Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Last, First Day

I got a phone call from Oldest today. While I miss her in the house and our everyday lives, and think about her a hundred times a day, hearing the ring tone designated for my kids was not bringing a smile to my face - mostly because my face was sleeping trying to anyway - but I roused myself from my flu-induced nap to connect before she went to voicemail. If that isn't mother love, I don't know what is

Once I made myself heard after hacking up a lung and was able to ask what she was doing, she explained she was running home before heading to the library on campus. She was full to brimming with the excitement that comes with the first day of new classes - what to expect, which professors she had classes with previously and was happy to be with again, how she would balance 6 classes, her internship, and working. Ah, the energy of youth It stirred within me all the feelings of new beginnings that I know and love so well - truly worth giving up my nap.

Then she said something.

She said, "It's my last first day of school."

Now I am sitting here thinking of her first, first day of school. Little-girl bangs and eyes alight behind her glasses, she was so excited in her pooh bear overalls. I walked her through the neighborhood to the school, pushing chickenpox covered Boy in the stroller. She was chattering the whole way, asking about homework and lunch, reassuring herself that it would be a good class because, "You know my teacher right, Mom? You worked in her classroom." (which I had as an intern class in college)

The memories hit me - coming around the corner to the classroom and peeking through the windows for a glimpse of the brand-new students already at their seats and curiously exploring the space with their eyes. Seeing the child unwilling to let go, and then Oldest saying, "Okay, bye Mom!" as though she had done this so many times before. This day, this memory is far too vivid and fresh to belong to this young woman embarking upon her last semester of college. 

But she is. It is her last, first day.

I feel proud and nervous and excited to watch her as she takes these steps toward graduation. But I would be lying if I said there wasn't a teary part of me that looks on in astonishment wondering how it happened that my strong, independent little girl became this fiercely determined young lady in just the blink of an eye.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Oh Christmas Tree

As any parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, neighbor knows, September is fund raiser month - it should be declared an actual thing, then maybe we could face it head-on, be done and enjoy the school year. This September saw me ordering magazines, donating to various charities, and ordering Christmas greenery. Yes, I bought my tree in September, sight unseen as it wouldn't be cut for 2 months. 

Beautiful trees are cut, packed, shipped, and delivered right to our high school and then delivered to the customers. Previous customers (from another organization) rave about the beautiful trees and how they last. A great way to earn money for the kids. 

It arrived okay, Boy and I helped unload the truck and picked up or orders for delivery before Thanksgiving. And it was a gorgeous tree. Not too fat, not too scrawny, a perfect height. My husband commented more than once that it was perfectly symmetrical. It decorated our home until the 19th of December.

Yup - the 19th.

The drooping, browning, break-in-your-hands evergreen boughs were doing nothing for the holiday ambiance by then, let alone the fire hazard it posed, and it had to go. So it was that Monday saw me and the kids undecking the halls and Boy wrestling the tree to the backyard.

Tween and I hopped into the car to buy another at a local store. We arrived and wondered at the sight of the closed tent; it was quickly determined that there were no trees left. Do not panic. There are lots of stores was my inner chant as we headed out again. A second store - about 5 trees - as tall as Youngest and she isn't even tall enough to ride the carousel alone. It was at this point that I began to question my thinking, and to silently curse myself for forgetting my cell at home. Driving by an overpriced tree stand - in the midst of packing itself up - no trees here - annoyance turned to dread. At this point, empathetic Tween began to voice options - we could get a palm tree, a small plant to top a table, borrow a fake tree from Aunt C who has a couple in her garage. We headed home to call around. 

After a couple of calls we are able to locate a store that did, indeed, have some trees, and we were off. Tween is a stickler for looking at the options before choosing - even when it's tree #2 of the season. I held up, turned, and twisted tree after tree thank goodness they only had a few dozen left until the Goldilocks of trees was found.

It is a cute tree, full and wild looking, but sporting proportions that required yet another room rearrangement. We set it up, the kids wondering if their dad would notice - I voted a strong yes, and now we are on tree 2.0. The girls are happy to tell you this one sports enough room to add a toy train, something each one of my kids have wanted and to which I finally relented I must be getting soft in my old age or they are just wearing me down.

*disclaimer - My sister also got a tree through Boy, and  has no issues. I think we got a bad one, the trunk was rotting in the water when we took it out.*

Monday, December 19, 2016

Avoidance Accepted

Sunnyville is a hectic place from August through May, but there are moments of respite from the running and juggling that make the school year a test of endurance - and my favorite is Christmas break. The cookies will be baked, there will be time to walk through the woods and along the beach, we will drive around to see the lights - all in all a great time of year - once the chores are done.

