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A letter to my kid’s teacher:

Dear My Kid’s Teacher,

First of all, I want to thank you. You have the most important job of all the jobs. I can’t imagine that responsibility. Every year, you have 75 brains come through your classroom, each one dependent upon you to make their journey down their respective academic paths either an exciting adventure or a dreary, endless death march. Meanwhile, you’re also charged with keeping them physically safe and emotionally validated. You have 75 precious snowflakes and 75 sets of parents who want to be sure you know that they will accept nothing less than perfection from you because their tax dollars pay your salary, dammit. And you get THREE MONTHS OF VACATION and weekends and evenings off! What more do you want??

We aren’t those parents.

I mean, we pay taxes and everything, but we also aren’t assholes.

My mom is a teacher. She teaches English in a small rural high school, in a low income area. Her job is hard, and for the most part, thankless. She works all the time. She spends most of her “three months of vacation” (which is closer to a month and a half) creating lesson plans and attending seminars and completing in-service requirements. She spends most of her “weekends off” grading mountains of papers. She makes corrections, returns them to the students to give them an opportunity to fix their mistakes, and then grades them again. She agonizes over students who are reading below a high-school level, and spends hours finding reading material that will appeal to them and encourage them to read more. She has to deal with parents who want their kids to get good grades no matter how little effort they put into their homework, and also with parents who genuinely don’t think that their child needs to learn any of the things she is teaching. She tries with every bone in her little body to manage a classroom of students who don’t want to be there. And in her tidy pantsuits and tasteful scarves, she succeeds. Year after year, she manages to get a class of kids to walk across a stage and accept their diplomas. Whether they leave that auditorium to move into a dorm room or to work on the family farm, they have read Hamlet and they understand the use of  disease imagery to convey corruption in Denmark’s ruling class.

Because I have seen the backstage work firsthand, I know how hard your job is. I also know that you wouldn’t put up with it unless you really cared about the outcome.

This year, at one of your third grade desks, you have my Mortimer. Mortimer, as I’m sure you’ve learned in the month you have had him in your classroom, presents a unique set of challenges. Having dealt with these challenges for approximately 3,160 days, I’m sympathetic to your situation. I only have two children to manage at a time, and Mortimer sometimes is enough to make me want to quit my job as a mother, move to the beach under an assumed name and make a living selling snow cones from a bicycle cart. So I get it.

However.

He’s special.

I know every parent says that about their snowflakes, but this one really is something else.

That brain, that beautifully complex, wrinkly brain, works in ways that remain a mystery even to me. I know everything that anyone could know about that kid. I could pick his head out of a lineup by the smell of his hair. I can tell that he’s sick by the way his eyes look. I know, without asking, how his day went by the look on his face as he walks to the car. The child is my rib, my flesh, my heart. But even I don’t completely understand him.

He sees the world through a different lens that you or I do. Imagine for a minute that you suddenly were placed in just a slightly different dimension. Everyone says the same words, but the intent is just a little bit off. Noises seem louder to you, but no one else seems to notice it or be bothered by it. Things seem to come more easily to everyone else, like remembering to take your lunchbox to the cafeteria with you in order to eat its contents. And yet everyone has such a hard time understanding simple concepts like the makeup of DNA and JK Rowling’s Latin-based wordplay. You don’t understand why everyone else seems to enjoy chasing each other and screaming. You don’t understand why grownups get so mad when you’re just trying to explain the reason you broke a rule. Imagine trying to succeed by the standards of a culture that is a complete mystery to you.

He’s a smartass. He’s a know-it-all. He can recite a paragraph of text back to you after reading it once. But when you say, with frustration, “I just told you to get your library books, why didn’t you do it?” he’ll shrug and say, “What can I say? I’m forgetful.”  He isn’t forgetful, not at all. It’s just that that tidbit of information didn’t make it through his filter.

