Imperfectly Nice

I’m really much too young to matriculate*

first day of kindergarten 
Besides an all-too-brief 11 weeks of maternity leave, I have dropped Vaught off at a babysitter or pre-school or summer camp almost every week day of his life.

Kindergarten shouldn’t be anything particularly different or stressful. Yet I am still a wreck, hours after I watched him walk ever more certainly away from me in that single-file line, backpack bouncing on his shoulders, his laminated fish-shaped name tag tied around his neck with a fuzzy piece of yellow yarn.

He is excited. And ready. There are so many possibilities waiting for him in this new, bigger world. And I wonder why it is he sees all of the good possibilities while I see the bad ones? He sees the possibility of new friends and I wonder if there will be a bully in his class. Or maybe two. He is excited about a new school and all that comes with it – new toys, new people, new things to learn – and I wonder if the old and sweetly familiar isn’t better. I worry how the decisions we’ve made as parents will affect him and if he will be happy and cared for in this new place.

I don’t know if this is part of being a parent or just part of being a neurotic parent, but I wish I felt a little less like I were walking around without my skin on. Everything feels raw and exposed with him in this new environment where I can’t control how people will react to him or give him little nudges when he needs them. This, really, is nothing new; he’s been navigating his way through playground politics for two years now, but it feels bigger this time. I know this is just one of the many steps he will take towards independence, but it feels a significant one.

My mother’s words keep running through my head. “It is a parent’s job to work their way out of that job.” (Although, I am 38 and still call my parents for everything so maybe the joke’s on them.) But today felt a little like a step towards working my way out of being a mommy. Like any day now, I will stop being mommy and start being “mom.” Mom. Mom said with an eye roll and all of the teen angst he can muster. Sigh.

I am getting ahead of myself though. I want to concentrate on today because today I got to hold his little hand while we waited for the long walk to his classroom and I got to give him kisses in the cafeteria. I got to whisper in his ear that the most important thing he can be is kind and prayed other parents were whispering the same thing in the ears of their wiggling five-year-olds.

I held it together as long as I was with him because he was so, so excited and I didn’t want him to believe there was reason to cry. I thought I might make it out of the school before I broke down but as I watched him walk away, the tears came. There he went, my baby, but not quite my baby any more. Because while I can still see the little boy pudge in his cheeks and in the dimples on his fingers, I can also see glimpses of the big kid and teenager he will become.

I stood in the hallway, a living version of the ubiquitous mom plea on Facebook feeds the world over. “Slow down time!” we all say when we post pictures of the next birthday or milestone. It’s senseless and it’s overused but there is a reason we all say it. Time is stealing our babies and turning them into young men and women. Their round cheeks and bellies are becoming leaner and they are starting to pronounce words without the funny little speech quirks kids have. They are becoming different creatures entirely, creatures who need us a little bit less.

We’re doing our jobs and turning them into big kids who march confidently away from us and into the unknown, with only their new backpacks for armor, hoping they will be brave and kind while we feel anything but brave. On the inside, I was the one kicking and screaming, grabbing him tightly and begging him not to go. Not quite yet. I wanted him to stay a little longer and let me kiss his pink cheeks a few more times; smooth his hair once more.

 I didn’t kick and scream though. Nor did I run down the hall, grab him, throw him over my shoulder and spirit him away like I wanted to. Instead I watched him go, knowing it won’t be the last time I watch him walk away from me. And I hope, as hard as it may be, that the next time he does, it is with just as much excitement and fearlessness for the future as he did today.

 

First day of school poem

Evidence that the PTO is, in fact, an evil, horrid organization that runs off the tears of mothers.

 
 *Bonus points to anyone who can name that tune. Hint: This song comes from a musical sequel that probably should never have been made but was still the soundtrack of my youth. It was bad but bad in the way that eight-year-old girls think it is amazing.

It’s time for cheers

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I stood in the sticky night air with my head held back, watching fireworks explode and spiral down through the turrets of Cinderella’s castle. Vaught’s chubby legs dangled down from his father’s shoulders as our niece sang along with the soundtrack. I watched the reflection of the lights in Vaught’s eyes.

He waved a glow stick in his hand and then, out of his mouth, came the notes that Ariel sings as Ursula is taking her voice. He started softly – ah ah ah – and then got louder – Ah Ah Ah – and kept going higher and louder – AH AH AH. He waved his glow stick over Neil’s head and said, “I’m spelling it! I’m spelling it Mommy! I am spelling the fireworks!” Because, in that moment, that dollar store glow stick was not a glow stick, but a magic wand. And my three-year-old wasn’t a three-year-old, but a magician who could enchant thousands of people crowded onto Main Street with bursting lights and music with the wave of his hand.

