Sunday, December 26, 2010

What I Learned This Christmas

Don't spend too much time wrapping kids' presents - they will undo your perfection in less than 10 minutes.

Forget the expensive $15 toy for the dog - chewed to bits in minutes, all for the two balls inside.  Most expensive tennis balls, ever.

Beware grandparents carrying very large presents.

Don't go cold turkey on medication 3 days before the big day.

Start the festivities off with a shot of good Tequila.

Never trust drunken relatives to take your dog out, and bring him back in.

Always be prepared for somebody to say something stupid.

Put cards containing money away before the wrapping paper starts flying.  Or, don't put anything in the outside trash before everything is accounted for.

Feed the dog before sitting down to dinner.

Don't let drunk people do your dishes.

Find a good hiding place.  For yourself.

Seek out the fun people.

Keep smiling.  Somebody, somewhere is having a worse day than you.

Next year will be even better.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Did She Really Say THAT??

Contains mature material, those offended by foul or vulgar language, stop here.

My daughter is a class act.  And if our children really are a reflection of ourselves, I think I'd better take a long look at myself in the mirror again.  And pray.

I have a tendency to be short-tempered; Ava has a reputation for being short-tempered.  My friend Chris summed it up perfectly - she calls her daughter "mini-me" with the comic sarcastic edge I have loved since we were freshmen.  And I totally get it.   My daughter IS mini-me, magnified by ten.  Whereas I have had 35 years or so to harness the temper I inherited from my mother (and her mother), Ava is still blissfully lost in rage when it hits her.  She has learned to yell when things - any things don't suit her.

Being born just four days before my birthday also makes her a Gemini - a sure recipe for disaster most of the time.  She is as charming as she is naughty and, like her mother, has a penchant for mischief.  Her humor is fine-tuned to all that amuses a 5-year-old's senses including, but certainly not limited to, the fine art of passing gas and all other toilet-related subjects.

She was born with an inconceivable store of flatulence - I worried over my newborn girl's exclusive breastmilk diet, wondered if what I was eating was causing her this terrible ailment and, consequently,  went dubiously about removing all the typical offenders from my diet.  To no avail - the flatulence continued unabated, and accompanied by some impressive belching for such a tiny little package.  She happily released it all, with no apparent discomfort.

Today she proudly shares the joy of flatulence with us; she will rip them anytime, anywhere.  She will slip them out while lying in bed or - my personal favorite - bending over with her butt in my face, purposely squeezing out a big offender and laughing wickedly.  She recently attempted to fart in the dog's face, after Owen's friend said a dog will bite you where it counts if you do.  Our dog, by the way, just looked at me for some clue as to how to respond.

She not only delivers the goods, she takes equal pleasure in verbalizing it too.  Guess what?  she whispered to me earlier tonight.  I have a boyfriend.    Intrigued, considering her home-schooled status and limited exposure to her male peers, I took the bait.  You do? I whispered coyly back.  Yes, she said, his name is Jack Poopie.  And his butt smells like orange juice and tomato soup.  Wonderful.

She talks about poop, she talks about farts - she even engages her older brother in a sort of verbal ping-pong of insults.  And, soon enough, the insults turn personal and they are trading jokes about private parts.  We don't use nicknames in this family - we get right down to business.  So one night after Owen had just stepped out of the shower Ava barges in, hands on her hips and declares, "Oh look at Owie's little penis!"

But wait! That's not all.  Oh no. That's not all. The latest was also the most shocking of all.  And - let me preface by saying that I have absolutely NO idea where she came up with this zinger.  She said it one night before bed - and I was shocked nearly speechless, and then I explained to her that "we" don't talk like that.  To anyone.  The next morning my husband came to me and says, "you're not going to believe what she just said to me."  Oh, I bet I would.  "She told me I have a big, hairy vagina."  At this point I struggled to suppress the unsuppressable - my own laughter.  My shoulders started to shake and I looked away.  "Tara, this is not funny!"  Well, of course it wasn't.  But, she said it to him.

And the colorful language continues.  A recent lesson covering the "-it" word family produced a string of "-it" words:  bit, fit, hit, kit, pit, sit and.................................................shit.  Owen just sat there laughing hysterically and Ava, like a comedian who needs only laughter like air to breathe, repeated the word no less than eight times. 

My mother warned me that she would be a challenging child.  At six months, I figured I'd begin mentally preparing myself for the prepubescent years we all know are turbulent at best.  Four and a half years later, I'm struggling not only with bad attitude and diabetes-induced mood swings, but also with how to curb her mischievous ways so they are less offensive to others, all without cracking up myself.  In truth, she does not behave this way outside of her family circle, so for that I am grateful.  So friends - who's up for a play date?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My New Drug

So what else happens when we have that revelation of our true age?  Like Al Bundy reminiscing about his high school football days, many of us still remember all too well our glory days.  Football, baseball, wrestling, hockey, cheerleading... or just walking from the car to the front door.

My husband played the Big 33 in high school - a crowning achievement - as only 33 senior boys across the state of Pennsylvania are chosen each year to play against the top 33 boys from Ohio.  He's still very proud of this.  He has always thought of himself as an athletic powerhouse, coaching youth league soccer and t-ball, but his wake up call would come.  Last summer he joined his company's softball team, where he promptly tore his hamstring at the first practice and continued to have his ego beaten to a pulp every time one of the 20-something guys overachieved on the field.  I wanted to laugh, but he was there the day I attempted to impress my kids on the playground.

I don't think of myself as sporty.  I didn't play sports. I'm not competitive.  I was - however - a short-term gymnast.  When I was 6, I tumbled at the Y.  When I was 9 I joined a different group, where I quickly moved up levels until I was no longer with the girls I knew but with older girls who seemed to want nothing to do with me.  In retrospect, I think it wasn't because they were unfriendly, they were just determined, driven, competitive.  All the things I wasn't. The coaches told my mom what she wanted to hear -she's built like a gymnast, she could go to the Olympics, blah, blah, blah.

So I got the coach who never quite did, but was determined to push me - either to the Olympics, or right back out the door.  So the day I fell off the balance beam onto my head, and after she told me to get back up there and try again, I went out the door and never looked back.

Nevertheless, I loved the uneven bars. I might have even excelled at those.  Light as a feather, I could easily move from the upper to the lower bar and back again.  So, when I got the chance to show the kids - thankfully on an empty playground - how I used to swing on the bars, my 40-year-old body gracefully whipped around like a sack of cement as I felt the tearing of shoulder tissue... and I landed a perfect dismount on my ass.  My proud husband said, wow.  What the HELL are you doing??

So, I'm not quite as flexible as I used to be.  Ava wanted to know how to do a split the other night.   Do I decline to demonstrate?  No, of course not.  I braced myself on the dresser (for I, too, have torn a hamstring many years ago) and slowly lowered my legs into a "v."  I explained what it should look like, when it's done right.  And my ego, whether too dumb or too proud to know better, is now thinking, "hey - with a little stretching I bet I can do it again."  I'll keep you posted.

