Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The perfect vacation souvenir...

My family likes to travel. We like to experience new places and their history. We like to take big city public transportation and explore.

We got back from Melbourne Beach, Florida yesterday afternoon. Mother Nature, in keeping with tradition that has been consistent throughout this winter, did not cooperate. For a planned two day getaway to the beach, we got a total of 4 hours on the actual shore, shivering most of the time.

But friends, the best was saved for last. Last night, Matthew threw up. From his top bunk. And blessedly, did not hit any sheets or siblings.

This morning, we woke up to find another dried up pile of vomit. From Andrew. Who also did not hit any sheets or siblings. But failed to alert us of the cleanup needed in children's bedroom.

As usual, we brought home the usual vacation souvenir for our family. The infamous traveling bug. It began a couple of years ago when we visited family in Memphis over Christmas. It took over a month for it to completely disappear from these parts. We still shudder at the thought of what those weeks held for us: doctor's appointments, lab work, endless, sleepless nights, diaper rash from hell, nightly vomit cleanups...not fun. So far, we have yet to plan any other Winter Break trip.

Plans for the Youth Fair were scrapped. We went to the pediatrician, as Matthew and Joshua have had a nagging cough, just to check it out. Because the boys looked better than they did when they woke up, I urged John to go to the barber shop for pre-Easter haircuts after the doctor's visit.

This particular barber shop is family owned. The barber and his mother are exceptionally nice people and the clientele is typical Florida retiree.

The last time we visited the barber shop, all four guys were going to get their hair trimmed. The older two boys are pros at sitting still in the chair. Joshua, not so much. We usually visit the kid's hair salon, which caters to two year old and delivers the toddler equivalent of crack: Dora the Explorer. When Joshua gets his hair cut there, no problem.

Last visit to the barber: BIG problem. Joshua went after one of his brothers, to be able to see appropriate modeled behavior. Except that he threw a temper tantrum. Until he threw up. In the barber's chair. I know how lucky I am...

So today, I'm thinking we are good. It has been MONTHS since the kids and I went back. Joshua does not need a haircut. It should be fine.

Not so much.

Because Andrew threw up. In the barber's chair.

You know how you know you're a mom? When you have to clean up your kid's vomit in public.

In his defense, he did manage to keep it all in the barber's cape and got none of it on himself.

So picture this, barber is knocking on back doors of the shopping center, trying to find a hose. Joshua is screaming his head off in the stroller. John is walking/running to the convenience store a couple of doors down to find water for Andrew.

No hose in the shopping center.

After he was done vomiting, I took the cape and desperately tried to find a hose to clean it up. I cross the street to the townhouse complex across the way. I find one: victorious. I turn on the faucet. No water.


My only other option is to go to the insipid lake that this little community surrounds. The water looks disgusting. What do I do?

I bent over a got a taste of laundry, circa 1840.

There is nothing I wouldn't do for my kids. This proves it.

Afterwards, I washed the cape again in the shampoo sink in the back, with real soap and water.

But I have been yucked out ever since.

The problem is I can't decide what did it. The vomit or the lake water?

And just so you know, it will be MONTHS until I go back to that barber again.

Great souvenir, huh?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I want a cookie for breakfast and life's other absurdities...

Have you ever wanted to get away so bad, that you would do it, even if your inner voice kept screaming at the top of its lungs not to?

I did, and I ignored the sane part of me.

We had planned to get away early on Saturday to John's parents house, as they live part way to where we were staying for a few nights.

Early did not happen for several reasons. John's work technology crapped out. Packing for five people. Laundry issues...'nough said.

John's parents, God bless them, had offered to watch the kids so that we could catch dinner and a movie. Caught a yummy dinner; movie, not so much. Who decides that people want to watch some of the crap that gets made, anyway?

The next morning, after a visit from the Sleep Chaser (Joshua), we got another late start, by choice. The kids have such a magnificent time with their grandparents. I want to be as patient, loving, giving and wise as them, but I guess that is your reward for your children surviving your parenting. When we left, we hit bad weather.

I know all places on Earth experience bad weather. But in Florida, as you are heading towards the promise of sunny, warm beaches, bad weather translates into "Oh, crap!"

Oh, crap, we just booked two nights. Oh crap, we have three kids that are stir crazy in the car. Oh crap, I can't see while I am driving. It was raining on and off while we drove, with dark skies looming overhead. But when we drove up to the hotel, God unleashed. Torrential rain, lightening, thunder, the whole kit and caboodle. Thanks, Big Guy!

We decided against unloading the car and the children and opted instead to getting dinner first. Great idea, right? Except that the weather really wasn't conducive to getting out of the car. And it was COLD. Did I mention that I had not (in my extensive, mad, packing skills) packed anything heavier than a t-shirt for the kids or myself?

And dinner, well, let's just say that Sleep Chaser, I mean, Joshua, really didn't think his mother needed nourishment. I mean, I know I could stand to lose a few pounds, but did he really have to hold back my arm as I tried to eat? And Andrew decided that nothing would be lovelier than spilling his pink lemonade on himself.

Then came getting everything out of the car. John and I have a pretty solid system: get the luggage cart, put everything in it, and take it up with the kids in tow. John had already checked in, been in our room. No problem. We get up to the eighth floor, try the key, SEVERAL times, nothing. He goes back downstairs, I stay with the kids. The problem was that this particular hotel has no interior hallways; the wind and rain are whipping us pretty good, and I am praying that the kids don't get sick right before we have to go back to school.

Finally, John comes back. Informs me that we are in the wrong room. They gave him the wrong room number and key, but hey, he just has to get our complimentary breakfast passes and then, we get to go back downstairs. Take a different elevator and go out to a different exterior hallway. YIPPEE! I feel relaxed already.

Finally, we get everyone bathed and in bed; Joshua is insulted that he will be bunking in his pack and play for the duration of our stay. I get a warm shower, catch up on my rabid magazine addiction and settle in for the night, yearning for some sleep...that never comes.

The next morning, Sleep Chaser is back. Weather is as bleak as it was the night before. Weatherman says sometime around 3 p.m. we might get some sunshine. Can't wait. Decide to go do some sightseeing, in the car, in the rain, to make the time pass. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Eventually, the sun did peek out. The boys had a tremendous time running on the shore, building a dam, shoveling and frolicking. And somehow, the warm (but not quite warm enough, by Floridians' standards) seemed to melt the crap that seemed to have followed us.

Last night, as I gazed out onto the dark beach, the full moon danced on the water. It was a glorious sight, and I understood why Mr. Sleep Chaser was in full force.
This morning, after a full night's sleep, and the day of our return home, the sun was shining. The beach was warm.

Absurd. You drive three hours to get some rest and relaxation. You get neither. A little sunshine and warmth would be nice, though.

This morning, Joshua was walking around demanding a cookie for breakfast.

Absurd.  Because you don't eat cookies for breakfast, but I gave him a chocolate donut instead.

After we finished packing all of our stuff and loaded up the car, we went on final walk on the beach. I got to hold my hubby's hand, which is a treat. Our children ran in front of us; children of the sun, and then walked together, chatting, happy.

And there is nothing absurd about that. It makes everything else worthwhile.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mom meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid

As a kid, I loved to read.

Not much has changed in the last thirty plus years.

Last Sunday, I took the two older boys to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I know, not much of a cinematic challenge, but my boys LOVED those books. My oldest wanted to reserve a copy of the latest book in the series, The Last Straw, last summer. He wanted to be sure he would be one of the first people to have a copy, hot off the press. Although my children own each book in the series and I have several copies in my classroom, I have not actually sat and read the book.

I read it aloud, in Spanish to my class, but somehow, it lost so much in translation, and in the read aloud.

The movie was genuine. It depicts the painful awkwardness of Greg, a typical middle child, as he embarks on his first year of middle school. It captures the reality of the social atmosphere of middle school to perfection.

And while some of the antics are ridiculously funny, the movie offered a poignant view of what it is like for the middle son to find his way in a family, in a school, in society.

And even though the movie was entertaining, it helped me gain some insight on what it is like for boys growing up. How much their self esteem hangs on the acceptance of others. How much undercover nurturing they need so that they don't end up with the wrong crowd because they are worried about their social standings. Because they need to feel acceptance at home, within their family, so that they can spread their wings and soar.

It has been a mighty long time since I was a student in middle school. Yet watching that movie on Sunday, I felt compassion for these children...Growing up is hard work.

And if growing up is hard work, BEING a grown up is no picnic either.

So, I decided to do the most UN-grown up thing I could think of: I decided to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I know, what a rebel.

But sometimes, you need to remember where you have been so that you know where you are going.

And really, in many ways, mothers slightly resemble middle school kids, don't we?

