Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Birthday

December 29, 2011.  My birthday.  I am 41 years old. 

I used to resent being born during this window between Christmas and New Years.  Amid holiday hustle and bustle, company, activities and entertaining, I felt my birthday wasn't special enough--too easily forgotten.  And since we were home for break, I never got to bring cupcakes to share with my class like the other kids in school.

In fact, for a period of my life, I changed my birthday.  A few friends still laugh about the time I announced I had moved my birth date to January 29--sharing the date with my best friend from high school.  Now older, and maybe even a little wiser, I welcome the benefits of my special day.

One advantage is taking a little "alone time" during our winter recess without feeling selfish.  I love having the kids home, my husband home, and the grandparents and aunts and uncles and presents and cookies and adventures, I really do.   I've been cooking quite a bit, which I enjoy,  playing new board games with the kids and curling up with Paul to catch up on old TV shows.   As much as I adore it all, being off of my regular schedule for too long wears me out.  I like to use my birthday as an excuse to clear my head.  In the morning I exercise, working up a great sweat for the first time all week.  I might normally feel guilty leaving Paul in charge all morning but, hey, it's my birthday!

I return to dine with my family on the meal of my request--a big healthy salad.  Presents are opened and I receive my annual birthday phone call from my mother.  (And I woke up complaining of gas pains.  So your father says, 'Well, how far apart are these gas pains?') Besides a few phone calls from friends, I also check the Internet to read the latest 27 happy birthday greetings on my wall.  Gotta love Facebook. 

After lunch, I pamper with a pedicure and redeem a free cup of birthday coffee.  I find a comfy spot to savor my latte and pull out the spiral notebook I had stashed in my bag.  I have come to appreciate my birthday's location on the calendar.  The 52nd and last week of the year is a good time to take stock of myself--to reflect on all that happened during my 40th year and to look ahead to the next.

Journal, check.  Toenails, check.  Yoga, check.  After refreshing my mind, body and spirit I return home ready to welcome our guests.  My dear friend Kristin and family join us for the afternoon and evening.  Because it is vacation, the whole clan makes the trip--a luxury I wouldn't have on just any Thursday during the year.  We get caught up, relax, laugh.  It is all so comfortable.  We feast on Lebanese carryout served on paper plates, saving room for Steve's famous homemade chocolate peanut butter cake.  The adults linger at the table talking over drinks while the girls rehearse silly birthday skits. 

As the festivities come to an end, I get one last Happy Birthday hug and kiss from my pajama-clad family before I nestle beneath the covers.  It was a wonderful birthday.  I wouldn't have it any other way on any other day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our Trash is Katherine's Treasure

Paul is telling Katherine about our weekend plans. "Uncle Stu is coming over this weekend with his pickup truck.  We're going to the dump.  Would you like to ride with us?"

"What are we going to get?" asks Katherine.

"No, honey, we're not getting anything.  We're getting rid of some old scraps and junk," Paul explains.

"But Dad," Katherine protests.  "What if we see something that's very useful?"

loading up Uncle Stu's truck

Katherine is very crafty and extremely creative.  Trouble is, with this combination of talents, everything is potentially useful.  Where I see a lone sock on the dryer, Katherine sees the body of a puppet.  Recently she used one to make a snowman (named Hanes, of course.)

Last month she came home from school holding a giant wall clock.  "Look what I found in the trash--someone threw away a perfectly good broken clock!" she exclaimed excitedly.  Sure enough, she set it up downstairs where she plays school with her dolls.  Soon, telling time is integrated into the lessons. 

While I dream of cleaning out all my closets, Katherine is bringing home the latest treasure from her "dumpster diving" forays.  Sometimes, I am busted when she finds something in our own trash.

Katherine: Hey, what's this Dumdum wrapper doing in the trash?  Mom!  I told you I was saving those.

Me: Oops, sorry.  I forgot.  (Forgot to take the trash out before you came home!)

Katherine's reputation for resourceful craft projects has spread with family and friends.  So I get phone calls such as this: "I've been cleaning out my basement and I have some fabric scraps.  I thought Katherine would like them."  Or this: "I found a box of art supplies that we aren't using.  I thought of Katherine..."

They are right, of course.  With a few scissor snips and a glue gun, the fabric scraps were transformed into camping kits for her dolls--complete with matching sleeping bags.  The latest box of craft supplies has been an invaluable source of inspiration as she constructs handmade Christmas gifts for friends and family. 

To encourage her hobby, I set up a table and some storage baskets in our laundry room so Katherine can have her own craft area.  Little by little, the table is covered with paper scraps, stamp pads, Popsicle sticks and string.  Soon the table's surface is completely hidden.  Refusing to surrender to the confines of an imposed boundary, her artistic workspace spreads to the coffee table in the playroom, the carpet of her bedroom and even the kitchen. 

The aftermath of Katherine's whirlwind of projects sometimes overwhelms her.  A creative genius does not have time to clean as she goes, you understand.  This is when I step in to restore order.  Today I spent the morning replacing glue caps, folding tissue paper and sweeping up piles of glitter.   Katherine is happy to have all her supplies organized--now they are easy to find for the next inspiration.  Now that the basement is put back together, I'm off to the grocery store.  Katherine came home yesterday with several Styrofoam trays and empty milk cartons. 

"Mom, do we have graham crackers and icing?  I bet we can decorate these to look like gingerbread houses."

Katherine and her snowman Hanes

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Staying Ahead of the Curve

"Clearance Sale"

The craft store advertisement catches my eye.  I've been thinking about hanging wreaths from my windows this year.  I've always admired the classic, festive adornments on the homes of others.  With wreaths 50% off, this might be the year to dress up the facade of my own house.  I brave the traffic for a trip to the strip mall and head toward the store in anticipation and excitement.

I'm picturing the finished scene in my mind--maybe some plaid ribbons to hang the wreaths?  And of course a cheerful, lush red bow on each one.  Then Paul can get some flood lamps to spotlight the windows.  Oh!  Maybe I can get a candle to rest on each sill.  I wonder if Michaels sells candles...Ideas are still multiplying in my mind as I step inside the store.  Abruptly, the joyful scene in my mind is replaced with the scene before me: chaos.

This is the season of advent, which literally means "to prepare."  The liturgical calendar tells us we have four weeks to prepare for Christmas.  The staff at Michaels does not share this view.  In their opinion, mid-December is waaaay behind the curve.  They had their holiday stuff out in October, people!  Where were we?  The smart customers snapped up their shopping bargains on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Lights on their evergreens and rooftops have been shimmering since Thanksgiving. 