It’s a lot to ask, I know, that you adopt the same coping skills we have at home. We’re working on teaching him those skills so that he can do it himself, like carrying around a small notebook to write down assignments and real-world details he needs to remember. Before he leaves the house, we repeat the same thing every day: listen to every word the teacher says, keep your hands to yourself, be aware of your surroundings. We’re working on it every day, but he’s still relatively brand-new in the world. Eight years is barely any time at all. I have socks older than that.

I’m scared.

I’m scared that if it’s this much of a struggle in third grade, that he’ll give up before high school. I’m scared that he’s going to spend so much time in detention that he starts to resent school. I’m scared that he’s going to start seeing teachers as enemies instead of allies, and the classroom as just one more place where he doesn’t quite belong. I’m scared that he will get so frustrated by trying to remember the rules that he decides that it isn’t quite worth it. I’m scared that he’ll give up before he gets to the really good stuff.

This is a kid who NEEDS to love school. We, the people of the universe, need for kids like Mortimer to want to finish grad school and receive a grant to fund his cancer research. I know it’s hard to see right now, through the melted ice cream that he hasn’t noticed has dried in a sticky mess across his chin because he was too busy shrinking to the size of an atom to imagine what chlorophyll looks like up close, but the greatness is in there.

I’m not asking you to excuse his disruptions. I’m asking you to help him understand why they’re inappropriate.

I’m not asking you to never correct him. I’m asking you to explain why that particular rule exists.

I’m not even asking that you like him, though as his mother it’s hard for me to fathom that anyone wouldn’t. I’m just asking that you give him a chance.

Don’t write him off as a bad kid with a behavior problem and a crappy attitude. He’s not. His “backtalk” doesn’t come from a place of malice, but because on his home planet, it’s perfectly acceptable -vital, even-  to explain your point of view thoroughly, even to a grownup who is busy with 30 other kids. Yes, I realize that it seems disrespectful, but if we back up and look at the long term implications of that behavior, I’m grateful that he knows, at eight years old, that his words matter. Yes, he has very little respect for authority, but it’s because he doesn’t understand the concept of a social hierarchy or the unequal distribution of power. Is that frustrating? Infuriating? ABSOLUTELY. But it also means that his is a brain that actually believes that we are all created equal. If you can get past how angry it makes you, it’s really kind of beautiful.

I don’t expect him to win any citizenship awards. I don’t expect him to get straight A’s, even. I fully anticipate many, many conferences this year. It’s fine. I’ll review those rules with him every single morning, we’ll role play situations in which he can practice human behavior and societal norms, and I’ll take away Minecraft and youTube videos of other people playing Minecraft until he stops pulling out a book and reading in the middle of math class. I’ll do everything I can on my end to make your year as Mortimer’s teacher memorable in a good way. There are perks, I promise. I’m that mom who realizes that her kid isn’t easy, and so tries to make up for it by sending you muffins and helping out with class parties. I’m trying to be charming enough that you’ll give my kid a chance even though he makes your job a million times harder.

He’s not easy. But nothing worthwhile ever is.

Just please. Please. Please don’t give up on my boy.

Sincerely,
That Mom

Clean up your junk. Scrub your freezer. Cleanse your soul.

Sometimes, I don’t have my shit together.

I’m scrambling to get the kids ready for school, to brush teeth, comb hair, iron clothes, make sure everyone has a water bottle and a dollar and their homework and a pep talk to enforce positive behaviors. It’s doable, if everything is where it’s supposed to be, but it never is. If I have to pack lunches, there’s no telling where the pink sandwich container is, and in moving around the contents of the refrigerator to find a juice box, I’m going to knock something over, which will either spill or land on my foot, breaking my pinky toe. Then I’ll say a bad word, which Sparklepants will repeat as soon as she gets to school.

These are the mornings that I collapse at the kitchen table as soon as they’re out the door, look around me at the morning’s fallout, the soggy cereal sitting in bowls of lukewarm milk, the open loaf of bread, the hairbrush on the sofa, the outfit-rejects strewn across the floor, and I have to drink another cup of coffee before I have it in me to process all the carnage.

