Monday, March 21, 2011

The TV in the Living Room

Two Christmases ago, Santa brought us a flat screen TV. It was a marvelous thing, and seemed to take up an entire wall. Of course, it didn’t, but it’s a small room, so the TV seemed larger than life. The TV we had in the living room at the time (as big as a coffee table) was relegated to the man cave, which really is a cave – our basement is unfinished: you can still see bark on the trees that comprise the ceiling beams, which may very well date back to the 1880s when the house was built. Currently the wii (that Santa brought the next Christmas) is hooked up to it, as well as an older cable box (no DVR).

It wasn’t long before our new TV was “damaged.” The Bigs were throwing Jenga blocks at each other and one hit the TV, leaving a colorful mark behind.

“He did it!” my middle son accused his older brother.

“I don’t care who did it. You were both throwing the blocks so I hold you equally responsible.”

Apparently they had been throwing their best pitches, because the TV was scarred. They had to look at a colored splotch every time they watched. The scar grew until it was a vertical line on the right side of the TV. Then several vertical lines, then horizontal lines as well, and finally, the TV became unwatchable. I removed it from the living room. (The Jenga game had long since been removed, though I did continue to unearth pieces from time to time.) These were the natural consequences of their actions; I did not feel I had to punish them any further.

We had not had a TV in our living room for more than two years. Besides the man cave, there’s a TV upstairs in my room (a cast off from someone who upgraded), again with an older cable box (I don’t even know how DVR works). Whenever we watch family movies, it’s upstairs, since I do not enjoy spending time in the man cave. Until now.

This weekend I went to the local cable office and picked up a new cable box (with DVR, the woman assured me if I could use a VCR – I don’t even have a VCR anymore, but I do remember how to use one – I could figure out the DVR). I hooked it up to an old, no-frills TV we had in the attic, that has no remote and won’t work with the cable remote, so you actually have to push a button on the TV to turn it on (imagine – I remember having to turn a knob, which was also the volume control).

Well, after two years of going without, my boys were thrilled. They did point out that the color was not the same as on our other TVs (“It’s, like, black and white, Mom…but-that’s-okay,” they were quick to assure me, lest they appear ungrateful. “Kids, this is not at all like black and white.”)

An added bonus is, that I had to move my furniture around and now there’s a couch blocking the double-wide doorway through which the boys used to race cars, play soccer, and run through before they took a flying leap onto the couch, ramming it into the wall: the configuration of the couches seems to keep everybody contained in that particular area.

Tonight we all ended up sitting together on the love seat watching The Laughing Show (America’s Funniest Home Videos) and The Regular Show.

Maybe someday we’ll get a flat-screen TV (and I told The Bigs it’s their job to figure out the DVR).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rich is a relative term

Here's a story from my book, Snakes, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tales.

“Mommommom! Pick a color!” My middle son thrust a cootie-catcher at me. I was folding laundry on the dining room table.


He studied the word momentarily and then spelled out, “O-R-A-N-G-E.” as he worked his fingers back and forth, opening the cootie catcher first one way and then the other, six times to correspond with the letters in the word “orange.”

“Pick a number.” He showed me the number choices inside the cootie catcher.


“One-two.” He moved the cootie catcher back and forth again.

“Okay, pick another number. This is your final number…” he said gravely, to underscore that I should choose wisely.


He lifted the flap where the number five was written so he could tell me my fortune. “You are rich,” he announced with a big smile.

“Ummmm…well…” and my mind wandered to my post-Christmas credit card bills and to the camp brochures that had arrived the previous week necessitating that I begin planning how to finance my summer childcare plans. And then to the oil delivery that was certainly imminent because it had been so cold this winter, save for that one week where we had a couple of 50-degree days. I lamented that my grocery budget seemed out of control and that every morning I counted out small coins (doing my best to limit the number of pennies because my oldest had informed me that nobody at school has time to count pennies) for milk money.

“…do you think we’re rich, honey?”

“Of course, Mom. You have alotta money!”

