It’s a Dog-Eat-Turtle World

Our dog Scout is about as sweet and undemanding as animals come, which (by the fact that the rest of our family registers at varying degrees of selfish and demanding) pretty much makes her the low man on the totem pole in our house. This past weekend, poor Scout did something that knocked her down even one more rung lower on that hierarchical ladder: she found a turtle.

All the comforts of home

We were all in the backyard on Friday evening, enjoying the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. Kurt and I were lounging in the hammock watching the kids play in the sprinkler (can’t you just picture us in one of those new JCPenney commercials?), when Scout emerged from a hunting excursion under a bush with something rather large in her mouth. Upon discovering it was a turtle, the kids declared that we had a new pet, and the immediate construction of a new turtle habitat began (a.k.a. a cardboard box with one stick, a clump of grass, and a few stray leaves to make the box “feel like nature,” along with a hunk of kale in case the turtle stopped peeing himself out of fear long enough to realize he was hungry). And with that, Scout lost her new chew toy AND her spot of most beloved family pet.

The naming discussion begins

Logically, the next thing to do was name the turtle. Michael immediately went to his second go-to name of “Max” (his first go-to name usually being “Bob”), which Grace of course vetoed right away…mostly because she didn’t come up with it. She wanted to make up a name using the first letter of each name in the family. But being that “KKGM” has no vowels, it didn’t have a real good ring to it. Then there was talk of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which of course led to the name “Michaelangelo.” That was the favorite Michael settled on, but not before offering the very typical and very expected suggestion of “Toot Tootbutt.” This was vetoed for obvious reasons. I thought I would throw out the name “Atticus.” I mean, how perfect, right? Scout and Atticus. I giggled in my head as I pictured Atticus the Turtle lecturing Scout the Dog that she could eat all the blue jays she wanted, but that it was a sin to eat a mockingbird, “because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy.” But alas, my seven-year-old and three-year-old didn’t get my literary allusion. Grace, in her creative fashion, wanted to name him “Turtelo.” Finally it was decided: “Michaelangelo Atticus Turtelo.” We’ll call him MAT for short.

Scout was ready to fight for her turf.

Scout just wanted to call the turtle “dinner,” and soon her innocent sniffing became more aggressive paw batting and gnawing…which sent Grace into a fit of dramatic crying that mean bully Scout was going to kill this new pet that she loved so much. The turtle was gaining even more ground in the battle for most beloved family pet.

About, oh, five minutes after christening the turtle with his new name, Grace curiously wondered if maybe, just maybe, the turtle was a GIRL.

Our newest beloved pet. Call me crazy, but I think the turtle is looking for a little tongue…

Now we have to start all over again. Michael thought the very best name for a girl turtle was “Crystal.” At first, Kurt and I found this to be odd, but then considering the connotation that sometimes comes along with that name, maybe it wasn’t such a bad choice for an animal that has its own mobile home. (I do apologize to any Crystals who may be reading this…from their mobile homes). Grace wanted to name the turtle “Jennifer” after my brother’s girlfriend. (Jennifer, if you’re reading this…not from a mobile home… I’m guessing that’s an honor?) So again, the compromise of “Jennifer Crystal” was made.

All of this agonizing decision-making was really a moot point though, because the next morning we found that Michaelangelo Atticus Turtelo/Jennifer Crystal had somehow escaped from its new “natural” habitat and was nowhere to be found. Apparently we should have named him “Houdini.”

Grace and her first fish, “Herbert”

There is a happy ending for Scout though, as she now remains our one and only beloved pet. She came close to having some more competition two days later when Grace caught her very first fish during our day trip to Innsbrook Resort. I think she would have gladly kept “Herbert,” except that we had to throw him back by law, which was even less of a reason than the fact that the poor fish ended up having a fatal encounter with her hook. Really, we should have expected Herbert’s demise considering the track record we had with our series of goldfish a few years ago: R.I.P. CallieEllas I-III and Chocolate Milks I-IV.

Now that I think of it, maybe instead of worrying about being our most beloved pet, Scout should just be happy she’s made it nine years…

The Greatest Mother’s Day Gift

Do you smell that? It’s the smell of tempera paint, clay, a fresh pack of construction paper, and Elmer’s glue mixed with some misshapen waffles and the aroma of overpriced flowers. Ah…the smell of Mother’s Day.

Kids (and dads) everywhere are hustling to put final touches on homemade gifts. Reservations for brunch are being made. Men of the family are struggling to put together menus for family get-togethers that don’t consist solely of barbequed meat and beer. Gift certificates for manicures, pedicures, and massages are being bought at an alarming rate. Hallmark stock is likely skyrocketing.