We really don't know what we are doing. We are trying to fit in, with our kids, with other mothers. We want to be liked by the other moms, we want to be respected by our kids. Most of the time, we roll out of bed, pull a brush through our hair, brush our teeth, and get the day rolling.

We are finding our voice, our place in this great big world.

We are discovering who we are, what are strengths are.

We know we are not perfect. We are trying things out, finding our way.

So, as I frantically try to finish laundry and pack for all of us, for a couple of days at the beach, I will make sure I pack that book.

'Cause this mom is totally okay with being seen with a wimpy kid. Whether he is the author of a diary or not.

Friday Follow for March 26, 2010

MckLinky Blog Hop

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Do you live in a pig pen?

For the last few weeks, it feels as though that phrase is all that comes out of my mouth when I look around my home. There is clutter, of course, because we have three children. But apparently, the clutter, much like it's amorous neighbor, laundry baskets, likes to get frisky and multiply.

I am sick of picking up after people. I realize that I have a long way to go in this never-ending race; but seriously, I feel as though I am living in a frat house. No one cares if things are growing on the bathroom floor, the garbage is overflowing or whether or not you can walk on the floor. And it would be really cool to make a wall entirely of empty Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk boxes...All we need is a toga party to be right up there with Animal House...

I get it. Boys are messy. They smell if not reminded to bathe and practice personal hygiene. They like to grow hair and nails (on both their hands and feet). But what about having some dignity?

And the whole messy house thing? I cannot deal with it. I work a full day. I come home to homework and making dinner. Sometimes, I would like to go for a walk with my neighbor.

But, I ignore the clutter like I ignore the laundry and it debilitates me. I glance from corner to corner, wondering why people send my children gifts, wondering if they will ever understand that I cannot (and will not) jump over book bags, lunch boxes, binders and other junk in order to walk from one end of the house to the other.

This evening, when I walked into the boys' room to kiss them goodnight, I found clothes on the bed, hangers on the floor, shoes everywhere, and the drawers in the dresser bulging open. When I opened said drawers (or tried to) I couldn't. The shirts and whatnot were so crammed in there, I had to take everything out and re-fold them.

And I was angry.

Because I think a little neatness can go a long way.

Because a little neatness can make my life a lot easier. Because there are children that are old enough to go through their things, get rid of the stuff that they no longer use or need. They can use things, and then put them back where they belong after they no longer need or want them.

But they are not entirely to blame.

Perhaps it is my own fault.

In an effort to be efficient, I have always gotten restless waiting for the kids to finish picking up. And I jump in to do it.

Or, I tell them that the way they were doing it was not the "right" way. And so I would show them, and end up doing it myself.

So, I guess that the saying , "You reap what you sow" is really true.

So now, it's time for this little piggy to pick up his towel. And this little piggy to pick up his shoes. And this other little piggy to pick up toys and put them in right place.

So that we don't live in a pig pen...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Get on your boots...

Today was Career Day at school. Parents and other community workers paraded through the school, speaking to students from Kindergarten through eighth grade, discussing the in's and out's of their careers.

Among the things they discussed, they talked about the amount of education that they required in order to be prepared to do the job, and how much they enjoyed what they do for a living.

And in the meantime, our State Senate passed a preliminary bill that will devastate the public school system in our state.

And while our presenters drove up to our school to do their civic duty, a handful of teachers, emblazoned in red shirts and armed with signs and flyers with pertinent information, stood outside our school, educating the community.

Many of our students waved as they were dropped off, parents honked for their support.

For the remainder of the day, I pondered the irony. Here were community leaders; parents, neighbors, relatives, friends, role models discussing the future of my students.

They stressed the importance of a good education. I wondered how many would call their representative and demand better for the students they had so enthralled this morning.

I wondered how many parents stopped during their busy day, and called the numbers we distributed. How many told someone else of the atrocities that are being planned as I write this?

And me?

I wrote, I called, I organized. And I will continue to do so, until this wrong is righted.

And I taught my sons the importance of fighting for something that you believe in. I taught them that education: their education, my students' education, is important enough for me to stand so early in the morning, across the street from my school, waving a sign, demanding action.

I taught them to pick a career that will invoke that passion: instinctive, protective, proactive reaction when threatened.

Today, people came in to speak to my students about their careers.

Today, I taught all my kids, birthed and otherwise, that I love my job.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's my name again?

I have been in a really irritable mood for the last couple of days. I can't really explain what has made my mood so foul, but after reading Bad Mommy Moments today, I think I know what's ailing me and making me want to act like my almost three year old.

I think I have lost myself somehow.

Before I had kids, I was someone's wife, but I was learning about things that were interesting to me, not learning ways of surviving with three extra bodies to feed, bathe and clothe. I had my responsibilities that came with being an adult, but none of them changed what I was called.

And for a while, I was just Honey and Mama. But even my name varies with who I am with. I am Mrs. E. the teacher, Mama, Matthew's Mom, Andrew's Mom and Joshua's Mom. Sometimes I just want to be ME. Except, I don't know who that is anymore. And, I think I haven't known that person in a really long time.

Over the weekend, a friend of my in-laws made a copy of our wedding video into a DVD. As I watched those two young people (and before you start preaching, we were twenty-two when we married, almost fifteen years ago) I barely recognized my own face. It's not just that I looked much younger, but I was so naive.

I had no idea what life was about to throw at me in the coming ten years, let alone fifteen. My father's illness and death, my mother's deterioration of mind and body, aunts and uncles growing older and weaker, these beautiful three children who require so much of me; the best of me.

Somehow, in all that responsibility, and new labels and names, I have lost that bright eyed twenty-two year old bride. I realize that I cannot go back, and by no means, do I want to. But sometimes, when you look back, you cannot imagine how far your journey has taken you. What sheer will and a ton of faith will help you overcome.

Because these days, the easiest thing to be is just Mama. And to claim that being Mama is easier than anything else is a huge statement in and of itself. Instead, the labels pound over me like tireless waves. Teacher, wife, mother, sister, aunt, godmother, friend, caretaker, landlord, chief financial officer, social director, activist, volunteer, environmental manager, inventory taker, decision maker, ADULT.

Day in, day out, with no end in sight.

And where am I under this stockpile? What do I want to be called?

Some days, like today, I just want to be Maria. A girl who likes to read, and likes to write. No multitasking, no hyphens, no endless job titles.

I am not ungrateful. There have been so many guiding lights along my journey. So many people in the right place, at the right time, with the right phrase, the right gesture. Letting me know that I have chosen the right path, that my work has yielded rich fruits. That I am not alone.

It gets confusing sometimes, remembering who I am, who I was, and evolving into the person I might become if I take the time to revisit the road taken. To see the progress of my journey.

If I sit still long enough, without falling asleep, I can see that I am still Maria, the girl who likes to read, who likes to write. And she now has a full life, with many names and labels, responsibilities and hobbies.

But the name that still makes my heart stop with joy is Mama.

And regardless of how confused I might be, there is no question that this label is the one that makes me the happiest.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chips off the old block...

As most parents, I can see certain traits that my children have inherited from their father and I. I was recently surprised at how scary close those traits mirror my own in my two oldest sons.

Andrew has impeccable comedic timing. He can deliver the punch line and find the humor in just about anything, if he is not interpreting for Whine. Much like Andrew, I can find the humor in just about anything. It has been a defensive mechanism for far too long, and one that has served me well. As I wrote that post, he stood next to me as I typed, laughing his behind off at the characterizations of the unfortunate newest residents of our home. And he kind of stood back in awe, amazed that his mother could write in a way that was so funny to him.

But Andrew's skills do not end there. His verbal skills are outstanding. He is a wonderful writer, no doubt, from the variety of his literary diet, which is voracious. Even as I write this, late at night, my little night owl is perched in a chair beside me, reading as I write, smiling to himself, understanding the love of words and their flow from my thoughts through my fingers and onto the screen.

See the thing about Andrew is that he loves to read with the same intensity and passion that his older brother has. And he and his brother both inherited that trait from me. Because even to this day, I am SO HAPPY when I am reading a really engrossing book. Words have always held a certain thrill for me...

But, they never knew about my secret love affair with writing. So, of course, when I told them that I was going to start this blog, the two older boys were a little confused (in the sense of, wait a minute, you had a life BEFORE us, you were good at something that you liked doing, you DON'T like waiting on us hand and foot?) and they were concerned (as was their father) that they would be portrayed in a negative light. What could they possibly be so worried about? Mama just likes to tell a story well... And apparently, so do my offspring.

Matthew received a form to compete in a drawing to be a kid reporter for Time For Kids (TFK), a monthly periodical designed specifically for school aged children. One night last week, he sat diligently, completing the form with all necessary information. As part of his entry, he had to write a letter to the editors of TFK, explaining why he would be a good choice for the position. My son wrote eloquently for a third grader; explaining that he was writer, he enjoyed gathering the latest news, and then, the clincher; his mother had her own blog.

