Off Duty Mom

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

Archive for the tag “motherhood”

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

I Think I’m Supposed to Buy a Sportscar or Something

Eleven years ago, I was all, “hey, I should write stuff on the internet and people might care or whatever.” And, I blogged about Snoop Dogg and baby poop and wine and poetry and some people were like, “cool” and the rest of the world was like, “Off Duty Who, now?” and it’s all good either way. I probably don’t read your blog, either.

But, as my kids grew up a little, I lost myself a bit and I slipped slowly into some low-grade depression without even realizing it. I didn’t know that was what was happening to me because I’ve never lost my dark and (for some folks) off-putting sense of humor. I guess I figured that as long as I was (dryly) cracking myself up, I was probably ok. But, ya know, I really wasn’t.

When Off Duty Mom started, I was dabbling in a world where mommies all over were thinking about the honest truth about how hard this job was and I enjoyed sort of venting to the void. It was therapeutic. Ok, in retrospect, maybe letting the blog go was a catalyst for the depressive slide and wasn’t a result of it. Hmmm…gotta bring that one up with the therapist next session…

At any rate, I am reigniting the old flame of Off Duty Mom and inviting you all on my new adventure: the Midlife Crisis! It’s super fun! And is helped along the way greatly by sarcasm.

We’re all effed up in our own special little ways, right? But, please know that as you journey through life when life is most difficult, you are (cheesy and played-out as this sounds) NOT ALONE. So, take my hand and come with me and let’s explore the challenges of work, motherhood, aging, mental health, weird pop-culture references, and dark humor. Welcome back.

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.

A change is brewin’

I’m 39.

That might be really old or really young depending on who and where you are.  I have to admit that most of the time it feels kind of old, especially when I look at how much energy my kids have comparatively.

A little over a year ago, I decided that I didn’t want to be 40 and fat.  I knew I had no control over the 40 part, but the “fat” part of it was a different story.

Going back about 8 years now, I decided to become “Off Duty Mom” when I felt that too few people were talking about the ugly side of motherhood or parenting, for that matter.  I needed more people to be open about hemorrhoids, varicose veins, tantrums, post-natal constipation, potty-training, the obnoxiousness of Caillou and the vast abyss of Thomas the Tank Engine and Minecraft into which so many kids fall.

But, it seems that people are talking about those things now.  I am really happy that new mothers now won’t have to deal with what I did:  believing that everyone else had an easy go of it while I was over here crying every night at 7 PM for NO REASON WHATSOEVER (aka:  hormones) after giving birth.  Had my dear friend not said to me, 3 months before I delivered, “when I had my daughter I was not prepared for that much bleeding.  I mean there was blood everywhere,” I might not have known that sleeping on a bed that looks like it was prepared by a serial killer ready to dismember his neighbor and a small elephant or that those giant mesh undie things would be so very, very necessary.  Oh, the joy that was the icepack panty pad.  What a motherfucking fantastic invention.  And, had my mother not given me fiber pills when I came home from the hospital and just said, “TRUST ME,” I wouldn’t have been prepared for the colossal fucking ass-rip that was trying to poop after delivering a baby.

My kids are school-aged now and that comes with new challenges for me.  But, when I hit my don’t-be-40-and-fat “eureka” moment, I knew that I wasn’t just all about the kind of vanity that comes with wanting to lose weight in your 20’s.  It wasn’t about a goddamn thigh-gap.  It was about living a long and healthy life with my family.  I wanted to be strong and fit.  But, most of all, having struggled with depression and anxiety for so long, I wanted to stop the incessant message in my head that said about so much:  “I can’t.”

I repeated the ugly “I can’t” message to myself probably a few dozen times each day, every day.  It related to what I felt was utter exhaustion about e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. around me.  “I just can’t stay up any later.”  “I just can’t run and play with my kids outside.”  “I just can’t walk to the park.  We have to drive.”  The list went on and on.  There seemed to be no end to the things I told myself I couldn’t do as a mom, as a teacher, as a wife, and just as a living, breathing human.

So, I am moving on to talk about something else now that I don’t thing enough people are honest about:  aging gracefully.

Actually, cosmetics companies, fashion magazines, celebrities and other people I don’t particularly want to hear weigh in on the subject are talking about it plenty.  But, I am not hearing a dialogue about what matters to me.

