Monday, November 29, 2010

Overeager school play moms, exit stage left

My son is bashful. No, really, he's Bashful - as in the most shy of the seven dwarfs who take care of Snow White in the classic fairy tale.

See, he's part of his classroom's "Readers' Theater," and he's been practicing for weeks. "Readers' Theater," for those who have not attended such a swanky second-grade affair, simply means that there's no memorization involved - the kids are allowed to read from a script. But it's still a big deal, you know, because there's an audience and a stage and costumes, or, well, construction-paper hats.

Anyway, this theater presentation was particularly special to me because my son, who truly is somewhat bashful, actually had solo speaking lines instead of just a chorus part. So I was somewhat excited to see how he did. You know ... for the sake of education and all. Not just for me - certainly not. I mean, it was for education that I took a few liberties with the assigned speed limits to make it across town in time to sit in a a classroom overflowing with doting grandparents and parents.

I sat down, determined to keep my cool. Really, it's just a little play, right?

Until .... Until .... my little boy took the stage and put on his little hat. Then something inside me just ...burst. I was just so PROUD. He was just so CUTE. Maybe that's an explanation for my behavior. All I can say is now I have a lot more sympathy for those stage moms I see on TV.

Because normally I don't wrestle for camera space while smiling maniacally. I don't melt at golden nuggets of verse like, "Don't open the door, Snow White!" I don't laugh and clap at every turn of phrase. But that day, I did.

But then, my prodigy faltered. Maybe he was nervous, maybe he was bored, maybe he just has rhythm, but for some reason, my little stage star started rocking. Yep. Rocking. Back and forth, back and forth, moving on the risers like Whistler's Mother.

"No, no, no," I whispered under my breath, standing tall and still and hoping he'd mimic me. "Don't rock - you'll fall! Stand still!" He probably didn't hear me - although the grandmother in front of me gave me an odd look.

Only when a few other parents began giving me strange looks did I realize my ebullience for the theater might be a little over the top. But I couldn't help it. I mean, that's my kid up there! Onstage! Well, yes, he is rocking back and forth for some reason, but - onstage!! And talking!! Out loud!!! Isn't that exciting??? Oh ... you've seen it before? Oh, well, sure ... me, too. I just wanted to make sure everybody enjoyed the show, that's all. You know, for the sake of education.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Untangling tradition: The Christmas lights

It's the weekend after Thanksgiving, and the taste of pumpkin pie is just a memory.

Instead, I'm sitting cross-legged in our kitchen, trapped within the snake-like confines of Christmas-tree lights, and doing my best not to swear loud enough for the neighbors to hear.

Downstairs, Rudolph is playing on DVD, but I know no one is watching it. They're waiting for me. For mom. Because after mom hangs the lights, then and only then will the ornaments be unwrapped and the real fun begin.

"Give me five more minutes," I call downstairs. I'm fairly certain I hear a collective sigh.

Because everyone knows hanging ornaments is fun. Untangling the lights is not.

As a matter of fact, right now my left arm is numb because it's been trapped far too long within a python-like grip of a tangled light cord that I could have sworn was packed gently and carefully into its own little box last year.

I don't know what happens between now and then. But somehow, amazingly, cords tangle, bulbs burn out - everything changes. I have friends who say it could be spring cleanings and shifting boxes that causes the chaos. Others blame gremlins. Still others like to point the offending finger at well-meaning husbands.

Speaking of which, I do mention casually to mine that when I was growing up, handling the lights was the dad's job. I'm rewarded with a hurt, offended look. "I'm helping," my husband tells me. "I'm here waiting to be yelled at."

I sigh and keep untangling. Forget it. I'm almost there. Just one more strand. See, there's this one knot at the top and if I can just get it loosened ... Give me five more minutes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Football - a game and a great learning tool

I’ll admit it ― I've never been a big football fan. Even after I married a sports editor, I was still a little lukewarm about the game. I thought it was a little confusing. Maybe a little too rough. But now my feelings have changed. Now that I have a football-crazed little boy, I look at the sport a whole new way.