I smiled back at him and reflected with much gratitude that my boys don’t know what it’s like not to get relief from their hunger or cold, and that they weren’t yet too cool to eschew hand-me-downs. And that we had made it through the year that I coughed up one-third of my income for childcare – and all that entailed. That year there were times that I wondered why I bothered working at all, and cursed the powers-that-be that I could only claim $5K of that money as tax exempt – don’t “they” know that if I didn’t have childcare, I wouldn’t be able to contribute to the economy at all?

“Hmmmm. ‘Alotta’ isn’t exactly a number, but it’s enough to get most of what we need and some of what we want…” I contemplated how one year rebuilding the front porch trumped our vacation plans, but the next year the trip to Disney and some white duct tape kept our bathroom on the deferred maintenance program.

The boys and I frequently talked about needs vs. wants. I remind them of one of my favorite sayings, “Happiness is not having everything you want, but wanting everything you have.”

“…so, if you think we’re rich, we are,” I confirmed.

People often say to me, “God bless you,” when they find out I have three sons. This usually occurs when they witness me herding them through the supermarket, church, or the airport when I flew them across the country to visit Grandma and back. I tell them, “He already has.” Richly.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Haikus for the homework challenged

My oldest has to write a poem for one of his classes and he has been telling me about this for what seems like weeks, and I think to myself, just do it already! but say to him, "Do you need my help?"

He says he does but then all he can tell me is it has to be at least two stanzas. I'm like, uh huh, but instead I suggest, "why not write two haikus?"

He didn't really like that idea. I said, "Well, write four then!"

"Mah-ahm! I just don't really want to write haikus..."

What is it against haikus? I remember one time about a year ago when my middle son had to write a haiku or two and he flipped out about it. He just couldn't bring himself to do it and tortured himself (and me) for days and when the final hour came, when he couldn't put it off anymore, I had to leave the room. I told him, "I'll be happy to help you when you quit yelling at me," and stalked away -- far, far away. He was being a wretch.

Later, when I returned, he was morose. As soon as he had an audience, he began his, "This-is-stupid-I'm-stupid-I-can't-do-this routine.

"Sure you can. Let me write a couple to get you started."

Homework can be hard
Only when you think it is
Attitude is key.

If you think you’re smart
Your vision becomes real and
“Smart” becomes your truth.

You are very smart
You must believe it is so
And you will succeed.

I don't think he was amused.

My oldest's poem is due on Tuesday, the same day he starts MCAS. Maybe I'll suggest my oldest write a limerick...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The choices we make (and the ones we don’t)

Last year's minor league summer team.
Dad was coach and youngest was bat boy.
 I was sitting alone -- cross legged on the floor in the “skybox” overlooking the gym in the high school with my forehead pressed against the Plexiglas for the second time this week.

Tonight was my middle son’s baseball evaluation (my oldest's was two nights ago.)

The custodian said to me, “You know, So-and-so is downstairs tonight, giving a talk…”

I said, “Oh, yeah, I read about that…”

“You’re welcome to go down, she’s in the theater right downstairs.”

“Oh, thanks, but I can’t. I want to watch my son bat,” even though “An Evening with So-and-so” was touted as a highlight of Women’s History Month featuring So-and-so – Host of her own travel series on the Travel Channel. As a strong woman of today, she will discuss her career, her travels, and the strong women who have inspired her in her success. There will be an opportunity for questions and answers following her presentation.

I actually had to watch my son bat. He kept looking up to make sure I was watching him, whenever he was waiting his turn at each of the stations.

“How did you do, honey?”
“Okay. I missed the first two pitches.”
“Yeah, I saw. But if you were in a baseball game, I bet would have got on base – you hit the third pretty well.”
“Pitching was when I was in really in my baseball zone. I felt like everyone around me was Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Becket.”
“Yeah, I saw that, too. Well, good – I’m so happy it’s baseball season!”
"Me, too, Mom."

