Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The office visit

I glanced at my cell phone and saw that it was my kids’ elementary school calling, so I muted my conference call and answered the phone.

“This is So-and-so, principal of the abc elementary school.”

I knew exactly who she was. “Oh, hi!” I said. Was I being too cheerful? While we had chatted cordially while I was at school for one thing or another and I had received many a recorded message from her over the years, the personal call felt a little ominous to me.

“We have a problem.”

“We do? Who is we?”

“Your youngest. He’s sitting in my office."

“Oh, no! Really? Him?”

“Can you come in?” I had told my son’s teacher during our conversation after the last almost-office visit (averted when my son decided to make a “better choice” at the last minute while on the way to the office) that I was just up the street and would be happy to come in and support any sort of disciplinary action.

“Okay, I’ll be there in 5 – no 10 – minutes.” I remembered I wasn’t all the way dressed in leaving-the-house clothes. I picked up my office phone and realized that the conference call was about to conclude anyway so I hung up, and sent an IM to the moderator to apologizing for the premature hangup, since I know how rude it is to hear people beeping out at the conclusion of a meeting before it’s actually over, and set my online status to “stepped away.”

I slipped on a jean skort and changed from my athletic slide shoes to a pair of “dress flip flops,” rearranged my hair and was on my way. When I got to the school, I realized I better get rid of the gum I was chewing, but added lip gloss to my otherwise un-made up face. (My mom never went anywhere without lipstick, and while my brother and I used to bust her about it, now I have become her.) I felt like I was the one in trouble.

I got to the office and the office ladies said, “No need to sign in!” Apparently they all knew I wasn’t there to volunteer that day.

I saw my son sitting in the inner sanctum of the office eating his lunch. Mrs. So-and-so headed me off and debriefed me. I imagined he was having a hard time getting back into the swing after being out of school sick for four days during his second full week of kindergarten. Or maybe he just really didn’t feel like doing the work. Or both.

We sat down and together with him and I listened as she gave me the little-ears overview of the situation: my son has a disrespectful attitude and refused to do his work, and some of the things that he had told her, such as, “My brothers want me to get in trouble.”

And though I had the sense that my comments hadn’t been necessary up to that point, I chimed in, “Of course they don’t, honey – do you know neither one of them have ever had an office visit?” I wasn’t going to let his brothers be the scapegoats, a recurring theme in our family in which he reveled and through which I had begun to see.

Ultimately, my son’s teacher came in to join the meeting. When he apologized, they returned to class together, and I returned to my home office for my 12:00 p.m. conference call, feeling once again like “the worst mother in the world.” In fact I obsessed about that for the whole hour with my walking buddies later that afternoon.

That evening at dinner, before I could bring it up, my youngest blurted out the story of his office visit to his brothers.

“Wait, what?” his oldest brother perked up.

“No, you didn’t! Really? What did you do?” my middle son asked.

“I didn’t want to do my work and I pushed the papers off the table. I said ‘whatever’ and ‘I don’t care’ to Mrs. So-and-so.”

And, because my youngest had dragged his brothers through the mud, I added, “He told the principal that you guys wanted him to get in trouble.” The ensuing conversation went something like this.

Oldest: “We do not!”

Middle: “You can’t tell her that!”

Oldest: “Oh my gosh, I’m embarrassed that you’re my brother!”

I gasped inwardly and put my hand on my youngest’s knee. “See, they definitely don’t want you to get in trouble. I don’t want you to get in trouble either!”

Middle: “Geez, just because you don’t wanna to do something doesn’t mean you don’t haveta do it!”

Oldest: “Yeah, and you can’t talk back to your teacher! That’s like, really bad.”

Middle: “Yeah – really, really bad!”

My youngest looked at his brothers with wide eyes and said nothing, but the gears must have been turning because it’s been a week and I haven’t received any more phone calls from school officials.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The dish about finding time with God

“I’m sorry he hasn’t had time to look at your dishwasher…” my friend told me. She had volunteered her husband to fix my leaking appliance about a week prior.

“Please don’t give it another thought,” I told her. I knew they were in the midst of their own home improvement project, which had become more pressing as they discovered hazardous materials that needed removing.

Truthfully, there is no hurry on my end. I don’t welcome the idea of allocating a line item on our household budget to an appliance repair (after financing summer childcare and a subsequent huge car maintenance fee).

And while I do like the ease of putting the dishes in the dishwasher, I’m not a big fan of taking them out and putting them in the cupboards. There have actually been clean dishes sitting in the dishwasher since last time I ran it, which was easily more than three weeks ago, maybe even a month or more – I’ve lost track of time during the back-to-school rush of middle-school homework (I learned that I am not smarter than a fifth grader, but I do know how to look things up), making lunches, processing all the paperwork that comes home in three sets of backpacks, and working around a kindergartner who was sick for the entire second week of school – just the other day we found our missing 8th spoon, in the dishwasher (#s 5, 6, and 7 turned up outside, in the man cave, and in the boys’ room respectively).

