School

Your Field Day

Field Day = life
Matt = you
Matt’s determination = your faith
The track = your life
Cerebal palsy = your personal battles
The spectators = also you

Sometimes we are the runner.
Sometimes we are the spectators.
Every field day should look like this.
Keep trying.
Keep encouraging.
Stop competing.
Everyone gets to finish.
It’s not about who wins.
It’s about who shows up,
and who loves each other.

He Gets Us Money

I was at Caroline’s school the other day and noticed this hanging outside  her classroom. If you can’t read it from the  photo it says,

My hero is my dad because he gets us money.

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I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance between the hubster and Wreck-It-Ralph in the picture. He’ll be so flattered. (Another embarrasing sidenote is that  when I read this, I automatically inserted new lyrics into the Golddigger song. Sing along:  “He gets us money, when we’re in need.”

It was a fun mom moment. It’s not every day you get to see inside of your six-year-old’s head. I should have taken more  time to  see what the rest of the class wrote. I’m not sure if they all have an understanding of the neecessity of their dad’s paycheck quite like Caroline.

I’ve been chuckling in my head for days over this art. I am grateful that across the hall was another art project that read

I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my home. I am thankful for Jesus.

jesus

It looks like we’ve gotten past just plain old materialism. Phew.

So, with all of this circling around in my mind, our family had tithing settlement last week. I just had to come and write about what has happened since.

[ Read more here. Essentially, every member of our family pays ten percent of our income to our church. At the end of every year, we have an opportunity to go in and talk with the Bishop about what we’ve paid and tell him we’ve given a full tithe as well as get our tax statements.]

Most of the time paying tithing is easy. It’s just the first check we write every payday. Other times (like Christmas around the corner for five kids) it’s a little bit harder. But, we always do it. My entire married life (18 years and counting) we’ve given back to God 10% of what He has given us.  We have repeatedly tested His promise in Malachi 3:10 . He never fails us.

Now, we haven’t been given a mansion. In fact, we probably have a lot less than a lot of our fellow American tithe-payers, but we have been blessed over and over again. Since paying tithing last week we have gotten an unexpected rebate check in the mail, my mom and dad sent us some money, and today I got a one-time exception 40% discount at  Target for Christmas stuff I bought four days ago that happened to be on sale today only. Abigail got a job. My kitchen mixer keeps working despite its weird noises. A lady from church gave our girls some clothes. An old friend of mine brought us some clothes for Max. Another generous friend insisted on paying for my breakfast yesterday and when we ran to Costco for a few things before I dropped her off, she also insisted on paying half of my Costco bill.  A lost phone has been found TWICE.

Tithing isn’t just for material blessings, it’s for blessings of faith. Every time something has come down the pipe, I can’t help but exclaim, “Yes, God, I know you are there. You are always watching over us.”

I’ve heard a lot of crap from non-believing friends about tithing and the financial status of my church. People have told me how bad it is that my church spends so much on temples. (What do they think a house dedicated to God should look like?) I think temples are worth every penny. Look at this one just finished in Tijuana, Mexico. Tell me if you can find anything else as lovely in all of Tijuana. Temples bring heaven to earth.

Tijuana_Mexico_Temple

Other people have asked me if  my money couldn’t be used for better purposes? Again, I wonder. What is better than this?

Whenever I hear of suffering around the world. Anywhere. I know that my tithing will be utilized to alleviate it. Hurricane Andrew. Hurricane Katrina. Check and Check. Hurricane Sandy. Check. Chronic Homelessness. Check. Tsunami in Japan. Check.  Devestation on the Polynesian islands. Check. Phillipines typhoon. Check. Clean water and immunization worldwide. Check. The Ebola outbreak. Check. I could go on and on and on. Here is a great read.

I’m  not sharing this to brag. I also didn’t use any of my church’s newsroom links, but cited a variety of news sources above. I just want to show what tithing is capable of doing. It’s a trillion times more efficient than government because God directs its utilization.

It’s funny. I always dreamed of joining the Peace Corps. I never got to, but my money has been sent to the far corners of the earth. And I usually don’t take time to even think about it. I just consistenly give my 10% and every day my mite blesses people around the world in real need.

Anyhow, like my six-year-old, my hero is my dad. My heavenly one. He gets us money. Then we try to give Him some back, but He takes it and gives it back to us and a million other  people in need.  The system is flawless. Also like my Caroline, I’m so thankful for my family, my home, and my Jesus. I’d give everything I own for any one of them, but Jesus says my 10 percent is plenty. And I believe it is.

