Portrait of a Young Lady and Things Unsaid

JulieThis post is sticky and gooey and soppy and I’m so proud of my daughter that my throat aches.  With parenting you always worry you’re doing it wrong, you’re not doing enough, but then you realize, no, you’re doing fine, you’re doing GREAT actually.  I needed this today, and I’m crying over it and I’m sharing.  Fair warning.   

Today I was supposed to have a block of parent-teacher conferences for Julie (I’m using her real name today), but with one thing or another going on at work, I couldn’t get over to the school.  So I sent an email to each teacher explaining the schedule conflict, that I had looked at her report card and was pleased with her grades and how she was managing schoolwork and sports and activities and social life – all of which I consider to be the true test of middle school.  If there was nothing they felt was pressing to discuss, I was happy to call it a “no news is good news” conference and hopefully we could chat another time.  But by all means, feel free to call myself or my husband if there was anything they needed to discuss.  Yours very truly in Christ, blah blah blah and send.

At the end of the email to Julie’s social studies and english teacher, I tagged on something a little more personal:  the memory of how the two of them had come up to us as we were waiting on line at the funeral home in October, at the wake of the two boys so tragically killed during Hurrican Sandy.  I recalled to them how they had both hugged Julie so tight, spoke to her so kindly, and how I had nearly been undone by their warmth and compassion.  “It’s something I’ve never forgotten, will never forget,” I finished.  “Life is so fleeting, and too often things go unsaid, and I just felt it was important to share this memory and let you know what it meant to me, to all of us.”

Over the next hour, a barrage of teacher emails came flooding back, and none of them had to do with grades:

“Thank you so much for your kind words, now I know where Julie gets her kindness from.  She certainly is one of the sweetest, most sincere young ladies I know.”

“She’s a real delight in the classroom, I’m glad to get to know her better this year”

“You’re right, life is precious, and we’re a family here in North Salem.  I’m so glad that you could feel that genuine love and concern for our students, and I’m touched that you would share that back with me.”

“Julie is such a wonderful young lady.”

“Your email made my day.”

“Julie always walks in and leaves with a smile on her face.”

“No news is good news indeed – Julie is a wonderful young lady who does everything you could ask with a smile.”

“Thank you, I love a “no news is good news” conference, the cancellation was no trouble at all, it let me get a cup of coffee!”

“Thank you!”

“Thank you so much, this made my day.”

The only personal conference I had was a phone call with her math teacher, because math is the bane of the existence around here.  Math is the 70 in the bouquet of 90-somethings.  Math sucks.  And it sucked for me in middle school, I totally sympathize.  But again, the phone call was less about the grade, and more about the attitude.  “She is always smiling,” Dr. F said, “and I can see it’s hard for her and I can see the struggle, but she is all right with it being hard for her.  She sees the bigger picture.  And I’m telling you, you can’t teach that.  That comes from her home life.”

I very openly told her how sometimes, if a math problem has me stumped, I’ll get on Facebook and put the problem out to my own friends.  I didn’t think that would be well-received but she laughed.  “Look at what you’re teaching her though!  You don’t sit and tear your hair out – you show her that you will go anywhere and do anything to find the answer.  We live in a world of innumerable resources, there’s no reason to suffer through it alone.  You think outside the box, you think communally, and she sees that.  She’s a great kid and she’s going to be fine.  I have a few strategies here to help her out….”

Julie2I printed out all the emails, highlighting the good parts in pink, and I left them on Julie’s bed for her to find.  And now a certain young lady is standing up just a wee bit straighter today.

As is her mother.

Life is short and too often things go unsaid.  If someone made a difference in your life – however big, however small – tell them.  If you have a memory of someone that touches you to this day – tell them.  If something random makes you think of someone – tell them.  Tell them.  It’s so simple, it’s such a little thing, but it makes so much difference.  It can make their day.

And if something is hard for you, let it be hard.  Don’t suffer alone – we live in a world of innumerable resources.  Look for answers outside the box, look to your community, do it together.

You’re going to be fine.

I’m going home with a what?!

Friends of ours have a month-old baby and regularly post pictures to their website. Jeeps and I were looking at them last night and among them was that classic picture of mom and dad leaving the hospital with the newborn in the carseat.

Remember that?