That night was almost two years ago and now, we’re getting ready for our return. After several months of secret phone calls, emails, staying up late into the night to book restaurant reservations and fast passes (Okay, 11. Eleven is late. Yes, it is.), sneaky online shopping for Disney shirts and covert trips to the mailbox to retrieve said sneakily ordered items, we have finally, finally arrived at the day that we to get to rock our five-year-old’s socks off by telling him we are going to Disney World.

He was three during his first trip and has mentioned Disney World or Disney in some way every day of his life since. He has worn his ears to bed and throws his hands up when we drive down hills while he giggles and screams, “We are going down Splash Mountain!”

I know there are tedious parts of a Disney World vacation – the heat, the lines, sweaty people on park buses. But instead of seeing all of those things, I am going to refocus the lens I am looking through. I am going to invest in cool towels and spray fans, get fast passes and instead of watching our fellow weary adults on the buses, watch the sweet, sleepy faces of the kids who met Mickey Mouse for the first time.

For us, Disney isn’t crowds and heat and lines. It isn’t even Mickey or Minnie or a ride. It is my son dancing with Jesse at a parade. It is the thrill of plummeting down Splash Mountain to his cries of, again, again, again! It is flying through the night sky from London to Neverland. It is the cast members who clap and join in when he dances. It is him, mouse ears on, believing, believing, that he is creating the magic that has thousands looking at the night sky waiting for his next spell to be cast.

And if the sweaty people on buses or the heat or the crowds start to seem a little less than magical that’s okay because I am traveling with my own personal magician and his best trick allows me to see the world through his eyes. Any time I feel a little too much adult coming on, he is there with a smile that crinkles his eyes and shows the baby fat under his chin, with a laugh that is pure, breathless joy, a heart that is wild and open and a mind that believes. He is magic and there, in Disney World, so am I and so we all are together. And there’s nothing better. I am off to put on my ears; it’s time for cheers!

 

Clear eyes, full hearts …


I walked onto the field into the glare of the lights, the springy turf kicking little bits of recycled rubber onto my feet. My little one was hyped up from his game-day sno cone and he was running in circles around me. We were looking for our coach. We found him at midfield, his shoulders slumped. He took his visor off, rubbing the stubble on his chin. “I feel like we just lost this game,” he said. “I feel like we lost.” They hadn’t. They’d won.

They’d beat a rival, in fact. His feeling of loss had nothing to do with the score, but with a player. One who faces things no 16-year-old should and who wouldn’t be able to stay on the team after that night.

My husband is a competitor. If you can hit, kick or throw a ball, he will challenge you and he will probably win. He challenges our son to races constantly. “ I will finish packing your lunch while you put away your clothes and we will see who wins!” He wants to score more points than you, sink your battle ship and finish games he makes up in his head before you. Are you at the ATM next to him? I promise you that in his head there is a battle royale occurring, unbeknownst to you, to see who finishes first. Points and scores matter to him. Winning matters. But that night, the score that was still up on the brightly lit scoreboard meant very little.

The truth is that while tackles and scores matter to coaches, and matter a lot, those things may be the least of what they are teaching our sons and daughters. I hear a lot of people argue that more emphasis is placed on sports than academics and how backwards this is. I’m not saying I disagree with that and I won’t get into the dollars athletics bring into schools, either. Should academics come first? Well, of course. Of course they should. This is high school, after all, not the NFL. It’s not anyone’s job to play football, it’s their job to graduate.

For people who lead a charmed teenage life, and by charmed, I mean teenagers with supportive parents and a stable home environment, this may not be much of a challenge. But I have heard teachers tell countless stories about students who don’t have the luxury of a “normal” teenage life.

The student who sleeps through class because he is working after school then coming home to feed, bathe and help his younger siblings with their homework. He packs their lunches and puts supper on the table and falls into bed exhausted, his homework untouched.

The student who knows he won’t eat again until he gets back to school Monday morning.

The student who calls DHS and begs them to take him out of his own home because the water is cut off again and there hasn’t been any food this week because his parents thought it was more important to buy drugs with the little money they have.

Our system expects high test scores and academic excellence in college-bound courses from these kids. And, as much as I know an amazing teacher can ignite a spark in these kids, a lot of times it’s sports that ignite that spark. It’s sports that give them a reason to achieve academically because you can’t fail and play on Friday nights. It’s sports that give them the opportunity to go to college at all.

“It’s just a game.”
“This isn’t the NFL.”

You’re right. No one out here is getting paid to run with that ball. And, yes, this is a game. But to so many kids on that field, it’s so much more. It’s an opportunity. It’s not necessarily an opportunity to win Super Bowls, although you never know, but it’s an opportunity to graduate high school. To go to a community college and get a free education. To get a degree that means as adults, these boys won’t worry about where their meals are coming from. It’s an opportunity to break a cycle and to make a life that’s more than the one they were given. It’s an opportunity give the next generation a fighting chance.

