Monthly Archives: March 2012

What a Ball Taught This Wife About Her Husband in 20 Seconds

Across the street lives a not-so-nice man. I’m pretty sure if the kids are ever in the road when he comes home, he’ll squash them like a squirrel with his truck and never look back. When my son was three, this grouchy man yelled at him for getting a cool stick out of his yard. My son still gives him the stink eye whenever he sees him, and we never so much as touch a blade of his grass now.

The other night, my husband, son, and I tossed a ball around on our driveway, ignoring Mr. Meany, working in his yard. Until our bouncy ball rolled into the street and toward Mr. Meany’s driveway. The three of us looked at one another in horror, our eyes bulging like waterlogged diapers. Silently I beckoned for the ball to stop, to come back, to roll six feet to the left and hit the curb. But the laws of physics cannot change for one errant playground ball. Speed was not in our favor. That blue rubber ball gained momentum and rolled up Mr. Meany’s driveway as he walked up it toward his garage.

Hang on to your balls, kids.

I looked to my husband, the man of the house, sure that he would handle our awkward situation. He took one look at the ball’s position and sprinted away snickering like a cat that tipped a garbage can. The punk. My son stood paralyzed with fear, looking from his fleeing father to me. I knew he wouldn’t retrieve the ball. He won’t even go to Mr. Meany’s house to trick-or-treat.

I gulped. I wanted to avoid a confrontation with Mr. Meany. When a stray toddler steps foot into his yard, he yells, “Get out of my yard!” Neighbors have told me of past run-ins when their kids’ ball landed in his yard and he scooped it up and said, “Mine.” For a small frame, he delivers a whopping blow: unfriendly and no second chances.

It seemed if we wanted our ball, it was up to me. I dashed across the street and hoped Mr. Meany wouldn’t yell at me. Why my husband nominated me for this job was beyond me. I yell back when provoked. But wait, the ball started rolling down the driveway! Mr. Meany looked down and watched it roll past him. I grabbed it off the end of his driveway and ran. No eye contact. No words exchanged. Quiet on both sides of the street. My kids didn’t need a vocabulary lesson anyway. And now I know I can count on my husband to run away from my every beck and call.

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Bathing 101: Explain, Rinse, Repeat

Quite some time ago when my husband had the clever idea of letting the kids bathe themselves, I thought it was one more task we could scratch off our parental chore list. It seemed easy enough. Our kids sat on the receiving end of countless scrubdowns in the tub and shower, and it seemed logical that they would know what to do with a bar of soap and a squirt of shampoo.

But when our daughter emerged from the shower with a half-dry head of hair or our son stood covered in bubbles waiting for a towel, it became increasingly clear that Bathing 101 was in order.

Some nights we had to remind them to wash specific parts and show them how. One kid would admit to not having washed his face in a week, promptly sending me in a flurry for a washcloth, soap, and warm water. “We’re washing it now.” For every shower since, I yell into the steam, “Did you wash your face?”

A small rubber duck bathing.

If a bubble touches you, you're clean, right? (Image via Wikipedia)

Each shower brought a new lesson that we hadn’t thought of. Sadly, it was evident that we had to spell it out for our kids in a way they would understand: “Wash your body from head to toe, with soap, between all your parts, every crack. Understand?”

I don’t think they got it. After my son’s shower one night, I sat down to trim the claws growing from his toes. He seemed set on using them to climb trees in the back yard. I feared he’d permanently snag them in his leather shoes. Overcome with harsh vinegary foot odor, tears filled my eyes and I gasped for bits of fresh air. “Did you wash your feet?” I asked between choking sobs.

“No,” he said. They smelled like he’d worn sneakers in the jungle for a year with no socks.

“They reek. You need to wash your feet. I can’t believe you just got out of the shower and they smell so bad,” I said through the hand covering my nose and mouth.

“I never do,” he admitted. “I just let the bubbles on the floor get my feet when I rinse.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake. “You need to rub soap all over them. Your armpits too. All the smelly areas. Your whole body!”

I can imagine his third-grade classroom and the odors of freshly bathed children wafting through the air. No wonder teachers sit near the windows.

Next I’ll discover my kids just run their toothbrushes under the water and don’t actually brush them.

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Who Learned More on the Overnight Trip: the Chaperone or the Kids?

I recently chaperoned a two-night third-grade field trip and lived to tell about it. Previous field trips have left me exhausted and irritable, so I was nervous. Never having experienced an overnight camp as a child, I set out with another mom, our kids, and a carload of more crap than we needed not knowing what to expect. I felt certain we’d get no sleep, I’d be grumpy, the boys would be wild, and it would rain to the point where we’d need canoes to get around. I was wildly mistaken, pleasantly surprised, dry, hot, hungry, tired, and eager to learn.

