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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A Candidate I Can Get Behind

 

It took 15 minutes per page, and there are four pages. He is prepared.

It took 15 minutes per page, and there are four pages. He is prepared.

I found this speech on my counter today, written by a young candidate who had been sent to his room to think about things.  Allow me to translate since some of these words haven’t made their appearance on the second grade spelling list yet.

“I here by decree I will make NO groundings, and I will make New Years Eve movie nights (Done and done!), and on the weekends movie nights, and on Christmas, you get what you want, and if you don’t get what you want on Christmas, then everybody else shoots them with Nerf guns (Nope. Vetoed, along with a brief chat about how Christmas ain’t about presents)., and on Easter we have Nerf gun battles (Because nothing says resurrection of our savior like being pelted with foam darts), and football games on Saturday (mostly if the Vols are playing, and I’m fairly certain that this administration will ensure that the Vols are ALWAYS playing),

Go, Vols! But you had better win! This administration will ensure the Vols always win by pitting them against local high school leagues. Maybe Pee Wee leagues.

Go, Vols! But you had better win! This administration will ensure the Vols always win by pitting them against local high school leagues. Maybe Pee Wee leagues.

and on Sundays we have to to go the pool, and we will have pizza and pancakes and Belgian waffles (because we’ll need to carbo-load after all that swimming. I am totally on board with this one.) And we will have Tacos for Tuesdays (Thank you, Lego Movie)

And I think I should be President because I will make the house more smooth (I choose to believe he is speaking of Congress here), and Saturday and Sunday we’ll play Nerf guns and go out to eat on Saturday and Sunday.”

Our candidate thanks you for your consideration.

And wait until you meet his running mate.

Run? I don't even want to walk! I'm his carried-in-arms-like-a-Queen mate.

Run? I don’t even want to walk! I’m his carried-in-arms-like-a-Princess-mate. Or how about benevolent dictator, except forget the benevolent part.

 

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!!

It’s fine if you politely decline to answer that question. If you know me in real life, you probably have an entire list. It’s cool with me if you keep it to yourself. No, I insist. Seriously, STOP TALKING!

So here’s my problem. I am home alone. Okay, that right there is not the problem. Home alone means getting stuff done. Or it should. I had a list of wanna-do kinds of things. I want to write some, do a bit of NaNo prep, work on my digital scrapbook, get some exercise, make a pizza, do some dishes. You know, nothing much.

But here I sit, bound, tied, gagged by anxiety. The worst part if it is, I don’t even know WHY. There is no single, logical thought that has become my tripping hazard. So in an effort to contain this prickly beast that feels like electricity in my chest, I blog. It’s a Sunday, it’s beautiful weather, people are busy with Halloween parties and their own NaNo prep, so I don’t even have the pressure of having people read this post. So it’s good.

If you have never experienced inexplicable anxiety, this is kind of what it looks like.

Why am I anxious? It could be because…

  • I haven’t processed the Padawan’s new diagnosis and made my peace with it
  • The Girl-Child is on a camping trip
  • The Girl-Child seemed ill-prepared for this camping trip
  • The Girl-Child may get eaten by a bear
  • If Girl-Child isn’t eaten by a bear, I have to drive her to Chattanooga when she gets home
  • The boys are on a hike without me to try to complete their 100 mile challenge
  • Their dad may poop out early and call it quits and they won’t get their 100 miles
  • I will be forced to rally the troops next Sunday and lead them to the finish line myself
  • If I am forced to lead them across the finish line, I will be missing valuable NaNo writing time
  • This is the first NaNoWriMo in which I have absolutely zero ideas speaking to me
  • What if I start NaNo and can’t finish for the first time ever?
  • What if I start NaNo and I struggle every, single night to get the words down?
  • I have not managed to stay awake past 9pm for the last 3 months. How will I complete NaNo?
  • I should be working on my mom’s scrapbook, but it means I have to upload photos
  • Once the photos are uploaded, I have to arrange them on the page
  • After the photos are arranged on the page, I have to CAPTION them
  • What if I die during the scrapbooking/NaNoWriMo/Hiking challenge?
  • Can I arrange to be eaten by a bear?
  • What if the baby kitties get fat?
  • Who you calling fat, lady? This is technically a ruff, not a double chin.

