Archive | February, 2011

I Am That Mom; Hear Me Roar

28 Feb

Today, I was going to write about needing a third breast, but I’ve always said that the greatest challenge in parenting is the uncertainty of every moment. One minute you’re thinking you’ll write about needing a third breast and the next you’re writing about being “That Mom.”

I try, on the whole, to be amusing in my musings. But today that just doesn’t seem to want to happen. Call it a confluence of events, but the stars have aligned in such a manner that I find myself royally pissed off. I guess I should have ended that last sentence with the word “angry” so that I wouldn’t end it with a preposition, but “angry” doesn’t have the explosive “P” (pun intended) in it that makes “pissed off” such a satisfying description of how I feel at this moment.

For the first time since she was three years old, my daughter said, “I don’t want to go to school.” Actually, she sobbed, “I don’t want to go to school.” Now, my daughter dawdles. I routinely tell her to go to the car at least 10 minutes before we need to leave. In her world, re-reading the latest issue of American Girl magazine is a vital part of getting from kitchen to car. As is training the dog to stay. Brushing the teeth can be easily forgotten. Playing with mom’s eyelash curler cannot. But today’s tears were not about dawdling.

When my son was in grade school, “I don’t want to go to school” invariably meant that he was being tormented by one of the other boys in class. Now that he’s in high school, “I don’t want to go to school” is a static state. I’m sure he enjoys the hormone-charged cacophonous chaos that is his school, but if he ever said, “Man, I can’t wait to get to school, today,” we would have to up his meds.

My daughter is a good student. Her parent-teacher conferences are a pleasure. I don’t bring a list of questions or stacks of research, as I may have done for another child who lives in our home. Hell, I don’t even bring my husband most of the time. I walk in and sit down. The teacher says, “Your daughter is doing great. Do you have any questions?” I don’t. My daughter likes school. She does well in school. She has friends. No one is bullying her. So, why would she tell me, “I don’t want to go to school.”?

My daughter doesn’t want to go to school because it is ISAT week. For those not in Illinois, ISAT stands for Illinois Standards Achievement Test. The ISATs are the tests used to judge the effectiveness of Illinois’ schools. ISAT scores dip too low and schools “fail to meet adequate yearly progress,” as determined by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Fail to meet AYP enough times and seriously bad things happen at the school, including the possibility that administration and all of the teachers might be fired. The ISAT is what they call a “high-stakes test.”

For weeks now, my daughter has been inundated with messages about how important it is for her to do well on the ISATs. There have been pep rallies. There have been practice sessions. Her class made “Rock ISATs” shirts with their names stenciled across the back, as if they are so many gridiron warriors out to defeat the terrible test monster. They’ve been playing “Minute to Win It” games to sharpen their test-taking skills. Last week, she brought home a “Be Like Bud” checklist. Check off the good test-taking strategies and she’ll be just like “Bud.” Don’t make the right choices and she’ll be a test-taking “Dud.”

Well, who do you think my daughter wants to be? She’s a girl, for crying out loud. And, though millions of bras were burned before she was even born, she still has an overwhelming desire to please others. Compound that with the “I was adopted so I need to make you happy” issues. Of course, my daughter wants to be like Bud.

What does all this have to do with being “That Mom”? (Let’s forget for a few moments the completely sexist use of the name “Bud” for the “good test taker.” There are only so many things that can yank my crank on any given day.) I’m sure I’m not the only mom who had to cope with ISAT meltdown this morning. But I am one of the moms that is going to get her shorts in a bunch and write a bunch of letters to the people responsible for my daughter’s anxiety. I’m going to be “That Mom,” the one who gets in your face when you mess with her kid.

I am going to get in the face of whoever’s brilliant idea it was to put so much pressure on an eight-year-old girl that she can’t stop crying. I’m going to do it not because I can’t stand to see my child cry. I can stand that. I stand it all the time. I stand it over chores, I stand it over candy, I stand it over every little thing I’ve done that she thinks isn’t fair. But I’m not going to stand it over something that really isn’t fair.

It isn’t fair that my daughter is being forced to bear the burden of a society that has gone insane over its educational system. My son took the very same test when he was in third grade. His school made just enough of a deal of it. His teachers prepared him for it by explaining what was expected and having the students practice. He did great; his teachers were pleased. That was six years ago.

A lot has changed in six years. The issues involved are many and complicated. Our country, ever desirous of being first and best, is not the best at educating children. I think it’s Finland this year overall and I’m pretty sure Singapore is doing a bang-up job in math. We look for an easy answer: the teachers and principals must suck. We threaten them with their jobs. They feel the pressure. The pressure gets pushed off on our children. In grade school, it makes our children cry. In high school, it can drive them to suicide.