What mothers really want for Mother's Day
What mothers REALLY want for Mother’s Day (from https://www.facebook.com/guggiedaily)

I myself always look forward to seeing what my kids and husband cook up for me every Mother’s day, both literally and figuratively. But as a post my friend Maggie (check out her awesome blog at Perspectives Writing & Editing…little plug) made the other day on Facebook, it really does not take much to show us mothers some honest appreciation. I would be happy if my kids could just understand that I would give my life for them at any given second of any given day…and treat me accordingly as the unselfish and heroic queen that willingness to sacrifice proves me to be, bowing to my every wish and command. I guess breakfast in bed is nice, too.

But honestly, nothing my children could give me could ever match the gift I was given simply with their advents into my life: a true and pure understanding of unconditional love. Never have I ever been so angry or upset with my kids that I did not tiptoe myself into their rooms after they were asleep, whisper a kiss across their foreheads, and silently thank God for the dreaming little blessings before me. And it will always be that way. I know that because the moment my oldest child came to be and I was able to feel that unconditional love stirring within me was also the moment I understood, for the very first time, just how much I was loved by someone else. For me, it took becoming a mother to know the depths of my own mother’s love for me. To look at my daughter and my son, to feel my adoration without horizons for them, and to realize I am the source of that same feeling in someone else…well…that is a beautiful revelation.

I think those of us especially with young children get wrapped up in Mother’s Day being “ours.” We are now a part of that sacred female community, and we feel a bit entitled to a day where we get a pat on the back for surviving sleep deprivation, temper tantrums, and assaults of various disgusting messes and smells. But when you get those adorable cards with crayon lettering, framed handprints, and handmade beaded necklaces that you will sentimentally treasure for the rest of your days, just remember that somewhere in a box or a closet in the house you grew up in, your mother has packed away all those little things you made for her. And now, you will understand why.

me and mom
Me and my Mama

Happy Mother’s Day, especially to my mom. I love you.

(P.S. Mom, you just said the other day that you told someone, “Her blog will make you laugh…and cry.” Well, I’m guessing the tissues are out on this one. Sorry.)

Snookie and Star Wars: Teaching Our Kids to Be Culturally Literate

A few days ago, on the morning of May 4th to be exact, Grace emerged from her bedroom and greeted me with the phrase, “May the fourth be with you.” I must have looked at her a little strangely because she followed with the explanation, “It’s from this movie called Star Wars, in case you didn’t know.”

Duh..

My first instinct was to say sarcastically, “Thanks. Of course I know that’s a play off of Star Wars…EVERYONE knows that.” But then I realized why I must have looked at her strangely in the first place: because SHE wouldn’t know that phrase was a play off of Star Wars. She is a seven-year-old little girl who has never seen the movie, so she obviously learned “May the fourth be with you” from someone at school. And since she didn’t know why it was a cleverly funny phrase, she assumed I wouldn’t know either.

I think sometimes we parents take for granted that our kids know about things that seem obvious to us, things that are part of our everyday social fabric. It is something called cultural literacy, a body of general and collective knowledge that we expect everyone to be familiar with. Like Star Wars, for example. One would assume that at the mention of that movie, every person within listening distance would know what was being discussed. But we are not born knowing this stuff, and part of our job as parents is to raise kids who have a good fundamental literacy of our culture…which means yes, we do have to answer all those seemingly endless stupid questions that flow from their mouths in a steady current of mind-numbing frequency. Thankfully, our exasperated answers are really helping to build our children’s ties to society’s collective knowledge so they are less likely to always be that person figuratively just climbing out from under a rock.

When I was in college I read the book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.  In it, Hirsch takes the position that children are not learning what they need in order to become culturally literate members of society, and he also includes what he believes are necessary pieces of information that every American should know. It is no secret that many believe Americans are getting “dumber” with each new generation. Jay Leno has his popular “Jaywalking” bit that proves the average American can struggle with information that SHOULD be a no-brainer. I am not so sure that we are really dumber than we used to be, but I would argue that what is considered to be “common knowledge” has been changing.

And it changes quickly. What seems to be something everyone in a certain age set knows can be completely unknown to another age set, even just a few years younger. As a new teacher, I figured I had an advantage in being able to identify with the culture of my high school students who were sometimes less than ten years younger than me. I would often compare literary characters to celebrities in modern culture to make things more relevant. This usually worked, but there were a few occasions where what I thought would be hysterical and helpful just fell completely flat.

“Like sands through the hourglass…”

Like the time I spent hours creating a lesson plan where I compared each of the Greek gods and goddesses to characters on “Days of Our Lives” (mythology really WAS the first soap opera), only to find out that pretty much none of my students had ever watched the show. WHAT???? Didn’t they grow up with the afternoon drama of Bo and Hope as the background soundtrack as they played Barbies and their moms ironed clothes? Didn’t they try to arrange their high school class schedules so they had last period free and could watch “Days” in the senior lounge like I did? No, apparently they did not. And then there was the time I thought I was SO funny when I recreated the last act of Julius

My attempt at humor with the final act of Julius Caesar

Caesar as a movie storyboard to help my students keep all the events of the final battle straight. After listing out the “starring” cast of characters from the play, I playfully added “and DON KNOTTS as The Messenger.” Funny, right? Except that none of my students knew who Don Knotts was. Part of me wanted to tell them to watch some “Nick at Night” for homework. As far as I was concerned, that was a failure of cultural literacy.

