Stuff My Kids Will Never Understand

Now I really do sound like my mother. But this isn’t a rant about the good old days and how the world is headed South in a Longaberger basket. That would be my great-grandmother, and I’m not turning into her (yet). I’m learning that few things make me feel older than saying “Well, back when I was a kid…” and having them stare at me, slack-jawed, eyes glazing over like a monkey presented with a computing problem. As if the minutiae of my early years isn’t riveting. It’s just kind of a shame that all of my vast life experience is fading into oblivion. Here’s the weird stuff I remember:

  • Gum. Lots of it! In the 80s, bubblegum was a HUGE thing. Our neighborhood convenience store had a 2ftx8ft section DEVOTED to gum. And I’m not talking the stuff the old ladies enjoyed in church a half-stick at a time, either. I’m talking bubblegum. Every imaginable flavor. Strawberry and banana, sure, but also blueberry and cherry and a variety of fruit punches. Bubble Yum Fruit Punch was the best ever. Gum achieved its nadir with chocolate mint flavor. Ugh. The market never recovered.
  • Because bubblegum bandages aren’t gross at all. Photo credit: Dinosaur Dracula

  • Records were the cheapest form of recording. If you wanted the album on a more portable medium, the cassette tape cost about 30% more.
  • Having to buy an entire record for one song.
  • Requiring an elaborate set-up to convert record to cassette tape. This exercise involved special cables and moving furniture around to get all the components to connect to one another.
  • Hating DJs for talking over the song you were trying to record.
  • Song Hits Magazine – It had the LYRICS, man! THE LYRICS! To the cool songs! So we knew what Cyndi Lauper was actually saying.
  • Benetton and Swatches – and don’t forget the Swatch guard!
  • Halloween, Christmas, Valentine, Last-Day-of-School PARTIES!  Like, at school. With candy and cupcakes and stuff.
  • Film strips. And the substitute teacher who was ALWAYS one frame behind.
  • Reel-to-reel movies in the classroom. In elementary school, we watched The Cat and the Hat and The Red Balloon once a year.
  • Sticker collections– mine is quite impressive. Yes, I still have it. Shut up!
  • Seeing a movie in the theater or not seeing it at all. Because once it left the theater, it was GONE. No purchasing it a few months later. Because there would be nothing to watch it ON! No DVD player, no VCR. Not even laser disc. This tidbit blows my students’ minds.
  • The Wizard of Oz came on once a year – And every year I thought the movie was broken because it started out in black and white.
  • Three channels – and all of them signed off at midnight with the flag.
  • Garbage Candy that came in an actual tiny garbage can!

Why don’t they still make this? I liked the fish skeletons the best! I think I have to do a favorite candy edition because we had the best candy!

  • Floppy Discs – It’s funny that the “save” icon is a picture of something most kids have never even seen in real life. And remember when they were actually FLOPPY?
  • Cutting edge computers with memory measuring in the kilobytes. I didn’t say ALL the old days were good ones!
  • Pong did not involve beer.
  • Saturday morning cartoons – the ONLY time cartoons were available. No Cartoon Network,no Disney Channel. Cartoons started at 6am with the old black-and-whites and ran all the way until noon with O.G. Readmore. He’s a reading kind of cat.
  • After-school TV specials – I always learned something. Or pretended to. These came about right around the time it became apparent that television was becoming a babysitter.
  • Suntan lotion and suntan oil – but no sunscreen. I had more blistering sunburns as a child than my dermatologist would like to think about because the only thing to prevent sunburn was zinc oxide, and only the dweebs used that crap.
  • Lawrence Welk – I could never WAIT for this show to be over so I could watch Hee Haw. Hey, I never said I had great TV taste as a kid.
  • Cracker Jacks – yeah, they tasted like garbage, but they had a PRIZE! And it was sometimes a TOY!
  • Cereal – like gum, cereal had its hey day. Anybody else remember when literally EVERY box on the shelf except for the high-fiber crap had something free in the box? And remember when Cocoa Krispies was represented by Tusk the Elephant?

