Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Archive for the category “Why didn’t someone warn us that parenting is hard?”

On “Saving the Children”

What do we even want from kids?

What is the end goal of parenting and schooling and churning out adult humans…like…at ALL?

“If the answer were simply to push more and more kids into college, the United States would be entering its democratic prime,” writes George Packer for The Atlantic on March 10, 2022. He asserts that the function of school in this country has shifted considerably throughout our history. He writes, “what is school for? This is the kind of foundational question that arises when a crisis shakes the public’s faith in an essential institution. ‘The original thinkers about public education were concerned almost to a point of paranoia about creating self-governing citizens,’ Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told [him]. ‘Horace Mann went to his grave having never once uttered the phrase college- and career-ready. We’ve become more accustomed to thinking about the private ends of education. We’ve completely lost the habit of thinking about education as citizen-making.’”

Photo by Emily Ranquist on Pexels.com

So, sincerely, what is it that we are doing as parents and teachers and…adults? What’s the point of educating young people?

It’s been reported widely that attitudes about how much community members and other non-educators ought to have a “say” in how and what schools teach. Rather famously, a school board in Tennessee banned the inclusion of the World War II graphic novel, Maus, due to NUDITY, of all things, though the book is about the goddamn Holocaust and depicts the true realities of what millions of human beings experienced. The book doesn’t depict any of this as GOOD, mind you. In fact, it recognizes the atrocities of the historical events, yet that context didn’t seem to matter to a 10-person school board in McMinn County who voted unanimously to remove this “offensive” book from its school’s shelves.

WHY?

A great framing of the incident is that “people with the power to shape the education of kids looked at content without context and made a decision rooted in anti-intellectualism and ignorance. Education isn’t about shielding kids from painful truths,” writer Ryan Britt claimed in an article at Fatherly.com. “It’s about helping contextualize those truths. Maus is one of the best examples of how horrible moments from history can be sublimated into profound, life-changing art. And, decision-makers who feel otherwise are edging toward the horrible book-burnings of the Nazis themselves.”

So, I ask again: WHAT IS THE GOAL HERE?

Photo of Birkenau gate by Frederick Wallace on Unsplash

I guess I can at least accept that “protecting kids from scary or grown-up stuff” is AN answer to the question of “why did you perform an Orwellian action of dictating what young people should and shouldn’t know about actual, real history?” But, in the long run, when these young people become older people, what is the hope of who those people will BE? Do we WANT folks who do not have any context for what happened to close to 10 million human beings, 6 million of whom were tossed in the air as infants and shot or sent to die choking, bleeding deaths in gas chambers because of their positions on how to recognize and worship a deity? Like, are we HOPING to create a populace who is “protected” from history to the point that they are not aware of it? British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And, ya know, he was THERE for World War II, so maybe he knows things or something? Or, like he did know things. He was born in the 1870’s, so he’s not around anymore, but you get the idea.

Packer’s article in The Atlantic continues to assert that “education is a public interest, which explains why parents shouldn’t get to veto any book they think might upset their child, whether it’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Beloved. Public education is meant not to mirror the unexamined values of a particular family or community, but to expose children to ways that other people, some of them long dead, think.” So why in the name of all things big and small would anyone be so arrogant as to contend that THEIR PERSONAL feelings about nudity in a freaking Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the planet’s most horrific war should be taken into account, especially when those arrogant people are not, themselves, educators?

If you have ever been an elementary school teacher, you know that even the youngest of kids can learn to get along with others. Elementary school teachers, in fact, demand that as a fundamental rule in their classrooms. So, it is possible for human beings to coexist peacefully. Just ask your average 5-year old. Peaceful coexistence does not happen without some effort, though, and whether you’re trying to cooperate to complete a morning routine at the kindergarten daily calendar or discuss the merits of a certain political system in a college classroom, such collaboration can only be found through mutual respect, common ground, and a desire to behave like civilized human beings.

The banning of books and the takeover of American schools by ignorant and ill-informed, power-driven non-educators is a cyclical nightmare. The less and less people read, discuss, debate, and think, the more and more they will find literature, discourse, disagreement, and contemplation “dangerous” or undesirable. And, in turn, the less and less people will read, discuss, debate, and think.

Perhaps this is the English teacher in me coming out, but as far as I am concerned, reading is one of the most important activities for the human mind and reading about ideas different from your current ones is paramount to building better citizens of humanity.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Reading is different, perhaps, for those skilled in the art of doing in than it is for laypeople. As a long-time English teacher, I get that. I know that I see things in literature that kids don’t see at first. One of my favorite tools is a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. In it, he actually discusses what the purpose of both sex and violence are in books. One of my favorite quotes of his from that book is: “When they’re writing about other things, they really mean sex, and when they write about sex, they really mean something else.  If they write about sex and mean strictly sex, we have a word for that.  Pornography.” This is where the breakdown happens, I think. Maus is NOT pornography. If it were, it would deserve to be banned. But, a NAKED CARTOON MOUSE is NOT pornography and now here we are: a book banned in a backwards school district for what is, really, no good reason whatsoever.

In fact, the delineation between what is LITERATURE and what is a BOOK lies in this differentiation between sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) and that which sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) represents. I created a lesson on this very idea some time ago and I phrased it well then, so I am not going to reinvent the wheel here, but rather quote myself, I guess: “Thomas C. Foster explains, ‘Violence is one of the most personal and even intimate acts between human beings, but it can also be cultural and societal in its implications.’  Think of Macbeth ‘unseaming’ the traitor in Act I of Macbeth.  He must get very close to him.  He can undoubtedly smell the blood.  He’ll get plenty of blood and bone on his own body.  Organs will burst.  He’ll watch life drain from his eyes.  This is personal.  It says something about the kind of man Macbeth is and the kind of patriotism he had — the loyalty he had to his king — before meeting those witches.” So, while some non-educators might attempt to protect teenagers’ virginal eyes and pure minds from the scaries one might find in Shakespeare or Spiegelman or Lee or Huxley or Rowling or Steinbeck or Walker or Morrison or Fitzgerald or Angelou, what they’re protecting those kids from is LEARNING.

Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, literary works — even the “mature” ones — have a deeply important place in schools that hope to build better thinkers, better debaters, better collaborators, better citizens, and better humans. It is only if you are NOT trying to build those things that it makes sense to keep kids from reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men or The Color Purple. A 2019 survey by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation demonstrated “why a greater emphasis on American history learning is essential to the nation. The Foundation found that in the highest-performing state, only 53 percent of the people were able to earn a passing grade for U.S. history. People in every other state failed; in the lowest-performing state, only 27 percent were able to pass” (Source: Woodrow Wilson Foundation Finds Only One State Can Pass U.S. Citizenship Exam) In Tennessee, where that ban on Maus was, the study found that 62% of people earned a 59% or lower (a failing grade) on that citizenship exam. Only 3% of testers in that state earned an “A.”

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“Amid the GOP’s national campaign to purge ‘leftist ideology’ from public schools, local officials across the nation are now banning certain books that deal with race, sex, and gender, from school shelves, writes Jon Skolnik for The Salon in a January 2022 article. In addition to the well-publicized ban on Maus in Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi have ramped up their book-banning of late. That citizenship test I mentioned before? Nearly 70% of Mississippians failed that. The folks of Missouri fared better but still 61% of them failed. Do we need kids in these places to be learning LESS?

The Humanities (literature, history, art) have a place in society-building. Packer’s The Atlantic article goes on to assert that “the best way to interest young people in literature is to have them read good literature, and not just books that focus with grim piety on the contemporary social and psychological problems of teenagers. We sell them insultingly short in thinking that they won’t read unless the subject is themselves. Mirrors are ultimately isolating; young readers also need windows, even if the view is unfamiliar, even if it’s disturbing. The ability to enter a world that’s far away in time or place; to grapple with characters whose stories might initially seem to have nothing to do with your life; to gradually sense that their emotions, troubles, revelations are also yours—this connection through language to universal human experience and thought is the reward of great literature, a source of empathy and wisdom.”

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are, of course, incredibly important for young people to have access to in education. These areas are where we, as a society, build DOERS. These STEM subjects create problem-solvers, and critical thinkers. But, the Humanities are where empathy, understanding, communication, diplomacy, maturity, and wisdom are built. And, BOTH areas — those appealing to the left-brained AND the right — are responsible for helping folks test ideas, support claims, evaluate thoughts, and draw meaningful conclusions.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

So, again, at the risk of being a bit of a broken record here, I ask: WHAT DO WE WANT FOR OUR KIDS? What is the goal of education? Despite my rant in my tiny corner of the internet, “well-meaning” (mostly white, cisgendered, straight, “Christian” adults) will continue to rail against naked mice, schools of witchcraft and wizardry, and learning that American history is –whether you want to talk about it or not–built on a fundamental foundation of white supremacy. I don’t imagine that Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky (the three worst-performing states on that US Citizenship Exam which, by the way, demonstrated that a huge number of Americans don’t know what a Constitutional Amendment is) are going to start to suddenly embrace Walk Two Moons and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but they should.

It can start with you, though. Consider buying or borrowing one of these books. Read them with your child. Talk. Think. Share ideas.

Most frequently banned books for elementary-aged kids:

  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  4. I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  5. The Captain Underpants Series by Dav Pilkey
  6. New Kid by Jerry Craft

Most frequently banned books for middle-school kids:

  1. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  2. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  3. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  6. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Most frequently banned books for high school kids:

  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  3. Native Son by Richard Wright (one of my personal favorite books ever!)
  4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Or, if you’re interested, check out these book-ban lists and information about what some states are currently working on:

  1. TEXAS
  2. MISSISSIPPI
  3. OHIO
  4. ALABAMA
  5. GEORGIA
  6. OKLAHOMA
  7. ARKANSAS
  8. SOUTH CAROLINA
  9. FLORIDA
  10. NORTH CAROLINA
  11. UTAH
  12. ARIZONA

Parenting During the Death of Public Education

I am going to put my ‘mom” hat back on today, but I still have my “teacher” glasses on for now.

My kids are in 5th and 8th grades. They’re pretty awesome kids. But, that’s not why you’re here.

I firmly and whole-heartedly have always supported public education. It is the way in which we build a society. It is the method by which we grow our citizens into thinking, problem-solving, collaborative adults.

That’s not to say that private schools don’t do this. But, public schools do it — for free — in your own neighborhood — while also providing a myriad of learning and support services — with fully certified teachers. As a mom, this is important to me.

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

But, there is a shift happening in public education and it will impact our children. You may not be aware of it because you are not as far down in this rabbit hole of information as I am, so let me get you up to speed on a few things going on right now in America that are changing the way our children get their learning.

First, let’s talk about some of the absolutely bonkers stuff that is going on at the government-level. The Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would require teachers to submit and publish a year’s worth of lesson plans on June 30 of the year prior. This is a nicely-written article about this issue if you’d like to learn more. But, here’s the thing: if you didn’t know anything about how the work of teaching happens, this might seem ok to you. What’s the big deal? Don’t you KNOW what you’re doing? Why don’t you want to make it public? What are you hiding, you peasant public servant?

But, it is pretty impossible to do this without a pre-packaged curriculum at your disposal. I mean, I don’t know next year’s kids on June 30. I haven’t met them yet. I don’t know what their needs will be. And, honestly, there are a bazillion other reasons why this is nuts. Do you know what project you’ll be working on and exactly what your day will look like…say November 14 of this year? Most people don’t. You can give an estimate, likely, but for you to fill out a detailed agenda for every day of the next year of your life might be kinda hard.

The simple answer to this is for a school to purchase a curriculum from a company like Pearson or Cengage Learning. This is a bit of a “hmmmm…” moment for me. If legislation makes it nearly impossible NOT to purchase a product, then I am forced to buy that product, thus I make some company more money. Whose best interest is being served here? As neither a mother nor a teacher do I believe the best interest being served is my kids’.