Last week, I had a morning like that. It was so bad that I knew that I would certainly not survive a repeat performance. So, I took action. I identified the source of most of the weekday morning stress (the kitchen), and proceeded to beat it into submission and Accomplish All The Things. Yes, the world around me might be in flames, but with God as my witness, I would have this one area of my life under control.

Accomplishing All The Things meant that I was going to need another 2-4 cups of coffee. It also meant that I was going to need to make a list. Luckily, lists and coffee are two of my very favorite things.

The project took the better part of the morning, but when I was finished, I was happy. I wasn’t just happy with the results, or with how much easier it was to find things the next morning, but with how at peace the whole process made me feel.

I wasn’t just cleaning, I was rearranging my environment to fit my needs. I was empowering myself to take control over the inanimate objects that so frequently get in my way, both literally and figuratively.

I was purging the unnecessary, the unusable, the toxic, the broken, and the unhealthy, and filling in the spaces left behind with crap that I actually need there.

In the past week, since reaching Kitchen Nirvana, I’ve spread the gospel to a few trusted souls, who immediately patted my hand and mentally checked out of our friendship. Does cleaning suck? ABSOLUTELY! But once it’s done, you’ll feel SO much better.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Step 1: Make Your List (You only need to do this so that you have the satisfaction of crossing things off of it. Write “Make a List” at the top. Then cross it off. Isn’t this fun??)
  • Step 2: Choose Your Tunes (This is going to vary greatly from person to person. I like show tunes interspersed with classic punk and 90s hip hop. It doesn’t matter what you’re listening to, as long as it’s loud and keeps you from hearing your own breathing.)
  • Step 3: Throw Shit Away (This is the hardest step. Do it quickly. Don’t think twice. If you haven’t used it in six months, throw that shit away. You don’t need it. If you ever need it again, go borrow someone else’s. You don’t have room in your life for self-doubt. Will you ever use that waffle iron? No. No, you will not. It’s taking up space and making your feel guilty every time you see it and realize with an icy kick to the gut that you just didn’t grow up to be the kind of person who makes waffles. Own it. Move on with your life. Be the kind of person who doesn’t make waffles, but who has room in her cabinets for something she will use, like a margarita maker. Some people call those blenders. I understand you can also make milkshakes with them. )
  • Step 4: Scrub Shit With a Toothbrush (This is the most cathartic step. Go get your husband’s toothbrush. Fill a small basin with warm water, a little dish soap, and some baking soda. Then go over every little crevice with it until you’re sweating a little and your arm hurts, but your refrigerator’s gaskets have never been so beautiful. What? Did you used to have problems? Maybe. But now you’ve turned all those problems into SPARKLING CLEAN REFRIGERATOR GASKETS. Now go buy your husband a new toothbrush. Or don’t. I don’t know the guy. Use your best judgement.)
  • Step 5: Bask in the Glory (This is my favorite step. After you’ve done a Big Cleaning, and you’re gross and tired and all that’s in your head is Salt -N- Pepa’s “Shoop” and a slight buzzing, lean back and look at what you’ve done. You’ve turned this disgusting area of your home into a gleaming showpiece. Take a deep breath. You’re a Warrior Goddess.)

So that was my big revelation last week. And honestly, mornings this week have gone much more smoothly. I have found that since I don’t have to spend so much time tracking down clean clothes and ironing them, I have time to actually give the children real hugs, using both arms, instead of just kissing the tops of their noggins on their way out the door. Since I don’t have to spend so much time searching for sandwich containers and thermos lids, I actually have time to have real conversations with them before their school days start. It’s a much, much better way to start the day.

If I were to start a cult (a thought that crosses my mind from time to time), the motto stitched into the backs of our matching track suits would be “Clean up your junk, Cleanse your soul”. We would be the disciples of Martha Stewart and Mr. Clean. Our communion would be strong, black coffee.

Having read this, you might assume that my house is actually clean most of the time.

That’s not true.

