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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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 Best Present Is My Past

My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. Insert Peter, Paul and Mary here because I am, in fact, leaving on a jet plane, and I don’t know when I’ll be back again. I have a general idea because a return date is printed on my ticket, but it snows in Wisconsin. If it snows, I’ll be delayed.

I like to travel, especially when I don’t have to drive. The possibilities are endless. I’m bringing about 150 books (e-readers are the best!), music, snacks. The kid in me is wired up and fired up. Not because of the books, though, or the secret stash of Cliff bars, or the Lunchable my husband bought me for the flight (Shut up. I’m really eight.). That kid is tickled pink over the brand new legal pad stashed in my backpack.

Back in the days before laptops and desktops and the little electronic typewriter and the gigantic IBM typewriter circa 1944 that shook the walls every time I hit “return,” there were legal pads, bought with my own money. They were impractical and unconventional, so no legal pad ever appeared on my school supply list. When I ventured to the store to buy them, they had a purpose all their own. No mundane notebook filler, legal pads were intended for greatness. As a seventh grader,  I wrote my first novel on a series of them. Those battered yellow tablets are stashed in the garage somewhere. Not somewhere. I know exactly where they are. I leave them there. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

For over a year I carried those tablets everywhere, writing anywhere I could, squeezing in a few sentences here, a paragraph there. They were my best teachers. Through my work on yellow legal pads, I learned about hyperbole (mostly how to do it badly), and that sleep can be lost over sticky plot points. I learned that no one ever died over torn pages, although they might feel like it at the time. I learned that there are critics everywhere and that sometimes when kids see you spending more time with a pad of paper than with actual humans, they think you’re a little weird. And that weird can be good.

I let an adult read my book once. At the time, I was cocky and full of my own self-importance. I was thirteen and had written a book. I was golden. I had not learned that first drafts are word-vomit or that every writer needs an editor. I now try to imagine that teacher’s impression of my work. And I cringe. My writing then was so raw, the very essence of my burgeoning teenage self. I didn’t wear a mask back then. My hopes, my dreams, my insecurities are contained in those pages, bared to the world. Now I could no more let someone else read that early work than I could walk naked across the town square. They are essentially the same, you know. I can’t even bear to reread them myself. I’m not ready for that level of exposure

My husband bought me a new tablet tonight. I added it to the shopping list, and when I came home it was there on the counter. It’s yellow, and it’s new, and it’s waiting for me. I have plans for this pad, oh yes, I do. First and foremost, NaNoWriMo is coming. I signed up again this year, and I’m getting ready. On the pages of this legal pad, I will meet my characters for the first time. I will learn their names and their history. We will plan their story; what was, and what I hope will be. It’s the best present.

If you are signing up for NaNo, too, and leave your user name, I’ll add you as a buddy. I’ll meet you at the corner store to buy a box of Runts, and we can stay up all night plotting and planning whole new worlds. I can’t wait.

Buy Me This.

I am guest-posting over at Angie’s place today. You know? Childhood Relived? You get to live a piece of my childhood. Not the part where I ate the paste in kindergarten. The good part. You know, toys? Although the paste was pretty good, too. Wait. Have I said too much?

Anyway, come and read over at Angie’s. Just click here:

Toy Tuesday: Of Mice and Mighty Men.

And then head over to Ebay and buy that toy for me. Anyone? Anyone? Fine. I’ll buy it myself.