The other night as my oldest son and I were discussing the bonus incentive part of the kids’ allowance plan, he suggested that loading the dishes could be one of the chores he did. I reminded him, “Our dishwasher’s broken, remember?”


“Yeah, I haven’t been using it.”

“Then how do you do the dishes?”

“The same way I did them as a kid. I fill up the largest container with soapy water, like a pot or bowl, depending on what was cooked. Then I put all the silverware and small items in there. Then I wash all the dishes with the blue sponge – the yellow sponge is just for counters. When I have finished all the dishes…”

“Yuck – that sounds awful!”

“Well, it’s not, really,” I realized as I was explaining this to him. I began to reminisce about my own childhood, when homework and chores were my only concerns. I didn’t tell him about the summer I lived up in Maine and had to heat the water that I had called forth with a large cast iron hand pump on the propane stove in order to do the dishes. The water from the deep well was so cold my hands would ache if I didn’t heat it. I knew my son wouldn’t be able to relate, just as he has no concept of life before cable – or even color – TV, or of when no one considered leaving home with their phones in their pockets because they were hardwired to the wall. “The way I do it probably uses less water than the dishwasher…”

“I don’t think dishes should be one of my chores. Not until the dishwasher’s fixed, anyway. But actually, I hate unloading it!”

“Yeah, that’s not my favorite part, either.” Normally I suggest a different word than ‘hate’ but this time I did not. I guess it runs in the family. “I can teach you how to do the dishes by hand…uncle and I used to switch off every other night…”

“No – I think I’d rather learn how to do laundry.”

That was an intriguing thought. Lately, with football season in full swing, I had started separating the laundry – not the usual way, by colors – but by his and hers. I wasn’t going to put any of my fine washables in with football girdles and socks and the like. I remember thinking in early August when the season started that I had finally discovered something stinkier than a diaper that needed changing.

Plus, I decided I didn’t want to give up doing the dishes: it offers an opportunity to stand in one spot for ten minutes at a time, being alone with my thoughts, and looking out the window over the sink – a break in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

If I choose to look at doing the dishes as an opportunity to re-set, re-focus, and even pray, rather than an unpleasant chore I have to rush through before I move to the next to-do, I can stop feeling guilty that I don’t start my day with devotional readings and that I never seem to find that half an hour of uninterrupted time during the day to mediate or “sit with God.” Standing with God works. For that matter, kneeling on the floor while I clean up the latest mess, whether it be purple grape juice splattered on my white cabinets or the shattered window from the front door that one of my football players stiff-armed, if done prayerfully (“Thank you that I remembered to get Mr. Clean Magic Sponges last time I was at Target” or “Thank you that he didn’t shred his arm”), is time with God. Just a moment – if spent with God – can be the eye of my hurricane.

“He doesn’t need to rush on my account,” I told my friend. “I don’t really mind doing the dishes by hand.”

Be still, and know that I am God. ~Psalm 46:10 NIV

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The first will be last

Well, alright -- this is the rather free-associative post I just published on Working I haven't been "thinking in stories" lately, which is likely par for the course during the whirlwind first week of school with my oldest going to middle school, and my baby going to kindergarten without looking back -- literally (note photo). Nope, don't want to address that "mothermorphosis" at all right now.

My next story will likely be about our visit to the dentist yesterday and how one of my sons actually told the dental hygienist that he doesn't have time to brush, and her very amusing reply, which prompted him to brush upon arrival home prior to football practice. I had to leave the room when I heard it. We love our dentist's office because we can schedule three appointments simultaneously and they have a big fish tank. The time-crunched son ironically has no cavities. One of my other two does, and we go back for the filling tomorrow.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sports nut

“If I die, I hope I’m playing a sport.”

“Huh?” My son had just collapsed into the car after a two-plus hour football practice in full pads in 90 degree heat. He was soaking wet and his pads were stinky. I knew this because he needed me to help him shrug them off. (And I learned early on to spray the pads with Febreze and leave them out on the porch.) I hoped he didn’t feel like he was actually going to die.

“Even if I’m old, I want to be playing a sport.”

“Oh, well, I’m glad you’re that psyched about sports.” And I was. They burn off boy energy and enable on-time bedtime. They virtually eliminate food arguments because kids work up enough of an appetite to eat without being too picky. They build character: the coach told the kids they could wear their game jerseys to school the next day, and he “better not hear about anyone wearing a number getting into trouble.” (I heard the coach say this but I let my son repeat it to me.). They also provide community: my oldest entered a new school this year and didn’t have anyone he knew in class except for two kids on his football team. I asked him who he ate lunch with today, and he said, “other kids from the team.”

“Yeah, and if I’m really old, I could be watching a sport. I could be sitting in my minivan, watching sports on the DVD player.”

(I know he doesn’t think our station wagon is all that cool – he’s told me we should paint racing stripes on it.)

I could tell he was blissed out by the mere idea of that. Or maybe he was a little dehydrated.

"Want your Gatorade, honey?"

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...