Those of us braving the store today are the hapless fools, lured in by signs of savings.   With Christmas still almost two weeks away, we are labeled procrastinators.  And let me tell you, the early birds got all those worms weeks ago.  Gone are the candles.  Gone are the lights.  And gone are the red velvety bows.  All that's left are some gaudy plastic poinsettias and a Charlie Brown tree made in China.

By mid-December, these folks are done with Christmas.  The reason they are having a Clearance Sale, people, is so they can clear their store of all this unwanted merchandise to make room for Valentine's Day crafts.  Undeterred, I poke around the half bare shelves and manage to find a few wreaths.  I'm not sure what I'll do about the bows yet--all they had left were a few faded maroon ones, which I left for another customer's buying pleasure. 

This morning I am walking the dog still thinking about my Christmas decorations.  I pass by a neighbor's home decked out for Halloween.  Pumpkins by the door step, window clings of black cats and skeletons on display through the glass, and tired, tattered ghosts blowing from the tree branches.  At first I think they just haven't gotten around to taking it all down.  Now I wonder if they are just trying to get ahead of the curve for next fall.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dry Socks

It is raining at 6:57 a.m.  I know because I look out the window before giving Jack an update on the time.  "6:57!"  I call.  Jack's bus comes every day at 7:02 a.m.  He is supposed to leave at 6:57 to allow time to walk to the bus stop.  Many days he sprints out the door at 7:01.  If he misses the bus, he has to walk the mile to school.  He hasn't missed the bus yet.

Until today.  "Will you give me a ride?" he asks.
I stand firm. "Sorry, Jack.  We have an agreement that you will walk to school if you miss the bus."
"But it's raining," he argues.
"Would you like an umbrella?" I suggest.

Jack retreats back into the house, presumably to retrieve an umbrella for our trek.  He returns empty handed. "Dad said he'd give me a ride!"

Here's what I want to say to Paul at this moment:  "Seriously?  What happened to consistency?  What happened to following through on consequences?  What happened to us being on the same page in our parenting decisions?  And why, if we're going to play good cop-bad cop roles, do I have to be the bad cop?"  I don't say any of those things.  I storm back into the house, grab an umbrella and thrust it into Jack's hands. 

The first part of our walk is quiet, except for the gentle spatters of rain.  Jack is angry and I am stubborn and we make quite a pair, the two of us. Bundled up in rain jackets, our hoods pulled tightly around our faces we walk silently side by side.  Jack keeps the umbrella closed and it swings from his wrist as he moves. Tatum is with us, his soft, thick fur glistening with wetness.  The rain begins to fall harder and Jack breaks the silence.  "Why are you so mean?"

This is a good question and I mull it over. I don't try to be mean.  What, exactly, have I done that is so mean?  Is it mean to follow through on a consequence because the weather is not cooperating? Good parenting should always be consistent and reasonable.  But what happens when you can't be both?  I chose consistent.  In hindsight, reasonable might have been the better option.

As we begin to climb the hill by school, we are in the middle of a torrential downpour.  The sidewalk is flooding as the rain rushes back down the way we came.  There is nowhere to walk except straight through.  My pants are dragging with waterlogged weight and my socks and shoes are completely soaked.

"Jack, I'm sorry.  I don't try to be mean.  I love you and sometimes I think I know what's best for you.  In this case, I think I made a mistake.  We look like two drowned rats."

Now I am no longer feeling stubborn and Jack is no longer feeling angry.  We both just feel cold and really wet.  After dropping Jack off, I return home and pack dry clothes for him.  Then I drive up to school to deliver the bag.

If I could have a "do-over" for the morning, I'm not sure what I would do.  Give him a ride?  Make him wear rainboots and use his umbrella?  Wake him up 10 minutes earlier?  Parenting decisions aren't often black and white.  Sometimes adults make mistakes too.  Maybe I wouldn't change our morning. Maybe the real lesson I taught Jack is this:

When you make a mistake, admit your error, say you're sorry and put on some dry socks.

Postscripts
  In today's paper, I read an article about Wednesday's storm.  "It was truly exceptional as a rain-producer...setting both daily and monthly rainfall records."

  Remember, I didn't say anything to Paul before I left?  When I returned home sopping, to his credit, he didn't say anything to me either. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

I'm Not Complaining But...

"God loves a cheerful giver.  God loves a CHEERFUL giver."  I'm repeating this over and over to myself as I pack. 
Sleeping bag? Check. 
Mess kit?  Check. 
Cheerful outlook?  Rats.  Two out of three ain't bad, right?

It's not that I don't want to spend the weekend chaperoning a Girl Scout camping trip.  Hmmm, well, actually I really don't want to spend the weekend chaperoning a Girl Scout camping trip.  I'd rather stay home.  It's not that I don't enjoy being a Girl Scout Leader--this is true.  I have the pleasure and privilege of working with a wonderful group of 10 year olds.  It's just that tomorrow will be the third Saturday out of the last four that I have spent the day with these lovely girls.  We hiked together on the Billy Goat Trail.  We raked leaves together for our service project clean up.  And now, we camp.  How much togetherness do we need?

Oops, I do not sound cheerful, do I?

I'm dreaming of cozying up by the fire Saturday morning reading the paper and drinking coffee from my new coffee maker.  Then maybe I'll go to yoga with my friend Debbie and fix myself a big salad for lunch.  In the afternoon I'll turn up some festive Christmas music and fa la la as I deck my halls with painted nutcrackers and evergreen wreaths.  Paul and I will put our feet up and enjoy a drink together before I whip up a delicious dinner.  Then we'll end the day snuggled on the couch with a family movie.

Well, I certainly feel more cheerful now but, in reality, staying home will not be more relaxing than my chaperoning duties.  Jack needs to depart for his basketball game at 8:30 am, and Tatum will need a long walk.  The giant history project is due Monday and I'm pretty it hasn't been started.  Then there's the grocery trip that needs to be made in preparation for the 21 people showing up at our house for the church youth group progressive dinner.  We're the salad stop.  If the house could be sorta straight and the toilet clean before company arrives, that would be great.