Though, I didn’t know how I was going to juggle three teams (majors, minors, and tee-ball). I had hoped that my older two could be on the same team, but that would mean once again, my middle son would have to play up. He’s 9 and even though a few of his classmates, at age 10, were eligible to try out for the next level, most of the other players are 11 and 12. Would that be the right thing to do for my convenience? He had already played on three teams (last spring and summer) at the minor level…though, maybe it would be better for The Bigs to be on separate teams, with separate friends, and separate identities (and not competing against each other for the coveted pitching spot). I had hoped that we could have at least one of the same coaches from last year (if the boys were on the same team) and both coaches (if they were not), until I found out that one of my sons’ friend’s dad was coaching... Too much orchestrating! I talked with both boys tonight and we decided that whatever happens, happens, and we’ll be alright with it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Peer pressure and the need to fit in

My youngest asked me tonight to do his hair in a “faux-hawk” (he had wanted to get a mohawk the last time we went to the salon but I convinced him that if he didn’t have the sides shaved, then he’d have a choice about how he wears his hair.) We have some super-stiff hair gel that “makes hair obey” and his hair will look pretty much the same tomorrow morning as it did tonight when I tucked him in. He’s worn the faux-hawk on and off during the past month or so since he had his hair cut. He’s never mentioned anyone making fun of him. I don’t know if it’s because no one has or if he just hasn’t noticed.

However, if we back up five years, it’s another whole story. My youngest was just a baby and my oldest was in kindergarten, and my middle son was four years old, in preschool. It was “picture day” at school and we had begun talking about it at least a week in advance. The year before (when he was three) picture day was traumatic for my middle son. I am not sure why, but he just wasn’t okay with the individual picture (not only could I see in the final product that he’d been crying, but also all his teachers made a point of mentioning it). The sibling picture had been the best of the bunch, though.

That year there would be no sibling picture because even though my youngest would be there at the preschool/daycare center, my oldest would already be at school by the time the photo would be taken, and I didn’t want to do a sibling shot unless all the brothers could be in it together. So, I was trying to get Middle Son psyched up in advance, since he’d be on his own.

The night before we chose a cool “party” shirt and practiced doing Middle Son’s hair. What that meant was combing it, because he had an overgrown buzz cut and the front hung down in straight bangs across his forehead. He wanted me to comb it to the side, and that entailed hair spray to make it stay put, but he was disappointed because he didn’t have “the wet look.” So I got out my gel. When I went on and on about how handsome he looked, he wanted to carry the mirror around with him until bedtime.

The next morning he was let down because his hair was dry, so we rewet it (which cured the bed head, too…I really needed to cut the hair of my children who had any and had bought a clipper set to do so…but wanted to wait until after picture day in case I goofed up) and reapplied gel. Middle Son and I watched the photographer setting up that morning before he joined all the other kids in his class (all with dress shirts and combed hair). That evening he reported back to me that he did a good job on his picture – that he “wasn’t even shy.”

The by-product of picture day that Middle Son became very interested in “doing” his hair. My oldest “got to stay home sick” the next day, so while we were at the pharmacy getting medicine, we bought Middle Son some special hair gel as a consolation prize. I think it actually said “hair glue” on the label. Middle Son was very excited about using it the next day and decided he wanted me to help him spike his hair like the dude on the package. I told him, “Sure, honey, that will look really cool!” And it did. He looked so cute (though I did not say that word to him), and a good deal more like Dennis the Menace than usual.

We got to school and everyone we passed on the way in told Middle Son they liked his hair…the director, some of the moms and dads, and all of his older brother’s classmates. Then we went to drop Middle Son off at his class, and…some of his friends laughed at him. Several of them were crowding him, wanting to touch his hair. Not wanting his “do” to get mussed, he wound up backed into a corner. He got upset and kicked over the block tower his friends were making and stomped back over to a table, voluntarily putting himself in time out, folding his arms in an exaggerated sulk. I had been standing with my youngest, talking to one of the teachers, and excused myself mid-conversation. I pulled up one of the pint-sized chairs right next to Middle Son, switching my youngest to my far knee when he, too, began grabbing at Middle Son’s spiky hair. I told him his friends were just jealous because he was so cool, that he had hair long enough to spike. No dice. Still fuming.