Maybe I’m giving football too much credit. I know for a lot of kids, it’s just something fun they do in high school. But for so many others, it’s where they learned about a lot more than how to tackle or throw. It’s where they learned about loyalty and hard work and friendship. Where they were given the chance to succeed. 

Now, I am admittedly, not always the best football wife. My husband became a coach after many years in other professions so I was ill-prepared for what life would be like for the wife of a coach. My frame of reference was “Friday Night Lights” where Eric Taylor always took Tammy Taylor to dinner at Applebees after the game.

You can imagine my surprise when I learned that after games, coaches feed players, clean up the field house, start the laundry, download film and start reviewing plays instead of taking their wives to dinner. They work seven days a week. Seven. And seven nights. I am not always gracious about this. In fact, there are days I am downright pissed off about it. On my worst days, I wonder why those boys get so much of his attention.

And then, I’ll find the card one of them wrote him that says, “Love, your son …” Or I’ll see the tweets he gets tagged in on Father’s Day thanking him for being the only father figure they have ever known. I overhear the phone call he gets from a player’s parent begging him to talk to their son because they don’t know how to and my husband is the only one who can get through to him.

I look at our son and I see a child who is loved beyond all reason by this man and know we will all be just fine. That maybe a lot of other kids will be just fine in the end because my husband loves them too.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe this is just a game. But I believe that what my husband is doing, what these coaches are doing, is giving the boys who suit up on Friday nights opportunities in life and reasons to succeed.

I hope that one day, when they are telling stories about the big tackle they made or the pass they threw, they’ll take a minute to remember the men who were on the sidelines and loved them as if they were their own. 

I don’t know if that 16 year-old is ever going to walk into a corner office or if he will even go to college. I have no idea if he will be the kind of dad to his children that his coach tries to be for him. But I do know that he has at least one person who believes in him and tries to show him the kind of love his father should. I know that because of football, maybe he stands a fighting chance. 

And I know that even if my husband refuses to say it on Friday nights, Coach Taylor taught us all that clear eyes and full hearts can’t lose.

How lucky we are, how lucky our kids are, to have coaches that believe that.

If you can read this, thank a teacher 

It is Teacher Appreciation Week and while I am struggling to remember if it is Bring Flowers Day or Sweet Treats Day, I have been thinking a lot about my former teachers and how I appreciate the lessons I learned in their classrooms.

 

My mother, of course, who taught me in the classroom and teaches me in life. Mr. Leigh, who was the only teacher who ever helped me make any sense of math. Unfortunately, my understanding of math peaked in his 8th grade class and I have never again seen that level of success with All of the Numbers and Other Mathery. There was Mr. Williams who is probably the most OCD person I have ever encountered, and made me the grammar snob I am today. (At work at least. I obviously play fast and loose with the rules of grammar here.) My high school AP teachers, Coach Murphy and Mrs. Watkins, whose classrooms became a home to those of us taking all two of the AP classes offered in those days and who gave me some of my best memories of high school. Mrs. Kapaun, who was a crotchety little old lady that everyone swore kept peppermints tucked under her wig and added a little kick to her morning coffee. (Unsubstantiated rumors of high school students here, folks.) I loved her as I love most crotchety old people. I think that’s because because I aspire to be one. She once told me that one of my essays restored her faith in humanity and I still remember the feeling I had when she said that. I am not saying that to brag about my mad sophomore year essay skillz, but to acknowledge that the words teachers say to us mean something, even as adults, and I appreciate all of those who spoke kindly and gently to me. (Even if they were explaining fractions to me again.)

 

There is one teacher, however, that I loved more than the others, aside from my mother, of course. I have mentioned before that I grew up surrounded by people who love to read. I spent many hours being read to on the front porch swing or a big arm chair or my favorite spot in the woods, so when I stepped into Susan Long’s classroom in the 5th grade, I already loved stories. She made me appreciate words. 


One of the stories in our 5th grade reader was about a girl who lived in Mexico. She lived in a house with a courtyard in the middle and ground corn with her mother to make fresh tortillas. Mrs. Long asked us to close our eyes and listen to the words in the story. She would repeat words and softly ask us with her eyes closed, too, “Do you hear how beautiful they are? Listen. Marmalade. Tortilla.” And it was magic. When I closed my eyes and listened, I was in a world where words weren’t just static concepts on a page, but living, breathing things with beauty and power. I could almost taste the sweetness of the marmalade, could almost feel my fingers getting sticky from spreading it on a piece of freshly toasted bread. Words were no longer just there to convey a message or help us understand a concept, but were suddenly something that could make us see, smell, taste and touch. 