Getting the holiday cleaning done weighs heavily on my mind, so it was with visions of dust cloths that I woke much too early for my first official day off and offered Youngest a choice. Part of her aftercare program provides camp for non-school days that occur throughout the year, but I figured she could use a break and I was filled with guilt for wanting her to go to camp, so I left it up to her. She chose to stay home.

I warned her that we would be doing chores today, the clean under your bed and dust while your down there kind of work, to which she assured me she could do it. Okay, home it would be, and we settled in to relax and wait for the siblings to wake. As breakfast came and went, I began to straighten, plan, and warn tell Boy what we would be doing today. At some point in this litany, Youngest walked up to me and said, "I changed my mind. I want to go the the Y today."

So, we hustled to pack a lunch, and headed to the car. Was it the reality of hours spent cleaning, or just the draw of hanging out with friends all day that motivated her to go? I don't know - but if it was chore avoidance, who can blame her? I want to go to the Y too!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Finding Solace

For the majority of this country it has been a difficult week, even here in Sunnyville. I have found solace in the fact that we happen to be working on argument writing in class, not because I want the students to debate politics - far from it as they are outlawed in my classroom for the good of all - but because my text happens to use social justice essays to teach rhetoric.

Today was especially gratifying as we read, "I THINK THAT WORLD LITERATURE has the power in these frightening times to help mankind see itself accurately despite what is advocated by partisans and by parties."

Having my students translate this to everyday speak forced them to focus on the thesis, but the real power lay in the words, "At birth, violence behaves openly and even proudly. But as soon as it becomes stronger and firmly established, it senses the thinning of the air around it and cannot go on without befogging itself in lies, coating itself with lying’s sugary oratory."

I love to dissect this personification with them, the growth of violence, how it cloaks itself to hide and thrive. I love pointing out to them the inevitable connection being made between lies and violence... and then turn them lose to discuss whether this work has any relevance in the world today.

To encourage them to discuss the ideas they have without sharing my ideas or values can be hard, but I live by the motto "my job is to teach them how to think - not what to think." I facilitate through questions and through listening, and I hear them make connections to extremist groups  - the methods they use, I hear them make connections to dictatorships - notably N Korea,
I hear a few groups make connections to the idea that media might use lies to achieve a goal. And after warning them that ALL MEDIA should be assessed for credibility and validity, I smile. Just a small, little twitch of the mouth. Maybe - just maybe - I am making a small difference and these kids will assess information and its source before making judgements. That maybe they, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, will believe "One Word of Truth Outweighs the World."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On a Lighter Note - Election Flashback

Political ads, attack campaigns, mud slinging, and sound bites are the hallmarks of the season, but sometimes we all need a break - a moment to silence the incessant yammering. So, take a breath, sit back and travel to November of 2000.

Far before Oldest was in her senior year of college as a political science major, she was a curious kindergartner. It was the 2000 presidential election and she had listened. When the radio talked of environmental policies, her blue eyes would grow round behind childproof lenses and plastic frames as she asked for definitions, explanations, and examples. Living in Sunnyville she had grown to be an outdoor girl, spending more time under the shade of the Live Oaks in the backyard playing with her imaginary friends - who lived in various trees - than watching dinosaurs on TV, making the planet and world around her were her biggest concern. So, when it came time to vote - she was prepared.

On the way to school that fateful day, she asked again, "What is the man's name who wants to take care of the planet?" She was ready to vote.

After school that day we went directly from aftercare the plight of the working mom's child to vote. As I parked, Oldest talked about her day and explained the entire school-voting process. She was quite excited as we walked into the precinct and explained, when asked, that she had voted for the man who would keep the earth safe - Bush!

Under pressure, and having forgotten a name, who wouldn't assume the man with the name straight from nature was the environmentalist? She was so disappointed that she had it backwards, but the world didn't end when her candidate lost - a good lesson this evening.

Good night, and may the electoral congress be ever in your favor.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

With(out) Apology

This is it. Monday morning the Mr & I will have a child at each level of the educational system.

In some circles this makes us young - with Oldest entering her senior year of college we are the younger parents.

Among the parents of both Boy's and Tween's friends we are just average.

