Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Writing’s on the Wall: My Kids May Never Learn Cursive

For most of third grade, my son begged me to teach him cursive writing. It’s no longer part of the state curriculum and I feel it’s a skill that shouldn’t be tossed aside just yet. Even with the advancement of technology, people should still be able to sign their names on documents, unique signatures that no one else in the world has. And cursive writing just looks so much better, so formal. It should never become a lost art that people have to ask their grandparents how to do.

I told my son I’d teach him the loops and curves of cursive this summer when we had time to sit down and practice and enjoy it.

It’s summer. My daughter, who will enter second grade in the fall, wanted to learn to write her name in cursive too. So we began our lesson the other day with much excitement. I have vivid memories of practicing letters daily in my third-grade class to precision. And because I’m a lefty, I had to turn my paper a different way from everyone else. Since I would be teaching, I could forgo the idiotic paper slant and concentrate on the basic script.

cursive writing, mominthemuddle.com

Let’s write H-E-A-D-A-C-H-E.

The kids watched as I formed a cursive a. Both formed theirs with ease. A few letters later I demonstrated how to join letters to form words. I glanced at my son’s paper, shocked to see that he had already moved on to write the rest of the alphabet without me, using our guide as a reference. Some of them weren’t right. I had lost control over one of my students and I’m not sure where I went wrong. I taught my daughter how to write her name. My son wrote his and I pointed out a few errors. Things were getting tense around the table and he tried again.

“Let me show you how to do an r,” I said. “And an n shouldn’t have a straight line.” I tried to demonstrate.

“I just want to learn to write my name!” he yelled as he tried and tried again, determined not to watch any of my examples.

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to show you. You asked me to teach you.”

He said he was right and then he cried because I wouldn’t help him. I was ambushed by homework flashbacks, a killer mood swing, and possible hormones. The lesson needed to end.

When he showed my husband his cursive writing later, my husband bluntly said, “Your n isn’t right. It shouldn’t have that line. It looks like an m.” My son suppressed a grin and tried not to look at me.

Validation. Sort of.

If for no other reason than the sanity of moms, this is why they should still teach cursive writing in school.

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A Thank-You to My Readers for a Great First Year

One year ago today I published my first blog post (it took me about a year after I thought of starting a blog!). I take my time thinking things through, what can I say? One thing I didn’t have to think long about was thanking my readers for being loyal, for commenting, for liking, and for coming back. If you have a blog, you know how scary it is to write that first post. You know how exciting it is to get your first subscriber, your first comment, and to suddenly start feeling like you have a sense of community.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I started blogging, but I wanted to write all the thoughts that flow through my head as I shower each day or drive down the road. I had put writing on the back burner for a long time to deal with two young kids who always needed a snack, something from the top shelf, or something wiped. I desperately wanted to write again and for some reason, I wanted to do it publicly. I think I thought blogging would force me to write every week and work at it. It has, and it has never felt like work.

I’ve pushed myself in ways I didn’t think I would. I’ve been inspired by other bloggers I’ve met along the way. I’m thrilled to have all of you here. I just wanted to stop between posts and say thanks for reading every week. Thanks for giving me an audience.

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The Family Vacation: Why We Do It Every Year

Every summer my family joins my sister’s family for a week at the beach. Cousins can’t wait to see one another and do exactly the same things as last year. Dads man up to see who can find the most sea glass or the coolest treasure. (The taunting started around Christmas.) Us moms just look forward to sitting and doing nothing against the backdrop of a blue sea.

Then we arrive at the beach cottage and reality sets in. The kids run free like the wild horses on one of the islands, and we kind of still have parenting to do. And four kids somehow seems unequal to four parents who desperately want to relax.

Day 1: There was no denying when our troupe of eight arrived at the beach. As my brother-in-law put it, we looked like the Griswolds with our beach paraphernalia strapped to backs and shoulders: chairs, buckets, shovels, umbrellas, coolers, boogie boards, a skim board, towels, a football, and whatever else the kids snuck in their bags. Anyone in our vicinity who wanted peace and quiet was in for a rude awakening with all the shouting, flying sand, and obnoxious laughter.