 

For the athletes on the bench

abigail one

My dearest Benchwarmer,

I hope you know how truly proud you should be of yourself.
We are extremely proud of you.
You have given your team all of your effort this year.
It has required a lot out of you.
Even though you received very little in return (as far as playing time is concerned)
you never quit fighting, and practicing, and learning.
You have had an amazing attitude.
Much better than any of us, that’s for sure.
Your parents whined about everything.
The two games every game day about killed us, and we weren’t even dressed out.
You only got to play on junior varsity,
but still had to commit an enermous amount of time to varsity, too.
And you did it gladly.
You have stayed positive.
Every day. Every second. Every grueling minute of game day.
This year’s goal was that you could hopefully improve.
And improve you did.
And miraculously, you were also our teacher while doing it.
Because in athleticism and life the improvement is what matters most.
Not the score, or the other players, or any glory.
Your glory came every time you knew you were better than yesterday.
Your victory came in the form of perfected humility
while just being there to give the starters someone to play against.
Day after day.
Week after week.
You have been there to cheer on your teammates.
You have been genuinely happy for them and proud of them.
You have gone above and beyond to follow the directions of your coach.
And honestly, all of those things are what the test of life is really about.
I wish that as your parents we could have given you more.
I wish we could have afforded all the fancy gear and coaching
that all the other girls on your team have had.
But, the way in which you outshine them in your heart makes me almost
glad that we weren’t able to give you more.
Because you, with no advantages at all, with just pure love of the game
and committed effort over ten years, made your dream of making varsity come true.
It doesn’t matter that you may never get to play in a game.
It doesn’t matter to me if your team takes that state title tomorrow.
What matters to me is that you are the best that you can be.
What matters to me is that you are happy and healthy.
What matters to me is that you are my most amazing kid.
If we leave the game tomorrow with victorious smiles,
or we (your dad and I) leave with just small ones that the season is finally over,
what you need to know is that YOU always make us smile.
YOU are the best thing that has ever happened to us.
And you are also an amazing athlete with incredible character.
Stand tall and proud, my child.
You make us so proud.

Love,
Your biggest fans

The 5 phases of moms’ back-to-school blues

Dear moms,

Whatever stage of parenting you are in, on the first day of school, know this:

You will survive.

You might not have five kids, like I do, to place your phases into neat little categories, but it only takes one time for us to share the back-to-school bond.

So, if today is your first time, read below, and cry away. If today is your third time, please enjoy it for me. If today is your 15th time, accept my deepest respect.

Most importantly, (and I’m saying this for myself as much as I am for you) all phases are perfectly acceptable.

We will survive.

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Phase 1:

On the first day of school, CHILD#1 was all dressed up in a perfect outfit selected just for the occasion. The brand-name pink dress matched her personalized pink backpack and chic brown leather boots.  The boots were adorned with flowers that were the same two pinks of her backpack and dress. The detailed accessorizing was absolutely necessary. Her “look” had to equal her worth. Perfection was the only option. Her long hair was styled in flawless pigtails with stationary bows; everything was doused with hairspray to perform their duty throughout the long school day. She couldn’t get to her classroom fast enough. As she walked into her kindergarten class she greeted her teacher with a handshake, a hand-made note communicating her excitement to learn, double school supplies, and a carefully wrapped teacher’s gift. She already knew how to read, write, and do simple math. She was just there to show off and tutor her new friends.

Her mom would sit stoic through the parent separation meeting where the teacher read “The Kissing Hand.” Her permanent squint barricaded the threatening waterfall of tears. She would go home and bawl while praying for her baby to be safe. This daily ritual would last all year.

Phase 2:

On the first day of school, CHILD #2 was in the outfit that her mom gently guided her to choose from the clearance rack at Target. She didn’t really like the red polo top, but her mom said it made her look smart, especially with her new glasses. Her jeans were gently worn, and her tennis shoes were double-knotted so that the teacher wouldn’t have to be bothered to help her re-tie them later. Her hair was cut short to make it easier in the mornings. Between the glasses and the headband it would hopefully stay out of her face for the rest of the day. She clenched her mom’s hand and was barely dragged along to her classroom. She greeted her teacher with a bowed head, a forced smile, and a backpack full of supplies that her mom hoped she wouldn’t be forced to share. She had a few extra boxes of Kleenex for her teacher. She could write her name, read a few words, and surely her puzzle mastery counted for the math. She was there because she wanted to be a big girl like her sister, but she was scared to death.