But I guess that begs the question is cultural literacy a static concept? Obviously, it can’t be. As time marches on, there are more people, events, concepts, books, movies, etc. that inspire and change our culture, and therefore should become part of our common literacy. But once something is considered part of our collective knowledge, must it always maintain that status for future generations? Snookie has certainly become a person of reference known to the masses, but if the average person on Jaywalking in the year 2112 fails to know who the orange-tinted guidette on “Jersey Shore” is (or what a “guidette” is for that matter), should the American public be appalled? I am going to say no on that one. I would argue that there are two types of cultural literacy: generational (to which Ms. Snookie would belong) and trans-generational (to which George Washington would belong).

Considering that the “may the fourth be with you” joke has clearly amused a new young generation of fans, I’m guessing Star Wars has safely retained its spot in trans-generational cultural literacy. But I’m wondering, what will remain common knowledge to my children’s generation?  What will fall by the wayside? And I’m interested to know what YOU think should be taught to today’s children to ensure a society of a culturally literate public. As Linda Richman of Coffee Talk used to say: I’ll give you a topic. Cultural Literacy. It’s both cultural and literate. Discuss… 

Osmosis Boy’s Trip to the Grocery Store

At my recent conference with Michael’s preschool teacher, she told me something interesting. She said that she and his other teacher refer to him as “Osmosis Boy,” meaning that he never looks like he’s paying any attention, but somehow, everything seems to sink in. At first I thought this was probably a pretty accurate description of him. But the more I thought of it, I was not so sure.

Sometimes I think he is just NOT paying attention…at all. If indeed the osmosis process was occurring, I surely wouldn’t be beating my head against the wall multiple times a day over his behavior. You would think that saying, “Please don’t color on things that aren’t paper,” five million times would sink in. Or that setting parameters for behavior before we go someplace would take just ONE of these times. I remember when Grace was little, my husband and I took a Love and Logic parenting course that all but promised us that if we were consistent in our expectations, our kids would catch on. I guess they never said how long we needed to be consistent for. Apparently three-and-a-half years isn’t quite long enough.

Case in point: a recent visit to the grocery store.

Michael and I ran up to the grocery store the other day to pick up some flowers for my mom. She recently had a pretty bad accident where she passed out, fell, and fractured her neck, resulting in a contusion on her spinal cord. After fear that she was paralyzed, she thankfully began regaining feeling in her limbs. However, she still has a long road ahead of her to a full recovery. After having neck surgery last week, she is now focusing on intensive rehab to get her back on her feet. It has been a scary situation for my family, but we are counting our blessings as things could have been a lot worse.

So right after the accident occurred, we ran in to get some flowers on the way to the hospital. That is all we had a to get…flowers. A five-minute endeavor. I even explained to Michael that this would be a quick little trip, and that he could help me pick out which flowers to get for “Mimi.” He asked if he could get a cookie (our grocery store lets kids pick out one from the bakery for free), and I told him if he was a good helper, he could get one. Sounds good. Parameters set. Let’s get some flowers.

We were doomed from the moment we entered the store. Of course, like any red-blooded child, Michael wanted to ride in one of the baskets with the car attached to the front. I explained that we didn’t need a basket since we were only getting flowers, but we would use one next time. I really did not want to push that giant, awkward, impossibe-to-maneuver cart around if I didn’t have to. So that STARTED the tantrum. I almost gave in but told myself I needed to stick to my guns. Love and logic, Kelly…love and logic.

The tantrum continued into the florist section, where Michael refused to help me pick out flowers and instead began punching the mylar balloons that were attached to various arrangements. Awesome. Keep your cool, Kelly. The florist kindly asked me if I needed any help, to which I replied, “Yeah, you want to take my son?” She quickly and wisely said no, saying she has already been there, done that. At least I was getting some sympathy.

Then Michael had the audacity to demand we go and get that free cookie. Oh really?

“Only good helpers get cookies. I’m sorry to say you can’t get a cookie today.”