It's hard to remember my youthful self - particularly when she feels like a total stranger sometimes - the physical things I was once able to accomplish are now part of that mystical world of the impossible dream.  The years spent at the gym, circuit training, stairclimbing, rowing, jogging the indoor track...... what happened to the stamina?

Well, folks, it's back.  There's a new addiction.  I have recently learned, through a very good friend of mine who ought to get paid to recruit followers (and keep them motivated, for that matter) - that there's a rather large contingency of women over 35 who are running.  Running for health, running for fun....................Running for their lives??

So I finally jumped.  After several failed attempts through the spring and summer, I am now on a 30-minute run three days a week.  The goal?  To run for health, for fitness, for FUN and .... my first 5k.  I've hated running since high school, where the phys ed teachers put us ordinary kids through a sort of mandatory hell - running cross country for a specific distance in a limited time frame - up and down monstrous hills.  I barely made it.  So, as I told my friend the fitness pusher, "I don't run."  She insisted I would love it.  I balked, but decided to accept the challenge anyway.

The first few runs began with enthusiasm, followed by searing pain in my calves that - if I didn't focus past it - would've sidelined me after the first five minutes.  But determined I was; I would be damned if I gave up that easily, especially after my Big 33 husband told me, "you can't do that."  So I ran through the burn... and it disappeared!  Miraculously replaced by this euphoric rush that took over and kept me going until an "emergency" call from home forced me to stop.  (Note to self:  leave cell phone at home.)  This amazing newfound euphoria is better than any drug - why all those crazy lonely mothers out there would rather have Meth is a mystery to me.  When life gets tough - run for your life!  It is liberating and exhilarating... out there, there's no diabetes, fighting children, clogged toilets or bored dog chewing up carpets..... the moments are all mine. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

The ABC's of J-O-Y

Awakening... to a new day. And Authority, to live life on my terms.

Beaches.  Sunlight or sunset, by the ocean, with the one I love.

Children... mine.  And, well, yours too.  Chocolate.

Dancing... anytime, anywhere.  (see M)

Exercise and physical fitness.  Easy-going people/attitudes.

Friends.  Good friends, great friends, old friends, new friends.

God.  A relationship with and respect for Him ensures it.

Humor.  Those without need not apply.  And Honor.

Ice cream.  Mint chocolate chip.

Justice.  We all need it.  Doesn't it feel good when it's served?


Love.  Is there anything better?

Music.  There's a song for everything and an anthem for everyone.  A good beat makes happy feet.

Novels.  Reading a good one transports me to happy places.

Optimism.  Got it?  I do. 

Parents...  Without whom life would never be the same.  Passion... for living.

Quilt - or a really warm blanket to huddle under on a cold night.  Quiet.  'nough said.

Rosco - my golden retriever.  Running - my new feel-good hobby.

Summertime... warm air on my skin, playing outside with the kids.  Sex.  Really, really good sex.

Traveling.  Here, there, near and far.  OCMD, New York, California, Italy, Scotland.

Unconditional trust, love.  Understanding.

Vices.  We've all got them.  They can bring joy to the soul, as long as they're not hurting anyone else.

Wine.... beer, margaritas, Stoli martinis.

X - traordinary moments.  Childbirth, a first kiss, realizing a dream, and the moment you know.

Yes.  It doesn't always have to be "no." 

Zeal.  Find something to be zealous about.  Zero tolerance for the bastards who try to bring you down!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


My hands are starting to look more and more like my mother's.  It recently occurred to me that those little freckles on my hands might not be freckles at all.  Oh the horror!

I looked at myself in the mirror this morning and was shocked to see a 40-something woman staring back at me.  This happens every morning, and the soundtrack that goes with it - the soundtrack of screaming, whining children who have the nerve to remind me that I'm 41, not 21, and a mother now to boot!  It's particularly unnerving after a night of dreaming I'm 20 again.  I would like to throw the covers back over my head and say, "go away! I'm not your mother!"  But I don't.

I don't have any wrinkles yet - just three deeply furrowed lines across my forehead, lending a certain likeness to Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants.  They are like a daily advertisement for my previously well-hidden anxiety:  worrier! worrier!  And so the day came when it suddenly seemed pertinent to have bangs again.  Cheaper than Botox.  Less painful too, and without that look of perpetual surprise.  Besides, how can I cock a mischievious eyebrow that won't move?

My dad says it's the oily skin he's passed down to me, that keeps the wrinkles at bay.  In truth - at 61 - he is remarkably youthful looking.  Except for that other genetic gift he's given me - the gift of premature gray.  Totally gray at 30, he was.  My mother, being blonde, would catch up to him within a decade.  Thank you Mom and Dad, and thank you L'Oreal, for preserving my brunette locks for the last ten years.  Hey - I'm not vain - I just don't want to look old.  Not yet.

It's true what they say - you don't know what you've got until it's gone.  I don't know whether it was my insecurities, or the fashion of the time, that kept me well-covered in my teens and early 20s.  Everything was boxy, baggy or loose.  The provocative way teens dress  today - that was certainly not "our" style back then.   Proms of the 80's - Gunne Sax; proms today - Fredericks of Hollywood.  Nonetheless, in retrospect, I had every reason to show off what I had, but never the nerve.

Now I'm 41, with 41 year old hands, San Andreas faultlines in my forehead you could see from the moon and... stretch marks.  Stretch marks aren't so bad - they are what we mothers would like to think of as our hard-won battle scars, or, silvery badges of honor.  I can live with them, and the stubborn gray hairs that won't take the hint.

Perhaps the most shocking change of all was my chest.  Did you know that breasts have their very own process of evolution?  Neither did I.  The mean girls in 7th grade had a nickname for me and my breasts - an alliterative phrase that did its best to make a virtual child feel badly for a lack of what still had plenty of time to grow.  And grow they did.  Well, with a little help from Ortho Novum 777.  After I got over that "if those girls could see me now" feeling, I started to hate the full cup size I'd gained - for the monthly painful swelling and the self-consciousness I felt.  Years later, I stopped the "pill-juice" as my sorority sisters used to call it, and happily greeted my smaller breasts.

Pregnancy would change all that.  It was like pill-juice times 10.  And what happens two days after birth, my friends?  Forget it.  I had a pair of melons that no bra could contain.  These things defied everything but gravity.  But, two breastfed children later, and evolution struck again - presumably for the last time, since I fail to see what natural direction is left.  One day I swear I woke up and wondered what the hell happened to my breasts?  No longer full and "perky," they resembled two golf balls suspended in a pair of tube socks.

What IS the preoccupation with breasts?   Men, women, even children.  Ava tries to put on my bras sometimes and it's funny even if it isn't much larger than her small torso.  She wonders when she'll get them.   I tell her, when you're old enough.  In good time. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Trials and tribulations

We made it!  We made it!  We made it to Week 9 and haven't killed each other yet.  

