Sunday, April 28, 2013

A little help

We have a project.

A project!

We have a subject, a schedule and a plan.

This is going to be fun.

My mind is whirring with possibilities.

My fingers lace. My nose wrinkles. My eyes crinkle. I am as close to giddy as I get.

We need glue … and scissors … and a ruler ... and that's just for the display. There's research and testing and rehearsing …

“A-hem,” Ittybit interrupts. “What are you doing?”

“I'm helping?”

That sounded wishy-washy; I try again, this time in a more convincing tone: “I'm helping!”

Not quite right. One final time, in case she wasn't paying attention: “Uh, I'm help...”

No sale.

“No! You're NOT helping, you're taking over. This is MY project.”

Ittybit's nine years old, and as any parent of a nine-year-old can tell you, she knows just about everything.

Well .. except how to spell e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, but she assures me it's not on her spelling list and, therefore, not a priority.

I sigh and launch into the rant she can practically lipsync: “Just because you're not being graded doesn't mean you shouldn't try to spell it correctly.”

Now, she may not know everything, but in this case, she is entirely correct: This is her presentation to give. It is hers to research, compile and present.

My place now is to hold my hand firmly over my mouth and make myself busy elsewhere.

Not that it's easy.

Especially when the first draft of her presentation on Basic Dog Obedience includes nothing but a list of steps that would make a prima ballerina look like a two-left-footed dancer.

“You can't just make stuff up. You have to find out how to train a dog using an actual expert source.”

Her mouth slips to one side of her face, and her eyelids curl around so that only slivers of her green eyes are showing.

“Not. Helping,” she chides.

She's right. I'm not helping.

I go back to pretending to dust the cobwebs from the rafters.

She pounds away on the computer keyboard, banging out lines and lines of poetically resplendent course of action that reads like an army obstacle course.

“We can do this eezee, or we can do this hard: It's all up to you and how much effert your are willing to put foureth wen you trane your dog.”

“You know ...” I say from my dust-bunny-eradicating position over her shoulder. “A dictionary would be extremely helpful right about now to check your spelling ...”

“Mom! Stop!” She snaps the lid shut on the laptop and storms away in a huff.

I know she's right, but I can't help myself. There are so many things I could help her with. Tips. Ideas. Things that would make it better …. easier … better … All she needs to do is listen.

But she's heard it all before, and it doesn't make it easier.

It doesn't make it better.

In fact, the more I think about it, my help can only etch away at her growing confidence.

“I don't want you to make it easier. I just want to do it myself.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Run out of town

“I've been invited!” The Champ announced as he got off the bus. He descended cautiously, bending halfway at the waist to counterbalance his enormous backpack -- filled, no doubt, with half of the contents of his toy box.

His winter jacket was slung over one arm. It was March, and freezing, and he was in shirtsleeves.

“They're SHORTsleeves,” he corrected when I over-acted my exacerbation as we sprint toward the house.

The afternoon greeting as he returns from school has been our winter ritual.

He pretends the air is boiling and threatens to strip down to his “shortsleeved pants” and go “sunbabing” on the front lawn.

I tell him “Try it, buster, and the neighbors will run us out of town.”

But he doesn't want to banter on this day.

He runs inside the house, tosses his coat, kicks off his boots and extracts items from his backpack hand-over-hand, littering the entryway floor until he finds his prize.

He holds the paper in his closed fist like a bouquet of flowers and waves it at me.

It looks smudged and sticky.

“I've been invited to a very special club. It's super-duper special, and only ALL the kids in my school will be there. Maybe. I don't know if the two Sarahs will come, but they might. Here. Read it. What does it say?”

I un-crumple the sweaty handout (it IS smudged and sticky) and fall silent as I scan the text, weighing the chances that he's testing me.

Does he already know the gist or can I lie and tell him it's an invitation to the newly formed Just Wear Your Coat Club? Not to be confused with the Eat Your Vegetables Club he wouldn't join if it paid him.

“Come on! What does it say,” he begged, jabbing at the running stick figure in the header with a crumb-encrusted pencil grip he fished from the dark recesses of his school bag.

“It's a running club. You've been invited to join a running club!”

His eyes shine like the high beams of a pickup truck. I am the deer frozen in the light.

He knows what I'm holding, he just doesn't know the specifics.

“I'm going to do it. And so are you, and dad and maybe even my sister. Can we bring the dog, too?

Read. It. Pulllleeeeze?”

“Oh, OK: freespingrunningclinicforkidsandadultseverywednesdaynightrainorshineorhailingthunderstormstheend.

“Sounds horrible, doesn't it?”

“Nope. It sounds like the most fun in the whole wide world. We have to do it. …And YOU,” he narrowed his eyes, “have to do it with me.”

How could I say no?

How could I say “No” to setting a good example for my kids?

How could I say “No” to the benefits of going out into the world and getting into shape?

How could I say “No” to eight weeks of couch-to-5K goodness?

“No, really? How?” I asked my husband. “Where will I put my coffee cup as I run? Running clothes don't have built-in cup holders.”

He just grinned his no-good, low-down accomplice -y grin.

The Champ knew he'd won. Probably from the moment he stepped off that bus.

“I suppose there's more than one way to run us out of town. … At least this way, we take the neighbors with us.”

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Test and detest

I had been warned.

Every parent I knew who had gone before me had cautioned about third grade.

That was the year their school-loving children started getting belly aches and saying they'd rather sit in the dark and listen to opera music than go to class.

“It's the tests,” they explained. The state's English Language Arts and Math standardized tests got them all nerved up.