We're not the only parents who seem to sacrifice every weekend to our children's schedules.  Our kids are in that maniacal age bracket--old enough to be active but too young to drive--and after we sign them up for all these activities we are at their mercy.  Recently I invited a friend over and this was her reply (names changed to protect the innocent): 

"We unfortunately have a really crazy weekend.  There are swim meets and basketball games and  Husband and I have a work party to go to Sat. night which will be very late. Of course now we find out Child 1 has a late BB game too. Sunday I have a swim meet with Child 2 and BB game with Child 3. I'd love to come and thanks for the invite, but I think we will be beat.  I hope they don't have tons of homework too."

When I stop to consider, the camping trip will be just fine.  It's only 24 hours of my life and I'll be sleeping for 8 of them.  (Yes, I know my sleeping may be wishful thinking.)  We're looking at decent weather--not always guaranteed the first week of December.  There will be some creative skits, I'll get to go on a hike, help build a campfire and even get a s'more or two in the deal.  Katherine is thrilled that I'm coming.

When I start to think about having a Saturday all to myself, I realize that in 5 years, my Saturdays may be spent overseeing the college application process.  In just a few short years, I'll have all the Saturdays I want to myself.  This is when I remember that no one is forcing me to be involved in my children's lives.  It's a choice that I make gladly realizing that they do grow up too fast. 

Water bottle? Check.

Bandanna? Check.

Cheerful outlook?  Check.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Squirrel Trouble

"My neighbor Mr. Greenhalgh loves tomatoes," I begin.  "Every year, he carefully plants them in his sunny garden.  He waters them and watches every day as the plants begin to grow."  I continue, telling my class how Mr. Greenhalgh watches the small yellow flowers blossom.  "What do you think happens next?"
The students know.  "The small green tomatoes begin to grow!" 
Slowly, I build the suspense.  I tell them how Mr. Greenhalgh's mouth begins to water as he watches his tomatoes grow big, juicy and red.  I tell them how much he is looking forward to eating his tomatoes.
"Then," I say, "Mr. Greenhalgh has some trouble.  Squirrel trouble."
With lots of dramatic flair, I tell them that the squirrels decide to eat Mr. Greenhalgh's tomatoes. 
"Mr. Greenhalgh runs outside with his fist in the air, like this," I show them.  Then he yells to the squirrels, "Hey you squirrels!  Get off of my tomatoes."   (For the record, I'm not sure if Mr. Greenhalgh ever really did that, but this small embellishment is the best part of the story.) 

I love to share stories of my life with the kindergarteners.  After a few months, they are all familiar with the antics of our dog Tatum, the adventures of my children and various funny tidbits that occur throughout the week.  Occasionally, I will share a story of a friend or relative.  I think it is important that students know me as a person, not just a teacher.  By telling my stories, I hope I am modeling that we all have stories to tell-- little moments of our day that are funny, sad, scary and exciting.   In kindergarten, students practice telling their own stories through oral language, drawing and writing. 

In November, our science unit is squirrels.  It is the perfect time to share Mr. Greenhalgh's story.  Next, I ask the students for advice.  "Boys and girls, does anyone have a suggestion for Mr. Greenhalgh to help him solve his squirrel problem?"  On a large sheet of chart paper, I record their ideas.  Then the students draw and write their solutions down for Mr. Greenhalgh.  Here are some of this year's suggestions:

"Get a scarecrow."

"Mr. Greenhalgh should have a dog."

"He should have two dogs."

"Mr. Greenhalgh and his family can take turns guarding the tomatoes from the squirrels."

"He should get a cat."

"Mr. Greenhalgh you could throw snowballs."

"He should get some small, red water balloons and tie them to his tomato plants.  Then the squirrels will be tricked and get squirted with water when they take a bite."

"Mr. Greenhalgh should build a big fence with a cage on top."
"Mr. Greenhalgh you should plant poison ivy."

"He should buy some squirrel spray."

Of all the advice, my personal favorite didn't tackle the squirrel problem at all but looked at the issue from a different perspective:  "He should ask you for some of your tomatoes."  Yes, Mr. Greenhalgh, you are welcome anytime.  In kindergarten, we learn to share.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Coffee Pots and Marriage

My  coffee maker used to drive me crazy.  An obscure brand, I bought it on sale last year when our old one broke.  The pouring spout was curled around the lip so when I tipped it, the coffee would cling to the edge of the pot and trickle down the side leaving a puddle on the counter.  I would gauge the success of my pour by the number of paper towels it took to clean up.

In the spirit of reducing our paper towel usage, my dear wonderful husband decides to surprise me with a new, beautiful, deluxe coffee maker.

I hate it. 

Our new appliance has a stainless steel pot.  While its opaque finish may be aesthetically pleasing, I have no way of measuring the amount of water in the pot as I fill it.  In addition, its insulated lining means a smaller capacity than our old model.  Not as practical for serving company, I think, as the holidays approach.  Worst of all is the coffee itself, if that's what you want to call it.  More like brown hot water.

Staring down into my steaming mug, I mull over my dilemma.  If I act grateful for a gift I don't like, I will have to drink this excuse for coffee every morning indefinitely.  If I tell the truth, I risk hurting Paul's feelings.  I risk giving him the message that he is not helpful and should just leave the errands to me. 

I decide to be patient.  "Sweetie, I am having trouble with the new coffee maker.  I'm not sure I'm using it correctly.  Could you please try making a pot?"

I watch as Paul carefully measures the grounds.  I watch as he pours in the water.  After it brews, he pours himself a cup of coffee.  He takes a sip.  I notice his nose wrinkle up a little.  "Hmm, seems a bit weak," he says.

"Yes," I agree. I decide this is the perfect time to point out the coffee maker's other deficiencies.  I look at Paul.  He looks crestfallen.  Oh no, I've hurt his feelings!

"Well, I guess I just shouldn't try to do errands for you," he laments. 

I put down my coffee mug and give him a big hug.  "Honey, this coffee pot is not perfect.  But you are perfect for me.  I love you." 

Today Paul and I celebrate our 15 year wedding anniversary.  In a card from his parents, his father writes to us, "Marriage, mirroring life, generally is not a series of ongoing earth-shaking events.  Rather, it is the ordinary day to day routine in which we are given the opportunity to piece together a mosaic of little special happenings into a beautiful picture." 

Nothing earth-shaking happened to me today.  I went to work, walked the dog, returned the coffee maker and chose a new one.  It's probably not perfect either.  It will break someday as well.  But as long as we're able to drink our coffee together, it's perfect for me.  Just like Paul.