Here’s a recap:

1. I learned how to read a compass and follow a course through a horse pasture. Each point we found led to another point and so on. Thankfully, we found nothing else.

Thanks to a compass course, at least I know what to do if I get lost in the woods now, or a horse pasture.

2. I learned there are more than 70,000 types of U.S. soil. The kids talked about viscosity, porosity, horizons, and permeability, which is not “when you get a perm,” in case you were wondering.

3. A field of geese is an open invitation to a gaggle of boys who just had to sit quiet and still for 30 minutes and listen to a cool bird presentation. They couldn’t upset the birds being shown inside, but no one said anything about the geese outside, who I’m pretty sure won’t return to that field for a while.

4. I learned that a dark, quiet, blow-up astronomy dome showing the night sky offers a perfect place to catch up on missed sleep. Just be aware when the instructor points the laser in your direction and you’re suddenly in the constellation spotlight.

5. I learned that I can’t sleep to the sound of 11 sleeping bags swishing and plastic mattresses scrunching all night after day one, but after day two, I can sleep through almost anything.

6. When given the option, boys who don’t have their moms with them will not shower for three days, regardless of how sweaty they’ve gotten, how much grass and sand they’ve rolled around in, and whether they splashed around a little too much in the stagnant water in aquatics class.

7. When allowed to go through the dining hall line alone, boys will return with a plate full of carbs, cheese, and not much else. When you point out they could have made a salad with the lettuce, they tell you they didn’t see that.

8. When asked about the coolest thing they’ve ever done, half the kids say going to that camp, fishing for their first time while there, or catching their first fish there. I learned that for some, in their short lives, it was a lifetime experience.

9. Third graders are really smart. They knew answers I didn’t expect them to know and made conclusions I didn’t expect them to connect.

10. During the course of our stay, the parents struggled a bit to keep up, wished for better sleeping accommodations, cursed bathroom stalls that required feats of contortionism to use, and yearned for gourmet food. I didn’t hear the kids whine, fuss, or complain about the heat, the long days with no breaks or snacks, the gross food, or little sleep. For them, it was thrilling hands-on learning outside the classroom.

The camp may have been geared toward kids, but I know I learned a lot.

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Field Trip Anxiety: Two Nights, 80 Kids Equals Panic for This Chaperone

A father and I talked on the school playground the other day about an upcoming overnight third-grade field trip we are chaperoning. We both admitted to being a little nervous about it. We’ve both chaperoned field trips before. But as the conversation continued, I realized he had not thought this overnight thing through as much as I had.

I began to talk about kids who may not have ever been away from home before and homesickness and worry about how to get them to sleep.

“Gee, I hadn’t thought about that,” he said.

I talked about how exhausted I am after just a few hours on a regular field trip and what will two nights and three days of constant yammering and nonstop drama and incessant whining do to me?

Then I mentioned that I hoped the stomach bug that was going around didn’t plan a surprise attack in the bunks one night.

His face scrunched up. I’m sure he wanted to run from me.

“I was excited for this trip, but I hadn’t thought about all this,” he said. I think I took a pin and popped the air out of his balloon.

I think too much. There’s no doubt about it. I can think a topic to death. I think about every possible terrible thing that could happen and how I can possibly handle it, and then I’m pleasantly surprised when things go smoothly or things are just boring, as my life so often turns out.

But I must say I was surprised that this father hadn’t thought about these things because being with so many other people’s kids for two nights will be a challenge whether or not anything catastrophic happens.

The last field trip I chaperoned didn't require sleeping bags, just snacks evidently.

Doesn’t he remember what a normal field trip is like? The last field trip I was on, I had five boys in the rain for four hours with no snacks. In the end, I’m not sure who was grumpier, the boys or me. For four hours they griped, whined, complained, and fussed about being hungry. Like zoo animals, I really was not supposed to feed them. My blood sugar was getting low. I get headaches when I don’t eat. I had a snack. But I didn’t have enough to share with five boys and I felt too guilty to eat in front of them. So we trudged through mist and misery. The boys didn’t want to look at the historic buildings or listen to people dressed in colonial garb talk about life with no computers and no TV. They saw corn cakes cooking in the fire and wanted to reach their weak arms over and steal one out of the hot pan. The only respite of the morning: a paper-thin Moravian cookie that made our mouths water more and our stomachs pretty stinkin’ mad.