Oh school week 9, oh school week 9,
Oh how I love you, school week 9. 
I never thought I'd see the day, 
I really thought there'd be no way.
Oh school week 9, oh school week 9, 
How good to see it's school week 9.  

Week 9 means we've finished the first quarter - the first quarter!  And to think I thought I wouldn't last an hour!  Really, I'm not easily daunted, but that first week I felt like I was trying to tame the world's first wild animal armed with nothing more than a pencil.  The end of every one of those days rendered me as useless as turnip - resembling something pleasant but slightly sour when compared to the original with limited capabilities.  After one day of frantic text messages to husband during lessons whereby I threatened nothing short of self-mutilation, he sent me back his compassionate response, "sorry."  Sweet vindication!  That one word was all I needed to brave the rest of tropical storm Ava.  Because he heard me.  

So we have wrapped up Week 9 by taking her second online fluency assessment and a reading comprehension assessment, the latter being a straightforward exam with multiple choice answers all of which she answered correctly.  The former is meant to gauge what she knows so far.  Basically there are letters and words on the screen and she has to say aloud what they are/sounds they make/whether they are uppercase or lowercase.  The computer records her voice.  At this point it might be rather obvious the difficulties this can present.  The only prompt I can offer is to point to the words on the screen and pray she not only answers them correctly, but actually says something at all. You might say it's a very awkward way to test a 5-year-old on their knowledge:  "okay, first I will point to it and you say what you see.  Now, you only have 60 seconds so HURRY UP!"  No wonder her stress hormones kick her blood sugar up to 250.

The quarterly DORA/DOMA assessments - the other online assessments Pa Cyber uses to as a "tool" for parents and teachers to gauge the students progress in math and reading - works much like the PSSA's with their multiple choice answers.  The program is designed to tailor her next questions based on her answers to the previous ones.  I am not permitted to prompt or help in any way, so I just sit there biting my nails while she "guesses" at the answers she doesn't know.  What disturbs me is that she has to guess at all - because the program won't "finish" until she's answered.  She can't just "quit."  So here it is:  what if she guesses correctly?  If so, how can her scores be accurate?

I remember my own Sat's in grade school, when the teachers told us not to leave blank answers, but rather give our best guess.  How can this be an accurate assessment of a school's progress?  I find myself wondering whether our students in this No Child Left Behind era are instructed to answer every question.   Again, how can these tests then be accurate measurement of progress??  Obviously this is a much bigger problem than I care to dissect right now - I've got smaller fish to fry.

Which leaves me pondering my older fish and how much help is too much help and - on some days - whether to help at all.  Owen needs me to sit with him during homework.  He needs me.  I think it's really his way of sequestering me in a room with him so he has me all to himself.  I am happy and willing to help, though I keep trying to tell him I may not be his best choice for math assistance but so far fourth grade math isn't above my head.

So last night Owen was again finishing up homework at bedtime AND he wanted my help because he "just didn't get it."  His first mistake was waiting until bedtime. His second was demanding my time during Grey's Anatomy.  I'm not a selfish mom - I don't ask for more than one - ONE - show a week to watch uninterrupted.  And he crossed the line.  BUT, I helped him find the answer to his embryology question in the book he had supposedly already read.  And then went online to get a real definition of trends in line graphs, so I could better explain the question he had to answer in math.  Me - the one who for the first 3 years of high school couldn't make honor roll because of my grades in algebra, trig and geometry - explaining math concepts to my fourth grader.  My parents ought to get a good laugh out of that by now.

And why let him slack off all day after school?  Because I was painting my toenails, eating bon bons and watching Oprah?  No.  Because I was under the impression he was finished and I had housework to do.  He asks for help and when I do help I am "wrong" and he wants to "do it [his] way!"  Well, then, I'll just get back to folding my laundry.  The drama escalates when dad is home, like it did last night, because dad wanted to know why he was still working this late.  The little traitor told dad that "mom won't help me."  This preceded the meltdown that followed my final attempt to help him answer the line graph question when the truth came out:  he wanted me to give him the answer, word for word.  Which, as any parent knows, is a bad idea.  So I tried to talk him through it and he just had a meltdown, with tears and the voice of a thousand jetliners above your ears.  So I did it:  I recited it, word by precious word.  And then my grateful little man said to me, "no! I want to do it in my own words!"

This was the second night this week too - the other meltdown precipitated by a lack of preparation for the social studies test.  He had insisted earlier that he studied.  But later, when I asked him  (at his request, mind you) questions from the study guide he couldn't answer, it became painfully clear there was a whole page he didn't know.  So I got angry.  He cried.  And then he told me that I wasn't "reviewing it right" and that he just wanted to "read over it" with me.  But he was so hysterical because at this point he was exhausted and knew he wasn't ready.  So I sent him to bed and made him get up early the next morning to study again.  I was more angry at myself for not enforcing the week-night rules about television and Wii.  And doesn't he come home today with an A on that test???!!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I was a late bloomer.  Always late on those simple milestones that seem so important to a tween - you know, the ones you painfully watched your best friend achieve first.  She even got to shave her legs first!  And I thought my argument in favor of that particular priviledge would be well-served if I had it in front of her mother.  Instead, her very outspoken mother said, "why the hell would you want to do that?  I told Holly, once you start shaving you'll have to do it the rest of your life."  Well, I didn't care.  It mattered more to NOT be the only girl in the 6th grade with hairy legs.  Nevertheless my mom relented, and I arrived at my next swim class to nods of approval for my Schick-smooth legs.

Needless to say, twenty years later me and my shaved legs celebrated the biggest milestone of all - the impending arrival of my first child.  Who - by the way - would be born just seven months after Thomas, Holly's firstborn.  He wasn't exactly planned, but my husband and I spent many a night over dinner and drinks discussing when would be a good time to end the honeymoon and what names these little offspring would have.  I had recently moved out of the vampiric restaurant life into a real bonafide day job.  I knew it was only a matter of time and, at 30, time was marching all over my biological clock.

So the night I confirmed it, after a week of ungodly fatigue and crippling smell and taste aversions, I wasn't surprised.  I was completely, shamelessly scared out of my mind.  My husband stood there like a deer caught in the headlights, holding the stick, while I cried.  Thrilled, yes.   But almost a second after it sunk in, I remembered the women's tales I'd overheard in childhood and I realized that this precious thing would eventually have to come out.  Of me.

Pregnancy is  such a magical time in a woman's life.  The first time anyway.  All the in-laws are thrilled beyond reason, coworkers are overattentive and complete strangers smile and open doors for you.  Six weeks of morning sickness that would be more appropriately termed "morning-noon-and-night" sickness, not to mention the amazing physical transformation of my 5'2" frame.  By week 41 I looked and felt like a bloated cow, every bone and joint creaking under the forty additional pounds I was carrying.