Day 2: The expensive umbrella we bought for last year’s trip didn’t last through last year’s trip. We bought a cheap one this time. We were driving down the road our second day and fwoomp!everything on the roof had blown off. My sister’s umbrella and boogie boards landed in the middle of a five-lane road. So of course at the beach that day, my umbrella kept falling apart and hers stood strong.

Crappy beach umbrella, mominthemuddle.com

This may account for some of my sunburn.

Day 3: “Red Solo cup. Let’s fill it up. Let’s have a paaar-teeee. Let’s have a paaar-teeee.” Every year, everyone thinks it’s clever to latch onto one song so it gets stuck in everyone’s head the entire week. Four kids singing (the wrong lyrics) off-key day after day became mind numbing. When I heard it on the radio today and realized it was a real song and not some silly words the kids strung together, I nearly fell off my chair.

Day 4: Riding in a van with eight people can be lots of fun. When four of them are kids, it can also not be. At times I’m certain there were eight different conversations going on. I’m not sure how that was possible since I wasn’t part of any of them. My favorite was “Let’s copy Karen” and the kids would repeat everything I said. I hate that game. Then we played the quiet game and my husband gave the winner a quarter. Kids really aren’t so good at that. I got the quarter.

steamed crabs, mominthemuddle.com

No reason to feel crabby at the beach, right?

Day 5: My kids have never been taught proper beach bathroom etiquette. I grew up near a beach. If there weren’t bathrooms, you simply got up, waded into the ocean, and did your thing. My kids think this is disgusting. The same kids who lick their shoes and eat things from their nose. Seriously. Go in the water along with millions of marine wildlife.

Day 6: The kids and their cousins begged us to go go-karting. This activity provides no thrills for me. It’s not NASCAR. It’s not bumper cars. My kids fight over who has to ride with me because I always finish last. I don’t want to shell out $20 to drive my kids around a track so they can complain about it. I do that at home for free.

Day 7: Packing up, the kids got in some last games together. They told one another good-bye. And the adults were already making plans for next year’s trip.

We came home exhausted, filled with sand, and covered in peeling skin. A mountain of laundry sat as tall as the washing machine. The refrigerator held nothing for dinner. Normal life had returned.

But when we looked at the photos, we remembered: that first year when the kids were so small, songs from years past, giant sea glass, running down the dunes, and always getting soaked that first night on the beach. Every year the kids get older and bigger. So do the memories.

That’s why we do it.

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Good Dads Need to Be Celebrated

While my kids don’t have the perfect dad, he’s pretty darn close. And I’m not sure whether they know it. It’s one of those things they may not know until they have kids of their own. But one day they’ll know.

Along my blogging way, I’ve met many dads who feel that fatherhood is shortchanged. Good dads need to be celebrated.

My husband is one of those dads. Although I usually write about my experiences as a mom, today I’m going to talk about him. I usually write about my decisions as a parent, but the truth is, he’s the other half of my team. I only give my side of the story. I couldn’t do my part without his.

1. From the moment my son was born, my husband dove into fatherhood. He took an entire month off work to be with his newborn son. Paternity leave. At night we took shifts on the couch with pillows propped precariously so we could get some sleep, the only thing that worked. Warming bottles of formula and changing a soiled diaper became an Olympic two-person sport at which we became adept in our sleep-deprived fury.

2. Night-time wakings have cursed this house for many years. As soon as our babies cried out, my husband’s feet hit the floor and he zipped across the hall before I had even sat up and opened my eyes. I’d walk in to find him already rocking and shushing. Never did my husband complain that this getting up in the night business was my job.

3. He has slept countless nights on our kids’ floors when they couldn’t fall back to sleep, covered around only his torso with a thin baby blanket and using a stuffed animal as a pillow if that’s all that was available.

4. He plays with the kids every evening after dinner, whether it’s wrestling, tag, a card game, catch, hide-and-seek, kickball, or just taking a walk. Every night he is a family man first, human playground second.

5. While I tend to act like a 10-year-old 90 percent more often than he does, he always makes dinner more lively when he tries to lick his plate when no one is looking or keeps a serious face when he sticks his smelly foot in your face and asks, “Hey, does my foot stink?” It’s the element of surprise that gets us every time.