He spent the next fifteen minutes following me around the house like a love-sick puppy, try to get me to stop whatever I happened to be doing at that particular moment and sign the application. Of course, I would not sign it until I read the letter, and when I read it, I felt a familiar tug in my heart.

I remembered how excited I felt when I wrote a piece to be considered for my junior high's newspaper, and was able to secure the feature editor's position. I remember the sense of fulfillment when we would finish the layout for the latest edition and put it to bed, the thrill of seeing the paper published and seeing my name in the byline. And even today, when I see comments on my posts, when I hear my coworkers discuss topics that I have discussed here, it makes my heart sing.

My son came home on Friday and told me that he had to write a sample article to submit with his application. For a brief moment, he had the look of a seasoned, old time, newsman; on the prowl for a good story to work his magic on.

Over the course of the last few days, our state legislature in its infinite wisdom is trying to pass a potentially devastating piece of legislation that will cut education off at the knees. Among other things, it threatens the professionalism of teachers throughout the state, who already work miracles in the most adverse conditions and circumstances. Many teachers at my school are organizing to make the issue known and drum up parent support. I painted my car windows and the boys were asking me about it this afternoon.

When I suggested to Matthew that this might make for an interesting story, his eyes gleamed. And we discussed a possible story and angle. Two writers, creating...

Many things can be taught, but many things; the best things, are passed on in families.

And of all the things my boys could have inherited from me, I am overwhelmed that they inherited the things about myself that I treasure the most.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What's in my bag?

Liz from ...but then I had kids has tagged in me in the blog sphere game, What's in my bag. When I received the notice, I was more than a little concerned over what would actually be in my purse, and thought about cheating a little, because I was using a little clutch the moment I got the notice, but I will be a good sport and play along.

My purse of choice these days is a Kenneth Cole Reaction bag I have had for over 5 years. I bought it for a song at the factory outlet store and it can hold just about anything.

This was the mess that was in my purse.

Going clockwise: my FABULOUS green Coach patent leather wallet. I paid a reasonable amount for it at the factory outlet store and I love that it is so shiny and such a pretty color. It helped looking at it as I paid for Matthew's Phase 1 of orthodontic repairs.

The next bag is my makeup bag. It holds some lipsticks of varying neutral shades, dental floss (which I cannot live without), a small mirror (which I avoid looking at), Burt's Bee's shimmer lip gloss (which I love) and Clinique liner.

I also carry the checkbook to pay my mother's bills. We have had several mishaps with her former property of late, and, frankly, I never leave home without it.

You see two little coin purses and a small wallet. The black one holds coins, the tan and the small wallet hold gift cards and discount cards. 'Cause you never know when the itch to shop will get you.

I also carry my own checkbook, 'cause I have three kids at school, and now matter what time of year it is, there is always a fundraiser going on somewhere, with someone.

I carry my aunt's keys too. She has had some medical issues lately, and we thought it would be a good idea if I had her keys on me in case something happened and I needed to get into her apartment right away.

In the middle, you will find my iPod carrier for the non-existent trips to the gym, receipts to miscellaneous stuff, coupons for free kids meals at Cracker Barrel , miscellaneous hair accessories , including a hair brush(because you never know with my hair some days)and a tube of Zicam tablets leftover from a victorious fight with a cold earlier in the flu season.

There is also a Weight Watchers Points Calculator, if I ever get the urge to really figure out how much that red velvet cupcake is. And the pink paper is a program from my middle child's Valentine's Day show that his class put on. The little green bow with the golden bow is some gold charms that I want to sell. There are also the security fobs to get into Joshua's school.

And the crowning glory, my cell phone, which is not pictured, because it was being charged. In that precious piece of technology: my phone, my iPod, my calendar, my blogging ideas in the notes section, my phone book, everything is on that phone. I finally splurged and bought the iPhone and have never looked back, except to make sure I didn't leave it behind.

Not very interesting stuff, I am afraid to say. I had just cleaned out my purse about three or four weeks ago. The mother lode was in there: Lego parts, Joshua's little notebooks with an assortment of pens so that he can draw at any given moment, the referral for the orthodontist, receipts for medical stuff that was filed away last weekend, even more hair accessories.

In the past, I have carried Sippy cups, a diaper and box of wipes, classroom keys, flash drives, camera, invitations, directions to places, to-do lists, grocery lists, coupons...the list is endless.

So, now comes the chance to tag some new people. As they say curiosity killed the cat, but I am dying to know what lies in the purses of these fellow bloggers:

1. Kristen at Motherese

2. Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla

3. Becca at Drama for Mama

4. ck at Bad Mommy Moments

5. Jessica at Adventures of a wife and mom

Come on girls, dump out those purses, get writing and then organize away! Looking forward to being a virtual snoop!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The first day of spring...

I guess Mother Nature FINALLY got the memo. The weather today was picture perfect...Blue skies, not a cloud in the sky, the temperature a balmy 74 degrees, the sun shining overhead. Perfect day for a birthday party in the park. Today was my niece's birthday celebration.

If you know me at all, you know I don't do children's birthday parties. I have celebrated enough birthday parties for my two older sons that I just don't do it anymore. I will go to other people's children's birthday parties, but I don't plan any myself.

There are a myriad of reasons that could keep me writing for days, but I will be concise.

1. The money is better spent on a trip that everyone can enjoy. Yes, I realize that there are many of you that would argue that a child will treasure the memories of a delightful birthday party that have set his or her parents back more than a couple hundreds of dollars. But really, for the money you spend on feeding and entertaining other people's children, YOU and your family could enjoy visiting a new place and have a shared treasured memory. Or you could be miserable. But at least you don't have to pick up after the guests.

2. Thank you notes. It's not that I am being ungrateful. But thank you note writing just stinks. How many times can you write basically the same things and STILL sound genuine? For the record, Cubans don't write thank you notes. We tell you thank you when we receive the gift, and that's it. I remember after my husband and I got married and I sent thank you notes to my relatives, they inundated my mother with phone calls wondering what these peculiar little cards were. However, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. And the Romans write thank you notes.

3. People rarely RSVP when they are supposed to. Another thing Cubans don't do is RSVP. And they like to bring additional party goers to your affair. So it is a wee bit difficult to gauge how much food and beverage necessary to have on hand, because you never really know how many people will show up.

4. You have to entertain other people's children. When you have a party of three children in your own immediate family, of differing ages, it is hard enough to figure out what you are going to do with them. Add another 15 to 20 kids, and you are really up the creek. Over the years, we have done all kinds of activities: pumpkin carving, a treasure hunt, cupcake decorating. But it still requires adult supervision. And most parents don't want to have to watch their children at birthday parties.

5. All the parents walk around with the same blank, dejected looks when they are subjected to children's birthday parties. The only thing that helps is adult beverages with a high alcohol content. Which isn't really appropriate to consume in front of other people's children, but really, how else are you going to tolerate having all those extra kids?

I know, I sound very cynical, and perhaps, that is true. Maybe it has to do with having three kids, or being a school teacher for so many years. I don't know. But there is something about birthday parties that brings out the worst in the birthday child and his or her parents.

We all start out with good intentions. We want a happy day and an easy party. What usually ends up happening is the exact opposite. We end up snapping at our spouses because they cannot read our minds regarding what we want or need and are physically unable to verbalize. The birthday child has been at the park for at least an hour setting up before the party and has either missed a nap or been woken up early, or worse, both. By the time guests arrive and pictures are to be taken, you are no longer the parent of sweet little Johnny. Your child closely resembles Damian.

I finally got smart when my oldest turned three and went to Disney World instead of the birthday party hoopla. It's not to say that it went super smooth, but there were no RSVP's to worry about, no food planning other than what we wanted to have for dinner, and there were no thank you notes to have to scrawl out after a day in the sun.

My niece's party went as smooth as to be expected. The weather was beautiful, especially after the horrible weather we have had over the last couple of months. The guests arrived late (another Cuban gift) so we had plenty of time to get everything ready, even though we were running behind schedule.

After seeing some of the younger children in attendance, I will take my Whine, Jab and Poke and Not Me any day of the week and twice on Sunday without complaint. My boys had the time of their lives on some rented double bikes that look like cars and I expect them to crash for the night at any moment.

But most of all, we were able to bask not only in the warmth of Spring's first delightful sun, but in the love that only friends and family can offer your beloved child. What a glorious way to begin Spring!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The young and the restless...

Spring Break is officially one week away...My students are young and I am restless.

Today, at work, as I walked around while my class worked on an assignment, I wanted to jump out of my skin. All I wanted was to get out into the sunshine, let the warm sun soak into my still cold bones.