 

We did a lot of writing in Mrs. Long’s class, too. As she passed out our stories on sea creatures one day,  I saw her scrawl in red ink on my paper and was upset because I wanted her to think everything I did was only worthy of A pluses and gold stars. I certainly didn’t want to see that vibrant red ink. I was anxious to see what mistake I made and instead of a correction, I saw a notation that I should use a descriptive word like tenacious when I wrote about the sea creature clinging to the side of the boat. After I looked up “tenacious,” I wondered where in the world she thought I would have learned that word in the 5th grade and huffed and puffed about it for a while. I mean, I didn’t do anything wrong, I just didn’t use a big enough word? Ha! Ridiculous, I thought. So I pouted but I also started using my dictionary and thesaurus when I wrote, pushing myself to learn more words. I tested them out to see how they fit together with other words to construct a sentence infinitely better than the ones I could have come up with only using the vocabulary in my 5th grade reader. I don’t know if I ever admitted to myself at the time that that shock of red ink on my paper is what made me start thinking about word choice, but that single suggestion in the margins of my blue-lined paper challenged me. Are the embers hot? No, they’re smoldering. Is the wind chilly? No, it’s biting. 

 

I may never be the next Joe Rowling or have a best seller, but because of Mrs. Long, I will sit at a keyboard and write. I will challenge myself to make my words better. I will read novels and appreciate how the authors use their words to make us feel like we have stepped into the story. I will read to my son and tell him to close his eyes while I whisper beautiful words to him. Marmalade is still my favorite.

Goodbye winter, hello Mrs. Roper

Flowers are blooming, the days are longer and I am working very hard on not scratching my eyes out from all of the beautiful blooming flowers. Ah, spring. I am, in absolutely no way, a person who enjoys winter so I will take the warmer weather, itchy eyes and all, and be happy that we can unwrap ourselves from our snuggies like butterflies from cocoons.

Living in a coastal Mississippi county means that approximately four inches of my closet is devoted to winter wear, and every inch after that (that hasn’t been overtaken by dust bunnies and dog hair) houses sleeveless shirts, sandals and summer maxi dresses. I dig maxi dresses for many reasons including: the comfort; the fit, which is friendly to girls like me who fall firmly into the pear-shaped category; and the fact that they hide my very white legs. Also, the comfort. Again. Maxi dresses can be more comfortable than pajamas and I am all for anything that allows me to leave the house feeling like I am in my jammies. They are also pretty much my slippery slope into becoming a Mrs. Roper lookalike. In fact, if anyone has some sort of petition I can sign to make caftans appropriate workplace attire, please send it to me. I will post it, share it, tweet it and become a champion of a business caftan dress code. It would make casual Fridays more festive, I believe, what with all of us flowing around in our exotic prints and large sunglasses. Like an army of very efficient Nichole Richies. Conference calling and researching and analyzing would be much more productive if we all felt like we were lounging in a cabana in Miami is all I’m saying.

Do you see what happens here? My intent was discuss winter clothes yet, here I am, talking caftans. It goes against my very nature to discuss turtlenecks and wool pants, which is exactly why my closet is in its current state of chaos and I spend precious time on cold, winter mornings staring blankly at shelves full of summer clothes when it is 28 degrees outside.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you The Dumbest Winter Wardrobe, Possibly Ever.

These are examples are my go-to pieces for winter:

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Do you SEE the ridiculousness displayed here? Let’s discuss.

This is an adorable cropped ¾ sleeved coat. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. A cropped, ¾ sleeved coat. Cute but totally impractical as it is pretty much impossible to stuff that coat under the coat it is necessary to wear over it if you are going outside.

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Next is seemingly practical winter wear. It’s fuzzy. It is warm. But it is missing pockets, which are a necessity for me in winter because, please, do you think I own gloves? Ha!

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This is my favorite because it is so pretty with its big buttons and lovely, full-length sleeves. However, it is more of a fall/spring coat and is really too light-weight to do the job I need it to do in February. It does have pockets and sleeves, though, so that is a bonus.

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This set of examples, in order: 1- has no pockets and ¾-length sleeves, 2- is so thin you can actually see the couch behind the fabric in the photo, 3- has short, butterfly sleeves and 4- is a ¾ sleeve turtleneck. Again, with the logic here. Because my forearms are very warm but my neck is cold?

And while these are examples of unwise wardrobe choices, I can usually get from the car to the office pretty quickly without gloves or a coat that makes much sense. However, there are instances that require actual winter clothing appropriate for the outdoors that I do not possess. I am no Carrie Bradshaw, but I do make an effort to look nice when I leave the house. I wear makeup, even to the mailbox, and have been known to suffer for cute shoes. But when temperatures fall below 50 degrees, all bets are off. Apparently. Anything colder than that and I end up looking like a hobo in public because I mistakenly assume that in Mississippi, none of us have appropriate winter clothing, we will all look ridiculous and I won’t stand out. For example, at my husband’s last football game of the season, I wore really cute riding boots, jeans (I did have fleece leggings on underneath), a hoodie, a pair of $1 gloves from Target, a scarf that was cute but matched absolutely nothing else I wore and a headband that I wear when I run. So, never, really. It was … not a good look, but since everyone else would be in similarly ridiculous outfits, I knew I would be fine. Of course, everyone else found some sort of winter weather clothing emporium, or maybe an outpost or something

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full of adorable clothes complete with crocheted head pieces and matching scarves and iPhone-ready gloves. I stuffed hand warmers in my boots because, while I wore fleece leggings, I had on thin socks because of course I did, and I tried to own the look even though it looked like my 4-year-old had dressed me.