I might add that lesson plans are not fast or easy to write. I can spend hours on one lesson for one class period of one day. There is research involved, connection to standards, inclusion of multimedia, design of projects or assignments or quizzes associated, plans for enrichment for the high-achieving kids, plans for remediation for struggling kids, the material I’ll present, how I’ll present it, what my objectives are, what ultimate goal I’m aligning this all with…seriously — I don’t just sit down and go “ummm…Hamlet. I’ll just, like, talk about Hamlet things” and that’s all there is to it. And, when you think about Hamlet as an example, you might realize that I’d have to be an expert on it before I can even start writing that single day’s lesson which, ya know, might take a minute or two. Now, multiply all of this by the number of different classes I have in one day. That can be upward of 4 or 5 for some teachers. So, they’ll do all of that for 4 or 5 different classes, for every day, for 180 days. AND have it done before they leave for the summer on top of all of the stuff that needs to be done to close out a school year: paperwork, grades, reports, etc.

Similar bills are also in places like Arizona and North Carolina where the primary concern is that teachers might talk about issues relating to race, gender, and LGBTQIA+ folks. More on that in another post. So, the quick fix, again, is to BUY a curriculum from a company whose politics you like and just deliver the content as it is packaged. I ask again whose interest we’re serving here. Watch where your money is going, folks.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now, there are some great curricula out there and just because it comes from a major corporation doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Similarly, just because a teacher wrote it doesn’t make a lesson good. But, it does take away the need for an actual professional in the classroom. If all you need is a warm body to read from a text book, assign questions to answer, and just facilitate stuff that is in a script, you don’t really need ME. My 23 years in education, my Master’s Degree, my experience and knowledge, and understanding of students– well, none of that matters really. It’s always nice to have a seasoned veteran deliver packaged content, but it certainly isn’t necessary. It is just another brick in the wall. Your kids are just ground beef churned out by the system then.

Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone.
Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

The Washington Post reports that public school changes are alive and well across the nation and these changes are with the express purpose of privatizing education, something I thought was only a problem while that jackass lady who used to run the Department of Ed was in power. Remember her? She who shall not be named. As of this writing, there are sixteen states that are in the process of increasing their voucher programs or are fighting to otherwise shift allocation of public funding to private educational facilities. If you’re not up on all of this and aren’t sure why charters and “school choice” is actually not what you should want, you can check out this article to learn about the deliberate dismantling of public schools.

All-in-all, when we privatize education, we are putting it in the hands of FOR-PROFIT companies. Maybe this is capitalism at its finest and will increase competition which will increase results. But, here’s the reality: a private school does not HAVE to take your kid. It doesn’t have to teach your kid. It doesn’t have to keep your kid when he screws up. It doesn’t have to provide services for your kids’ special needs. It doesn’t have to DO much of anything except generally keep their numbers where they want them in order to keep the money where they want it. In some places, it doesn’t even have to hire certified teachers.

Maybe I’m crazy but I think that diversity is a good thing. I think that certified teachers are a good thing. I think that teaching critical thinking and challenging kids’ minds beyond what’s “in the book” is a good thing. I used to talk with my students about existentialism and literary critical theory. Now, we read mini-articles written two grade-levels lower than expected and regurgitate information on standardized tests. My current packaged curriculum (which is a basis for my teaching, basically informing the sequencing of units, but is not the majority of my teaching) includes ZERO novels. I’m a high school English teacher. Did you know that your child could go through four years of high school and never read a book? I won’t name the company whose curriculum includes no books at all for high school kids, but they’re one of the highest-earning, well-known educational companies on the planet and their stuff is in thousands of schools.

This is not what I want for my children. I want them to disagree with me. I want them to think. I want them to criticize and evaluate and read a damn book. Hell, THEY want to read books.

For what it’s worth, you might want to check out this article that is titled, “Are You Learning at School or Just Bullshitting Everything?” And, for fun, try Googling “why >insert curriculum company here< sucks.” It works for any of the companies. The results are terrifying and maddening and hilarious and depressing.

So, my fellow parents, if you have chosen private education for your children, cool. Whatever. That’s fine. But, please be aware that the public school system is still an important element of our nation’s functional growth. And, remember: if public school dies, all the riff-raff you’ve been trying to keep your kids away from will have to go somewhere and it might be your private school.

Bleeding Out

When I decided to go by “Off Duty Mom,” it was through inspiration from my own mom who, in the evenings of my childhood, would sometimes pick up a book and lie in bed in an attempt to have just a bit of time to herself, declaring that she was “off duty.” As an adult, once I had children of my own, I realized the importance for moms to go “off duty” every now and then.

When not on duty as a mom, I’ve spent a few decades as a high school English teacher. There were days when I didn’t know which job — mom or teacher — was more rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, illuminating, and/or indicative of my very identity. Both jobs have had their ups and downs.

You may have heard through sources such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Washington Post, and, you know, everyone you personally know in education right now, that teachers are quitting in astronomical numbers. And, they’re not just quitting their jobs, but they’re quitting the entire profession and giving up on years of training, years of dreaming, and years of just KNOWING that being an educator was their “calling.” Something is happening and it is bad, people.

I first realized that my own mental health was in decline just before the pandemic forced me out of my classroom. I remember a conversation I had with an assistant principal where she and I talked off-the-record about morale being low in our building. This is something that can just “happen” from time to time, though, so at this point, the very fact that she just sort of listened to me, heard my concerns about general dissatisfaction, and tried to be supportive was enough for me. But then a dear friend and colleague of mine quit — perhaps not suddenly, but it did unfold fairly quickly — and on that very last day of his, my administrators came over our PA system to let us know that we ought to take our work home with us over the weekend of March 14, 2020 since schools would be closed come Monday.

As schools closed that spring, many districts across the country took vastly different approaches to how they’d handle serving their communities. “Fairness” was an issue of particular concern for a whole lot of schools all over, especially when it came to taking care of the needs of Special Education students. Some schools realized that Zoom-learning wouldn’t really allow for Individualized Education Programs to be met fully which can violate federal law, so that was pretty bad. In order to have “equity” or “fairness” for all students, some schools chose to push through and go all “CDC-be-damned” and stuff to stay open despite, like, several million people dying. Others decided to educate NOBODY because that, too, was “fair” in that everyone was being equally shafted.

During the multiple months that followed, this “fairness” and “equity” remained pretty buzzy. It isn’t for no reason, either. Teachers had a glimpse into students’ home lives and realized that tons of stuff we never even realized was happening behind those closed doors was causing barriers to student learning. Some kids showed up to classes online with their younger siblings on their laps, being primary caregivers AND full time students at once. Some teachers saw a variety of conditions of homes, relationships, boundaries (or lack thereof), supplies, wi-fi reliability, noise levels, and all kinds of trauma-in-the-making. Some kids went fully MIA for the entirety of the time of remote learning. One parent came to an online meeting regarding her son’s pending failure of a course that was a graduation requirement for him while she was actively moving a table from one room of her house to another — huffing and puffing and screaming at her family members while (sort of) talking with me about whether her child was going to get a diploma or not.

The truth was that kids were dealing with all kinds of shit and teachers had a front-row seat. Of course, teachers themselves also had more than they’d signed up for on their own plates. We had to reinvent our entire profession from scratch, learn technology new to most of us, and figure out how to do the non-academic parts of our job with pretty much no help from anyone. Who could even help if they wanted to, anyway?

Things were NOT “equitable” for kids. They had all kinds of levels of support, love, affection, kindness, peace, responsibility, expectation, money, and ability. We always knew this, but it was another thing to witness it.

What happened was that expectations for school systems rose and accountability for students fell. The general consensus was that kids’ differences in preparedness for school wasn’t their “fault” (and it, indeed was not), so we, as a system, had to level the playing field for them. Makes sense on paper. But, of course, the root issues causing these unfair circumstances weren’t going to change for the better and we weren’t attempting to (or able to) fix any of that, anyway. The only thing we could do was “do better” for kids.

I do NOT disagree that “doing better for kids” is both warranted and vital. But, it certainly is stressful.

Art installation titled “Can’t Help Myself” by Chinese artists, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu

Have you ever seen that art installation of the dying robot? Well, there was this robot that constantly leaked hydraulic fluid and was programmed to sweep it up to return to its own system. At first, as the story goes, the fluid leaked at a rate that was manageable for it to contain and return to itself. Over time, though, the moments of “rest” for the robot became fewer and farther between and it was eventually in a situation where it did nothing but clean up this leak literally at all times. The leak was never fixed. It just kept cleaning up, over and over, never able to stop the root cause but instead just in a perpetual cycle of futile efforts to save its own life.

That robot “died” after the spills and loss of fluid became greater than its physical ability to clean up the mess and carry on. I had heard later that the irony of it all was that it wasn’t even a hydraulically-powered machine. Though it was programmed to “believe” that it had to perform this task to save itself, it actually never needed the leaking fluid in the first place. And yet, it died anyway.

Such is the state of education.

When does stress just become unbearable?

I’ve heard the saying, of course, that you “can’t pour from an empty cup” and so, I’ve decided to take a brief hiatus from teaching. Attempting to sweep up all of my leaking hydraulic fluid has left me exhausted and physically unwell. I’ve had heart palpitations. Depression. Anxiety. Stomach all tied up in knots. Sleeping too much. Trouble sleeping at all. I’m on 6 different medications a day like an old lady and half of them are for issues related to stress. So, I get it. That mass exodus of teachers: I get it.

The system is bleeding out. Hemorrhaging, even. And, there are underpaid, undervalued people who are working to stanch that flow every day. In return for their efforts, they are asked to do more: improve test scores, attend more meetings that could have been emails, close the racial performance gap, provide trauma support, get yelled at by parents, have the public refer to them as “glorified babysitters,” shift effortlessly between online learning and in-person as needed, wear masks, get tested, get vaccinated, break up violent fights, prepare for a mass shooting at their workplace, differentiate instruction so that each individual student gets a unique and tailored educational experience, do paperwork nobody reads, give standardized tests, and, well, you know, I am just tired of listing things so I have to stop.

I might add, though, that to the other teacher-moms out there: I know that being a mother is also unforgiving, thankless, and just damn hard, too. And it is hard in ways nobody ever told you about. I mean, we all knew there’d be diapers. But, when you have to deal with bullying, or mental health problems in your kids, or talking about sex and consent, or online predators — well, that was just not what I was thinking about when I was pregnant and people were all, “It’s hard but you’ll love it!” I do NOT enjoy worrying about an adult pretending to be a 13-year old girl to get a kid to meet him “IRL.” Give me a thousand diapers instead, actually.

What’s the moral to the story here? Hell if I know. I wish I had a perky call-to-action to end this rant. Or, a positive “however” statement to make here. I do not.

How many more empty teacher desks will it take before crisis truly sets in?

The world is changing. I guess that’s all there is to it.

If you’d like to read more about this nationwide teacher crisis, here are a few articles you might want to check out:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/10/18/teachers-resign-pandemic/

https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/teachers-are-not-ok-even-though-we-need-them-to-be/2021/09

https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2022/01/04/why-education-is-about-to-reach-a-crisis-of-epic-proportions/?sh=fcd302178c7b

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2022-01-06/more-teachers-than-ever-are-considering-leaving-the-profession

https://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-are-quitting-and-companies-are-hot-to-hire-them-11643634181

https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2019/09/05/we-need-to-stop-talking-about-the-teacher-shortage/?sh=472c6924494c

https://thejournal.com/articles/2022/01/19/survey-finds-teacher-shortage-exacerbated-by-bans-on-classroom-discussions-of-race-and-gender.aspx

The Gym, the Guilt and the Undying Search for Balance

10257789_685963581450789_99859160733615273_nThe guilt is overwhelming sometimes.  Most of the time.

It doesn’t help that the little guys in my life HATE coming with me to the gym.  Or that they ask, “why do you ALWAYS have to go to that gymmmmmm?”