Her mom would not listen at all during the parent meeting because it was just easier that way. She willfully forced herself from the school dragging her large cement slab of worry to the car where she would sit and cry with the toddler in the back. The next day would be a little easier, but her aching would last all year.

Phase  3:

On the first day of school, CHILD#3 wore the outfit her sisters told her was the cutest at one of the fifty stores where they went back-to-school shopping. It was a plain combination of a shirt, skirt, and matching shoes. The clothes were new and she was ecstatic about owning something that no one else wore before her. Her shoes did not have shoelaces, but velcro fasteners. Even though her mom had always sworn her kids would know how to tie their shoes by kindergarten, she had changed her mind after a hundred unsuccessful demonstrations. Her hair was mid-length in two messy pigtails. She gladly skipped along side her mom. After all, this school was her second home. She was poised and familiar with her teacher: she’d known her for a year already. Inside her backpack was everything from the supply list except for the unnecessary things that her mom knew that the teacher had never gotten around to removing from the ancient list. Her mom carried a whole case of Kleenex as a gift for the teacher. Teachers never have enough tissues and this kid had an allergy-induced dependency on them. She could write her name and sit still for a story, but that was it. She gave her mom a tentative hug and told her to hurry and leave before she embarrassed her further.

Her mom left the parent meeting in a hurry. She had a date with the local bakery for breakfast. The freedom would last all year even though she occasionally worried for the sanity of her kids’ teachers. The only crying would happen that morning while eating her quiche: a single tear would roll down her cheek because of the touching plot-line of her book.

Phase  4:

On the first day of school, CHILD#4 wore something.  It may not have matched because if her mom told her it didn’t and she insisted that was what she wanted to wear, her mom relented. The clothes may have been from the rack at the thrift-store or from a bag of hand-me-downs in the garage.  Either way they were new to her and she felt fancy. She was the first one in the family to wear sandals on the first day of school. It was warm enough, and her mom figured the easiest way for her to learn that she didn’t want sod trapped between her toes at recess was to get the experience over with. Her hair was brushed. She didn’t need her mom to walk her to her class. School was exciting, but not nearly as thrilling as Disneyland. Her mom insisted on walking her to the front door of the school and then again insisted on a hug before letting her sisters walk her the rest of the way. Inside her backpack was nothing but an emergency change of clothes in a ziplock bag. They’d get the supplies later. For the teacher there was a gift-card to Wal-mart, but it hadn’t been purchased yet. She knew how to write her name, but the “a” was always backwards.

If there was a parent meeting, mom hadn’t heard about it. She waddled from the school and hurried home for a nap.  She only had ’til noon to pick her kindergartner back up, and there was only two weeks before her next baby would be born. The noon pick up would remain her largest source of frustration for the rest of the year especially when she had to wake up the baby from his nap. Some days she would cry about it.

Phase  5:

On the first day of school, CHILD#5 wore a t-shirt, some cotton pants, and a dry diaper. He was lucky she hadn’t left his pajamas on. He was shoe-less. He didn’t walk. His hair was brushed with some baby lotion to mask the musky baby boy scent. He sat in the stroller waving at all the energetic kids lining up outside the school. They would occasionally wave back when his sister pointed him out. School was a place where mom would take him from time to time. He and mom both waved to sister as she hugged her teacher and walked inside, but she didn’t turn around or wave back. His mom threw caution to the wind that morning and had brought him to the school without a bottle or a diaper. Really, she was just in a hurry. He couldn’t write his name. He couldn’t even say his name.

Mom conducted a parent meeting as she walked back to her car. She hurried the stroller past the other moms in her running clothes saying: “I was almost free. Lucky for me, this guy is going to keep me company for another five years.”  After her run, when she got home, she refused to cry. She plopped the baby in the highchair with some cheerios and opened up her laptop.

A Writer’s World

I had to write an emergence myth for my Wilderness Writing class. I’ve struggled with it all semester. My professor is all about the process of writing, so he doesn’t just take our assignments, grade them, and hand them back. He gives feedback, workshops, and hopes for his students to grow and evolve. As a black/white enthusiast this has been beyond difficult for me. The class is finished in two weeks and I have not even a hint at my earned grade. I’ve had to work on multiple projects at once. I’ve hit a lot of walls. I’ve vacillated between utter despair and overpowering revelation. This was the perfect class to initiate me back to school. I’m glad I stuck with it.

