Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Aint Nobody Be Likin' It

Have I shared this story before?  I was teaching 7th graders and I had one kid who was a bit of a donkey.  He gave everyone - teachers and students both - a hard time.  I had the pleasure of having him in class during the last period of the day.  One afternoon this kid must have taken an extra dose of obnoxious vitamins because he thought it'd be funny to take a spray bottle I had on the chalkboard ledge, and spray me in the face with it.

One thing led to another and he was sent to the principal's office.  This happened at the end of the class period so after I dismissed the rest of the kids, I walked downstairs, fists clenched, to the office.  To say I was mad is an understatement.  This kid had been driving me crazy for months and this incident was the last straw.  So when I walked into the office and saw my administrator (who knew what had happened) I said in what might've been an overly loud voice, "HE IS GOING DOWN!"  (Who am I kidding? I sounded like I was an announcer at SMACKDOWN.)

And then I turned a corner and saw him.  He was curled up in a seat sobbing.  This monster of a kid who literally terrorized classrooms was crying so hard I barely recognized him.  He wasn't crying because he heard what I'd said (although, that couldn't have helped), and I'm sure it wasn't because he felt terrible about spraying me in the face with a water bottle.  He was probably crying because he knew he was about to get punished and it probably would be severe. 

All I wanted to do at that point was sit down next to him and tell him it would be OK.  That he didn't have to be scared.  I couldn't remember why I was so angry, and actually, I felt foolish for being so angry in the first place.

Hadley and Harper were invited to a birthday party on Saturday.  There was swimming.

"Oh heyyyyyyy guys!  I'm in here too!"

Big shots -

There was pizza.

There was an Ariel cake.

"Where'd everybody go?  Y'all don't want any more cake?"

There was a pinata!

"What do you mean I have to give this bat to her?  I don't care who's birthday party this is."
"That's cool.  I'll just stand here."
"Not gonna move."

"I'm having a hard time understanding the taking turns aspect of this game."


"Hold up, girls!  Let me get in on this!"
"That's what I'm talking about."
And then there was this perfect shot of summer:
Does it get any better then letting the sun dry out your bathing suit while you swing and eat a lollipop?
Well, it's nice to have your sister share in on the joys of summer, too.

And then. 

It was time to go home and Hadley and Harper decided they were having none of that business.  Harper screamed SCAAAREEEEEMED  bloody murder letting the greater DC area know there is nothing wrong with her vocal chords.  And Hadley?  Hadley argued her way out of the pool as I dragged her out.  She clawed, pinched, and screamed at me while I dried her off, and while I turned to put the towel away, she jumped back into the pool.

Oh yes she did.

The girls screamed all the way through the parking lot while Jesse and I tried to collaborate on discipline.

Jesse: OK, I told Hadley no TV and no treats tomorrow and you told her no TV for a week, plus no chocolate milk.

Me: I canNOT believe she jumped back into the pool after I dried her off.  What have I done wrong that prompted this kind of behavior?  I NEVER acted like this....especially at 4.

Jesse: I think we need to focus on what we're going to do about it.

They didn't seem to care that they weren't going to watch TV or get any treats, but we did find something that proved to be a worthy punishment.

We told them we were throwing away their party favors.

When I told Hadley we were going to throw them away her screaming turned to sobbing.  Hadley rarely cries, and when she does it's the saddest cry you ever heard.  Through tears she asked, "Can I look at the party favors before you throw them away?"

And that's when I rememberd my student crying in the principal's office.  It just didn't seem to matter what she did.  She was so sad and I am her mother and now I've made her miserable. 

I wish we could do it over.  I wish I could find the perfect thing to say so that the girls won't scream and yell and treat me like Voldemort when I say that it's time to go.  I wish I could've managed the classroom better or been a better teacher so that I never had discipline problems. 

I took a "Writing for Children" class taught by Erica Perl a few years ago.  We wrote stories and shared them with the group.  I wrote a story with the student I'm writing about in this post as one of the main characters.  I called him Steven in my piece, and he was wild and obnoxious and funny. I shared my first draft with my classmates and then did some revisions.  I took Steven out, and after sharing the second draft everyone said, "Where's Steven?  Why'd you take him out?  We loved him!"

I have a hard time with discipline.  The hardest part is that I see that Hadley and Harper and the boy I'm calling Steven aren't who they are so much more than their actions in these instances.  I hate treating them based on their actions but I guess sometimes I have to do it.   That doesn't mean I love or admire them any less.

