Thursday, April 29, 2010

Field trip

My middle son’s teacher called me one recent afternoon.

“Oh, hi!” I said as I realized who it was. I realized I didn’t know her first name; I always called her Mrs. So-and-so, as my son did. Then, “Is everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine,” she probably had to preface most of her calls to parents that way. “I just wanted to let you know that there’s a permission slip in your son’s take home folder. We have a field trip tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s right!” I remember putting that in a pile of papers before vacation.

“Yes, so I’m just calling parents…”

“Oh, good, so I’m not the only one.”

“No, no. Don’t worry about it. Just make sure he brings it in tomorrow.”

“Will you be walking?” The kids were going to the town library, which is possibly a half mile or so from the elementary school.

“No, we’ll be taking a bus.”

I told Mrs. So-and-so about the time when my son was in kindergarten and they had walked on their field trip to a local destination. And because they would be going right by our house, I put balloons on our front door. When my son had come home that day, he told me he had been embarrassed. “It was the worst day of my life!” (Since then he’s had many more worst days.)

Mrs. So-and-so suggested maybe I could stand outside and wave at the bus.

I told her I thought that would be embarrassing, too. I gathered that the intersection of public and private was what was uncomfortable for my son.

The next morning I asked him if he put the signed permission slip in his folder. He said he did, and informed me that they were taking a bus. I told him I knew that, and it was too bad they weren’t walking (thinking these kids need to spend all the time outside that they can). He told me he thought they were taking the bus because it might rain.

I said, “Remember that field trip when you were in kindergarten, and I decorated the door, and you told me it was the worst day of your life?”


“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.” At one time, this had been a very sore subject, something I couldn't even bring up.

“No, mom, it was just the worst day of my life because we had to walk.”

Surely my son’s increased maturity and understanding led to his historical revisionism and thankfully, I no longer have to bear the burden of guilt of embarrassing him in front of his classmates. Glad I mentioned it!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vacation hangover

Our preschool director called me this morning, saying my youngest was having a very hard day and was currently having an office visit.

“I think he has vacation hangover.” He’d had a rough day yesterday, too. The note that came home said, “During lesson he got mad and decided to scribble o his paper and make a paper airplane…he threw his cup and the crayons went everywhere…” Ultimately he had two office visits and a bunch of broken crayons.

Today, the director told me, “He’s taking off his shoes and socks.”

“Oh, he’s doing the ‘I’ll-show-you! I’m-gonna-get-naked” routine?”

We both giggled. The director has two sons of her own.

I couldn’t imagine what had happened. I was sure he was going to start off his day on a better note. I had talked to him about how he might apologize to Ms. So-and-so and how the conversation could go: “I’m sorry for my behavior yesterday” or “I’m sorry for how I acted.” He informed me that he thought “I’m sorry” would do it.

I told him, “I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”


“Well, for one thing, she’s Christian.” And for another, she isn’t going to take your tantrum personally, I thought.

“Oh. Right.” And all Christians are nice and all not-Christians are not-nice.”

“No, no, no, honey. Being Christian doesn’t necessarily mean being nice. It just means following Christ. We try to be nice but no one is perfect. And, there are also a lot of not-Christians who are perfectly nice.”

I continued, “I just mean that you know she knows the Lord’s Prayer: ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ ”

“Oh. Right.”

So, I couldn’t imagine where things could have taken a turn for the worse. It was only 10:30 when the director called me.

“Can I talk to him?”

She handed him the phone.

“Hi, honey,” I said.

He began to sob.

“Are you having a hard day?”

“Yeah-ah-ah,” he wailed.

“What happened? You started off great today…”

More sobbing.

“Honey, you can start your day over any time. Just start over.”

The sobbing continued.

“I love you. Ms. So-and-so loves you. God loves you. No matter what.”

The director got back on the phone, “I feel so bad for him.”

“Yeah, me, too. But I am not coming to get him.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t recommend it!”

“Giving in to that manipulation would set a bad precedent. Can you just let him have his lovey?” I asked. He usually only has it at nap time. “And please let him know I’ll be in a little early today. 5:00ish. We have baseball.”

When I arrived at the school that evening, it was closer to 5:30 since baseball had been postponed because of the rain. And when I walked into the classroom, my son was sitting on the floor defiantly with his shoes off.

“Uh oh…” I said.

He saw me and burst into tears. Apparently he was refusing to clean up a bin of plastic dinosaurs he had dumped out. He ran towards me and I lifted him into my arms. “I never have a good day at school,” he despaired.

I sat down in one of the pint-sized chairs next to the table where all the dinosaurs were strewn, and held him and rocked him, wordlessly.

After a few minutes, “Let’s go get lovey and he can help you clean up the dinosaurs.”

“Okay, Mom.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dog story

“What’s this?” my middle son had just got the mail and there was a card on top of the pile. Card sometimes equals invitation, so I am sure his interest was piqued.

“Oh, it looks like a condolence card. From the vet.” I said.

“A what?”

“Open it, you’ll see.”

He studied the cover and the insides and then read aloud, “We are so very sorry for your loss, Dr. Hummina, Hummina, Hummina and Hummina.”