It’s not just a game. It’s a learning tool.

See, my son is a football fanatic. College teams, professional teams - he follows them all. Closely. He has a particular fondness for the Chicago Bears, which he gets from my husband, but that's just the beginning. The child wants knowledge. He wants trivia. He wants facts, figures, favorite players for each team. He wants history, wins, losses, greatest moments and biggest defeats.

He wants to learn. And that's pretty big news, since over the summer the boy had informed me - at the tender age of 7 - that he really wasn't “a school kind of guy.”

So believe me - we're teaching. We’re just using football to kick off the lesson. (This is an editorial "we," of course. I'm not the football expert - my husband is. I am, however, an enthusiastic fan of the whole father-son bonding thing, so I love to watch it all in action.)

Sometimes, football is a geography lesson. The Indianapolis Colts? They’re right here, in Indiana, see? Yep, where the star is. That means it’s the capital of the state. The Bears? They’re in Chicago. Right over here.

When the NFL realigned its divisions a few years ago, teams were placed in divisions that made sense geographically (for the most part). So now my son understands where the South is because teams like Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans play in the NFC South. And the Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions play in the NFC North. Get it? My son does, too.

Other times, our dinner conversation is a veritable arithmetic lesson. For instance: If the Bears scored a touchdown, made the extra point, kicked a field goal, got a safety and scored another touchdown and went for two (and got it), how many points did they score? (Answer: 20.)

Seriously - he knows this. I don't. But he does. I love that. I love the look on his face while he focuses and works through the problem, and I love that look of pride when he comes up with the right answer and I hug him and say, "Smart cookie!!"

Apparently, the lessons are staying with him, too. The other day, when I dropped him off for school in the morning, his teacher stopped me. “Did Sean tell you about his math problem the other day?” she said. I shook my head, curious.

“We were working on 20,” she told me. “And he had a few problems worked out, you know, 10 + 10, 16 + 4, but in the corner of his sheet, he had written ‘FF TT.’ Well, I thought and thought and finally I asked him, “What does that stand for?”

I grinned because I already knew. I did, after all, marry that sports editor.

His teacher started laughing. “He said, ‘Field goal, field goal, touchdown, touchdown.’” And I just had to laugh. He was right. I think that's the first time a student has worked it out like that for me."

I hope it's not the last.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ring-a-ding-ding - welcome back, anxiety

The bell ringers are out, ring-a-linging on street corners and in front of store entrances. You've seen them, of course, volunteers bundled against the weather, smiling and hoping you'll drop a quarter or two for charity into their bucket or bin.

Here's a confession: When I hear those bells, I feel a twinge of anxiety. But let me explain, hence I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge before December even arrives. I have no problem with the bell ringers. I have no problem with charities.

It's not about money. It's about being equitable.

Maybe it comes from having two kids. You know, one kid gets a bedtime story, the other kid gets a bedtime story. One kid gets a chocolate chip cookie, the other kid gets a chocolate chip cookie. Everything is fair and equal. Everybody is happy. And it's pretty easy because there's only two kids.

But there's about a hundred bell ringers. So if I give a quarter to the ringer at Penney's, do I give a quarter to the ringer at Meijer's? And if I give a couple of dimes to the ringer at the Kroger, then should I give a couple of dimes to the ringer at the Bed, Bath and Beyond? I mean, fair is fair, right?

They all look like nice people. Half the time, they all look like they're freezing to death. (Not yet - I'm talking last year now). But I don't have that much change. And besides, I don't have that much money.

Now, I know, the bell ringers are not like my kids. Never once have I had one stomp a foot at me and say, "Hey! No fair! I heard you gave money at Kroger's! Where's mine??" But I still feel a little guilty, or like I should explain: "I can't give you any money, I'm sorry. But I gave the guy down the street two quarters, and yesterday, I gave the lady at Kroger three dimes ... I only have a quarter left and I need it for popcorn money tomorrow at school. Sorry."