November 23, 1996

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pop Pop's Challenges

Question: What do the following items have in common?
A letter to a veteran
An apple pie
A handful of paperclips

We never know quite what to expect when Pop Pop comes to visit but we know it will be stimulating.  Pop Pop loves learning.  When I was growing up, we used to go to the library together.  As I browsed around for my own selections, I remember my dad checking out all sorts of biographies from the youth section to read for himself.  Now that he is a proud grandparent, Pop Pop loves to share his passion for learning with his grandchildren.  And thus began Pop Pop's Famous Challenges. 

Often Pop Pop's challenges begin with something to read.  Once he brought a bird identification book along with the challenge, "Identify five birds outside using the bird book as a reference."  Another time we read a book about a little girl with polio, after which Pop Pop administered a quiz.  One September he brought a book called How To Make An Apple Pie and See the World.  Guess what the challenge was that week?  Mmmm, I still have the recipe. 

When a newspaper article sparks his interest, Pop Pop brings it along.  Once we read an article about two World War II survivors from the 99th Infantry Division who became friends.  Pop Pop had tracked down the address of one, 93 years old, and the kids wrote a letter to thank the veteran for his service to our country.   They were thrilled when he responded! 

Other times, Pop Pop's Famous Challenges are more fun and games.  He will engage Jack in a round of chess or encourage Katherine to beat him playing Blokus.  He regularly brings jokes, riddles and logic puzzles to solve.  "Pretend these paper clips are gold links," he says as he pulls a handful from his shirt pocket.  "and you are the jeweler for the king."  Soon Jack and Katherine are busy manipulating the clips into a necklace, trying to figure out the best design.

Pop Pop's Famous Challenges are occasionally inspired by events in his own life, such as when his dog Nukie was treated by a veterinarian for scabies.  That week's challenge was to create a skit to teach the audience about sarcoptic mange. 

Pop Pop always has a reward for a completing a challenge successfully.  A piece of candy here, a dollar there.  Sometimes a Challenge can be completed in a day; other times it takes longer.  Currently he has challenged Jack and Katherine to read 365 Bible verses during the year and track their progress on a little calendar.  Each quarter he rewards them for their progress by contributing money to their college savings account. 


Pop Pop's graph explaining the merits of a good education

I think the real rewards are more intangible.  Pop Pop loves to share with his grandchildren his enthusiasm for learning.  He is teaching them the value and interest in topics they had never considered.   In this day and age, he is developing a relationship with two young kids that doesn't rely on TV or video games for entertainment.  Just puzzles such as this one:

You're the bus driver.  At the first stop, 4 people get on.  At the second stop, 8 people get on.  At the third stop, 2 people get off.  At the 4th stop, everyone got off.  The question is, What color are the bus driver's eyes?

Answer: Same as yours--you're the bus driver!




Friday, November 11, 2011

11/11/11

We are on a road trip.

In my recollection, this is when it begins.  Whether or not this is true is irrelevant.  I'm telling the story. The way I remember it, we're in the car for a long time so we're conscious of the clock.  We distract ourselves by looking for alphabet letters on license plates and listening to the radio, but we are all the while cognizant of the miles and minutes ticking away, bringing us closer to our destination. 

Someone--probably Katherine--notices the clock has a double number.  "Look!"  She says.  "It's 8:08.  Make a wish."  So we do, closing our eyes for a brief instant and thinking of a silent hope.  And so it goes at 9:09 and 10:10 until we get to 11:11.  This, we decide, is the time for the Macdaddy of all wishes. 

I look around at my family and say, "I love you and you love me.  My wish has already come true."

Who knew my off the cuff comment years ago would create a special significance for 11:11 in our family.  If Paul is at work and he notices the time, he'll email me.  On a busy chore-filled Saturday morning, the kids pause at 11:11 for a family hug.  11:11 has become synonymous with "I love you."

Today is November 11, 2011.  11/11/11.  At first the kids are upset that we won't all be together at 11:11 this morning.  I tell them the beauty of today's special date is that we can say 11/11 anytime at all today and it will always be true.  Tonight, the calendar is free of social plans and obligations.  On 11/11, I'm going to stay home with the people I love.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tennis Elbow

I've got a bona fide case of tennis elbow.  The good news: it is not impacting my tennis game AT ALL!  This may be because I don't play tennis.  Well, I pick up the racquet a few times a year and talk about playing more...but I digress.  This isn't really about tennis at all, It's about keeping a budget.

Yes, there are many benefits to cutting back on work hours but 'more money' is not one of them.   In September we faced the reality of my reduced salary.  At first I think we don't really need a budget.  We're not extravagant spenders and we rarely go out to eat.  How hard can it be?  For a month I track our income and expenses to get a baseline of our spending unchecked.  Guess what I discover?  We need a budget.

Now I could argue that September has some unique expenses--school supplies, gym uniforms, new shoes, school fundraisers...but every month it's always something, isn't it?  I take a look at our receipts to see where we can make some adjustments and tweak our spending habits.  In an effort to reduce our grocery bills, I find myself at the bulk store.

The bulk store definitely has the potential to save money but it takes some effort.  First, I'm learning to plan ahead and cut coupons, which can be time consuming but rewarding.  Next, I realize that I have to buy only what I know we will use.   The bulk dry pasta for $1.00 per lb. is a good deal but the bulk boxes of Chocolate Cheerios that Katherine really, really wanted are getting stale in the pantry.   I'm also comparing the cost of staples.  A gallon of milk at the bulk store is $3.23--that's a whopping 96 cents less than what the grocery store charges. 

As I budget I also learn to be careful.  Who knew saving money could be dangerous?  The tennis elbow was a rookie mistake--trying to pick up a 12 pack of canned soup with one hand while carrying a jumbo-sized laundry detergent in the other.  Then there was the coffee bag incident. 

I usually buy a small bag of good, quality coffee.  This time, I buy a giant bag of inexpensive bulk coffee.  I pour some of the new coffee into the old empty bag and store the rest in the freezer.   Now we can pretend that we are drinking good, quality coffee.  When my mom visits, she doesn't know my new system.  She uses up the coffee and unknowingly throws away a perfectly good empty coffee bag!

The danger comes when I tell her what happened.  After she returns home, she mails me a new empty gourmet coffee bag.   Apparently, however, the post office intervenes.  When my mail arrives, the envelope has been sliced open and the contents inspected.  I remember reading that coffee grounds are sometimes used to disguise the scent of illegal substances from drug sniffing dogs.   I wonder what the postal inspector thought when he opened a bag that smelled like coffee and found...a coffee bag.  Luckily we avoided the SWAT team descending on our house for the drug raid. 