But on a recent visit to the kindergarten classroom, it was quite clear I am an older parent practically the old crone. A perfect example of how age is relative. 

But there exists a constant among all these groups - the reaction given when people hear how many children we have.

I am the often happy mother of four children. Not 100. Yet, to gauge the reactions of others, you'd think I was starring in some reality show. "Wow, how do you manage with four kids?" Or the restatement with disbelief coloring the shocked inflection, "You have four kids?" 

Apparently, there was an unannounced threshold I crossed after three - which was news to me - that seems to have mathematically doubled the meaning of four when related to children. Who knew?

Yet those reactions pale in comparison to the response I receive when they discover that my children span from five to twenty-one. Typically this involves a restatement of the age differences and some wondering comment or another while they look at me as though I were an exhibit in a historical reenactment. Or some poor soul who never learned the benefits of modern medicine.

This is when I am prone to fall into apology... If prepared, I laugh it off. I make a flip comment about spreading out college costs, or kids keeping us young; but, sometimes people ask out of the blue, having gained intel from other sources - typically one of the kids. And I apologize...

I believe apologies are important. To maintain relationships and civility - to grow - it is necessary to clearly state the wrong committed and humbly seek forgiveness. I believe in seeking forgiveness yes, my Catholic is showing, I know. But how often do we apologize for things - through word or action - that need no apology?

I have nothing to apologize for - we are raising 4 independent kids and nothing aside from the household budget is worse off than if we were raising the more acceptable 1 or 2. Sadly, this hasn't stopped me from explaining, and I have told people - who have no right or reason to know - that Youngest is not biologically ours. While it is no secret - she, herself, knows - it is none of their business. It is an apology, via explanation, which I do not owe - and worse one that separates our feisty Youngest from her family - us. So, why do I feel compelled to explain or apologize for that which needs neither?

Who knows why - but I'm not anymore. It is an insult to Youngest and the rest of us. We are who we are. If you are content with no children or 10 - great. I am thrilled for you. We are a family of six. We have four children who are spread over 16 years and span from college to kindergarten. This is who we are and it works for us.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Taking the Bad with the Good

There is one thing that terrifies me, as a parent to Tween, more than anything - taking her for a shot.

At her 5 year-old check-up she cried from the moment she saw the needle and continued for the next thirty minutes. And this was just the warm-up. The next year saw swine flu, and I thought I would be a responsible parent and take the kids for shots. A school cafeteria with sectioned areas for patient shots, many nurses were on hand to administer the shots - or nasal spray quickly. I hoped for the nasal spray - really wanted it - but she was too young. Ok. Deep breaths. She can do this. Into the booth we went, handed over the paperwork, and the anxiety breathing began. Small whining noises and little squeaks that escalated into all out tears and yelling. Panicked cries that truly frightened the other children caused us to make a hasty retreat.

Yes, she was young. I held that thought as I agreed to the pneumonia and meningitis shot at her 10 year check-up. After all, she is a smart child - surely she could hear reason. Nope. The hyperventilating started as I signed the paperwork. No amount of reasoning and calm breathing could alleviate her fear. She did get the shots. And promptly stormed out of the doctor's office and sat on the lawn refusing to get into my car. She hated me most of the day. 

The resurgence of JIA prompted frequent blood work - and she is getting better with needles. Not great, but better. At her recent check-up there was minimal panic - just hyperventilating and unhappiness.

So, imagine my dismay when her rheumatologist determined her swelling and pain is not being controlled enough with medication alone. Nope - he didn't want to give her a shot. He wanted me to give her shots. Plural. A shot once a week in fact - for who knows how long. It took all my control to keep the doubt and panic I felt from bubbling up in his office with Tween looking on. "Keep a brave face and the rest will follow" is sometimes the only defense. 

A training session with the nurse later and I was armed with a supply of syringes, a few encouraging words, and a facade of a positive attitude. Time for Tween's first home shot. I had her hold the syringe - which she dropped like a hot coal. She was armed with a stress ball - she was squeezing for all she was worth, a teasing brother - who may have helped to distract her - possibly, and facing a mother about to jab her with a needle. She did jump out of the chair - twice - but when push came to shove she held still and counted off the milliseconds as she took her first home injection. There was no declaration of hate, no storming out of the house. We all survived the first shot. 

As much as this additional routine sucks now, I remind myself that she is still lucky. She enjoys all her activities - even clogging for hours - and if I have to give her a shot once a week to keep her healthy and active, then so be it.