So I am going to start one.

Ever seen a video online of some amazing 65-year old bodybuilding and being all “If I can do it, anyone can!  I’m 65!  Get off the couch!”

Fuck you, 65-year old.

I started CrossFit almost exactly one year ago.  I am most decidedly NOT starring in videos, lifting 150 pound over my head and telling people to get off the couch.  I am in no position to tell anyone a friggin’ thing about fitness.

When I tell people I do CrossFit, I get one of two reactions: awe or confusion.  Some people have never heard of it.  But, most think that I am fucking nuts.  They think I throw tires and run 5Ks with kegs of beer on my back.  Actually, I do push-ups on my knees and I get lightheaded after running 100 yards.

That fit, smirking 65-year old in the videos started small, too, I am guessing.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, y’all.

So, I am recharging Off Duty Mom.  I can’t talk legitimately anymore about how annoying Elmo is because

  1.  I am no longer in a place where Elmo is in my world.  It’s all K.C. Undercover and Avengers movies ’round here now and
  2. It’s been done and overdone.  Blah Blah Blah Being a Mom is Hard.

I mean, being a mom is still hard.  But, what I am finding hard at this point in my journey is how to be better to myself for my family.  How do I increase my life span and breathe in life with more joy and less exhaustion?

I will be sharing with you now the Off Duty Mom journey of growing older, becoming stronger, finding more positive headspace and not being 40 and fat.

Thanks for your readership up to this point.  I hope you’ll be interested in opening conversations about how we can (and must) take better care of ourselves not so we can compete with the 22-year old moms at the pool whose bodies just sprung right back into magazine-cover shape post-partum (“it was so easy!”), but so we can grow from our former selves.

Join me.

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.

 

*Poop*

Why don’t people want to talk about diarrhea?

No one ever has diarrhea, you know?  I mean, people have “stomach problems,” but never just the shits.

I know that it’s gross and smelly and sometimes painful and embarrassing.  But, so was childbirth and every vagina-owner who has ever pushed a baby into the world wants to tell you the details:  vomiting, water breaking, perineal tearing, stretch marks, back labor…you name it, baby mamas wanna share it with you.

These same moms have been peed on, kicked, farted on, have strained peas thrown into their hair, and have cleaned up more bodily fluids (and not-so-fluids) than any HazMat worker will in a week.  But, still no one ever wants to admit to ever having the squirts.

I have seen some of my friends get blind-drunk and vomit all over themselves.  But, none of those people EVER had the green-apple-quick-step.  Supposedly.

Now, I am not necessarily proposing that we all come out of the shart closet and start sharing the details of these unpleasant experiences.  In real life, I am actually fairly modest and truly value my privacy.  There is a reason why I don’t share my real name when I blog.

But, I just find it really amusing that the only thing that is truly off limits in conversation (even among your better friends) is diarrhea.  Religion, politics, abortion, capital punishment, our diseases, our surgeries and our mental health issues are all far less taboo than this thing that occasionally happens to every human on the planet.  I mean, all kinds of yahoos want to espouse their so-called knowledge on the education/justice/healthcare/political/environmental/immigration systems in this country, but no one really wants to talk about something they actually KNOW.

 

Go figure.

Conversations with my Post-Baby Body Parts

 

This might help.

This might help.

1.  EYES —

Me:  Hey!  Let’s stay up on Friday night and watch Gravity on Blu-Ray.

Eyes:  Sounds great.  We’ll be done with our job by like 8:30, though, right?

Me:  Well, no.  I will need you until the movie is over.

Eyes:  We can’t promise that.

Me:  Come on.  8:30?

Eyes:  We’re already tired of this conversat—-

 

2.  BACK —

Back:  I hurt.

Me:  I know.  I am not gonna tell anyone, though, because they’ll think we’re old.

Back:  But you groan every time you stand up and you sigh ridiculously loudly every time you sit down.  Who do you think we’re fooling?

 

3.  SKIN —

Me:  Discoloration, zits AND wrinkles?

Skin:  Yeah, and the kids’ college funds have made us too poor for surgical solutions.  If only you could exchange sarcasm for collagen…

 

4.  HAIR —

Me:  I am sure glad I had 9 months of prenatal vitamins that made my hair glossy, thick and luxurious.  That was nice while it lasted.

