brought back a memory that replayed like a favorite Brady Bunch rerun in my mind. Countless times as a kid when my family had eaten in a restaurant, often while on a trip, my sister would announce somewhere along the road that she’d forgotten her purse. My father would utter a few words under his breath and turn our old Granada back toward the greasy spoon where we’d just enjoyed a leg stretch and a family meal. We’d all trudge in and find, tucked in the corner of the booth or on the bathroom counter, her purse, sitting safely and untouched. It became so frequent, sometimes happening several times on the same trip, that I began to ask her before we left any restaurant if she had her purse. I suppose we’ll begin asking our daughter the same thing.

It’s funny when your kids’ childhoods spark a small memory from your own. Though not a grand incident, my daughter’s forgotten purse helped me remember a small piece of my past. On the way home Saturday night I thought of those memories, those purses, and I bent down to check for my own purse, just to make sure.

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Ghosts of Valentine’s Past

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone. There have been years when I awaited with starry anticipation, only to have two sticky toddlers put a crimp in the romance. My husband and I have never bothered with sitters, learning long ago that the area restaurants jack up their prices and fancy up their menus and all we really want is something fresh and fun and jeans-appropriate.

When the kids were young, I tried cooking a nice meal after the kids went to bed. Those turned out to be the nights the kids would not go to sleep at 7:30, and they’d come out of their rooms a dozen times. Curly Bear fell on the floor. Water needed refilling. Someone suddenly needed a tissue instead of a sleeve. Plans for dinner went out the window with the screams of “Mom” from my daughter’s bedroom, and we’d end up scarfing down food in a manic hunger.

This candy didn't end up on the floor or in any drinks.

We’ve tried including the kids in a special dinner at home only to find our daughter had a trick napkin that just wouldn’t stay in her lap. Oh, it’s on the floor again. Better climb down to get it. She burned all the calories from her meal while she constantly retrieved that flyaway napkin. Meanwhile, the ploop! of each pea my son plunked in his milk attracted the other half of our attention. Boy, we couldn’t have asked for a more romantic evening.

I get a bit weepy about the kids growing up sometimes, but it has plenty of advantages. Like dates and Valentine’s Day. Last night, I made a meal we could all enjoy and everyone sat around the table like civilized people and ate it. No one crawled on the floor or stuck food in their milk, though I caught my son red-handed earlier in the week. We enjoyed our evening together. I gave the kids homemade candy that took more time than I care to admit to make. But including my children in Valentine’s Day is what having a family is about. I love them too, every cute, painful, annoying, sweet thing about them. And they put up with me.

And the husband and I can finally have our dates. We met for lunch while the kids were at school, and neither of us put peas in our drinks.

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Filed under Everyday Life, I Love Those Darn Kids

The Lost Note

For three years a note hung on the mirror in my room, bringing a smile to my face every time I saw it. My son wrote the words “I lave you! Mommy,” cut it into the shape of a heart, folded it, and tucked it into my hand one day when I came into his kindergarten class. Now it’s lost. My kids have given me a lot of little notes, but only a few hold special places in my heart. This was the first one I remember getting from my son that choked me up a little. Simple words. But a mom notices the effort put forth to cut it out. At school no less. In kindergarten. When I missed him achingly every single day.

I volunteered in his classroom every week, and when I came in, looking forward to seeing my little boy, he gave me not so much as a nod, a glance, any sort of acknowledgement. It’s a far cry from the tactics I use to remove my daughter from my leg every week in her class and the twenty kisses I must give her before I shuffle out the door. So when he tucked that tiny folded note in my hand that day and I opened it, not only did the words mean a lot, the action spoke volumes.

A small act that meant a lot to this mom.

I came home and promptly displayed the note, where it has been until recently, when I decided to write a blog post about my kids’ writing. I took it down to take a picture. That picture is all I have left. I can’t find the note anywhere. I’ve searched in every stack of papers all over the house—and there are many. I’m afraid it’s gone for good.

I have other notes. My kids’ first writings and first thoughts mean a lot to me. I keep notes and schoolwork from my children tucked away because I love the primitive spelling and the crooked writing and the things they felt important enough to put to paper.

Nothing so perfectly captures the innocence or the way a child speaks than the way she first spells her own thoughts. When I read my daughter’s words, I can hear her talking in that same sweet way.