“Oh, that’s really sweet of them,” I assured him, and put my arm around his shoulder.

“Yeah.” He handed me the card.

Our dog had just died, two days before.

I will never forget how it happened. I had just returned home after leaving our little Lhasa Apso (inherited from Grandma when she passed away a little more than a year prior) at the vet’s office. He would be staying overnight for tests, treatments, and observation. He had some significant health issues anyway, which I managed with diet and medication, but when I brought him in that day, he was just not himself. He was not eating, was a bit shaky (which I had initially attributed to the fact that he had just been groomed and was probably cold), and had begun breathing shallowly and rapidly.

The microwave was humming, heating up a cup of coffee. I tossed my keys in the drawer and fished my phone out of my purse before tucking it into the cabinet. The red light was blinking, indicating that I had missed a call. Oh yeah, I remembered. I had silenced the ringer while I was at the veterinarian’s office.

The message was actually from the vet. I returned it immediately. She told me, “He crashed.”

“What? What do you mean?”

I don’t exactly remember everything she told me about the tests they had started to run, or exactly what happened, but the bottom line was that he was in a coma and only alive because he was on oxygen.

I thought about how eerily similar his illness was to my mother’s (part of me wonders if the dog ever got over my mom’s death.). Lhasa Apsos are an ancient breed from Tibet and considered very sacred dogs because the Tibetans believed that when the master of a Lhasa Apso died, his soul would enter the Lhasa’s body.

I had mentioned that to my pastor just the day before. She told me our Christian faith doesn’t believe that. But I couldn’t help thinking that this belief began way before Jesus’ time.

I told the vet, “I don’t want you to do anything heroic; I don’t want him to live an undignified life.”

She explained what would happen when they removed the oxygen. Because he was already in a coma, he would slip away peacefully. Then she suggested I give a call back when I had collected myself in order to make final arrangements.

It was not easy to break the news to the kids.

My youngest said, “I feel bad for Benji.”

“Why, honey?”

“Because he died.”

“Yes, but he was old. It was time. He'd had a good life with us and spent his last days in the garden, the same garden that Grandma had planted, in the same area where Grandma used to sit. He’s probably in heaven now, with Grandma.”

I don’t know if that’s true, but the movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven” came to mind. A smile spread across my son’s face slowly.

My boys and I are planning to put the dog’s ashes along with some forget-me-not seeds in the garden near “the three soldiers” – the pine trees Grandma had helped them plant the summer before she passed away. This will also probably be the right time to get the St. Francis of Assisi statue that I have wanted for the garden, as he was the patron saint of animals, as well as the author of one of my all time favorite prayers.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith ;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Experiencing technical difficulty

Yesterday morning at baseball camp I was talking to some other moms about what it's like to telecommute. I mentioned one of the drawbacks being the necessity to perform one's own tech support. Well, wouldn't you know, an hour later, during my 10:00 a.m. conference call, when we decided it would be a good idea to collaborate online, my computer told me I needed to restart in order to launch NetMeeting. So, I told my colleague, "I'll ping you when I reboot; ten minutes, tops." I shut down. But I couldn't reboot. So, by the time I picked up the kids and I saw these moms again (one of whom told me I must've jinxed myself), I had been through tech-support hell and by that time was resigned to the fact that I couldn't work until I got my emergency replacement computer, which was promised "before noon the next day."

The one benefit of that experience was that I did not have to work around the kids that afternoon and could actually hang out with them and get the laundry taken care of and prepare for Pasta Night without being in a rush. (I tried not to think about all the work backlog that would await and the fact that I am preparing for an event less than two weeks from now.)

Fast forward to this morning, when I'm shooing the boys around the house, trying to get them out the door, so I can get back in time to wait for the UPS delivery, for which I'd need to sign. I figured before noon meant between 10-12, so when I got back at 9:20 and saw the notice stuck to the door, I was crestfallen. More than that, really. I got out of the car and stomped up the steps and snatched the note off the door, cursing.

I trudged upstairs and signed on to and tried to track the package with the new number on the notice. There was no information available. I figured it would at least say, "delivery attempted." I looked up the original tracking number at it indicated the package was still out on the truck. I cursed some more. I was hoping I'd be able to schedule my day around a trip to the UPS facility, but not if the package was still in limbo.

I checked online several more times before I trudged back downstairs with the signed notice to stick back on the door to ensure that -- if I couldn't figure out how and where to pick up the package -- that when the UPS man came back tomorrow he'd just leave it.

When I got out to the porch, I saw the UPS truck pulling around the corner. The driver parked across the street. He had a package. For me! "Oh my gosh," I said. "You came back!" And I went on about how I telecommute, I can't do much of anything without my computer, thought I'd have to ... didn't know what I was gonna do...blah blah blah." I imagine he figures we telecommuters really need to get out more, but really don't know what he thinks given his equaniminous demeanor.