    Who you calling fat, lady? This is technically a ruff, not a double chin.

  • What if my cinnamon tree cutting dies?
  • Can I order cinnamon trees online?
  • What if it gets too cold and dies in transit and the company I bought it from refuses to refund me because I should have known better?
  • Can I grow cinnamon from seed?
  • If I grow cinnamon from seed, I’m supposed to plant them immediately because they have limited viability. But they aren’t supposed to be planted until Spring. And then it takes a month or more for them to sprout
  • What if the seeds are all dead and it’s too late to complain and leave feedback on Ebay?
  • What if I never own the Charlie Brown Funko figure where he’s dressed as a ghost?
  • Curse you, Walgreens exclusive! I missed you! And you remind me of the Padawan, and it makes me sad that I can't have you!

    Curse you, Walgreens exclusive! I missed you! And you remind me of the Padawan, and it makes me sad that I can’t have you!

  • What if I spend all day worrying and never get anything done?
  • What if I don’t get good pictures of the new Radiata hatchlings at the zoo?
  • Best egg tooth photo I have ever taken. Boss man hates the banana leaf background, though, and what if he sees this, gets mad, and burns my blog to the ground?

    Best egg tooth photo I have ever taken. Boss man hates the banana leaf background, though, and what if he sees this, gets mad, and burns my blog to the ground?

  • Speaking of new hatchlings, that reminds me I’m supposed to scrapbook for the department. I need to compile photos into a concise album to make that process easier. Easier? Suddenly it feels the very opposite of easy
  • Also speaking of new hatchlings… My new baby Neon Day Gecko – what if the parents eat it?Are there two new ones? What if they are eaten by spiders?
  • Phelsuma klemmeri, Neon Day Gecko. Extreme close-up. This kid is an inch long.

    Phelsuma klemmeri, Neon Day Gecko. Extreme close-up. This kid is an inch long.

  • What if we are ALL EATEN BY SPIDERS?
  • What if one day while I am hanging upside down to do water changes in the big exhibit, the driftwood becomes so weak that it collapses and everyone sees me fall into the water?
  • What if NO ONE sees me and I drown and my face gets eaten by the turtles?
  • What if I can’t find all the fun photos I want to add to this post?
  • What if I do find them, but my storage is all eaten up and I can’t post them?
  • What if I have to wash my hair again tonight?
  • What if I am out of shampoo and CAN’T wash my hair tonight?
  • What if my ENTIRE family is eaten by bears? It’s bear season, and maybe my whole family put on their best acorn underwear for their big hiking/camping trips?
  • What if Sonic runs out of dark chocolate/potato chip/pretzel Blasts?
  • What if I eat the Blast and it goes straight to my bum and none of my pants fit me anymore?
  • What if it never gets cold again?
  • What if it gets cold and I am very, very sorry that it is cold because I wear shorts all winter and end up with chilblains?
  • What if I never learn what chilblains are? But spellcheck does, so I know it’s a thing
  • What if my headache/anxiety/neuropathy/memory loss never go away?
  • What if I never get an idea for NaNo and the muse has left me and I never got to write again and my new computer sits on my writing table sad and dejected?
  • What if I go outside to go for a walk and a walnut falls out of the tree, hits me on the head, and renders me unconscious in the middle of the road?
  • What if I go to the gym to work out because walnuts typically don’t fall in the gym, but the bean burrito I ate last night makes its presence known and all the other members die of methane poisoning and I go to jail for premeditated foofing?
  • What if I don’t make it to Target in time for the post-Halloween 90% off sale and all the pet costumes are gone and Ravenclaw and Pandora are stuck being naked for the rest of their lives?
  • Okay, so maybe they won't be TOTALLY naked, but bat costumes have limited use.

    Okay, so maybe they won’t be TOTALLY naked, but bat costumes have limited use.

    pandora_the_bat

  • What if I can’t figure out a super-cool Halloween costume?
  • What if we go trick-or-treating and kids come by our house and no one is home, so they egg the place?
  • What if we buy a million bags of candy and we have no trick-or-treaters, so I am forced to eat the candy myself because I take one for the team, and then I get fat?
  • What if the MRI costs $10,000 and insurance doesn’t cover it and we are stuck in debt again?
  • What if my chest actually bursts apart with the electricity that is building in it?