The last two months have taken their toll. The preparation for testing, the actual testing, the aftermath of the testing. And my students, they are just as antsy.

They fidget, they whisper, they are mischievous. It is as though they awakening from a long slumber.

And in many ways, they are.

The cold we have experienced has drained their energy. The stress of the test has made them restless.

At home, things are not much different. Tempers are short, patience even shorter...Along with fewer hours of darkness each day, we are all aching to shed all that winter has piled upon us.

It is as though we were caterpillars, and we are in the chrysalis, ready to emerge with a new set of wings and attitude to match.

I cannot imagine how the northeastern and Midwest states have fared with this wicked weather we have experienced this year. If we in South Florida are itching to ditch the winter garb and we have seen sunshine most of these winter months, how have those, who have seen nothing but bare trees and thick white snow, must yearn to see spring finally arrive in all its glory...

Here's to Mother Nature hurrying the heck up and getting Spring here, so that we can all bask in the beautiful warm sun and recharge our batteries...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Would you like Whine with that?

At my house, whine is something that it served up on a daily basis, and there is no need to wait until Happy Hour, because it never comes...

My children are never without Whine. Whine appears at daybreak, with complaints of waking up too early, of not having anything good to eat for breakfast (code for: why can't we eat a pound of bacon and chocolate chip pancakes with chocolate syrup and whipped cream?), of having to share the bathroom sink, of not finding the water bottle...

Miraculously, Whine disappears at school. Regardless of what is expected of them or assigned for class work, there are no complaints. Why is that the minute we start walking to the car, Whine picks up like a paused movie. It is usually accompanied by its constant companions, Jab and Poke. Jab and Poke are not allowed on the school property, so they hang out in the car all day plotting new games to play while I am driving in congested traffic.

Jab and Poke have taken up a permanent residence in our home. They are constantly on the prowl, and it is nearly impossible to determine who came first, Whine or Jab and Poke. They especially like to come and play at quiet places, like the doctor's office, restaurants and any time I am on the phone on serious grown up business, like fighting with the insurance company.

It used to be that Andrew was the resident interpreter for Whine. Being the middle child, I am sure that it is his God-given right to complain about every blessed thing. Joshua is now very fluent in Whine as well. I know, he is so young, but Andrew has taught him well.

But you know what? I. CAN'T. STAND. IT. ANYMORE. It's all the time, without rhyme or reason, and frankly, Whine needs to move the hell out and find another family in the Exchange Program for Parenting Hell.

Matthew is the keeper of Jab and Poke. These three have become fast friends and are not afraid to prey on Andrew, who will immediately resort to invoking Whine at increasingly higher decibels, depending on how present Jab and Poke are at that particular moment.

Then, the Ghost of Not-Me (of Family Circus cartoon strip fame) claims all responsibility. Wherever Whine and Jab and Poke appear, Not Me is sure to follow. Not Me likes to switch sides fairly often, which makes it incredibly difficult to corner Whine, Jab and Poke. Not Me is by far the worst of The Fab Four, as I like to think of them, and truly needs to move on as well.

Now, I understand that my children are finding their voices. That Whine, Jab, Poke and Not Me appear where they feel safe and secure (although, really, if they knew the visceral reaction I have to The Fab Four they would not come around anymore!) and I should feel as though I am doing something right, because my children invite The Fab Four to come hang out at the house.

But I have a pretty good hunch that the psychologist and behavioral specialists who wrote those theories didn't have these troublemakers as permanent residents in their own homes. And I really am beginning to think that these four have been responsible for many a mother just going off the deep end and ending up in a padded room, quietly whispering to herself for the rest of her life.

So, I guess I have to lay some ground rules here. I can be glad that my home is such an inviting place that The Fab Four have decided to stick around for a while. I guess that it is to be expected, given the amount of testosterone that exudes from my home.

But The Fab Four need to settle down. I can accept that they are going to squat for a while, but they gotta play by my rules. They can only come out to play when we are home, and they need to stay away from the dinner table, no exceptions. When I am doing official grown up stuff, they need to keep a lid on it. NO INTERACTIONS IN THE CAR WHATSOEVER. Just a couple of rules to keep things on the up and up.

But I guess that what really has me so upset is the reality that these four are really here to stay for a while. They had made sporadic appearances for the last couple of years, but nothing really permanent. And now, here they are, a fixture that is truly an eyesore. And a headache.

And another thing. Didn't their mothers teach them any manners? Don't they know that you always bring the hostess a bottle of wine as a gift? Maybe then, after a glass or two of a nice Merlot, The Fab Four and I can become friendly, you think?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Adventures in orthodontics...

What do you get when two people with dental issues mate?

Braces, people.

I have a big mouth, but no space for all the God-given teeth I have. My husband, not so big-mouthed, but big-toothed...Our oldest son has shark teeth...and yes, apparently, that is a medical term.

I have been putting off taking Matthew for an orthodontic evaluation for many reasons. Mainly, because we had never picked dental insurance with an orthodontic option (because, what did we know that we'd have big-toothed, big mouth, no-space-in-the-big-mouth-for-the-big-teeth children? Reason #245,345 that parents aren't cool).

And because I was a little afraid of Matthew's reaction to the whole thing.

While Andrew and Joshua have had the lion's share of medical forays, Matthew has dodged every medical bullet, except for this. When I casually mentioned braces about a year ago, he flipped out.

He protested quite loudly. "But it will hurt, Mom!" (Yeah, no kidding buddy. You got some karma coming back at you for the FORTY hour labor your arrival inflicted...)

"Matthew, your teeth are growing in the wrong direction. Your tongue cannot sit comfortably in your mouth. I think that you will be much more comfortable once your mouth is the way it should be, " I said but left out "if you had parents with normal mouths."

After discussing back and forth, I told him I would spend the money that would go to his braces on a very nice trip with his father on the other side of the world. It was settled. The thought of his father and I having fun without him and his brothers was enough for him to make up his mind that this, indeed, was something that was necessary for him to take care of. That, and a few of his classmates now have metal mouths too, and survived, so it was totally cool.

We finally got the insurance straightened out, the referral in place, and so today was our appointment. He thought the initial "before" mug shots were a hoot. He loved getting the 360 degree x-rays, and mostly, he really liked the doctor.

Mom wasn't having as much fun, especially when taken into the little room where you discuss "payment options."

For a little bit, people, I felt like I was buying a car. "Do you feel comfortable with this number?" asked the financial lady.

Um, no, not so much. 'Cause this number is with the insurance, doesn't cover a possible Phase 2 of treatment and I still have two other kids who came from the same two people who created this person. Does this number include liposuction or a clone for Mom? 'Cause then, it would be a bargain!

You would be proud to know that I haggled the price down a little, but not too much. And Matthew was psyched when he had the spacers put in to prepare his mouth for what is coming in next week.

At some point, the financial shock will wear off from this mother and I will become accustomed to the new monthly payment for the next 15 months. And the novelty will wear off for this boy and he will become accustomed to the devices that will expand what needs expanding.

And neither of us will be entirely happy until the final "after" mug shots are taken, and the results are as beautiful as the boy who will have earned them.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Love overcame the fear..."

While on the treadmill this afternoon, (Yes, be duly impressed. The only thing going to the gym the last few months have been my payments, not me...) I was watching an episode of Oprah that featured Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. When asked what finally made her take the first step towards a relationship with Ellen after years of avoiding the inevitable, Portia said, "Love overcame the fear."

While many of us will never know the difficulties that same-sex couples face, we all can understand that statement. How many of us have had love help us overcome fear that inhibits us from being happy? How hard is it to overcome fear to get on with life?  Is overcoming the fear worse than knowing that something better was out there, and we chose not to take the challenge?

For mothers, though, fear comes in all shapes and sizes.

Fear of becoming mothers.

Fear of becoming like our own mother.

Fear of making the wrong decisions.

Fear of being unappreciated, unloved, un-liked...the list is endless with possibilities.

Fear that paralyzes us. And when we are paralyzed by own fear and inadequacies; perceived or otherwise, we are useless to our children. We are useless to ourselves. Because the fear dissects what we could be, what potential we do have.

And love; love arms us for life.

Love for our children, for the lives we have chosen to live, helps us overcome the fear. It helps us get out of bed in the middle of the night to check on a feverish child. Love allows us to be there as our child is being wheeled into surgery with a reassuring smile on our faces while we tremble inside. Love emboldens us to fight for our children and those we love.

Love overcame the fear.

Four simple words; one powerful statement, that each of us can take to heart.

Four words that can help us guide how we live our lives.

One statement that can give us permission to take that first step into the lives that are ours to treasure, if we can be brave enough to claim it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reason #129,827 why I love my husband...