That really made my day, even though I spent most of this afternoon in tech-support hell again, because this machine currently can't read my hard drive, which contains some sort of vital email client information that I need to access all my mail files and my calendar. As soon as I know the kids are in bed for keeps tonight, I'll be back on the phone with tech support. (And I'll try not to think about all the work backlog that would await and the fact that I am preparing for an event less than two weeks from now.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Good sports

"They're on the Phillies, I think. And so is so-and-so, and he's like one of the best players! I don't think they did the teams very well..."

"Oh, honey, I am sure the teams were fair based on what the evaluators saw at try outs." My middle son was talking about two of his best friends who were not on the same team as him. "And anyway, aren't you 'like one of the best players,' too?"

I had just picked up The Bigs from their second day at the baseball camp that they were attending during school vacation week.
"I dunno..."

"Well, think about last year -- your team made it all the way to the final game of the playoffs."

"I hate the Cubs!"

"Is that the team that beat your team in the final game?"

"Yeah!" he spit the word out with contempt.

"Well, you can't always be number one. But no matter where you end up you can always be a good sport."


"Seriously. I saw Dustin Pedroia strike out looking yesterday. I could tell he was furious. I am sure he wanted to whack the umpire with his bat. The pitch was way inside."


"The point is, you can feel however you want, you just can't..."

"...kill someone?" he interrupted. I imagined he was reliving the pain of not winning the championship game last year. It had been a lot of pressure for several of the kids, some of whom, like my son, were only seven, and some of whom may have been younger. Some, fortunately for them, didn't even realize that the game was the grand finale.)

"Uhmmm, yes, well..." I hoped he meant that figuratively and wondered if I needed to review his Nintendo DS games. I don't think anyone in Mario Hoops 3 on 3 actually dies, and I am certain that in the Pokemon games the battles end when one of the characters "faints." I was going to say 'act in a socially inappropriate manner.' And having a hissy fit on the baseball field is not socially appropriate. That's why Dustin Pedroia didn't have a hissy fit."

The conversation moved on.

I am glad for the backdrop of sports in my kids lives. It gives me a context for discussion and them a context for understanding how to get along with others, how to do your best, when to be a leader and when to be a follower, and how to handle things when they don't go the way you think they should. The "with grace and dignity" part will come as they mature, I am sure.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Helping hand

"I don't really feel like helping my brother," my oldest said, as I asked him to carry my middle son's baseball bag in from the car.

It was just the two of us and there was a lot to bring in. We had just come from middle school orientation, which had necessitated leaving my middle son's baseball practice 15 minutes early in order to attend. My middle son had pitched a dramatic, morose, and melancholy fit for a good half hour, including much foot dragging, dirt kicking, shoulder slumping, and the ultimate, "I don't even know why I am playing baseball if I can't be at practice." Never mind the kid spent a good portion of time in the yard pitching before we even went to practice.

"This orientation is important to your brother. We can't miss it. I only found out about your baseball practice less than 24 hours ago. We're lucky we could go at all!" It was true, the practice had been rescheduled because of anticipated bad weather during the weekend. And both of these activities had trumped my standing Thursday night plans.

"And you're playing baseball because you love baseball." Duh, I thought.

Midway through the orientation, I sent my younger two home with Daddy, who swung by the school after his commute, so it was just my oldest and me divesting the car of the backpacks, lunch boxes, papers, dinner remnants, and sporting equipment.

"Well, I need your help..." was what I told him. I didn't feel like helping my middle son, either, and the idea of interrupting him from doing whatever he was doing to get his stuff out of the car was even more distasteful.

"He was being really jerky about leaving practice."

"Yeah, he really was. Sometimes it's hard to be nice to people when they aren't being nice to you, isn't it?"


"I think he was feeling miserable so he wanted all of us to feel miserable."

"Yeah. Probably."

"Well, let's do the loving thing and help him anyway." I thought about how my middle son will hold the door open for me even when I'm the 'worst mother in the world.' He might not make eye contact with me, but he still does it.

My oldest groaned as I tried to hand him the baseball bag. "He's gonna owe me..."

"Oh, nuh uh uh," I cut him off. "Don't keep score. Don't expect any particular outcome..."

"Well, he does! If I do this for him, shouldn't he do something for me?"

"Like what, carry in all five bags of groceries so you don't have to carry any?"

I could see the light-bulb moment reflected in my son's eyes.

"What goes around comes around, honey. Just do the right thing."

Without another word he rearranged the other things he was carrying and took the bag, slinging it over his shoulder.

"Thank you for your help."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Because I can

"Why do you stay?" one of the other moms said to me at my middle son's baseball practice the other night, after I told her I'd drive her son home if she was leaving.

"He likes me to seems like by the time we got home, I'd only have a little while before I'd have to interrupt the other two to rally them back into the car...I don't know, really...mainly the watching, I guess. And we all brought our gloves..." I didn't have my elevator pitch down pat, obviously.

We did bring our gloves and a couple of balls that seem to roll around in our car regularly these days. And a Nintendo DS or two, and a bunch of snacks. And books. There was plenty to do. And my cell phone reception isn't that great at the ballfield, so at least I wouldn't be doing much of anything electronic.