Here is my Emergence Myth, A Writer’s World. This emerged after five weeks of inner turmoil. I’m proud of it. It is the most personally powerful piece I have ever written. I hope it will be followed by many more that are nothing like it.

Her name was Nobody. All she wanted was to be a Somebody. Somebodies were better. Somebodies were happier. Somebodies were successful. So, she signed up for Somebody school. She left her stifling dreary brown Nobody world without looking back and happily entered the newest Somebody classroom with glass walls. Holding a pen and paper in her hand, surrounded by Somebodies and other people learning to be Somebodies, she felt happier. She thought only of Somebody ways. She tried to learn their words. She studied their beliefs. She liked the Somebodies. And they liked her. But when she went to sleep at night staring at the books in her lap, she felt like she was living a lie. She didn’t know how to write Somebody stories, even though that is all she ever wanted to do. So she read all of the great Somebody myths. She pondered Somebody tradition and she tried harder to copy the Somebodies. But everything felt like it was wrong.

Nobody was persistent and brave. She would not give up without a fight. She stopped talking as much and started to listen. She found better tools and used them to build new ideas. After a lot of hard work she surprised herself when she started questioning the ways of Somebodies. She couldn’t believe that along the journey she was somehow convinced that Somebodies weren’t always right. What happened to that Nobody girl that worshipped all the Somebodies? She had changed her own mind. Somebodies didn’t do it. She did it. She realized that Nobodies could be good and happy and successful too. In fact, the only difference between Nobodies and Somebodies was their names. She didn’t need to be a Somebody any more. She could be a Nobody. That was perfectly acceptable. She felt liberated.

She started to think about going back to Nobody world until she had a rude awakening. The only reason she believed Nobodies were good now was because Somebodies had taught her so. Now what? She was still a Nobody, but was also a Somebody. Where would she fit in? The answer wasn’t with the Somebodies. Desperate, she allowed herself to look through the glass walls back out to Nobody world. Mountains had emerged. The skies were every color of the rainbow with clouds of all shapes and sizes. The vegetation was magnificently varied. The animals seemed to holler at her to tell their story. Nobodies never saw those things. She was no longer a Nobody.

She decide she had to stay at Somebody school, even if she didn’t want to give up her Nobody parts. She didn’t know what she would become. Maybe she should just be a writer? Maybe she could tell Somebody stories and Nobody stories? Maybe the best stories would be about Somebody and Nobody together? She looked at her paper, her new world was in it. It was totally blank, but she was not scared. She started to fill it, one letter at a time. She made Nobody words. She made Somebody sentences. She changed them all around and rearranged voraciously. Over and over and over again. She deleted some and added some others. The paper took the form of a glass building surrounded by a bounteous earth. Sometimes there was a Somebody inside, sometimes a Nobody outside, but neither would ever be confined again. Her new world was in the paper and it would be whatever she imagined.

The Input

inputAs you all know, I started back to college last month. It’s an exciting time for me personally because I am finally pursuing a life-long dream of becoming a better writer and a teacher.

Problematic to the ideal, however, is the fact that I am almost forty-two years old and smack-dab in the middle of my life as well as my motherhood. My life was already not for sissies before I started school. I have five kids and although I don’t have a “career”, my brain is already on the verge of explosion a good majority of the time.

“Mom, where is my bathing suit?”
“Mom, can I go to Wyoming with my boyfriend in July to pick up fireworks?”
“Mom, I need toilet paper.”
“Mom, stop lecturing me.”
“waaaa.”

That is what it sounds like around here at all times.

Then add in the hubby…well, we won’t even go there. On Tuesday, he came home with horrific tooth pain and was laying on the couch in extreme discomfort. I was the one to call the endodontist to insist that the man not wait another three days to be seen. It’s just what I do. Like LG’s paycheck, everyone expects what I get done around here.

Starting school was a really scary venture for me in my delicate psychiatric capacity. From the get-go I was having an extremely hard time processing all of the new information at school. Yes, I have a boatload going on at home, but the mom stuff is an old hat. The problem is the old hat doesn’t just jump down to make way for the new one. I feel like the Berenstein Bear in Old Hat, New Hat. I wanted to just run back home to my old comfortable hat and forget about the limitless possibilities they constantly explore at the university level. Lucky for me, if motherhood teaches anyone anything it is that YOU JUST CAN’T  QUIT.  So, I’ve stuck in there. I’m not a star pupil, but I’m a pupil.