So I am bidding farewell to winter – to sweaters that only keep me partially warm and jackets with no pockets, to my snuggie and to shoes that cover my toes – and saying hello to summer, sandals and caftan Fridays at the office. Fingers crossed.

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Here’s to you Helen Roper. Like most great fashion icons, you were before your time.

WWMD about a splinter?

My poor sweet little one got a ridiculously large splinter tonight and during the long extraction process he was so brave and so still … but far from quiet and more than a little dramatic.

Neil and I were … maybe not helpful. Neil, with his booming football coach voice, kept saying things like, “I’m going to get the knife now,” while I screamed at him to shut his pie hole because screaming WILL SCARE THE CHILD. We both exhibited great moments in parenting. I am usually the one who is calm in a crisis and he is the one who gets a little rattled. It is certainly easier to be the one to soothe and comfort though than to be the one faced with Doing the Thing, e.g. digging a splinter roughly the size of a bicycle out of a four-year-old’s foot.

Of course, kids pick up on adult tension so Vaught, while holding very still, especially considering all of the sharp instruments and digging going on in his foot, was wailing the following:

What’s going to haaaaaaapen to meeeee?
Am I going to diiiiiieeee?
But is Daddy a doctor?
I just want to go to Beeeeethleheeeeem. (Me: ???)
Because Mary will help me! (Me: Of course.)
Can we tell Santa Claus about this?
Help me Tom Cruise! Use your witchcraft to get this splinter out of me! (These may or may not be his exact words.)
Then he made the sign of the cross and said the prayer they say before snack time at school.

Slightly dramatic, completely brave and we are apparently getting our money’s worth from this Catholic education.

A little triple antibiotic cream, a Woody and Jesse bandage, and some major gratitude for Dr. Daddy, and he is blissfully asleep with a great war story to tell on the playground tomorrow.

Being right IS being happy … right?

From time to time, as I am scrolling through Facebook, I will see the inspirational quote, “You can be right or you can be happy.” It is typically shown over a background of a sunset at the beach or a dandelion, its fluff blowing away in the gentle breeze, or maybe a picture of some wildlife drinking from a small mountain pond near moss-covered rocks. It is mostly attributed to no one, but a Google search (this will be important later) shows that Gerald G. Jampolsky is the one who coined this phrase.  Some people like to give credit to the Dalai Lama or Marilyn Monroe because the Dalai Lama is always saying something deep and thoughty and Marilyn Monroe gets credit for saying a lot of really smart stuff that she didn’t actually ever say. At least it seems my Facebook feed is full of women who are going through divorces attributing lots of words to Marilyn. Anyway, Mr. Jampolsky and his wife, Diane Cirincione, are psychologists and run something called the International Center for Attitudinal Healing in California because where else would a placed called the International Center for Attitudinal Healing be located? It is probably a place several people in my life – but mostly my husband – wish I would visit, at least once and, apparently, with good reason.

The thing is, I like being right. Being right makes me happy. So be right or be happy? Nope, I am happy because I am right. HA! HAHA! I WIN, Gerald Jampolsky!

My weapon of choice in my path toward eternal rightness is Google.  In fact, I feel Google was probably really invented by Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Yep, Googled their names) because they wanted to be more right than anyone has ever been and they also wanted to be able to prove their rightness. Let’s face it, there is no point in being right if the person you are arguing with can sit there and smugly bask in their wrongness like THEY are the one with the all-important correct answer and there is NO way to check the answer. What is the point of knowing that Motownphilly was released in 1991 if you can’t wave your phone screen displaying the correct answer in the face of the one saying it was 1990? Moral victory? Ha! I don’t want me to be the only one who knows I am right; I want you to know that I am right.

If Google is my bullet, my phone is my gun. I can draw in record time, thumbs out and ready to type the in the piece of trivia we are arguing about, ready to hit search before the other person has even considered taking their phone out of their pocket. Possibly because they don’t have the same neurotic need to be right that I have and simply don’t care that much, and just remember at that dance in the 8th grade, they killed it on the dance floor to Motownphilly. But who really knows what their motivations are and why they are slow on the draw?

The next moment for me is sweet, sweet victory as I all but shove my screen in your eyeballs and say something like, “See? Ha!” or maybe “Nanny nanny boo boo.” For that brief, shining moment, I am on top of the world. I mentally dance around like this:

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I then smugly put my phone down, but not so far away that I can’t draw again if the need arises.