The teacher followed shortly after. She told him that the only thing that mattered was that he liked his hair. Scowling and hmmphing, he said that he did, he just didn’t want his friends to laugh at him.

I piped in and reminded him that God made him special and unique, and that God makes people in all colors, shapes, and sizes. I never want Middle Son (or any of the boys) to squash his individuality so he can be just like his friends (though I know from personal experience how easy it is to do that and even though it seems like each generation is more “enlightened” than the past, is wanting to fit in ever going to change?). This is why I let him wear his cowboy boots with any outfit he chose – even shorts, wear his Incredible Hulk costume to our first day at our new church, and wear his rocket-ship pajamas all day on his older brother’s birthday, even when all his older brother’s friends were there for the party. They didn’t laugh at him – perhaps six-year-olds had already been introduced to the concept of diversity.

Middle Son did wear his hair spiked again the next day, despite telling me that he hated his friends “ ’cause they laughted at me!” (adding that syllable that he always did to verbs in the past tense). I hoped and prayed that he continued to feel secure enough as a well-loved child of God to be himself as long as possible. But within a week, the do was done. He just wanted to fit in.

The eye of the storm?

It does get easier. I noticed this recently when I was able to take a shower one morning without having anyone barge into the bathroom or hearing anything crashing or anyone yelling downstairs.
This morning, for the first time, not everyone came bombing upstairs the moment they woke up. I was happy about that because I’ve had a rough time adjusting to the time change. Because I can’t seem to get to sleep as early as I should, it has been hard to get up the past couple of mornings.

Today, when I shuffled downstairs to get my coffee, I noticed that my middle son’s light was on. I went into his room and discovered that he was reading (!).

I went in to tell him good morning.

“Can I read by myself, mom?”

“Oh, sure. Of course!”

"No offense, Mom."

"None taken, honey."

I had lunch recently with a mom who has older kids. Her advice: “Cherish these moments. You’re on the cusp. It gets hard again. Wait until you don’t know where they are, and you’re waiting up for them to get home safely…”

I know she’s right. I know this is “it.” What is it? It’s the time where they’re old enough to go outside by themselves and shoot hoops or play in the back yard or with kids in the neighborhood. They can get dressed by themselves, albeit they are often challenged to figure out where their clothes are (“If you put your clean laundry away, you’d know,” I remind them). They can get their own snacks. I don’t have to do everything for them, but some things they like me to do. “Read to me, Mom?” (Even The Bigs ask). “Watch my baseball practice, Mom?” “Can you study with me, Mom?”

It probably won’t be long before they don’t want to me around so much anymore.

“At least you still have Youngest,” my middle son’s teacher said to me, when I told her “This is it.” Middle son will be off to middle school next year. I didn’t mean, “this is it in terms of volunteering at school (since no one really wants you at school when they're in middle school!), but this is “it,” this is our life, it’s happening right now, it’s not a dress rehearsal. I better pay attention because I the blink of an eye everything could change.

One day recently, one of the Bigs came bursting through the door after school, “Where’s the phone book?”

“What phone book?” I imagined I'd probably recycled the one that comes in the mailbox, since I usually look everything up online.

“You know, the school phone book.”

“Oh, the directory. I have it in my office.”

He bolted up the stairs, while tossing over his shoulder, “I know who so-and-so likes. Well, I know her initials, anyway…”

Monday, March 14, 2011

Homework, cartoons, Watson and the Sox

“Yay! That only took you two hours! And how many days of obsessing about it?”

“Three days, Mom.”

I had just finished editing (the run-on sentences out of) my oldest’s journal entry for language arts. He was supposed to write about a book he was reading, which happened to be a treasury of fairy tales. There were tons of different choices for types of journal entries. We had toyed with theme, compare and contrast, summary, and character. He seemed to need to make this harder than it had to be. We had discussed it almost every night since last Thursday. “Will you help me with my journal entry, Mom?”

