The Bitter and the Sweet

It happens every spring, that end-of-the-school-year crazy that hits mid-April and crashes over us like a wave, until we’re washed up on the sandy shores of June. It always happens, and I am always taken by surprise by school musicals, awards assemblies, field trips, Scout nights, finalizing grades for my computer students, saying goodbye to my eighth graders. I’m never ready, and this year I was less prepared than ever.

I’ve spent more than a decade of my life living with a preschooler. It’s over now. Two days ago, my littlest biscuit, my funny little Squish, graduated from preschool. He starts kindergarten in the fall. It’s a blow. I knew that it would be. There’s no way to prepare, really. I’ve been cut off at the knees; I can barely breathe. He’s a big kid now.

Kids grow up. They get older every, single year. And so do we. It has never really bothered me before. Growing up is a good thing. It means diapers are done, we’ve outgrown LeapPad’s entire product line (don’t even get me started here), we can go out for a meal without embarrassing ourselves. But there’s a flip side. They’re one year closer to leaving us.

Squish is five. We’ll be living with him for a long time to come, for better or for worse. He’s five. But his sister? She’s seventeen. She begins her senior year of high school in the fall. He embarks on his journey of childhood learning while hers is coming to an end. My bookends.

She will leave us. I am painfully aware that this time next year, she will be picking out the decorations for her dorm. So much change. Her departure is so imminent that discussions on what to do with her room are no longer theoretical. She will leave us.

I do want her to move on. She has to, actually. The boys share a room. That bunk bed will be outgrown sooner rather than later, and neither of them has accepted my suggestion to pitch a tent on the back lawn. She’ll move out and be on her own. And I am grieving. Gone is the little girl with pigtails and gap-toothed grin. She left behind a young woman who is preparing to face the world. It seems like yesterday she was dancing in the living room wearing her ruby slippers. A couple of weeks ago, she went to prom.

click to enlarge

If she grows up, that means her brothers are right behind her. Everything about our lives right now suggests change. We’re downsizing my vehicle in a couple of weeks. The reality is that we are unlikely to make long trips as a family of five anymore, and we’re done with bulky car seats. We can’t justify keeping a van. Even the family car highlights our paradox. Our kids are growing, but the family is shrinking.

To the casual observer, my life looks the same. I work, I wrangle kids, we get ready for some summer fun. But it’s not the same. My littlest guy, sporting a hoodie he refuses to remove even though it’s 80 degrees takes refuge at this moment in his cardboard box. But that box will fall apart and be taken to the curb for recycling. The hoodie will be outgrown and taken against his will to be tucked away as a precious reminder of the child he was. He is growing up, too.

Squish has been a challenging child to raise. As my husband sometimes says, it feels like he’s been five for half our lives. But even he will grow up. He graduated from preschool this week. I wept as he sang the school’s traditional preschool graduation songs “Tooty-ta” and “Tony Chestnut” with joyful abandon, just as his sister and brother before him.  One day in the future that feels not quite distant enough, he’s going to walk across another stage, receive another diploma. And it will be for keeps. I am grieving.

The One Where I Tell You a Secret

I have the weirdest dreams. When I was a kid, I used to dream that I could fly. I still remember that *whee* feeling in the pit of my stomach this one time when I dreamed I was flying on my magic carpet. Okay, so it wasn’t a magic carpet. It was a suitcase. I told you my dreams were weird.

The other night, I dreamed I was a zookeeper. Like, instead of volunteering in the reptile department once a week, they actually paid me to show up. And I had animals of my own that I was assigned to take care of. I didn’t get to fly, but I did get to touch cool things. It was the happiest dream I think I’ve ever had. Then I dreamed that I bought a box of salted caramel MoonPies. When I woke up, I had the biggest smile on my face. Don’t you love dreams like that?

Here’s where things get really weird. I opened my secret hiding place in the closet cabinet, and look what I found!

 

Oh, my gosh! Salted Caramel MoonPies are a THING!

Oh, my gosh! Salted Caramel MoonPies are a THING!

 

But wait. If the MoonPies were real… Does that mean…? Yes, it does! As of this week, I have a new full-time job! I am the newest keeper in the Herpetology department. This is my dream job. I have thoughts and plans for studies on reptile cognition, and I want to do some operant conditioning with our giant tortoises. I am so excited I could cry. And I may have once or twice already.

Can you imagine having a job where you get to continue learning and learning and learning about things you love? Because that’s what this job will be for me. I’ll eventually be in charge of some species of snakes that I have limited or no experience with, so I will be reading and scouring the internet for information to learn as much as I can. About biology and the natural world. What could be better?

My first day is Saturday, and I’ll let you know all about it. My new life is about to begin. First full-time job since Squish was born. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time. Wish me luck!