My biggest problem with school is that it is making me feel like an awful writer. It has scared me so bad that I don’t even want to write anymore. It isn’t fun when it’s all just technicality-centered. My professor is a good guy and a really smart talented dude, but his emphasis is on work-shopping, which has just left me feeling like I can’t do anything right. Trust me when I say this, everything anyone writes can always be better. And everything of mine really seems to need to work. I know it does, that is why I wanted to go back to school, to learn, but still it is hard to keep trying when it feels like I’ll never be a “great”.

So, today, I come to the blog to vent…to get back to the place in writing that I love, baring my soul. Sometimes I just have to write without thinking about the noun to verb ratio and whether or not my syntax is going to be subjectively admired. Sometimes I just need to write…to write…and for no other reason than to organize my brain with way too much input. Honestly, I am trying really hard to believe my professor that all good writing is not random. I personally believe it is only defined as “good” by the readers and that one thing can be total crap to one person and the same thing can be a masterpiece to another.

I feel better already. This is why I love to write. It organizes the craziness in my mind. Constantly, I have too much going on in there, and if I can leave it on paper, I can move on…and only then.

Writing is my output. What is yours? Maybe I can convert…because this might not work out for me. Ha.

It’s About Who’s Waiting For Us in the End.

Come with me back to a high school track meet. It happened two weeks ago. I sat in the stands watching my teenage daughter and hundreds of other high-schoolers, all vying for their own personal records, hoping to beat out all the other competitors. Unlike the athletes, I, however, had a completely opposing mantra for myself. “Let it go, Alice.” “Let it go.” The Sunday before, my track-star daughter, my husband, and I had a heart-to-heart. Come to find out, I have always put undue pressure on the poor girl in all areas of her life, but especially when it comes to sports and grades. Yeah, I’m not proud. What can I say? She’s my firstborn? That doesn’t really cut it. You’ll be relieved to know that I am working on it. I have specific goals, one of which is not being result-obsessed.

So, my daughter had just run her 100m. Unlike her past track experiences, she’s not typically in the Top 3 this year. She’s running at the middle of the pack. Thus the mantra. “Let it go, Alice.” I was pep-talking myself, “This is about your daughter, not about you. Abigail is having fun. Abigail is getting exercise. Just because you want her to be in first place, it doesn’t mean that is where she needs to be. Be happy. Love your girl. Let it go.”

Then an amazing thing happened.

the end

It was the boy’s mile. The mile takes forever. As my thoughts were repeating in circles, I haphazardly watched the male athletes going round and around. I watched while I wrestled with my only baby boy and started imagining his future. I wondered to myself if I could master being a better mother by the time he takes to the track. I hoped I would never put too much pressure on him, too. I questioned whether or not he will even be an athlete and silently wished I will be able to embrace whatever it is he decides to love, even if he only loves it with mediocrity.

The race was over….or so I thought. My mind moved on. Then, right in front of me, I saw some super energetic young man rally his whole school to their feet. He hooted, hollered, jumped, cajoled, begged, and demanded full participation. I silently hoped, “Oh, I don’t wish that for Max. Please let him be an athlete, instead of a cheerleader.” Stay with me. My mind was abruptly changed.

It so happened that there was one runner left. He was way behind the pack. He belonged to this crazy make-shift athlete turned cheerleader’s school. This runner was a runt. He was slow. He was in last place. Yet. Yet, as he slowly made his way to the finish line in front of the crowd, his school was cheering for him like he was an Olympic gold medalist. All because of the efforts of his crazy encouraging teammate (that he hadn’t even seen rally the crowd) his stride quickened. His chin lifted up in pride. There was a wide smile on his face. The finish of this race is one he will never forget. Neither will I.

I hid my face in shame for being such a proud person. And because I was bawling my eyes out. I whispered to Max, “You don’t have to be an athlete, but please be a make-shift cheerleader wherever you go.”

Then I ran over to tell Abigail that she did awesome in that 100m.

The following Sunday, while I was driving to church, this song came on the radio. It took me hours to find it but it was worth every search effort.

Enjoy.

It’s not about how fast we get there, it’s about who’s waiting for us in the end.

Who knew her homework would by my payday?

imageHours upon hours I’ve spent hovering over my children making sure they were getting their homework done. I never dreamed this duty of mine would eventually pay off in a big old payday of personal validation.

But it did.