I am insanely fortunate to have found a phenomenal CrossFit gym with a supportive and encouraging coach who allows me to let my children play on their tablets and do their homework while I work out.  But, I still feel incredibly awful dragging them to sit there so I can do something that is solely and completely just for me.

All the self-help people and women’s magazines tell us that we just simply must make the time to do something for ourselves.  It is essential that we take care and have something to call our own.  But I am not sure what the point is at which I am taking too much for myself.

mom-me-time_iwqi70I already work outside of the home as a teacher.  So, that’s “mine.”  I work out somewhat faithfully twice a week.  I get my nails done every two weeks or so.  I see a chiropractor semi-regularly.  I get my hair highlighted and cut every six to eight weeks.  If I wanted to add a third gym day in or see a physical therapist to figure out why I always have to pee when I jump rope, I feel as though that is just going to far.

And, I have to admit that I don’t know who I am more afraid will judge me:  my kids, my husband, society at large or ME.

6e1f525658ca73c44d018f7598768963So, I work out two days a week and while that is wonderful, I am not progressing that quickly.  I’d love to be able to tell you that I can do real pull-ups and bench-press 250 lbs., but those would both be lies.  Since starting at my gym 14 months ago, I have not managed to squeeze out one single actual real pull-up.  Or push-up.  Or unbroken 400-meter run.

The former, couch-potato me would say, “but you’re out there and you’re doing something and you’re sweating and doing something amazing for your body.”

Yep.  I am.

But, can I justify it?

What is a mother supposed to do?  No, really.  What am I supposed to do?  What percentage of “me” time is acceptable?  How many gym days can I have without being a “bad mother”?  If I drag the kids with me tomorrow so I can pick out new frames for my glasses, do I have to counterbalance that which was done solely for my (and not their direct) benefit with ice cream or trips to the park or other bribery/rewards/”quality time with the kids”?

Today, during my front squat, my coach told me I had to take weight off of the bar.  That’s demoralizing.  While I was thankful for the lighter load to bear, I also wondered about whether that made me weak.  But, his cue to me let me know that in that moment I was taking on too much.  I needed to scale back.  I wish I had a better system in place to help cue me as to when I have taken on an improper balance of time dedicated to the different elements of my own life.

Grrrrrrrr…

Today I hate people.

Admittedly, most days I hate people.  I’m an introvert and I like quiet.  And, you know, NOT being around…people.

And, if this is your first time visiting this blog you might be surprised to know, given my general distaste for humanity, that I am a teacher.  Of teenagers.  Pretty much the worst people of all people.

I actually really seriously dislike children.  I mean, mine are cool, but yours suck.  No offense.

I kid only sort of.

On a serious note (for once), I actually tremendously love working with high school students.  I like talking with them.  I like helping them with their ridiculous dramatic bullshit.  I like talking to them about Star Wars.  I like watching them “get it” for the first time.  I seriously fucking love my job.  I am truly an introvert and I prefer quiet to parties, but my favorite thing of all of the things is discussing Hamlet with a group of hungry AP English Literature students.

But, today, I had to cover a 7th grade Math class.  Just let that sink in:  I hate numbers more than I hate people.  And, remember I hate children, but not teenagers.  Seventh graders are CHILDREN.  Don’t talk to me until you’ve made it at least one full day past your 14th birthday.  Even then, I don’t really want to talk to you for very long periods of time until about halfway through your freshman year of high school.

Seniors?  Give me all of the seniors all of the days.  Love ’em.  Lazy sons-a-bitches.  Those kids are my jaaaaam.

Sure, my piss-poor attitude today is colored by the fact that by 8:00 this morning, I had dealt with two students who were ethnically intimidating a Middle-Eastern refugee student and one student who told another to “eat balls.”  This week, I have been trying to stop a small group of boys in their attempt to mercilessly and evilly bully a weaker kid.  I’ve been failing at this miserably since the bullied kid is so bullied that he is too terrified to admit to the bullying so we can proceed with assistance for him.  I’m trying desperately to get a student scheduled into all of her appropriate classes for her junior and senior years because her parents do not speak English and they cannot advocate for her at school here.  So I do.  I’m trying to encourage a kid I’ve been mentoring for four years to finish all of the credit recovery programming he’s been working on so he can have enough credits to graduate in June.  He probably won’t make it.  I’ll be devastated when/if he ultimately drops out of high school.

I’ll go home today to a car with only three working tires.  My kids will need help with their homework.  I will have to cook dinner — from scratch because I am trying desperately not to pour a bunch of food additives, processed garbage and sugar into my family’s bodies.  I’ll care for my aging dog who was diagnosed yesterday with cataracts.  I’ll probably not get to the gym though I consider this a “gym day.” I’m not trying to get into a bikini or impress anyone, but I am trying to get stronger and healthier and today that will have to wait.

It is hard to be a working mom.

That’s it.  This is hard.  And I hate people.  And I’m tired.  And this is hard.  And I love it.  And hate it.  And…this is hard.

 

Generation Zombie

Because Google completely failed me recently, I feel inclined to rant.

Here’s what happened:

1. I am a teacher.  I freaking love my job.  It is rewarding as hell and I don’t care that it makes me poor.  I love working with young people and helping them better understand our world.

2. No amount of love for young minds changes the fact that kids can be little shits sometimes.  I happen to have well over 30 students of this particular variety all in one classroom.  For 80 minutes.

3. In an effort to figure out how to better manage them and keep them from doing the following…

–eating Hot Cheetos in class even though I have asked them not to eat anything in the room on about a million occasions

–talking incessantly with other students far and near even though I constantly move around, ask them repeatedly to quiet down and have moved seats over and over again

–saying the following (and this is not an exhaustive list):  suck my dick, shut the hell up, fuck you, go to Hell, oh shit, rape is funny, titties (I could go on and on)

–staring at me when I have told them to write notes

–forgetting pencils, papers, laptops, chargers, pens, notebooks, folders, etc.

–getting up and walking around the room freely

…I have been searching online for strategies to help me “up” my teacher game.

4. I have taken to Google (and, frankly, a number of sites associated with professional development for educators) to try to learn what other teachers might already know about wrangling 9th graders.

5.  I came up with squat.  Most educational resources out there are focused on little kids.  All of the suggestions do not relate to someone who has 30-40 students in a room in a major public high school, cannot punish anyone with a loss of recess time, and has students big enough to kick her ass.

 

So, now, here I am.

 

No one on the internet can tell me a goddamn thing about how to manage these hooligans.  I am a 15-year veteran teacher.  I have taught some of the absolute toughest kids on the planet.  Criminals, even.  If there were a yearbook of my former students you would find in it a convicted child molester, a murderer, several drug-dealers, a kid who was lucky to have been tried as a juvenile after he slit another kid’s throat (the victim lived, by the way), two assholes who got into a hallway fight that was so bloody, there was red sprayed up on the ceiling, and at least three strippers who may or may not take “extra” cash for “extra” services at their places of employment.

I am no stranger to tough kids.  But, this is something different I haven’t seen before.  This is just total disregard for other humans.  They are completely apathetic.  They don’t fear their parents; they don’t fear detentions, suspensions or tongue-lashings from a principal; they don’t care if they pass the class; they don’t have any interest in gaining new knowledge; and they certainly don’t care about anything I do or say.  I am at a loss.  They just don’t fucking care.  I am flabbergasted.  I have not seen a group of people care so little about anything.  I have tried rewards, positive behavioral reinforcement, a variety of punishments and consequences, changing seats, giving them ownership of their own learning, empowering them to make decisions about the class, offering incentives.  I have tried just about every traditional teacher trick.

They all fail me.

And, of course, this makes me feel like a complete failure myself.

As I mentioned, I am not weak.  I can handle shitheads.  But these kids are their own kind of craptastic.  They are just vapid.  They openly choose nothing over something.  When I asked a student who sat empty-handed with a blank stare today if he was opting to take a “0” for his work, he said, “I forgot my backpack today.”  This was the 4th day in a row he forgot a backpack.  He didn’t care to borrow a pencil, ask a classmate for some paper or write in marker on the back of his fucking hand.  He just figured he’d sit for 80 minutes and stare.  If I gave him a “0” for today’s assignment, that was okay.  I guess.  Eeyore.

This is no “Dangerous Minds” shit.  These kids are GOOD kids.  At least that is what we call them nowadays because they don’t do drugs, they don’t get into fights and they don’t join gangs.  They manage in some classes to get adequate grades.  Some of their parents care a little.  Most of their parents actually care a ton.  Most of their parents have good jobs and they live in the nicer parts of town.  Our school is known for good test scores and great teaching.  But, this one class of students just seems to have so much apathy and I truly fear that there is a serious generational shift I am witnessing.

Everyone hated Gen X because we were supposedly so lazy and apathetic.  This makes the graduating class of 1991 look like motherfucking rocket scientists.  The kids I see each day are empty.  And they do not wish to be filled.

I am certain that I can work to fix this if only I could build a personal relationship and rapport with each of them individually.  You work hard and behave well for people you trust, respect and connect with.  But, by the time I do that with this many kids, it will be time for them to move on and be zombies for some other unsuspecting teacher.

As parents, I don’t know what we ought to be doing, but we need to be doing SOMETHING to make our children care about anything.  One kid today in my class shaded an entire notebook sheet dark gray with pencil.  Meticulously.  Then he “wrote” his name by erasing some of the scribble.  Another young lady had to be asked to return to her seat 9 times.  9 TIMES!  What was she doing all of those times?  Just seeing what other kids in the room were up to.  I was lecturing at the time.

Please join with me to build a better generation.  I don’t know what we must do, but we must do something here.  Your suggestions are more than welcome.

Babies, boobies, bosses

If you’re expecting, you have probably read What to Expect When You’re Expecting to help you know what you can expect while you’re expecting, except nothing can prepare expectant parents or help them better accept the truth about what happens after the expected baby arrives.

Fo’ real, though.

If you are pregnant right now, you may or may not be joking with others about how “crazy” you are.  You probably have heard of “pregnancy brain” and have lost your car keys a few times.  Your mood swings may either be cute and quirky or fully alarming.  You probably complain about things like swollen feet, missing ankles, blue veins, hemorrhoids, stretch marks, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, heart palpitations, blood sugar, back aches, head aches and an inability to drink alcohol to make you forget all of this nonsense.

If you are pregnant right now, you probably hate skinny people.  You probably lament the fact that no one makes a decent business suit for pregnant women and/or no one makes “maternity shoes” or “maternity bras” for temporary size changes.

Your boobs probably hurt.

You’ve no doubt noticed that maternity clothing is no less expensive than regular clothing (and sometimes is much more expensive) and you HAVE to fucking buy it because you can’t be naked and the Belly Band doesn’t help your pre-pregnancy pants fit over your pregnancy-ass.

If you wore high heels before your pregnancy, you are probably now wondering who the FUCKBALLS invented high heels and what giant ASSHOLE bought so many of them and put them in your closet.  Why doesn’t the Shoe Fairy come bring you some nice, sensible footwear from Lands End?

And, I hate to break it to you…

YOU’RE SCREWED.

With science what it is these days, if you are pregnant, you may not have been screwed, per se, but you are screwed in a more metaphorical and less fun way.

You’re gonna have a BABY.

They make you CRAZY.

You will actually feel like a real lunatic a few weeks after that baby is born.  You may cry for no reason.  You may feel completely incompetent.  You may be completely overwhelmed.  You may be super-duper pissed that your significant other’s life and body were not as completely RUINED by this tiny, beautiful, precious, angelic, life-destroying animal.

You will have nothing that is yours:  not your body, not your clothes, not your space, not your time, not your food, not your one-goddamn-minute-alone-on-the-fucking-toilet-in-silence.  That baby is the boss of you.  He decides when you sleep, what you eat, when you pee, whether you shower, and whether your clothes stay clean or vomit-laden.  He is your warden.  And you love him.  And kinda hate him (or maybe just the situation) soooooooooo much.  And then you feel enormously guilty for the “hate” part and you’ll cry and be certain that you’re the worst parent who ever parented in the whole universe of parents ever.