 

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In case you didn’t know, I contribute writing in other places. This week, I entered my drug screen post in a competition over at Yeah, Write. If you enjoyed it, click here to go vote for me. You can vote for your five favorite blog posts that you see there.

 I also added a post over at our local City Moms Blog. It’s a silly little poem about how parenthood changes us.  Because it does. Want a free sample, no extra charge? Okay, then!

Motherhood is pretty great.

I know that statement’s true,

But I’d be lying if I said

Kids haven’t changed my view.

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At restaurants fine, I used to dine

On lobster or capon.

Today, I only choose the place

That offers free crayons…

Click here to read the whole post, and feel free to leave a comment to let me know you were there. I like it when my friends visit me.

 

Is Everything REALLY Awesome? A Lego Movie Review

I have mixed feelings about my kids’ addictions to Lego bricks. I do love their educational value. The Padawan saves his money to buy sets that he likes, the more complicated, the better. He learned the value of following directions, and also not to pour all thousand pieces out on the table at once. Those who accuse sets of stifling a child’s creativity have never seen a ten year old redesign a space ship to give it more playability and durability. We have loose bricks, too. Very loose, under foot, even. I don’t mind. The boys love them, and they’ll spend hours building and creating. And we’re all hooked on the Mystery Mini Figures.

I hate the rampant commercialism. We went to a Lego Discovery Center a couple of summers ago. We’ll never go back. I looked into purchasing the Minecraft sets at Christmas. 469 micro bricks for a mere $35. Micro bricks. For $35, I can purchase a Lego set that is all of 3x3x3. Inches. $35 and Squish could hold the whole thing in his hand. No. Thanks.

When the Lego Movie was first advertised, I knew I would be dragged to see it. It’s PG, and ever since “Horton Hears a Who” introduced Squish to some fabulous new words, I’ve had a strict policy of prescreening anything rated higher than G. Last Sunday, I got up a wild hair to treat the Padawan to a movie, sans little brother.

I didn’t tell him where we were going, just that we had an appointment at 1:30. My secret scheme was almost blown at lunch when he said “I want to go see the new Lego movie.” I played it off by asking him if the movie was even out yet. Clever me. He had no clue about our destination until we stepped up to the ticket window. Apparently, he thought I had found him a therapist (I don’t even…), or maybe we had an appointment for a massage. Yes, that sounds like me.

We went full works. Popcorn, sodas so big we’d be peeing Pepsi for a week, enough candy to guarantee illness. It was a perfect set up.

Long story short, I knew I would hate it. I was wrong. I left the theater thinking that Lego Group deserves every penny they make on this film. It was delightful. The cast is star-studded. George Takei, anyone? There’s action, there are celebrities bringing back beloved roles (no spoilers here, folks), there’s earworm that I am still singing.

There’s plot, there’s silliness, and best of all, the Padawan and I both loved it, but neither of us felt compelled to go out and purchase any of the affiliated items. The sets they’ve come out with to go with the movie tend to be a mish-mash of bricks with limited use, and even some pink Duplo style blocks. They’re in keeping with the plot of the movie, but they all look like something a kid could make themselves. We will collect some of the mini figures, but we do that anyway.

I recommend the movie for ages 7 and up. There’s (surprisingly) nothing inappropriate that I could see (and you’d better believe I was looking). There are no snarky kids, no graphic anything,although a few characters are mistreated, and an important plot point is the main character’s friendlessness. The one thing that would make me hesitant to show it to Squish is the plethora of “butt” jokes. I don’t like that word. But that was the only thing. The only thing.

The reason I don’t recommend the movie for younger children is because it is plot-driven, not so much action-driven. There is action, to be sure, but without understanding some intricacies of plot and dialog, there are not enough explosions and car chases to keep many younger children engaged. I know. The theater was full of them, and they got kind of wiggly. My suggestion for those whose little ones are dying to see it is to wait for the DVD. Then buy it. And watch it until your ears fall off. Because they will. Everything is awesome.

The Padawan hasn't had the best luck with Mystery figures. Most of the ones he got at Christmas were girls. But I covet that chihuahua, don't you?

The Padawan hasn’t had the best luck with Mystery figures. Most of the ones he got at Christmas were girls. But I covet that chihuahua, don’t you?

Attitude of Gratitude

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Life gets completely crazy busy, and I lose sight of what’s good in my world. I’ve been teaching middle school literature classes for the last couple of weeks. I love what I’m doing, but I’m so tired at night that I’m unconscious by 9pm. I’m treading water. Tears have been shed, most of them mine. But it will be okay. Today, I will be grateful.