Before Christmas break Abigail wrote her 49 page autobiography for her 10th grade Honors history class. She did a bang up job.

We won’t mention how her dad had to take her to work at 4:30 a.m. to print it the morning it was due. Two hours later he then took an emergency trip to FedEx Office to get it bound. – dang ADHD! I was the lucky one in bed recovering from surgery. When LG got home with the finished work in hand, I was actually awake enough to read it over before Abigail took it to school to turn it in.

Reading my little girl’s grown-up account of her life was one of the most beautiful moments. The thing was jam-packed full of many of her most cherished memories. Without intending to include me, I was personally interwoven into every page. Yes, I was there for most of it. I saw her playing in the yard in TN all the time. I put away the toys all over the driveway when they just HAD to play Boxcar Children for the 55th time. I was the one who introduced her to “The Boxcar Children” in the first place! Yes, I was. (What a super proud book-loving mom moment to read that her favorite game to play as a kid was boxcar children!) I know her favorite food is lasagna and her favorite movie is “She’s the Man.” I didn’t know that her friend Courtney gifting her a stuffed sheep when she was four-years-old had meant so much to her but I am so glad that she shared about it. And, yes, I take as much pride as she does that the staff of her elementary school referred to her as Harvard Girl…even at five, she was her own little Elle Woods in the making….beautiful and smart. And, she, by some miracle of heaven belonged to little old me then and still does today.

Her teacher enjoyed the part about The Boxcar Children game too.

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As shown above, her teacher, like me, also enjoyed the part of the paper Abigail wrote about me. Although I am positive she couldn’t have appreciated it as much as I did.

I am not trying to brag here. In fact, when I asked Abigail about why my part was just so sweet, she said, “Oh mom, that was so easy to write. I just wrote everything I felt about you and twisted any negative to positive. That’s why you sound so cool.” Ha ha.  I didn’t care. I had bawled my eyes out at every single word. It meant everything to me to know that my daughter “gets” me. She knows me intimately. And, most of all, she still loves me, no matter what.

Like Julie Andrews sings in Sound of Music, I felt, “I must have done something good.” When reading Abigail’s words, every single crappy parenting moment dissolved. The one time I found Sophia with poop smeared everywhere in her crib, on her body, in her mouth….gone. The time I force-fed Abigail oatmeal when she was 2. A distant memory. All the nights I cried myself to sleep wondering how I could ever face another day, only to still be crying when everyone woke up….totally worth every second that seemed like an eternity at the time. All the instances where my kids have told me what I suck at and how I need to improve…they didn’t matter. I was loved, gosh dangit. I mattered to my daughter.

I know you are all dying to read it now. It won’t mean to you what it means to me, but here it is for all eternity. I will try to remember to come back here from time to time. Maybe the next time one of my spawn hollers that they hate me.

“My mother is a very eccentric person. She has a wonderful colorful personality. She is a crazy, fun, human being with little to no tact. That is only the beginning of my mother. She grew up with six brothers and sisters who are all just as crazy and loud as her. I love my mom so much and don’t know what I would do without her. She works so hard in my family to keep our house clean and orderly. She is probably the coolest person ever. She is always cracking jokes and gets along with my friends so well. I know I can talk to her about anything and I can count on her to understand me. She has a giving heart and wants to give to everyone around her. She does so much for me and I don’t even ask her to. My favorite thing I do with my mom is when she knows I’m having a hard time, she sends me a card and a little treat. Like once I was stressed and we had just gotten in a fight about something. The next morning, she dropped off a card and a Kneaders breakfast and said we would go shopping later that day. My mom is such an inspiration to me. She always goes after what she wants and doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t which can be difficult sometimes, but I love her just the same.”

Now, tell me I’m not the luckiest mom in the whole wide world!!

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Flawed Pony Parenting Logic and Home-schooling

2012-05-02 19.50.16Ever since reading this story and that one about the kid with the My Little Pony backpack, my mind has been reeling.

To make a longer story short, here’s the news recap hailing from North Carolina.

This 10-year-old kid was being bullied at school because of his blue fuzzy My Little Pony backpack. His mom went to the school to complain. The school counselor mentioned that the easiest solution would be for the kid to get a new backpack. The principal later called the child’s mother and told her that the child was no longer allowed to bring the backpack to school. The mom flipped out. The mom now homeschools.