Well that did it. It was the three-and-a-half year old apocalypse. There was screaming. There was thrashing. And there was storming off…in the direction of the bakery. “That little…”

I grabbed some flowers and took off after my now sprinting son. I managed to head him off at the bakery, but not before he grabbed onto my legs and almost unintentionally tackled me to the ground. I’m pretty sure this was the most embarrassed I have ever been in public. I picked him up and carried him through the store, with him screaming at the top of his lungs. Unfortunately, it seemed to be “senior citizens who either never had children or forgot what it was like to have children” day at the grocery store, because the number of horrified stares and wrinkly, furrowed brows I caught a glimpse of was too many to count. Where were all the other moms who could at least give me that look of defeated solidarity so I didn’t feel like such a complete and utter failure? I probably should have abandoned the flowers altogether and just left, but by then I was determined that this child was not going to put me through this for nothing. So I fumbled through the self-checkout and walked out, with a wailing, angry shadow behind me.

So much for osmosis. My child just does NOT get it.

But then I think of the reason we were getting flowers in the first place. The night before, I told both my kids about my mom’s accident. As I was putting Michael to bed, we said a prayer for her, and I told him we would go visit her at the hospital the next day. He looked at me and asked, “Is Mimi sick?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Can we go get Mimi some flowers? I think she’ll like pink.”

“I think that would be a great idea, Buddy. We’ll go get her some flowers.”

Oh, the irony. But I guess maybe some things do sink in.

An Accidental Bunny Sighting, Among Other Things

Well, it is almost Easter. And that means a trip to the mall to visit the Easter Bunny. Actually, my kids saw the Bunny by accident this year. Since it seems that recently I have the foresight of a possum (they’re blind, people), I was actually surprised to see the Easter gazebo set up when I took the kids to the mall the other day to get Michael fitted for his ring bearer tux for my cousin’s upcoming wedding.

“Mom! The Easter Bunny is here!”

“Already? Oh. I guess Easter is in a couple of days, isn’t it?”

“Can we go get our picture taken?”

I looked at the two of them standing in front of me, not in their Easter best, but in whatever was clean in their closets. Fortunately, their outfits weren’t too horrible, so what the heck?

There was no line, so the photographer told the kids to go ahead and see the Bunny while he finished checking out the family that had just gone. Cool. Well, not so cool. It took the guy a full five or so minutes to finish up with that family. That doesn’t sound very long, you say. And it wouldn’t have been, if my kids were sitting on Santa’s lap. Because Santa can TALK to the kids. The Bunny just sits there and gives thumbs ups and covers his eyes with his hands. So I tried to strike up a one-sided conversation. Awkward. Very awkward. Five whole minutes of awkwardness. And my kids were no help. The children who were jumping beans of excitement just moments ago were now stoic monks who had taken a vow of silence. Tic…tic…tic…

Finally, the photographer was ready to take the photo. By some miraculous form of rabbit sign language, the Bunny and I did cook up a sneaky little pose for the picture. And might I say, all the awkward silence was worth it to have a photo of the Easter Bunny giving my unsuspecting kids “bunny ears.” We also got coupons for Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. Bonus!

So as we walked through the mall to get our free pretzels, I started taking note of the stores we passed and realized ones I will likely never patronize, or will begrudgingly patronize.

Abercrombie & Fitch: Any store that blares crappy techno-dance music and declares biological warfare with their overpowering cologne reminiscent of awkward thirteen-year-old boys looking to cop a feel during a slow dance at a mixer OBVIOUSLY cares very little about me having a pleasant shopping experience. And I recall the day after Thanksgiving when a few rather buff young male employees were standing shirtless in the entryway. I realize this was a shrewd marketing ploy to entice female shoppers, but it ended up feeling more like an awkward “To Catch a Predator” setup.

Justice: This store makes me weep inside that I have a little girl who is reaching the age where she cares about fashion…or what she THINKS is fashion. A little on the side of hoochie and a lot on the side of hideous, Justice represents most of what is wrong with clothing trends for little girls. And for some inexplicable reason, the mall by my house has TWO of them, catty corner from each other. The exact same store…doubled. Is there THAT much of a demand for neon tees with graphics of women wearing sunglasses and pouting their lips? Guess what? Little girls don’t need to look like Madonna circa 1985…or Madonna circa 1995…or Madonna circa anytime. So stop telling them this is what is cool. And don’t give me that bull that you supply what the public demands. If you didn’t make it in the first place, the girls wouldn’t know what they were missing. Go take a little walk down the mall to Gymboree and see what any self-respecting mom would buy for her self-respecting young daughter to wear.

Spencer Gifts: Mostly because I’m not in junior high anymore, and I no longer find naughty novelties and black light posters funny or cool.

XXI Forever: You’re not fooling anyone. We know you are still Forever 21. Putting Roman numerals on your sign won’t magically make your clothes of good quality or taste. Besides, on your website you have a “Club” subcategory under “Apparel.” Cla-ssy.