Hair:  It is so fun when we all jump out of your scalp at once and then the poor schmucks we leave behind all start to turn gray!  Good times!

 

And, it just keeps getting worse.

And, it just keeps getting worse.

5.  BOOBS —

Me:  What the hell?!

Boobs:  Hey, look!  We’re still here!  No.  Down here.  Hello?

 

6.  BRAIN —

Me:  Ugh.

Brain:  Totally.  Hey, let’s worry every minute of every day forever now.  I am totes going to make you cry at greeting card commercials and shout like a lunatic when your kid scores his first soccer goal.  Don’t delay the anti-anxiety meds, lady.  Get me the good stuff, too.  I have a lot going on up here.

 

7.  UTERUS —

Me:  I hate periods.

Uterus:  I hate not having a baby in here.  It’s lonely.

Me:  Hey, um, I put two babies into ya.  That was good, right?

Uterus:  Fuck you.  I want more babies.  Give me more babies!  Every month you don’t give me a baby, I’m going to tear down these walls and make your life a living hell.  I am going to make it feel like there is a giant fist inside your gut grabbing and twisting your vital organs like you’re being juiced.

 

8.  KNEES —

Me:  Hey, what the hell?  You guys never hurt before.  Now all of a sudden I can tell when it is about to rain.  What’s up with that?

Knees:  You’re old.  And chubby.  It’s hard to carry you around.  Less chocolate.  More kale.

 

9.  LEGS —

Me:  Wow.  That’s ugly.

Legs:  So’s your face!  Ha!  Ha!

Me:  No, seriously, veins?  They’re everywhere.  I can’t possibly need that many transport lines for my blood.  Can’t we do some rerouting or something?

Legs:  They got doctors for that, you know.

Me:  I know.  But that shit hurts.  Why can’t you all just straighten up and fly right?

Legs:  Why can’t you embrace our newfound blue beauty?

 

This is what we have to look forward to, then?

This is what we have to look forward to, then?

10.  BUTT–

Me:  Holy shit.  I think I could put a can of soda under my ass cheek and hold it there against my thigh.  When did you get so droopy?

Butt:  I started heading South during Baby #1.  You were too busy designing a nursery motif to notice.  Ever hear of Prenatal Yoga?  Come on, now.

Me:  Sorry.

Butt:  You are sorry.  In about three more years you’re going to have to start getting your drawers at Sears.  SEARS!

Me:  Are you sure?

Butt:  And, they won’t be called “panties,” anymore.  They won’t make “panties” in your size.  They will be “underpants.”

Me:  That sounds awful.

Butt:  And, stop having kids.  With your constant expansion and refusal to do Kegels, you’re going to be a fatty who is also, charmingly, incontinent.  Then, you’ll be on to adult diapers.

Me:  That sucks.

Butt:  Yuppers.

If they fit, we should just get them in every color.

If they fit, we should just get them in every color.

11.  FEET —

Me:  Hey, guys.  My shoes hurt.  I don’t ever remember complaining about that before having a coupla babies.  What gives?

Feet:  Oh, so you thought we’d go back to “normal” size after your babies were born?  That’s cute.  Hey, Cankles, that sparkly boutique downtown called and said they had shoes in our size.  You know the place.  They also cater to guys like Larry who stocks lumber at the Home Depot by day, but who by night hosts a cabaret show under the name of Hillary Clit-Ton.  Sure, Larry’s alter ego’s typical footwear choices make Gaga look more like Amy Farrah Fowler, but whatevs.  They have your SIZE.

 

 

body

 

Seeking Writers

We haven’t done a guest-post series in quite some time.

The world is long overdue for a great series like the one we did on infertility about a year and a half ago.

We had a number of amazing, funny, heartbreaking submissions and I think that it is time to showcase some serious talent again.

The next Off Duty Mom Guest Series will feature articles about the topic of

Embarrassing Stories I Don’t Want My Mom to Know

So, did you do something stupid/hilarious/dangerous/moderately legal in your younger years that our readers would find endearing, funny or adorable?  Did that ridiculous thing you did result in embarrassment, shame or imprisonment that we can all laugh at together?