That’s it for this edition. Now, get off my lawn, you darned kids!

What are you sorry to see go?

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Notes From the Zookeeper: Help!

Dear Mom,

I want to go home. I’m currently seven hours south of the ole homestead at the Turtle Survival Alliance conference in South Carolina. I get to spend the next three days learning all about countless species from experts the world over. Turtles? Yes. Studying up on them? Absolutely! School’s my jam! At a conference where I do not know a soul?  (insert needle-scratch) Ummm. People? I don’t do the whole human thing very well. I am shy, a little weird, and I have the social skilz of an octopus, minus the tentacles. Did I have tentacles when I was born, Mom?

This is me. Trying to blend in, or maybe just outright hide. My Patronus is an octopus.

I stepped out of the car into a city that smells of an odd mix of excrement and brackish water, and I was ready to turn around and go home. The brackish water I get. I’m right here on the coast. But poop? Why? Why the poop? I do not understand! I’m in the heart of the historical district. Is it historical poop? Maybe?

The hotel is a shack. Three room suites, valet parking, a mezzanine, thick walls where I can’t hear the neighbors scratching their bed bugs, maybe not even bed bugs. A shack. I will suffer through. But one of the bars of soap was already wet when I opened it, and that creeps me out more than a little. And everything from the soap to the lotion smells exactly the same.

Our opening event was at the South Carolina Aquarium. I had never been. It was all kinds of amazing. Let me show you.

There’s, like, this whole ocean and stuff!

I did make two friends right off the bat, Mom. Want to meet them?

And there were other cool things.

I found a drug store on my way back to the hotel, and I thought I should get some snacks because food is WAY too expensive here. $12 for hotel breakfast is way more than I want to spend. But I am a jinx, and as I was buying my stuff, the entire computer system shut down, and I had to stand at the register making awkward small talk with the cashier and manager for ten minutes. Ten long, painful, awful minutes.  Come and get me.

The TV is broken. At least the one in my bedroom is, and I don’t want to go to the living room. That’s too much trouble. I mean, the TV comes on, but it only gets crappy channels. There were these two pink people who were walking through the jungle. Did I mention they were nekkid? Why were they nekkid? I go hiking all the time, but always with my clothes on. Don’t these people know there are insects and other things you don’t want close to the tender parts? Am I missing something?

The alarm went off, and I’m still typing my letter. But I will get out of bed. I will. Eventually. I can do this, Mom. I can learn good stuff and make new friends and eat all my snacks so I’m not spending a billion dollars on breakfasts. I can do this. I can.

On second thought… there are two beds here. I should go try out the other one.

 

 

 

The Introverted Activist: Things Will Get Better

I’m still tired. Are you still tired? But are you in it to win it? Yeah, me, too. Rah, rah, and all that. Did I mention I am tired?

But things are going to get better. Maybe they already are. 45’s first pick to be National Security Advisor is *poof* and the second pick doesn’t want the job. What happened to Flynn? Depends on who you ask. Fired? Quit? Abducted by aliens? Who cares? He’s gone. And the Labor Secretary? Remember him? Whatshisface Pudzer? The guy who would like to do away with a minimum wage and automate everything? He’s gone, too. And the person who has been nominated to replace him might actually be qualified for the job. Or maybe the bar has been set so low by this administration that a rabid puggle seems qualified.

I made a thing. It’s a Trumpertantrum drinking game, designed to make this administration more entertaining.

did flynn talk to Russia

But then I realized it could also be deadly. I thought I could suggest switching to water after every 2 drinks, but then there’s still hyponatremia to worry about. So I thought about milk shakes. But is there a pancreas in the world that can handle THAT much sugar? Diet soda? Nope again. An overdose of artificial sweetener can be deadly. So then I considered deep breaths instead of drinks, but then everyone would hyperventilate and pass out, maybe hitting a head on the floor and dying. And I can’t be responsible for that, so instead of drinking each time he hits one of these milestones, think a happy thought or pet a puppy. Nobody ever passed out from petting a puppy. Just be careful not to rub all its hair off. It’s going to be a long four years.