“Of course, what story are you going to write about?”

We’d never gotten farther than that.

I dashed back upstairs to check on the Red Sox-Yankees game that we were planning to watch. We’d watched about an inning with my middle son while we were looking up what comprises a plot diagram. One might think I am familiar with these literary terms, but I am really not. Nor does it bother me the way it does his teacher that my son writes like he talks, since I do that all the time.

A cartoon was on.

“Oh my gosh, why aren’t you watching the Red Sox? What’s the score!?” I was aghast.

“They made fun of Watson, Mom, and I switched it off,” my middle son informed me, matter-of-factly.

“Well, press ‘Last’ on the clicker honey. Let’s just check the score.”

Look, Big Papi’s up, it’s like déjà vu (since that was who was up the last time we was watching, in the third inning. Now it was top half of the fifth and the score was still 1-0 Yankees.

It is amazing to me how people like to find faults with Watson, a customized computer system designed by IBM researchers to answer questions in natural language, who defeated the two reigning Jeopardy! Champions. “Watson thinks Toronto is in the U.S.!?” someone texted me when Watson gave the wrong answer in Final Jeopardy! I pointed out that Watson wouldn’t have offered an answer if he didn’t have to; that his level of certainty was low, but in Final Jeopardy, you have to answer. “That sounds like an IBM party line,” was the reply. I chose to end the conversation. Why argue with someone so focused on the negative, they can’t see any of the positives. Plus, I work for IBM, so it’s hard not to take that personally.

After a bit my middle son said to me, “ ‘Regular Show’ is gonna start soon, Mom. Yankees are up now, anyway.”

“Well, we can click back and forth, then.” “Regular Show” is my favorite of the kids’ shows now, even surpassing “iCarly.” We even watched two of the 15-minute episodes On Demand yesterday afternoon.

We never did finish watching the Sox, because the evening dissolved into a big pillow fight at about 9:15 (when the Sox were up 2-1) and I shut the TV off and sent everyone to bed, and by the time I finished tucking everyone in the game was over and I missed seeing the Sox win, still at 2-1. I checked on “Sports Tonight Live” but switched that off as soon as someone started ragging on Matsuzaka; after I had seen his picture in the Lowell Sun, alongside his Japanese teammates observing a moment of silence in Sunday’s game, and the relief efforts he is leading for his homeland, how can anyone speak negatively of him?

We got our share of Lowell Spinners tickets today…

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Car talk

Replay (Album Version)I’ve started letting the Bigs take turns sitting in the front passenger seat of my car. I’d held off as long as possible, because that’s my territory and I liked being able to put my stuff all over that seat. But having a kid in the front does have its upsides.
First of all, they don’t sit all in a row in the middle back, so they’re not touching each other (it’s rare that anyone likes to sit in the wayback anymore, with its rear-facing seats), unless someone wants to sit in the middle of the middle back so he can a) see out the front or b) watch whoever’s on either side play video games on his iTouch. I had to explain just this morning that you can’t sit in the middle unless there is just one person in the middle back or three people; that if you were using any mode of public transportation, you wouldn’t choose the seat right next to someone else if there was another one open; personal boundaries, blah blah blah.

“What’s ‘mode,’ mom?”

“ ‘Type,’ honey. Type of public transportation, like a bus or a train where you don’t already have assigned seats.”

Another bonus is that I get to have “special” time with the boy who’s in the front. Sometimes he’s reading or playing his iTouch, but often times we chat about things, like how to drive, how I know where to get where I’m going, what all those buttons on the dash are for (we discovered we had fog lamps recently, and I had to employ my son’s help to figure out how to turn them off – he enjoyed reading the owner’s manual and instructing me).

“Why is it called a 'glove box,' mom?”