This is a universal moment of new parenthood which only happens with your first child. You remember it. You dressed the baby, which took half an hour. You put the baby in the carseat, which took another half hour. You signed miscellaneous papers and got your shit together and made your way down to the lobby. All the while thinking:

They’re not really letting us go home with a newborn, are they?

But maybe some nurses accompanied you down, and they smiled and cooed and waved. And you smiled and cooed and waved back, all the while thinking there was no WAY they were REALLY going to let you leave…with a newborn baby. You were sure that the minute you put a toe outside the automatic sliding doors, a cacophony of security alarms would sound and a steel cage would slam down, trapping you within. The nurses would release the cage in hysterics, high-fiving each other in the glee of having caught another sucker. Then you’d be off for vigorous training and certification before you’d be allowed to take custody again.

But no, they let you go home. With a baby.

And you drove home at 20 mph, frequently checking the rearview mirror, or probably one of you rode in the backseat, who are we kidding. And you arrived home and brought in your precious bundle in the carseat (thinking damn this thing is heavy and klutzy).

And you looked at your spouse. And looked at the baby. And looked at your house. And you said:

“So now what?”

I remember saying “I guess I’ll go upstairs and unpack.” And then I looked down and picked up the carseat with Panda and added, “And I guess I’ll take you with me…”

In Case of Emergency: Add Water

Redman was pitching a fit tonight about dessert. Or lack thereof. Whatever. You ever just reach the limit? The well of patience is dry? The tank of tolerance is empty? The needle on the Give-a-Fuckometer barely moving?

I walked by where he was sprawled on the stairs, with, it so happens, my bottle of water in hand. I made a last polite request for him to go get into pajamas and brush teeth. He gave me a double-lungful of grief.

So I dumped the bottle out onto his head.

Wow, was he mad.  He howled, “Hey that’s not nice!”  I didn’t say anything because I was biting the inside of my cheek hard to keep from laughing.  But hey, he got up off the stairs and got moving and a minute later he was laughing through the tears and in another minute it was all laughing.  And he brushed his teeth and I told him to get three books and meet me in my bed, and he got three books and met me in my bed and we read and he’s asleep up there now. So all’s well.

But tell me honestly….do I suck?

All I Want for Christmas

“So I’ve been thinking about what to ask Santa Claus for,” says Panda as I’m washing her hair.

“Let’s hear it.”

“Well, I want a Calico Critters house,” is her opening bid ($99). “And a bedroom set for Julie.”  Julie being Julie Allbright, her American Girl doll ($118).  “And some pajamas for her ($22) and the matching ones for me.” ($40)  “Oh, and I really want an iPod!” (Whew, done deal, she’s getting mine when Santa Hubby brings me an iPhone)

“What else?” I ask.

“Well, I have some questions. Y’know. Things I want to know…”

“Like?” I prompt

“Well, just if he could tell me if Heaven is real. And what it’s like. And if I get to be a mermaid. But mostly what it’s like and if I’ll go there because then if I know, I won’t be so scared.”

“Ah,” says I, “those are excellent questions.” I’m just trying to actively listen, not take over the conversation and see where she’s going with this.

“Oh, and if he can tell me what happened to Mr. Bierman, I really want to know.”  This is my great-grandfather who abandoned the family and was ne’er heard from again so that branch of the family tree just ends cold. Panda is very bothered by this.

“So do I,” I said, “I don’t know why I never thought of asking Santa, I wonder if he knows…”

“He knows everything.  Oh and one more thing, I want to ask him to let me fly.”

“Fly? You mean in an airplane?”

“No. Fly. For real. In the sky. It’s my dream. I want to ask him if he’ll let me and my cousins fly when they come visit us.”

“…Rinse off, now,” I say, and close the shower door so I can just sit down on the bathmat and think all this through.  Jeeps and I always leave a note from Santa on the dining room table, next to the plate of cookie crumbs and half-drunk glass of milk.  I’m blogging this half to preserve the moment and half to take notes on what Santa needs to cover in his yearly missive.

By the way, Redman wants a snowmobile for Christmas.


I’ve got to write some of these down, they are just too funny….