Calls and protests work, and not just for this whole train wreck of an administration. In case you have never heard of Bresha Meadows, at the age of 14, young Bresha shot and killed her abusive father. She was sent to an adult prison. An adult prison. Remember Michael Carneal? He murdered 3 students and injured 5 others at his high school in 1997. He was sent to a juvenile facility until he turned 18. But Bresha has been held in an adult prison. Until recently. Letters, protests, and phone calls put enough pressure on prosecutors that she was moved a few weeks ago to a juvenile mental health facility. Her family has to pay the cost of her treatment, so there’s a link where you can donate if you are so inclined. But she can go outside, she is with other kids, and she can get the help she deserves.

What I did this week:

I wrote a lot of letters. A lot of them. To Republicans, to Democrats. I went to a huddle at my friend’s house. We encouraged each other, and we made plans for the next four years. That feels like a long time, but we can do it.

what are people doing besides marching

This is what democracy looks like. And friendship.

I made an action plan for each week. I am going to make 5 calls a week and write 3 letters. I wrote 5 letters this week, so I am ahead of the game. I even wrote one to President Bannon.

The call I made to my Senators this week was focused on 2 things – keeping Bannon out of the situation room and keeping the Affordable Care Act intact until there is a decent replacement (and insisting that the replacement include those with preexisting conditions – an aside here, I knew a woman who didn’t tell anyone she was pregnant at her new job until she qualified for health insurance. She was 8 weeks pregnant when she got the job, and so was 20 weeks along before she went for her first prenatal appointment because she knew otherwise insurance wouldn’t cover it because her pregnancy was a preexisting condition. No prenatal care until it was essentially too late to prevent most issues. Do Republicans really want to go back to those days?)

I made plans to attend the local march on April 15 to protest Trumpertantrum’s refusal to show his tax returns.

I made plans to attend some Nashville events, too, later in spring.

I made a list of my local representatives at the state level. I am going to become quite familiar with them and their work because I have letters and calls to make there, too.

And I took some time away. Because I’m tired.

This week, why not write a letter yourself. Or show up at a local office and share your wants with your Congress person’s staff? Write a letter sharing your story and your expectations for affordable care. You can do it! We can do it! It’s already working, friends. We’re pushing a ball uphill, but we’ve learned this week that it isn’t likely to roll back over and crush us!

Need more ideas? Check here. And visit here for a breakdown of enrollment in Affordable Care Act by congressional district. Share what you find. A study this week revealed that around 30% of Americans don’t know that ACA and ObamaCare are the same thing. Republicans successfully obfuscated the issue by using the term “ObamaCare,” so be kind to anyone you encounter who might have been confused. They aren’t alone. Raise your hand if you have never been sucked in by rhetoric. We’ve all been there, done that.

Face-palm of the week: Good ol’ Betsy “Keep Bears Out Of Public Schools” DeVos is doing a spanking good job in her new post. Wait. There is no spanking in public school. A time-outing good job? Whatever. Anyway, she managed to not only misspell the name of civil rights activist, W.E. B. DuBois, she misspelled the apology, as well. Go, team! Dear Betsy, how do you spell “derp?”

Need a laugh? Download this awesome app. It’s called “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again.” And it does this:

What did you get up to this week? Have a favorite hashtag you have been involved with? Share it in the comments.

We Marched, Now What? Introvert Activism #Resist

Fridays are now going to Introvert Activism day. Trust me, friends, if this socially awkward weirdo can work to make a change in this world, ANYONE can.

In case you missed it, I went to the Women’s March on Washington, DC on Saturday. I did it for the reasons I mentioned here, and for a thousand more. The march itself was incredible. So many beautiful women in one place, all with different concerns, but with a common goal – making our voices heard. It was a moving and humbling experience, and I’m not totally ready to write about it. But I can share some pictures.

what did the womens march accomplish

Resist

 

But here’s the thing. As wonderful and powerful and uplifting as the Women’s March was, if that’s all I’ve got in me, the whole event was just a stroll around the Mall. I have to get active politically. I have to get involved. And that’s what Friday’s are for. Call them Activism Friday or Accountability Friday, I don’t care. But I have to move forward and stay involved, so I’m going to share with you what I have done each week to make the world a better place, and I encourage you to tell me in the comments what you have done, as well. Let us inspire and encourage each other.

