Tag Archives: Humor

Can You Still Teach This Old Mom New Math Tricks?

If you read my blog regularly, you may know that math is a bad word to me. Just when I think I’m done with it, it rears its ugly head. So how on earth could I have spawned a child who by some miracle is really starting to get it? A child who not only gets it, but was so excited about something new he learned recently that he wanted to teach it to me?

You may read about that episode, where I may or may not have squirmed a little, here. (It’s a guest post for a great local—to me—moms’ site.) And you may find out whether I am or am not smarter than my fifth grader. In math anyway.

It's deceiving, I say.

It’s deceiving, I say.

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Science Fair Is No Picnic

I dread the beginning of school for many reasons. Homework and all of its pencil throwing and tears. A dozen checks to the school’s PTA. And of course, my babies are growing up.

But every September what I dread more than any of it is science fair.

My kids have barely made friends in their new classes when they bring home science fair planners. Due dates loom. Having my kids choose a project that makes sense is like trying to give a cat a bath. Every year my son wants to throw eggs at something and see if they’ll break. Since my kids attend a science and technology school, the standard moldy bread or using a lemon to charge a battery just doesn’t cut it. Smashing eggs is kind of on that list too. Students actually have to test a theory and prove or disprove it. They need controls and variables, reasons the results would turn out differently during each trial of the procedure. I can barely understand it all myself, much less explain it to my kids apparently.

Last year’s thirteen weeks of due dates, arguments, testing, and scrambling made me swear we would get ahead of the game this year. Yet here we are with only days left to decide the kids’ projects. Parents and children in this house can never agree on a project. From the start, the experience is doomed.

My stubborn son didn’t take our advice last year on one of the many projects we suggested, something easily tested, something that could be backed up with research. His only requirement for a project: smashing something. I somehow doubt that is how scientists go about proving the link between how flu germs spread and the way we cover our coughs. He chose to build a Lego car and see whether an egg is safer in the back or front seat. Then he thoroughly enjoyed smashing up eggs as he tested his hypothesis.

egg car

What an eggy mess.

His project simply didn’t work. And there was little research to be found.

Meanwhile, my daughter had her first project and tested the permanence of permanent markers on various surfaces. This project met our approval because it was easy to prove and test, though I didn’t realize how many loads of wash this project would require from me.

permanent marker project

Guess what? It stays on fabric, washes off plastic.

Honestly, I think the kids would benefit from a project that would reveal useful information. How much soap is necessary to remove the odor from feet that have never been properly washed? Or which hand-washing method is more effective: putting soap on your palm and blasting it away as soon as you turn the water on, or running your hands quickly through a drip of water with no soap? I think the kids may be surprised at those results.

And really, wouldn’t parents want to know if the tone of their voice has any effect on the results when asking their kids to do something? Or how much repetition is necessary before a child really gets it through his thick skull that you are not doing the science fair project for him?

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Middle School: A Time of Firsts

This is the follow-up to the post Firsts. Also, a disclaimer: This post is not intended to state that private schools are better. While my experience at my private school was sheltered, many kids there were caught doing “naughty” things. I was just not privy to them at the time.

Sixth grade. Public school. First time riding the bus. First time waiting at the bus stop, walking up those steps and down the aisle searching for a seat, hoping the person who sat with me would be nice. Then hoping anyone sat with me, just not the weird kid.

I’d just finished six years at a religious private school. What I would soon find out was that I was fresh meat. Innocent. Raw. Defenseless. It would take me three years to toughen up, to learn the way of the land, to stop pretending and ease into my own.

One of the first things I learned was that I lived a sheltered life in private school. The kids I played with and learned with didn’t come in a rainbow of colors. On the outside we all looked happy and had decent clothes. I never saw two people punch each other or pull hair and become a blurred mass of fury knocking down books and desks and making teachers and kids scramble.