Is it too late to sign up to get eaten by a bear? Then I wouldn’t have to worry about a costume because I would be Winnie’s Poo. Also, now I want a hermit crab.

 

 

Hallmark Really Dropped the Ball Here.

Why doesn’t Hallmark have a “Dear Son, I’m Sorry For Peeing In The Gene Pool” card? They’ve missed the boat here. I owe the Padawan a greeting card at the very least.

So I got up last Friday to discover that the Padawan was already up. I should have seen a red flag waving right then. This is the kid who hasn’t willingly seen a sunrise since he became aware the earth actually revolves around the sun. But he was up.

When he asked his dad for “mutton chops supreme,” we made an appointment with the doctor. When he began hallucinating that his dad was light saber dueling with Squish, we went on the the Emergency Room. When he told us that Iron Man was abandoned by his parents at the age of one because they were billionaires and couldn’t be bothered to put him up for adoption, we were certain he was going to die. Kid knows his super heroes. Usually.

A billionaire says "Huh?" My parents didn't give me up for adoption, dude.

A billionaire says “Huh My parents didn’t give me up for adoption, dude. And also, where did your mother learn to draw?”

They ran a few tests. The first was an EEG. We sat in on it, eyes glued to the screen, pretending we knew exactly what we were looking at as the computer scribbled out patterns like the world’s most expensive etch-a-sketch. The computer drew graceful lines here, a few frantic scribbles there, every once in a while the cursor backing up the screen and marking places of interest. Sometimes the parallel lines intersected. Was that bad? Sometimes they were slow and sleepy, sometimes they bounced around like an itch his brain was trying to scratch.

I tried not to look at the socks on his feet, the ones I had had to put on for him that morning because he was unable to follow simple directions well enough to dress himself. They were his brother’s socks,the only ones I could find in a hurry, too small for him, grey heel and toe not quite lining up, rather like the child whose brainwaves we studied with such intensity.

The boy in the bed was a stranger to me, like someone had been called on to impersonate our son but didn’t have the act down pat yet, words a little too sharp, expression guarded, as if he didn’t quite know who we were, either.v The lights were on, but no one was home. And at that moment, my biggest concern wasn’t whether he would survive, but whether or not I would ever get back the son that I knew.

God is good. All the stars were in alignment that day. Not only did they have openings for MRI and EEG (usually it takes a week or more to schedule each because they only have one machine), the neurologist himself just happened to be present for the whole test. He was the one responsible for the screen backing up at seemingly random points, and he saw what he needed to see. He came and got us in the middle of the test.

A seizure, he said, judging by the irritability of the brainwaves. Really? How is he different? Aren’t all teenagers irritable? Now we had an answer that begged another question. A seizure, but why?

We went back to the ER to wait for the MRI to tell us whether the Padawan’s rare blood disorder could have caused an intercranial tumor. I had to stop him from messing with the IV in his arm. He rolled his eyes and complained that I was fussing over him. For the first time in hours, he sounded like himself.

I smiled, the terrifying episode over.

“Awww,” he cooed suddenly. “Look at the leopard geckos on that guy’s shoulders!”

Okay, so not QUITE over. But mostly. The MRI was clear. No tumor. The ER doctor was patient and encouraging as he gave us our parting instructions.

Fast forward to today and our follow-up appointment. Epilepsy. Genetic. What? No one in this family has crappy genes. Oh, wait…

This smile is supposed to be ingratiating, not supremely creepy. Looks like I missed the mark here, too.

This smile is supposed to be ingratiating, not supremely creepy. Looks like I missed the mark here, too.

Will the real genetic train wreck please stand up?

The Padawan (in orange) is my not-so-mini-me.

The Padawan (in orange) is my not-so-mini-me.

Ummm. Let’s see. Things known to be inherited…

Who has asthma?

That’s me.

Poor vision? Worn glasses since kindergarten AND had an eye patch?

Right-o!

Depression?

Here.

What about severe allergies?

Yep, me, too.

Liver disorder with 50% rate of inheritability most people have never heard of that could cause… what is the word I’m looking for…seizures?

Me again. Can we stop now?