Our pipes froze and burst, soaking a lot of stuff in our garage. But it was all good. The repair was in the most accessible place possible and took only 20 minutes for the plumber to fix, and the bill was very affordable. The really good part is that this incident alerted us to potential problems that we should be able to prevent going forward. And the boxes of ruined things I carted to the curb were things we really didn’t need anyway.

Squish has no ability to sleep in. I’m tired, my husband is tired. On weekends, we’d like nothing more than to just sleep until we can’t sleep any more. Currently, Squish’s feet hit the ground at 6am, school or no school. There is no rest for the weary. But the kid is a total morning person, and he really is a delight. He’s at his most entertaining before the sun comes up.

I can wake up to this face. Couldn't you?

I can wake up to this face. Couldn’t you?

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I am too tired to write. But it’s times like this I know how much my husband loves and supports me. When my half-day at school turned into a full day, he took off work a little early to bring me lunch. And the next morning, he got up with Squish so I could sleep. After I took a shower, I came back to my room and found he had set up my writing station, complete with my cup of coffee. And he sent me out of the house to write today. Forget Valentine’s day. My whole life is Valentine’s Day right now.

I am frustrated at having no time to write. Which means I still enjoy it and need writing in my life. It would be sad if I didn’t care. I have so many opportunities that are presenting themselves. I’ve been invited to contribute to a site in my own city, which is exciting and may open some new doors, and I’m trying my hand at short stories for the first time since this one. Go ahead and click over, if not for my story then for the Severus Snape gif that makes me a little teary-eyed. Snape loves me, he really loves me. I’m going to have this new story whipped into shape by February 15.

I’m ready for winter to be over. I hate driving in the snow. My road is off-the-beaten path and is oft neglected by snowplow and salt truck. When school was dismissed early a couple of weeks ago due to unexpected snow, we almost didn’t make it home. Our neighborhood is hilly any way I go. I chose the most likely path, and it was the wrong one. I couldn’t get up the hill, and when I tried to back up, I lost control of my van on a narrow road with deep drop-offs on either side. I prayed harder than I’ve prayed in a long time. When I finally let up on the steering wheel, the skid righted itself and I eased in to a driveway so I could turn around. I felt God telling me “You’re holding on too tight.” And He was right. My whole life of late has consisted of fighting to control things that just aren’t meant for me. I’m letting go of the things I’m not the boss of. The Serenity Prayer is my mantra. And I feel free.

Besides, if Squish slept late, and if it were summer, would I have ever seen this?

Besides, if Squish slept late, and if it were summer, would I have ever seen this?

What are you grateful for this day?

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Snow Day

After two weeks of Christmas vacation and some unexpected snow days, today we are finally returning to school. Conversation in my house this morning:

“I think I’m sick.”

“You’re fine.”

“My throat is really sore.”

“Uh-huh. You’re going.”

“I bet the buses still aren’t fixed.”

“They’re running. You’re going to school.”

“Water pipes have probably burst.”

“No one has called to cancel school. You’re going.”

“I just threw up on the couch.”

“You didn’t throw up.That’s just spit.You’re just- what?! Why did you spit on the couch?”

“I’m too tired!”

“Serves you right. You stayed up much later than you should.”

“What if the kids are mean?”

“They won’t be.”

“I don’t wanna gooooo! You can’t make meeee!”

“You have to go. You’re the teacher.”

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Fine. I’m here. Hope my husband is happy.

Happy “You’re Finally Back At School” Day, everyone.

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Take That, Pinterest!

You may remember that I’m not on Pinterest. I have my reasons, and the rest of civilized society has theirs for not wanting me there. I’m about to give you another one.

Recently, I flew the friendly skies. “Friendly” is a bit of a stretch; more like a-little-TOO-friendly-and-with-very-poor-personal-boundaries skies. Other than a quick pat-down and an agent freak-out over the rice sock I brought to soothe my sore knee, my travels were uneventful. I even managed to fit a souvenir for the kids into my carry-on.

Imagine their delight when they were each presented with their very own airsickness bag. The Padawan was so overcome with emotion that he had to leave the room. Or maybe he went to play the Wii. He was gone for a long time. I’m pretty sure it was emotion, though.

Motion discomfort bags (or as Squish calls them, “barf bags”) are the perfect gift for any child, prompting hours of dramatic play. Squish walked around all afternoon pretending to throw up in his. Think of how well-prepared he will be for a life of travel, and as an added bonus, when he moves to the top bunk, I can just hand him a bag and he’ll already have his aim down pat. Or he could learn to pack his own lunch. Barf bags are waxed on the inside to prevent spillage. So many possibilities in one small bag.

Our favorite use, though, is for craft time. There’s something for everyone. Look what one small motion-discomfort bag can do for you and your family.  Click to embiggenate.