There were many reasons why I married my husband. But more importantly, there are so many more reasons why I still smile and my heart goes aflutter when I see him come through the door every evening...

This weekend, he was an active participant in something he truly hates doing; cleaning out stuff and organizing it. And best of all, he did it with a smile on his face, and he did it for me.

As we were working yesterday and today, I wondered how often I do things for him, just for him, with a smile on my face, even if it is something I dislike.

I wonder if I show him how much he means to me on a daily basis, if he truly knows how lost I would be without him.

I wonder if he can imagine how often I think back to when it was just the two of us. How much fun we had, how much fun is still to be had, and how I wouldn't want to do any of it without him, smiling his smile, standing next to me, hand in hand...

I think of those two seventeen year old kids, who were able to recognize their life partners at such a young age, who stood side by side, reciting vows, and are now still partners in crime, raising three boys, smiling at their antics.

We are so blessed, John and I, that we are happy. We realize how full our lives are, how this time with our young sons is fleeting, that we are so lucky to be on this journey together.

Thank you for loving me, in spite of all my faults and quirks. Thanks for making me laugh...

Thank you for that voodoo you do...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Conquering my own Mt. Everest...

Today was the day. I could no longer stand to look at the mess that had accumulated over the last six months on my kitchen island, my computer desk, my dining room table.

I am talking, of course, of the clutter of mail, bills and other assorted important papers that help define me as a "grown up".

Yeah, I know every single one of you out there is jealous that this is how I choose to spend my Saturday.

But today was the day. I have Tax Day looming over my head, and I just could not attempt to finish those dang taxes with all those papers, furiously multiplying by the day, much like the laundry baskets in my bedroom.

People, I want you to understand how hard it is for me to live like this; knowing that there is so much that must be done, but never having enough energy or will to take care of the things that would make my life so much easier on a day to day basis.

And, for the record, I do not have an obsessive-compulsive disorder. If I ever did, living with my dear husband has cured it, for sure.

Regardless, this morning with my head still throbbing from indulging in Bailey's Irish Cream and lack of sleep, (Joshua, God bless him, was our wakeup call at 6:00 am), I thought, today was as good a day as any. And so, I gutted the kitchen island, the dining room table, the computer desk, and began; cross-legged in pajamas (which I stayed in until 1:00 p.m.!) and began my quest.

I found pictures, notices, unregistered credit cards. Tax notices, bills, Medicare papers (Did I also mention I had all my mother's important paperwork to go through too?) , more bills, investment and retirement papers, tax documentation, etc. Thank goodness I had purged about six months ago, otherwise, it really would have been scary.

But sometimes, you just have to forge ahead. Even if the task is daunting and unpleasant, time consuming and emotionally draining, it must be done. And while you are bitching, you might as well get to work and be productive, cause it's gonna get worse before it gets better...

My dear husband went through the retirement papers as I happily shred papers that needed shredding. I personally LOATHE those investment and retirement papers, especially after looking at the dismal news they usually bear, and yeah, I know it's only on paper we are losing money.

The reward: I can see the beautiful granite countertop in the kitchen, I can see the beautiful wood grain of the dining room table (that goes beautifully with the engraving that Andrew has carved in his Homework Desperation) and the computer table no longer looks like the defining evidence for Family and Children Services to come and have my home condemned as unlivable.

Also a plus, Hubby treated me to Italian (that I didn't have to cook!) and white wine...downside, the entertainment was provided by the clan of children I bore and it was Harry Potter...

Now, I wonder what I could finagle if I really conquered Everest?

Nah, I am just happy with Hubby, Harry, the clan, Italian (that I didn't have to cook!) and wine...

Friday, March 12, 2010

The first time...

The first time I laid eyes on you, sweet girl, you were barely five minutes old.

Your mother lay exhausted from birthing you. Your father, overwhelmed with joy, just looked at you, telling you how beautiful you were.

And there you were, this tiny, crying thing. My heart swelled with joy as I looked at this brand new family that had not existed five minutes earlier.

As I tried to compose myself, I realized that with your arrival, I added another name to my already overflowing list. But it was one that I had waited a long time for.

With you, my baby sister became a mother.

And I became an aunt, for the first time.

And for the first time, I realized that although I had three children of my own, there were many things that I did not understand or know. There are many things you have taught me in your short two years.

You have taught me that you can love a child that you have not birthed as much as one you have. I never understood how your mother loved her nephews until you came along. There is nothing that you could ask for that I would not try to acquire for you. Since you came, I have never thought of you and your sister as my nieces. I have thought of you both as my own; part of my brood. My five kids; my three boys, my two girls.

You have taught me that girls can keep up with boys, and even boss them around as soon as they can hold up their heads. Your cousins; my sons, love you as though you were their sister. These boys never fail to do your bidding, and you never fail to follow in their footsteps, gazing up at them adoringly, wondering what fun they will come up with next.

You have taught me to love pink. Where I would once scoff at your mother for fawning over pretty dresses and amassing the world's largest collection of hair accessories, I find myself , all too often, shopping for you and your sister. I have become almost as bad as she is, and I am no longer ashamed.

You have taught me that girls react differently. That, even at birth, we are held in a different regard. We are delicate, we need protection, we need love. Even at this young age, you show a sensitive heart. Hopefully, you will know great happiness and that little heart will never know the pangs of unrequited first loves, broken friendships, angry words that can so easily leave us broken-hearted.

You have taught me to nurture the little girl that you are, empower the young woman that you will inevitably become. Even now, you show an incredibly strong will. You know what you want, and you can usually figure out how to get it. You are not afraid to speak your mind. I hope that as you get older, you never lose that sense of self, you never lose the words that help keep you standing on firm ground. I hope that you are stronger than your mother and I.

Dear Alexandra, two years ago, you arrived on this Earth and forever changed this family's corner.

You were the first little flower in my life.

Happy birthday, sweet girl!

I love you so dearly.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sometimes, all you need is a good cry...

It has been a hellacious week. Between the anxiety of administering "The Test" and watching my beloved students and oldest son take the test, I feel as though I have been drained of whatever energy I had.

I have been mindful of taking my vitamins, of getting enough rest. Regardless, I feel sapped of myself. I feel as though I am in a funk.

So, after school, I took the boys to get a haircut. Nothing gets me feeling better than being surrounded by newly shorn young men. They looked as handsome as ever, but no relief.

I took them to get a cookie for celebrating the end of testing (for at least one of them). I even got a free cookie, which I had enough will power to resist. Still, no better.

I walked around the mall, in search of a cute top or a nice pair of shoes on sale. Nope. Nada.

I got home, started reheating leftovers, fed the kids early. Got them showered and in bed reading, early. Nothing.

And then, in the quiet house, came the deluge of emotions.

After worrying and wondering what would make me feel better, the tears came. Like rain renews the Earth, those tears will help renew me.

Because after a month of skill and drill, of stressing over whether the kids would do well or not, of actually administering and monitoring; day after day, of basically, just holding it together: I couldn't anymore.

Don't get me wrong. I am NOT a crier. Certain things will get me to mist up some, but rarely do I just let go and sob. I just don't do it.

Maybe it is because I like to feel in control. Maybe because I think it makes me look weak. Maybe, it just scares me to feel so vulnerable.

But I needed it.

And after this good ten minute cry, I don't feel as sad. I feel relief.

And there is nothing weak about relief. There is nothing wrong with being vulnerable. There is nothing wrong with caring.

But there is something very wrong with not giving yourself permission to let go. For always having to be strong (for who exactly, I will never know) and not letting yourself have a healthy way to find release.

So, with that behind me, there is much to look forward to: my oldest niece will be two tomorrow. John and I have big plans to celebrate the end of testing with the boys on Saturday. My mother finally left rehab a month after being admitted (after that wicked fall she took).

Smiling, because Spring Break is a couple of weeks away, and the beach is waiting.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ten years ago today...

Ten years ago today, a phone call and a second pink line totally turned my life upside down.

And for the last ten years, I have been trying to put it right side up again.

That second line brought the news of impending motherhood.

Even as I sit here and write these words, I am still in awe. Of how a dream became a reality, that would grow into a person, with ten little fingers and ten little toes.

Ten years ago, I was so busy. I was completing my Master's Degree, I was pursuing National Board Certification for Teaching. I had a full time teaching position. I had a husband and family and friends.

For someone who had always been successful at every under-taking, getting pregnant was not as easy as it should have been.

My husband and I tried for over a year to get pregnant on our own. After realizing that things were not progressing as they should, we finally consulted a fertility specialist. Our doctor was very optimistic. "You're 26, you don't drink, you don't smoke, you'll be pregnant in six months." I would not ovulate. I would not menstruate. Tests were conducted and it was concluded that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Here was a person who had a five year plan, with everything checked off, except for a baby. I could do just about anything (I mean, I am a teacher, for goodness sake!) and I could not make my body do what it was supposed to do.