That, course, would make me everyone uncomfortable. Which I realize. So I just shuffle by with a little smile and some guilt. And a little anxiety.

Maybe I'll should give them each a chocolate chip cookie and call it a day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

And a quick little girl follow-up ...

So yesterday I wrote a post about a little girl at my son's elementary school who approached me in the morning, looking a little confused and asking about breakfast.

Yesterday, I didn't feel like I helped her enough. So I tried to redeem myself today.

Using those years of reporting skills that I knew would come in handy someday, I found out the girl's full name. I stopped in at the office and spoke to the exceptionally nice principal, who is usually accessible right before school starts. He sat down, took out a pad of paper and a pen, and asked me what was on my mind.

I told him about my concerns. "I know that it's not the school's responsibility to see a child eats breakfast ...." I started.

He stopped me. "Actually, I think it is," he said flatly. "We want to make sure every child has a good breakfast."

That surprised me. So I continued. "But it was the fact the girl seemed so confused that bothered me so much, I guess."

We talked a little bit. He said he would talk to the girl's teacher, and they would keep an eye on the situation.

I left, feeling better but also hoping I hadn't been labeled a major meddler. When I got to the car, I saw that in my haste to get to the school that morning, I'd only applied my lipstick - which is not exactly subtle - to about half my lips.

I had to laugh. I didn't look like a meddler. I just looked like little Sean's crazy mom. I can live with that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lesson learned: A little is not enough

Two things struck me about the little girl standing by the curb in front of the elementary school this morning. The first was the enormous Bobby Jack monkey logo on her pants. The second was that she was alone.

You don't see many kids standing alone in front of that school in the morning. First of all, there are hordes of overprotective parents, like myself, rushing their sleepy kids to the proper entrances before the bells ring. Even after their progeny are safely within the school walls, the parents usually remain, chatting, with their dogs, their strollers and their steaming coffee cups, creating a cozy little protective community.

The transfer buses, too, have plenty of oversight. There are staff members who meet the kids right at the steps of the buses, taking their hands, greeting them by names and leading them inside.

So the fact this child was by herself surprised me a bit. However, some parents do stand across a little lane in the parking lot and watch their kids cross, so I thought that might be the case.

But I happened to look up from the lecture I was giving my son on the importance of hats and gloves as we passed and the little girl caught my eye. "Excuse me," she said. "Is it time for breakfast?"

Oh dear. The school served breakfast before school, I knew, but I was pretty sure the bell was going to ring in about five minutes. But ... maybe this girl had special permission. And she was alone. And she seemed small - maybe first grade? That may not seem small to some parents, but it does to me. Of course, all kids seem small to me.

"Hmmm," I said to her, bending down. "I'm not sure if they're still serving breakfast, but you can check. Go right in that door, okay?" I pointed to the front door, behind her. "Turn left, and that's where the cafeteria is. Do you know where it is?"

She nodded, and she started walking to the front door. I started walking away. I stopped and looked behind me. She was, indeed, walking in the front door.

I delivered my half-awake son to his classroom, fairly certain he was aware that gloves and a hat should be worn in cold weather (but not certain he would wear them), but I couldn't get that little girl out of my mind. On a whim, I headed to the cafeteria. It was empty. Deflated. I just stood there.

The kindly cafeteria lady, whose name I should know but don't, recognized me. "Can I help you?" she asked me. I told her about the little girl I saw outside, and what had transpired.

"Did you see her?" I asked hopefully. "Did she get something to eat?"

"No," she said. "But I know who she is, I think. She's new - she's pretty timid. She comes in here a few times a week. I'll keep an eye out for her tomorrow. Her mom probably wants her to eat breakfast."