It also doesn't mean that these things don't make for great stories, and maybe they're a teeny bit funny a few days (years?) later.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sing Anyway

I was terrified of Psalm 23.  It wasn't the shadow of the valley of death part, or the eating with one's enemies part.  It was this: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."  When I was memorizing that as a six year old, all I could think was, "Why on earth would anyone want to say they don't want the Lord?"  Seemed like we went to church to tell God how much we did need Him and here I was saying that even though he was my shepherd, I didn't want him.  And what was a shepherd anyway? 

Despite my lack of understanding of Psalm 23, I memorized its verses and said it on a Sunday morning with my fellow first graders in Mrs. Stevens' class. I said them because I loved Mrs. Stevens and I liked the phrases "green pastures" and "leads me beside still waters."  I liked that scene.  I also liked being in a group saying the words together.

It wasn't until later that I realized the idea that because God is my shepherd, I don't need to want.  It was quite a relief to me when I understood that I didn't have to proclaim I didn't want God (Although, I haven't kicked the habit of wanting......a bigger house, to be a writer, to know how to highlight my own hair, to have my children listen to me.....). Today, I am thankful for both my understanding of the Psalm as I am for the memory of me saying it when I was a first grader. 

Hadley went to VBS last week.  When we sign-up, we get a t-shirt and a CD on the first day.  We did the program last year and the CD has been in our car ever since.  She and Harper loved the songs and were thrilled to get another CD with new songs on them.  We were listening to the songs on the way to VBS Tuesday morning, and I could hear Hadley murmuring the words.  I looked at her from the rearview mirror and smiled because she had her signature "I'm learning this stuff" face on:  eyes sort of glazed over, mouth open, eyebrows burrowed.  I knew that by the time Friday rolled around she'd be singing these songs loudly and with a passion. 

I was right.

I don't know how much of these songs she understands, but I do know she loved singing and dancing on stage with the other kids.  I know that she loved screaming "THANK YOU GOD" after learned phrases throughout the week such as "God Listens," or "God Loves You No Matter What." And while she was playing at home it was lovely to hear her singing the words to bits of the songs: "I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, your power throughout the universe displayed" or "God is watchin', watchin' over you." 

Her experience with VBS reminds me of the book The Song of Francis by Tomie DePaola. (Perhaps this should be a post for my Sit a While blog, but I'm beginning to get confused about where to write what.)  In the story, Francis of Asissi is filled with the love of God and wants to sing.  However, there is no one to hear him.  An angel tells him to sing anyway.   So Francis does and soon, different parts of creation come to listen and eventually join in. 

I think Hadley (and Harper too - she knows the songs even though she didn't go to VBS) experienced that "sing anyway" concept this week, and I think I first experienced it in Sunday School years ago.  We won't always know the words to the songs we sing, and quite honestly, I'm not sure I'll ever understand God's love, His grace, His forgiveness.....for me the list goes on.  But we should sing anyway.  Or write.  Or dance.  Or bake something delicious.  I think it's in the trying and the joining in that we understand a little more of God.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Kind of Town

Last week while we were in Chicago, Hadley and Harper found two of my favorite spots in my parents' home.

A vent and a window might seem surprising favorites, but here they are all the same.  That vent sits in what was my brother's room, and another one is on the other side where I would whisper to him from my room.  This was usually during time - outs when my mom sent us to our respective corners and it was through those vents we'd continue the fight.  Well, I would continue to harass Geoff while he simmered.  I loved lying on my stomach talking through what I viewed as a secret passage. Even in a time - out I loved being in my home and exploring. 

One night last week I was shuffling through some of my stuff in a bag that was next to that vent after I'd put the girls to bed.  Hadley strolled in the room, but instead of looking at me, she was looking at the vent. 

"What's up?" I asked her in a "you better have a good reason to be out of bed" voice.  It's very menacing.

"I'm a...."  she only half acknowledged me but continued to look at the vent.


"Well, I'm.....just wondering how you're doing."

"I'm doing fine, Hadley, go back to bed."

Hadley took one more look at the vent then walked back into my old bedroom to go to sleep.  I went back to shuffling through my bag but because I was right by the vent, I heard Hadley's feet stop on the other side.  I realized she had discovered that she could hear me through it.

Harper, on the other hand, discovered one of my bedroom windows.  Every night, when she was supposed to be sleeping, I found her kneeling on her bed, lookng out of that window.  When I walked in to tell her to go to sleep, she'd say, "It's getting wate (late), Momma."  I agreed with her and glanced out the window to notice that Harper was watching the sky turn darker shades of blue.  I wondered if she was listening to the el shoot past as well, and if it lulled her to sleep like it had me.

If you were to ask Hadley and Harper what their favorite part of the trip was, or where their favorite spot in my parents' house is, I am sure they would not mention the vent and the window.  I have a feeling they'd mention with shouts that they loved going to see the dinosaurs,

or visiting the aquarium,

and the zoo.