And he was in no hurry to come out, apparently.  I didn't mind so much - he was a good resident - he slept when I slept, unlike his little sister who kicked the hell out of my internal organs right up until the moment she was born.  But then on a Wednesday afternoon in late October, 2000 my water broke and there was no turning back.  Twelve hours and two epidurals later, the most beautiful creature I have ever seen burst forth from my body.  When my ob/gyn-aunt placed him on my chest I saw the cleft in his little quivering chin, so like his daddy's, and I wept along with him.  

My mother has often said about me that I was exactly "who I was" from the moment I was born.   It wasn't until I had my own that I fully understood.  My son was and is every bit the same as that very first hour.  He was soon quiet after the interruption of being born - content to lie peacefully in his father's arms (and everyone else's thereafter).

Those first moments I had alone with him, after everyone had gone home, were the moments that would bind us to each other for a lifetime.  The moments every mother never forgets - the first time you really see each other, where you stare into those tiny eyes studying the face he will never forget.  Where you hold him close to you and feel his tiny breath on your face and you whisper all the love and hope and longing you have for him.

He is still mostly a peaceful kid, polite and full of enthusiasm and compassion for others, terrific sense of humor and a fast friend to anyone willing to befriend him, and his mom - at least for now - is still the most important woman in his life.  He spent his first 4 1/2 years being the center of our universe, and graciously stepped aside when his fiesty little sister was born with her endless supply of worries.  I watched him stand over her crib with tears in his eyes, spoon-feed her when no one else could and show her the ropes on Playstation 2.  Five years later he still makes her handmade birthday cards signed by his entire class, and allows her to squeeze the life out of him when she's showing him her own special brand of affection.  He is sensitive and artistic, loves Legos and video games, and enjoys non-competitive backyard sports with the family.  As he grows older he resembles his father more but each day I see more of myself in the person he is.

On this day ten years ago, Owen Daniel Tomme (his middle name honoring his great-grandfather Daniel "Danny" Joseph Keene, whom he would never meet) came into my life and I would never be the same.  He made me a mother, gave me a reason to smile and get up every morning, a reason to breathe.  It was through him that so many more wonderful friends became a part of our lives.  I am so blessed to be his mother and I thank God every day for his existence.  Happy birthday to my sweet baby boy!  I love you.

Owen Daniel Tomme
October 26, 2000  at 1:43am
7lbs 10oz     21 1/2 inches long

Friday, October 22, 2010

Say What??

It's taken me over a week to write this - I've written it twice.  The first time it sounded too supermom hokey - "oh it's so wonderful teaching my daughter."  The second time a little too Joan Crawford - "no colored pencils!!"  Hopefully, the third time's a charm.  If not, you can stop reading now.

Having a front row seat to my daughter's journey to literacy is so incredibly cool, and watching the light click on as she makes connections is inspiring.  But hold on!  She does, however, ricochet between highly motivated student and total slacker.  Some days she's so excited to learn she's initiating her own writing practice and racing through worksheets like an editor on a deadline.  Other days she's so unfocused and distracted I just want to rip my hair out.  Look at me!  LOOK AT ME.

I wonder how educators find the patience for the kids constantly staring out the window or humming their own little tune during lessons where you know they haven't heard a word.  Mr. Garmin, my 11th grade Chemistry teacher (who, now that I come to think of it, was probably younger than I am now) once yanked my brain out of the clouds by asking me if I liked squirrel pot pie.  I'm sure he learned pretty fast how fun and easy it is to f*** with spacey hormonal teenagers.  When I asked Ava what she thought would happen if she behaved like this in Owen's school she said nothing, because she wouldn't do it in Owen's school.  How's that for crazy-making?

Meanwhile I find myself uttering those saintly preschool phrases like, "eyes and ears on me," when I really want to scream "sit down and shut up!"  And, inevitably, my little passive-aggressive nymph will look me straight in the eye and shout, "don't yell at me!"  even when I'm not.  Deep breath.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  What was I thinking?  In.  Out.  I can't teach this child.  In.  Out.  

And then I remember that she's learning more than letters and numbers from me.  Like the other day our morning conversation began as a dialogue about why grownups yell at each other, that sometimes they don't get along but that it's never okay to hurt each other.  She quickly added that if you call your best friend stupid, she won't be your best friend anymore and somehow this all segued into a discussion about profanity.  Both of my kids currently find profanity, and any adult's use of it, hilarious.  And here's me - former queen of the f-bomb - trying to explain why swearing is not nice, even when grownups do it and it's especially not pretty coming from a little girl or boy.  Owen pointed out that daddy uses the "s" word a lot and Mom-mom likes the f-bomb.  Yes, my son said "f-bomb."

In life there are teachable moments, and then there are those other moments where you lose all credibility for laughing your ass off instead of keeping the stiff upper lip-reprimand pose.  The new "Fred" movie has really opened the door for discussion  with my 5 and almost-10-year old about the use of foul language, whether real or implied.  Fred's constant use of "oh my gammit!" is like nails on a chalkboard and I recently found myself explaining to Ava that it's gammit, not dammit.  Either way, I don't want her to say it.  Thankfully, no more airings of this show have eliminated another whole argument about parent-regulated television.

Then the other day Ava walked into the kitchen where the dog was lying and declared, "it smells like shit in here!"  Just as quickly she clapped her hand over her mouth, eyes wide as saucers, and braced herself momentary silence followed by a Mona Lisa smile that erupted into side-splitting laughter.

How angry could I get?  My own personal constitution has always been made up of equal parts humor and mischief, with a slice of seriousness on the side.  Which got me into trouble one night last week over dinner as Owen and I reviewed mammals for his science test.  He had to describe what makes mammals different from other animals like, say, mammary glands.  Well, this became the dinner discussion of the month.

I asked him what mammary glands are - mammary glands produce milk to feed their young, came his studied response.  Yes, but where are they located?  (Okay, I will admit this was not a review question but I just couldn't help it.)  "Um, in their stomach?"  ("Oh, I know! I know!" came the response from the other side of the peanut gallery.)  I shook my head and pressed on - "well, do I have mammary glands?"  His response was, in the quiet voice reserved only for moments of uncertainty, "um... I don't think so.........maybe?....... I don't know."  Now in my defense, I have to say that I really wanted him to think about what he's learning, not just memorize words in a textbook.  And then of course the little ham on my right seizes her opportunity to add "butt" to our anatomy lesson, and the discussion went right down the proverbial toilet.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't Look Now

I would like to add exterminator to my resume.  Not that this is some great admirable trait to brag about.  It's not.  But, I hate bugs.  I know they all have a place in God's vision of creation, but personally, I am skeeved by them.  I don't want to look at them up close and I really don't want to squish them.  However, when Owen came downstairs one morning yelling about a 1000-legger in his room, I had to go "try" to be the hero.  Those things run faster than a kid after an ice cream truck, so I knew I had no time to drag out the vacuum (my weapon of choice in the war against bugs) to suck it up - I'd be lucky to even find it.  Upstairs, I grabbed a wayward sneaker and attempted to search for this hairy needle in a haystack of Legos and action figures.  Then Owen let out a blood-curdling scream that would rival a roomful of girls at a slumber party and I all but dropped the shoe.  And the poor little 1000-legger made his run for life behind the pirate ship.   He didn't make it.