Despite the dangers of being on a budget, I will persevere.  I'm heading back to the bulk store this afternoon.  Right after I finish icing my elbow.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

"Is it almost Christmas?"  Jack asks me this morning during breakfast.  I pause from my grapefruit to look at him.  His hair is still sticking up wildly--the effect of last night's Halloween hairspray.  I'm pretty sure I see remnants of chocolate smudges on his cheek. 

"Christmas?  No.  Christmas is...let's see..." I do a quick mental calculation.  "Christmas is 55 days away." 

"That's coming up," he nods, seriously.  "I'd better get started on my list."

Jack Frost
Halloween was yesterday.  Can't we talk about Halloween?  Let's talk about Jack's costume: Jack Frost.  Last year he was Jack in the Box.  The year before that he was Blackjack after creating a sandwich board with the Ace of Spades behind him and the Jack of Diamonds on the front.   He's already brainstorming theme ideas for next year.  Will he be a Cracker Jack or a Jack Hammer? Only time will tell. 

Let's talk about Katherine's costume: Little Red Riding Hood.  This year I decided to sew her cape--my first garment!  Yes, I got overconfident after hemming one pair of shorts.   I was remembering my own Halloween costumes, among them a witch, a princess and a bride.  Every year mom sewed my Halloween creation.  No store-bought overpriced plastic for me.  I had high-quality, unique outfits year after year.  It made me feel special and loved. 

Mom also had a lot more experience sewing than I do.  I'm proud to say I finished the cape and learned a lot from my mistakes along the way.  I learned to check the price of the pattern before I buy it.  Before I learned this I spent more on the pattern than I did on the actual fabric.  Oops.  I learned that it is worthwhile to vacuum up all the dog hair from the sun room floor before I lay out all my fabric for cutting.  I learned that lining is very slippery and should always ironed on a low setting or it will pucker.   I learned that sometimes, when the directions don't make sense, it's OK to just wing it.  And I learned that the best part is finishing.
Little Red Riding Hood


Katherine loves her cape.  She is so impressed with me and I'm glad when I overhear her tell people, "My mom made my costume!"  She really appreciates the time and effort I put into the project.  "Thank you for making this the Best Halloween ever!" she told me.  It makes her feel special and loved.  Because she is.

Yes, Christmas is just around the corner but I'm not quite ready to turn that corner.  I'm going to keep my Jack O' Lantern on the porch for another day or two.    Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Anxiety Girl Tackles Flying

only, I don't think of her as Anxiety Girl.  I think of her as Adventure Girl.  Or, my best friend.  We've been through a lot of adventures together.  Our first adventures were in a Dilbert-like office where our job descriptions lacked a creative outlet so we made up our own.  We often plotted sitting on the steps outside--a pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia between us and two spoons.    An opportunity arises for her--to leave the office world completely and enter the world of outdoor education.


"What an amazing opportunity!  You can't say no!" I persuade.
"If you think it is so amazing, you should come with me," she responds.


And so we go, the two of us, on a new adventure.  Down to a remote part of Alabama to live in a log cabin on top of a mountain.  Our new job description is hiking, rock climbing, ropes course, teaching, singing and playing.  Weekends we travel to the Smoky Mountains to camp in pouring down rain, to Mardi Gras, to the St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah.    We are passionate about our jobs and our lives.

old photo of a marathon adventure

The passion translates to new opportunities.  I return to school to complete a graduate degree in Education.  She returns to a rewarding career in social work.  Through it all, our adventures continue: a marathon, crazy weekend biking trips, triathlons. 

Soon we include husbands and then babies in our adventures.  But along the way of "growing up" and becoming responsible for our families, a little seed of anxiety sprouted and grew.  Like kudzu, it spread, creeping around until it takes over parts of our lives.

One manifestation of the anxiety is fear of flying.  After several years of avoiding airplanes, I decide to fly.  It wasn't easy.  For weeks before my flight I would burst into tears just thinking about it.  Even seeing airplanes in the sky made my stomach tight.  I spent more time focused on the 90 minute flight than I did thinking about my destination! 

Last week I got an email from my friend about her upcoming family vacation.  "I’m at the point of almost crying every time I think about getting in a plane.  Yuck."   Knowing I recently survived a flight, she asks me for tips.  Here they are:

 My Completely Non-Professional but Effective Flying Tips

Think about the destination:  Whenever you start feeling anxious about flying, force yourself to picture a safe landing.  Picture yourself walking off of the plane feeling happy.  Anticipate the adventures of your vacation.


Plan distractions: I can't focus enough to read on a plane but I like easy crossword puzzles and looking at the pictures in People magazines.  Think of something you enjoy to occupy your mind.


Invest in good headphones: Airplanes are loud and have lots of weird noises.  Bring along your ipod with lots of happy songs and some really good sound reduction headphones.

Set small goals: Break the trip up into 15 minute segments.  Decide on a reward each time.  My rewards always involve chocolate.


Meditate: Sometimes I wonder, instead of worrying about everything and praying as a last resort, what would happen if I prayed about everything and worried as a last resort?  I write down Bible verses on two index cards and carry them with me on the flight.  The first is Philippians 4: 6-8 and the second is Philippians 4:11-13.


Medicate:  Some people like a glass of wine to take the edge off.  I got myself so worked up about my overseas flight that I finally talked to my doctor.  She prescribed a small dose of xanax, which really helped.

Write: I bring my journal on the plane and write about the trip itself.  Here's an excerpt of the entry from my last flight:


8:35 am: I feel nauseous, on the verge of tears and a little shaky.  I've already gone to the bathroom about six times this morning--my bladder succumbing to a state of "nervous pees."  My heart is pounding and I feel a bit of bile collecting at the base of my throat... 8:47 am: We are moving...9:30 am: Regretting the decision to get coffee.  The flight attendant is very friendly but he filled my cup to the brim.  Now, too hot to drink, I am picturing the turbulence spilling it all over my lap...9:40 am: We're going through some clouds.  the plane is swaying and bumping.  I know the turbulence is normal but again I feel a surge of tightness in my chest.  Discreetly, I dab my overactive armpits with my beverage napkin...10:00 am: I'm glad to have finished my coffee...10:10 am: We're starting our descent.  Only 20 more minutes in the air.  Home stretch--I can do it!