It was 6:00 p.m., not too buggy out, and my oldest (with much eye rolling) and I coaxed my youngest out of the car to play catch. It worked just fine for a while until my oldest got impatient and decided he'd go hang out in the dugout with his brother's team, but not before instigating a boy spat by taunting his brother, who threw his glove, stomped over to it, threw it again, stomped again, on an on until he was sitting with his back against the fence pouting. I rolled the ball over to him and it landed next to his glove.

"I don't wanna play anymore, Mom!" he insisted. "I stink at this game!"

"You don't stink. Everyone has to start somewhere! Practice makes perfect!"

He gave me the angry eyebrows.

"Okay, you want to go sit in the car? We can have a snack and watch the practice."

I am trying to help my youngest understand and like baseball so that when we go to local Minor League games it will be fun for him.

I opened the cooler and saw that my middle son had forgotten to take his water bottle. I asked my youngest if he'd go bring it to my oldest in the dugout. "What's a dugout, mom?" That was one of our lessons that night.

For the remainder of the hour-and-a-half practice, my youngest and I hung out in the car together. He played his brother's DS games and I leafed through a magazine. We talked intermittently.

So, why do I stay? Because, for now, I can.

It's the same reason I brought my oldest's clarinet to school yesterday when he forgot it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mending fences

Late yesterday afternoon my middle son had a boy spat with one of his neighborhood friends. He had already stomped back home a few times for this or that reason and this last time I told him that was enough. Just call it a day. It was close to dinnertime anyway. I asked the friend's mom to send my oldest home, and thanked her for having them.

Come to find out, there was some sort of "brother's triangle" going on, where the friend and my middle son had a disagreement, and my oldest still wanted to hang out with him, even though the neighbor is more my middle son's friend than my oldest's.

This prompted another discussion about family unity and "boyalty" -- loyalty among the brothers.

Today, the neighbor knocked on the door not long after we came home from church to ask if my oldest could come over and shoot hoops. I told him that might be a nice idea, but he was across the street with another friend. He said he'd come back later. I did not offer my middle son at the time, because he was doing something with his younger brother, and I didn't want him to even think about ditching his little bro.

A while later, I called the two of them downstairs to help me in the back yard. They were reluctant, but I felt shored up by a conversation I'd had with a friend yesterday about not letting them off the hook regarding pitching in. Besides, it tied into the conversation I wanted to have about family unity and teamwork.

My youngest flat out refused to pick up any sticks. I told him his consequence would be loss of DS privileges. He opted for that choice anyway and went over to the swing sets, so I had one on one time with my middle son.

I told him, "So and so came by asking for your brother. How do you feel about that."

"Did he say I could come, too?"

"No, but did you forget that you told me you never wanted to see him again? That's why I didn't bring it up."

"Well, that was yesterday...what if he says I can't come over today?"

"Well, he might. Then neither of you will go."

"What if my brother still goes."

"Honey, I won't let him. When he gets home, I'll talk to him about it."

About the time my oldest came back over, and I integrated him into the backyard cleanup, our neighbor was out in his back yard. He came over to the hole in the fence when I was passing by with the wheelbarrow and asked me if my oldest could come over. I told him we were doing a chore first, and that he and my middle son needed to talk. So, I sent my middle son over to the fence. Soon enough I heard laughter and other sounds of camaraderie. I never heard, "I'm sorry," but is it even necessary? Boys don't seem to waste time on grudges. It's either, "You stink" and move on no longer friends. Or "What argument?" and move on, same as it ever was.

My oldest asked me, "How come he's not doing anything?" and pointed to his youngest brother on the swings. I told him that he would rather not play his DS than help us with the chore, but that if he could find a way to encourage him, I'd be more than happy."

My oldest went over to talk to my youngest and shortly thereafter my youngest was throwing twigs into the wheelbarrow. He announced, "Mark says I can play Mario Cart!"

"Oh, what great news, honey! I'm so glad you decided to help!" as I smiled at my oldest.

My oldest said, "Mom, it works better when you give him something rather than take something away."

I had no clever reply to that.

After we finished cleaning up the yard, I sent The Bigs over to the neighbors' house to shoot hoops in their driveway, and pitched baseballs to my youngest.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sticks and Stones

Last time I wrote about this I was all for letting the kids address the name calling and work it out themselves (with a little coaching and encouragement from me), since ultimately that will be what has to happen in the real world.

However, my middle son came home with hurt feelings too many days this week. Apparently the name calling has escalated from the typical "jerk," and "weirdo" to "fat" and "wide." My son is off-the-charts large for his age, which has proven to be an asset in sports, particular basketball, and hopefully will be in football next fall, but I wouldn't call him fat. Nor would his pediatrician.

My mama-bear instinct emerged: I will do anything it takes to protect my young. However, one of the things sets people apart from animals is that we are able to think and reason in order to solve problems in a civilized manner, so I knew I needed to do just that. To be empathetic. To be compassionate. To look at the whole situation.

My son admitted that he had called names back, in retaliation. Additionally, I know he tends to adopt the "class clown" mentality thus by "laughing it off," may have been unknowingly condoning the behavior.