You will want to say (or even really say out loud and everything) “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” more than one time.

You will meet several “good” moms who have their lives in perfect order and just “love” being a mother and who have no idea what you mean when you say that it is a really hard job.  You will want to murder these women, but please don’t because your boss baby needs you.

Look:  this is going to suck.  Being a parent sucks.  But, people don’t really want you to know that.  And THAT sucks, because when the baby arrives and you realize it all just sucks so much, you will feel like a complete asshole because no one else talks about how much it sucks, so you are left to believe that it only sucks for you which means that you are a bad parent and an even worse person.

But, for all of its suckitude, one day you will realize that you are no longer just treading water.  You’ll be swimming.  And your kids will be able to care for themselves.  And, you’ll not have to change diapers or wipe up sour-milk-vomit or buckle anyone in but yourself when you get in your car.

And, you’ll cry because you will wonder what happened to your beautiful babies and you’ll look back on those days that sucked with such fondness and gratitude and bliss.  And you’ll miss holding a lavender-scented sleeping infant in your arms.

And you’ll have absolutely no desire to do it all over again.

Guest Post

Why I Do Not Think a Five Year Old Should be Labeled ADD

by Rachel Thomas

Our daughter is seven years older than our son and she started out in public school and excelled pretty much all the way through school. She is a very controlled, structured person and not very social because of it. She found that about grade five things were changing, the boys thought the girls had cooties and no longer wanted to play with her,and the girls just wanted to talk about boys and clothes; something she had no desire to do. So she sort of just pulled herself out of the social scene and generally had one friend at a time.

Our son on the other hand was extremely social and because he was customarily around women (his sister, grandmother, and mom) he knew how to treat the girls from the get go. He had a hard time sitting and staying on task and from the time he was in Kindergarten the teacher were telling me they thought he was ADD. Being the parent of only two children, one which was extremely controlled and calm, I had a hard time accepting this. He was a happy, funny, outgoing five year old who made friends easily. He was not a behavioral problem; he just could not sit in one place for too long.

My solution was to put him back in Kindergarten again to see if he would mature enough to be able to sit still but it did not seem to help. Plus the fact that he was in a private school with an accelerated curriculum did not help. The teachers told me he could not keep up and because they were a private school they did not have any programs or after school hours to give him extra help, which frankly puzzled me. I know there is a lot more to it than I am aware of but you would think that if you were paying for a school there would be extra help.

Anyway, I struggled with what to do about the situation. I was determined to get to the bottom of this myself and not just rely on the opinions of the teachers. I, like all parents, loved my son dearly and upon their suggestion of putting him in public school because they have programs and funding for needs such as his I plotted out a course of action. Since we did not have a ton of money I talked to as many learned people as I could and found out ways I could get help. I found that our local university had a program with professors and students studying learning disabilities. I wanted to be sure what we were dealing with so I decided to take him in for testing. It was such a good experience; everyone was so helpful and kind. They tested his eyesight, his hearing, and checked for any learning disabilities; he was six at the time. They told me he did not have any learning disabilities and was brighter than average in many areas.

Next I took him to see a psychologist to check him for ADD/ADHD. He put him through a series of tests and gave us papers with questions for Mom and Dad and teachers to answer about his behavior and abilities. He came out borderline ADD. I decided not to put him on the medications at the time. He stayed in private school through first grade and part of second when I realized he needed much more. In our area we can put our children in any school in the district with permission from the principal if they are not overcrowded or the student does not have behavior problems. We studied the schools in the area and found the one we thought would be best.

They certainly did make way more provisions for him at the public school. They gave him a quiet place to do his work away from the other students when necessary and gave him more time as well if he needed it. The teachers were more than willing to work with us to help. Again, they were sure he had ADD, something I am not sure of to this day but I can see how they would come to this conclusion. I knew how my son worked, how if he did not want to do something he would not do it, and if that comes under the title of ADD then I guess he is. I would be more likely to put it under the title of pig headed and stubborn but what do I know?

The second grade teacher made sure that he was directed to the best third grade teacher. At least she made a recommendation which the principal accepted. The third grade teacher was a jewel, very strict but very loving, which is something my son needed very much! I was actively talking to the teachers all the time and keeping up with what was going on. I wanted to let them know how very important my son was to me. I believe this is so important when it comes to our children and especially so when they are having trouble in school. She told me that she did not want my son to be pigeon holed into special programs and labeled for years to come. They had been sending him to reading specialists and giving him other tests to try and get him into the right special help groups. This third grade teacher knew he was bright, just like I did, and she also knew he was determined not to show it.

They called me into talk about our son and I listened. They wanted to put him in speech therapy for a slight lisp which was fine with me; that could not hurt. And then they told me they wanted him to go to a special reading class during school everyday, which I was assured was not a special education class. I was thrilled with that as well. When any topic came up on special education classes I told them I was not interested and then I brought in my paperwork from the university studies that were done on my son to show them he did not have learning disabilities. That stopped the conversation post haste and because I had his teacher’s support as well they dropped it. That year his grades came up one to two letters in each subject and his reading improved immensely. The extra help in putting him in quiet corners or going to the library in a cubicle to do his testing really helped. The extra reading help and the encouragement from a strong yet loving teacher was another great advantage for my son.

I am not saying that no child anywhere needs ADD medicine; I just do not think it is the end all and be all of answers for every child that can not sit still and does not want to do their work. I would be thrilled if someday they had a different class for boys than they do for girls or one for active kids versus the ones that can sit and be still because all of us learn differently and at different rates of speed.

What I am trying to say is that as parents we should do all that we can to ensure our children are put in the right programs and taught in the most effective way. If we do not get deeply involved they will get lost in the system. I know that we can not all afford expensive testing for our children on our own but I do know that if you do just a little research you can find free testing like I did at the local university. I did use insurance for the psychologist but I am sure there are ways to get a child tested outside of the school system so that you will have all the information to present to those special needs committees that you may be called in front of regarding your child.

Meeting with their teachers and being a participant in their education costs you nothing but time but lets the teachers know how much you care and that you have a desire to help and not let your child get lost in the system. Sometimes this will require a change of schools or it may require home schooling in parts of the country where there are no other options. But as for me my child is worth all the extra work and investigation into alternatives. He is now a young adult and has successfully gotten through high school and has even thanked me for getting him extra help with reading because he is a beautiful reader and feels sorry for those kids who are struggling. But at the same time he gets a bit miffed at me because he graduated at age nineteen because of his two year stint in Kindergarten. He asked me, “What did I do wrong? Put the wrong peg in the wrong hole?” And then he grins and it makes everything all worth while.

 

**Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author@gmail.com.

House of Lies

He’s a player.

Maybe.

It’s hard to tell, really.  And, I love him so much.  It can be very difficult to be objective about this and sometimes it is just really tough to decipher the truth from the lies.

He is my 5-year old son.

I think I have some of it down pat:

  • “Mommy, I am not hungry anymore.” = LIE.  If I offer you ice cream, you will magically find room in that tummy.
  • “I love you, Mom.” = TRUTH.  I am very lovable.

But, here are the grey areas I have recently discovered:

  • “You spend more time with my brother than with me.  Is that because you love him more than you love me?”

—Hmmm… well, the answer to that question is, “My love is not divided, but multiplied.  I will never love anyone or anything more than I love you.  And, I will never love anyone or anything more than I love your brother.”  But, I can’t tell if that little man is playing my sensitive heart because he wants me to spring for a new Minecraft app or if he is genuinely worried about where he stands in our family.

  • “I promise to put it back where I found it.”

—This is not a lie because he really means it when he says it.  But, it also isn’t true because whatever “it” is, it never ends up back where it was originally found.  So, this has me wondering whether this is a punishable offense for irresponsibility or whether it is evidence of the need to work on basic skills in memory and household obligations.

  • “You are an excellent cook.”

—This sounds nice.  I like to hear it.  But, I think I am being ego-stroked for ulterior motives.  My husband has taught the kids that they may not leave the dinner table until they ask to be excused, thank their mother for the meal and let her know that they enjoyed the fruits of her work.  Then, they have to clean up their plates and they may go play until homework or bedtime.  Now, my son may truly believe that I am his personal 5-star chef or he could be trying to score some points for extra playtime or the coveted statement of, “Don’t worry, honey.  I will clean up your plate.  Go play.”

I do have to say, though, that I am pretty wise to my children’s games for the most part.  I can tell when a bellyache is real.  I can differentiate between crocodile tears and the real ones.  I know you’re not really sleeping!  I see that your toys are not put away!

But, I do wonder when it is important to assume a child is being straight with you and when he is trying to scheme on ya.

Advice?

 

I’m Raising Your Boyfriend

When I first had begun my journey of motherhood, I was insanely frustrated by the fact that nobody was brutally honest about how hard parenting is.

1Now, I am pretty flabbergasted by how many people are coming out of the woodwork to talk about how hard parenting is.

I am actually a little pissed that I am not unique in a way.  But, I am also quite comforted to be reminded that I am not completely alone in my troubles.

I have two children:  two amazing, beautiful, kindhearted boys who are, without question, the most important and the  most phenomenal things in my life.  These two are very different and that always amazes me.  They came from the same gene pool.  They live in the same home.  They follow the same routines.  But, they have their own distinct personalities.

My firstborn is a pistol.  He is fiercely, triumphantly, vehemently independent.  He is also brave, gentle, giving, creative, smart and energetic.  But, for the sake of this post, I am just going to focus on the independence for now.

I am very proud that he is a free thinker.  No, seriously:  VERY PROUD.  As an academic myself, I have very high regard for individuals who pave their own ways.  He is an inventor, not a consumer.  He is a leader, not a follower.  That fucking rocks.

This quality made it difficult for me, though, to learn how to effectively parent.  I was really thrown into the deep end of the motherhood pool and left to sink or swim with this little guy.  As a tiny bean, he rarely wanted to do anything I told him to do:  ever.  This was very trying.  And, it was potentially dangerous as many of things I told him to do were merely for his own personal safety.

He is a little older now, though, and he and I have really gotten to know each other well.  I have always loved him with every bit of my being.  But, we are becoming friends now, too.  And, I can’t explain how awesome that is.  If you have a great relationship with your kid, though, you know just what I mean.

My baby is as happy as they come.  He smiles nearly incessantly.  And, he is so freakin’ laid back.  All. The.  Time.  He can’t be shaken (well, unless he has a new tooth coming in or desperately needs a nap).  He pleasantly goes along with just about any request I make of him.  He isn’t a mindless drone, mind you.  He is just so pleased to learn and discover and be shown the ways of the world.  He is excited to see and wonder and experience.

Toddlerhood is really rough.  If you are a parent, I am not really breaking any big news here.

For one child, the toddler period was filled with “No!” and “I don’t WANT to!” and “Aaaaaaagggggggghhhhhhhh!”

For the other the toddler period seems to be filled with “Okay, Mommy!” and “Hee Hee” and lots and lots of snuggling.

I love both of these children.  One is not better than the other.  I don’t wish one is, was, or would be more like the other.

But, wow.  This should be added to the list of Things They Don’t Tell You About Being a Parent: raising a young child is basically starting a brand-new relationship.  You may not be in love at first.  You each may do things that the other doesn’t understand or pisses the other party off to no end.  You may each say some things you don’t mean.  You may feel like walking out.  You may sway from love to frustration and back again many times in a single day.  You may disappoint one another.  And, it may take you both a very long time to really get to know one another deeply.

When you bring a child into a family, you are meeting a new person and starting a new relationship with him or her.  All relationships have rocky spots.  All relationships have peaks and valleys.  This is no different.

messy handsYou may be blessed with the world’s most wonderful child.  He or she may be so “easy,” as parents say.  This often translates to a child who is generally quiet and obedient; a child who sleeps well and loves to try new foods; someone who never embarrasses you in public or has poop squish up her back while you are in line at the grocery store.  You may also be blessed with a “difficult” child.  He is often boisterous, physical, and messy; he has a mind of his own; he doesn’t care what other people think; he may be a pretty big personality.  Either way, you’re still blessed.