“That’s a good question, honey. I think it’s because it’s where people used to stash their gloves, you know – like driving gloves. It was the style when cars were first invented.”

“That was before you were born, right?”

“Yes, a long, long time before!”

A bonus in disguise is that I get to listen to songs they pick out on the radio. I cringe when they scan past Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, consistently choosing to “ay-oh, baby let’s go na na na na everyday with their iPods stuck on replay, replay, replay…” (Dynamite, Replay) – catchy little earworms that revisit me when I least expect it. I am sure my own mother couldn’t stand the stuff I listened to either, just as her mother no doubt didn’t like Elvis or The Beatles. I tolerate their music because it offers me an opportunity to see into their world, and to find a way to relate with them on important subjects like why brushing your teeth with a bottle of Jack (Tick Tock) is not really something desirable and certainly something you should be belting out in public and how taking a bullet straight through your brain (Grenade) doesn’t prove how much you love someone, it just proves you’re stupid and dead.

“But Mah-ahm! It’s just a song…”

“I know it is, honey, but I just want you to know that waking up in the morning and drinking hard liquor is not a good way to start the day, and if your girlfriend really cares about you, she’s not going to expect you to sacrifice your well being, and certainly not your life, for her.”

Whereas last summer, the mere mention of a girlfriend would induce dramatic, fake gagging noises, now the reply is either thoughtful silence or an embarrassed “Mom! I don’t want to talk about that!”

“Alright,” I don’t press them. “I’m just sayin’…”

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nothing, really

Yesterday morning I was doing some online financial management while my older two worked on their homework. I realized I didn’t have the budget to do any type of dog-and-pony-show activities this weekend (“We wanna go to FunWorld, Mom!” “Yeah, can we go to Chunky’s after?”). I’d had plans to get together for “Pizza Night” with a friend and her kids, but they were all sick and had to cancel. I also didn’t really have the inclination to throw a dinner party for my kids and their friends, so I put the pizza dough in the freezer for some other time.

Our big excursion in the morning was going grocery shopping. I managed to bribe 2/3 of my kids to go with me with the promise of breakfast at McDonald’s. We actually had a nice time, and it was a heck of a lot more affordable than the trip to Parker’s Maple Barn we made two weeks ago. An added bonus at the supermarket was returning our empties. My younger two were thrilled to have $4.00 to spend on candy and gum and spent most of the time in the supermarket dancing through the aisles, playing a game where they were only allowed to step on certain colors of tiles. My oldest was thrilled to have the house to himself for two hours while we were gone, though “starving” when we got home because apparently he couldn’t take the initiative to eat if no one was around to hand the food to him on a plate, even though I have taught him how to make a bagel with cream cheese, he’s capable of opening a yogurt, and I had baked chocolate chip muffins the night before.

When we got home, I put the groceries away and then called my sick friend while I cleaned the kitchen.

“I don’t really feel like arranging playdates for them…” I confessed. “But anyway, why should every moment have to be planned out?”

“It doesn’t,” she consoled me.

Instead, we just hung out. I took care of a couple of pressing work things but then shut that computer down. I wrote some greeting cards and worked on my taxes. We talked about the Flat Stanley that we needed to send back to the cousins in Utah. We made a pie. The boys played games together and not all of them were electronic. I did three loads of laundry. The kids all went outside and my younger two found friends to play with in the neighborhood. My oldest and I set up the SKLZ Hit-A-Way baseball swing trainer on our basketball hoop. We decided we’d watch a movie together at 8:00 p.m., so we planned our evening around that.

And that was it. Why should every moment have to be planned out?

It doesn’t.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Testing, testing

“My language arts MCAS is coming up,” my oldest announced. We were standing at the bus stop. We got back in the habit of waiting together when the iceberg next to our driveway got so big the driver can’t see him waiting in the driveway (this happened once and the bus passed him by, which was horrifying for him). As soon as I see the bus’s flashing lights, I head back in.

“Are you worried about it?”

“No, not really.”

“Good, you shouldn’t be. The test really isn’t about you so much…”

“It’ll help me get into a good college, won’t it?”