Have you been in a situation that is funny now, but was mortifying then?  Would your mama slap you silly if she knew you stole that/ate that/went there/dated him/failed that class/drank that Kool-Aid/posed for that picture?

Let’s laugh and cry together.  Share your funny and embarrassing story to be posted in a Mother’s Day series.  Let us be glad that you’re not our kid…

 

I’ve Found Him

I was a total nerd as a kid.

I got picked on — big time.

The cool girls used to throw popcorn at me when I ate lunch alone in the cafeteria in 7th grade.  I was usually alone, cafeteria or not.

I didn’t date a whole lot, but I grew into myself as I got a bit older.  However, when I was a younger teen, I would snuggle up on my side in my bed with a pillow and I would lay my head on it and pretend that it was my boyfriend who was letting me nuzzle into his shoulder.

I had daydreams about meeting a boy who would not know that I was such an outcast and he’d like me just because I have intrinsic value.

I had this incredibly silly fantasy that this magical boy would really know the real me and he wouldn’t judge me because I wasn’t wearing the coolest clothes.  He would know all of my idiosyncrasies like how I only ever eat French Fries two-at-a-time.

Eventually, I met an amazing man who became my husband.  We fell in love and made a house a home and are living happily ever after.

But, it was just a few weeks ago when my oldest son, age 5, mentioned that he wanted to eat his fries “just like mommy” and he popped two Five Guys hand-cut French Fries into his mouth.

Somewhere in my torn adolescent soul I felt sure that my time would come and I would meet the man of my dreams and he would fulfill all of my silly musings about love and he would make up for all of the emotional bruising I had muddled through.

I just never expected the man of my dreams to be my 5-year old son.

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.

I’m old and out of touch, just like I swore I’d never be…

I have been making a mental list of things I don’t understand.

It’s a long one.

(That’s what she said.)

And, being both a mother and a teacher I am therefore surrounded by young people for the vast majority of my waking hours.  And, you might think that this would aid me in my quest for ultimate world domination and superiority over others, but you’d be wrong.  Being around young people just makes me realize how little I know about the world around me.

macbethI have, like, a couple of degrees and whatnot.  I’m, you know, smart ‘n stuff.  I can recite a heaping chunk of the prologue of “The Canterbury Tales” in the original Middle English.  I can recall the entire first scene of “Macbeth” from memory.  I can say the alphabet backwards.  I know all the words to REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.”  I know my IQ.  I am not telling you what it is, but let’s just say that I’m not not telling you ‘cuz I’m embarassed, but because I don’t want you to feel bad about yourself.

And, yet, since I am swimming in a sea of Disney-Beiber-CallofDuty-Miley-Legos-XBoxLive-ness, I too often feel like a dipshit.

maniacsI remember being a teenager and just “knowing” that my folks were so out-of-touch.  They didn’t know ANYTHING about REALITY because they thought that 10,000 Maniacs were an LA gang and that Nirvana was Viking heaven.

Of course, my parents felt that their lack of knowledge of popular culture was irrelevant and that the real REALITY was, you know, mortgages and car insurance and W2s and that sort of thing.

I agree that personal finance is closer to relevant than knowing all of the stock characters on Saturday Night Live might be.  Nevertheless, I feel just a little silly and old when I realize how much there is that I don’t know.

galtLike this:

Who is Benedict Cumberbatch? (I know who John Galt is, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter to the people on Pinterest as much.)

Wasn’t “Dr. Who” a TV show in the 80’s?  Why is everyone talking about it now?

Name one song by Macklemore that isn’t “Thrift Shop.”  I dare you.  (Actually, don’t.  You probably can name 20 and then I will just feel worse.)

Who the fuck is ASAP Rocky?  (And why does one student keep insisting he is better than Tupac?  I never even heard the name ‘ASAP Rocky’ before, but I can tell you that it doesn’t matter.  There is no fucking way he is better than Tupac.)

Does anyone actually believe that Katy Perry, Beyonce and Miley Cyrus are feminists?

greeneAm I the only person on the planet who hasn’t yet read The Fault in Our Stars? (I’ve read almost everything William Shakespeare has ever written.  Aren’t I done reading things yet?)

At the end of the day, though, folks, I have to admit that I love learning.  So, if anyone out there can enlighten me regarding any of this or can share some wisdom with me about our world, I am more than interested in hearing about it.  Feel free to share the answers to these pressing questions in the comments section or pose a few of your own.