And I was sad. I felt like a failure as a woman. This was what my body was designed to do. And it was out of my hands. And it felt like the whole world was pregnant... But I was stubborn, and I continued to believe that it was something that I could control.

I went to my office visits and had my blood drawn. I took my medication (OH. MY. GOODNESS.) and scheduled my "romantic interludes" as though I was scheduling dental cleanings. And waited. And nothing happened.

On Ash Wednesday that year, a group of us from school skipped class and went to Mass at the Catholic Church across the street from the University. As I knelt, I realized for the first time that this was something completely out of my hands. As I prayed, I asked God to choose for me.

I realized that I could not have it all.

I knew that the process for both National Certification and overcoming my infertility were complicated. I knew that it was going to be one or the other. And I knew that I could not decide. I remember praying, "You choose, and You help me be okay with whatever You decide." A huge wave of relief washed over me.

I continued to do what I needed to do in order to complete "the Box" as the Certification papers were known. I continued to follow my doctor's orders. But now I did it, knowing that this was something bigger than me; and I was okay with that.

A few weeks later, it was my beloved sister's 24th birthday. We went out to celebrate and my dinner did not set well. I still felt cruddy the next morning, but thought nothing of it. A couple of days later, when my period was a no-show, I called the doctor's office and was told to come in for blood work, which they promptly lost when I called for the results.

I am by nature a pretty impatient person. I don't really like surprises, and I don't like to be kept waiting if the answer to something was promised on a particular day and time. So I took matters into my own hands, so to speak.

I bought a pregnancy test, went home, peed on the stick and waited. When the second line turned the faintest of pinks, my heart leapt with joy. And my stomach flipped with fear.

Joy, because, for so long, this is what my heart had longed for. Because a precious life was underway.

Fear, because I knew at that moment that nothing would keep me from protecting my child. And the ability to recognize that is incredibly frightening. Fear, because my mind was clouded with questions and concerns.

What kind of mother would I be? How would I be able to do all that would be demanded of me? How would this change my relationship with my husband?

Ten years and three children later, my heart still leaps with joy and my stomach, at times, still lurches with fear.

The moments of fears and questions and doubts are different now, I suppose. You navigate through those fears and doubts with love and hope like hell you are doing the right thing.

You still struggle with the kind of mother you are, or are trying to become. You manage to do all that is demanded of you. You find that this new label of parents brings you and your spouse closer, on a united front, against anything or anyone that threatens to hurt your child.

And most days, when you stick with your gut and trust in something bigger than you, you ARE doing alright.

On the difficult days, I think of that early February evening, when I prayed for guidance and comfort. I trusted once, and received the best answer I have ever gotten.

Incidentally, I did not achieve National Board Certification that year, or the next. My perseverance paid off on the third try. While I was pregnant with my second son.

One phone call and a second pink line...What a ride it has been...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Keeping time...

Today was our first day of testing. I had big plans that included getting to work earlier, picking up my testing materials earlier, getting the children prepared for their test earlier. Today, nothing worked out as planned.

Although Hubby was to travel a few hours north to a meeting VERY early this morning and I was supposed to drop off everyone to school, it turned out that he was able to drop off Joshua to preschool, as he usually does.  I got an early start and was even able to get a Venti Zen Green Tea from Starbucks.  But the line to pick up testing materials was WAY too long.

The children were rushed to come into the class and get settled. I felt frazzled, trying to get my manual open to the right page, find my group testing code, and get my class to breathe normally, so that they could focus. And then, they were off.

And my job was to keep time.

I walked and paused, prayed and pondered. I eyed suspiciously if they seemed like they were taking too long for a couple pages. I kept glancing at the clock, meticulously ticking away the first of four hours of testing over three days.

I thought of how this same scenario was occurring simultaneously in thousands of classrooms in my state. I thought of all the preparation over the last few months, the pep talks these students had received from teachers, administrators, siblings, friends, their parents. How all this preparation now came down to four sessions of 60 minutes each.

A whole school year defined by 240 minutes.

As I walked and monitored, I thought of how many lives are determined by what occurs in a short period of time. If we had made a different decision at a given moment, our lives would have taken a completely different turn.

In my own life, I see how different decisions would have made a huge difference in the reality I live today. There are no regrets. There is the reality. Living with regrets is wasting the time we have been given. It is fruitless to think of what could have been.

Today, as my students read and answered questions, one in particular seemed to lag behind. Despite the ten minute warning and frantic looks from the teachers in the room, this student did not finish. This student ran out of time.

She trembled a little. Her eyes filled with tears. If only she had read the passage a little more quickly. If only...

How will we react when our time runs out? Will we tremble? Will our minds be filled with "if only's?"

Not me. Today my job was to keep time.

I will be mindful of the days that pass. I will hold onto the things that fill my heart with joy. I will keep the time, mindful that these days are precious. That I cannot go back and do things differently. So I can make things count.

Because, if I tremble when time runs out, it will be because my time was spent doing the extraordinary.

With no regrets.

Because the clock is diligent in its task, I must be vigilant.

Today, tomorrow, the day after.

For the 240 minutes that will determine the near future of 32 amazing kids.

And for the unknown days of this loving family of five.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Homework: A teacher's vengeance for sending your kids to school...

I have a confession to make. I hate homework. I hate assigning it. I hate checking it. And most importantly, I hate supervising it's completion at home.

Before I had children, I was always cognizant of parents. I thought I tried my best to send home the least amount of homework possible. Every once in a while, I would send home a project (hey, I saw that cringe from all the way over here!) to spice things up. I would wonder why parents couldn't control their children long enough to complete whatever I had sent home. After all, didn't I get them to complete a multitude of assignments during the school day?

And then I had kids.

And my kids ended up in advanced classes. With lots of homework...

Yes, Virginia, God has a REALLY sick sense of humor...

I will let all of you giggle and smugly think that I got what I had coming to me. Because I did. Boy, am I paying dearly!

It's like spending five years in prison for every homework offense, and there are literally HUNDREDS of offenses.

Let me tell you that it is infinitely worse when these teachers are your colleagues and friends. Because you can't mutter obscenities that could be repeated in the classroom the next day. Because you must defend the teacher's right to assign the homework to your spouse in front of your children while you silently seethe at their gall. Don't they know that you have expounded all your energy on other people's children, getting them to understand new concepts and complete a multitude of work?

But the absolute worst is actually getting these intelligent children to sit and finish it. A simple 20 minute assignment can turn into HOURS, (yes, HOURS) of torture for child and parent. Because you know that they can finish it in half the time assigned for it if THEY JUST SAT AND STOPPED COMPLAINING.

And my children, they are complainers...of the worst kind. They whine. Endlessly, tirelessly, eloquently, infinitely, loudly. Oh, yes, dear readers. I AM paying DEARLY.

They play all kinds of tricks. First, they MUST go to the bathroom and spend at least 20 minutes in there. I don't think that they have intestinal problems. I think that they are hiding.

Then comes the taking out of the homework assignments from the book bag. This ceremony can take at least 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how bad they want to prolong the agony. Then, the pencil sharpening. Again, it can take forever.

Next, they move on to the big time: what to do. Clearly, these children who can read several levels above their respective grade cannot be forced to understand what their assignment is. After several rounds of "But the teacher never said what to do" or "We've never done this in class", they grumble on their way back to the dining room table, determined to have the last laugh...and they usually do.

I understand, now, all too well, the vacant look and emotionless voice that comes out of parents' mouths when describing how little Johnny reacts to homework. I wonder how many parents stalked me and talked themselves out of running me over in the teacher's parking lot.

I am ashamed of what I have forced other parents to endure.

Of course, I have realized the error of my ways. It is too late for my two older sons to be spared this punishment. But I am trying to make amends. I am trying to make sure that when Joshua starts Kindergarten, I will have paid up for my mistakes. Really, I am...

In an effort to make up for my sins as a teacher, my students (and parents) have been relieved of homework assignments this week because of the BIG TEST. My students let out a collective yelp of victory this afternoon when I announced this.

I am willing to bet that many a parent let out an even louder yelp this evening and is praying that this week goes by REALLY slowly...despite of the testing...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

In for quite a ride...

Our parish had their annual Carnival this weekend. As always, there is a ton of preparation that goes into putting something of that magnitude together. But the result is always the same; the opportunity for members of our church and community to forget about their troubles for a while, and just let loose and have some fun.

My husband and I have several strategies to navigate this annual affair. First, we lie to our children that we are actually going to go. We secretly buy ride passes and hide them in my work bag, because honestly, nobody (not even me) looks in that bag while we are at home. Then, when behavior becomes an issue, those passes become a bargaining ticket (AKA: Bribery) to help facilitate acceptable behavior.