The first relationship our children have is with their parents.  Then, hopefully, they will go on to have hundreds of other successful relationships:  with friends, romantic partners, classmates, teachers, coworkers, neighbors, spouses, families and so on.  What we build with our kids follows the same pattern we’ve forged as we might have built any other relationship of our own in the past.  And, how we build our relationships with our kids helps show them the foundation for how they should create interpersonal relationships with others in the future.

This is yet another way in which we might inevitably to something to send them into therapy one day.

Nevertheless, with our best intentions, we move forward, getting to know these little personalities better and better with each passing moment.

And it has come to this

It is possible to be lost in a familiar place

To be both empty and full.

Sometimes it just happens that way.

And there might be a moment that passes by on a cloud

With a whisper and a breath like honeysuckle in August.

It might be possible to realize that it is all sort of a joke

That isn’t really funny

When you’re the only one left in your neighborhood not

Riding a bike to Whole Foods, toting reusable cloth bags.

And they don’t make bikes that come equipped with sidecars

For your munchkins (of which there seem like there are so many that you might as well sell your house and live in a shoe).

And, it is even harder being cool enough to have mojitos after work with the gang

When you have to leave a paying job for a thankless one from which you will never retire.

But, you were never really cool, anyway, and there are very small people in your life who remind you of that every chance they get.

frazzledYou sway from tired to wired depending on whether coffee or Xanax were easier for you to reach.

You hear a bump in the night and are more certain that it will soon be followed with the sounds of someone stuck upside-down in a trash can, inches away from a crib

Than you are that it is someone in the rumpus room trying to steal your big screen.

‘Cause you can’t afford a big screen, anyway.  You’re saving for Disney.

And it has come to this.

So it goes.

There was a time when you’d be lost in Vonnegut at midnight.

And before that you’d have been lost in the bottom of a filthy mug

In a place you’ve since forgotten, but you still remember that it was too sketchy to risk sitting on a chair or, you know, touching anything.

But, now you seem to have forgotten what midnight looks like,

Except, of course, when it comes into your world because of an emergency

And the connector of those circumstances and these

Is someone else’s vomit on your feet.

So it goes.

You’ve tried and tried to hide and cry alone in a bathroom for Just. One. Goddamn. Minute.  PLEASE.

But there’s never not a knock at the door.

So it goes.

I believe I can see the future
Cause I repeat the same routine
I think I used to have a purpose
But then again
That might have been a dream
I think I used to have a voice
Now I never make a sound
I just do what I’ve been told

So it goes.

 

 

Surviving Teendom

Teen angst.

Ugh.

We all went through it and yet somehow no adults seem to have figured out yet how to get the 12-19 year-old crowd to know for certain that

  1. You are not alone
  2. You are not ugly.  People who call others “ugly” are being ugly.
  3. Not EVERYONE hates you.
  4. There’ll be sad songs that make you cry.  They don’t freaking help anything.  Stop listening to them.
  5. Do not call, text or drive past your ex’s house or person.  It’s not helpful.
  6. School isn’t about algebra and sentence diagramming.  It’s about life.
  7. Your haircut is stupid.
  8. Reading books gets you farther in life than the “right” shoes, purse, belt or phone ever will.
  9. Punctuality matters.  Really.
  10. If you learn how to shake hands and look someone in the eye you will do well in both your private and your work lives.
  11. You should be the girl/guy who can be introduced to Mom or else you will never be good for anything other than a fling.
  12. It is not true that no one understands you.  We totally understand you.  We WERE you.  And we know you’re acting dumb so get over yourself.
  13. Swearing has its place.  Grown-ups do it, too.  But it isn’t for street cred.  It is only as a legitimate expression of emotion, amplitude or art.
  14. Yes, family is more important that friendship.  We’ve all had friends who were practically family, but that entire 8th grade clique of yours isn’t going to be with you when you’re 59 and your mother dies or when you lose your job with no explanation after 32 years of service.
  15. 99% of what matters to you today you will not even be able to remember in 10 years.
  16. Skinny jeans are not for everyone.  Find your own style that makes you look your best.
  17. You won’t die if you put down the electronics for a day.  Interact with humans, for crying out loud.
  18. Your mom will eventually prove to have been right about, well, everything, ever.
  19. It’s called a “waistband” because it goes around your thighs.  Just kidding.  You look absurd.
  20. Your poetry is probably not that good.

If, one day, we can find a way to convince the young buckaroos of these facts, peace will reign.  Doves will soar above the mountaintops.  Rainbows and angels’ songs will permeate all the lands.  All will be right with the world.

 

Parenting a “Difficult” Child

I am a teacher.  And a mom.  So, my days are full of “Be nice!,” “Go get a tissue!,” and “Keep your hands to yourself!”.

And, mind you, I teach high school students.

But, I am also the mother of two spirited little boys.  The older of the two is in preschool right now.

Now, I am going to sound like a total asshole here pretty soon.  Feel free to stop reading right now if you are easily offended.

In my career with high school students, I have tackled subjects from eugenics to Descartes to anitdisestablishmentarianism.  We’ve discussed psychology, faith and String Theory.  We read Shakespeare and Hawthorne and Orwell.

"Your little 'angel,' Prudence, colored on the wall today.  You don't LET her do that at home, DO YOU?  Please make her stop coloring on walls."

“Your little ‘angel,’ Prudence, colored on the wall today. You don’t LET her do that at home, DO YOU? Please make her stop coloring on walls.”

Now, I do not believe that my job is necessarily more important than that of an Early Childhood educator.  I don’t even know enough about Early Childhood to even speak intelligently about what it is that they do all day, though on more than one occasion I have snobbily remarked that they pretty much just pass out crayons.

But, my experience has led me to conclude that teachers of children of the ages 4 to about 7 just may try to blur the line between authority figure and parent a bit more than I find comfortable.

Whew.  That was better than I thought it was going to be.  First Grade teachers everywhere are probably a little pissed, but I am proud that I managed to keep my assholery to a minimum so far, though.

Let’s dissect a bit, however.

Personally, I do not feel as though my child’s teacher has the right or the responsibility to help me to “learn” to parent “correctly.”  Now, believe you me, I would love to tell a few parents of a few ninth graders I know about how to do a better job at home.  I’d probably be fired for saying some of the things I’ve been thinking.  So, I am not sure why the teacher of a preschool student, for example, should be offering “advice,” either, really.  In fact, I find it to be pretty inappropriate.  And, frankly, if I want your fucking opinion, I will be sure to ask for it.

In the past year, my son’s teacher has done a phenomenal job of developing curriculum, keeping academic rigor high, and allowing him to develop intellectually to his own potential.  She has also managed to send me “helpful” articles, suggestions, and daily “updates” that discuss the minutia of his behavioral “issues.”  She has also lassoed our part-time nanny into picking him up early from school on days (which I have paid — a whole lot — for him to be present) when she finds his behavior too trying.  Two days ago, she called the nanny 15 minutes into the school day to warn her that she may be calling to have our son removed from school that day.  She did not end up requiring him to leave, though.

Before I had kids, I always sort of wanted parents of my students to know when their kids were real dicks.  I’d write down the blasphemous, racist, insensitive, vulgar, sexist bullshit they would spew word-for-word on detention forms.  I wanted to quote those little snots.  I wanted parents to know that they were raising animals.  I wanted some smug mom to know that her baby wasn’t the angel she thought he was.

Sounds right to me.

Sounds right to me.

Now, as a mom, I now realize that we all know that our kids aren’t perfect.  We all realize that WE aren’t perfect, either.  I suck at math.  But, I am pretty bomb at Wheel of Fortune, for example.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

So, I feel now as though a child’s perceived weaknesses need not be recapped, reiterated, written about, reviewed and discussed freaking constantly.

TEACHER:  “Your kid doesn’t really always play very nicely with others.”

ME:  “Neither do I.”

And, yet I find myself concerned about the potential stigma for my child and for me if he should be labeled (albeit secretly in a faculty lounge somewhere where ladies in holiday-themed sweaters, gossip about MY kid, repeat the crazy, out-of-context weirdness he learned from his father and me, and share strategies on where to buy the best scented ink-stamp pads) “difficult.”

"You know, Little Felix has not been able to take turns being 'line leader.'  I totally credit your inadequacy as a parent in this scenario."

“You know, Little Felix has not been able to take turns being ‘line leader.’ I totally credit your inadequacy as a parent in this scenario.”

Am I parenting a “difficult” child?  I don’t think so.  He is his own little man and his ideas don’t always mesh with mine.  His needs and desires don’t always align with mine.  His interests don’t always connect with mine.  And, every teacher isn’t going to think he is fabulous (just like every teacher isn’t going to think he’s a ghoul, either).

I go on the Super Nanny website.  I have “house rules.”  I set boundaries.  I have clear and pre-defined consequences for negative behaviors.  I have instituted a positive behavioral reward system.  I have consistent expectations and have regular talks about respect, kindness, teamwork, sharing, calmness, taking turns and showing love.  My husband is very much a co-parent in all of this, too.  My kid is absolutely getting a united front before him.

We’re doing things right.

And, now I see that many, many, many parents of the “difficult” children I have taught were doing things right, too.  It wasn’t my fault as a teacher that a kid failed a class or misbehaved in school any more than it was the parent’s fault.  Our kids are all given tools to survive in the world.  They choose, willfully, if, how, and when they will use them.

You are not parenting a difficult child.  Neither am I.  And, don’t let a teacher, healthcare worker, therapist, or judge tell you otherwise.  But, when problems seem consistent, something we’re doing to manage our children’s behaviors and abilities isn’t working.

And, you should feel free and welcome to ask the appropriate experts for their advice on how to approach things in a more meaningful and potentially successful way.

But, no one really should feel the freedom to provide you with that “advice” if it is not solicited.

Feel free to tell your teacher that you would love to have a phone call at work if your child is, say, bleeding from the head, projectile vomiting, fist-fighting in class, or making terroristic threats to other youngsters.  He or she should not call you at the office, though, to tell you that your daughter seems to need more structured playtime, your son should learn to share his toys, or your twins cannot stop pinching each other.

And, as a teacher, it is my JOB to deal with your crazy kids between the hours of 7:36 and 3:06.  It is unacceptable for me to tell you to come get your kid at 8:00 because I just can’t deal with her anymore.  I am paid to deal with her.

Labels are always wrong.  Except on Campbell’s soup.  We need those.  I don’t like surprises.  But, labels don’t belong on our kids.  Unless I ask you how you’d label him, you should keep your judgmental attitude to your damn self.

We all know that there are crappy parents out there.  Some of that bad parenting MAY cause some of our schools to contain horrifying little monsters.  But, we should be clear that it is not a teacher’s job to judge a parent’s worth or ability.  We can THINK anything we want as teachers.  But, under no circumstances should I share my opinions of your shortcomings with you.

Even though more parents than I can count have shared THEIR opinions about MY teaching shortcomings with me…

Yes, it’s my kid.

Off Duty Mom is proud to feature a special “Hooray for Mother’s Day” special publication!

************************************

 

Guest Post by Stephanie Friant

You know, the one who starts poking the boy next to him during the end-of-year school show.

The one who has six different projects going on at the same time – then corrects me that it is only three.

The one who pulled the fire alarm at church because he wanted to know what it does.  (Special thanks to Fireman Luke who then handed out stickers.)

And the classic, after dumping all his books on the floor trying to find one particular story, his response to why he hadn’t picked them up was:  “I told [my little sister] to do it.”

He keeps me running.  I have spent so many days trying to get one step-ahead of him, but rarely ever get there.

I hope and pray that I can love him enough that the world will continue to be an adventure, a safe place.  Yet, I also know that at some point, I will be running miles behind him.

He has been, is, and will always be a gift.

He has stretched my mind and heart and spirit in ways I never thought possible.