I have to say that last sentence, “The mom now homeschools,” does not surprise me in the least. It seems that nowadays the homeschooling road is the most popular for a lot of unsatisfied parents. I am not here to pass judgement on homeschooling parents. In fact, I might end up homeschooling one of mine next year if she doesn’t get her school transfer. I am here however to pass judgement on flawed logic and parents who can’t be honest with themselves.

First of all, let me make two things very clear. One – I am NOT o.k. with bullying. In this instance and in every instance the bully children should have been reprimanded and disciplined. (I don’t know if they were appropriately or at all from the news stories.) However, typically bully children come from bully homes, so there is only so much a school can do to change behavior.

Secondly, I believe children should be given space to be who they want to be. You want to wear a pink tutu and your 12 and a boy? Go for it. Are you a girl who wants to play football? More power to you.

Now, to the point I really want to make that seems to be widely ignored in modern bully stories. Parents, pull your heads out….Every day, you are sending your kids off to war…..and you are not equipping them with the skills that they need.

What skills? The skills of socialization, survival, problem-solving, and leadership to name a few.

Here is some flawed logic that I have seen people use to support their choice to homeschool.

Sweeping generalizations (bad stereotyping)
All the kids at that school are mean. They are all bad kids. I’m pretty sure this is never the case.

Hasty conclusions with inadequete support (more than one personal example for validity for your argument)
In homeschooling this can look like: Well, wow, this kid was homeschooled and went to Harvard, therefore my kid can also.

Non sequitor (It does not follow)
I graduated from high school therefore I can teach my kids til they graduate. Yes, you can, but this logic is really bad.

Casual fallacy (one event merely follows the first and isn’t necessarily because of cause/effect)
My child got in trouble at school today because his teacher was in a bad mood. Is that the real reason? Or is your child honestly having behavior problems that need to be addressed? Maybe your child is causing the teacher’s foul mood and not the other way around.

Ad hominem attack (an argument that is not balanced but based solely on personal opinion)
Common core is awful therefore my kids should not be schooled with it.

Circular reasoning (the evidence and conclusion restate each other)
Schools are failing because teachers are failing.

False dichotomy or false dilemma (Either/or arguments that oversimplify complex answers to two solutions)
I can either keep my kids in a public school I am not happy with or I can homeschool. These are not the only two solutions to a complex problem.

I know of many parents who have used very bad logic as their sole foundation for homeschooling. I also know many parents who are really harming their kids by homeschooling ineffectively.

So what does this have to do with the pony kid who was bullied? I believe at the root of both homeschooling and bullying lies a much bigger problem: parents who are not honest with themselves. Parents who are failing and laying the blame on someone else.

In the case of the boy with the pony backpack, I believe the parents failed to teach their child how to be confident in his pony-touting ways. I would never send my kid off to war without the weapons he would need to fight it, and you can be sure that I also would not let my child walk into a cafeteria of potential bullies without first discussing how to defend himself in his unconventional backpack/lunchbox choices.

Likewise, I would not just believe homeschooling to be the best thing for my kids if they were having trouble in public schools. As adults, we have troubles coming at us from every direction. We can’t just hide away at home to avoid our problems. We have to face them head on. The really scary part about a larger percentage of the population homeschooling is the fact that all of the home-schooled kids first learned behaviors at home that may be the biggest culprit in them not having success at school. The solution of pulling them out of school to address the problems that are only perpetuated at home is totally counterproductive. Unless, of course, we gain awareness collectively as a family and put change in motion.

Before you feel all judged, let me give you several examples from my life as a concerned mother.

First, we had a terrible experience with public schooling at an inner-city school in Knoxville, TN where we used to live. The principal was bad. Most of the teachers were heroic. The majority of the student population was grossly neglected. The school was neglected. The playgrounds were falling apart. The school didn’t participate in field trips. EVER. Abigail’s second grade teacher was in her first year and totally ill-equipped. Frustrations were high every day. Abigail would come home crying because the teacher made the whole class miss recess again even though she never personally had bad behavior. She no longer could drink chocolate milk at lunch because the principal pulled it off the shelf with the logic that it was causing misbehaved kids to misbehave even more. Violence was taking place in the second grade. One boy threw a desk at another and broke his nose.  Forget the fact that no learning was taking place. How could it with all the other distractions? Yes, I had every right to pull Abigail out and home-school her especially after addressing our concerns with the administration to not have anything change. We didn’t pull Abigail. She survived the second grade and the next year we humbly and gratefully accepted a “No Child Left Behind” school transfer. Abigail’s new school was a haven and we all loved it. When Abigail went on her first field trip in third grade she was in seventh heaven. Abigail is now fourteen. She often talks about her experiences at her first school. They shaped her into what she is: one resilient, tough, and adaptable kid.