We also have determined the best time of the day to go to the carnival. After several years of trial and error, we have discovered that the beginning of the carnival session on the second or last day is usually best. We feed the bottomless pits that we call our children and head out to the rides. The lines are shorter. The place is full of other weary parents who have also used ride passes as a "reward" for acceptable behavior, and their kids have called their bluff. Some of these parents walk around for the duration of their time there with an easily recognizable look that can pass as tolerant and permissive, but they are really screaming on the inside.

That was not the route I wanted to go today.

We got there early. We feed them, and we plotted. What rides are we going on? What shall we ride on first?

My oldest son, by nature, is somewhat cautious. He has a hard to letting go, he takes himself way too seriously at the ripe old age of nine. And for the longest time, he was TERRIFIED of anything that wasn't a tame little train.

And my son inherited this cautiousness and terror from me. Because for too long in my life, I have been terrified of letting loose, of letting go, of having pure fun. The tide has turned with me, albeit a little late, but changed nonetheless. Because life is too short. Because my kids are watching. Because I have worried and been afraid enough to last me a lifetime.

So, together, these two former 'fraidy cats let loose. We rode the swings, we rode the merry go round, we rode on the fun slide, we rode this contraption that looked like hang gliders, we rode the Ferris wheel, the same Ferris wheel that would send him wailing.

Not today. He was vibrant. And Andrew; he watched his older brother, he watched his mother. He was fueled by our courage, got on his sea legs and joined us on the Ferris Wheel. He let go of some of his fear too.

And not a minute too soon. In two days, Matthew will sit for the State Mandated Exams. Andrew will follow with a National Standardized Test the following week. Mommy will watch her two oldest sons take an inevitable step towards academic testing...not that I can agree with it, but it is what is required. I will watch and pray over my students as they test as well.

But I will be thinking of how I enjoyed the ride today on that Hang Glider contraption. How I surprised myself, my husband and my sons. And how I kept my eyes open, the whole time, feeling like a bird among the clouds, my son's hand in my own, flying...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Walking in other people's shoes...

Lately, in these parts, the little people have begun a new way of getting around; namely, walking in other people's shoes. My youngest, Joshua, loves nothing more than slipping his little feet into Daddy's shoes, or Mama's flats. It was the same with Matthew and Andrew, and tonight, when my sister was over with her family to celebrate her birthday over dinner (with FABULOUS homemade red velvet cupcakes, YUMMY!), my oldest niece, Alexandra, slipped on Joshua's shoes.

Why is it that we have no qualms doing this when we are toddlers, but we are virtually unable or unwilling to do this when we are adults?

Earlier this week, I wrote about the incredible amount of judgment that has been going around in my neck of the woods. Last night, as I snuggled in and read a month-old Glamour magazine, I read about websites that encouraged women to publicly humiliate other women: in other words, cyber bullying at its worst. When did we lose our ability to look beyond superficial differences and show compassion?

As a teacher, I was always overcome with emotion when I would be witness to kindness among students who were so different, that as adults, they would never acknowledge one another. I always explained to my very young students that regardless of what we looked like and the kinds of things we enjoyed doing, when we peeled back our skin, our organs were in the same places, our blood was the same color, and when we hurt, we all hurt the same.

These same children would tear up when told of the atrocities of slavery. They would turn pale when told that when integration was mandated, adults threw tomatoes and hurled insults at six year old Ruby Bridges as she walked into her school. They vowed to never treat anyone unfairly.

But somehow, that innocence fades and we become cynical.

We judge others by what they look like, what they believe in, who they love. We judge people who are very similar to ourselves; they have families who love and need them, they have dreams that they chase, they have the same concerns for their children and their futures. Yet, somehow, we feel that we are superior. That we think that we are more than qualified to pass judgment on who is deemed good or bad. Who died and left us in charge?

As I watched Joshua struggle, walking in his father's shoes, I noticed that although he was having a hard time, he didn't give up. He marched his cute little person up and down the length of our home with no worries, as if he belonged in those shoes.

And someday, he will wear a very similar pair of shoes. His foot will grow and those feet will slip into shoes that will take him to the university, where he will learn about something that he will love. Those feet will carry him into the workforce, as he makes his mark in the world.

He will find a girl whom he loves, and who loves him right back. They will decide to build a life together and he will become a husband. Later on, they will decide that their love is so great, that they must share it with some children of their own, and he will become a father.

But all in good time. Right now, the shoes that fit are those of a child. One who does not judge, but is willing to look at things from different perspectives.

And those are the shoes that we should all be struggling to slip into...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Happy birthday to you...

Tomorrow is my sister's 34th birthday. I felt it was fitting to dedicate a blog post to just her because as a mother of two little girls herself, there is rarely anything that is just for her lately.

My sister and I are the children of two late bloomers. I still don't quite understand the dynamic of my parents' relationship, but nonetheless, regardless of the issues they had, they gave me the greatest gift; my sister. And the funny thing is, that even then, as a not-quite three year old, I loved her with all my heart.

My sister and I have endured together every facet of human emotion imaginable and we love each other in spite of every fault and personality defect that we possess. Perhaps it is because we had some connection in a past life, but to me, there is no greater ally or confidante than Angie.

I have always been fiercely protective of my sister. She will argue that in many ways, I have been her mother. She allowed me to hone in on those skills so that I could be a better mother to my own sons. There has never been any mistake or disappointment that could dim my love for her. There has never been anything that I wouldn't do for her...

When I was pregnant with my first son, I found out only days after her 24th birthday. When I had my first child, my sister was not in the hospital to meet Matthew right away. She was completing her Student Teaching, getting ready to graduate. But, she was the first one I called when I went into labor, she kept vigil throughout that long second night of labor. After I came out of the operating room early that morning, she was the first one I called, my voice choked with emotion of sharing such a momentous occasion with her. She has loved him, and all my kids as if they were her own.

I never quite understood the bond she shared with them until she became pregnant with my oldest niece, Alexandra. I understood the hyper-vigilance of her being, of worrying incessantly that she and the baby would be okay. I understood the joy of becoming an aunt of this precious little girl who will soon turn two and has changed me so profoundly. And when she had Allison 13 months later, I fell in love with this newest beautiful piece of my sister.

It is hard being the oldest child. You are constantly trying to break through a protective barrier your parents set up for you. But, in seeing Angie struggle to gain her independence, I think it is even more difficult to be the youngest. Because your parents are holding on like hell to keep you close to them, to keep you the baby.

As the oldest, you always view your younger sibling as just that; younger. But as Angie approaches her mid-thirties (!), I am reminded of the date on my own calendar. How is she not in her carefree twenties anymore? How and when did we become adults?

Angie has overcome so much. She lost our dad way too young, has watched our mother deteriorate in mind, body and spirit. She has been the cheerleader for so many. And yet, for as much as she has endured, she is the most positive, loving person I know. She is a constant inspiration to me, as I know she will be to her daughters.

I am thankful for many things in my life. I am thankful for my loving husband, my spirited, healthy sons, my beautiful nieces, the loving family God has blessed me with. But I am especially grateful for my beautiful little sister...Without her, I would not be the person I am today.

Angie, I love you! I hope you have the happiest of birthdays tomorrow and I can't wait to celebrate with our husbands and mess of kids! We are so lucky to have you!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A mother's version of Fantasy Island...

For those of us who grew up in the 1980's, we can remember some of the cheesy TV programs that were in circulation. One of my favorites was Fantasy Island. Of course, people were never really happy with their fantasies in the end, but they at least they had a chance to give it a go.

With all the crappy shows that are out there today, wouldn't it be great if mother's had their own version of Fantasy Island?

Could it involve a travel itinerary that did not involve finding babysitting for the children you were leaving behind, cleaning the house so that said babysitters did not have to walk through clutter and filth?

Could our fantasy actually begin BEFORE we were on the plane, so that we did not have to pack for ourselves, do laundry to be able to pack, and do the children's laundry so that the babysitters would not have to wrap our children in towels or rags?

My fantasy would include a quiet trip, especially since there would be no children hollering with each other in the back seat of the van, fighting over what movie they were going to watch, hollering that they need to go to the bathroom, that they were hungry, that they were thirsty, wondering how much longer it was until we got there, and wondering when we were going to stop at Grandma and Granddaddy's house?

Once I got there, someone would unload my luggage and carefully arrange my clothes and toiletries so that I would not have to search for them. The decisions of what I was able to do would be made solely by me, and on a moment's whim.

I would be required to have all kinds of spa treatments as part of the stay...massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, wraps...Pure bliss.

Meals would be scrumptious and non-fattening. I could eat and drink to my heart's content, a virtual gourmet experience, with nary a chicken nugget in sight, and my waistline would never be the wiser.