Then I look at my husband, who – let’s face it – is almost always the one on the receiving end of my desire to be the rightest person in the room. He looks … a little irritated maybe. I may have noticed some major side eye going on while I was congratulating myself on knowing the name of that actor who guest-starred on that show in the 80’s that one time.

Huh. Seems like my quest along the path of rightness may look, at least to my husband, like it is my quest to prove him wrong. It’s not really. I’ve been doing this, to my knowledge, since the beginning of my time on earth. I remember in fifth grade one of my very favorite teachers, Mrs. Long, gave us the assignment to do a book report on a biography. When a classmate of mine named Melanie (or Melody?) gave her book report on the fictional work “Six Months to Live”, a book I LOVED, I could not keep my mouth shut. My hand shot up and I informed the teacher that Dawn Rochelle was not, in fact, a real person. Mrs. Long just nodded her head and quietly suggested we let Melanie/Melody continue with her report. I also corrected Melanie/Melody when she mispronounced the name of one of the members of the “Baby Sitters Club” and when she said Arkansas like Ar KAN-zuhss instead of ARK-en-saw. I am pretty sure Melanie/Melody hated me. She should have. I was a 10-year old know-it-all with no filter who publically pointed out her mistakes.

I would like to tell you that I’ve grown since then but, apparently, not so much. There is a difference though and it is that I am at least now aware of my know-it-all tendencies and knowing is half the battle. So, instead of making a long list of resolutions this January which would be broken by now anyway, I am going to try to take a step back and be self-aware. I am going to try to use these little nuggets I’ve learned about myself the past 36 years and realize how my stuff makes other people feel. And not only that, I’m going to try to be self-aware in the moment, not after I’ve already “won” and am getting the stink eye from the person opposite me in the living room.

I’m hoping for a little help from Neil. He probably shouldn’t challenge me on things re: books I’ve read, reality TV and Beastie Boys lyrics, for example.  These are my strengths and he is well aware. He is always proud to have me on his Scene It team for a reason. In return, I agree to that I won’t challenge him in the area of sports and math. I will attempt to contain myself even if I have itchy trigger thumbs and I will attempt to remember that maybe Gerald G. Jampolsky is correct on some level on this whole right/happy thing. Neil will probably think I can’t do it; that I will fail miserably unless I sew my thumbs to the couch cushions. But we all know he is wrong.

The emotional stages experienced by victims of yard rolling

My husband is a football coach, and a well-loved football coach at that. He loves those boys as much – maybe more – than they love him. There are all sorts of life lessons and bonding and fathering going on there. It’s all very touching. I, however, am not a football coach and don’t know these boys that well, if at all. I like them in a once-removed sort of way. I like them because I hear what he says about them, but I don’t teach them life lessons or mother them, although there is always the hope of becoming the next Leigh Anne Tuohy. I mean, I may not be the millionaire co-owner of a chalupa chain, but I still have a lot to offer and Claire Danes could play me in the movie as we have the same ugly cry face. The point is that I do have a certain amount of affection for these boys that I hardly know, but not so much as my husband, obviously. That affection by proxy is being tested this week …

Because this is homecoming week and 14-18 year old kids across the county are joyfully launching rolls of toilet paper into the air leaving two-ply streamers hanging from tree branches like so much white Spanish moss. As I am married to the aforementioned coach, we expected to wake up to a white yard at some point this week. Tuesday was the day.

Tuesday 7:15 a.m.
The Denial Phase

I was walking through the kitchen to grab my son’s lunch box and I saw something white fluttering from the trees outside of my kitchen window. I went to the front doors and saw my yard was a toilet paper wonderland. They rolled the trees, the bushes, the ground, the door handles, even the mail box. I surveyed their work and I laughed. I was a teenager once, after all, and rolled a few houses – and maybe even a school – in my time. Maybe last year, the adults in my neighborhood would roll yards after the kids went to bed. Anyway, it’s good times! Ah, those crazy kids.

I told my son to just wait and see what was in the yard. He walked outside, mouth open and stood for a moment. Then he ran, squealing through the mounds of white on the ground, the streamers hanging from the tree branches tickling his face. “Mommy! This is the best day EVER!” he said. “Who DID this for us?” So cute, I thought, that he thinks someone did this for us and not to us. I even snapped a few pictures and posted them, poking fun at the whole situation.

My neighbors were texting me, “I swear it wasn’t me!” And “My kids love your ‘Halloween’ decorations!” There were lots of “LOLs” and “hahas.”

Tuesday 5:30 p.m.
Still the Denial Phase

I pick up my son and tell him we are going to have to spend “a few minutes” cleaning up when we get home.

Tuesday 6 p.m.
The End of the Denial Phase

Wow. They really put a lot of toilet paper in my yard. Like, a LOT. And they not only threw it and left it on the ground, they really tore up each individual square and left them scattered around the ground. I mean, there must be hundreds, maybe thousands, of little toilet paper pieces. Did I mention we live on almost three acres?