It’s not true because other people live in this house with me, and so the filth never actually disappears; it just gets moved around. My soul, though, is still pretty good.

 

 

My son.

I feel like I should give him some degree of identity protection, so henceforth, I will refer to the boy as “Mortimer”.

Mortimer is 8. He enjoys Minecraft, and talking about Minecraft, and watching youTube videos of other people playing Minecraft.

At the moment, he is in the middle of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, wants to be a scientist when he grows up, and can memorize information as soon as he reads it. Objectively, and without a mother’s bias,  he is a damn genius. However, none of that will do him any good if he doesn’t learn that the same rules that apply to everyone else on the planet (brush your teeth, look both ways before you cross the street, don’t argue with your teachers) also apply to him.

He will not follow any instructions unless he understands the reason behind them.

He will not perform any household chore without being asked  at least 3 times.

He will not remember to bring his lunchbox home, or what his homework was, or what day he needs to return his library books.

But he’s kind and funny and bright and unflinchingly honest. He’s patient with his little sister, appreciative of his mother and father, and his imagination knows no bounds.

I worry about the child, but I also rather admire him.

He was my firstborn. He was my miracle, and he is my treasure. He is the Golden Child, who was sent to tell us terrible jokes and teach us patience and probably cure cancer.

 

It’s maybe not about me.

I don’t like to tread water.

I don’t like to be still.

See that photo? That’s a photo of me Accomplishing Things. Neat, huh?

I like to accomplish things, achieve goals, move forward, and tackle challenges one by one until I’ve conquered the world. I like to think that I’m invincible in the face of fatigue, burnout, hectic schedules, and physical weakness.

That’s ridiculous.

Ok, so here’s where I am right now:

Having been a stay-at-home mom for eight and a half years, I find myself suddenly just doing the staying at home part. My youngest baby went to school, and so here I am, just the dog and me, staring at each other and wondering what to do next. I have a part-time job that I love, but it’s ten hours a week, which leaves me a lot of time to think about how I really ought to be doing something.

I love to seize opportunities. When things pass by me that I want, I tend to reach out and grab them. That’s how I got my husband. I’m a firm believer that if you really want something, you just go out and get it. You can’t just sit and wait and expect it to fall into your lap. That’s not what do-ers do! You’re a do-er and a go-getter! So get out there and do and go! If you’re not ACTIVELY PURSUING ALL YOUR GOALS, you are a failing failure! And other thoughts that insane people think.

But lately, I’ve had to pass up some really amazing opportunities because I’m a mom and a wife and a part-time Weight Watchers leader, and I have obligations to my family and improv group and job and friends and church and community. I’m an adult, with real-world, dreary responsibilities. So instead of jumping and seizing the day, I have had to sigh, let go of the day, and tell myself that another day is going to happen tomorrow.

I couldn’t pursue a job I really wanted, working with a woman who has been my lifelong mentor and personal hero, because the timing wasn’t right.

I had to sing a song that wasn’t super-impressive in order to preserve my illness-compromised voice, so I took second place instead of the first place I might have taken had I been able to sing the song I really wanted to sing.

I made it as far as the audition room for a musical I’ve desperately wanted to be in since I was eight years old, then sadly handed my number back to the stage manager and walked out. I gave up before I even started, because after looking at the rehearsal schedule, I realized that in order to seize that opportunity, I would have to flake out of obligations to my family, my husband, my job, my community, my friends, my committees, my church, and my performance group. And seizing that opportunity, while immediately gratifying, wouldn’t bring me a single step closer to being the person I want to be.

Anyway, for months, I’ve felt like I was treading water. Like I was watching these opportunities pass me by while I stay in the same place, stuck, unable to conquer anything because the timing just hasn’t been right. I’ve felt like I was failing.

It’s frustrating. It’s infuriating. It’s my own personal hell, to have to admit that I can’t do All The Things at once, that there are things that I simply don’t have time to do. That I’m human, and that there are only 24 hours in a day, and that I have laundry that needs folding and children that need feeding and a husband who needs kissing.