Scene – driving to daycare
Redman: Hey, look at the car over there, Mom
Me: Oh…yeah, that’s a blue car
Redman (with disgust): No, it’s a Honda

Scene – breakfast, talking about Lindsey coming to sleep over and there will be pizza and root beer floats
Redman: Oh yeah, root beer, I love root beer, you don’t love root beer, Dad, do you, no, you don’t because it has too much sugar, right, but I love root beer, I love root beer more than I love chocolate malted milkshakes that Nino makes…
(Sometimes he has these stream of consciousness monologues)

Scene – driving to daycare, I have forgotten to bring my Ipod so he is bereft of his Backyardigan songs
Redman: But I WANT them
Me: I’m sorry, honey, I don’t have my Ipod
Redman: I WANT THEM (clenching fists, kicking the back of my seat)
Me: I know you want them but I’m sorry, I don’t have them
Redman: Sorry is for bad things!
Me: What?
Redman: “I’m sorry” is for bad things like punching people! When I ask for music you say YES!

Scene – long time ago, dinner table, among other things we are having mixed veg and biscuits for dinner. Redman is listing and demonstrating all his good behavior skills.

Redman: …and then I sit at the table. And then I eat my vegetables (eats spoonful of veg). And then I eat my…(has biscuit in his hand but clearly does not know what it is called)…I eat my crunch.

Since then, from time to time, you’ll hear one of us sing-songing “…And then I eat my VEG-tables….and then I eat my CRUNCH….”

Tool….or Torture?

I dropped Redman off at preschool the other day, and noticed by the Circle area was a milk crate filled with what looked like stuffed black tube socks. I wondered if the kids had a project to make stuffed toys or puppets or something. “What are those?” I asked Redman. “Those are for your lap,” he replied.

Curious, I picked one up. Whoa! Stuffed, yes, but not with fluffy stuffing. Stuffed with what felt like gravel! Heavier than your average beanbag, but not packed solid. A decent weight to them. “What are these?” I asked Melissa, Redman’s teacher. She smiled, took one, and sat down cross-legged. “These are for our laps,” she said, demonstrating. She put one in her lap, resting an end on each knee. “They’re a sensory tool,” she explained, “for kids who have a hard time sitting still. An occupational therapist suggested it. Somehow the weight of it is soothing and helps them to stay settled when we’re having circle time.”

“Wow. Does it work?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said happily. “I have to admit I was skeptical but I really couldn’t believe how much it’s helped. And every kid gets one so the ones that really need don’t feel singled out in any way.”

“No swinging them around!” Redman said, sitting up straight with his sock in his lap.

“That’s right,” Melissa said. “What do we say? This is a TOOL, not a toy.”

I was really impressed, not only that it was such a simple solution, but that Mel always is looking for and trying ideas like these in the classroom.

My Seester and Neeces were up visiting for a few days and came over for dinner that night. I told Sees and Jeeps all about the lap-socks and we decided to try an experiment at the dinner table: as many of you know, getting Redman to stay seated during meals is a sore trial. So we put a largish book in his lap and covered it with a dinner napkin. And HOLY COW!!!! The kid sat! OK, not for the whole entire meal, but a good fifteen minutes which is miles beyond what he usually does. He sat and ate and chatted and seemed very calm. We were amazed at how utterly simple it was.

Next morning, when I picked Redman up at school, I saw Melissa and Jo, and I told them what happened and how I’d been telling everyone about this, what a great idea etc etc etc. Mel and Jo exchanged glances.

“We won’t be using them anymore,” Jo said.


“One of the parents complained,” Mel went on and I could see the effort she was putting into not rolling her eyes. “Said it was punitive and…”

“ABUSIVE,” Jo finished shortly. Her eyes were looking at the back of her brain.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. “You said every kid used one at circle time. Punitive is making one kid use it while everyone stares. Abusive is BEATING him with it!”

So we commiserated for a while and bottom line, I said I had no problem with Redman having one a circle time and in fact, could I take one home?

So all you parents of pre-schoolers out there, what do you think? A simple tube sock stuffed loosely with gravel, the child keeps it in his or her lap. Sensory tool to aid? Or instrument of punishment?

Easter Evening

Jeeps was having his usual after-dinner jam and Redman asked me to get down his little guitar so he could play too. I love this shot…

And now Panda will demonstrate proper eating of Easter Basket Candy. First, pose fetchingly with a single jellybean….

Now, before you take a bite, consider it….ponder it….marvel at its jellybean beauty….

Oh, that’s soooooooooooooo good….

It’s so good I must swoon