This being of joy, love and unpredictability has transformed my world, allowing me to embrace the beauty of the unknown.

He is part of me and completely separate.  He is a mirror highlighting all my shadows, yet loving me regardless.

He will always be a bit of a mystery to me, yet in my own way, I get him.  I understand him as only a mother can – a being who miraculously made room for himself inside my own body, and now continuing to make room for himself in the world.  He is of my flesh, and will always be of my heart.

Stephanie Friant is a wife, mom, and friend with a calling for professional ministry.  She loves learning, writing, being outdoors, and helping others on their spiritual journeys.  Stephanie lives with her family in the Twin Cities and retreating to the cottage in Northern Michigan.

Congratulations! You have Water-Elf Disease!

Much is debatable in this day and age.  We are constantly inundated with arguments of political, sociological, theological, philosophical and historical nature.

According to some sites, this little guy has Yellow Fever, Acid Reflux, Bubonic Plague and a splinter.

According to some sites, this little guy has Yellow Fever, Acid Reflux, Bubonic Plague and a splinter.

I think we can all agree on one thing, though:  the best place for medical advice is the internet.

According to WebMD, I may have Cystic Fibrosis, Emphysema, Multiple Sclerosis, Windburn, Breast Cancer, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Dementia, Hepatits A, B or C, Lyme Disease, Malnutrition, Typhoid Fever or Radon Exposure.

To be clear, the sypmtoms I put in were related to being tired.  When asked if I bruise easily, I said that I do.  I also responded that I do, indeed, have dry skin.

That’s it.  From that, WebMD has determined that I have Typhoid Fever, which is frankly not something I have heard of since I used to play Oregon Trail on that one computer we had in the school library during study hall.

Other websites asked other batteries of questions that I answered honestly.  My potential diagnoses ranged from cancer and HIV to dehydration and mild anxiety.

When I put my main complaint as “fatigue,” though, not one website asked me if I was a parent.  Therefore, I was certainly not ever asked if I was a parent of two small children who sometimes have fights that must be broken up and who run seemingly incessantly during waking hours, or if in addition to my work as a parent I also worked a full-time paying job that required me to have a high level of patience and to stand for long periods of time, or if I live in a part of the country not prone to sunshine and year-round weather where my family and I could enjoy fresh air and Vitamin D, or if my boss was a dick, my family didn’t get along, my bills were piling up, my pet needed medical care, my house needed to be cleaned, my car needed to go to the mechanic, or my son’s preschool was giving me shit because I can’t volunteer or be around like the Stay-At-Home Moms can.

For, if the mighty internet had asked some of those questions, it might have come up with something more insightful and less alarming for my condition other than Syphilis.

And, while I don’t have ALL of the above listed “symptoms,” there are people who do.  And, on any given day, we all have a pile of crap we’re dealing with.

Just how DOES she do it?Oh...that's how...

Just how DOES she do it?
Oh…that’s how…

So, this all makes me wonder if anyone is really making the WonderParent thing work.

I would like to hear from you.  If you are a SuperMom or a SuperDad, please comment.  I would love to hear your tips and pointers for getting my act together and becoming the multi-armed Hindu Goddess-type I always thought I might be.

 

Advice for Moms

Want my advice?

If you knew me in person, you probably wouldn’t, but here we go…

Whaaaaaat?

Whaaaaaat?

It occured to me that we really ought to be able to offer better advice to mothers of little ones than “sleep when the baby is sleeping.” ‘Cuz that advice sucks, anyway. I don’t know about you, but when I was going through an 8-month stretch with a newborn who not once in that time slept for more than 2 hours at a clip, the whole sleep-when-the-baby-is-sleeping idea was unrealistic, unhelpful, and not at all restful for an adult.

Now, I am a total nutjob, so I am absolutely in no real position to be offering advice to anyone, really. Seriously, I am NOT keeping my shit together. Like, at all. But, I have learned a thing or two about feeling less likely to jump off of a clock tower. So, if you are exhausted, depressed, anxious, and lonely with a child or children at home under the age of 6, or if you know too well that weird feeling that comes when you know your eyes are open and stuff, but your head feels like you just swigged a bottle of Benadryl and chased it with a few shots of Tequila and a handful of quaaludes, then, maybe I can offer some thoughts.

1. Take a shower. ‘Cuz you stink. That was a joke. Sort of. You might stink, I actually don’t know. But, in reality, there isn’t a whole lot that a good, steamy shower can’t wash away — even if it is only temporary. Sometimes the shower is the only quiet place in your house, right? And, it smells like lavender and honeysuckle. And, there are no feces, crayon-stained walls or those tiny legos that make your foot feel like it is being murdered by itty-bitty Samurais when you step on them. Besides, taking a shower makes you feel human again when you are sleep-deprived, frustrated and hallucinating. Get some of the aromatherapy stuff that is energizing. You’ll feel a little better. Then someone will vomit on you. But, you felt better for a bit.

2. Wear real pants. Now, look: no one (and I do mean NO ONE) loves yoga pants more than I do. I rock some flannel pj pants about 35 seconds after coming home from work every day. But, when I was on a very long maternity leave, I started to feel as dumpy as I looked as I sat around everyday in fleece, elastic-waist pants and an old sorority sweatshirt. You don’t have to try to squeeze your ass into an old prom dress. You don’t need that kind of bullshit making you feel bad. But, put on a pair of jeans for crying out loud. Go outside. Get some air. Even if it is warmer in your fridge than it is outside. You own boots and a heavy coat, right? Your kid has a parka. Come on. A body at rest in stretchy pants tends to stay at rest in stretchy pants.

3. Listen to your kid. Hard. My older son has prepared a dissertation on the merits of Buzz Lightyear’s heroism versus the entertainment value of Super Mario Brothers. I have no fucking clue what he is talking about most of the time. And, I always feel way too busy with important things like laundry, drinking wine and blogging to really pay all that much attention. He mostly gets thoughtless replies of “Yeah,” and “That’s nice.” But, I have tried to make it a point lately to listen to some of his stories as though they are the most fascinating things I have ever heard. I look at his eyes (something I try to tell him is important to do when he talks to adults). I ask questions. I try to make him feel as though someone really hears him. Because no one listens to a goddamn word I say all day and I know how shitty that feels.

4. Adopt a mantra. In a previous post, I talked about how lifesaving it was for me to hear someone talk about training the mind to repeat a positive statement. She was a yoga instructor and mom and she told us we could steal her mantra: “It won’t always be this way.” I think about it all the damn time. Yours doesn’t have to be that one, but when you are on the brink of tears (always, right?), adopt a better voice to hear in your head other than “I can’t.” You might try “Just breathe,” or “Right now, I am grateful for______.” Someone I know uses “At least.” For her, when her toddler threw a Tonka Truck at the living room window and cracked it, she said to herself, “At least it’s warm outside. And the window can be repaired.” Find what works for you. And, don’t let 2-year olds play with Tonka Trucks near antique glass windows.

5. Do something mindless (but awake) each day. I am a television junky. I love when I have the opportunity to watch some of my favorite shows. But, I can only take so much Sprout. Speaking of which, when any other co-host in the Sunshine Barn with Chica sings the birthday song, the camera cuts to Chica dancing her little birthday puppet dance. But, Kelly gets the camera on her the whole time. Who is she fucking at PBS? That really burns my ass.

So, I should tell you that I am absolutely certain that these things all work to help you feel more alive, more alert and more like being a better mom. I know that these things all work because I don’t do them. And, I am certifiable, so clearly, doing the opposite of what I do will make you well-adjusted and happy.

Regardless, though, of whether you follow this advice, we should all just hang in there, right? I mean, there are a whole lot of cruddy parents out there and if you are reading blogs trying to get advice on how to keep your cool and be better for your kids, you are not a cruddy parent. You are tired. And sick of hearing people scream things like “No!” and “But, wait!” and “I don’t wanna!” at you. It’s okay. Really. It is.

And, of course, if you are concerned about how much you are not keeping yourself together, please talk with your doctor. You are not alone. I promise. And, it is okay to ask for help. Call your doctor, call a babysitter, call for takeout and call the Winebulance. Did you know there was such a thing? Criminey. None of us need suffer any longer.

In Need of a Chainsaw

I have realized that my life would be a hell of a lot easier if there were two of me.

Wow.  That seems so obvious.  I could be so efficient.  I could do twice as much laundry.

chainsaw post2Let’s be honest, though, if there were two of me, I’d probably just creep twice as much Pinterest and drink twice as much snobby craft beer.

But, what I started to come to understand is that on days when the going gets rough, I could really use a metaphysical chainsaw to slice myself into two beings:  one who will lovingly care for my kids and the other who will get a pedicure, shop for handbags and have a long lunch at a restaurant with tablecloths.

‘Cuz here’s the lowdown:  I love my kids.  I also love not being asked 43 times in a day about Super Mario Brothers and Thomas the Tank Engine.  Some days I feel a little run down.  And maybe I cry a little.  Or  a whole lot.  But, when I get a little time to myself, one of two things typically happens:  either I completely waste it by doing absolutely nothing of any value whatsoever, or I spend it wondering what my precious babies are doing, smiling longingly at every beautiful child who passes me at the mall.

Mom said she wishes there were two of her.  Let's practice being helpful.

Mom said she wishes there were two of her. Let’s practice being helpful.

So, it would really be great if there were two of me – not so I could be Supermom and start baking more or inventing cool crafts that involve pipecleaners and homemade slime – but so that one of me could chill the fuck out somewhere, maybe read a book, go tanning, or visit a friend, while the other joyfully absorbs the peace and tranquility radiating from the other’s blissful calm and is able to appreciate every fabulous moment with a couple of terrific little boys.

I decided when founding Off Duty Mom that I was going to be honest about the good, the bad and the ugly.  So, let me go ahead now and tell you where my chainsaw thoughts are coming from.

The other day, when I pulled my car into my garage after a long day of trying to educate the very unwilling youth of America, I turned off the ignition and just sat there.  For a good, solid five minutes or so.  I just sat.  I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the car.  I didn’t want to go inside my house.  I knew that as soon as I did, two children would be bouncing and running and yelling and tossing toys everywhere.  My car was so quiet.  I had a very difficult time walking away from that quiet.

I felt pretty shitty.  The guilt was significant.  What kind of mother leaves her babies all day and then isn’t running into the house at the first chance that she gets to see and spend any quality time with them?

This gal.

And, I felt crapilicious about it.

A good mom, I told myself, is thrilled to come home and wrap her arms around her children.  And then I cried.

But, I pulled my shit together and came into the house.  My kids ran up to me and yelled, “Mommy!” and hugged and kissed me.  It felt so good.  But, it didn’t change the fact that I was so tired.  So.  Very.  Tired.

But yet, I played and I cooked and I sang and I rocked and I bathed and I brushed and I read.  It was lovely.  And exhausting after an already long day.

I thought again about how I’d love to split into two so that one of me could go get a massage.

Now, I have a pretty terrific husband who gives me time to do the things I need to do.  I have regular chiropractor appointments and stuff.  But, things would be a heck of a lot cooler with another “me” around, anyway.  And, since I am so lovable and adorable, I am sure my husband would agree that two of “me” would be pretty sweet.

chansaw postBut, I suppose that like money and time, if I had extra “me” around, I would probably just waste it.  That lazy bitch would probably just take naps, eat BBQ Pringles and watch SVU repeats all the damn time, anyway.

Ugh.

I wish someone would have warned me that parenting was going to be this hard.  Spread the word, people:  parenthood makes you think about chainsaws.

This has been a public service announcement sponsored by the marginally insane.  Thanks for listening.

I lost my Parent Manual

Blue.

Fire Engine.

Hiccups.

Golf tees.

Balloons.

Giant giraffes eating grass in the windy fields.

Bananas.

Yellow lillies.

Craptacular.

This is what happens when my mind wanders.