But you know what? These things, these seemingly mundane things? They’re really the important things. People notice if they don’t get done. Even if they don’t get done because I was busy Being Awesome and Accomplishing Things. My children aren’t going to look back and remember how much mommy accomplished. They’re going to remember that I picked them up from school on time every single day, and that I made them eat vegetables and read them stories and played Hi Ho Cherry-O and that they always had clean clothes.

That’s kind of an Impressive Accomplishment right there.

So I did a little thinking and a little soul-searching and a little praying.

The timing wasn’t right. When the Lord closes a door, He opens a window. Maybe you didn’t get to do these things because something even better is in store for you.

Then I had a  thought that stopped me dead in my tracks.

The timing wasn’t right for me. But that means…it was exactly right for someone else.

Because this world is big, and I’m not the center of it. This world that we’re all sharing is full of people who are just as smart, just as talented, just as driven as I am. It’s also full of people who are much smarter, much more talented, and much more driven than I am. So who the hell am I to think that it’s because of me, and that the universe is tailored just for me? That I’m specifically being kept from taking the opportunities I want to take because the Universe is holding out for something bigger for me?

What if…what if it’s not just that the timing wasn’t right for ME, but that it was EXACTLY RIGHT for someone else?

That job I wanted but couldn’t take? Someone else is going to take it. And the timing for them will be exactly right.

That contest I didn’t win? The timing was exactly right for the person who did.

The show I didn’t audition for? Other people did. And the timing is exactly right for them.

Something great is going to happen for me. Something always does, because life is grand and beautiful and surprising. Life has hills and valleys, and it’s always nighttime somewhere. All we have to do is wait. Tread water. Keep your priorities in order, and realize that you’re not the only one on the planet. You can’t do All The Things without letting some of them slip below the level of perfection.

I think the timing is right for me to take a minute. Breathe. Go for a run, read a book, pack nutritious lunches, teach Sunday school.

I’ll find a job, if I decide I want to.

I’ll enter again next year, hopefully healthy and with a strong voice.

It’s one of the most popular musicals of all time. This wasn’t my last chance.

One day, the timing will be right.

 

 

 

 

 

First blog post

“You should write a book,” my friend said.

“I don’t know how to do that,” I told her. “I don’t know anything about finding an agent or a publisher or whether I have enough thoughts to fill up a book.”

“Then start a blog,” she said. “Any idiot can have a blog.”

I am that idiot.

I have a blog.

Featured post

My daughter.

Her codename is “Sparklepants”.

She’s 4. She likes Shopkins and princesses and Barbies and jumping in the pool over and over and over again.

She is fierce and fearless and beautiful. She refuses to eat foods that are not carbohydrates, and she sometimes tells lies.

She is beautiful in the way you imagine a fairy-baby would be, in the way that makes me look at her while she’s asleep and wonder how she possibly could have come from me.

She screams when you come near her with a hairbrush, but doesn’t want her waist-length, golden, fairy-tale hair cut short. She will not acknowledge the logic behind having shorter hair if you don’t like having your hair brushed.

She is polite and bright and remembers everything, from where she hid your earrings to the time you promised that you would go to the water park “someday”.

She is my buddy, my shadow, and though she looks more like her dad’s side of the family, she acts just like me.

I’m not too worried about whether or not she will succeed in whatever life she chooses to have. I am, however, a little worried for anyone who tries to stop her.

 

My husband.

Instead of sharing a photo of my long-suffering husband, I will instead use this stock photo of rustic cooking implements. I will also refer to him as “Steve”, because that is his name.

In the almost ten years we have been married, I have never regretted marrying him.

Of all the things I have going on in my life, he is the most important thing.

He’s the most talented person I know. And also the funniest person I know. And probably the smartest.

He’s obsessed with Disney, drinks far too much coffee, and has a beard of epic proportions.

We have matching tattoos and All The Devotion.

He doesn’t know how to make a bed, but is always willing to do dishes.

He is a completely perfect partner.

 

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