Plaza Frontenac (for those of you not from St. Louis, this would be our “upscale” mall. You must say it with an uppity tone and draw out the ‘a’…”Plaaaaza Frontenac.”): Yes, I am protesting this whole entire mall…mostly because I wear clothes from Target, and not only can the salespeople tell, but they let me know they can tell. However, I do make two exceptions. I will eat at Canyon Cafe, because it is the bomb. And I will go to Williams-Sonoma whenever we get a gift card from my husband’s aunt and uncle for Christmas. Because who am I to turn down free money towards some super cool stuff? And the gift card kind of explains the clothes from Target anyway. Maybe on my next trip to “The Plaza”  I’ll pull out my one shirt I own from Ann Taylor, thanks to the outlet mall.

But boy, those were some good pretzels. I hope since God raised Jesus from the dead to give us eternal life, he also bought into the Auntie Anne’s franchise and put one of those suckers in Heaven. Can I hear a Hallelujah? Oh wait, not yet…we’ve still got two more days before we can say that. My bad.

A blessed Easter to one and all…unless you’re Jewish. Then a blessed Passover…unless you’re atheist. Then bummer…no Easter candy for you. But have a good weekend anyway.

Dancing on Betsy Ross’ Grave

What a strange title for a blog post you say? Perhaps I am about to launch into a commentary on civil liberties in our country. Or possibly I am researching unusual burial rituals throughout history. Maybe it is just a clever ploy to attract readers.

Or maybe on our Spring Break trip to Philadelphia last week, my son did just that: danced on Betsy Ross’ grave. Aside from being utterly embarrassed and a little afraid he may have committed a federal offense, what else can I do but blog about it?

So, yes. While perusing the grounds outside of Betsy Ross’ Philadelphia home, reading various plaques extolling her act of bravery in facing charges of treason by creating the very first flag of our grand country and bearing the heartache of losing not one, not two, but three husbands, I look up to find my son has climbed up onto the little wall protecting the sacred ground and is hopping around on the cement marker of her final resting place.

I would say I was horrified, but that would be a lie. In order to be horrified, there must be some element of surprise. No surprise here, as unfortunate as that is to say. There was a split second I thought about slowly backing away and saying to no one in particular, “Where are that boy’s parents?” But then I quickly faced the truth that I must own him…and it would have been pretty crummy of me to let my husband take all the judgmental stares boring into him alone.

Sigh. Nobody knows the woes of the mother of a three-year-old boy…except for another mother of a three-year-old boy. Like I said, there was not one hint of surprise at the sight of my son doing a jig on the burial ground of a beloved historical figure. Because frankly, the boy is a destructor of just about anything, sanity included. The number of near catastrophes that would have landed us on the news as “the family who destroyed the [fill in the blank with your choice of historical Philadelphia buildings]” caused me to wonder how history ever survived thousands of years of three-year-old boys. I wouldn’t be surprised if the REAL culprit of the Liberty Bell crack was a small grubby-handed child of the male persuasion.

****BREAKING NEWS**** Right now, as if on cue, my husband just yelled down to me and asked if I was still working on “The Michael Blog.” Because apparently the kid just rinsed off his toothpaste-sudsy toothbrush in the hubby’s iced tea. Now, back to our program…

I know, as a reader, you will be disappointed to find I do not have a photo of my son dancing on Betsy Ross’ grave. For once I did the responsible thing and stopped my child from doing something outlandish instead of prolonging it so I could get a good picture…which I may have been known to do in the past.

So here are some of those other pictures (which also serve to illustrate why the above incident was not surprising in the least):

And then there’s the poop story. No one wants to see pictures of that.

There it is. My son, in a nutshell. It’s a good thing he is cute. Hopefully Betsy Ross thought so too and decided NOT to come back and do some vengeful haunting.

Similar Tastes: A Letter to My Daughter On Her Birthday

Dear Grace,

Today you are seven years old.  Birthdays mean something different to parents than they do to kids. To us, we cannot help but think about the day our child came into our lives, and every day since then. As this day approached, I have had a certain song playing in my head:

“You can’t fool me I saw you when you came out. You got your mama’s taste but you got my mouth.”

I remember hearing these lyrics to “Gracie” by Ben Folds soon after you were born. Gazing at your tiny, delicate features, acquainting myself with this new little person I had always loved but just met, it was clear that you did in fact have your daddy’s mouth. But only time would tell if you had my taste. I would have to wait and watch you grow. At the time, that was beyond my realm of imagination. I was content to keep you my dribbling, nuzzling little bundle forever.

Sometimes I miss Baby Grace and her big, squishy cheeks that were irresistible to kiss and her downy hair scented with the freshness of baby shampoo and the natural sweetness of brand new life. But if I had only had Baby Grace for these past seven years, I would have missed out on all the things you have become and all the things you have created that I have packed away in my heart.  And I would not have discovered that you, my dear little Gracie, do have your mama’s taste.