“No, no one looks at that for a college application. I think you have to do well enough on them before they let you out of high school, though.”

“Then why do we have to take them?”

“So the school system can prove how good it is to the state – it determines the level of funding…I think.”

“Did I get good scores on the ones from last year?”

“I don’t know. I forget. I am sure you did fine. I’ll dig up the results if you really want. It doesn’t matter that much to me, either. I care more about the quizzes in tests you bring home from your own teachers, and your report card.”

“Did I get in the 90s?”

“Really, honey – I don’t remember how they score them.”


I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink (my dishwasher is still broken) and my middle son sidled up next to me and said in a small voice: “Don’t be mad at me mom, but I have to tell you this. I got a 60 on one of my spelling tests.”

I shut off the water and turned to face him. “When?”

“I think it was last week.” Apparently he’d put off telling me.

“Well, where’s the paper?” I grabbed the dishtowel to dry my hands. “Do I need to sign it?”

“Yeah, but it’s still at school.” His shoulders sagged. “I’m such a failure!”

“Oh, lovey, you are totally not a failure! You’re one of the smartest and most talented and loving boys I know!”

“Am I one of them, too, Mommy?” My youngest chimed in, having crashed our private party when he realized we were talking quietly.

“Yes, of course you are, lovey.”

My middle son was still standing in front of me hanging his head, “I’m so stupid.”

I hugged him close and said, “You don’t really believe that, do you? You are not a failure and you are not stupid. It’s just a sign that you need to prepare better. We can study together...”

We had actually just finished reading The Report Card by Andrew Clements in his literature circle in school. The story is about an off-the-charts smart girl who purposely gets bad grades just to prove a point: that grades don’t necessarily measure how smart you are.

We had talked in class about that, and also if you lose a soccer game, does it mean you are a failure or a loser? No, you lost the game. I thought about a couple of times recently when I had messed something up at work. Does it mean I am a lousy employee? No, I actually got the best review I’ve had since I’ve been in this job. When we make mistakes or get a bad grade, the most important thing to do is correct it, learn from it, and move on.
My middle son got much better grades on his next two spelling tests.

Both of my older two will be taking MCAS at the end of the month.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Top 10 countdown: signs of spring

10) It’s only in the 30s, but my boys have begun wearing shorts to school. “I didn’t know it was shorts weather,” a dad at the bus stop commented.

“I don’t have any shorts!”
“Yes, you do – what about your favorite basketball shorts?”
“They’re too short!”
“Since when, you wore them all season?”

“Mom, where are my shorts!”
“Uhhhm, in your closet, where they always are?”

Today, they pulled shorts out of unwashed laundry.

9) The iceberg in our front yard is receding. In some places we can see the grass. My oldest no longer wants me to wait for the bus with him (since now he is sure the driver can see him over the snow banks).

8) Baseball is top of mind:

“Mom, did you know Lowell Spinners tickets go on sale March 15?”
“Mom, did you know that the Red Sox are already playing pre-season games?
“Mom, did you know the Red Sox beat the Yankees?”

7) Road closings because of rivers cresting: the buses are all parked at the school complex instead of the usual lot, since no doubt any day now the road it’s on will be flooded.

6) There aren’t any snow pants, mittens, hats and boots drying on all my dining room chairs in front of the fireplace.

5) The trees are beginning to morph from gray and brown to the gold color that precedes green.

4) We’re going to change our clocks to daylight time this weekend (Spring Forward)

3) I caught one of my sons whistling to the mourning doves while waiting for the bus a few days ago. (People have told me the mourning doves are around all year, but I have only noticed them this week.)

2) It’s in the air. What’s that smell – mud?

1) The number one sign – the “strike zone” on the utility pole across from our bus stop.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Working for the weekend: first day of Lent story

"I don't know, I haven't thought much past today. Let me look at my calendar..." my friend had just called me to ask what was up for the weekend.
"Oh, wouldja look at that!? I don't have anything on Saturday.