The tests, which assess student understanding of state-determined learning standards, are also used by the federal government as part of its accountability system, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Every fiber of my don't-worry-about-the-recital-just-enjoy-the-dance being HATES the idea that tests are served up as the main course for months in the bakery that is school.

Yet, here we are, a dozen years later – pressure is mounting, school funds are shrinking and it is test companies that are by and large determining how student understanding is evaluated.

It's enough to make anyone's stomach twist into knots.

As the days draw closer to Ittybit's first foray into the world of No. 2 pencils and perfectly filled-in ovals, she started to complain of stress and worry.

Her homework started to include thick packets of practice questions. Things, she said, her teacher didn't have time to go over in class.

She was worried.

What if she did horribly? Would she be demoted to the second grade? Would her teacher lose her job? Would the principal shut down the school?

Tests nerve everyone up.

Yet, no matter how many times we told her to relax, told her her score would neither affect her grade nor jeopardize her standing as a third-grader heading for the promised land of fourth grade, she was not convinced.

“This is all anyone cares about,” she said. “All they do is talk about how we have to be ready for the test.”

I shrug my shoulders and weigh my options.

Do I tell her not to care about the test?

It's true, I am unconcerned about the results. In my mind, calculating achievement by standardized testing is akin to trying to use a cookie-cutter to form teaspoon-dropped cookies … one shouldn't expect uniform results. But that doesn't mean I don't care.

Do I tell her she can refuse to take the test?

According to grassroots groups and postings showing up in social media networks, students can formally refuse the tests, and schools can assess student abilities using other classroom accomplishments. Her portfolio of work, the chapter tests and periodic projects. But that the consequences to schools and to the students are somewhat unclear.

“You have options,” I tell her. “You don't need to take the tests. It's not the only way.”

She listens as I explain about what happens if we formally refuse.

Ultimately, it's a choice that requires some amount of civil disobedience.

But the idea of disobedience, civil or otherwise, at this tender age horrifies her.

What would she do while her friends sat at their desks, rat-tat-tatting their pencils and biting their nails to the quick?


Totally unacceptable. “Totes” as her prematurely tween self is wont to say.

She's not ready to take up this fight. Not this way, at any rate.

She'll take the test and do her best not to worry. Maybe when it's all over she'll write a strongly worded letter that explains how the same recipe with different ingredients isn't always palatable:

“I see it like trying to bake chocolate chip cookies using a little of everything you have in pantry,” she tells me with a grin. “Sure, you might end up with bacon chip ginger snaps, but it doesn't necessarily mean you've failed. It just means you may have to wait for the right person to eat them ...

“Like dad.”

I smile.

“Has anyone ever told you that you are a smart cookie?”

“Oh, totes … all the time.”




Sunday, April 07, 2013

All the rage

I used to be enraged. All the time. Over everything and nothing.

It was often the little things that set me off. Late starts. Half-finished breakfasts. Dirt on the floor. Dishes left just above the dishwasher. The sound of a word uttered a little too sharply. Tiny chaffs.

I used to wake up like a bear, take an overly-long shower, get dressed, stomp down the stairs, genuflect at the altar of caffeinates and look up toward the morning Enternewsment show, at which, inevitably, I would start screaming my head off.

Rage, physically speaking, differs from anger in a few important ways. There can be the same physical sensations – your heart rate quickens, you might experience a tightness in your throat or a constricting of your chest – but mentally you've jumped the shark.

For example, My reaction to morning television:

“Cheese-Its H. Rice! If they do one more segment detailing every single bit of bacteria lingering around in my pocket or festering on my phone I will send them a metric ton of our pre-recycled kitchen waste, I sweartoghad!”

Not that I would actually ship my $4!# to 30 Rockerfeller Plaza … but a girl can dream.

“They can't hear you, you know,” said my husband in that snarky tone he usually reserved for telemarketers or when his calls found their way into the voicemail on my smartphone: “I'm not sure why you even have a phone, seeing as how you never answer it.”


Delete. Delete. Delete.

Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete.

Every time I see something that's going to send spiraling into another orbit I hit “Delete.”

That's what seems to have happened to my rage. I just started deleting it.

As the news reader tries to make jokes. … As the toaster burns the toast. … As the coffee pot revolts … I just shrug. I'll worry about that tomorrow, for now I'll scrape the burned bits and drink tea.

My husband is skeptical. One can't blame him.

Coffee withdrawal not withstanding, the fact that I would just stare silently at a woman on the screen who was talking out of both sides of her face as she recounted the top-three viral videos of the hour on Twitter, is unprecedented.

“Honestly. I don't understand why you're not screaming at the television news right now. This is bad, even for me.”

But I can't even muster a sneer.

“I don't know. It just seems mean. It's an unfair hour on a Sunday morning. Anyone who's anyone has already ditched them for Facebook. Who else could be watching this dreck?”

Rage deleted.

I feel … calm.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Change channels. Delete.

But I can't believe it's really gone. Neither relief nor calm filled the space rage left, leaving me to think that it's out there somewhere. Seeing the world. Biding it's time. Picking up some new tricks.

It's dull, really. All this dispersed rage.

I keep wondering when it will come back.

And what will happen when it does.

I imagine rage will give me a good rap in the head when it boomerangs. Torrents of the stuff will blast from my ears as soon as the emotional equilibrium shifts to a more precarious incline.

I'll be ready for it when it comes.

Finger on the delete button.

“Did you get my voicemail?”

“Nope. I deleted it.”


“Because only my rage listens to voicemail.”