Thanks for reading!

I Don’t Believe in Special Ed.

I have seen (and heard — and smelled) some weird stuff in my day.

Recently, in fact, I saw two people get married on the floor at a Nine Inch Nails concert.  They wore…um…interesting outfits and took their vows just outside of the moshpit.  Or, rather, they took their vows just outside of the area the moshpit would have been had the average age of the current-day NIN fan not been about 40.

Once the nuptials concluded, Trent could proceed with his signature sound that pulses with noise reminiscent of flak jackets, gunmetal and binary code.

216707-anchorman-2-sequel-image-will-ferrellI go places.  I see things.  I have many leather-bound books.

I consider myself fairly worldly.  I mean, I have been to Europe, people.  And, I have two whole gay friends.

Okay, I have one gay friend.

And, I consider myself somewhat educated.  I have a couple of degrees and a bunch of papers that say that this-state-or-that-commonwealth hereby decrees that I am worthy to, like, work and stuff.

Yet, with my vast set of personal experience and wealth of knowledge and worldly understanding, there are still a few things I don’t understand.

My inability to wrap my giant brain around some of these concepts is very possibly going to piss you off.

I am okay with that.

So, here is the deal:

I do not believe in Special Education.

I know.

But, let me explain.

1.  SPECIAL ED MEANS “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO WITH YOU.”  —  Students all too often acquire Special Education designations not necessarily because they have medical or developmental stumbling blocks over which they must jump in order to compete with their peers.  Often, students, and overwhelmingly young male students, are identified as qualifying for Special Ed. due to factors that come not necessarily from their cognitive abilities (or lacking of abilities), but rather from the educational body’s inability to figure out “what to do” about the “problem” of these children.

According to the AASA (The School Superintendent’s Association), a 2005 article noted that “black students nationwide are 2.9 times as likely as whites to be designated as mentally retarded.”  This same article asserts that young black males faces a plethora of other assorted disadvantages in schools.  They claim that members of this demographic “have been found to be 1.9 times as likely to be designated as having an emotional problem and 1.3 times as likely to have a learning disability. Since twice as many black boys are in special education programs as black girls, it is difficult to blame heredity or home environments as the root causes for these figures. In some metropolitan districts, 30 percent of black males are in special education classes, and of the remaining 70 percent, only half or fewer receive diplomas.”  If home environments and family lineage are not accurate indicators, the conclusion seems to be that a portion of the Special Education population is labeled as such not necessarily due to factors that traditionally seem to impact learning, but instead for the “disability” of being young, male and black.

And, as far as SpecialEducationAdvisor.com is concerned, boys of all ethnic and racial background outnumber girls in Special Ed by more than 2 to 1.  Logic and a basic understanding of statistics suggests that any sub-group should reflect the larger populace.  That is, the ratio of boys-to-girls in Special Education should resemble the ratio of boys-to-girls in, you know, the world.  Yet it does not.

Furthermore, the US Department of Education notes that when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in the 1970’s, students receiving Special Education services grew by about 81%.  Now, some may suggest that this vast growth rate is attributable to the fact that states were finally forced to provide needed services to deserving youngsters.  Or, some may interpret this to mean that the number of students who are not functioning intellectually along with their peers in America has octupled in the past 30+ years.  If the latter is the case, then, one might be able to argue that Special Education identification is fairly inaccurate.

Being black or being male aren’t the only indicators of higher probability of Special Education labeling.  Poverty is a major contributing statistical factor as well.  The Georgetown Law Journal says that “advances in neuroscience research will eventually end special education as we know it. In short, neuroscience research is challenging a number of important assumptions that undergird special education law, including, for example, the assumption that there is a real difference between students with a specific learning disability, who are covered by the law, and those who are simply “slow,” who are not covered.”  And furthermore, they cite research conducted which overwhelmingly suggests that while poverty (and more specifically orphandom or homelessness) may lead a student through a variety of reasons to test at a lower IQ than his same-age peers, the underlying causes of that lowered score are not simply a factor associated with raw intellectual capability.  Therefore, impoverished youngsters may end up in Special Education programs even though their potential levels of achievement may be quite high, but yet untested.