There are times I observe you and have the feeling I am looking in the mirror, only at a reflection that does not look like me. In your face I see your dad, which has resulted in a beauty my own face has never and will never know. But what goes on behind that pretty little face, that is where I have left my mark. And I cannot help but think this might just give me an advantage in parenting you. I’ve been there, kid. I know what you are thinking and feeling, because already it has been apparent to me that your brain is trying to interpret the world in many of the same ways mine did as a child. So this means I can help you when you need it, if you are not too stubborn to let me…which you probably will be. And I will have to fault myself for that.

But maybe before you get too old to want to listen, before you cringe in utter embarrassment and disbelief that you are anything like your mom, I can let you in on a few little things.

Dad loves to claim you get your artistic interest from him. But we’ve seen him draw, well, anything. So we know the truth. Let that passion live inside you always, and don’t forget to use it every now and again, even when it seems you have more important things to do. Right now, you want to be an artist when you grow up. And you very may well make that a reality. But if you choose another living for yourself, don’t let your love for your other interests fall by the wayside. The pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with creating something is important, even if you only create for yourself.

From very early on, it was apparent you are a dreamer. And by many accounts, you dream like me. I remember the time you sheepishly asked me if I ever pretended to dance with a boy when I was your age, as if you thought you were the only one. Dreaming is a necessity. It is the gateway to imagination, and imagination leads to all kinds of good things. But I also think I would be an irresponsible mom if I did not tell you to keep sight of reality. People will tell you that you can be anything. Well, that is not really true. Everyone has limitations, but those are a blessing if you recognize them and see your limits as guides, directing your focus toward your gifts. Find a gift that fuels passion, then dream as big as you can. And remember that the bridge between dreams and reality does not build itself. Only your own strong work ethic, and maybe a bit of luck, will make that happen.

Your mama likes to dance to the beat of her own drummer sometimes, and so do you. This became completely evident a few months ago when I asked if you wanted to sign up for softball. After saying no, I asked if you were sure, because all your friends would be playing and I did not want you to feel left out. You looked right at me and said with conviction, “Mom, I don’t have to do what everyone else does.” I was cloaked with pride at that moment. Because you were right, and I hope you remember those words all your life.  At the same time, the part of me that wants to enshroud you in bubble wrap and hang a sign on you that says Please say only nice things to my daughter whimpered, knowing what lies ahead for a kid who goes against the grain. There will be teasing. There will be times of loneliness. People will hurt your feelings and try to make you feel bad about yourself. But try to remember this in the midst of it, though it will be hard: you are exactly the person God meant for you to be. Not everyone will like you; that is a universal truth for everyone. So you should never change yourself for someone else. Otherwise, you will be changing all the time. And you will find people who love you for who you are…I will always be first on that list. And you will never be truly alone, because your dad and I will be here for you anywhere, anytime. I have been down many of the roads you will be traveling, and I promise I will do my best to remember how it feels to be your age. You may not always like what I have to say, but my love for you will always be boundless.

So you have grown another year’s worth of becoming who you are, who you will be.  Seeing you discover yourself has been one of the greatest privileges of my life, and it will continue to be as I watch you add new layers. But underneath it all, “you will always have a part of me nobody else is ever gonna see but you and me…my little girl…my Gracie girl.”

Two Peas in a Pod

Happy Birthday, Boo.

Love, Mom

 

•••

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Confessions of a Birthday-Party-Planning Junkie

I have a confession: I am a birthday-party-planning junkie. Full on. I can’t help myself. As soon as one of my children’s birthdays begins to inch its way closer on my calendar, I begin vibrating with possibilities. It is almost as if I have my own little competition in my head with Martha Stewart. And it is completely and entirely unnecessary.

Let’s face it. Kids really are not that hard to please when it comes to this stuff. So why do I insist on doing more than I need to? I usually ask myself this question when I am drowning in handmade decorations, when my fingers are stained with icing color, and when I am to the point where I need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the activities and details on the agenda. So basically, I am asking myself that question at this very moment because, presently, that is the stage I am at in preparation for Grace’s birthday party this weekend.

I have to admit that when Grace told me that this year she wanted to have an art party, I was elated…unlike when she chose Dora the Explorer for her third birthday. Where is the creativity in that? Sheesh, three-year-olds know nothing. I am completely energized when my kids choose a party theme I can run with. It’s a sickness. Really, it is. And an art party has the perfect combination of specificity and openness for interpretation. Grace just wants to “do art.” The rest is up to me. Now, a normal mother would realize the gift she has just been given with that statement. The bar is set pretty low. Some paper. Some crayons. Do art, kids! And then we’ll eat some cake. Badda bing, badda boom. You got yourself a party. But no, not me. I took that statement as a challenge, scoured Pinterest, and had an entire sheet of paper full of ideas mere hours after Grace had informed me of her chosen theme. Like I said,…a sickness. If only I approached more things in my life with such zeal

 

I am not going to kid anyone (or myself for that matter) and say I go party-crazy simply for the benefit of my kids. Part if it is selfish. I love doing stuff like this, even if sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. But I can at least rest easy in knowing my intention IS for my children. The way I look at it, birthdays are special. I may fail in other aspects of parenting, but at least my kids can always look back and say, “Mom sure threw us some kick-ass birthday parties.” After all, in my eyes the reason for these celebrations, the days my children were born, were better than any party I could ever have. So the least I can do is try to convey the immeasurable joy I felt on those days through some streamers and party games.