Tuesday 6:30 p.m.
The Anger Phase

If I have to pick up one more piece of this paper, I am going to lose it. I have been doing this for a good 30 minutes and it looks like I’ve done nothing.

Tuesday 6:35 p.m.
The Acceptance Phase

Our friends see us outside and come to help in the cleanup efforts. Our boys have a glorious time and work on their rolling technique, using the half-empty rolls left behind to try and hook the paper over the branches when they throw. This isn’t so bad! The kids are having fun.

Tuesday 6:45 p.m.
The Anger Phase (Yes, again)

A truck drives past and the neighbors say they see the driver taking photos. As our neighborhood consists of two streets that end in cul de sacs, I know they will be back. I wait. And wait.

Finally, I see them coming again, and pretty much put myself in the path of the oncoming truck, saying, “Well! Did y’all come back to show your friends your handy work?!” At which point I realize there is a grown man driving the truck. But he was driving kids around and they were taking photos. I had an internal battle standing on the edge of my yard and decided that passive aggressive was the way to go, especially after hearing his lame excuses and realizing he is a not very nice person who lives near us and is a lying liar who lies.

Tuesday 7 p.m.
The Bargaining Phase

My husband calls to tell me he is on the way home from football practice. I ask him if he has a truckload of football players with him to help with the cleanup efforts. He says no. I tell him that I am fine with the little juvenile delinquents having their fun, but they should be nice and come help. (Because that is what I always did! If always means never.) He laughs.

He, the man who was at practice with these kids while I cleaned up their mess, laughs. At this point, I may be headed back to the anger phase.

Wednesday 7 a.m.
The Bargaining/Acceptance Phase

No new toilet paper hanging from my trees. Happy day! I think I may even put a sign on my door tonight that says they can have their fun, I won’t be an old jerk about it, and will even buy them pizza, but I would really like it if I saw them at my house to help clean up if they do it again.

Wednesday 8:30 a.m.
The Anger Phase (Yes, AGAIN)

I hear that a bunch of girls were in on the rolling of my yard. So … not just the football players my husband cares about and I care about by proxy. Other kids, kids I do not care about by proxy. Which, fine, the girls were there with their friends. And they are probably some of my husband’s students who love him, too. THEN I hear one of them gave a big “whatever” when she hears I was joking about making their trespassing behinds do cleanup work in my yard. Oh, I do not like a “whatever” from a 16-year old. I do not like it at all. And Miss Whatever isn’t even a beloved student of my husband’s. He doesn’t even know who she is. How quickly they have made the transition in my head from kids having a little fun to a bunch of law-breaking troublemakers.

Wednesday 8:35 a.m. – present time
The Plotting Phase

So now I wait. I think the little psychological terrorists know the waiting is the worst part. Or perhaps I am giving too much credit to kids who had yard rolling t-shirts printed WITH THEIR NAMES ON THEM for this week.

Honestly, I do believe these are kids having a good time, just like I did back then. (And maybe last year, too.) But I would sort of like to scare the bejesus out of them if they do come back. We obviously didn’t respect parents enough to say, NOT, roll their yard when we were in high school, but we still had a healthy fear of them and would have cleaned and groveled and begged had we been caught. I would like for these kids to have that same, healthy fear. I don’t want to report them to the police or call their parents. I just want them to believe that maybe I am slightly unbalanced and they shouldn’t “whatever” me.

The thing is, whatever I may plot I may concoct to scare them has one fatal flaw. It is the one thing they have one over me – youth. I may be perfectly prepared to do something to freak them out a little but this will do me absolutely no good if I can’t manage to stay awake to do it. So, it looks like the probability of me waking up to yet another toilet paper wonderland in my yard this week is high. And that’s okay. But, kids, have a little respect for your elders. Especially if that elder isn’t going to turn you in or call the police. I will be cool about it if you are but if you “whatever” me, I may have to call your mom/boss/principal and tell him you keyed my car.* You totally didn’t but will anyone really believe you, you little criminal?

*I would never actually do this. Or would I?

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If a picture is worth 1,000 words …

Then there many, many thousands of words here.

Happy 4th birthday!

Happy birthday to our love.

One and done 

“You guys having unprotected sex lately?”

“Are you ovulating, like, right now?”

Those, ladies and gentlemen, are the questions you may as well be asking me when you constantly poll me re: when we are going to “try” for more babies. Plural. Babies. More. Babies. When I give my answer – a great big smile and a shake of my head, “Nope, we are one and done,” and make some joke about when you hit perfection the first time around you don’t have to try again – I see your faces immediately fall.

“Oh,” you say, and I can almost hear the thoughts running around in your head while you try to sort through and pick one of the many completely inappropriate answers that are eventually going to fall out of your pie hole.