I liked all those trips as well.  However, watching my girls discover and enjoy something that I enjoyed from my childhood was my favorite part. 

We can show them the Chicago skyline, walk over the bridges over the Eisenhower and tell them not to be afraid of the rickety whoosh of the trains.  We can show them museums, take them swimming and out for ice-cream.  All great things.  But I think what's most important is that we provide our kids with a safe place to explore.  It's nice when we share a common joy in finding a treasure in an otherwise everyday item.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Wonderfully Ordinary

Give me....

a morning at Starbucks...

and painted toenails....

maybe some time to look for caterpillars.....

and a little time to write.

Seems like a fine set of priorities to me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Independence Day

Hadley and I decorated cupcakes yesterday. She was going to bake them with me, but was busy serving a big old T.O. for a fast one she's been pulling on the family for who knows how long.  It's to do with keeping oneself clean, but I'm going to give you a little history before I break the day down for you.

Here's the thing:  I can't do it all.  So in order to help keep the day moving foward, I instruct my kids to do things.  I think I read somewhere that giving kids things to do helps them feel like they're a part of the family.  Whatever.  I want them to CLEAN UP AFTER THEMSELVES.  I also expect them to at least try to put their clothes on and wash their hands.  These seem like skills one needs to know how to do in order to live in the world.  Harper needs a lot of help, but Hadley is perfectly capable of doing these things. 

Except she won't do them.   The other morning I was cleaning up the dishes from breakfast and I told Hadley to go and get dressed. 
"OK, Mama."  And off she goes leaving me thinking I'm totally in charge of my life these days.  Minutes later, Hadley has rolled herself up in a blanket and is scooting down the hallway towards me.
"Look, Mama!  I'm a caterpillar!"
I will give her some credit.  She had taken off ALL her clothes.

But the washing the hands task is something Hadley and I have been fighting over for months.  Until recently.  For quite some time now, I will say, "Hadley, go wash your hands."  And she'll say, "OK." She walks happily to the bathroom, turns on the sink, and minutes later walks out.  Again, leaving me thinking I can totally control my children.

And that their hands are clean.

All that ended yesterday when Jesse happened to be walking down the hallway while Hadley was in the bathroom.  Oh, Hadley turns the sink on all right.  She even uses soap.  It's just that the soap doesn't go on her hands.  She puts a little bit in the sink to make it look as though she's used some.  She even gets her hands a little wet so the towel will be damp after she uses it. 

I have so many questions.  Why go through all that effort and not wash your hands?  Where did she come up with this plan? What, in the past 4 and 1/2 years, have I done to show this kind of behavior?  Was it the time she caught crouching behind the kitchen cabinets eating a cookie? 

Most importantly, how long has this been going on?  Like I mentioned, Hadley and I stopped having the wash your hands fight sometime around April. 

It's like I'm Bob Ewell.

So Hadley was in timeout because apparentely she hasn't washed her hands for the better part of 4.  It was the manipulation that led me to write this post, however.  I admit, I took (am taking?) it personally.  I think that this somehow reflects on me as a parent. 

But we frosted the cupcakes together; and I let her have one later that day.  We sat down at the table together and I said, "Hadley, before you eat a cupcake you have to wash your hands."


"And really do it this time."


I thought about sneaking down the hallway to see whether she was going to do it.  But what was that going to do?  Make me mad?  Put her in timeout again?  That's not how I wanted to spend the afternoon.  So I sat and waited for Hadley to come back so we could have a cupcake together.

I suppose the thing about independence is we have to give life a go every once in awhile.  When we break the rules, though, it's nice to know we have the support and love of our family no matter what.

That's probably what makes kids feel as though they're a part of the family.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Hour

There were Friay nights when Jesse and I would end the work week, and decide that we were due for a trip to Corby's in South Bend, or Cactus Cantina in D.C.  Some nights we would go to one place and then end up at the Hammes Bookstore or Politics and Prose looking through magazines, reading books, or, ehem, doing work (what would we do without work?). I was reminded of those nights last Friday night when we went out for a different kind of Happy Hour.

We picked up some dinner, packed it up and headed for a park for the evening.  There were monkey bars, swings, a hiking trail, and plenty of picnic tables.  And Hadley learned a new trick!

Jesse, too. 

If I had to name a favorite thing about motherhood, I think it would be something along the lines of this: Watching your children experience the world and having a good time doing it.  Even if it's hard work, or learning a new trick like sliding down a pole or figuring out how to run without tripping.  It's lovely to be a part of it.  I think that's the best way to start the weekend.

Happy Weekend to you.