6. He doesn’t always let the kids win. If you play a game with him, you’re on your own. My kids will be better for it when they’re older, though right now I don’t think they’d agree.

7. He does my daughter’s hair in the morning and lets her pick out her clothes because if I do it, the morning starts out in tears. When he does it, fits of giggles echo down the hall.

8. He doesn’t miss a game, a practice, a play, anything. Though I don’t need to reveal our sideline conversations. The kids should never hear those.

When we have a rough time in our small family, my husband and I get through it and then we laugh. There’s no one else I’d want to muddle through parenthood with.

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful dads out there who are their family’s heroes.

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The Reality of Summer With Kids

It’s the last day of school. My last day of a quiet house. Nothing but the noise of the refrigerator running. Me sitting here writing in peace, watching mysterious white vans drive by and making note of it in my dossier. Me contemplating motherhood, life, and what I’ve mucked up recently.

The last day of school fills everyone with high hopes around here. We gear up for adventure and lazy days. Having nowhere we have to be sounds so utterly amazing, I can’t stand it.

This is how I view the summer ahead:

1. Sitting around the kitchen table doing one of the many crafts I’ve picked out, the kids and I laugh, joke, and bond as we cut, glue, and toss dashes of glitter over our magical creations. They look like something Martha Stewart made herself. Heck, they look better.

sequins ready for crafting

Who wouldn’t want to create with this rainbow of shimmering inspiration?

2. Sitting poolside, I watch my kids frolic and play while I read a book, crunch a snack, or dip my toes in for refreshment. I put my time in for many years of having the kids hang on my every limb. We can enjoy a game of catch or I can relax on a noodle and bob around.

3. Thinking a lazy day is in order, I make plans to cook a delicious snack. Cake pops sound fun. They turn out beautifully. I think we could sell them. We eat them as we lounge in our pajamas, snuggle in beanbags, and watch movies all afternoon.

4. I need to get some work done in the office. The kids quietly play so I can edit or write. When I’m done, I reward them with a trip to the park.

In reality:

1. The kids never want to make the cool crafts I suggest, the ones I’ve been clipping from magazines for years. They have “better” ideas. They don’t like my suggestions on how to embellish them. In the end, they look like something Martha Stewart’s dogs made. After the seemingly ten hours it takes me to set up, it takes my kids 3.4 minutes to slap some glue on their craft and say, “I’m done. Can we go play?” Then it takes another ten hours for me to scrape the glue off the chairs and get every speck of glitter off the floor.

sequin collage

I give him five minutes, tops. A piece of art that will never be complete.

2. The minute I sit in a lounge chair, the kids ask me every five minutes when I’m getting in the pool. The minute I get near the water, the kids still hang on my limbs. At least once a season I see a kid puke something into the pool and his mother swish it out. That kind of ruins the rest of it for me. Thanks, rule-breaking mother.

3. The recipe takes way more time than I imagine. The kids fight over whose turn it is for each step. Having the kids help makes the process go twenty times longer than it should. And when it’s all over, the kids don’t even like them. “Can we have popcorn?” “When can we start the movie?”

4. The moment I get on the computer, the kids sit in the office chair behind me and start to wrestle. Someone gets hurt. I send them upstairs. They go upstairs and continue to fight. I still haven’t gotten any work done. I send them to their rooms. Doors slam. I am mad. Tears. Yelling. I haven’t managed to get any paying work done, but I probably got a post out of it.

Summer: The reality is, I look forward to it every year and I still miss it when it’s gone.

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I Volunteer

For the past four years, I have volunteered weekly in my kids’ classrooms. I usually only spend an hour or two there but I am exhausted when I leave. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a teacher.

This year seems to be my last year of weekly classroom help. Second-grade teachers don’t need parents like I need them. Next year I’ll have to find other classes to help in or other ways. I’ll miss the routine.

When helping in my daughter’s first-grade class this year, groups of kids rotated every fifteen minutes. I got four to six kids at a time. They rolled on a floor covered in chunks of dirt from their shoes. They fought over who was supposed to have what book. They wrestled, took off their shoes, talked, needed pencils sharpened, sucked up strings of snot that hung to their chins, told me they didn’t need a tissue, used pencils as Wolverine claws, sang, did a little work, went to the bathroom for fifteen minutes, ate boogers or scabs, tattled, and argued over how they would pair up to play a game.