And last, but not least, Define yourself:  If you think of yourself as Anxiety Girl, you will be anxious.  You are Adventure Girl, able to fly high above the sky on the way to your newest adventure.  You can do it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pumkinpalooza

The kindergarten classroom is most definitely a place that requires a grin, some grit and a bit of grace.  When dealing with 5 year olds, I always have to be on my toes.  My carefully crafted lessons can get tossed at any time for an unpredictable new direction. 

On Friday I go into Mrs. Y's classroom to help her class with Pumpkinpalooza.  Mrs. Y has 6 different stations of math, science and language arts activities all dealing with pumpkins.

"You have your pick of the stations, Mrs. K.  Which one would you like?" she asks.
"I'll take any station except the carving station," I reply.

Guess which station I get?  Oh that Mrs. Y has a sense of humor, doesn't she now.


comparing the textures of pumpkins
Six groups of children rotate to my table throughout the morning.  Each time, I encourage them to use their senses to compare and contrast the different pumpkins. 

Once we have studied the outside, each group chooses a pumpkin to open. 

"What do you think we will find inside?" I ask.
"Applesauce," one little boy replies.
"Candles," another confidently suggests. 

Once the predictions are made, I review knife safety rules and carefully cut a circle in the top of the pumpkin.  Six times I successfully open various pumpkins without dismembering myself.


Once the inside is exposed, the different personalities of the children emerge.  To some, this is the most disgusting activity ever and they can't wait to (literally) wash their hands of it all.

"This smells like rotting garbage," a girl moans holding her nose.

Other students are excited to have permission to get messy and are picking up handfuls of freshly scooped pulp and seeds. 

"This feels just like raw chicken," exclaims one little boy.  I wonder how he knows. 

Another girl is inhaling deeply-- her entire face mashed against the pumpkin's opening.  "Mmmm," she sighs contentedly, "It's like fresh cantaloupe."

Soon it is time to clean up.  I choose two of the pumpkins and carve simple Jack O'Lantern faces just to make the kids smile.  I figure I owe them, since they kept me laughing all morning with their observations.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Celebrating Fall

To Do List: October

1. Fall hike with autumn views
2.  Cox Farm trip to choose a pumpkin
3. Neighborhood "Boo" basket
4. Fall Decorations
5. Halloween costume constructions
6. Boo at the Zoo
7. School Fall Festival
8. Kindergarten Halloween Party
9. Jack O'Lantern carving
10. Trick or Treating

It's a good thing I'm working fewer hours because I need all the extra time I can get to celebrate fall!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

One Day

What a difference one day makes.  Yesterday morning we were arriving in Asheville excited and anticipating our weekend.  Tonight we prepare for departure--our bags full with laundry, our camera full with pictures and our minds smiling with memories of our too-short vacation.
Since our last trip to visit my brother, much has changed.  The old carport is now a workshop for Bobby's glass blowing business.  The weedy back yard has been transformed into a working garden with several raised beds and new fruit trees. 

Bobby showing off his prize tomatoes...soon to be our lunch!
 Most noticeable, of course, was the replacement of the three roommates with Julie and three beautiful children.  Any initial shyness dissipated as Clay and Reed began demonstrating their skills with duct tape.  Soon, Jack and Katherine joined the fun making wallets, bow ties, headbands and other creations. 
Katherine and Reed having fun with duct tape.
 Meanwhile, we are getting lots of snuggle time with the happiest, cutest baby ever!
Aunt Allison and Uncle Paul with Blossom
Downtown Asheville kept us occupied in the afternoon with three different festivals and a political rally all within walking distance. 
Enjoying Fiesta Latina

Meandering around all afternoon makes everyone hungry so we decide to get some local flavor for dinner.  Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company is an old, converted movie theater that serves amazing pizza (walnuts on pizza, yum!) with its freshly brewed beer.  We sit in the game room and feed the kids quarters which they, in turn, feed into skee-ball games to their heart's content.  In the background, old black and white Munsters episodes play silently on the big screen. 
After dinner we build a fire in Bobby's fire pit and roast hot dogs and marshmallows until the moon rises and our eyelids droop.
Bear on the lookout for extra hotdogs.

 
Morning begins by driving south on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The road is lined with sloping hills of goldenrod before a backdrop of tall, narrow evergreens. In contrast, are trees blushing with autumn.  Lush, verdant carpets speckled with garnet, amber and rust stretch out in the morning sun.   We stop to hike by a waterfall and watch the boys climbing and leaping over the rocks. 
Later in the afternoon we are treated to a hilarious, unconventional tour of Asheville on a big purple bus. 
Enjoying our root beer on the tour

What a wonderful weekend visiting Bobby and meeting Julie, Clay, Reed and Blossom.  Yesterday we were strangers.  Today we are family.  What a difference one day makes.
 
 


 







Thursday, October 6, 2011

9:30--Past My Bedtime?

"I have an extra ticket to see Ben Harper at the 9:30 Club.  Do you want to go?"

When Bonnie calls, I don't even hesitate to say yes to a night on the town with the girls.  Never mind that it is a school night and I don't have a clue who Ben Harper is.  This night has adventure written all over it.

Pre-adventure routine when I was 25:
  • take a nap
  • plan outfit for evening
  • fuss over extra mascara
  • grab cash from ATM

Pre-adventure routine tonight:
  • take Katherine to Girl Scout meeting
  • plan to leave dinner on stove
  • fuss over Jack's homework
  • grab cash from Paul's wallet
Once downtown, we eat dinner at a very trendy place.  I know it is trendy because the decibel level is so loud that we can't actually talk to each other so we just sit and look cool.  Also, I know it is trendy because our waitress has an asymmetrical haircut and the wine is $9 a glass.  The 20somethings that had time to take a nap earlier are playing bocce ball in the courtyard.  I wonder if a round of bocce ball is cheaper than a glass of wine.

After dinner, we head to The 9:30 Club.  Some people think the name of this concert venue refers to the time when shows begin.  Actually, the reference is to it's original address at 930 F Street, NW. That was 15 years ago.  Now we arrive at 815 V Street and make our way past the bouncers, pausing to get our hands inked with proof of our adventure.

There are a lot of people at the 9:30 Club.  It is a sold out show in a standing-only venue.  I try to walk and discover my shoes are stuck to the floor.  This is the kind of place where the bathroom stalls are out of toilet paper early in the evening.  When we finally wind our way around to a place where I can kinda sorta see the stage, a tall guy with huge hair stands in front of me. 