So what is there to do this week?

First off, be aware. Here’s a link to a Bloomberg infographic you may have already seen. It depicts the countries in the Middle East Trumpertantrum proposes to ban against those where he has business interests.

The Women’s March website has a list of 10 things to do in the next 100 days. That’s 1 thing every 10 days. We can handle that! One of those things is sending postcards to Congress. Who doesn’t love sending mail?!

You can sign this petition demanding that the Toddler-In-Chief release his tax returns.

You can donate to the Standing Rock Reservation where protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline are ongoing.  You can also sign a petition to stop the DAPL from happening.

Choose your issues. There are so many. One detractor said of the Women’s March that no one knew what they were marching for. Don’t confuse a myriad issues with a lack of common purpose. We were there to speak out for the issues we believe in, and the Dumpster Fire in Charge threatens ALL of them.

Concerned about birth control being removed from insurance coverage? Donate to Planned Parenthood. I am grateful to them because when I was a young married college student, birth control pills cost 10% of our income. Without PP’s sliding scale, we could never have been able to pay for reliable birth control.

Are disability rights your thing? Follow Keah Brown, Dominick Evans, Alice Wong, David M. Perry

Need a way around the fake news? Try Dan Rather’s News and Guts. Trumpertantrum brought Dan Rather out of retirement, folks. He’s on Facebook AND Twitter.

Low on funds? Protest doesn’t have to cost money. Call your senator and tell him or her to block Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Find the number for YOUR senator here. Calls are better than emails. Letters are great, too.

Tweet what you learn. Share links on Facebook. You may share this one if you like, but I’m not posting for clicks. I’m posting for change. Lift links from this post, take photos. I don’t mind. Educate others. We don’t have to do it ALL by ourselves. We can’t, actually. But we can educate others. Check your sources to make sure it isn’t fake news. There’s a plague of it out there now.

And take care of yourself. Take breaks. Trumpertantrum is throwing things at us faster than we can duck. Be kind to yourself and to others. We can make this world a better place. There is hope.

What did I do this week?

  • I joined my local Black Lives Matter group so I can get updates and hear about upcoming events. Instead of buying a t-shirt at the march.
  • I donated the money to Standing Rock legal defense fund.I had never used PayPal for anything other than Ebay, but it was surprisingly easy!
  • I signed the petitions I listed above.
  • I called my Senators. Both of them. One mailbox was full, but I left a nice message on the other to block Jeff Sessions, the man who was denied a federal judgeship for being too racist.
  • I talked with my boys about why Jeff Sessions is the wrong choice for us. Squish is 8, and it is so hard for him to comprehend that people are judged by skin color. Me, too, baby. Me, too.
  •  And I listened. There is a great deal of mistrust for white women because we are late to the game. Right now, it’s my job to just shut up, listen, learn new perspectives I didn’t even know existed.

Face Palm of the week: 42 percent of Trump supporters believe he should be able to have a private email server.

What did you do this week to make the world a better place? Do you have a favorite hashtag you follow? Link me up. I want to know!

 

 

 

The Gifts of NaNoWriMo: Part II (The BEST Part)

I know. I posted twice in a week. How’s that for erratic and unpredictable behavior? I’m not sure I know myself anymore. But last time I left with a cliffhanger, and I couldn’t leave you hanging. Nah, truthfully, I couldn’t wait to share.

Lots of people know that I am a zookeeper. Not as many know that in my second job, I am a computer teacher. I teach grades K-8, and I love it. I want my students to be prepared for the tech-driven world they live in, so we do all kinds of things. Tomorrow we’re jumping in on the Hour of Code event. We also look at digital citizenship and current tech events. This year we took our second foray into National Novel Writing Month. We go through the affiliated Young Writers Program because YWP allows the kids to set their own word goal. My class only meets once per week, so 50,000 words is way more than I would ever expect of them.