I thought back to my own childhood. Kids call each other names, give each other nicknames. I wondered if its just a natural rite of passage of childhood? But if that's the case, does the hurt go away when we grow up? Or do we still remember that elementary school nickname. I know I still remember my high school nickname, and my brother's, and cringe at the thought. I bet my brother does, too. Oftentimes nicknames can be embarassing or downright hurtful. Where should the line be drawn?

I decided yesterday it should be drawn right then and there, before anything escalated further. Before anyone made a threat, made physical contact, or used "sticks and stones" -- the kinds of behavior that would not only cause more hurt feelings, but possibly bodily injury or being kicked off the bus or suspended.

Since my son had said it was okay for me to handle it, I did. I wrote the bus driver a note, just to let her know what was going on and let her know my son and I would be discussing strategies about how to deal with it. I asked her to keep an ear open for it, since I am sure most name calling happens under the radar. I wrote short emails to two of the other parents. I was hesitant, because it's a touchy subject and I didn't want to cast blame.

Because my oldest had a playdate yesterday, I had one-one-one time with my middle son while their younger brother was still at preschool extended day. Some of the strategies we talked about involved my son just sitting with other kids, or sitting with his brother.

He told me he liks his friends, and he just wishes they would stop calling him names, especially one kid in particular, who he thought would laugh at him if he told him "it's not cool to call me names." I asked him, "If he did that, is he really your friend?"

Later, that particular friend's mom called me and we had a positive and productive conversation. She told me her son was very upset about things and she wanted him to talk to my son and me. My son declined, since he's not much of a phone person, and said he'd talk with him on the bus. I did speak to the boy and then relayed the message to my son that he's sorry and didn't realize he was hurting feelings.

My son was relieved. He told me he had thought his friend considered him a loser. My heart broke to hear him say that and I embraced him in a big mama-bear hug.

Names do hurt.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Laundry: not part of the job description

My middle son was walking around this morning with just one of his new t-shirts on. I knew he wanted items that were recently washed, yet not put away.

"Hmmm, I said aloud. "If I were a basket of laundry, where would I be?"

My oldest ventured, "On the dining room table?"

I almost snorted coffee out of my nose. I had whisked all the partially processed laundry off the dining room table last night just prior to "Pasta Night," so that our guests would not have to share table space with little piles of shirts, pants draped over the backs of chairs, or our centerpiece of socks-and-underwear.

I couldn't remember exactly where I put the basket, and told my middle son I needed to get a coffee before I did anything else, which is why he was walking around naked from the waist down in the first place.

I sighed and said to my oldest, "Oh, geez, I'm not a very good housekeeper, am I?"

He answered, "That's okay, Mom. You already have a job."

I had actually moved my laptop to the kitchen table on my way to get the coffee; my middle son and I were planning a working breakfast since he hadn't finished his homework from the night before. My to-do list flashed before my eyes.

"Your job is being our mom."

I stopped in my tracks. How validating, I thought and considered making a witty comment about how part of being a mom is actually doing all that housework, but who says? It so happens that in our house, it's me who does it or delegates it. But in some households, maybe Dad or Grandma does it, or maybe they have a cleaning service. Doing laundry is not actually part of the job description of mom. I imagine in the grand scheme of things, when my sons grow up, they will care more about my having spent time with them: cheering them on, helping them with homework, making them go to church, and as long as they have clean clothes to wear, they will care less about whether they get them out of their drawers or closet, out of the basket, or off the dining room table. Furthermore, I doubt it will really matter if I bought them at a store or acquired them via the hand-me-down network, as long as they think they're cool.

I decided to simply accept the compliment. I hugged my son and thanked him, before I set off to find the laundry basket.

It turned out to be in my room, camouflaged by the bins of summer clothes I haven't fully integrated yet. I recalled my reasoning was that if I left it in any area where kids might be, during which time their friends had joined them in their practice of running around the house like a small troop of monkeys, I'd be back to square one with the laundry as it would likely end up strewn across the floor (along side the Pokemon cards and Nerf gun bullets) and disguise itself as dirty.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Share and share alike

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." 1 John 3:16

When my friend messaged that scripture to me, I chuckled and replied, "Or at least share our Nintendo games with them!"

I was thinking of our ride to preschool this morning. Because of my work schedule, I needed to get my youngest to school before his brothers went to school. And they had to go to school early because I was doing the greeting job today.

My middle son wanted to play a particular Nintendo DS game that belonged to his older brother. "Mah-ahm! He's not letting me play Mario Cart and he's not even playing it!"

I said to my oldest, "Why can't you let him play the DS game if you're not even playing it?" (Nothing like restating the obvious.)

"It's in my backpack. I don't feel like getting it out."

All three of my sons were sitting in a row across the back seat, the youngest in the middle and the older two with their backpacks crammed between their legs and the front seats.

"I'll get it out," my middle son offered.

"No," my oldest said.

"Why not?" I interjected over my middle son's complaining. I knew I needed to eliminate any possibility of escalation since my youngest was in the line of fire.

"He played it yesterday on the bus."

"So? You're not playing it now..."

"I just don't want him to play it."

"That's ridiculous. You're not playing it. Just let him play it!"


"Is there a problem with letting him play it or are you just being controlling?"