When lunchtime finally did approach, the boys had only strength enough to mosey across the entire colonial village back to the bus squatting, giggling, and cocking their rears side to side in an all-out potty-talk fest. “Pffft this” and “Pffft that.” “Oh, that was a good one!” I did not have energy or patience for this. My stomach had turned inside out and through a forced smile I begged them to catch up to me, stop that nonsense, and COME ON! My hands were shaking and food was minutes away. No silly boys and their bathroom talk would keep me from my lunch. I was ready to ditch them.

That night, my conscience got the better of me. “I feel bad,” I told my husband. “I kind of yelled at the kids today.” I decided that in the heat of their third-grade foolery, they probably hadn’t noticed or cared.

I hope this trip next week goes smoother, though I’m bracing myself for no sleep, cranky homesick kids, and whatever the days may bring. I’ll sneak snacks if I have to, for my own sanity. And I’m gearing up for lots of fart jokes. Please send happy thoughts my way.

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Who Wants My Old Junk? Sometimes, Me

Twice a year, my family begins the tradition of rummaging through closets, dressers, under beds, and deep in cobwebbed corners, weeding out the torn, worn, and the junky from overstuffed bedrooms. The kids try on clothes, saddened to learn that their favorite shirt from the previous year now looks like a better fit for an infant. I set them in a consignment pile to sell, saddened for another reason: yet another reminder of the passage of time.

The kids root through bins of outgrown toys I tucked away long ago when they weren’t looking and announce they suddenly can’t live without the Little Einsteins rocket and fly it around the room, proclaiming it their most favorite toy ever. “Mom, you can’t get rid of this!” Don’t even mention the fact that they played with it three times a year.

They hold up various items, not even sure what they are, and beg me not to sell them: a baby bathtub, infant scratch mittens. They pull out things I either don’t want to look at ever again or things they never looked at: a house with a ringing door that rings all the time, princess books I hated to read, a robot magnet puzzle for staying occupied in the car that did not work.

Getting rid of the kids’ stuff is a mixed bag of emotions every year. At first seeing my kids’ packed-away clothes took the wind out of me, knowing no more of my offspring will toddle around my unscrubbed floors and need me every second of the day. It’s amazing how fabric and buttons can bring a surge of grief, pain, and laughter you have to gulp in silence or sit down and give in to. Memories swarm to a time when my kids used to sit on my hip and say “ma-ma” and really look at my face. Seeing their tiny baby clothes became too much to bear. I couldn’t part with the preemie outfit my son wore home from the hospital or the outfits I bought when I learned I was having a girl. I washed them and gave them to my daughter to use for her dolls, just like my mom did when I was little. The summer dresses I loved, the shorts that hung to my son’s ankles, everything else that brought memories I’ve tagged, sold, and had to move on.

Some things I have happily tagged to get rid of thinking, “I’ll giveit away if I have to.” Those annoying toys the kids talked their grandparents into when we parents weren’t around. The obnoxiously loud ones that sound off in the middle of the night or the ones we knew they’d never play with and didn’t.

Some toys are a treasure too hard to part with, defining a childhood.

Still there are toys that one day I’ll lovingly pack away because they define such a chunk of my kid’s life. My son got a pirate ship when he was two that he still plays with occasionally. One day I’ll give it to my grandkids and tell them the odd names he gave the pirates: Scotgok, Elvis, Redhead, Brownbeard, Harold the Helicopter, Captain Fierce, No Name, and Greenie.

My sister and her husband once dropped off some broken, old junk at the dump that included their kids’ old jeep. Both kids drove it for years. My sister warned her husband not to look back when they drove away. Sometimes, you just can’t.

My First Giveaway!

In honor of spring-cleaning and out with the old, I’ve decided to hold my first giveaway. I’ll pick two random readers to win these lovelies: a pair of broken-in jeans. My son has done all the work so your kid doesn’t have to. Stains included.

Ripped jeans, all the rage in the can't-stay-off-the-ground set.

And this Big Wheel provides nonstop skidding action. Just thump-a, thump-a down the road and hit the brakes, kids!

Big Square Wheel

Terms and conditions: No givebacks, no paybacks.

Some things you just can’t give away, but I’ll try.

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Paybacks

When I tell stories of parental woe to my mom, she sympathizes. She commiserates. And she often laughs. Though she rarely says it, I know she’s thinking it: paybacks. Paybacks for the many nights I woke her from her dear slumber because I feared some crazy in my closet would drop screws in my ears or because the giant teddy bear on my shelf cast Jurassic-size shadows on my walls. Paybacks for stomping down the hall protesting a dinner of pork chops, scalloped potatoes, and green beans instead of the good ol’ mac and cheese standby. Paybacks for never letting her have a conversation on the telephone without “Momma, Momma, Momma, Momma.” And yes, even paybacks for informing callers to our house that she couldn’t come to the phone because she was on the toilet and it would be awhile.