I am That Mom. I am going to write letters. I am going to do it for my child. I’m going to do it for her best friend who will be in third grade soon. I’m going to do it for the boys I’m tutoring right now who are getting my services for free because their school can’t meet AYP. Five weeks ago, they couldn’t read English. Last week, they could. I feel good knowing my NCLB tax dollars can go for more than driving a child to tears.


Little Tract House on the Prairie

21 Feb

I had an interview with a creative talent agent recently. She was young. She was hip. She was urban; definitely a City Chick. “All of your work is really old,” she said. Ever cheerful, I said, “Ah, but I have a blog. I write and publish every week. It’s funny and lots of people like it.” She seemed impressed that I had been doing it for months.

She asked to see my blog. Her eyes shone when she pointed to the computer in the room and said, “Well, let’s take a look at it!” I pulled my blog up on the computer. “So, what is your blog about?” said City Chick. “It’s a humorous take on life in the suburbs,” I said. City Chick’s eyes glazed over like she’d taken a trip on a Krispy Kreme conveyor belt. Her mouth fell slack. You could hear the pigeons in the park thirty floors down.

City Chick didn’t read one word of my blog. That week’s post has one of my best lines in it but City Chick didn’t care; my blog is about suburban life, therefore it is of no interest to City Chick,

I used to be a City Chick. I lived in Chicago for years, both as a single and a married chick. My husband and I had a terrific apartment. We both worked downtown and took public transportation. Everything we wanted was within walking distance, including the beach. Like all proper City Chicks, I disdained the suburbs as a cultural wasteland. Then, my husband lost his job. Doing a little accounting, which is about how much accounting I can tolerate, revealed that we’d be better off owning a home. After a brief detour, we bought a house in Oak Park.

Oak Park is the suburbs for people who don’t want to think they live in the suburbs. There are nice parks, beautiful old homes and plenty of public transportation. Oak Park served us well for many years, though my husband might disagree. We had a beautiful old home. He would tell you that we had a mouse-infested old money pit. Oh, and the roof leaked. The roof leaked almost the entire nine years the house owned us. At one point, the roof leaked into the living room, the dining room and the family room. Many thousands of dollars later, the roof only leaked in the family room above the fireplace and only if it rained really hard. It wasn’t raining the day we sold the house.

A number of circumstances lead to our move from Oak Park. Finances played a role, as did the school needs of our son and the societal needs of our daughter. I made a list of our wants and needs. I wanted a big yard. My husband wanted a new house. Our son needed school programs for gifted children. Our daughter needed to live near other Chinese people. One location fit all our needs: Naperville.

Naperville. I was barely able to hide my derision. Surely, there must be some mistake. I, former City Chick, could not possibly move to Naperville. If any suburb were to me the epitome of suburban-ness, it was Naperville. Still, my research couldn’t be denied. The schools were good, my research said. The houses were affordable, my research said. The Chinese community is the largest outside of Chinatown, my research said. I will check it out, I thought. Surely it will be hideous.

So, I checked out Naperville. I found that a river runs through it, quite literally, giving the downtown area a quaint charm. I found houses I could afford that my husband would want to own. I found good schools. I found lots and lots of Chinese people. My research wasn’t flawed. We moved to Naperville in 2005.

I have a love/hate relationship with Naperville. Our house is relatively new but lacks in character. Still, there are no mice in the basement, the roof doesn’t leak and there are no carpenter ants, probably because there was no real wood used in the construction. Maybe some day a genetically mutated ant will emerge that grows to gargantuan proportions living on a diet of engineered wood. Until then, my windowsills will continue to act like pop-up sponges, growing larger with every heavy downpour.

The schools are terrific. There are good parks, though a shade structure or two would be nice in the newer ones. You can practically hear the children sizzle as they clamber over the play equipment. The downtown area is cute and we even have an Apple Store. Now, if they could just solve the parking problem.

Before I moved to Naperville, my image of the Naperville woman was a white lady in mom jeans, driving her silver minivan full of children to swim meets, piano lessons and soccer practice. While there are lots of minivans, the women and men behind the wheel are every color of the ethnic rainbow and speak every language imaginable. At one point, the families on our cul de sac (of course I live on a cul de sac . . .it’s Naperville!) included Taiwanese, Indian, Guatemalan and us. I worked at a preschool where I taught Spanish to Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican and Korean children. I think there were four white kids.