"I'm just being controlling."

"I see. Do the right thing. And while you're at it, give me the box of games you took off the kitchen counter yesterday, please. I don't think you should cart our entire collection of DS games to school again."

I reached my hand around behind the seat so he could give me the little box; who knows what kind of nasty look he gave the back of my head -- I never took my eyes off the road. I thanked him.

"Here you go," he grumbled at his brother.

I did not hear my middle son say thank you.

"Honey, thank your brother."

"No, why should I?"

"Because he just gave you something that you asked for."

"So, he didn't want to. You made him do it."

"Right, but he still did it and you still need to thank him. It's good manners."

"Thanks," he mumbled.

When we got to preschool and I leaned in to help my youngest get out without climbing on anyone, I said to my oldest, "Thank you for being generous. Don't you feel better about yourself for sharing?"

"Yes, I do," he answered.

"I knew you would. You guys wait here while I drop off your brother, then we'll head to school."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter egg hunt and baseball opening day

What an exciting night around here!
We did our Easter egg hunt this evening, so I didn't have to sneak out last night as I have done in the past: prowling around my yard wielding a flashlight, trying not to trip over anything or make too much noise as I traipse through dried leaves and fallen twigs while hiding eggs in the dark.
Even though I did count the total number of eggs, I didn't wind up telling the kids they could each only have xx number of them or that each kid could only have certain colors. In addition to the traditional pastel-colored eggs, this year I used camouflage eggs (that looked like stones, grass, or bark) as well as sports-themed eggs (that blended in nicely with our existing yard decor of soccer goals, baseball gloves, and the like so the playing field was pretty even among my three boys.
I save the eggs from year to year and some of them were still filled with trinkets and candy from last year. I figured the Laffy Taffy was probably still good (completely sealed) but tossed the Reese's mini peanut butter cups (loosely wrapped).
Four Easters ago, the Easter Bunny left pictures of Mickey Mouse and The Magic Kingdom in the kids' Easter eggs. We packed our bags that day and left for Disney World. Today no one mentioned the Easter Bunny.
How times change.
After surveying their loot, the boys showered (proactively), put on pajamas and settled themselves in front of the TV with their baskets of candy and turned on the Red Sox home opener. I scolded them for their comments about the Yankees. "Boys! If you have nothing nice to say..." I am not a Yankees fan, but I still respect them as fine baseball players (though I wonder why they don't have their names on their shirts -- do they think we all know who they are?). Both of The Bigs rejected a Johnny Damon hand-me-down shirt because "he's a traitor!" Calling someone a "Yankees fan" is one of their cleverest insults.
Top of the fifth inning, my oldest and youngest lost interest (or maybe just couldn't bear to watch) as the score was 5-1 Yankees. But my middle son and I chewed our gum frantically, on the edges of our seats.
"How many pieces of gum do you have in your mouth, honey?"
He held up four, then five fingers. Apparently he had too big a wad to speak coherently.
(I was chewing two pieces of the egg-shaped bubble gum that I used in lieu of jellybeans, since no one but me will eat jellybeans, and I am the last person that needs to eat jellybeans, or any candy, actually, but it seems to me that gumballs are the least of all the evils).
We both noticed and coveted the enormous bucket of Dubble Bubble gum in the Red Sox dugout, and we also both noticed how validating it was to see how Mike Lowell chews gum. ("Look, honey, he lets it hang out of his mouth, too!")
I made everyone go to bed in the sixth inning and was adamant about toothbrushing. My oldest asked if I could leave the TV on so he could at least listen to the game (I tried to report Dustin Pedroia's homer in the 7th inning, but he was already fast asleep). My younger two needed a fan, a foot rub, a drink, a different pair of pajamas, and Advil, and so on..and on and on.
I felt kind of guilty that they missed Steven Tyler singing "God Bless America" (since my rock and roll education efforts continue) and Neil Diamond singing our fave "Sweet Caroline." And they missed Jonathan Papelbon "save" the game. But I'm sure they'll have ample opportunities to watch coverage of it tomorrow morning on any of the myriad sports channels we have, and hopefully I won't hear anyone gripe about "Monday."
P.S. My middle son liked all the t-shirts I picked out for him and has them lined up in the order in which he plans to wear them this week.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Church shirts, t-shirts, and candy

When trying to find something for my middle son to wear to church with his grandparents tomorrow, I realized that none of his "church shirts" fit anymore. He doesn't have any party shirts (Hawaiian shirts) or polo shirts that would work, and God forbid, regular button-down shirts. I don't think we have many of those left anyway, just a few that I've hung onto for my youngest, but he really doesn't like them either.

Since our church is a "come as you are" church; my middle son typically wears a tie dye shirt that he made at church on Rally Day. As it turns out, he's not going to go with his grandparents after all, but I realized now that the warmer weather is here, he needs some new short sleeve shirts to add to the tie dye, the Mystic Pizza "slice of heaven" and the new Destination Imagination shirts he wears.

I went to Target, because I needed more Easter candy -- not only because I broke the candy I had already cleverly bought out last Sunday during egg coloring with friends, but also because we had an egg hunt with some other friends on Wednesday. In addition, I have sampled far too much of it!