In my free time, I would be able to indulge in my love of reading...All the books that longingly called from the bookshelves, beckoning me to purchase them and read them, would get the merited and overdue attention they deserve.

In preparing for my eventual return home, my clothing would be laundered, pressed, folded and packed in an orderly way, as to facilitate unpacking. My home would be prepared for my imminent arrival by being cleaned and organized by professionals. My children would be overjoyed at the prospect that their loving mother was coming home. There would be no waiting for my luggage in the claims area of the airport, no traffic on the way home...

Wait a minute, this happens every year, to my CHILDREN...Maybe, instead of a trip to Fantasy Island, what I really need is to be my own child! I need myself to be my mother! Holy crap!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I SEE you...

All too often, there are people who are in the background. They lurk in the backdrop, helping things move along and very rarely get any credit for the jobs they perform on a daily basis. A school is a perfect example of how there are many people working together, some on the forefront, some in the background, but neither can perform their duties without the other.

I happen to believe that we are only as good as the people who work with us. Sometimes, we are blessed with wonderful co-workers; other times, well, you know...I am blessed. I thoroughly enjoy the majority of my colleagues and co-workers. But yesterday, I was reminded of the caliber of people I work with.

I had been waiting for some important information pertaining to a student from another school within our District. I had been asking about this information for months, anxiously awaiting it like a child waits for Santa's visit. Every day, I would ask the Registrar if the stuff had come, every day she would tell me it hadn't and she would check into it.

Yesterday, this woman; whose desk is a constant haphazard of papers and files that stand tall and threatening and is ALWAYS busy, picked up the phone and called the other school. Told them to put her through to their Registrar, told them of the ridiculous amount of time that had transpired without said information, and further informed them she would go pick it up herself when they had it ready...I was impressed. I thanked her and went on about my day, thinking that again, I would be empty-handed.

But imagine my surprise when she called me a few hours later and told me she had the information I had been waiting for. The smile on her face was priceless. I thanked her again, but felt that a mere, verbal thanks was just not enough for all that she had done for me. She had abandoned the fortress of her desk, her busy phone and its awaiting urgent messages, her tasks that needed her attention, and she put my need first.

I pulled out a small notepad, wrapped it and wrote her a simple thank you note. She was surprised when she received it this morning. She gave me a look, opened her mouth, but nothing came out...and I was thrilled.

Sometimes, we are so accustomed to apathy that we cannot recognize empathy when it slaps us across the face. We are so used to being ignored, our jobs completed, our integration into the working machinery so perfect, that we are invisible.

But I SAW her yesterday. I saw her effort, her kindness, her willingness to go above and beyond. And I am grateful.

I have been on the other side of that scenario. Most of the time, I don't mind that the thanks are minimal to non-existent. The reward is in solving a problem, being helpful, extending the kindness to someone else.

But when someone takes the time to recognize that gesture, and tells you what an impact that gesture made on them, that takes your breath away. It fuels that desire to extend another gesture to another person.

As mothers, we all know what a thankless job mothering is: where those you are raising rarely appreciate the work you are doing while they are children. They recognize it as adults, when they are parents of their own children, encountering the same joys and challenges we face on a daily basis.

Every once in a while, when your children are young, they have a moment of lucidity and really SEE you. They see who you are, what you have put aside to be their mother, the sacrifices you are making, all that you do in the background so that the well-oiled machine that is their childhood runs without kinks. And when those rare moments occur, they fill us with love and gratitude. They allow us to continue in the background, doing what we must, what we cannot live without.

This lady has grown children. She has a granddaughter. Her smile this morning was one of a mother who has been SEEN. Her smile this morning made my step light.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Letting go...

As with so many worthwhile things, my job has its share of difficult moments. When you have a particularly hard day, like I did today, you question what you could have done differently. Reflection is important in a job like mine, but beating yourself up is time consuming, emotionally draining and serves no purpose than to deplete you of whatever energy you need to get back in the ring.

Our state mandated test is in less than a week. As a teacher, I am running around like a chicken without a head. As a parent of a third grader who will be testing for the first time, I am running around like a chicken without a head.

I am tired of the drill, practice and other test related hoopla. I am done. But I must continue, so that I know that I have done everything that I possibly could, until the last moment. But today, in one of our practices, my class totally messed up. Maybe it was because they are tired of all of it too, maybe it was carelessness, but I was mad...and more than mad, I was scared.

Scared for them, scared for me, scared for their parents. Because as adults, we are constantly trying to fix things, improve, adjust...we can never let things be. In some cases, it is a very good thing...think technology. In other cases, the relentless pursuit of perfection is like searching for the Holy never find what it is you are looking for.

And with children, sometimes the adjustments and improvements stick, and sometimes they don't. As a teacher, I have some control over what happens within my classroom walls. As a parent, I have some control over what happens within my home. But when my children (both my students and those I birthed) are on the outside, how will they act is entirely up to them. Hopefully, they will use what they have been taught and put it to good use.

At the beginning of my teaching career, I bought a small framed saying. "We can give our children two gifts: One is roots, the other is wings." At some point, we have to let go. Let go of our insecurities, let go of the things that will inevitably happen, let go of the things we cannot change.

We have to let go so that we can be free. It happens as we grow older and the time comes for us to venture on our own, away from our parents. It happens when we are parents and have to let our children go, in small steps. It is then that the roots, if firmly in place, will secure their success.

Let's hope that I have done that for my son and for my students; that their roots are firmly planted. Let's hope that they spread their wings and SOAR...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Judgment Day...

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a particularly disturbing pattern in the circles I find myself in. There is a constant need to judge those around us, particularly mothers and their parenting choices and/or their children.

Perhaps I am a little jaded in my views of the world, but I like to tell it like it is...I am appalled that some people feel the need to constantly judge mothers for the choices they make in their lives or parenting styles. Maybe it is because I have been a teacher for so long, maybe it is because I have three children of my own...I don't think it's right.

First of all, we have all been subjected to the parenting of our parents, and that seems to have a lot to do with how we parent , ourselves. If you had incredibly overprotective parents, then you might tend to be a little freer with your own children, establishing opportunities for them to gain some independence and make safe choices when they are young. If you had incredibly strict parents, then you may be a little more lax with certain circumstances and be more permissive of things that you were not allowed to do as a child.

I think what bothers me the most is the perfected looking down your nose at someone when your parenting or life choices don't coincide with your own.

I cannot tell you the looks I have received over the years at Parent Teacher Organization Meetings in which stay at home mom's look at each other when I mention I teach full time. "Oh, you work..." like I have a terminal disease or a philandering husband...What the heck? I don't judge you for staying home...I am not less of a mother because I choose to help my husband carry the financial load of our household. ARGHH! It doesn't make me a better mother either...Can't we find some common ground? I mean, really, we have the TOUGHEST job around...Can't we be supportive of each other because we share the commonality of motherhood? Because we all love our children, regardless of whether we stay at home or work outside of it?

And the worst judgment comes from the parents who automatically take the side of a child who has gotten themselves into a heap of trouble, and you have merely followed through with what you have promised as a consequence. "Oh, you really did that? Don't you think it was a little too much?" Um, no. I am trying to raise men...Men who understand that actions have consequences, whether they are good or bad. Men who are respectful, and will lead productive, happy lives.

I don't care what your prerogative is. I expect this from my children; that they are honest with me, and they do what is right, regardless of what anyone else is doing. Most of the time, it is a thankless job to be their mother. Getting to the joyful part of being their mother has its share of bumps. Perfect children don't just fall out of our uterus'. They are nurtured, they are reprimanded, they are molded. Please don't insult my hard work and my children's ability to learn from their mistakes with a comment like, "You are so lucky. Your children behave so good." Yes, I am blessed, but we have had to work hard for it.

Sometimes, we need to carve our own way as parents. We need to forget what the distracters will say or do, because at the end of the day, you didn't take a poll to decide whether or not you should bring your children into the world. There were two people who made that decision.

In an effort to be efficient, you would not take a poll for every last decision you make as a parent. Because you alone are responsible for your child. You may ask for the name of a good specialist if Johnny has an allergy problem, but you don't poll your friends to decide if you punish Johnny for cheating on a test. You hope and pray that you are doing the right things, saying the right things and that those things will take root in your child.

Judgment day in parenting doesn't come at the end of elementary school or middle school. It doesn't arrive at high school graduation or with a college diploma.

It comes in waves; when your child does something out of second nature; holding a door for an elderly person, standing up for someone who is being taunted. You see it when they become the adults that you knew they could become; honest, kind, hardworking and full of convictions that they live by on a daily basis.

Judgment day comes when they become parents themselves and their parenting style seems awfully familiar. Judgment comes when you become the example they use to raise their own children. And really, isn't that the greatest compliment from the most important source?