“My brudr likes pink.” I laugh because my daughter must have felt feisty to write that on her schoolwork, knowing how her brother despises the color. While cleaning my kids’ rooms one day, I came across this neatly spelled note that my son wrote to my daughter: “Would you like to watch Star Wars with me? Love, Han Solo.” I loved that he wouldn’t sign his own name.

A sign on my daughter’s door reads “Club Howse.” An old list of months on her walls says, “Januwiwy, Febuwiwy…” I can’t help but chuckle when I read it.

There will come a time when my children outgrow that cuteness, and as much as I appreciate it now, I look forward to reading what comes from the heart when they’re older. I won’t want it riddled with misspellings then.

But for now, I keep a drawer stuffed with scraps of paper that say “I love you” (a mom can never have enough) and schoolwork containing funny sentences, things they write that mark this moment and this time. And I’m going to keep looking for that heart, even though my son offered to make a new one for me.

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Filed under Boy Stories, Everyday Life, I Love Those Darn Kids

In the Race for First, Get Out of the Way!

“First is the worst. Second is the best. Third is the one with the hairy chest!” My son chants this as we near our neighborhood after school some days. When we pull in the driveway, the kids make a beeline from the back of the van to the doors. They not only want to be first out of the van, but they also want to be first into the house, immediately forgetting the rules of my son’s cheer. It’s every kid for himself.

As they shove each other out of the way, they and their backpacks become a tangled mess of limbs and torsos wedged between the seats. My daughter cries. My son’s backpack, so overstuffed with Star Wars books, plugs the aisle like a giant cork. The kids both scream at each other to MOVE! I am tempted to walk away and tell them that I will be first in the house and they can work it out, but my daughter’s tears guilt me into overseeing the torment. The neighbors, already on alert that we are home, would surely disagree with my abandonment.

The culprit of many after school backseat traffic jams.

These are good times. Luckily for me, this happens at least once a week.

The backpack finally gives, my son escapes, and the kids elbow each other along the sidewalk, tears still flowing. At this point, I yell to just STOP IT! I open the front door, the kids fall in, backpacks fly, kids bolt to the bathroom to wash hands, more tears from the one who didn’t make it there first. Then they fight and cry about who was first yesterday to get in the van, get out of the van, get in the house, wash their hands, get upstairs. It exhausts me and I am just a spectator in this vicious sport. To top it all off, it turns out I am often the one with the hairy chest around here.

I can tell you who’s first to get a headache. Mom. I can’t tell you whose temper is first to flare. They pretty much all set off at one time.

What happened to first being the worst? I guess no matter how they look at things, coming in first always looks best. Hey kids, I have a rhyme for you: “First is the worst, second is a pest, third is the one who yells GIVE IT A REST!”

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Filed under Can't Get a Break, Everyday Life

This Nosy Neighbor Needs a Dossier

On days when I spend a fair amount of time working on the computer, I see a lot of what happens on my street. As the gears in my brain squeak and grind, I look out the window and watch cars and people go by. We live on a cul-de-sac that can be surprisingly busy and since I’m home during the day, I feel it’s my duty to see what those strangers are up to. It’s amazing how many unmarked white vans drive by. When I mention to my husband what I’ve seen on any given day, he always says the same thing: “Did you write it in your dossier?”

It’s become quite a joke, both for me and for him. He thinks I’m nosy. I say if some van pulls into someone’s driveway and starts loading up furniture, or worse, bodies rolled up in a rug, the cops are going to want a description. And, I think, are you kidding me with dossier? It’s pronounced ˈdȯ-sē-ˌā, according to Merriam-Webster, and it’s a file you keep of detailed records on someone or something. I had to secretly look it up the first time he said it because who in the world says that? I’ll tell you who: the same man who pronounces vase as vozz. Someone who didn’t have a brother to beat him up for saying fancy words, that’s who.

Who is my husband calling nosy?

So back to my dossier, or lack thereof. If I had one, it would be pretty lame: a hawk on my porch, people walking their dogs, pest control, a man wearing a bathrobe and I hope something under it rushing to get his trash can to the curb—hello, fuzzy slippers. And several dozen of those white vans. They always creep me out because all of the crime shows my husband makes me watch start out with some nondescript work van and the ring of a doorbell. Ding-dong! “I didn’t call for a plumb…oof!”