The worst word I ever heard was sex and it was whispered and giggled about. During middle school I learned to laugh when the other kids did because I didn’t know what an orgasm was or a “BJ,” but they still knew I was clueless. I quickly put things together. I rolled my eyes and said no when boys joked about doing any of those things with me. I wasn’t always sure they were joking.

The first time I put myself out there and admitted to liking a boy, he didn’t like me back. Then I realized the girl I told to ask him, the boy, and probably his friends all knew I had liked him. Crushing.

A mysterious note consoled me. Once opened it read, “I like you. Do you like me? Check one: Yes or No. Sit beside me on the bus and tell me then.” Ugh. I knew who it was. And check, the answer was no. I didn’t sit with him on the bus.

The first time I was offered drugs was on the bus riding through my neighborhood. Some of the long-haired boys who always wore flannel shirts and never carried any schoolbooks asked if I wanted to come smoke a bowl with them. I had an image of a giant cooking bowl filled with something smoldering and the boys sniffing the smoke. It didn’t seem like a good time and I didn’t ever want to be in their company.

One of the first friends I made smoked cigarettes in the bathroom. I didn’t even like to talk during class because I was afraid I’d get in trouble. She talked back to the teacher. When another friend and I spent the night at her house the first time, she stole two warm beers from her parents and offered me some. I declined and watched as the girls all drank and started acting silly.

It would be another year before I tried alcohol. Tequila from a new friend’s liquor cabinet. It was disgusting. But the crème de menthe wasn’t so bad.

I remember my three years of middle school in great detail, despite trying to push the trauma back all these years. My son starts middle school next year. I know what’s coming. I fear it. Part of me wants to run screaming for the hills. The other part of me says we’ll get through this. He will get through this. I am better for having survived middle school. I faced my problems. I made mostly good decisions. Those may have been the first times I faced those things, but they certainly weren’t the last.

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What Laura Ingalls Wilder Taught a Modern Mom

If you haven’t read the Little House books and plan to, know that this post includes some spoilers.

“You know how Mary is always so good and just sits there?”

“Yeah because she’s blonde.”

“You remember that time they went to church and Laura wore Mary’s ribbons and Mary wore Laura’s?”

“Yeah because they were running late.”

Two little girls had just had a conversation about a Little House book in my kitchen. Not American Girl dolls they want or a TV show or a video game. A book.

I didn’t talk about books when I was a kid. When I was about nine, I attempted Little House and failed. I just couldn’t get into it. Over the past year and a half, my seven-year-old daughter and I read the series together. When we started Little House in the Big Woods, I honestly didn’t think we’d get through it. I thought my daughter would find it boring. But in the quiet of the evening, my daughter faced me and soaked it in, asking questions.

When we started Little House on the Prairie and the building of their new house is described in so much detail, I thought we wouldn’t go on, but at the end of each book my daughter couldn’t wait for the next. Neither could I. All I could think was that I was so happy I didn’t read these books when I was a girl. Reading them for the first time with my daughter has been a gift revealed page by page. We couldn’t wait to see what each night would bring. Would the wolves get into the house? Would Pa make it home? “Oh, Mom! You always stop at the good parts!”littlehouse

What’s the appeal of stories about a girl’s pioneer life from more than a century ago? Laura’s many chores, danger, and solitude on the quiet prairie with few toys and comforts is more like our childhoods than we think. After all, even then it was hard for a girl to listen and sit still.

And reading the books for the first time as an adult, the books shed some perspective on my modern life.

• The Ingalls family doesn’t have much. They can take everything they own and move from place to place in a covered wagon. My family has tons of stuff. Some of it fills me with joy but I dare guess how many covered wagons it would take to move all of our things. Wagon train, anyone?

• The Ingalls family fixes what is broken. Pa wears his patched boots to walk a hundred miles for work, saving the money for something else. I wouldn’t want Pa to see my closet full of shoes. For shame, Karen.

• Oh, that mean old Nellie Oleson! If there is one thing I learned while reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, it’s that there is always a mean girl.