Dottie the Therapy Dog is so ready to write her book. It's a tail-wagging saga of a chicken biscuit.

Dottie the Therapy Dog is so ready to write her book. It’s a tail-wagging saga of a chicken biscuit.

The kids love writing as much as I do. We do lots of prep work with writing prompts, and most of them had their ideas in place before November began, but there are a few who are dyed-in-the-wool pantsers, and more power to them. Every kid in grades 2-8 participates. Their word goals are their own, based on their typing speed (that’s how I justify doing NaNo in computer class. They are learning Google docs and typing) and how many words they typically write following a word prompt. I give prizes for everyone who meets their word goal. Can I tell you a secret? EVERYBODY meets their goal. All of them. They also get an additional prize if the group as a whole writes more than I do in the class period. They always win. We have so much fun.

This year, I had six finishers. Six students who met the big word goal that I set for any student who wanted to get published. That meant a LOT of writing outside of class. They want to be writers, and they did what they had to do to make it happen. You can follow all of those adventures on the school’s Facebook page if you like. If you like a picture, you can even “like” that picture. It helps our algorithms. Those are some happy kids. But there’s more to NaNo than finishing. Finishing is incredible, don’t get me wrong. It’s great, but all of the wonder if it is not tied up in a mandatory word goal. Let me share some of the magic.

A child whose goal last year was to write 20 words per class period had to have the word goal changed this year. How many words? 200. This student set the goal for ten times higher than last year.  And blew past it every, single week. And not only that, this child who has avoided reading because large blocks of text are hard to decipher spent hours a week reading to parents, teachers, anyone who would listen. In the car on the way home, after dinner, whenever. Why? Because who doesn’t want to share something they wrote themselves? And now this child reads other things, too. Because a writer has to read, you know.

Another child who often every, single thing they write, be it spelling test, math assignment, or creative writing, because of fear of making a mistake? The first two weeks, the backspace button and delete keys were covered. Once this student figured out that there was no judgement,  I received pages of written work. It’s easy to write when you don’t have to wonder if you are good enough.

A student who despised writing assignments now loves writing SO much that it’s a bargaining chip that parents can use. “Want computer time to work on your blog? Do your homework without arguing.”

We’re seeing changes in so many students. Class journals used to be a chore for some of the kids. After NaNoing, they BEG their teacher for just a little more time to write. “Just a few more sentences, please? PLEASE?!” Because they love expressing themselves. They are excited to write. They cannot wait to sit down and create worlds of their own. And they’re good at it. Because they are writing for themselves, the kids have freedom to show who they are and what they love, and that always makes for a good story.

So this Spring Break, I’ll be spending my work time editing and formatting and getting some incredible students ready for publication. If anyone is interested in purchasing student writing, I’ll be happy to share the links. One of last year’s winners is still in awe of the $25 they made through NaNo novel sales. It’s heady stuff when you can publish your first book before high school.

So this is why I NaNo. Why do you NaNo?

My Million Excuses

I sit here frozen at the keyboard. All the words that have been rattling around in my head for the last two hours have disappeared, flitting away like figments of my imagination. Wait. They were figments of my imagination, and they’ve left me, the little traitors.

My ailment isn’t a new one, nor is it undiagnosed. I am suffering from the dreaded Rewrite Paralysis. A few weeks ago, I got the bill for Girl-child’s first year of college tuition, and I came to the conclusion that, if I want to continue my day job, I am going to have to sell a book. If you’ve been around a while, you’ll know that leaving the zoo isn’t an option. I love it too much. If you’re a new reader, click the “turtles and tortoises” tab at the top. Yeah, I’m with the zoo forever. So, it’s time to pee or get off the pot.

Lampropeltis knoblochi, or Chihuahua Mountain Kingsnake. I don't talk about my snakes as much because they tend to squick some readers out, but isn't she beautiful? She's very sweet, too, and a contestant in the on-going "Longest Tongue competition over at Animal Couriers.