But for the first time that I can remember, I stood in the boys' department and actually had trouble figuring out what to choose for my son. I probably could have bought him all Patriots and Red Sox licensed team apparel and he would have been happy, but it also would have been costly. I didn't want to buy him anything with trucks, superheros, skateboarding, soccer, or skulls. That left stripes. Too risky. No collar shirts or polo shirts. And I didn't want to get generic shirts that said, "College Athletic Dept." I had whizzed right through every other department I visited in the store, except this one. I was stumped.

I looked around to see what others were looking at. There were not too many other shoppers there -- and the Easter candy shelves were practically bare, too -- no doubt because it was late on the eve of a holiday weekend, but a pair of women were looking at "church clothes." I decided I'd just have to trust my judgment and picked out four shirts -- two blue, one white (probably going to regret that), and one black -- various sports themes and one of the blue ones had a quote from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Tomorrow I will see how closely aligned my judgment is with my son's taste. That is, if he can see anything at all past the Easter candy, much of which I still have to divvy up into the plastic eggs and hide on behalf of the Easter Bunny, in whom my kids all still believe (or want to, anyway, in the case of my oldest).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Workaround and WifeSwap

Today I worked around The Bigs til 3:30 when I just couldn't listen to them telling me they were bored anymore. My middle son was up before 7:00, since there was no school. My youngest actually went to school because the roads were open again. Fortunately there weren't too many people working so I didn't have a busy schedule and was able to nearly complete a project that I had back-burnered for two weeks, and only had to chase the kids out of my office maybe three times. Then we went out in the back marsh, I mean, yard. I cleaned up sticks and debris while my middle son lounged on a chair and my oldest threw a ball up on the roof and watched it roll down. I was happy to see that plants and flowers are already emerging and blooming in our yard. I guess March showers bring April flowers.

We went to get my youngest and stopped at McDonald's before we got back home. And then, this evening, I had a whole hour and a half to myself. I went to the gym where I have a good excuse to watch TV (what else am I gonna do while I'm on the cardio machines?).

There are six TVs. On one side is sports and news and on the other is entertainment and one of the major channels. I chose the entertainment side. There was a choice between some reality show with elite and IMHO - spoiled - teenage girls and "WifeSwap," which is what I chose to watch. I was amazed. I imagine they must pick very extreme families for the show, for contrast. In this show, both families had three kids. One family did not have any rules or boundaries for their kids and their 19-year-old son sat around on the couch all day aimless while the mom spent all the money the dad made on clothes and a doll collection, and didn't do a lot of parenting of her real kids. The other family had a really strong work ethic but had a business that wasn't viable supported by another business and the dad was really indulgent towards his wife (wanting her to have her dream business even if it was a money sink), but not at all loving towards his sons, who were home schooled, had no time for friends, and worked in both businesses.

So, the moms switch houses. At times it was painful to watch. But ultimately, the strict mom who moved into the house with the aimless 19-year-old helped the dad grow a backbone and insist that his son mow the lawn and get a job. His son didn't like it (who would, after 19 years of sitting around on his butt) and gave his dad a lot of flack, but ultimately turned his attitude around and helped. At the end of the show he was even looking for a job. They also put away the doll collection and cleaned out the mom's closet. She was so not happy when she returned. This mom helped the other family see that the business didn't make sense, that the kids needed a social life and time to be kids, and that the dad needed to be more loving to his sons. The dad said his own father only told him twice in his own life that he loved him, but by the end of the show he was tucking his own children in at night, kissing them, and telling them he loved them -- with a smile! That part actually brought a tear to my eye.

My children are my #1 priority and just about everything I do is because of them. Yes, I requested they leave my office today...sometimes other things have to come first -- other things I do because of them or for them. (And of course some things I do for myself, like go to the gym or paint my toenails, and it is true, I did tell my middle son he'd have to get his own drink or wait because my toenails were wet!) But I make sure to show and tell my kids I love them daily.

WifeSwap reminded me that there are all kinds of families out there and while some of the things that go on in other people's houses are not things I would want in mine, you can still learn a lot from other parents. The lenient, doll collecting mom was very loving and the very strict mom had clearly defined boundaries, goals, and discipline. In fact, I'll take a lesson from her next time I'm out in the back yard with my sons and insist that they help!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Can't get there from here

"My calendar says I'm due in your classroom today, honey," I said to my oldest this morning as I was packing his lunch.

I had checked it and rechecked it the night before, and even had the original schedule his teacher had sent home that outlined the dates for the book studies I was leading in the classroom.

Yet, earlier in the week, my son had been certain that "literature circle" wasn't resuming until next week.

"Oh! Oh, sorry!"

"What are you sorry about?"

"I forgot to give you the book!"

"Well, when did you get it?"


"Hmmm...." I wondered how in the world I was going to find time to review a book before lunchtime when the book group meets, especially since it was looking increasingly likely that I would be keeping my preschooler at home that day because I'd just found out that the second of the three roads that lead to his school were closed (due to heavy rain and flooding), and I couldn't afford the time to go the long way there and back and repeat on the back end (since last time I did that it wound up being a three-hour tour), that is if the remaining road would even be open. If it wasn't, I couldn't even imagine what route I'd have to take to get there. Likely it would involve an enormous circle through 4-5 towns and back again. Far less desirable than working around him for the day, even if that meant I had to take him in to my oldest's classroom.