Thinning hair?

That’s – hey, wait. That might be his dad.

Looks like the Padawan got cursed with more than just my stunning good looks. ***

We ran a few errands today after the doctor’s appointment, then we got treats at McDonalds. I gave him my Happy Meal, though. If he’s going to get something deadly from me, it might as well be a cheeseburger.

 

***true story. He saw a photo of me as a little girl and said “Aww, a picture of little me! Wait. Why I am wearing a dress?” That’s how much he looks like me. Even he can see it.

My Parenting Philosophy in Three Words

Maybe I’m not such a great parent after all.

My parenting philosophy can be summed up in three words. “Keep Expectations Low.” I need that on a t-shirt. Because I’ve never taken them on vacation (Go ahead and judge me. I am TERRIBLE!), I don’t have to do much to impress the boys. They’re better off that way.

I could drive them around the block and show up at the YMCA, and they’d still think it an exotic vacation if they get to:

  • play video games in bed until 11pm.
  • enjoy cable TV – although Squish learned that having 50 channels doesn’t guarantee that there is something to actually watch. It was a hard life lesson for him.
  • get snacks from a vending machine
  • continental breakfast, whether it boasts a waffle maker or dog turd sandwiches.
  • swim in a pool – and let me tell you, size does not matter. Our motel pool is smaller than the double bed in the motel room, and they still think they are Mr. and Mrs. Howell.
Source: Gilligasisle.com I'll let them argue over which one is Lovey, but neither of them wants to get their hair wet.

Source: Gilligansisle.com I’ll let them argue over which one is Lovey, but neither of them wants to get their hair wet.

One day, maybe we’ll actually get cable at home, and then they will NEVER leave! NAH!

The One Where I Admit I’m Negligent

You heard it here first. I am not a good parent. I let my kids down in a big way.

I’ve never taken my kids on vacation. Like, ever. Not once. The Girl-child is 19, and she’s never been away on vacation. She has been away from home, of course. All the kids have. To grandma’s, to camp, etc. But never away to do fun things for more than a night. Until now. It’s road trip time.

It is for the boys, anyway. The Girl-child is staying home because she has a job. And I have, like, a million pets. We’re hitting the road for St Augustine.

Last night, it all seemed like a good idea, a great one, even. I was so excited. We went to St Augustine as honeymooners 21 years ago, and we loved it so much. There are plenty of places we haven’t been, but if we’re going to leap into vacation, we should go somewhere we know. Or think we know. Or whatever.

In the light of day, the shine has worn off this particular idea. I didn’t go on vacation much as a kid. Why should my kids be spoiled? Also? Kittens. How do I leave this?

Pan-DOR-able. How do I leave this face and stay gone for 2% of her young life? I don't deserve her love!

Pan-DOR-able. How do I leave this face and stay gone for 2% of her young life? I don’t deserve her love!

This morning,  husband loaded the car with way too much stuff. I will continue packing things into bags until there is nothing left but the bare studs and a few good memories if I am not bodily removed from the premises. The goal was to leave at 7am

6:30 Squish wakes us up

6:40 Finally get out of bed

6:45 Look around for the clothes I laid out last night. I swear they were *right here*

6:50 Find clothes in exactly the spot I left them last night. My bad, husband. I didn’t see them. Don’t look at me like that!

6:55 Learn that husband does not, in fact, like my orange Minions shirt and never has. It’s like our whole marriage has been a lie.

6:56 Begin existential crisis.

7:15 Ignore horn honking in the driveway and check Twitter

7:18 Go out to move car.

7:19 Return to the house to get keys.

7:20 Return to house to get coffee

7:21 Return to house to pee one last time

7:23 Insist that everyone else go pee also

7:35 Get in car

7:36 Return to house to replace kitten who mysteriously appeared in my backpack. I don’t know how she got there, so stop looking at me like that.

7:38 On the road.

The trip was uneventful. Husband found a route that takes 5 fewer hours than our last trip, or maybe new interstates have been constructed in the last 20 years. The only blip was a visit to a benighted McDonald’s with the least attentive servers in history and a child at the table behind us whose shrieks could have peeled the paint off the walls.