• We don’t control blizzards, grasshopper weather, the outcome of our crops, or the effects of illness. The Ingalls family pushes through the cold winter, Pa finds work to make money since the grasshoppers ate their crops, and Mary accepts her blindness with dignity. No one falls to the floor in a fit, whines for pity, or sheds a tear when things go wrong. Let me be clear—there is no dignity in this house in the face of misfortune.

I know the books are historical fiction, but I also know Wilder included many facts in her books. I can’t help but think the emotion is part of that.

After reading about Laura’s life, her closeness with her family, it was hard to read about her last night at home before getting married. I remember my own last night at home when the realization sunk in that things would be different and I would take on new roles. It was hard to see Laura move on. I could barely read the words to my daughter. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” Every few words I paused so I wouldn’t burst into sobs. And then my daughter knew, it clicked, and she looked at me. Tears streamed down her cheeks and we wiped our tears and laughed. “I don’t ever want to leave you!” she cried. But I know she will one day. And that’s OK.

I’ll always have memories of this time together while my kids are young, reading to them, spending time with them. In Laura’s family, Pa plays the fiddle each night while everyone gathers round. In ours, we play games together or hang out. I guess family time is something that has stood the test of time.

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If This Summer Is Any Indication of My Future…

A few years ago, when I’d sit outside to watch my kids ride their bikes after school, I’d see the mom down the street from me drive by. She’d drive by again. Ten minutes later, she’d drive by again. In the course of an hour or two, I’d see her car go by many times. In summer months, her car never seemed to stop coming around the corner. I’d look up from my reading. She’d always smile and wave.

I think I know what she was smiling about. Not a neighborly smile, but a knowing smile. An “enjoy that chair and carefree afternoon” smile because your time is coming. With four kids, she was always picking them up from different schools, then taking someone to soccer or who-knows-what.

Now things have changed. Some of her kids are driving themselves to school and practices. Now I don’t need to sit and watch as my kids play outside after school. But I’ve moved on to something else.

All summer I’ve been dropping off my kids and picking them up. Basketball, gymnastics, Harry Potter, and horseback riding camps. Friends’ houses. Sewing classes. Their social schedules are wearing me out. Between these times, I manage to find an hour or two here and there to meet deadlines and make phone calls for work I actually have. I try in vain to get some writing in because my creative juices can only be bottled up for so long before they expire. Reading blogs and keeping up has gone to the wayside. When I’m on the computer, even for real work, my family says, “Mommy’s on her blog again,” but they use an annoying nasally tone and roll their eyes like being creative, having a hobby, and staying connected aren’t productive. Pshht.

I’m tired of my van. I’m tired of going back and forth. I’m tired of jerks riding my tail and others not moving over when I’m trying to merge. I’m damn near ready to cuss someone out for that. I’m not cut out for speeding around town trying to make it to the next activity or timing one kid’s play dates with another’s camp times. There’s always some lag time for me and I end up sitting (in my van) or going to the store for the third time in a week.

My kids have had an awesome summer. They’ve experienced some great new things and kept in touch with friends. I’m worn out. And I’m scared to look down the street and see what’s ahead.

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Road Trips: Arriving at Our Destination

Twenty-eight hours. Seven days. Those numbers may not amount to anything big, but to me they equal progress. After ten years of trips with kids, my husband and I finally have progress. No shushing whining kids, doing acrobatic maneuvers from the front seat to reach a dropped toy. No hearing, “My shoe come off! Ha, ha, ho, ho!” Silence and then an ear-piercing scream. No more potty breaks on the side of the road (fingers crossed). Can I say it out loud now? We have arrived. We are finally at the point with our kids where we can take cool trips. We can venture further away from home. We can start to show our kids the world.