So I guess overall, it is not such a bad thing that I am a birthday-party-planning junkie. I also realized that this year, Grace has taken an interest in helping me with the preparation. She was so excited when I came home with bags from Hobby Lobby and Wal-Mart full of supplies, and she wanted to help me make the decorations. I have to say, that was pretty cool. To watch the delight she was taking in the anticipation of her party, of having a hand in creating it, made me realize that planning these parties WITH my kids might be just as much fun as the party themselves.

And at the very least, I am getting free labor out of it. 🙂 Now enough of this blogging. My free labor is at school right now, and I have some paint chip garland that won’t make itself.

Parenting Advice from Some Hippies

It occurred to me today that I should add something new to my children’s diets: dreams.

This suggestion did not come from my pediatrician, or Dr. Oz, or some celebrity chef who would likely scrutinize my sometimes questionable lunchbox choices on days when I hit the snooze button too many times or on mornings before the weekly grocery shopping trip.  In this case, my unlikely nutritionists go by the names of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Wait, not Young. No, yes Young. Let me check….yes, & Young.

Teach Your Children.” I have heard the song more times than I can count, mostly thanks to my father and his almost pristine taste in music. So when I heard it on the radio today, it should not have been any different from the thousands of other times. But then those voices in silken harmony began their sage advice: “Teach your children well. Their father’s hell did slowly go by. And feed them on your dreams…” BAM!

CSNY...parenting gurus?

It was as if I had heard those words, “and feed them on your dreams,” for the very first time. I apparently had never been listening before. But now I was. And all I could think was how beautiful that statement was. How poetic. How decadent in imagery. How representative of the generation of peace and love. How…wise and oddly practical. It was the best parenting advice I have heard in a long time. And it came from hippies.

Parenting is a competitive sport these days. We train prior to the big event. We scout experts and other parents, researching new approaches to the game. We are constantly adding pages to our playbook. We scrutinize every move we make. When we fail, we analyze where we went wrong; when we are victorious, we are awarded the right to brag about our “natural” skills and our abilities to outplay our children. And we are all working toward the same championship prize: for our well-rounded, intelligent, successful child to smoothly transition into a well-rounded, intelligent, successful adult.

That is what I have been told anyway. By whom? Pretty much the entire world, that’s who. Everyone has an opinion on parenting, and we are constantly bombarded by “experts” telling us how we should parent, how we should not parent, how much we should parent, all the things we are doing wrong as parents, and so on and so on. Are you a Tiger Mom? Are you a helicopter parent? Would you be a better parent if you were French? Is my child overweight because there are toys in Happy Meals? Are Disney princesses warping my daughter’s brain?

I am starting to think we are so busy reading about how to be parents that we forget to actually parent. Just pin that parenting tip on your Pinterest board labeled “Kid Stuff” and that’s all you need to do, right?

I am certainly guilty of all of this. I can be a bit of an over-analyzer when it comes to just about anything, my own parenting skills included. This is compounded by the fact that as a high school teacher, I was exposed to teenage behaviors on all points of the spectrum, thereby contributing to an irrational fear that every time I screw up in the parenting arena I have most definitely set my children on the path leading to the defiant, disrespectful, morally corrupt section of that spectrum. Maybe I should hover a little closer. No wait, maybe I should stop catering to my children’s needs like French parents. Or maybe I need to just nip this in the bud right now, pull out some Tiger Mom moves, and start calling my kids “garbage” until they start acting correctly.

Or maybe I just listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and feed them on my dreams.

My dreams for my children are pretty simple. Love and happiness. Sure, I want my children to do well in school. Sure, I want them to have ambition and drive. Sure, I want them to be successful in life. Would it hurt if they ended up making nice, hefty livings for themselves so they could one day hook up their old crotchety parents with a sweet retirement timeshare in Florida? No, it would not. But deep down, I truly believe that everything I want for my children, everything I dream for them stems from love and happiness. If I feed them love and happiness everyday, that will nourish their spirits, their confidence, their minds, their hearts. It will grow them into beautiful people, and beautiful people do great things.