Most of the week went like that.   Making the impossible, possible, through a little ingenuity and a lot more luck.  Ava and I have finally found our groove!  It only took six weeks, a handful of threats and lots of positive reinforcement.  I have found that we both work best in the morning, right after her 60 carb breakfast and my two cups of leaded coffee.  We both bottom out after lunch, so everything's gotta be done before if possible.  I have no idea how we'll make it through 1st grade, which is expected to be at least a full 5 hour day. 

Last week, however, she was eager to pick up and continue lessons after Owen got home - while he did his homework.  Afterward, the two of them watched the online programs that comprise her 4 cycles of learning each day - requesting to continue into the next day's lessons while I cooked dinner.  They sat there, they two, giggling at the actor's presentations in each cycle.

At this point I'm not sure who the favorite is - Dr. Algae is pretty cool and probably my favorite (you know you're getting old when a goofy 40-something guy in a labcoat with thinning hair is "cute") but last week the clear winner in the humor awards category went to Mr. Reed Moore, "Reading Teacher Extraordinaire" (ingenious, huh?)  His Friday shtick included examples of feelings people have and what it makes them do - like sing when happy (here he breaks out in an operatic "Figaro" - hilarious) or yell when angry (this was the pants-wetting throw-back-your-head scream that the kids replayed no less than 8 times).  That same yell they reenacted several times for dad didn't quite get the reaction they'd hoped for.

So I am thankful that the beginning of the week was no forecast for the remainder.  The minute Owen stepped off the bus on Monday and saw me, he burst into tears.  I already knew something was wrong from the math teacher's call not five minutes earlier - but I would have to return her call to get the full story.  Owen was so upset I could only understand the part about me forgetting to sign two quizzes (one in math).  This year the consequence of not getting your stuff signed is a "warning," or, moving your "clip" from green to yellow.  For my stellar student, this is akin to being told he's been called to the principal's office for not tying his shoes.

I feel compelled at this point to say I think it's absolutely RIDICULOUS to punish kids for missing signatures.  Why not just send a notice home to the parents?  Or make a phone call?  Essentially it makes these kids not more responsible for themselves, but responsible for their parents.  If that doesn't raise a generation of kids with stomach ulcers... well.... I'm just sayin'.

So, Mrs. P told me that when she collected the "signed" quizzes, the one she got from Owen "didn't look right."  She gave him a look, to which he responded, "um, my mom wrote really small this time."  "Owen, do you have something you'd like to tell me?"  At this time my son, ever the sensitive do-gooder, burst into tears.  He was so afraid of getting a warning, my otherwise good kid (who's also a terrible liar) was willing to forge my signature.  In pencil.  She explained to him that doing so was like lying (I bet this surely calmed him down) and she'd rather he told her the truth than deceive her.

And so I hung up with her, after a very nice conversation about his personality, our personal family circumstances and how rewarding teaching is.  I found Owen downstairs, flat on his back on the couch.  I sat down and attempted to comfort him with promises to be more organized and to come up with an after-school game plan.  He told me his stomach hurt.  It hurts because you got yourself so upset, I told him, but it's okay because Mrs. P isn't mad and I'm not mad and- he burst into tears all over again!  Because there was something else he had to tell me and "I know you're going to be really mad."  At this point I did what every compassionate mother would do - I busted up laughing. 

He looked aghast until I told him I already knew.  And even more surprised that I wasn't angry about it.  Don't you know how many generations of kids have forged their parents' signatures?  I said.  Like a thousand? he said.  Oh way more than that, I said.  Even I did it. 
YOU signed Nanny's signature? he asked.  Yep.  And I got caught too.  And I bet she did it too, I said.  Wow, he said.

Oops, I did it again.  Mom is human too. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Throw Me a Life Raft

A week that began like any other - week 5 promised tests and quizzes in multiple subjects with my signature required in multiple places - and a grumpy 9-year-old boy who continued to insist "I already know it!" as he stomped away from my unanswered question about a story he's being tested on.  My son is a whiz in math but, well, reading comprehension just aint his thang.  Unless he's reading the latest insider's guide to beating Bowser in SuperMario Bros.-whatever, most of what he reads goes through the eyeballs and gets lost somewhere in that mysterious space between his ears.  Sure he loves to ask me to help him study, but the minute he can't answer one question he becomes a bigger drama queen than his sister.

Meanwhile back in cyber school Ava and I conducted a seed-to-plant science experiment whereby all results pointed to plant 1 winning the growth race,  but plant 2 grew four inches tall while we stared at the soil in plant 1.  So - Ava wanted to know -why didn't our plant 1 grow like Dr. Algae's (cyber science teacher) plant 1?  Well, honey, because not only can Mommy not draw or cut a straight line but she can't grow a damn bean seed out of 2 inches of dirt.  Seriously, though, mommy didn't know.  Defective seed?  Perhaps we pushed it down too far?

Last week she was in rare form, demanding that I give her a cookie before she ate her dinner "or else I'll---" (insert any from a long list of threats she's catalogued in her head), testing the short limits of my patience and insisting that Owen play with her under threat of bodily injury.  And she meant it.  I can see that this type of behavior may one day be a turn off to potential suitors.

Really, though, school itself wasn't so bad - it was the before and after that hovered dangerously close to straight-jacket lunacy.  Two days in a row I had to change her (insulin pump) infusion site (two consecutive high numbers require it) in the middle of our day - Ava positively hates this and puts up one hell of a fight.  One would think after two years of insulin pumping she'd know the deal; however, in what now seems like a colossal mistake, she is accustomed to being asleep during routine changes.  She is not at all pleased with the unexpected ones - which would be the understatement of the week.  

Our infusion set is a stainless steel needle attached to a circular adhesive pad from which the tube to the pump is connected and disconnected.  This subcutaneous needle is short and thin and takes just seconds to push in - much like a push pin.  However, on a moving target it can take an eternity during which there is a great hullabaloo of kicking, screaming, tears and pleading.  She's as strong as an ox, my little 40lb brick house, and it is now next to impossible to hold her still.

So, on the second day of changing the site mid-day - she amped it up and went berzerk, alternately screaming "I hate it! I hate it!" and "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" - tears streaming down her cheeks and I'm the one left feeling like the tyrant who must put her through her perceived hell.  All with the windows open, for the whole neighborhood -were they listening - to bear witness to what must've sounded like a murder in progress.  Forty minutes later it was in,  and we were both sweaty and crying.  For the record, I have tried this infusion set on myself - me, a former needle-phobe - and it was nothing but a tiny, slightly burning pinch.  Really, I'm the strong one in the house - but that particular day was going to be my day for a complete mental breakdown.