I see now what I put her through. I know when I relay my children’s escapades from the week that she must hang up, throw her head back, and give one good mighty howl at the pleasure that I am finally paying my dues. Yes, indeedy, paybacks are often what they say they are. Though she has no part in the matter, my mom gets to watch me suffer the annoyances of motherhood that I put her through. For her and many mothers, that is quietly payback enough.

But this mom has an urge to fight back. I try to quietly and calmly deal with whatever my kids throw at me, but at night I de-stress by plotting my revenge. I’m keeping a list of the things they do. I’m sure I won’t follow through, but if my kids don’t shape up as teenagers, I’m getting even.

1. Wherever they are in the house, I’ll come find them and announce that I need to go to the bathroom, number one or number two. If their friends are visiting, I’ll loudly whisper it in their ear.

2. I will happily clean, read, or do whatever keeps me happy, but the second they talk on the phone, I will scream at the top of my lungs and then chase them around the house and pound on their door when they close and lock it.

3. I’ll hand them my tiny bits of trash, bypassing four trashcans in the process. When they refuse, I’ll sneak it in their pocket or later they’ll find it stuck to their shirt.

4. Every time they kiss their boyfriend or girlfriend, I’ll cover my eyes, fall to the floor, and scream, “Is it over?”

5. In the middle of the night, I’ll stand two inches from their face and wait until they wake up. I won’t need anything except to be put back to bed.

6. I’ll come in their room early on Saturday morning and tell them such important details as “My butt itches.”

7. My wardrobe will consist of plaid shirts, striped leggings, and pink tutus, and I will insist that it matches and that I venture out in public with them dressed that way.

8. When they refuse to let me drive them to the movies, I’ll stomp away in a huff and shout, “You never let me do ANYTHING!”

9. As soon as they fluff their pillows, snuggle deep into the couch, get everything just right, I’ll tell them that’s my pillow. When they get comfy again, I’ll tell them that’s my blanket too.

10. When they wake at noon, before they’ve chewed that first bite of cereal I’ll roll off twenty questions in ten seconds about Harry Potter and then tell them about the new pillows I want to get next and what color and where I want to put them and explain that the old ones just aren’t squishy enough and do you think J.K. Rowling will ever write another Harry Potter book? What do you mean you don’t like Harry Potter anymore? I thought you loved Harry Potter. Don’t you remember in book four when he grabbed the Goblet of Fire and it was a portkey? That was awesome!

I love my kids with every fiber of my being, but I don’t always love what they do. And they don’t always love what I do. I guess that makes us even. So there.

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The Family Dinner

While browsing through cookbooks the other day, a favorite pastime of mine, I came across a book that shocked me, saddened me, and made me think, “Well, I could have come up with that.”

A cookbook and guide on how to have a family dinner. Is that what America has come to? Many books now tout bringing the family back to the table. They are full of recipes, conversation starters, and tips for turning off electronics because evidently we families have forgotten how to cook, talk to each other, and find the off button. And I don’t know where we have gone. Where does everyone eat?

Yes, I am that naïve. I do have dinner with my family every night. I know I’m lucky to have a husband who gets home at a reasonable hour, but even when he’s late, I eat with the kids. We sit down to a meal that I cooked and we talk about our day. Sometimes we eat, laugh, and have a Hallmark moment. It may not be a fancy meal. It may have come from a box. Or maybe I spent time making everything from scratch only to have my daughter shrink into a fit of tears and my son take a bite and whisper, “This is disgusting.” The kids may fight about how many carrots they must eat or who gave them the stink eye, and I always nag at them to get their elbows off the table. Who would want to miss all that love?

Put those kids to work. They can make a salad and set the table. Woohoo!

When we have sports practice or Scouts, we just eat earlier. It’s tricky. It takes effort. We run late. We rush to the van in our socks.

But some of my funniest memories of childhood include dinnertime with my family. I sat and poked peas around my plate and slipped lima beans to my dog when no one was looking. I griped about tough, chewy pork chops or the fact that the last of the macaroni and cheese was gone. Or I got up from eating my dinner and made myself another meal while my family watched in horror because I had the appetite of two teenage boys and a tapeworm, they were sure.