The Washington Monthly reported, too, that “anyone who’s spent time in an inner-city classroom can tell you that the challenges the average poor kid faces are often hard to distinguish from those you’ll find in special ed. This may be the greatest absurdity of the special ed law: It fails to acknowledge ‘environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage’ as disabling conditions. Why should a child with a broken back be guaranteed round-the clock, state-of-the-art medical care, no matter what the cost, while the millions of kids whose difficulties stem from poverty and neglect are left to hope that their teachers will break the rules so they can get some extra help? Should we really be spending $10 billion (at least) a year on ‘learning disabilites’ when we still don’t adequately fund Head Start and Title I, the federal programs that were designed to help poor children catch up with their wealthier peers?”

2.  SPECIAL ED. DOESN’T WORK.  —  Overwhelming data supports the idea that the current American system of assistance for Special Needs children does not increase their achievement, but instead inflates their statistics to give the appearance of achievement.

In an article posted on public station WNYC’s website, teacher Laura Klein notes, “The problem that exists here is related to the way that we lower standards for special education students — a trend that perpetuates the academic inferiority that these students feel.”  If Special Education programs were truly working, then the precious standardized test scores states use to determine both the worth of public school teachers and the achievement of the student body would indicate an even scoring pattern between Special Ed. and non-Special Ed. students.  In other words, if Special Education were truly honoring its promise to families to improve the education experiences of their children, then the proof would be in the puddin’.  But, Special Education students are NOT even coming close to competing with their peers on mandated tests.  But, if grades were an indicator, these numbers would suggest that Special Education students are functioning at a fully acceptable level that is on-par with their Regular Education peers.

In 2012, the New York Times published an article written by a frustrated teacher of Special Education students where he “confesses” to be a “bad teacher.”  He writes, “My students have learning disabilities ranging from autism and attention-deficit disorder to cerebral palsy and emotional disturbances. I love these kids, but they can be a handful. Almost without exception, they struggle on standardized tests, frustrate their teachers and find it hard to connect with their peers.”  But, if the system were working, these things would not be true.  These beloved students would be well-adjusted, academically leveled, and behaviorally normed.

3.  SPECIAL ED. COSTS TOO MUCH TO BE THIS UNSTEADY.  —  The costs of Special Education are well-documented.  It’s really expensive.  Mind you, it is really expensive for a broken product.

And, Special Education programming just keeps morphing itself into new iterations without actually accomplishing much at all.

For example, an acquaintance of mine remembers a conversation with the Special Education teacher in her high school building.  She recalls that the Special Ed. teacher informed the staff that the SDIs (or, Specially-Designed Instruction programming) must be followed to the letter.  In other words, it was mandated that all teachers fulfill the elements of student IEPs.  This can mean anything from teachers being required to provide deadline extensions for designated students, to teachers being forced to offer unlimited attempts at tests, or “modified” grading which can put the minimum grade a teacher may provide for a student’s work at any number determined in the IEP meeting.  When a question was raised to the Special Education teacher that went something like this:  “Ma’am, I am following everything in the student’s IEP and he is still failing my class.  What am I supposed to do?,” the response from the Special Education teacher went something like this:  “If you really have done everything you were supposed to and he is still failing, then we need to rewrite the IEP.”

Now, what this suggests is that when 1 and 1 are added and we get 3, we don’t try to figure out how to get 2, we just change the equation so that 3 is acceptable.

And, what is more interesting is that Special Education students make up just a bit more than 10% of the total student population nationwide.  While hard data relating to Special Education spending is awfully hard to come by, many organizations, including Students First, a group founded by former DC-area Chancellor and sometime controversial public figure, Michelle Rhee, published a statement in 2011 suggesting that about 21% of school budgets tend to be allocated for Special Education spending at the local level.   According to New England Cable News, “One noteworthy aspect of special education is that while Congress enacted the education policy for children with disabilities, states and districts shoulder most of the costs.”  So, indeed, it is expensive, accounting for seemingly far more of school funds than seems statistically logical, and those who pay for it are not those who demanded it exist in the first place.

k-> And, so, I find myself wondering why this educated, worldly (and beautiful!) Off Duty Mom can find more meaning and use in a Keanu Reeves movie than I can find in Special Education.

What say you?  Care to explain why I am a stupid jerk?  Hit up the comments section, yo.