My view of the stage
It is really fun to people watch at a place like this.  There seems to be a certain dress code at the 9:30 Club and it is not preppy. There were, however, grown men wearing full Oktoberfest costumes with the little shorts and the embroidered suspenders.  The sleeves you see here are often not blouses, they are tattoos.  And several guys had these giant discs which appeared to be somehow implanted in their earlobes.  Their earlobes were the size of silver dollars. 

As for Ben Harper,  I didn't know many of his songs.  That's OK--I love listening to live music and being with my friends.   It is worth staying up past my bedtime every once in a while.  Next time, I'll remember to pack my own toilet paper.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday Night Fever

Sleep deprived, I'm feeling a bit punchy.  With apologies to Elisabeth Kubler Ross and her Five Stages of Grief, may I present my very own conclusions of research:

Five Stages of Staying Home with A Sick Child

Stage 1: Denial
Tuesday.  Jack mentions that he doesn't feel good.  He has a headache and his body hurts.  "Drink lots of water," I tell him.  Jack's not one for complaining so I take his temperature.  The thermometer reveals a low grade fever of 100.1 degrees.   "You just need a good night's sleep. I'm sure you'll be fine in the morning." 

Stage 2: Enjoyment
Wednesday.  There's some pleasure in the unexpected sick day.  After a trip to the doctor rules out strep, Jack and I have a little fun.  The ibuprofen kicks in and there's a false sense of improvement as his fever temperature drops.  We play a few games of Farkle and watch Spongebob Squarepants in the middle of the afternoon.  We make study cards for the upcoming 7th grade science test and I learn quite a bit about the 8 biomes of Earth.  (Well, I had fun doing that...I make no promises for Jack.)

Stage 3: Worry
Thursday. The virus, or whatever it is, crawls into the upper respiratory area of Jack's torso, giving him relentless coughing fits.  He complains that he is cold and wraps himself in several quilts.  His fever spikes at 103.5.  I call the doctor back, but she still seems convinced that the virus needs to run his course.  His room is equipped with the humidifier and I slather vapor rub over his chest.  I try opening his windows for fresh air at points, and am wiping down surfaces with disinfectant.   His fitful naps are short and his calls for Mommy come often.  Sometimes he coughs so much that he gags, bringing up what little food he's eaten.  I add laundry to my list of things to do. 

Stage 4: Frustration
Friday.  There is little change in Jack's health, except I think the cough is getting worse.  Last week, when everyone was the picture of rosy health, I agreed to substitute for a teacher at school today.   I can't believe Jack still hasn't kicked this thing!  Last night I tried, in vain, for an hour to get someone to fill in for me.  A sub for the sub.  Twenty (no I'm not exaggerating) phone calls later, I give up.  Now I am paying a babysitter $15 per hour to stay home with my sick son so I can go to school and substitute for $14 per hour.  There is something wrong with this picture.

Stage 5: Exhaustion
Saturday.  Did I mention that our dog is upset by coughing?  He's also pretty neurotic about wind.  So to have a coughing child on a windy night just about put Tatum over the edge.  Paul and I took turns getting up to tend to Jack and the dog.  At one point Jack's pajamas are soaked through with sweat.  In the morning the thermometer confirms my hopeful suspicion-- the fever broke.  He is tired, still weak and still coughing.  But I know the worst is over.  Let the convalescing begin.  We're too tired to do anything else.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Email Diet

Procrastination technique # 1: Check my email
Procrastination technique # 2: Check my email

Hey, if I find something that works, I stick with it.

When I wake up, checking my email is a prelude to starting the day.  Before my head hits the pillow at night, one last check.  Oh, and did I mention the several times in between?  Increasingly, I've become aware of what a giant waste of time this is. 

First of all, I'm just not that important.  We're not talking about emails from senators, people.  We're talking the Groupon deal of the day and a notice that my new contacts have shipped.  Also, the process of checking to make sure nothing is new is getting more complicated.  I've checked my work email, so as long as I'm here I'll take a quick peek at staff news and my home account.  Oh, better check Facebook too--real  quick, only take a minute.

In addition, at least one email will inevitably lead me off on a tangent.  I receive a list of the contents of my weekly vegetable delivery. Hmmm, beets?  Three websites and 20 minutes later, I've found a lovely recipe for a roasted beet and fennel salad.   The email says my library books are due soon...which reminds me to check the library website catalog to see if The Book Thief is available but it's checked out.  I try to put it on hold but I can't log in because I can't remember my pin number.  I thought I had it written down in this notebook but there are so many different usernames and passwords in here that I can't find it.  Maybe I should type these up and organize them....

I'm sorry, where was I?   I may admit my procrastination problem but my heightened awareness has done little to curb this addictive habit.  Now that I have a flexible schedule with work, my problem seems to be getting worse.  I have to be self disciplined about getting things done and I mean to start that project... right after I check my email.  Enough is enough.  I'm going on an email diet.  Starting right now I am going to limit my online activity to once per day for the next 3 weeks.  Honestly, my hands started shaking as I wrote that.  I think I feel a headache coming on. 

Be nice to me.  I've heard withdrawl is not pretty.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sew What?

I will never be Martha Stewart.  Not that I'm complaining.  But sometimes I look at my crafty friends with a little envy.  I have friends who knit, friends who sew, friends who design their own adorable greeting cards for every occasion.  Last week I heard from a friend who is making a chandelier out of wooden clothes pins.  I am awaiting the picture.  She says it is heavy.  (Amy-maybe consider a decorative wastebasket instead of a lamp that hangs from the ceiling??)

Now that I am working fewer hours, I've resolved to make time for some projects that take me out of my comfort zone, just a little.  First stop, my sewing machine.  It's ten years old but runs like new.  Probably because I never use it.  Oh, I dust it now and again and plug it in when my mom comes in town to help with a project.  Today I'm on my own.  I have two small projects: sewing several Girl Scout badges onto a vest and hemming a pair of pants.



First, the badges. It's a little tricky to sew in a circle but I have to admit that it's going rather smoothly.  Slowly at first, and a little crooked, but I'm getting the hang of it.  If you stand back and squint, the vest looks pretty good.   Now, onto the pants which I've decided to make into shorts. I cut the pant legs, fold the hem under and pin the sides.  I try on my new shorts to make sure the edges look straight before I sew.  OUCH.  Next time I won't use so many pins.  I'm ready.

Success!  I know you crafty sewers are laughing--I believe hemming pants is cause for celebration.  Scoff all you want--I'm happy.  And, bolstered by a small success, I'm wondering what to tackle tomorrow.