Our house backs up to a nature trail, and one day I saw a guy peeing in a big holly tree. Now that’s something I don’t see every day and am happy not to. My kids play up in that big holly tree. I banged on the windows. “Hey, you! Man with the wee-wee! Put that thing away!” I ducked so he couldn’t see me. Sometimes I have to protect my territory while others are away. No one said this job was easy. People can’t be marking my turf.

I’ve also seen some suspicious things driving through the neighborhood. A man parked on the side of the road brushed his teeth. I can’t begin to imagine why. And another day something in a remote corner between neighborhoods looked kinky and I assume it wasn’t legal. But I didn’t get a good look at that.

I consider myself more of an observant neighbor, a watchdog. But sometimes people like me take the heat. Call me nosy if you must. But if a white van pulls up in my driveway, I just hope somebody’s watching out for me.

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Filed under About Mom, Everyday Life

A Birthday, a Boy, and a Mom Who Looked Back

My son turns nine today. It’s not double digits. He doesn’t get keys to a car, don cap and gown, or pack his belongings into boxes. But as many other moms before me have figured out, it marks the halfway point in the 18 years of time I’ll hopefully have to raise my son. While he anticipates ripping open packages and shoveling some sugary treat into his mouth, I wrestle with the fact that the next nine years will be much different from the first.

While I first struggled with the challenges of a helpless life that needed constant food, sleep, changing, nurturing, teaching, and love—and every bit of it relied on me—at some point along the way, something happened to me. I came to rely on this child and need him just as much, if not more. So when this life that I have been readying starts to pull away and become a little more independent with each birthday, well, it’s pretty hard on a momma.

While I nurtured and cuddled my son as much as possible, the first nine years have been nothing to laugh at. My son is the kid I’ve had to learn every parenting skill on. I had to learn whether to let him cry it out and for how long even when I wanted to grab him and hold him forever. I’ve been inconsistent and indecisive and I’ve blubbered right along with him. I’ve spanked him in anger and felt hateful for doing it, only to conclude that spanking isn’t right for us. I don’t think I’ve ever spanked my daughter. I’ve had to decide the correct punishment for screaming at your mother and calling her an idiot and bite my tongue in the process. Sometimes I have yelled mean things, and I’ve had to look in his blue-green eyes, put my tail between my legs, and apologize when I really wanted to admit I often have no clue what I’m doing.

I’ve always felt a little sorry for my son being the firstborn, the guinea pig for all of my parenting experiments gone bad. With my daughter, I’ve been through it so I’m more relaxed, even, and firm. My son gets a whirlwind of emotion and a ball of stress. Part of me breaks each time it has to be hard for him. Sometimes he deserves for me to know the answers in advance.

In the next nine years, I know what he’ll face. I know the horrors of middle and high school: pimples, the embarrassment of your parents, wearing the right clothes, growing into suddenly disproportionate body parts. I’ll see more of his bedroom door than his messy room. I know I’ll lose him to a flock of smelly teens with patchy facial hair who grunt instead of speak and stare at my daughter in alarming ways, girlfriends who call and giggle and are suddenly the light in his life.

And between all of that, I still have a job to do. Somehow, I still have to turn this kid into a respectable man who cooks, cleans, smells nice, and has good manners. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But despite our setbacks, I have learned a few things. My son has taught me to be calm, even when he can’t be. He has taught me to forgive and move on because love is more important than any argument over homework or bad language. He’s taught me patience on a level that I never thought existed in me. Times when I thought I would crawl out of my skin waiting for him to do something, I have learned instead to let him do it in his own time. And he does. He’s taught me that no matter how old he gets, he sometimes still needs his mom.

I’m pretty sure by the time I get a handle on this parenting thing, he’ll be grown. Then he’ll have children, and parenting and all the struggles that come along with it will be something he and his partner have to muddle through.

But today, he’s nine. And we’ll have cake, open presents, read our bedtime story, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get a hug out of him. And tonight, I still get to tuck him in, peek at his sleeping face, and love that I still have years of boyhood bliss.

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Filed under Everyday Life, I Love Those Darn Kids