I'm sure she does. What mom wouldn't? And I don't know why her daughter was alone, but I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt. I know I'd like to be with my kids far more than I am.

But more to the point: I felt bad. I still feel bad. I think I would have felt better if the girl had said, "Do I have time for breakfast?" not, "Is it time for breakfast?" like she was confused. I have to think she lost track of time - I wish I had taken her hand, delivered my son to class, and then delivered her to the cafeteria myself. Or vice-versa.

I know we can't take care of every kid in the world - but I'd like to think we would help every one we can. If mine were lost or confused. I hope someone would help. I think I did a little - I hope I did - but not enough.

Lesson learned. A little is not enough

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Whoa, Santa - I need Thanksgiving first

In the grocery store, I heard Christmas carols playing. On a walk through the neighborhood in the early evening, I saw a few houses already lit up in red and green. And then the other day, my son said what I was thinking: "Boy, nobody really remembers Thanksgiving, do they, mom?"

I think he's right. Sorry, pilgrims. Too bad, Squanto, keep your corn. No offense, but your holiday has fallen by the wayside. We love Halloween. We adore Christmas. But Thanksgiving - ehh... not so much.

Halloween, after all, is that first holiday in fall. We're ready. The weather is crisp, the decorations are amazing, there's so much candy - I mean, what's not to like? And Christmas? Well, just about everybody loves that. Lights, songs, presents, toys ... whether you celebrate it for Santa or Jesus or both, Christmas is one glamorous holiday.

And the faster it gets here, the sooner we'll find that coveted peaceful joy-to-the-world feeling, right?

But I'm not sure it works that way. This year, I saw Christmas decorations in the store before Halloween. And it didn't make me feel good at all. It made me anxious. It made me feel like time was passing faster and faster and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Besides, I need Thanksgiving. It gives me a chance to catch my breath before the cacophony of Christmas. I don't want to buy Christmas toys in July. In fact, I don't think that I could - I think there is something in my DNA that would physically prevent me.

Besides, right after Thanksgiving is my boy's birthday, and I'm told (by the birthday boy) that there should be some party planning afoot.

So Thanksgiving, I won't forget you. I will keep out my harvest wreath and fall leaves while others opt for their holly and lights. I will have my stuffed turkeys on the windowsill and a harvest angel on the shelf. And on Thanksgiving, we'll have food and family and give thanks and dig in.

Then we'll take a deep breath and move full speed ahead.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Burping, buttcheeks and little boy humor

The other night, the kids and I were watching TV when an Old Navy commercial came on. You know, one of those where the mannequins are supposed to be talking to each other. This time, their topic was an outerwear sale.

My 7-year-old son couldn't contain his laughter. "Outerwear??" he said. "I thought they said UNDERWEAR!!"

He repeated this at least five times. And when the commercial came on again, he said it again. And then again.

At bedtime, he was still giggling to himself. "Mom," he whispered close to my ear. "UNDERWEAR!!"

Because that is what is funny to 7 year old boys - well, at least to my 7-year-old boy. It's taken a little getting used to, sure. But now I know. Other things that may evoke uncontrollable bouts of giggles include:

Farting noises. Or farting noises made with a hand under an armpit. Or squeaking shoes that might possibly sound like farting noises. Or even plain old-school farting noise done with your mouth. Extra points if any of this is heard at school.

Repeating things. Repeating things. Repeating things. Repeating things.

Watching people on TV fall down. Extra points if they're yelling loudly.

Pretending to snore when it's time to go somewhere important. Extra points if we're in a hurry.

YouTube star The Annoying Orange.

Belching. (Just like dad. Hmmmmm.)

Pillow fights with his sister.

The cartoon show Adventure Time.

Saying, "Close your eyes and then kiss me goodnight." Then quickly whipping around so, if you're dumb enough to fall for it, you'll soon be kissing his feet or his rear end.

Putting his shoes on the wrong feet, shuffling to the door and continuously saying, "It's fine - they feel good," when you try to get him to change.