We got here in before dark, but I suspect it’s going to be an interesting visit. Instead of a magical stay at a bed and breakfast, we’re at the bad end of town in a motel who lists “toilet” as one of its amenities. I was all excited, but my enthusiasm waned with the daylight. Suddenly it seems like too much work to leave the room.

It’s not all bad. The kids didn’t want to leave the room, either. They opted to send Dad out to bring back a pizza. I’m pretending that it’s a money-saving move and not because I don’t have the energy to fight traffic tonight. Time enough for that tomorrow, right?

I can’t sleep without a kitten chewing on my feet. I do hope that one of the boys is up to the job.

 

The Best Question I Have Ever Been Asked

Zookeepers get asked a lot of questions. It’s part of the job, and honestly one of my favorite things.
Yesterday morning I was bent over unclogging a tube in the bog turtle rearing exhibit. I heard a family approach the fence, and the mom began reading the graphics aloud to her young son.

“Looking into this exhibit,  you may be looking into the future of bog turtle conservation…”

The little boy looked at me through the peeking window and said “Are you real?”

I assured him that I was. His eyes got huge as he took the words on the graphics to heart.

“Are you from the future?”

If Santa can break the space/time continuum, why couldn’t a zookeeper? We are made of magic and cat hair.
My forefinger. Check out that expression! the eyes look white, but that's because the pupils are contracted. At night, they dilate, and those eyes are solid black!

My forefinger. Check out that expression! the eyes look white, but that’s because the pupils are contracted. At night, they dilate, and those eyes are solid black!

It’s National Zookeeper Appreciation Week. Have you hugged a keeper yet?

The One Where I Make a Big Announcement

First let me say that I was as surprised by the ending to this story as you are. It was not exactly expected, but I’m also not sad at how things have turned out.

I called my husband from work a few Saturdays ago to tell him that Spider-Man*** and Captain America were coming to the zoo to sign autographs. Every, single pretend play event like this is a reminder that my boy is growing up. And I grieve.

“He may not be interested,” I said over the phone. My heart said “Please, God, let him want to come.”

“And he might not want to wear a costume,” I added, in the second phone conversation. “Please, God,” my heart cried. “Let him want to wear a costume. Just one more time.”

“And you might want to get here early,” I said, on the third call this time. “Because it gets really busy, and it’s hot, and the heroes might want to take breaks.” And I may never again have a little superhero who dresses up and comes out, ready to fight crime and drink a cherry Slushie.

My heart is hungry for those one more times. One more time to play dress up and pretend. One more time to belly laugh over Snoopy and his silliness. One more time to crawl into my lap and call me “Mommy.” One more time to ask for help tying a boot. One more time to look with wide-eyed innocence at a world too big and too scary.

And I couldn’t take the pain of the one more time. Because what if it never showed up.

On that sunny Saturday, it did. Dressed in his Captain America best, with the cardboard shield his brother and sister had made for him, he trip-trapped up the sidewalk, ready to conquer the world and have his picture taken. He greeted me coolly, and I could see it in his eyes. That one last time is fast approaching, and one time soon will be the last time for both of us because he is the last, the youngest. Why does it feel so unfair?

Here I stand on the precipice of The End,  when it seems like the The Beginnings were only about 10 seconds ago.

I made baby Squish Harry Potter. And I'm not sorry.

I made baby Squish into Harry Potter. And I’m not sorry.

 

Don't ask. I don't know. He looks like he's having fun, though, doesn't he?

Don’t ask. I don’t know. He looks like he’s having fun, though, doesn’t he?

That shield in an heirloom. And it has seen some action.

That shield in an heirloom. And it has seen some action.

Somehow, this kid went from Baby Harry Potter to playing guitar naked to Captain America with the heirloom shield in about a minute. Kids grow up. I know that. I’ve always known that. But he was my last one, and I wasn’t ready.

I thought I was done. I thought the yearnings for a little one would cease by my age. I’ve said for years that I’m done. No more. I’m ready to not have babies. And I was wrong. My husband didn’t feel quite the same as I, but we talked. And negotiated. And talked some more. And he was reluctant but willing.

So I have an announcement to make. We waited a while before telling everyone, and we haven’t even told all of our family and friends yet, but I have some big news.

We got a kitten.

My kitten summed up in one photo. "Hey! You busy? I'm not in your way, am I?"