Do I judge any parent who pulled their kid out? No. Not at all. In fact I would applaud their courage. However, I do think that if a parent makes a choice to home-school, they better look around and have a very honest assessment of what their child is going to learn at home. When one home-schools they have to recognize that their child is now being influenced almost solely by their family. Are you going to give them all the experience they need to thrive in the real world? Are you going to be perpetuating in them bad behaviors that you just don’t want to fix: sleeping til noon, having bad hygeine, learning as little as possible, not teaching discipline, etc. If you are going to home-school, I think you should ask yourself WHY your kids are (or would) struggling in public school in the first place….the source of their trouble is more than likely YOU, not the school. The kid at Abigail’s school that was throwing desks was more than likely frustrated with his bad teacher, but the reason he threw a desk while Abigail came home crying every day was the difference of what was taught in their home. It is hard to change. Possible, but hard. You better have a really fine-tuned game plan of how you are going to change yourself and teach your children at the same time.

My other experience in still playing out. Sophia is twelve and does not want to have to attend the school in the boundary of where we just moved. She has not a single friend at this new school. We are working with the school district to get her a school transfer next year back to the junior high where her friends will be attending based on the extreme anxiety she is having over the situation. The district asked for a letter from a health-care professional. We went to the doctor last week. I explained Sophia’s anxiety and her shyness and tendency to isolate. I then said, “If we can’t get this transfer, I will probably just home-school her for a year until we move back to our old school boundary.” The doctor didn’t shy away with her response, “If you are worried about her isolating, wouldn’t home-schooling be the worst possible scenario?” She was right! Anyone who knows me, knows that I in no way am modeling shy behavior for my daughter. She came that way. I, however, as her parent, have to make decisions that will help her overcome her weaknesses instead of feed into them.

Wow, this post got long quick. I think the very hardest part of parenting is being able to get outside ourselves and our flawed personal-protecting logic to honestly assess how our weaknesses are promoting the same in our children. And even harder than the honest assessment is changing. The change has to start with us as.  Yes, this can be done, whether or  not we send our kids to public school or if we home-school, if we are teaching our kids to be bullies or our children are being bullied, but by all means, let’s make sure we are doing the hard work. We owe that to our kids.

 

Everyone is insufferable, except for Sophia, she’s funny.

This is a comical moment I have been waiting to share until after the pregnancy announcement. The first three months of this pregnancy were pretty rough for me. I was super tired, emotional, and pretty cranky. I tried my hardest to power through but everyone who lives we me knows that I just wanted to sleep. The kids were pretty good at leaving me alone. Mostly because they probably didn’t want me to bite their heads off. Bless their little hearts. Sophia, however, always has to take things a step further. She is the ultimate peacemaker.

sophia

So one day as we were driving home from school. I complained out loud about Sophia’s teacher. (Please don’t find this post Mrs. Arnold – but if you are here by some crazy chain of events, you might as well know, you are total control freak. You scare me and I’ve been a room parent a long time.)

It was around Valentine’s Day. (Of course back in the beginning of the year I had been tricked into being the classroom parent for the hardest room in the school. All the PTA parents didn’t feel the need to inform me of such, but I should have known when they weren’t willing to do the job themselves. They are always willing to do everything.)

The 6th grade teachers have high expectations. They want us to plan a whole carnival for every holiday and to coordinate with parents from the other room so that we can all combine the fun. WHAT A PAIN! I did my duty for Halloween and Christmas and trapped a lot of other parents along with me, but this time I had politely told Mrs. Arnold that I would be glad to do the obligatory Valentine swap and treat but that I just couldn’t find the energy for The Ringling Brothers. She promptly e-mailed back that she would handle it . (Which probably means that the parents from the other room who got the whole thing dumped on them hate me – so be it – if they can’t set boundaries that is their problem.  And they probably aren’t pregnant so I will gladly let them handle it.) So I was  updating Sophia on where we stood with Valentine’s and was murmuring like I often do.

Sophia being the sweet girl that she is has learned to use humor as her go-to escape from negativity.

She silenced me mid-sentence. “Mom is that you, or is that the tadpole talking?”

I laughed at my daughter’s greatness and answered…

“The tadpole, of course….it’s an ornery little thing.”

That is my story and I am sticking to it, Mrs. Arnold.