Did you ever do this exercise?  You just completely refuse to censor yourself and allow whatever gobbledegook that wants to come out, come out.  I ain’t no Hemingway, that’s for sure.  When my mind wanders I don’t get “Hills Like White Elephants.”  I get golf tees and bananas.

All of our babies can be gifted, it appears...

All of our babies can be gifted, it appears…

So, I wonder what are the signs of an extraordinary mind?  How do you tell if you’re truly gifted?  Better yet, how do you tell if your kid is?

As a teacher, I have a very clear and thorough answer to that question.  I have worked with “Gifted and Talented” students for a large percentage of my educational career.  I can spot a truly academically gifted child from a mile away.

But, that’s not really what I am talking about here.

I have known perfectly average kids who have gone on to achieve true greatness in their chosen fields:  biomedicine, law, communications, science (actually, I say “science” because I don’t even understand what this one kid does.  He works for the government doing something with aerospace engineering.  It is way too smart for me to get).  I have also known students who were labeled as “Gifted,” but went on to live in their parents’ basements or work in jobs that don’t even require high school diplomas.

So, when you are raising a little one, how do you know how to recognize talents, how do you determine what is the best way to harness those talents and how do you go about encouraging growth without pushing your kid to become a toddler with a tiara or a mini-Tonya-Harding crazed on winning at all costs?

Well, I don’t actually know.

This is not your mamma’s advice column.

I am just like you:  someone a little lost, fumbling through life in the most graceful way possible (which often is very clumsy, indeed).

One day, though, I suspect we both would like to look back and believe that we did a really great job of raising some really great kids.

But, when your 4-year old seems to gravitate toward, have a genuine interest in and be weirdly good at golf, video games, reading, baseball, painting, writing, and building things (and he appears to be adept at picking up on foreign languages, exhibits kindness and compassion that is not typical for a child so young, is naturally organized, has a freakishly good long- and short-term memory, and has a spoken vocabulary that puts kids twice his age to shame), what are you supposed to do?  Do I try to help him focus and perfect one or a few of those talents?  Do I let him decide first where his joy is most commonly found?  Do I sit back and let this all play out the way he would like it to?  Do I offer enrichment in any of those activities?  Which ones?  And, do I try to have him work on areas where he doesn’t excel so naturally just to help him become more well-rounded?

Yup.

Yup.

Ugh.  There is a whole lot to this parenting stuff.

I, again, was not properly prepared.  I really do want to know where the Parent Manual is.

I am very interested to hear all of your thoughts.  It would be especially nice to hear from more veteran parents regarding how  you assess and foster your children’s talents and skills.

Please comment.  We could all use the advice, I suspect!

Every parent out there wants to make sure that the job gets done right.

Or, well, you know, right enough.

I think we can all agree that we just don’t want to end up with this:

lohan

Or this:

children

Or this:

rush

Agreed?

 

When a Bitch is just a Bitch

I wonder sometimes whether I am a little…too much…for some people.

I rant.  I whine.  I condescend.

But, what I think about (too often, really) is when complaining is a sign of someone who knows what she wants, hates injustice, believes in honesty, and isn’t afraid of what people think.  And, I wonder when it just makes me a bitch.

Why is this fool famous?

Why is this fool famous?

Furthermore, are men who complain ever bitches?

Maybe sometimes.

Here are some things I really hate:  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, homeschooling, socks that won’t stay up, smelly markers, other people’s cats in my yard, people who drive slowly in the passing lane, Randy Quaid, cinnamon gum, Barney, people who say “mischevious,” beards, popcorn balls, boats, and being farted on.

Am I allowed to hate those things?  Even though I know others will not understand or agree? (especially about the Reese’s.  I know.  I know.  I hate peanut butter and chocolate together.  It is sickening.  I realize I am in the minority.)

When we founded Off Duty Mom, we promised that we’d be honest — ugly-kind-of-honest — about everything we published.  So, on our end here, we’re not really feeling that broken up about putting it all out there.

But, I guess I would like to know in real life, how much “honesty” can you take from someone?

I once wondered why mothers weren’t more honest with one another about how unpretty motherhood could be.

Then, I found out.  The childless don’t want to hear about vomit, varicose veins, tantrums, and worrying about 10-year olds sexting.  And, those who are in the mix of it just want to drink vodka slushes and forget about the above for a bit.honesty

So, what we’d figure we’d do here at ODM is to create a forum for judgment-free ranting and complaining in the parenting community.

Join us HERE to tell your story!

Shakespeare in the bathroom

If you are a parent of a child under age 8 and  you have read a book in the last year, please tell me two things:

1.  What was the book?

2.  How the fuck did you find time to read a book?

I never was very bookish as a kid.  I actually hated reading for a large portion of my life.  And, yet I became an English major in college.  Go figure.  I am a fabulous mystery.

Nevertheless, as an adult, and ever since The DaVinci Code (the book, not the movie.  The movie suuuuuucked), I have been on a quest for the ultimate page-turner.  And, by “quest,” nowadays I, of course, mean “wishful thinking that I might get ten uninterrupted minutes to read a good book.

Not Fifty Shades of Grey.  A GOOD book.

So, I am looking for suggestions so when I sneak a few minutes in the bathroom every now and again, I can fumble my way through a page or two of literature.  And, by the way, tell NO ONE of my bathroom secret.  No one has to poop that much, people.  Come on.  I am just trying to get some peace and quiet.  Some day, I fear they will catch on…

And, I should have you know that I am a total book snob.  Please do not recommend I sink my teeth into some bodice-ripper or junk novel written by a stay-at-home-mom.  No disrespect to SAHMs.  I am sure many of you are very literate.  But, I am looking for something to hang in there with my loves of Hamlet and Native Son.  I don’t mean to imply that working moms could fill this void, either.  AUTHORS of merit can do it for me, though.  Classics.  Enduring craftsmanship.  Art.  Well-themed wordsmithery.

So, suggest away, friends.  I am all ears.  Until I have to make dinner.  And by “dinner,” I, of course, mean “an order to the local Chinese takeout place.”

Thankful (that this isn’t you)

Some days, as a mom, I am only half-certain that I am doing a decent job.  It is a tough job, I will tell you.  In case you didn’t already know.  And, I feel partially competent and completely untrained the majority of the time.

I beat myself up a whole lot.  It is probably not healthy.  But, every now and again I realize that I am not any of these people and I feel better.

Yikes.

Yikes.

My wedding, for example, was classy.  People wore shirts.  And, clothes that were not, um, banana hammocks.  And I was the only one with a garter on my thigh.  I think.  And, I was not in the “November Rain” video, so you couldn’t see the aforementioned garter, anyway.

Fabulous.

Fabulous.

I once learned archery in gym class.  But, I never considered myself capable of teaching this skill to my children.  But, in another year, my oldest will be 5 and he will clearly be ready for firearms if you believe this guy.

bad parent 2And, I, too, believe in safety.  I have locks on my cabinets so my babies cannot drink Mr. Clean.  I cover my outlets so the spawn don’t become a science experiment in conductivity.  But, somehow I never thought to create a makeshift visor when putting my child on the front of my high-speed motorcycle.  My bad.

Was this in the latest "People of Walmart" composite?

Was this in the latest “People of Walmart” composite?

Now, I remember just a little while back when a debate broke out regarding how long it was “acceptable” to breastfeed.  But, I think it may need to come under discussion how long we ought to cart children in strollers.  And, um, how we handle nutrition issues in our families.

I wonder what the ducky did to deserve this.

I wonder what the ducky did to deserve this.

One other thing we ought to put on the table for discussion might be discipline.  I suppose we all have different methods.  I use “time-outs.”  They work.  I also instituted a ticket system for positive behavioral reinforcement.  We also, of course, take away privileges and move up bedtime when appropriate.  But, I never thought of this.

Totally appropriate.

Totally appropriate.

Anyone who knows me personally probably knows that I am totally uncomfortable with the topic of sex.  I am very thankful that I have boys and “the talk” will have to be my husband’s job.  Apparently, though, not everyone shares my prudishness.

Pretty.

Pretty.

You know, everyone looks better with a healthy glow, right?  And, if it were bad for you, tanning places wouldn’t be in every mall in America, right?

There are good ideas and then there are just, well, ideas.

There are good ideas and then there are just, well, ideas.

Some may find the tanning of a child to be unsafe.  I wonder what those people would say about this.

Next:  keg stands and rounds of flip cup.

Next: keg stands and rounds of flip cup.

And, finally, we have here a parent who is truly concerned with something absolutely critical:  preparing a child for college.

If you, too, are not any of these people, perhaps you should rest assured that you are doing a moderately decent job at parenting, too.  Hang in there!

Sentimental and introspective (just for now)

I kind of want to learn conversational Spanish.  And Sign Language.  Just because I feel as though these things might make me more interesting.

I’d also like to say that I’ve been skydiving, though I am not sure I actually want to go skydiving.  And, I would really like to get my PhD. and learn how to drive stick.

Someday, I want to visit Greece.  And, I would like to have an idea of mine patented.

I want to learn to tap dance.

Tell 'em, Red.

Tell ’em, Red.

Some days I am afraid that I am living a bit of a hollow existence.  Now, being a wife, mother, teacher, friend, daughter, neighbor, doggy mamma and spectacular driver are all really great and all.  But, if I were on my death bed right at this moment, I don’t know if I’d feel satisfied that I’d led a life well-lived.  I don’t know if my life is interesting.

Now, people with attitude problems all over the place might get all pissy and leave comments about how a real mom would be satisfied simply with her role as a mother.  It is the most important job in the world.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.

It is important.  I am thankful every day for the gifts I have been given.  My children are amazing.  And probably awesomer than your kids, anyway.

But, every once in a while I wonder which of my dreams I am letting die because I am watching America’s Next Top Model instead of learning expert knife skills at the local culinary institute.  I have a bucket list.  That bucket list itself is dying.  I am getting too old to learn how to surf now.  And, I think every so often about how many more things will simply never get crossed off of that list because I can’t leave my house since my kids are sleeping upstairs.  And, toddlers aren’t welcome at Knife Class.

I know that the simple answer to all of this is just to get off my ass and start crossing things off of that list.  But, as any responsible parent and working adult will tell you, doing things that are just for YOU isn’t something that happens too often for many of us.  I am certainly not deprived.  And, I have a good life, but I still haven’t ever tried a ridiculously expensive glass of wine or run a 5K.  No.  Really.  RUN.  The whole way.  And, that makes me just a little sad.

You Shaw it here first, people.

You Shaw it here first, people.

I wish I could go back and tell the younger me to live it up a little more.  Everyone tells you to be so responsible, save your money, get a good job, buy a home, settle down.  But, not enough people tell you to have fun, get drunk, laugh, make a memory, take a funny picture of a friend at the base of the Eiffel Tower at 3 AM, sleep in, and own your stupid 2-seater dream car before you have to become an exhausted, minivan-driving, in-bed-at-10:00 grown-up.

As I sit today on the eve of the beginning of Off Duty Mom’s series on fertility issues we’re featuring via Guest Bloggers this month, I realize the seeming hypocrisy of it all.  I blog and crab and complain about how tough it is to be a parent.  Yet, I sat in doctor’s offices for YEARS where I cried and blamed God and cursed and puked because I was incapable of carrying a baby to term.  And now, I have brought two amazing young angels into the world.  And I still cry and whine and curse.  And I blubber about how I wish someone would give me the time to travel to Scotland or learn how to skateboard.

Nevertheless, I realize that we all feel as though we’re missing something sometimes.  We all wonder if life would just be better IF

And, at the end of the day we all have something that we take for granted, but that someone else is wishing and hoping to have.

Starting tomorrow, we will publish our first in the series of guest posts about issues of pregnancy, adoption, fertility and miscarriage.  Some of the posts are funny.  Some are heartbreaking.  Some are touching.  Some are uplifting.  I encourage you to check back often throughout December to read all of the posts.