How do you put a price on creativity?

Airline ticket: $400

Barf bag: free

Quality time with family: $400 + $100 food costs + $20 gas to airport + $36 long-term parking

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Choosing a Surgeon

Managed care has made it difficult to find specialists when you need them. Sometimes insurance limits your options to just a handful of practitioners, so how do you choose a good one?

Look for a surgeon with good focus. The ability to concentrate is essential.

It takes a very steady hand.

It takes a very steady hand.

They get bonus points if they’re ambidextrous.

Gloves are encouraged but not required

Gloves are encouraged but not required

A willingness to really get in there and dig around is a plus. Operate big or go home, I say. Surgery ain’t for sissies.

Ignore the red light on the dude's nose. That's just a spleen. Or a liver. Or something non-essential.

Ignore the red light on the dude’s nose. That’s just a spleen. Or a liver. Or something non-essential.

This scalpel jockey is for hire.

This_knife's_for_hire

You could do worse.

With a bit of luck, you won’t hear what I heard at the end of this particular operation.

“This poor fellow’s dead.”

Sorry about that, little buddy. I’m pretty sure it’s not because you yanked out his heart with both hands.

Parenting Fail #324

I know what I’m supposed to do. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for a local parenting magazine reminding other people to do it. I didn’t take my own advice, and I won’t even pretend that I’m sorry.

All the experts advise getting kids on their school schedule a week or two before school actually starts – goodbye, late nights; hello, early mornings. Yeah. I didn’t do it. I did cut out the late nights. Everyone’s in bed nice and early. Because that’s a hardship for me. I did that part. It’s the waking up early I didn’t do. I have a good reason. Meet my reason:

I know. He looks like a baby Nosferatu. He was eating bing cherries.

I know. Squish looks like a baby Nosferatu. He was eating Bing cherries, not feasting on the flesh of villagers. I swear.

Rousing the Padawan early involves waking his little roommate, as well, something I’m not quite willing to do. Because the kid doesn’t sleep. Naps are for pansies, bedtime is for losers. If he deigns to sleep, I am loathe to wake him because once his tootsies hit the floor, he is all up in my bizness awake for the next fifteen hours, about four of which are pleasant. Apparently not wanting sleep and not needing i are two different things.

Logic would tell you that taking a kid out and letting him burn off all his energy would help said child to sleep like a dream. Logic would be a big, fat liar wrong. I took the Padawan and his buddy on an overnighter to another city recently, knowing that if Squish can fight sleep for two hours all alone in his room, sharing a hotel room with four other people would make bedtime extra fun. But I had a plan.

That plan started with swimming. I chose a hotel with a pool so we could do a little splishy-splash. If I let Squish go for a nice, long swim, I reasoned, he’d be more amenable to catching some Z’s. Right? You know how it ends.

We swam until 9pm, then we went upstairs. He was tired. Very tired. But tired is only a kissing cousin to sleepy, so the next part of my plan involved a little television. Give me fifteen minutes in front of the TV, and I’m snoring like an asthmatic bulldog. Like mother, like spawn, right? After two-and-a-half hours of House Hunters, Squish finally fell asleep

Sleep may be too strong a word, really. He’s a bit of a flopper. He never hit a deep sleep, alternating between  bludgeoning me about the head, and dragging his claws toenails up my shin.

I never studied physics in college, but I did not expect that a body with such little mass could displace so much space. He put down roots in prime mattress real estate – dead center – and I couldn’t budge him for love nor money. At about 2am, desperate for some sleep, I scooped him up and slid him eight inches west and tried to tie him in place tuck him in. My efforts backfired, and I suddenly had a Squish clinging to my head like a baby octopus. It would have been easier to sleep in the floor. With a tiger.

At 7am, the kid was awake. Perhaps you are thinking that eight hours is all Squish’s body requires to function at top capacity. Does this look like top capacity to you?

Yeah, I'm all set.

“Yeah, I’m all set.”

 

We had two melt-downs and a Come-to-Jesus meeting before we even left the hotel. Tired = wired. Isn’t that fun? But I’m not one to give up. Because of my plan and all.

My plan told me that a long day spent running around out of doors would lead to a quiet car ride and pleasant night. You see where this is going, right? We enjoyed six hours at a zoo, two of which were spent playing hard on the enormous playground. Then we popped in the car for the three-hour ride home. I waited for him to fall asleep. And waited. And waited. Yeah. He was awake the whole time, refusing to punch his ticket for the dreamland express until after 9pm, three hours after we got home, and two hours after I began to seriously consider selling him to the circus. I love plans.

So I hope the experts will excuse me for enjoying a few minutes of solitude. If they judge me, I hope they do so quietly. Squish is still asleep.