My son handed me the book. "Thanks, honey." I looked at it briefly and set it aside. First things first. I could either check out the school website for the contingency bus plan for getting The Bigs to school or I could take a shower. I chose the shower, thus was surprised when a different bus coming from a different direction -- that was ten minutes later than usual -- stopped for the kids.

My youngest was delighted (but tried not to smile too big) when I told him I had decided to keep him home. He really has his phone manners down, so when I told him I had to make or take a call, he took the initiative to mute the TV or his Nintendo DS (he also learned how to use the "guide" and "info" buttons on the cable remote, not that he can read much more than the words on the buttons...).

At lunchtime, he accompanied me to the elementary school, a little bit to his brother's chagrin, but not at all to his teacher's; she was very warm and welcoming, as were his brother's friends, some of whom gave him high-fives or asked him about the DS game he was playing. He sat quietly either near me or on my lap while we read and discussed the book. (I was able to wing it after sneaking in a few moments to scan the book in between calls.)

When were were done, I told my oldest, "I know some kids invite their parents to eat lunch with them in the cafeteria -- and paused so I could revel in the horrified look on his face -- but I'll see you at the bus stop this afternoon."

Relieved, he said, "I'll be on bus xx today, make sure you tell my brother."

"I can't tell your brother, he's not in class right now. Whenever I finish literature circle the lights in his classroom are off."

I confirmed that as we walked by. My youngest has only been that far into the school on one other occasion, during a parent teacher conference where he tagged along, and so I took the opportunity to show him the music room, library, computer room, and gym, in addition to my middle son's classroom, since this will be his school next year when he goes to kindergarten.

I mentioned the bus situation to the ladies in the office, who said, "No, they'll be on their regular bus going home today." They told me that they had to start school ten minutes late this morning because of the messed-up bus routes; that buses were just picking up kids where they saw them in order to help each other out. I asked them if they would be sure to clarify which bus to get on with the kids. I could imagine there might be some confusion on the way home, too, given there still are five roads just within our town closed, never mind the roads out of town.

Later in the day, sure enough bus xx (not their regular bus) roared around the corner coming from the opposite direction more than ten minutes after the time their regular bus comes. I am still not 100% clear how the kids got on that bus or if they were actually supposed to be on it but the important thing is that they got home. And that they could amuse their younger brother -- outside because it finally stopped raining!

The secret

My oldest was bugging me about whether or not he made the baseball division he tried out for. He was annoyed that his brother had already found out the day before and began going down the path of doom and gloom, "I probably didn't make it. I'm no good..."

I couldn't bear to see him dejectedly banging the rocking chair in which he was sitting rhythmically against the wall, so I told him that I had "unofficial news," that "under no circumstances" would it be okay to share. He perked up.

I told him that I had exchanged emails with his brother's division coordinator the day before and asked that if my sons were both placed in that division, could they be on the same team.

"Uh huh. Uh're on the same team? That's not good news for me..." he slumped a little.

"No, no, no! I heard back from the coordinator. He said 'they're not in the same division,' which means that you made it" (into the division he tried out for).

His face lit up again.

"The only thing is, you can't tell anyone until we get the official word."

"Well, when's that gonna be?" he hmmphed, shoulders sagging again.

"I don't know, honey. I imagine it will be soon."

He thought for a moment, smiled, and did a little happy dance as he headed towards the bathroom where his brothers were taking a bath.

"Hold on," I stepped into his path. "When I said you can't tell anyone, that means your brothers, too."

"Awww, Mom..."

"I'm not kidding, honey." I looked him in the eyes. "This is between you and me. You can't tell your brothers, your classmates, anyone...until we get the official news. You can't even hint around about it or allude to it or say anything that will cause people to guess."

"Wouldn't that be lying?"

"No, honey. Just don't bring it up. And if someone else brings it up, you can simply say, 'I haven't got the official word yet' and leave it at that."

Then I wondered if the secret would be too much of a burden for him. This is why I do not burden him with details about our family finances, my political views, my age, or my weight.

Fortunately, about two hours later, we got an email from his coach that said, "Welcome to the Angels." Subsequently we received a team roster. There was one kid on the team who he played with last year and a few others that he knew that were in the same grade.

Mainly, the fact that he was on a team that included some of his peers was fortunate for me. I had been worried about him trying up for this division because he hadn't finished the season last year due to an injury; worried that he'd be playing (or not) alongside all older kids. What if he didn't get much play time because this division is more competitive? Well, what if...?

I had exchanged other emails with both division coordinators where I explained that my son really wanted to play up in the next divison and that 'we would be fine with whatever the evaluation scores determined.' Apparently they determined that he 'was drafted to the minors.'

I don't ever want to be the one to tell him, "No, you can't." Because if you think you can, you can, and if you think you can't, you can't. And he thinks he can.

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...