Then, in January, I will stop being introspective, sappy, thoughtful and melancholy.  Off Duty Mom will return to tackle important issues such as the classical philosophy of Handy Manny, bathtub turds,  toddler beauty pageants, gray hairs, and public drunkenness.

Tune in tomorrow, though, for our very first (and very funny) installment in our December series from Pile of Babies author, Meredith Bland.

To be (myself) or not to be (and bake cookies from scratch insead)

Since becoming a mother, I have grown.

I mean, I haven’t grown UP, per se, nor have I really become a better person, truthfully.  But, I have learned a thing or two about a thing or two.

Several months ago, I came to terms with the kind of mother I really was, regardless of the kind of mother I might hope or wish to be.  And in the time since, I have found great humor in re-learning over and over (sometimes the hard way) who I really was.

Totally.

However, I find myself still wondering how to reconcile who I am versus who I think the world wants all of us moms to be.

Before having kids, I worried that I would make a lousy mother because I never really liked to play in the yard, get dirty, crawl on the floor, make baby talk, design handprint turkey paintings or use Play Doh.

It turns out that I still don’t like any of those things.  I mean, have you ever SMELLED Play Doh?  Jesus.

But, I really feel as though I will rock at tailgating for varsity football games, hosting sleepovers, chaperoning dances and giving advice to wayward teenagers whose own moms aren’t cool enough to tell about experiments with Zima and Jolly Ranchers or about brewing girl feuds on Instagram.

I don’t know why the Universe didn’t just allow me to give birth to 14-year olds.  I don’t know what to do with my children until that point.  Right now they are running around the room using a remote control and an old telephone to “zap” one another in some sort of faux galactic war.  I don’t really know how to take part in this.  But, they seem fine without me taking part in it at all.  Some piece of my heart, though, tells me that I am supposed to pick up that hairbrush over there, tell them that it is the ultimate celestial laser launch rocket that was invented to destroy the galactic war once and for all, run after my tiny fighting space pirates, and declare my interstellar victory as we all fall, laughing, into a pile of pillows and stuffed bears.  I could pretend, but in the end, this is just not who I am at my core.

So, I wonder if I am supposed to fake it.  Or if I am supposed to just go ahead and be me.  I want to be the awesome fun mom who dresses in a superhero cape or mentions building a snowman before the kids do.  But, I wonder if this is contrary to what I have been teaching my children about how to be honest about themselves.

IS this really what most be “above all” else?

The lessons I teach my children about being true to themselves, I believe, is one of the most critical lessons I can give them.  Am I supposed to follow my own advice or do a “better” job at being “better” with kids?  And, what does that really mean, anyway?

I know that no matter what I do, my children will eventually end up blaming me for something in some therapy session years down the road.  That’s what we all end up doing, anyway, right?  But, I would like to think that I did everything I could to send the right messages, be the right example and provide the best childhood for them that I could.

That’s a Wilde thought for ya.

Until then, I am going to go find my youngest kid some rainboots so that we can all go for a walk and splash in puddles.  I will probably whine on the inside that I am cold and dirty and cranky.  But, the kids will have smiles.  And, tomorrow, I can figure out whether I need to learn how to make Christmas ornaments out of pipe cleaners and Cheerios or not.

Should I Move to Australia?

Work sucks.

We all know it.

It turns out it sucks worst here in the United States, especially for women, and most especially for women with families, it seems.

“Did you know that 138 nations mandate vacation time by law? But, one of them isn’t the ‘Republic of here,'” said Bill Maher on the June 15, 2012 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.

He went on to note that “in England, you get 28 paid vacation days a year. In Switzerland, you get 20. In Sweden, you get 25.”  Currently, I have “earned” 10 vacation days for the next year (July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013).  I have so few because I have had vacation days deducted from those “earnings” since I opted to take a maternity leave within the past work cycle.

But, it seems as though I was even lucky to have been afforded the privilege of taking unpaid maternity leave and being charged with sick, vacation and personal days in the process.  Many other new mothers don’t even get that.  And, I appear to be enormously fortunate and in the vast minority in the fact that I even get those 10 vacation days at all.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, “The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that requires most companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time after the birth of their child. The FMLA applies to both men and women and is also available for those that adopt a child.  If the parents work for the same company, the 12 weeks is then divided between the two of them and is an accumulation of both of their time (i.e.,. each could take 6 weeks off; one could take 4 weeks while the other takes 8 weeks).  There are exceptions to the FMLA which release a business from the obligation of allowing unpaid time off. These exceptions include the size of the company (less than 50 employees), the time of employment (at least 12 months), and level of wages (top 10%). Employees with incomes that account for the top 10% of wages for the business may not have access to the unpaid benefit if the company can show with evidence that your absence creates significant financial harm to the organization.”

This has me wondering whether this is a convenient way for companies to legally discriminate in their practices.  Certainly, it cannot be a matter of official record, but if a company employs 55 people and feels as though it cannot “afford” to allow women time off to undergo a major medical experience, would it not be better served by hiring only men?

One might argue that times are tough and women can always refuse to accept a position with any company whose policies do not meld well with their personal beliefs, medical needs, or family interests.  In other words, we can just say to women, “If you don’t like it, go work somewhere else.”  Interestingly, men don’t have any equivalent I can see where they might be told something similar.

Here’s where it gets worse.  According to a report on Forbes.com in 2009, “more than half of U.S. companies employ fewer than 50 people.”  So, just going and finding somewhere else that jives better with your family needs doesn’t seem that possible all of the time, then.

How is the United States, a country that takes such pride in its focus on equity, social justice and civil rights, among the few who still treat women as second-class citizens who must choose between their personal and professional lives?  The following may be surprising.  Here are a few countries with longer maternity leave options for their workers:  Belarus, Cambodia, Chad, China, Congo, Egypt, Iran, Thailand and Zimbabwe.

CHINA?!  Don’t they have some of the worst human rights policies on the planet?  And, yet, they mandate more maternity leave for women.

Recently, The New York Times reported:  “Canada and the United States may share a border, a language and much cultural affinity, but if women face broadly similar situations in terms of education and economic opportunity in the two countries, they are far apart in the area of gender equality, the experts said.”

It also reported that “last month a report by Save the Children suggested that America is one of the worst places to be a mother among rich countries, pointing to what it said were one of the highest maternal mortality rates and worst breastfeeding environments among developed countries.”

Craptacular.  So, if we survive (which we are less likely to do here than in a host of other industrialized nations), we are still subject to a lifetime of over-work and low pay.  In fact, the Government Accountability Office concluded that men statistically receive earning boosts after having children while women receive significant losses at the same lifepoints.  They also concluded that still after 20+ years of this pervading statistic, women still earn a mere 80% of men’s average salaries — 80 cents to every man’s dollar.

This all leaves the US as one of the worst places to be a working woman and mother who believes in equity and fairness and who values family time.

In 2011, Marie Claire reported that “a 2005 report by the World Economic Forum found [Sweden] to be the world’s ‘most advanced country’ for women, with greater levels of equality, power, health, and well-being among women than anywhere else. (The survey ranked the U.S. an abysmal 17th place — one above Costa Rica.)”  The article went on to note that “Sweden, which has a population of 9 million — around the same as the state of New Jersey — has a long history of female-friendly policies. The government gave women equal rights to inherit property way back in 1845; in 1901, it introduced the world’s first formalized maternity-leave program. In 1958, the Swedish Lutheran church changed its doctrine to permit women to become priests. And today, female politicians make up around half of the Swedish parliament.”  In the US, women make up just 17% of the Senate and just shy of 17% of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Again, though, it doesn’t all just suck for women, though it sucks for us the worst.  But, it seems as though everyone in this country is getting shafted.  The Denver Post says, “Blue-collar workers get five days of paid leave after one year of service, and 23 percent of Americans get no paid vacation whatsoever, the 2006 statistics showed.”  NO. VACATION. WHATSOEVER.  Wha?

“Experts said the lack of vacation stems in part from an American obsession with work as a form of defining one’s identity,” The Denver Post article continued, “whereas European and Asian cultures enjoy longer vacations and define themselves by familial or national affiliations.”

So, again, I see a trend.  Americans must choose between family and work.  People just about everywhere else do not. Because they out-earn their female counterparts statistically by 20%, men often do not face such decisions in this country where women still do.

And, of the work we all do, Americans are working harder for their money, to boot.  An article on 20somethingfinance.com said in 2010:  “At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not.”

So, let me see if I have this straight:  women in the US work longer hours, for less money, less vacation time, less maternity leave time and fewer cultural perks than workers just about everywhere else on the globe?

Is it time to do something about this?  I’d love to hear what you think.

Justifiable Alcoholism

It occurred to me recently that I talk about drinking wine pretty often.  I admitted to crying when I ran out of the stuff once.

I started to wonder whether admitting openly to loving wine (and actually also loving beer, margaritas, cosmopolitans, whisky sours and anything with Chambord just as much), was…inappropriate for a mom.  I guess I had flashbacks of that scene from “Desperate Houswives” when Bree is “caught” tossing out a bag full of empty wine bottles and her friends chatter about whether this was indicative of a problem.

I have officially decided that no, it is NOT a problem.

Yup-Yup.

I decided that a little imbibement (imbibing? imbibitude? imbibishousness?) is good for the soul.  Or at least the sanity.

And, I realized that I wasn’t alone in this thinking.

Where have you been all my life?

It seems as though I am not actually the first mother to be overwhelmed by life.  While I understand that alcohol isn’t “the answer” — I mean all of those afterschool specials of the 80’s weren’t wasted on me, people — I do think that it is nice to revel in the things still left in my life that aren’t directly connected to diapers, Diego, dirty fingernails and Disney Channel.  For me (and for moms, everywhere, I imagine), a glass of wine symbolizes something acutely adult.  And, it is something typically only to be enjoyed when children are not around.  So for that reason alone, it is an escape from the exhausting duties of the day.

I was sad for a long time because I figured that I was the only one out there who felt like she was failing at motherhood.  I never seemed to have my crap together.  Every time I saw a mom with her baby in the grocery store and noticed that both she and the baby looked lovely and well-rested, the baby never screamed and the mom had impeccable make-up, I died a little inside as my kid had a tantrum and I realized I’d not showered in two days.

Blogging about stuff like this, I hope to let others out there know that you’re not failing at motherhood unless you are neglecting, abandoning or harming your children.  If they are getting love, support, attention and all of Maslow’s cacophony of “needs,” I think we’re all square.  Nobody gives a shit if your hair has been brushed recently.  In fact, you’d probably make all the other moms out there feel a little less awful about themselves if you just went ahead and went out with your hair looking like that.

Look — my go-to hairstyle of 2010 actually made it to the runway, y’all.

But, back to that wine.  Let us not forget what has brought me to my blog today in the first place.

Wine is awesome.  Really, as I mentioned before, grown-up drinks are all good in my book as they help us remember the parts of our lives that belong to US, not the vast majority of our days that belong to someone else (children, work, etc.).

I have learned that there are plenty of moms out there who believe in the benefits of having adult beverages.  Facebook even has groups like “OMG! I so need a glass of wine or I’m gonna sell my kids” that has been trademarked.  There is also a site called Moms Who Need Wine  that offers humor, recipes, support and nuggets of happiness for like-minded women.

Of course, there are always a bunch of jerks who want to ruin my buzz by insisting that marketing wines to mothers is irresponsible or that buying into the “culture” of drinking among mothers is dangerous.  To those of you who are against the idea of a legal adult enjoying a cocktail every now and again, I say:  “don’t do it, then.”  In all things I am generally against telling others what to do, think, say or drink, so I will happily agree to stay the hell out of your business if you stay the hell out of mine.  Of course, all things must be done in moderation, but suggesting that a responsible adult ought not to have a bottle of wine with dinner with her (or his — wine does not discriminate) partner after a long day and the kids are in bed is ludicrous.

I suggest you all take a look at Moms Who Wine when you have a moment.   Here is a blogger who really gets it.  And, by “it,” I mean “drunk.”  But, in a good way.  Really.

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