What I love most about Naperville, though, is the wildlife. City Chick may have it over us with nightlife, but it really gets wild out in Naperville. Chicago has its pigeons, Oak Park has its rats, Naperville has nature. One evening, early on in our life here, I overheard my daughter making coyote noises on the deck. When she got an answer, I hustled her into the house. In the city, people walk their pocket dogs because they have no yard. In Naperville, people walk their pocket dogs to keep the hawks from turning them into lunch.

When I lived in the city, I rode my bike along the lake and cursed the runners on the bike path. In Naperville, I run in the prairie preserve where I curse the cyclists and horse riders. But I can’t stay vexed for long. I fell in love with Naperville on the prairie trails. At the end of a long run last fall, I rounded a curve then struggled up a hill. Before me lay acres of burnished copper grass, swaying in the wind. The sky was clear, the sun was gentle. I was hot and sweaty and utterly alone with nothing but the land the way it was hundreds of years ago.

City Chick may look down her nose at my suburban life and maybe some day I’ll move back to Chicago. But, right now I’ll trade the Crobar (people still go to the Crobar, right?) for my little tract house on the prairie.

Talk The Talk

14 Feb

When I signed on to be a parent, I knew that sooner or later I would need to have “the talk” with my child. I figured it would be later—much later—say, in high school or college, maybe even grad school. Yeah, grad school would be good. No such luck.

I had the first “talk” with my son in pre-school. He was a cute little guy and was being pursued by little girls on the playground. Little boys are physical. They push, they shove, they wrestle. Little girls don’t, but they aren’t any less physical. Little girls love to steal kisses. The problem for my son was that he was being told to keep his hands to himself but no one was telling the girls to keep their lips to themselves. So we had a talk about touch, as in, “No one should touch you if you don’t want to be touched,” followed by, “No, you may not hit the girls if they try to kiss you.” I concluded with “Yes, I will tell the teacher it isn’t fair for the girls to kiss you if you can’t push them.”

Several years later, my son went with his class to a place where they would learn about “health.” I was glad. I figured it got me off the talk hook for at least another year or two. The day he went, I had some anxiety. When I was his age, we had a similar special class. They called it “sex education” then. I don’t recall a word of it. At this point, it is important for you to know that I have two siblings. My mother told me I came home from school that day and said, “Mommy! Dad had three erections!” She also told me she said, “He had more than that!” My son came home without a single comment. I sighed with relief. My son knew what he needed to know about sex—sorry—health.

Perhaps three years later, I discovered he did not know what he needed to know about sex, I mean, health. My son knew about erections and eggs and sperm and embryos and fetuses and how to make them. He knew that sex felt good and that sex was something two people who loved each other would want to do. In short, he had all the information necessary to make a baby and no information on how to not make a baby. This, to me, was a problem.

“So,” I said, “they told you how to have sex.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Did they tell you about birth control?”
“Yeah. They said it doesn’t work.”
“Really? They said it doesn’t work at all?”
“Yeah. Basically.”
“Son,” I said. “How many children do dad and I have?”
“Two,” he said.
“And how many times do you think dad and I have had sex?”
He said nothing. We were in the car so he could stare straight ahead while his mother embarrassed the crap out of him.
“All of our friends have only the exact number of children that they wanted to have. Use your brain. Do you still think birth control doesn’t work?”
“MOM!” he said.

Eager to fill the holes in his health education, I bought a package of condoms. I didn’t feel this was premature. He had a girlfriend, for crying out loud. I asked his father to show him the condoms. He declined. I asked his father if he wanted to talk to his son about condoms. He said, “No.” I asked his father if he ever wanted to talk to his son about anything related to sex. He said, “No.”

So, there I was with a package of condoms and a son with a girlfriend. I told my son that I had a package of condoms. He looked at me with horror in his eyes. I told him I would leave them in his room and he could check them out when he was comfortable. I left his room, patting myself on the back for being a great, open-minded mom. When I went to my own room later that night, the package of condoms was on my bed, unopened. The next day, I placed the package of condoms on my son’s desk chair before he came home from school. That night, the unopened package was on my bed. I took it to my son and placed it on his desk. He threw it at me. I threw it back at him. For about a week, we lobbed the package of condoms back and forth. The condoms are stashed away for now, but the next time he has a girlfriend, I’m tossing them his way.