"Really!?" my friend was incredulous. "Nothing!?"

We each have three kids so usually we're running around somewhere, be it sports or shopping or a church thing or playdates (even though big kids don't call them playdates any more, we moms still do.)

"Well, there was something there but it's whited out. I don't even remember what it was..."

It has been a particularly busy time so it's kind of a thrill to have a day with no obligations. My friend and I decided to get together. In honor of the first day of Lent, here's my latest church column.


When I woke up, it took me a few moments to remember that it was Presidents’ Day. I reached for my phone and saw that it was 6:15. As I shut off the alarm, which was set for 7:00, I noted how much easier it is to get up early when you have a choice in the matter.

Then I looked outside and noticed that it was snowing – big beautiful flakes falling lazily from the sky, and thought how much more lovely it looked when I didn’t have to be in a rush to “shovel out,” since it was a holiday and no one had to go anywhere. There would be no mail delivery so I didn’t have to worry about chipping away at the iceberg in which my mailbox was buried (so the mail truck could pull up), either.

I rejoiced and was glad for the third day of a much-needed long weekend. It was the first day in at least a month that my left eye had not twitched, whether from stress or too much coffee, I do not know. Stress and too much coffee are like the chicken and the egg, anyway, and symptoms of a much larger problem, which is too much to do because of circumstances out of my control.

I could not control the fact that we hadn’t had a full week of school since Christmas break, because of snow days, weather-related school delays, and regularly scheduled half days. My work has been particularly busy as I’m preparing for an event and since it is global in nature, it doesn’t stop because we have a local weather emergency. I work at home, so “I couldn’t get into the office” is not a valid excuse. Plus, if I put off the work, no one else is going to do it. Working around my kids is one of the most taxing things I have to do, and anyone who thinks differently is welcome to take my kids to their office and see how much is accomplished.

The previous weekend, we had the grand finale of basketball (two jamborees and my oldest son’s championship win, which was a welcome but unexpected addition of two games to our already crowded schedule), lacrosse (for which we had to rush out of church on Sunday), and the culmination of five years’ worth of Boy Scouts where my oldest earned his Arrow of Light (he had to finish his final lesson for one of his religious emblems that week, serve in church, and then we all attended the Blue and Gold banquet for the awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon), as well as a benefit event for which I was volunteering. To top it off, my youngest became sick (an unwelcome, unexpected addition to our plans). I was able to get help with the benefit event, but the other agenda items required my full presence and participation.

I had to pick my youngest up from school twice the following week because he was too tired to go to extended day. The second time that happened, he had a fever so I brought him to the doctor, who prescribed antibiotics, which meant he could not go to school the next day – a day where I had six conference calls scheduled.

“Depleted,” crossed my mind several times, usually accompanied by the eye twitch. I felt like I had nothing left to give or even any choice in the matter – everything I was doing was important to my family; it just so happened to be occurring concurrently and in some cases simultaneously. I was unable to take my regular walks with friends, which was particularly disappointing, since we were having unseasonably warm weather. I hadn’t make it to choir practice in longer than I could remember. And I wasn’t writing, which is for me, ignoring a vital part of reflection and prayer, gratitude, and introspection.

I recalled a book from my childhood, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, about a boy and a tree. The tree gives the boy shade, apples, branches, and finally its trunk, “and then the tree was happy... but not really.” At the end of the book, when the boy, now an old man, returns to the tree, the tree tells him, “I wish that I could give you something…but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry…”

Oh, God, I prayed. Please don’t let me become a stump!

Just hold on until the weekend, I told myself. The unscheduled time during the long weekend was the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Indeed, there were plenty of things I coulda, shoulda, or woulda done during Presidents’ Day weekend. Instead, I reveled in the possibility of doing nothing or anything I chose, at my own pace. As best-selling author, Dr. Kirk Byron Jones says, “there are few things in life more dynamic than a rested soul.”

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. ~Matthew 11:28

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...