I know. People out there, they do this. They pack up their tiny tots and pack and plays. They tour and do naps on the road. That has never been us. That was always hell. And I’ll admit that I don’t think being cooped up in a hotel room for a week with my kids is ever going to be easy. A five-year-old boy thing is to jump on the hotel bed. Did you know ten-year-old boys still jump on the bed? Back and forth over both of them, at least mine does. I fear in ten years I’ll still be telling him to stop jumping on the bed.

I forget easily my own shenanigans as a kid: Fighting with my sister in the car. Not being able to sleep in a room and bed that weren’t my own. My sister not wanting to sleep with me because I always draped a leg over her in the middle of the night, which got a bit awkward when we were teenagers.

But even those are the memory makers, getting from point A to point B. The nights when you slept in luxury and the nights when you prayed bed bugs wouldn’t come out of their hidey-holes.

On our recent Maine trip, we made the best of these moments. We enjoyed beautiful scenery, a bit of history, and good food, though my daughter does prefer the plain pasta I make at home. We could leave our hotel in the morning and stay out all day.

There were the occasional head scratchers. “That restaurant was goo-ood!” heard after my child ate overpriced boxed mac and cheese. And, “Dad? Is that rain?” as a downpour brought cars on I-81 to a crawl.

But my family just spent 28 hours together in the car. No screaming, no scratches, no tears. We spent seven days in four hotels up and down the east coast. Aside from someone still jumping on the bed, we’ve come a long way.

It was worth it.

It was worth it.

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Sometimes Kids’ Adventure Needs to Be Mom-Free

“Mom, we did really awesome things that you would not like,” my son rambled from the backseat, along with descriptions of climbing high, wet, slippery rocks and getting up-close and personal with a possible rattlesnake.

My brain stopped at those high, slippery rocks. I knew those window falls he was talking about. He’s right. There’s no way I’d ever let him climb that.

But my son’s quote is the essence of our relationship. He seeks awesome things and I typically do not like them. Mention adventure and my danger radar goes off. I go into protection mode when it comes to my kids. I know I can’t wrap them in bubble wrap and send them out into the world. I know I have to let them live an actual life and experience actual things. None of that means I won’t worry the entire time they are away from me. And in order for my kids to have certain adventures, like awesome things I would not like, sometimes they just need to be away from me.

My son went camping this week with a friend and his dad. This dad has experience backpacking, camping in places much rougher than the hour-away campground they went to, complete with bathhouse. He’s been a camp counselor and a school principal. A pretty good resume if you are the type of mom who considers credentials before sending your child into the wild.

My breath may catch when my son climbs to new heights. I may tell him to be careful when he walks on slippery rocks. I may remind him twenty times to remember to shower so doesn’t get itchy at night. But once he leaves me, I know what I don’t know won’t hurt me, he’ll have fun, and he’ll do things I wouldn’t allow. He’ll experience life in a way I would never let him. Sometimes that’s the best part of letting go. In order for my kids to truly experience life, sometimes they need to do it out of my grasp.

When they come home and tell me their adventures, I smile and nod my head and I’m glad I wasn’t there to hold them back. And sometimes, I just pretend to listen. I don’t need to hear about all the awesome stuff.

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Road Test: What a Red Light Taught Me About Patience

I had passed my driving test long ago. Gone was the stress of when to merge into traffic, when to mash the brakes, and Mom’s horrified face as I backed onto the highway we lived on. Now I endured new driving lessons.

After the imminent death of my Ford Escort, a sleeker Toyota Corolla took its place. Dad and I had shopped for this one. It was the sunroof that sealed the deal. The only little snag was that I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. I picked up the motions quickly after a few lessons, though I still managed the occasional spine-shifting grinding when I missed a gear. In no time I would be driving that baby around town: sunroof open, permed hair blowing in the wind, Edie Brickell tape blaring. When my dad took me out on the road for one last test, we realized he had forgotten something very important.