I refereed, told the kids what books they were supposed to have, told them wrestling moves were not part of their assignment, pointed out the tissue box, sharpened pencils, told them to do work, helped them read words, told them to stop singing and talking, told them to get out from under my chair, told them that pencils are for writing, listened to stories about their cat, dog, or baby brother, and said “Good job.” Then the next group came and the cycle repeated.

Every class I’ve helped in has been different. Some groups have been more challenging than others, but I did it every year because I simply love it.

English: This is one of the kindergarten rooms...

I’ve enjoyed every minute in the classroom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started volunteering when my son was in kindergarten as a way to adjust to long days without him. My son rarely cracked a smile when he saw me, much less said hello. But I quickly loved helping the other kids read sight words, figure out an addition problem, or just giving them attention.

I worked with kids who had trouble learning their ABCs and sight words. The teacher had me quiz them on sight words. They’d squirm. They’d all but panic. I wasn’t allowed to help them. I knew they hated it. I hated it. But I’d say nice job or find a way to compliment them during class.

Those kids who had the hardest time hardly ever talked to me. I couldn’t blame them. At the end of the year, those were the kids who came up and squeezed me around my waist on my last day. No words. Just a surprise, quick hug. I left with a lump in my throat. I knew it was worth it.

In college, I volunteered in a pre-kindergarten classroom. The teacher told me that some of the kids didn’t get much attention at home. I could tell. They all wanted to show me everything they could do. They fought over who would hold my hand. I learned more in that classroom than I did in many of my college courses, and I’ve never forgotten those lessons.

I volunteer because I know what my kids get at home every day, but I don’t know what another kid’s home life is like. Even though I had loving parents as a kid, it was always nice when someone else took an interest in me. When someone other than your parent takes notice, you take notice in yourself. Sometimes all it takes is a positive comment. “You did a great job reading today.” “Wow, look at you reading those big words.” “I’m proud of you.”

You just never know. So you do it for all of them.

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My Second Chance at the First-Grade Play

My daughter had her first-grade play last night. After what felt like a disaster at my son’s first-grade play, I wanted to make sure this one went smoothly. I took what I learned from my son’s play to make sure my daughter’s was a success…for me.

As the parent of a second child, I sometimes feel mine gets gypped. When all of those first experiences happen with your first child, you run through every extreme of emotions in a way you never thought possible. That first child that you waited forever for? All eyes were on him. The first day of kindergarten? Two weeks worth of tears finally cleared up my battered heart.

When my second child was born, I was breathless. She was a beauty. But I couldn’t help but be concerned about how my son would react. Her first day of kindergarten? Not a tear. I knew what to expect and I held it together. I could be excited with her.

As a second child myself, I never really felt gypped. This gives me hope.

But there are some ways that being the second child is a good thing. Like when I screw up something with my son, I make sure I nail it for my daughter. It’s like having a second chance at my parenting shortcomings.

When my son had his first-grade play two years ago, his teacher instructed us to arrive at 6:30. We did. Everyone and their grandmother and aunt, uncle, and cousin already had a seat in the school’s tiny cafetorium. We had to sit in the very back. During my son’s first, and I’m quite certain last, square-dance performance, I couldn’t see a thing. I even stood up. My daughter kept repeating, “I can’t see.” I couldn’t either. I could only tell my son later what a great job he did, and I couldn’t even be sure.

It had been a miserable evening for me. A late arrival. I had busted the heel of both shoes the moment we arrived and left a trail of rubber crumbs everywhere I went. I feared the entire heel would fall off in one big chunk and walking took extreme caution. I couldn’t see my son in the performance he had talked about for weeks. I fought a huge lump in my throat.

My saving grace was that someone recorded the play and gave me a copy a few weeks later. I never told my son that was the first time I was seeing his performance.

When my daughter performed, I was not going to allow a repeat. We would arrive an hour early for seats up front if we had to. And we did. Third row. We made faces at our daughter. I recorded her speaking part between the heads of the people in front of me. I got to see her every move, every toothless grin.

Finally, I nailed it. And I even wore shoes that didn’t crumble.

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