That Subway commercial where the little boy who never gets what he wants says, "Can I dye the cat?" and the dad yells, "No!!"

The word "buttcheeks."

Spongebob Squarepants doing just about anything.

Oh, and maybe I forgot: The word UNDERWEAR.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Well, how much money will you make?

I'm blaming it on the recession. Or the headlines. Or maybe the fact a couple of my friends are worried about losing their jobs. You hear too much news like that, and it starts to make you think. Overthink. And worry about choices.

So maybe that's why I said what I did.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. This story really starts with my 12-year-old daughter, the artist. I mean, seriously, she is gifted. She doesn't get it from me. I just draw little stick people doing funny things - "Mom toons," as my husband calls them. But ever since that girl has been little, she's had a sketch pad in her hands, drawing everything and anything, and doing it really, really well.

My daughter loves manga. You've heard of it, right? Those Japanese serialized comics? Well, I don't know when my daughter discovered them, but ever since she has, she's been drawing these incredibly detailed characters. She's also become fascinated with all aspects of Japanese culture. It's really pretty cool - she listens to Japanese rock, has convinced her stalwart Midwestern mom to try sushi, and now she's studying the language through the local library.

Which leads us to today - when we were reviewing her grades online. Straight As, as usual. "I want to start looking at art schools," she told me. "Really?" I said, only half listening. "What do you want to study?"

I didn't even expect her to have an answer - I was on Facebook, checking Twitter, doing this and that, not really paying attention. I mean, she's 12

But she answered promptly. "I want to draw manga," she told me. "And then maybe get into anime."

And I, the creative, free spirit of the family, had this to say: "How much money will you make?" Let me just repeat that so the awfulness will sink in: HOW MUCH MONEY WILL YOU MAKE?

I'm glad I didn't have a mirror in front of me. I'm sure I would have seen the face of that money-grubbing little Monopoly man. Or maybe Ebenezer Scrooge. Or more embarrassing, my college self, shaking her head at me reprovingly.

My daughter, God bless her, thought I was kidding. She laughed. "Well, I'm really good," she said. "So I'll make lots." And she danced upstairs.

I know that comment might not seem like a big deal. There's nothing wrong with making money, right? Everyone wants the best for their kid, right? And believe me, I like money as much as the next mom.

But I'm not sure reviewing the pay scale is the best way to support your child's dreams. Especially when she's 12.

I've always been fanatical about creativity with my kids. We have dance parties, we paint, write and read aloud - we put on little skits before bedtime. We've been known to pour flour all over the kitchen table, just to have something new to play in.

So, WTH, I asked myself? But I don't have the answer.

I don't know where this sudden visit from the accountant came from. But if he comes back, he'll need to watch his mouth.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pop, pop, pop - a little help, please?

As I poured popcorn kernels and oil into a creaking, rotating canister, desperately trying to remember which parts of the machine were hot to the touch, I suddenly developed a very warm place in my heart for volunteers.

Any volunteers. Young volunteers, old volunteers, canine volunteers - but especially the popcorn mom volunteers at my son's elementary school.

Because this week, only a few showed up, So those few, which surprisingly included me, had to bust their butts to fill hundreds of bags of popcorn for an eager student body eagerly awaiting its popcorn fix.

It's not just a tasty treat - its a school fundraiser. Every other week, there's a popcorn day, and the money raised goes to a particular teacher's classroom budget.

I'm a little embarrassed to tell you I don't know all the particulars. I'm not a very good popcorn volunteer. In fact, I've only done it a few times. And the times I've done it, there have been lots of other moms here. I could have done it more, of course - I could have come in early, before work. But the other moms had more time than me, I told myself. After all, I had a job. I had errands. I mean, I had stuff.

So, I would show up once or twice, assuage a little mom guilt, and then forget about the whole thing. Until yesterday. When I showed up and nobody else did.