Life on the coast meant flat streets. No sledding hills. No grassy slopes to roll down in summertime. Just manmade overpasses and ramps. As we headed home after my road test, I stopped at a red light near the top of an overpass. I realized I didn’t know how to keep the car from rolling. Dad told me what to do but when the light turned green, I nearly rolled into the car behind me. I watched in my rearview mirror, helpless and screeching, “What do I do?!” as headlights grew closer. Horns honked. We jerked back and forth like a rodeo bull and the car stalled. My dad chuckled and I panicked. Cars sped around us. The light and my cheeks turned red. I would never get through this light. And worse, someone might see me! Anyone!

Again, the light turned green and again I tried to slowly lift my foot off the clutch and tap the gas, but we rolled back. The car jerked. I wanted to switch seats and let my father bail me out. He comfortably reclined in the passenger seat as if it were his own brown La-Z-Boy knock-off, urging me to stay calm. I could do this, he said.

But I couldn’t be calm. A look in my rearview mirror again revealed flashing blue lights. “Oh, no. I’m going to get a ticket,” I thought. But no officer ever approached my car. “He just knows I’m an idiot. What if I roll back into him?” After a few more tries and with what sounded like ten NASCAR engines, I finally gunned it through the light.

My dad immediately led me down the road to a less-traveled area, found a ramp, and let me practice until I got it right. It didn’t take long.

My dad seemed so cool and calm as I freaked out. We could have argued as I so often do now with my kids. He could have lost his patience with me as I easily do these days, trying to get my kids to see that they are capable. How come I didn’t get that sense of calm? I always punish myself for not being a more patient parent. Sometimes I get it right, but I think the truth has always been there: I’m the person I always was. Even more, at their core, my kids will probably always be who they are now.

Of course, it doesn’t mean I still can’t try to find that calm. I can take a breath, try again, and remember that maybe I am capable, as a parent, a driver, a person. Maybe Dad’s lesson reached far beyond the wheel.

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Facing My Fear, Two Feet Off the Ground

I don’t take risks, even with two feet planted firmly on the ground. I don’t stray far outside of my comfort zone, which doesn’t extend far beyond home. So when a friend invited my husband and me to a ropes course, I decided I needed a change. I would sign up and worry about panic later.

When I learned the ropes course was forty feet in the air, I tried not to think about it even though I have an extreme fear of heights. I once froze in the middle of a climbing net at a children’s museum, panic locking my ability to breathe or rationalize the fact I was wallowing in millions of germs.

When I admitted I was nervous about my upcoming adventure, my daughter couldn’t understand why. In her seven-year-old mind the ropes course looked like a midair playground. She never knew I was afraid of heights. Immediately she coached me.

“Mommy, you can do this! You have to do this!” she urged. “You always make me do stuff. You’re going to do this.”

Well now I had to do this. As I climbed the rope ladder up to the first platform and reality settled in, it was those words that kept my quivering legs going. Immediate panic overwhelmed me as I stood shaking at the top of the ladder.

I knew I actually might not do this. I could have driven an hour, paid my fee, and climbed that ladder only to turn around and say I can’t. While the other eleven people in the group moved on to different platforms, tightropes, and nets, I fought back tears and an urge to turn and hightail it through the woods.

It became a morning that wasn’t about teamwork. No one could make me do this but me. Could I cross nine squares floating in the sky like rocks in a stream? “Take one step. Just stand on that tiny square and see what it’s like,” I thought. “Good, now another.” I thought a lot of words I tell my kids not to say. I thought about my daughter and how I didn’t want to let her down. I had to do just one obstacle for her. I didn’t want to go home and say that I didn’t.

It’s embarrassing to stand forty feet high, wiping the one tear that got away, struggling with a lifetime of never taking chances. I didn’t think about getting to the other side or how I’d get down. I thought about taking the next step.

Walking these planks were about as hard as I'd imagine walking a pirate ship's plank to be.

Walking these planks were about as hard as I’d imagine walking a pirate ship’s plank to be.

It felt like hours, but I made it across. The only thing that kept me going after that was that I wanted to try the zip line, the way down from this madness. I had to go through two more obstacles to get there.