Here's Katherine modeling her vest full of badges and me in my "new" shorts!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Camping

Just back from our 7th annual neighborhood camping trip.

Now, I know there are some who will tell me I can't call it camping when I pack my own mattress pad.  These outdoor enthusiasts probably roll their eyes when they hear that we actually have cabins with mattresses in the first place.

Well, I looked it up and here's what Webster has to say about camp: a place usually away from urban areas where tents or simple buildings (as cabins) are erected for shelter

There's nothing in the dictionary that disqualifies me for packing my own coffee maker.

Luray, Virginia is less than two hours from home situated at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains.  On Saturday we drove down Skyline Drive to explore the White Oak Canyon Upper Falls trail.  After the crazy rain we had last week I had a renewed appreciation for a warm, sunny September walk in the woods.  The squirrels must have felt the same way, scampering back and forth across the trail.  Deer peeked out through branches dappled in sunlight.  After a few miles, we had worked up an appetite and a slight sweat.  We sat on some rocks beside the waterfall pools to enjoy our picnic lunch and let the kids splash around. 



Tired, wet and happy, we headed back to camp for the evening to circle up by the campfire.  Over the years, we've had different daytime excursions but our evening routine is always the same.  First we grill some burgers and hot dogs, then we roast marshmallows for s'mores.   Dog-eared copies of our neighborhood song book are passed around as guitars are tuned.   Kids and adults both call out requests for favorites... funny ones like Do Your Ears Hang Low and Yellow Submarine mixed with more traditional selections by John Denver.

I could get used to the relaxed pace, the absence of phone or email, the togetherness of friends.  Sunday morning arrives a little too soon.  On our return trip, we stop at a local apple orchard and pick a bushel--a little souvenir of our adventure.  Back home, we'll have pictures, memories and an apple pie. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Take Me out to the Ball Game

Katherine's first day of 5th grade
While officially still summer, this week marks the unofficial beginning of fall in our home.  School begins and football season starts.  Sometimes Jack's homework is like a football game. It can take about 4 hours to watch but there's only 60 minutes of actual playing time.

Tonight Jack does not have four hours because he is on his way to a Nationals baseball game.   Paul and I have a different opinion of this game.  One of us (I won't tell you who) feels strongly about the significance of this particular baseball game.  Steven Strasburg is scheduled to return to the Majors tonight to pitch.  What an opportunity to watch history!  The other one of us wants to emphasize the importance of starting a new school year off  right by organizing school supplies, eating a healthy dinner and getting a good night's sleep.

In the interest of preserving our happy marriage, we devise a compromise.  Jack agrees to complete all his homework before departure.  I'll pack a healthy dinner for the road.  Paul will leave the park early, promising to have Jack home and in bed by 10pm.

Jack's ready for7th grade
But first, the homework.  He has to write a paragraph.  First, I try letting him work independently.  Then I try offering advice.  As the clock ticks, I can feel the tension rise from my shoulders to my neck muscles and into my clenched jaw.  "Jack, you don't have a lot of time to get this finished."

"Mom, you are rushing me," he accuses.  Well, yes, I am.  Because we are in a hurry here.  He gets it done--not his best effort--and leaves for the game.   All that scrambling and aggravation.  Is it worth it?

Around 9pm the phone rings.  "Mama?  We're on the way home.  Thank you for letting me go to the baseball game tonight.  I promise I'll get all my homework done tomorrow.  I love you."

Yes, it was worth it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A New Title

Kindergarten Coach?  Too cutesy.
Curriculum and Assessment Consultant? Too stuffy.

The signature on my outgoing work emails includes my old title "Kindergarten Teacher."  Monday was my first day of work in my new capacity as an hourly employee.  Rather than working full-time this year, I'll be working part-time to help support the new kindergarten teachers.

"What are you going to do?" people keep asking.  I'm looking for a short answer to describe my new role--a new job title. The honest answer is that I'd like to do whatever is most helpful.  Having taught kindergarten for the past 4 years, I'm happy to help in any capacity.  I hope to help some with curriculum development as our school expands to a full-day K program.  I'm available and trained to administer the standardized assessments.  Of course, I'm delighted to work with the students and spend time in a classroom.

The problem I'm having is that my new title ideas somehow allude to my being in charge or being an expert.  That's not at all the case.  The three new kindergarten teachers are all experienced and bring different strengths to contribute.  Having the chance to work with them this year will provide opportunities in learning and growth for me personally.  Meeting together will push us to develop, stretch and improve as educators.  Spending time collaborating and learning from each other make us all more effective teachers. 

Thinking this all through, I edit my outgoing email signature.  I position my cursor after "teacher" and backspace 4 letters.  Then I add an "m."

Now, under my name, it says "Kindergarten Team."  I'm a part of the K Team.  I'm really excited!

Go Team!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Surviving the Tweener Years

Jack celebrating his 12th birthday this summer.
Hmmm.  Maybe instead of "The Year of Allison" I should call this period of my life "Surviving the Tweener Years."  I'm heading into uncharted territory with Jack.  At 12, he is growing up.  He's lost his last baby tooth and is no longer ordering off the children's menus. He's old enough that he doesn't want a babysitter, but too young to make good decisions on a consistent basis.  (Just last week he asked for matches so he and his buddies could build a fire in the front yard.  They were genuinely shocked to find out that, in my opinion, this was not a brilliant plan.)  Although he shows signs of maturity, he's still far from adulthood. 

Today was the first day of middle school orientation.  Jack prepared for his first impression of 7th grade with, it seems to me, an entire can of Axe Deodorant Body Spray.  While Jack seems ready, I'm the one who is nervous.  What do I do when he comes out for breakfast surrounded by a cloud of cologne?  Gasp for air?  Tell him to only use half the can next time?

What about the band aid covering the scab on the bridge of his nose?  Will other 7th graders think that is cool or dorky?  And is it really better to have a messy locker like the other boys or should I shell out the $25 for the middle school fundraiser and purchase a locker organizer?

If Jack isn't apprehensive about any of this, I certainly don't want to impose my awkward middle school memories on him.  I just want to be prepared.  New school, new schedules, new changes to a growing body--there's bound to be some angst on my horizon.  One minute he's my sweet child who still wants to snuggle and read next to me.  The next minute he's pushing the limits of independence by refusing to practice his guitar.  

I know there's no parent handbook for surviving the teenage years.  I pray I can be patient more often than not.  I hope I can maintain a sense of perspective.  I want to keep my sense of humor.  And when all else fails, I know there's wine in the pantry!