Well, that's not quite true. Amy, the organizer was there, like she always is, every single time. She looked incredibly glad to see me. Since I can barely make coffee and only make popcorn in a microwave - and not particularly well - I considered this a bad sign.

"Oh, thank goodness!" she said with a big smile. "A volunteer! Have you done this before?"

Only then did I notice that only one other mom was there, on her cell phone, trying to recruit a few others.

"It's so hard to get people these days, " Amy confided. "Thanks for coming!"

I felt a twinge of embarrassment.

But with little time to chat, I began filling up bag after bag after bag. And bag after bag after bag. Twenty-five orders from the a.m. kindergarten; 17 from one of the first grades. Fifteen from one of the second grades. And so on. Kids would come in, faces alight, dragging off the giant bags that we would fill with their orders.

Amy was working the creaking old-fashioned popcorn machine that beeped every five minutes. She began filling two giant bins with popcorn - one with plain, one flavored with cheddar salt. "Here," she said, demonstrating. "Just season it like this." She shook the salt over the popcorn and handed it to me. I shook it tentatively. A cheddary cloud blew up directly in my face. Amy gently turned it around.

"Oh, of course," I said with a fake laugh. Ugh. Dork.

Soon, another mom showed up to count the money (thank goodness!) and start dividing the bags for the classrooms. Amy's friend, her cell phone efforts exhausted, began helping me fill orders. But then, far too soon, Amy and friend had to leave.

"My car needs to be serviced," she told me regretfully. "But I'll show you how to run the machine." She pointed to the somewhat intimidating looking popper. I was suddenly reminded of the time I was supposed to make coffee for my entire sorority house and nearly caused a fire.

"Uhhhhhhh ...." I protested. "I don't think ..."

She clipped open a few packages of kernels and oil. "It's easy," she told me confidently. "You can do it."

I guess I could. Because I had to. And sheesh, it was popcorn - how hard could it be?

And it probably was easy - for someone with coordination skills. But I spilled a few kernels. And then the bag nearly snagged in the canister's stirrers.

So when a few other parents came into the lobby and said, "Ooh, that smells so good!" I had a very hard time not yelling, "Get over here and help me, then!!!"

It would have been inappropriate. And I know that until yesterday, I probably would have said the very same thing.

My son came home with two bags of popcorn. "I love popcorn day," he said happily. "Don't you?"

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stressed? Just set that oven and bake

I think I've fallen prey to a new addiction.

Oh, I'm trying not to be too obvious about it. I usually wait til after dinner, when the kids are doing homework and the husband is downstairs. Then I sneak to the kitchen, open up my latest book, gather up the eggs, flour, sugar and such and ... bake.

Yes, I have become an obsessive baker. I bake cookies, cakes and quick breads. I roll pastry. I glaze, frost and drizzle. I admire my bundts from afar. I pore through cookbooks late at night. In the grocery store, I surreptitiously grab a Taste of Home here, an Every Day with Rachael Ray there. I have stacks of them now; I'm going to have to start clipping the recipes or those people from that A&E hoarding show will start sniffing around, I just know it.

I've become inordinately fond of Paula Deen, and I'm contemplating moving south so we can become friends. Well, not now. But someday.

It's not just because the holidays are around the corner - I know baking fever hits a lot of people then. Baking is cathartic for me. The more stressful my day, the more I bake. Maybe it's because recipes are so solid, so real. My assignments may vary, my projects my come and go, and I never know where my day will lead, but I am sure - yes, I am absolutely positive - what will happen when I mix together that sugar, egg and butter with some vanilla, baking powder and flour.

It's comforting. And tasty.

I guess you could call it a healthful addiction - relatively speaking. I used to drink wine when I got stressed - at least eating too many cookies doesn't leave you addled and performing Lady GaGa impressions for your friends.

It could, however, lead to another necessary vice: Exercise. Shhh. Pass the butter, and perish the thought.