I guess you could say I'm the lucky one, being home with her 24/7 since June 18, 2007, I never had the luxury of depression or frustration over the injustice or senselessness of it all.  I relieved all the tears I'd allotted myself every night in the hospital with her, after she'd fallen asleep.  Ever since, I've subscribed to the "one-day-at-a-time" philosophy to get me through.  My job right now is to raise her right, feed her healthy foods and be her pancreas until there's a cure, and get her through kindergarten in one piece.  No time for drama, no time for me to be angry or long for life the way it used to be, before diabetes.  My job is to teach her to live the best life with a positive attitude in spite of diabetes and, when she's ready, how to take care of herself to avoid the complications she's oblivious to at her tender age of 5. 

And so ends week 5, where we learned about the life cycle of a frog and made apple prints out of apples and pastel paint  We added two new sight words to our Word Wall and she proudly read me the corresponding sight word books.  We had a play date too -after which she told me she now wanted to go to Owie's school.  And, ironically, Owie himself came home the very same day and said he wanted to go to PA Cyber again.

On anther note, I remember the fourth grade.  I remember liking boys, while they seemed either oblivious or totally grossed out.  My son seems to fall somewhere in the awkward middle of this mentality; while he once had a crush on a little girl in 1st grade, he now gets angry at the mere mention of girls.  I walked with his class for the annual PTO Walk-a-Thon last week and delighted not only in the dramatic size differences between the boys and girls but in the very conversational young lady hanging around my oblivious son.  No clue whatsoever.  (I treaded lightly on this topic later, and he admitted she was "nice.")  But when buddy William remarked how alike Owen and I looked, he quickly said "uh, not really" and picked up his pace.  At this point it occurred to me this may be the last year I am invited to this event.

Ava enjoyed herself in spite of the human dressed as a 6-foot dog giving all the kids high 5's (which was probably the main reason her blood sugar soared over 200).  She was so worried this thing was going to touch her she refused to stand with Owen's class until it was long gone.  On the walk itself she was content to walk ahead of me, hand-in-hand with her brother, basking in the attention of his classmates.

And I - once again - had the surreal revelation that I am really a 40-something mom, not one of them.  Or, a 20-something "former hot chick" trapped in a middle-aged war-torn body.
Well, as the song goes, "you don't know what you've got, until it's gone..."  but that's another post.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How We Got Here - Part 1

On Monday, June 18, 2007 - the day after Father's Day - our lives changed forever. (The week before, my two-year-old daughter had been guzzling water and saturating diapers at night, waking up during the night for water and falling back to sleep clutching her sippy cup.)  She slept til 10 and refused breakfast, settling into my lap only to fall asleep again until about noon.  When she woke again she was drowsy and limp, her breathing quick and  shallow.

An hour, a short exam and finger stick later - the pediatrician dropped the bomb on me.   My sweet, beautiful little girl had Type 1 (or Juvenile) diabetes and would need to go to a hospital immediately.  I felt all the color drain out of me and my knees went weak, right before she vomited all over me.

Over the next several hours spent in the emergency department at Reading Hospital, I cried intermittently, trying to be strong and not scare the hell out of Owen - who once again had a front row seat to another family drama.  Thank God my mom was there; I had a premonition that this could take a while (little did I know).  She kept Owen occupied and fed until she finally took him home around 7.  He hugged me goodbye as my eyes filled with fresh tears, and asked me if his sister was going to die.

Ava was hooked up to every imaginable machine, a vision of a parent's worst nightmare, with various IVs attached to her arms - she clung to me, my tiny daughter, sweaty and limp and crying.   Nurses were coming and going, checking her vitals and drawing blood and putting up more bags of IV fluids to hydrate her.  At some point they told me they were starting an insulin infusion and I wanted to scream "no!" - "no! no! no!"  For I knew this meant there was no turning back, and I just couldn't wrap my brain around it.  And I had the enormous responsibility of calling my husband on his long way home from work - the only time I could reach him - to tell him where we were.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has their own transport team, who were amazing, who swept in there and took immediate control - I felt a profound relief wash over me as they wheeled her  into their waiting ambulance.  And, nine hours after our ordeal had begun, we arrived at the Pediatric ICU to a room oddly bustling with people and activity at 11:30pm: paperwork, hooking Ava up to the machines next the bed where I would lie with her for the next 36 hours, settling Guy into the parents' couch/bed.  With a mascara-smeared face and empty stomach, I was in for my first sleepless night in our diabetes journey. 

There were hourly nurse visits - checking blood sugar, running blood tests, taking away saturated diapers and, my personal favorite, rousing her and checking her pupils for signs of unconsciousness or coma.  It seems brain swelling is a very real complication of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) which can lead to coma or worse; my daughter, whose first blood sugar reading was over 400 (normal is around 80), had DKA (a condition caused by continuously high blood sugars and the resulting acid buildup in the body- ketones) and was a very sick little girl.

She improved remarkably fast over the next twelve hours and was soon awake and smiling, talking to us and loudly protesting the poking and prodding of strangers, then slipping into that mind-numbing screaming hysteria that made her hoarse.  It was amazing, though, how that insulin transformed her.  I've heard this from many other parents too, "it's like, I've got my son/daughter back."

We were soon moved out of the PICU and into the Endocrine floor where we spent the next three days in a diabetes crash course, learning how to test her blood sugar, how to count carbs, how to draw up insulin into a syringe and give her a shot.   And not just one shot - she would have have between 3 and 5 shots every day.  I felt faint as I held the first shot I ever gave her - my hands trembling - and she, defeated as she was, didn't fight it.  But that was to change after we got home, where every day three times a day I'd have to chase her around the house and hold her down (kicking and screaming) to give her insulin shots.  

My journal entry just four weeks later:  We live in our own private hell.  And I'm so angry - resentful of all the parents who take their easy lives for granted.  Like we used to.  We can't go anywhere without planning ahead: pack the glucometer, test strips, lancets, juice boxes and snacks, CakeMate and Gluco-Gel, and Glucagon for the worst case scenario.   I feel so isolated - while people ask how we're doing I feel like they have no idea how serious this  all is, or how devastated we are - what kind of unique hell it is to have a 2-year-old insulin dependent AND stubborn child who fights every injection that she needs to preserve her life.  How many can understand one of the hardest things any parent will ever have to do - to literally be responsible for keeping your child alive every day?  Forever.  Never again will I have the freedom from worry over my daughter's health and safety.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Priorities and Doubts

Ava wants to make sure I put everything on the list - "if I don't make a list, Santa won't know what to get me."  "Will you give it to him?  I don't want to see him because I don't want him to hug me.... so I'll just wait in the car."