My sister and I used to taunt each other across the table about how quickly we were developing. We’d tease each other about bra size and make our father so uncomfortable, he’d sometimes gulp his dinner and forgo his usual seconds. We joked about kissing boys with no lips and big ‘80s hair. And the evening culminated in a chase around the kitchen when my sister realized I never participated in dishwashing. Those were good times.

Dinnertime may not always be easy. My kids fight. My daughter picks and squirms. But my kids turn on some of their best comedy acts at the table when they know they have a venue. Sure, we have to endure the world’s lamest knock-knock jokes, but every now and then, somebody says something that makes me choke on my baked ziti.

Make something from scratch. Your kids will ask questions like, "Where do croutons come from?"

And of course it’s always the time the kids choose to bring up the most inappropriate topics, like the poor guy who has to carry the shovel behind the elephant at the circus. My husband doesn’t miss a beat though, pointing out that that’s why it’s important to go to college, so you don’t have to be a human pooper-scooper. Always thinking, he is.

So to anyone who needs advice on how to have a family dinner, I offer it here for free. You don’t need a book (unless you can’t cook, then by all means go get a cookbook). Skip the drive-through. Make a meal for your family like your mother did. Eat at the table. No TV, no phone, no devices. Just people. The conversation will come. You don’t need little cards telling you how to talk to people. I promise.

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Homework: It’s a Bad Word in My House

Homework may be the word most dreaded by school kids every day, but it’s also one of the most dreaded words by this mom. It ranks up there with lice and vomit, two other words I don’t want my kids to come home from school and tell me about. Though those ailments may have much worse consequences in the short run, homework provides day in, day out gut-wrenching exhaustion in the long run.

Some days my first- and third-grade kids come home, finish homework without so much as a whimper, and scoot out the door like a scene from a 1950s television show. Many other days, though, someone fusses, whines, cries, or screams over homework. Sometimes that someone may even be me. As far as I can tell, no quick remedy exists to cure this homework repulsion. I’ve tried every approach and tactic I can think of, failing miserably in the process and often wanting to crawl under the table myself and join my daughter in a fit of tears. But I hold my head high as long as I can, keep my voice calm, and tell myself that if their teachers can get two dozen kids to do their work each day, surely I can get two through a half hour of skills practice.

When my kids get home from school, they’re tired. They’ve practiced things like subtraction, division, writing complete sentences, and reading comprehension all day. When faced with homework that requires them to do this yet again, sometimes they lose it and they take it out on me. And tears flow. They squirm. They writhe in agony as if some unknown force pulls their limbs in every direction. They collapse in despair, bodies sprawled across the table too weak to hold a broken pencil. They ask for my help and then get mad when I calmly explain the work. They want me to do it for them and get madder still when I don’t comply. They spend 40 minutes fussing about homework and it could have been done in 15. It doesn’t add up. My kids obviously need a refresher in math skills.

Homework, not my favorite time of day. What I've found is that distance helps.

My son and I then argue over whether other parents check their kids’ homework. He says they don’t. I say who cares. He needs to know what he got wrong and why.

Between the storms, we have had success. So what worked best to break out of our writhing, squirming, under-the-table-and-screaming afternoons?

1. Freedom. Letting the kids decide when to do their homework helps. If they don’t want to do it when they walk in the door from school, no problem, as long as they do it before dinner.

2. Location. If they want to do their homework in the kitchen, living room, bedroom, heck, even under the kitchen table or in the bathtub, I really don’t care.

3. Routine. It takes my kids time to get back into the routine once school starts. They come home from school, shove food down their throats, and run upstairs to play before they settle in with their books. If we have somewhere else to be one afternoon, such as soccer practice, I know we’re in for a rough afternoon come homework time because it messes up their routine. We have a routine, even when they choose when to do their homework, and we stick to it as best we can.

4. Time. It simply takes time for my kids to adjust when a new school year starts, not weeks but months. They do a lot in a day and they have to get used to a schedule that requires a lot of them again.

5. Independence. Once my kids were old enough, I let them do their homework alone if they understood it. Then I check it when they finish.

6. Love. I joke about it because humor helps lessen the sting, but when all else fails, a hug gets us all through those really rough times. Sometimes we just need to stop the craziness, sit on the couch, and snuggle and laugh. Refocusing breaks us out of the funk.

I tried other things that didn’t work, such as getting mad and frustrated. My kids tried things too, such as putting down any answer because their teacher doesn’t check that homework. The funny thing is, we’ve all learned lessons. I don’t know how long homework will cause an upheaval in our lives each year and when my kids will just accept it and always do it without a fight. I simply haven’t done my homework on that.

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