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.

 

Yes, it’s my kid.

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

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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.

An ode to my mother

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

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Guest Post by Jayde-Ashe

I am not a mother but I have a mother.
She is the most motherly mother that a mother could be.
My mother got no choice when they handed out children.
No, instead, my mother got me.

Not a daughter created within her own image.
Not as patient, and gentle, and respectful as she.
A moody child, impetuous, precocious and whiney.
Dismissive of all but the most desperate plea

To behave, sit still, slow down and be careful
To stop pulling away and attempting to flee.
To stop making decisions, always the wrong ones
To protect, and respect, and maintain dignity.

Never once did my mother embarrassingly ask
The question my father asked 13-year-old me.
What the most precious thing that I owned in the world was.
9 letters, 3 i’s and beginning with v.

Never once did my mother fail to be there
When I came back to her grasp in distressed agony.
Upset, disabused and completely forsaken
By a world who was not as forgiving as she.

The path that I chose was as far removed from
The path that she trod, as it could possibly be.
Yet the mother I love refused to pass judgement
On the daughter she raised so diligently.

She listens, reflects and makes gentle suggestions
Pointing out that which I fail to see.
For my youth, and my ignorance, my self-righteous beliefs
Obscure my vision continually.

And for that my mother is the one person in life
Who I admire, and respect, so effortlessly.
A person I now always strive to be like
Though I fail every day, absolute guarantee.

I am a 26 year old wanna-be writer, poet and publisher, enjoying a year of shameless unemployment. I am new to the blogosphere but I can foresee endless potential for procrastination already.  I love coffee, wine and gin, not necessarily in that order. But they are all an essential accompaniment to my other love, a good book.  Most of all, I love my mother, and I’m not ashamed to say it. She is the coolest person I know.

Hooray for Mother’s Day!

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

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GUEST POST BY:

Meredith Ethington

My hands are literally cracking and bleeding. My husband said to me innocently when I was complaining, “Can you just try washing them less everyday?” I scoffed, “No! I wash them when I wipe a butt, and before eating, or fixing a meal, and after going to the bathroom. Which of those should I skip?”

I was thinking about how my hands look like they belong to a 90 year old woman even though I am just a young, 35 year old mama. And, I thought of all the beautiful mother’s day poems out there about a mother’s hands. They are beautiful aren’t they? But, my hands? Not so much. Do these poems really get down and share the nitty gritty that every mother experiences everyday? Not really.

So, I crafted a short little poem of my own, which is ironic since I pretty much hated every poem I had to read during my high school and college years. But, this one came to me pretty quickly.

Busy, Dirty Hands (A Mother’s Day Tribute)

I’m thankful for my mother’s hands, which keep us kids at bay,

From destroying everything she loves, each and every day.

It seems that when I need some help, she says, “Do it yourself!”

So, then I climb up  very high and reach up on a shelf.

Her hands know how to clean up each and every mess I make,

When the shelf falls down, and I move on, to wreak havoc in another place.

Her hands know how to feed the baby, while making dinner too.

They send a text, and help with homework, while the house feels like a zoo.

Those hands wipe our bums 10 times a day, and rarely she complains,

Except, of course, when poop floats in the tub, and she’s almost gone insane.

Her hands are patient when we draw on the couch with a bright red pen,

She uses them to cover her mouth when she wants to remain quite zen.

Her hands catch every single thing that comes out of my mouth,

chewed food and vomit, are just two that no longer gross her out.

Her hands clean up the crusty things that come out of my nose,

when I wipe them on the wall, she says, “That isn’t where it goes!”

Her hands know how to clean and wipe, and clean and wipe again,

They do the same thing over and over, to clean up our pig pen.

Her hands show me so many things, like how much she must love me.

After all those hands have one dirty job, taking care of little ol’ me.

-Written by crazy toddlers everywhere

Meredith is a native Texan, recovering perfectionist, and mama to 3 kids living in Utah. She has been blogging for over 5 years, but just recently decided to make her blog public and get real about motherhood. Her tag line is “far from perfect, but blogging about it anyway”. Because that is exactly what she wants to do. Her goal is to be honest and not just blog all the happy, pretty moments. You can find her over at Faking Picture Perfect.

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.

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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?

 

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