Because you really just can’t help it, I’ve decided. You feel the need to say something. And that something is never, ever, “Okay, cool.” Or, “Hey, that’s great.” Or anything else remotely supportive. Here is a sample of the more popular things you like to say and/or imply.

1. “You just have the one then? Plans for another? No? Oh. Oooohh. I am sooo sorry. I mean, lots of women go through this, maybe if you just, you know, relax.” 

Well … no, I don’t have fertility issues that I am aware of, but really, that’s just none of your business. If I did, having a biological child isn’t the only solution there is to your chorus of “needing to have more babies” anyway. In fact, we have discussed that fact that if we ever did decide to have more children, we would probably adopt, with or without fertility issues. Thanks for the concern, I guess? But in the future? Maybe you shouldn’t pry into anyone’s fertility issues and talk about “relaxing” because that’s just not any kind of helpful. Also maybe just stay out of my uterus next time. That would be greeaaat. 

2. “Oh, that first one must be a handful! Is he a difficult child?”

In fact, I have a wonderfully loving, quirky child who I wouldn’t trade for a million trillion unicorns that poop gold.

3. “I don’t know, I mean, I am just so … maternal. Motherhood is just a calling for me. I just such a mom, you know? I can’t imagine only have one. I guess you just … aren’t quite as maternal.”

Yes, it’s a medical fact that you are not actually a parent until at least two babies have exited your birth canal. It’s totally in medical books. Obviously, I completely lack maternal instinct and am a cold-hearted woman because I don’t fall to pieces at the thought of another baby and the smell of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo (that sweet smelling carcinogen).

People, I fall apart looking at my child. Every. Day. He is the best thing that’s hit this earth for several thousand years as far as I’m concerned. I adore him – possibly too much. But I don’t covet your baby or my neighbor’s baby or some random baby at the grocery store. They are all beautiful, lovely creatures I am sure, but you can wave them and their sweet-smelling heads under my nose all you want – I will not be moved. I will hold them and love them and happily give them back to their mothers who wouldn’t trade them for a million trillion unicorns that poop gold.

4. “But what if something happens to him?”

Ooooh, I see. I should have a backup kid. It’s totally like having a spare tire in your trunk, I think. An heir and a spare. Um … no. There are so many things wrong with that argument I refuse to even pretend it exists.

5. “But who is going to take care of you when you get old?”

So we should have another (the spare) so the current (the heir) isn’t left alone to take care of us in our old age. Interesting. But guess what? I didn’t have child so I would have some sort of nursemaid/retirement plan/medical assistance in my old age. Did you? Probably not the best plan. I would maybe look into some investment and insurance options if I were you.

6. “I mean, I didn’t want another but I did it for little so and so. I just couldn’t do that to them. I feel like it’s cruel to have a child go through life alone like that. And you know how only children are.”

Yes, it is my dearest desire to raise a selfish prat because he thinks he is the center of the universe. I actually know a lot of only children and they are some of my favorite people. They turned out just fine. Really well, even, in spite of the fact that they didn’t have someone who pulled their hair or constantly tattled on them as a child. Also, I know a lot of people with multiple children and one or more of those children are already bigger jacklegs than my only child could ever dream of being, even if we spent literal years worshiping him and telling him the sun rises and sets with him, so your argument is invalid, sir.

7. “Oh, he had colic and reflux. No wonder you don’t want another!”

I admit, those first days and nights were tough. Reflux and colic (his) and self-doubt and pain (mine), do not make the memory of those first days fuzzy and warm. However, I do have enough perspective to know they didn’t last and I would go through it all again for my son without question if I had to. It was rough, but it ended. That wouldn’t actually stop me from having another baby.

8. “But you have to have a girl!”

Thank you for demonstrating your complete lack of knowledge about the reproductive process. Moving on.

9. “Well, I guess it would be nice to have so much time to myself and to have all of that extra money, but family is more important to me than that.”

Well, you’ve hit the nail on the head. We are over here rolling around in the piles of money we aren’t spending on diapers and sippy cups while we laugh at all of you people who were crazy enough to reproduce more than once. You must be looking through our windows. 

If you really, really want to know why we aren’t having another child, here it is … Drum roll please, the ONE reason we are one and done is …

1- We are content. 

We feel complete. And I just know some of you right now are thinking how selfish and horrible that is … but isn’t that what most people say when they decide to have as second or third or fourth? That they don’t feel like their family is complete?

Why is that feeling of completeness only a valid argument for more children, but not for those of us who choose to have just one? We are happy. We are complete. Our child is happy and loved. That’s good enough for us, and it should be for you, too.

And if we ever do decide to adopt our African baby – which is always what I said I would do if I had a second – I look forward to the barrage of inappropriate comments about Ebola and Angelina Jolie-Pitt that will inevitably come. And if we ever decide to have a third, I will look forward to your comments about “knowing what causes pregnancy – heh, heh,” and how we are irresponsible for bringing another child into the world to drink water and use resources and destroy the planet.

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