This little zipline wasn't so bad but getting to the pole at the other end and connecting my hooks to a safety wire caused great panic. Thankfully someone did that job for me. I hugged the pole.

This little zip line wasn’t so bad but getting to the pole at the other end and connecting my hooks to a safety wire caused great panic. Thankfully someone did that job for me. I hugged the pole.

This was tough but quick. Almost at the end!

This was tough but quick. You can’t see the fear on my face. Almost at the end!

Every muscle tense, my palms sweaty, my feet unsure, I did those too.

I knew the zip line would be quick. I wiped my palms, inched off the platform, and in one exhaustive scream, a release of fear, relief. For the first time all morning, I could laugh and breathe and say, “I did it.”

“At least you conquered your fear,” my husband said on the way home.

“Not really,” I said. Faced it maybe, but it still conquers me.

“Well at least you’ll know what to do if you’re ever in that situation again,” he said.

Fear caught in my throat. “My God,” I thought. “I hope I’m never in that situation again.”

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Honesty and the Price of a Fish

Three fish darted frantically around the plastic bag squatting on the counter. The cashier punched in two codes, and then announced a total.

“You forgot a fish,” my son said, looking up at the woman. “There are three fish in the bag and you only rang up two.”

He was right. She had missed a $6 fish that he would be paying for with his own money. She rang it up, he paid, and we left.

“That was a nice thing you did in there,” my husband said. “Not many people would have pointed that out.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether I would have pointed it out. I hadn’t even noticed the cashier had missed a fish. Maybe I would have figured it evens out with all the fish that die within a week and we never bring back.

Not a fish in my son's tank but one he'd like.

Not from my son’s tank but a fish we had to stare at for a long time.

My son is a fairly honest boy. He’s never been a good liar. Oh, he’s tried. But I can look at him and he caves. His guilty conscience gets him. Faulty cashiers aside, I have the guilty conscience of a hundred nuns. When I know I did something bad, my guilt eats away at me like a fleet of gnawing rats. I punish myself worse than anyone else ever could. I see this trait in my son. While I grew into it, he seems plagued by it now.

He follows rules. He gets antsy when he notices from the backseat that I’m going five miles over the speed limit. When left with his grandparents for an evening, he’ll remind his sister that they can’t have ice cream again because they already had some that day.

That is a trait he did not get from me. Sure, as a kid I knew what it meant to be reliable and I was scared to not follow rules, but I would have easily forgotten a little thing like extra ice cream. I would do anything to get something sweet. I stole a box of brown sugar from the kitchen and hid it in my room to eat whenever I wanted.

I learned the hard way that lies lead to more lies and that you get caught. I stole my parents’ checkbook and hid it in my doll cradle for some authentic play. I didn’t even fess up when I knew they were looking for it. Finally, I returned it when they closed the account.

I didn’t fear dishonesty the way my son does. My daughter seems to be experimenting with dishonesty right now, testing boundaries with little white lies. Her lies often grow out of competition, not wanting to be left behind. When we heard an owl in the middle of the night, she heard it too. She even saw it from her window. In the dark. Three different nights.

Sometimes being the youngest is hard. I remember. When her older brother describes a movie that’s too old for her, my daughter insists she’s seen it too. We all know she is lying.

“Who’s the main character then?” my son quizzes.

“I can’t remember his name.” Hmm, it is a boy.

“What does he look like?”

“Uh, brown hair.”

“Wrong! He has dark hair!”

“That’s what I said!”

The interrogation continues and so does my daughter’s stubborn will.

But when I least expect it, she shows that guilty conscience too. And honesty. After a normal afternoon, she’ll burst into tears and admit she got reprimanded hours earlier at school.

At some point, I know my son will tell me lies. And at some point, I know my daughter will stop. Honestly, it’s what kids do. One day I may even look out my daughter’s window in the middle of the night and see that owl.

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