Lampropeltis knoblochi, or Chihuahua Mountain Kingsnake. I don’t talk about my snakes as much because they tend to squick some readers out, but isn’t she beautiful? She’s very sweet, too, and a contestant in the on-going “Longest Tongue” competition over at Animal Couriers.

I have a metric crap-ton** of excuses for not rewriting this novel sooner. Let’s get them out here in the open.

  1. That novel was just for fun.
  2. No one will really be interested in this character.
  3. It’s too hard to sell a book with a niche hobby like showing dogs. No one will be able to relate to it.
  4. It’s a damaged book, too far off the mark for redemption.
  5. I don’t have time.
  6. My kids are still young too young.
  7. My other hand hurts.
  8. Is it lunch time yet?

But if I’m really honest, there’s only one reason I haven’t delved head-first into rewrites.

I. Am. Scared.

The what-ifs are, quite frankly, eating me alive. What if I dedicate my whole world to this book only to discover that no one really DOES care? What if I do just fine with short little blog posts, but I’m not good enough to write a novel? What if I fail?

My answer to that last what-if is simple. I might fail, but I won’t die from it. Unless a potential agent reads it and finds it so horrible that they ouleave their big city office, come to my house, and bludgeon me to death with the e-file. I am still scared, but I am fairly certain this scenario won’t actually play out. I’m unlisted.

So this summer, I am stretching out of my comfort zone by joining Teachers Write, a four-week online camp for educators. If you’re a teacher, I recommend you join. It’s free. We get valuable feedback and a supportive community.

In keeping with the busting out of my wheelhouse, I will share the character sketch I wrote yesterday n response to this assignment. I am uncomfortable with this work because I am conflicted about writing in dialect. But it feels inauthentic not to. It won’t be for everybody, and I need to stop thinking that it will be. Not everyone loved Harry Potter, you know. Also, what is a wheelhouse?

She used to be skinny. She’s not no more, not since she come over to live at Grammy Sparks’. She likes Grammy’s cookin’, especially the hamburgers, fried in a pan. She likes those a lot.

She has brown eyes and blonde hair, but not same kind of hair as Sleeping Beauty\’s got, unless Sleeping Beauty slept a real, real long time and her hair got all dusty and kind of grey.

She don\’t like school. She done been to Principal\’s office so many times that they don’t bother with the teachin’ no more. Teacher puts the sum sheet on her desk but don’t say nothin’ when she crumples it up and drops it on the floor. Most people think she’s stupid. She’s not stupid. She knows better is all. Ain’t no reason to learn two and two when her Mamma done gone to jail for doin’ math.

Her front tooth is gone. It shoulda growed back two year ago when it first come out, but it didn’t. She didn’t even get nothin’ from the tooth fairy for it, neither. But she don’t believe in the tooth fairy, anyways. Except maybe she wishes she did.

She likes Grammy Sparks’ house good enough. Except for that cat. She hates that cat. He don’t like her much, neither. He squinted up his one good eye and scratched her good and proper the first day they met. He’s a mean old cat. He prowls outside her room at night and yowls. The same sound. Ra’o, ra’o, ra’o, over and over again, like he forgot he already said it.

He’s always there, that cat, always bein’ mean. Sometimes he takes the food straight off her plate, just plops up in a chair and snakes out that stripey paw, and next thing you know, he’s got her french fry. No one knows where he come from, but she surewishes he’d go.

Auntie June says Grammy Sparks is good at dragging in strays.

Am I alone? Anyone else ever let fear stand in their way? How did you conquer it?

 

** Little known fact: the official system for measuring excuses is metric.

What Just Happened Here?

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I know. Especially if it’s Phoebe because she’s a special case. She thinks she has puppies right now. She has collected all of her lovies into a pile on the couch, and she spends her day mothering them. And smothering them.  And chewing out their squeakers. That’s mothering, right?

Ah, sweet Phoebe. The Joan Crawford of dogdom.

Ah, sweet Phoebe. The Joan Crawford of dogdom. The good news is that she’s officially retired as a show dog, so I can spay her this spring. Can I get a hallelujah?!