And, while we're at it, Ava would really like a baby sister.  (She's asking us, not Santa, btw.)
"And she can sleep with me so she won't be scared."  I tried to explain to her that I really don't think there will be any more babies in this house, but she asks "why?"  She asks because she hears the hesistation in my voice - she hears what I never say out loud, that I really did want another child, what feels like the missing piece of a puzzle I'd made up in my mind 25 years ago.

As I sorted out all the baby clothes two years ago from a collection of seven Rubbermaid totes in the attic, deciding it was high time I drove it over to the consignment shop, I felt nauseous and slightly dizzy.  How could I part with my first born's newborn sleepers?  The outfit he wore in his first Sears portrait?  Everything in those boxes contained a physical memory of the baby he was:  the early, before-sunrise feedings by the Christmas tree, the lazy days spent on the couch cradling him in my arms, his first real foray in the snow outside our apartment in his $80 Gap snowsuit, the swimming trunks he wore while he clung to me in my dad's pool, the clothes he wore at a Christmas Eve dinner where he charmed everyone around us and me - the joyful recipient of his newest skill - kissing.

The clothes had not only the sentimental value, I argued with myself, but economical as well - what IF we had another child?  And we also had tons of girl clothes too - as my mother-in-law, the mother of only two boys, thought she'd died and gone to heaven and rushed right out to the Bon Ton.  In the beginning of my purging exercise, though, it seemed easier to part with Ava's clothes, so sure was I that if there was a baby #3, it would be a boy.  

The eeriest part of all this came when I was sorting a box of Owen's baby clothes with Ava - she was pulling out things and announced that "this is Mason's."  I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  For those who don't know, Mason was the first name we had picked for Owen, before we decided on the name he was given.  We had figured then that "Mason" would come later.  Ava never knew this.

Today, though, Ava is convinced that she will be getting a baby sister.  The first time she brought it up, I just listened to her rattle on about how she would hold her and feed her, but not change her diaper because "I don't really know how to clean up poop."  After two days I felt it was important to explain that while it would be nice, it is not likely.  My cling-on daughter seemed undaunted by the idea of being separated from me for a few days, that "daddy can take care of me, " if it meant she'd get me back with a bonus.  I felt compelled to explain all the "cons" of a new baby in the house - including the incessant demands of a newborn (but hey, I'm already up all night, right?)  a rather large and inquisitive dog who hasn't yet mastered  "down" (who, by the way, was insanely jealous of the baby kitten I once held), not to mention the very real possibility that she could end up a he. 

What I do not say is what she cannot yet understand.  That I worry about my "advanced maternal age."  I was 35 when I was pregnant with her and that seemed to be a big deal in the medical community.  That the joy of discovering she was a girl was overshadowed with worry over the choroid plexis cysts she had on her brain (apparently not uncommon and resolve themselves) and her right renal dilated ureter (more worrisome) - all markers for outcomes we never hoped to ever think about.  That I was knocked out by round-the-clock morning sickness for 16 weeks, seven longer than with my first child.  That while I enjoyed the overall pregnancy experience, I still cringe with memories of her lightning-fast delivery.  That I can never forget us standing over her bassinet just two hours after her birth, anxiously searching her face for reassurance that she was normal.  That I can't forget the 45 minute car ride home, the worry and the tears we shed over the news we'd need to see a CHOP specialist for her dilated ureter, now named hydronephrosis.

More than that, more than losing my body again or squeezing a third child into our loud and chaotic little family, is the fear of having another child with diabetes.  Owen has a 5% chance of developing Type 1 himself and, while that percentage seems small, I've seen and met too many families online with multiple diabetic children.  It took me way too long to let go of the fear of whether he too would get it.  And, the risk remains, for life.

Time has a way of healing wounds, they say, like the loss of a loved one (jury's still out on this one for me), the memory of childbirth or even a week of watching your 2 year-old scream her lungs out at Children's Hospital.  Life goes on.  They may not be gaping wounds anymore, but they do linger.

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy. ~ Leo Buscaglia

Monday, September 20, 2010

Salt for the Wound

This was intended to be published Sunday, September 19th, 2010.
I was all prepared to expound on my woes in home schooling - as I am still adrift in the cyber ocean without the proverbial oar... last week a typical "Monday:" my daughter's annual fasting blood tests in the morning, followed by McDonald's smoothies for breakfast and an extra late start to lessons.  Ava was the easy part of the day; it was the "invalid username" I kept getting while attempting to log her in to mandatory assessments, the unavailable I/S (instructional support person) and the still uncooperative scanner I needed to use YESTERDAY.

I was going to mention how urgent I am to get started in the morning, as lessons are still running into the late afternoon.  How she bottoms out after lunch.  After 3:30 the house's energy shifts dramatically; my friend Joyce likens it to floating along a lazy river and then all of a sudden you hit "the rapids."  That's my house after the big yellow bus delivers my other precious cargo.

I was going to talk about ripping wallpaper down in of our downstairs rooms, or about Ava's art project.  How I am certainly NOT an art teacher - that any aspirations I may have had for artistic expression were squashed in the first grade by a teacher who sent me to the office (a fearsome place back then, when corporal punishment still existed) for not finishing my painting when she told me to - but that I can still identify and mix the three primary colors  to create secondary colors.

I was going to explain how solutions to our issues take time - like everything else around here - an email sent to our I/S came back with an out-of-office auto-reply.  All week?  How can an I/S be out of the office all week, just 3 weeks into school??  And currently calls to tech support require 24 hours to return.  It's worse than being a slave to your friendly neighborhood plumber/cable man/exterminator, who at least gives you a 3 hour window.  It turns out one can't always trust instructions when it comes to the magical world of ever-evolving technology.  Long story short - the scanner was working, is working and together "Ian" and I scanned one of Ava's assignments (from 2 weeks ago).  End of call.  And then later, when I attempted to actually submit all the assignments, I couldn't find the documents!  That did it - the dam broke and I just had a good cry.  Poor Ava - she just wanted to know if this meant she'd have to go to Owie's school now.

I was going to complain about the dog - about the new discoveries he's made with his teeth, including one of Owen's  new Skechers and a now loose seam of wall-to-wall carpet in our upstairs hallway.  How last Monday night he managed to slip away from us all to produce the biggest, smelliest, messiest pile of poop ever in the room currently under renovation.  I've never been so mad at him; however, Owen's refusal to finish dinner at that point as he stood by the back door trying to breathe fresh air quickly diminished my impending rage to something resembling hysteria.

I was going to say that last week I felt like a mental patient, volleying back and forth between rage, tears and hysterical laughter.  Perhaps I'm on the wrong medication.  I've noticed how so much less important someone else's meltdown seems after just two sips of my old Stoli martini.  How hilarious my husband's indignant intolerance for dog farts seems.  Seriously though, what will all this mean a year from now?  Most likely it will be all forgotten.  Except for, maybe, the dog farts.  There appears to be no end to those, at the moment.