I know, I know…it sounds a little hippie dippie. But it is not as if I am never going to yell at my kids again, or tell them little white lies, or take away toys, or hold them accountable for their actions. I am still going to do all that. Maybe now I will just start trusting that the kind of parent I am is exactly the kind of parent I need to be, and that losing my cool after asking my children to stop using the couch as a trampoline for the twenty-fourth time is okay as long as it is accompanied by a large helping of love and happiness. Just like it is okay to have a Happy Meal every now and again, accompanied by a usually balanced diet. (That’s right crazy society, there ARE parents who do not need you take toys out of fast food meals. Some of us can make educated decisions all on our own. Shocking, I know.)

And because any view on parenting would not be complete without a healthy dialogue from  many perspectives, I am curious: what ingredients go into YOUR dream meals for your children? Or maybe you think this whole dream diet is just another fad? Or maybe you think I am plain crazy for taking parenting advice from hippies?

Or maybe you find it ridiculous that I just wrote a parenting blog post about how we over-analyze parenting?

Chuck E. Cheese Could Have Been Your Father

Chuck E. Cheese’s.

That is all you have to say to hear a collective, audible grunt from every parent within earshot. It may very well be the place “where a kid can be a kid,” but it is most certainly the place where a parent can get a preview of one of the circles of Hell. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. But a place where your money gets you a mediocre pizza, a temporary tattoo and fun size Airhead candy for a mere 100 tickets, and a lingering sticky film over your entire body is not what I envision Heaven to be. Maybe Purgatory.

But I can deal with all of that. And I understand that in the eyes of my children, Chuck E. Cheese’s is the ultimate restaurant. After all, as a kid I felt the same way about its predecessor, Showbiz Pizza. So when faced with having to take my own kids to this pizza funland for a birthday party or fundraiser night (because those are pretty much the only circumstances under which we set foot in there), my audible grunt is not rooted in my disdain for the place. My distaste for Chuck E. Cheese’s comes from the mouse himself.

Yes, Chuck E. has scarred me for life. Let me take you back in time to the day it all happened…

The year was 1993. I was a sophomore in high school. For some reason completely incomprehensible to me now, but which clearly made sense to the idiot teenage brain, I went to Chuck E. Cheese’s with a few friends. Maybe we really wanted a neon pillow shaped liked an alien head and figured the best way to get one was to earn tickets playing Whack-A-Mole for an entire afternoon. Anyway, I remember it clearly. I was in the middle of one of my personal best rounds of skee ball when I felt a large, cartoonish presence next to me. There stood Chuck E., mimicking my skee ball maneuvers. Ha ha. Funny Chuck E. Now move along and go high-five some six-year-old. But he did not move on. He stood there for a little while, looking at me. I tried to ignore him and continued playing until he left. To my dismay, he did not stay away for long. He followed me, silently, creepily, from one game to the next. Don’t you have to go perform “Disco Chuck” or “Rockin’ Robin” with your band right about now? It was incredibly disturbing.

Finally, it must have been Chuck E.’s break time, because he scampered away behind a door, and I started breathing easy again. That is, until I turned around and found myself standing face to face with a Chuck E. Cheese employee – a human one this time. I thought maybe he was coming over to apologize for Chuck E.’s annoying behavior and to treat me to five free tokens for my inconvenience. I was mistaken. Here is how the conversation went down:

Employee: “Chuck E. wanted me to come out here and tell you that he thinks you’re cute.”

Me: <crickets chirping>

Employee: He’s a really nice guy. He wanted to know what you thought of his tail.

Me: <crickets chirping>

Employee: So when he comes back, you wanna hang out?

Me: I don’t date mice.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. I WAS HIT ON BY CHUCK E. CHEESE. Of all the celebrities whose eye I could have caught, that was my one shining moment. Pathetic. Disgusting. And down right Creepy with a capital C.

And THAT is why I hate Chuck E. Cheese’s. Since that very unfortunate day, I shudder a little whenever I hear Chuck E.’s nasaly voice on a commercial. When we are at the restaurant, I get weirded out and have the urge to hide whenever Chuck E. starts walking the floor. But I grin and bear it, all so my kids can have their fun.

“Is that your tail or are you just happy to see me?” photo from arcadeheroes.com

And that is exactly what I did this past Thursday when Michael’s preschool had their fundraising night at Chuck E. Cheese’s. I bought my pizza and tokens like a dutiful mother. I helped Grace score extra points on the basketball game so she could earn more tickets toward junk I don’t want in my house. And I even alerted Michael when I saw Chuck E. sauntering among the customers (no doubt scanning the crowd for some unsuspecting female on whom he could work his “playa” moves). Michael loves Chuck E. Cheese, and when he saw the mouse, he ran up and gave him a hug. As I watched, a bit horrified, I had the thought, “Oh Michael. You have no idea. Chuck E. Cheese could have been your father.”

Then I threw up a little in my mouth.

(The Chuck E. Saga continued a few years later. For the next chapter, click here.)

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