 

But that adage (axiom? allegory? alliteration?) doesn’t necessarily apply to humans. This old dawg is learning. And doing. There is hope! This has been my week of learning new things, trying new things, accepting new things. It is good.

For the first time in 25 years, I have submitted a piece for publication. I won’t hear for a while if it was accepted, but I’m okay with that. If I get accepted, it’s a publishing credential. If I don’t I get a rejection letter for the spike and an opportunity to thicken my skin. It’s a win either way. The important part is that I learned I could push past my fear and just do it.

This week, I also learned that time marches on. Squish and I went to Kindergarten Roundup, which sounds like it should involve cattle and lassos, but instead involves text books and tears. Mine. He’s going to start school in the fall, ready or not. He’s ready, of course. It’s the parents who are blindsided.

And then there’s my newest venture. I just signed on as a contributor to a local blog, and today my first post went live. You can find it here. If you have kids (or even know kids), go ahead and click over there. Today I shared my favorite free educational website for kids. I teach computer classes to grades K-8, and I love, love, love the website for a whole lotta reasons.

And now it’s the time in our program where I teach you something, too! Impressed tortoises are pretty adept climbers when the situation presents itself. Who knew?

What? There's a Girl Scout cookie table outside of Target? Get my purse. I'm outta here!

What? There’s a Girl Scout cookie table outside of Target? Get my purse. I’m outta here!

The Call That No One Wants to Get

It hasn’t happened yet this year, but it will. It’s inevitable. One day, the call will come, and anyone who has ever sent a kid to school dreads it.

“Mom! I forgot my lunch!”

When I was working full-time, this kind of call was nothing more than a nuisance. I was at work. I couldn’t drop everything and spend an hour picking up a sack lunch. I could authorize the school secretary to let the kid get a tray from the cafeteria. Child got to eat and I enjoyed an evening of lecturing said child on the importance of responsibility. Win-win.

It’s not fun anymore. I am at home most days, and since I’m within walking distance of one school and only a five minute drive from the other, I’m expected to deliver the goods. I don’t mind taking a lunch to my offspring. They don’t forget often. Here’s the problem. They hang up before I can ask “Hey! Which kid are you?!”

Even if I had time to ask, I don’t want to. Whose heart will I break? Is it more insulting for a 15 year old girl to learn that she sounds like her brother, or for a 10 year old boy to know he could pass for his sister? I don’t want to find out.

I could call the school secretary back, I suppose. I could ask her (I say “her” not because I am gender-biased and believe that secretaries are always be female and should be chased around the desk by the Boss-man, but because the secretaries in question both happen to be women. So there.) if my kid just called. But there are over a thousand kids in one school, and the chances that the secretary could actually pick my loin-fruit out of a crowd are fairly slim. So my only recourse is to check the lunch itself.

I don’t pack the kids’ lunches. By the time they were in the first grade, I figured they had the wherewithal to put food in containers, containers in bag, bag in backpack. I spot check to make sure they don’t have a dozen donuts and a light beer, but they generally do a good job. But they like the same things, so their lunches are usually identical.

Last year, I got lucky. Saltine crackers were apparently the hot currency in third grade. My son would religiously pack five saltines each day, which he managed to trade for anything from brownies to bags of potato chips. If the lunch on the counter contained saltines, I knew its recipient. ***

This year, all bets are off. There is a no-swap policy in place, so the Padawan only packs what he is actually going to eat. The very same things that his sister eats. I hate that. Now I’m forced to a decision. Do I buy different things for each lunch, or do I admit to my son that he sounds like his sister? There’s no easy answer. In parenting, there rarely are.

I’d have been queen of the lunchroom with a box of these. Oh, to be 10 again, when donuts had the power to change lives.

***I’m sure I should be horrified that he was swapping his food. Another parent out there was under the impression that their child was getting full nutritional value out of that bag of Doritos.

Dancing With Danger

It's a copperhead. It has nothing to do with the story, but it's the most dangerous thing I have a picture of besides my toddler.