All this I wanted to say until this afternoon - when Ava got almost two units of insulin and then refused to eat lunch - exhibiting the irrational and unnerving behavior of a hypoglycemic child (which, of course, she wasn't).  That's when all your good-mom-healthy-eating habits fly clean out the window, when you are forced to choose between marshmallows and crackers for lunch or a call to 911.  And then she was hot.  Real hot.  100 degree fever.  A sick child is never fun, but a sick child with diabetes quickly becomes a nightmare.   In the 3 years since her diagnosis, we've been blessed with nothing more than a head cold - until this past May, when she got a wicked 24hr exorcist-like stomach virus that caused her blood sugars to plummet dangerously low for hours.   We were up all night, catching vomit and testing her glucose levels, praying we wouldn't end up in the hospital before daybreak.

This beautiful morning we four were outside throwing the baseball around, both kids exhibiting the athletic prowess a proud father adores (and me failing miserably with a left shoulder injury caused by a certain 4-legged animal who shall remain nameless).  Just like that - in a space of a few hours - your child's health takes a sudden nosedive.  (The irony of these sudden-onset fevers always coming on Sundays is not lost on me.)  So, all I thought I wanted to say - none of it matters now.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What I Learned in Kindergarten.....

As week 2 slows cautiously to a halt, I am ecstatic to have finished school day 9 before lunch.  I am still in awe (and more than a little suspicious) of those half-day kindergarten teachers’ ability to cover a multitude of critical material in under three hours.  With recess.  Most days for us run at least 5 hours.  (To be fair, there are many interruptions.)
            “This week in kindergarten I learned:” short ten minute breaks, conveniently coinciding with the dog’s bathroom needs,  allow for not only fresh air and vitamin D but a necessary energy boost after squirming in a chair for an hour.  I learned that I am NOT a kindergarten teacher.  I lack the patience required, though this detail is not a news flash.  I learned that my fiercely independent daughter is determined to write it all by herself – to hell with her less than proficient identification of lowercase letters.  This, I have to admire.  However, being her teacher, I have to also reel her back in to the State of Pennsylvania’s reality that she learn to identify them all.  This year.
            In her I have discovered an eagerness to write (just like her mama!), her frustration over what she doesn’t know (just like her mama!) and a very loud voice when things don’t suit her (hmmm… just like….???)  I’ve always said she is a fair blend of her father and me – many characteristics unfortunately the unsavory ones.  My own impatience melts away though, when I see her beautiful blue eyes meet mine for approval as she attempts the letters she’s still struggling with.
            My fourth grade son has finally decided he will give me a break, “at least until 5th grade,” and will remain in school, and I – after meeting his teacher at last week’s open house – couldn’t agree more.  I think she will be good for him, in her jovial dedication to these children after 37 years.  I admit I am not only excited for the curriculum this year but also grateful for such a large group of terrific teachers in our district.  Ava would be well-served here too.  The math wiz is just happy to have passed his second attempt at a timed facts test, so his self esteem is back up.  As parents I think we all struggle with that mysterious six hour block of the day our children are absent from us; this year I actually know where he is/what he’s doing throughout each day, thanks to a thoughtful copy of Ms. Snyder’s master class schedule.
            As for the dog, he has learned to lie down and behave during lessons but, like any intelligent living thing, he too likes to break loose on the weekends.  And that he did, from sunrise until sunset today.  He is, to his credit, “an awesome dog” as my friend says – he is so amazingly smart and so calm-submissive it’s difficult to stay mad at him for long.  He is still only a puppy, and prone to all those puppy-isms that get him in trouble, like gnawing on the wood trim halfway up the staircase (still don’t quite understand this) and wedging bones and balls in impossibly tight spaces and clawing the hell out of them to retrieve it.  The latter is a favorite game he is determined to engage me in, no matter what the cost.
            And so – I am so happy for Saturday, for my own neglected reading and writing, beautiful weather and…football.  Husband is over-the-top ecstatic over a whole former-football-player’s dream weekend of Penn State, the Eagles and a bucket of peel-and-eat shrimp.  I’ll be the one on the other end of the couch, one eye on the game and one in my new book, and a  bottle of Stella Artois in my free hand (thank you Guy Sr.).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

September 5, 2010 - New Adventures

     With the first week of school behind us, I'm looking forward to one last blast of summer as the kids return to their favorite brainless activities, like playing video games around the clock and running wild with the dog.  I've already cleaned the entire house - a wonderful and mindless activity - and with Sunday looming large  with its beautiful sun and a welcome chilly breeze, I'm enjoying my first cup of coffee and thanking the Lord for another day.  As Mom would say, "today is a new day."
     The return to school is always a period of adjustment for everyone and , in true Tomme fashion, we took it over the top.  There were tears, there was fighting, there was begging and pleading,..... but I promise to behave better this week.
     Owen has asked to attend PA Cyber like his sister.  Well, okay, it was more like hysterical pleading after a bad first day - the kind that, as a mom, breaks your heart and makes you want to abandon all reason and go yell at the mean kids on the bus while speed-dialing PA Cyber for another enrollment form.  Little things add up for him, like the dead librarian and a new bus driver after 4 years,  until they snowball into a full-blown meltdown over mean kids, a more demanding curriculum in 4th grade and his sister's shiny new school-issued laptop.  Four days later, he was still - though without the tears - requesting cyber school and I told him we will discuss this choice over the weekend (to be continued.....)
     Meanwhile, back at the ranch - home-schooling after one week is no picnic - it's your worst family holiday dinner multiplied by ten.  I'd rather give birth to her all over again (the EXACT same way) than repeat the first week of school with her.  She was distracted, ornery, uncooperative and just downright rude.  It all started with breakfast, which she refused to eat and it just careened downhill from there.  She kept leaving the table, rolling around on the floor on her back and complaining of how tired she was.  I soon learned the fine art of threats - I mean, warnings - and how effective the threat of a call to daddy or sending her to "Owie's" school can be.  Magical.
     The dog, meanwhile, was making his own adjustments during our lessons... to his squeaky toys, a forgotten plastic bottle and every electrical cord in the house.  You could say he was the most focused  member of the house.  Focused on interrupting me every five minutes (no exaggeration here) so that I could extract his ball from under whatever piece of furniture he'd stuffed it under (and don't think he doesn't do this on purpose).  After an hour "time out" for him to nap in his crate two days in a row - I think we've come to an "understanding."  Or at least a ceasefire, until the next bathroom break.
     Navigating the first week  of home-schooling,  I feel like the captain of some strange aircraft  I have no idea how to fly.  And all week long I wanted to run screaming from the cockpit.  There is so much information to go over and I, perfectionist that I am, just have to get it right - right away.  The knot in my stomach relaxes a little more each day, as we crawl toward a groove.  We will still hit the occasional turbulence, which is par for the course with a five-year-old (with or without diabetes),  but I am at least now confident that we won't crash.  Or, if we do, I'm taking everyone with me.  As I face week two, and in the words of Nancy Thayer, "it is never too late to revise - in fiction or in life."