Ravenclaw summed up in one photo. “Hey! You busy? I’m not in your way, am I?”

Wait. What did you think I was going to say?

***I just learned how to spell Spider-Man correctly so that Spell-check doesn’t yell. Be happy for me! Or very sad. It has only taken me 44 years.

Finding Dory: I Can’t Sit Through It Again

This is not a review.

I don’t think there are any spoilers here. But if you really need to go in blind, come back and read after you’ve seen the film. I know I’m in the minority. Everyone loves a Disney flick, and so do I. Monsters, Inc? Yes, please. The Emperor’s New Groove? I’ll have an extra helping with a side of Yzma (but hold the Kronk’s New Groove).

The best Disney movie ever made. Eartha Kitts at her most hilarious.

The best Disney movie ever made. Eartha Kitts at her most hilarious.

I even loved Finding Nemo. It came out when the Padawan was just a toddler, and he had already set his sights on becoming a marine biologist.

We went to see Finding Dory on Father’s Day, even though Disney has a history of offing parents in terrible and creative ways. We figure with both of us as parents, we’ll be paying for our kids’ therapy anyway, so why not? We even took Squish. It was his next-to-first movie. We even bought popcorn with free refills. We were ready for adventure. And then the picture rolled.

Fifteen minutes into the film, I didn’t want to watch it anymore. If you’ve never seen either movie, let me catch you up. Dory is a fish who suffers from short-term memory loss. Notice I didn’t say she’s a fish *with* short-term memory loss. She suffers. It is painful, not just for her, but for all of us.

She's adorable. And heartbreakingly apologetic. Photo source: USA Today

She’s adorable. And heartbreakingly apologetic. Photo source: USA Today

The movie contains a number of scenes that flash back to Dory’s babyhood. We get to see baby Dory and her Mom and Dad as they coach her on how to help a cruel world understand her. “My name is Dory, and I have short-term remembery loss.” Isn’t that cute? Maybe it should have been, but it wasn’t. Instead of a little baby fish with big, violet eyes, I see my son.

No, he hasn't been drinking blood. He has a cherry slushie.

No, he hasn’t been drinking blood. He has a cherry slushie.

What broke my heart more? Was it the look on baby Dory’s face each time she realized she was different, somehow lacking in an essential element? Was it her abject apologies to her parents when she failed to remember, when her disability caused her to stumble? Did I imagine the heartsick expressions on her parents’ faces when they reassured her that she hadn’t done anything wrong? I don’t know. I just know I felt exhausted, and I wanted to cry. For Dory, for her parents, for myself.

Instead of feeling hopeful at what was supposed to be an adorable story, I was inexplicably angry, and I wanted the movie to stop. I wanted Disney to quit exploiting this child, to quit showing me over and over and over again how different she is and how painful that difference is for her.

Dory slips away from her parents, something we know has to happen in order to move the story forward, for there to have been a Finding Nemo in the first place. But what was the real story? So many questions bubbled in my brain.

Were Dory’s parents  ever hopeful that one day their child would live a successful life on her own?

What is their internal dialogue each time they reassure her that she is just fine? Do they cry on the inside because they foresee how difficult her life is going to be?

Did they keep her away from the other little fish for her safety, or was it because they were afraid the other fish wouldn’t understand her and would be treat her badly?

How many times did they cry because another fish was cruel to her?

Did Dory understand her parents’ heartache and anger when she was bullied? 

Did being pushed around bother her, or was she, like Squish, completely oblivious?

Did Dory ever have supervised play time with hand-picked small fry so that she could learn how to interact with others, or was she isolated?

Had Dory’s parents planned to have only one child, or were all their resources, both financial and emotional, tied up in Dory?

They knew she had trouble remembering. Why did they ever leave her alone? Why was there no alarm on the door?

Had Dory made enough progress that they genuinely thought she would be able to remember the rules for keeping herself safe?

Were they just so worn down from constant vigilance that they let down their guard?

In the movie, Dory’s parents are always seen together. If they had maybe tag-teamed and taken shifts, would they have had more energy for supervising her? Would their marriage have suffered as a result?

And most importantly, if Dory’s parents couldn’t do it, can I?

 

 

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?