As I approach middle age (and I am not telling you how close the target is), I am feeling the need to add some excitement back into my life. Not just excitement. I’m talking about a dose of terror that leaves me feeling lucky to be alive. Not bungee jumping. Too tame. Or sky-diving. Too cliche. Or refusing to file my tax return. Too stupid. No, when I want to achieve that living-life-on-the-edge experience, I leave for school five minutes later. Because I am an adrenaline junkie.

We live in what is known as The Zone of Parental Responsibility. Sounds fancy. Sounds all Dr. Spock, like this neighborhood is chock full of folks who tend to their children and make sure they behave. What it really means is that the school bus won’t come and get ’em. So we walk. And we love it.

We time our departure not so that we beat the bell. More so that we beat the crazies. Five minutes means the difference between a leisurely walk to school with my beloved child and dying in the road like an animal. Today, I say bring it.

Our neighborhood has no sidewalks, but it’s not usually an issue. There is very little traffic around our house, as we are about a half-mile above the school, and we’re in an area that few people can find and even fewer need to. In the evening, I can walk for a mile without being passed by a single car.  But on mornings when we leave a few minutes late, we find ourselves in  a live-action version of Frogger, one life left, no bonus.

As we walk down our hill, the game begins. There’s an intersection that is quiet for 23 hours of the day. But for one hour, all heck breaks loose. The road that we are on has the right of way, but during this magic hour, the stop signs on the two side roads are magically rendered invisible. I have walked this route 180 times in the last year, and I have yet to see a vehicle actually stop. Some pay lip-service to the law and roll slowly through, but most never actually hit their brakes. Car coming? Hit the accelerator! Pedestrian in the road? Eh, just drive around them. And they do. I have seen cars run the stop sign as my son and I were in the intersection and actually weave around and cut in front of us so that we have to stop so we don’t walk right into their moving vehicle.

Once we get past the Intersection of Death, the road dips significantly and narrows, and there’s a drop-off on either side. Two vehicles can pass each other, if they are both driving a reasonable speed and are willing to yield the right of way. There’s the rub. At 7:25 in the morning, this stretch of road is a speed-demon’s yield-free zone. More than once, we’ve had to make a dive for the bushes because the same soccer mom who nearly runs us down every day hits her accelerator in panicked tardiness and barrels down the center of the road. We know it’s her. We’ve memorized not only the make and model of her mini-van, but her license plate, as well.

If we can make it past Death Valley and up the hill, there are yards and driveways where we can claim brief sanctuary as all the general contractors in their enormous trucks zoom by to dump their kids, and we’re in good shape. Until we get to the school.

On a regular day, all is quiet on the road in front of the school. There may be a car or two unloading their offspring, but we can stroll through the crosswalk unharmed. Fast-forward five minutes, and we’re not so lucky. We can’t even see the sidewalk on the other side for the line of cars. Guaranteed, someone will be parked in the crosswalk. This individual will almost always have such darkly tinted windows that the driver cannot be seen, or they will be balancing a cup of Starbucks daily brew, a cigarette, or a cellphone as they reach back to unstrap their kid in anticipation of shoving them out the door. I guarantee they don’t notice me.

I now have a strict policy to not step into the crosswalk until I can see the whites of their eyes. Too many times, I have claimed right of way and nearly been squashed as Distracted Parent drives on while watching their kid over their right shoulder. Even making eye contact is no guarantee that they have actually seen me. Just last week, I crossed the street in front of a grandma parked in the crosswalk. She had made a little wave, which I assumed was an acknowledgement. You know what happens when you assume? You make an ass of you, and a grease spot on the road of me. She had apparently been waving in response to some conversation on the cell-phone she had dropped in the floor. She reached down to get it and started forward at the same time, just as I was walking in front of her. Judging by the look on her face as she hit the brake, that split second took about 200 years off her life. And she blames me.

Once I drop off my son, there is little traffic. Most parents drive up from the other direction, so I don’t even see them. I find the return walk a little sedate and rather boring, and I long for a bit of action. But never you fear. It’s just a few short hours until afternoon pick up.