I have realized that sex isn’t the only thing that warrants a talk. Drugs get a talk, too. I like the method reported by one of my son’s friends. This girl, we’ll call her “Anna,” was sitting in her room, reading magazines, and listening to music. Her mother came in the room, picked up a magazine and started flipping through the pages. Anna thought her mother’s behavior a little odd, but welcomed it. They exchanged a little small talk, but mostly just flipped through magazines together. Finally, Anna’s mother closed the magazine, tossed it on Anna’s bed and said, “You never do drugs!” then left the room.

Most talks are uncomfortable for my son and me, but we usually get through them. I have developed a set of rules. Keep it as impersonal as possible. Keep an open mind. Remember that “Hmph” is a legitimate teenage response.
I had a talk with my son recently that had me blowing all of my rules. I discovered clean, folded laundry in my son’s dirty laundry hamper. When I tell other mothers that I discovered clean, folded laundry, they invariably have the same response. Their eyes narrow, their lips harden, their brows furrow. “Clean and folded?” they growl.

I asked my son, “Do you know what I found in your hamper?” He said, “Hmph.” I said, “Clean . . .folded . . .laundry.” He said, “Hmph.” “You’ll be doing your own laundry after today.” He said, “Hmph.” I said, “Do you understand?!” “I get it!” he shouted back and stomped up to his room.

He’ll cool off. I’ll cool off. Eventually, we’ll be able to be in the same room together and then we’ll have another talk. It’s the one where I say, “I love you and I’m sorry I lost my cool.” And he’ll say, “Hmph.”

Bring It Up Again, Sam

7 Feb

I’ve told my children lots of stories since they were little. Some of the stories came from books. Some I made up myself. I remember telling my son a story about a blue frog that got separated from the other blue frogs and had to find his way back to blue frog land. I was planning on having the blue frog go through many adventures, with my son rapt. He would love this story so much, I thought, that it would become his favorite and every night he would ask me to tell him the story of the blue frog. He hated the story of the blue frog. He was so upset about the frog being separated from the other frogs that he began wailing, “No! No!” He didn’t stop wailing until I said, “The frog turned around, saw millions of other blue frogs and they all lived happily ever after. The end. Good night.”

I do know some stories that my children like to hear again and again. Unfortunately, they all involve puke. For some reason, my kids think puking and stories involving puking are just hilarious. I’m pretty sure my kids aren’t unique in this. My daughter’s best friend is frequently at our house, so has heard at least one or two of our family puke stories and has laughed along with the rest of us.

More of these stories feature my son because he seems to have the weakest stomach in our house. I would think that the person who the stories are about would not find these stories at all amusing. I know I don’t get a big kick out of recounting the times I’ve lost my lunch. But, my kids laugh hardest at the stories about them. My son, for instance, regularly tells friends about the time he vomited all over the Legos at aftercare. “Yeah, I was just sitting there, playing with the Legos and, all of a sudden I horked all over them. It was a mess!” My son and his friends laugh. I just roll my eyes.

My son’s favorite stories involve him being sick on or near his parents. He recalls being sick once and allowed to sleep in our bed. After sleeping for some time, he awoke. “How are you feeling?” we asked. “I feel much better,” he said sincerely. One second later, he was sick all over the bed. I remember a similar incident when he had been sleeping off an illness on the couch. He came into the bathroom where I was washing my hands or brushing my teeth or something. I asked how he felt. He said, “I really feel ok” and immediately retched on the bathroom floor.

While my kids are laughing so hard they cry when I tell these stories, I tell them completely straight-faced. See, I don’t think they are particularly funny because I am the person who has had to clean up. These puke fests never seem to happen when it’s just my husband with the children. My husband has never been puked on from head to toe so that he had to shower before he could take his clothes off. No, the puke patrol is my personal responsibility.

Though my husband hasn’t been barfed on, he has been victim of an exploding diaper. When our son was very tiny, we lived in a house with a basement family room. The kitchen was at the top of the stairs. Frequently, my husband would watch TV with our son, no more than three months old, sitting on his lap. One evening, as I prepared dinner, I heard my husband shout, “Oh, holy mother of god!” followed by “Oh, my god!” followed by “Jesus Christ!” The litany repeated as I heard my husband’s feet plod up the staircase. The baby came around the corner first, held stiff-armed away from my husband’s body, then came my husband. He handed me the baby. While my husband changed his pants, I cleaned the baby. I had the baby cleaned and changed long before my husband stopped calling on the Virgin.

After I’ve been coaxed into telling my son’s puke stories, my daughter begs to hear a story of her own gastric misadventures. Problem is, there aren’t many. My daughter is always on the alert for anything wrong with her body. Every scratch must be inspected, every sneeze investigated and every slight rumble of her interior workings must be respected so she makes it to a safe vomitorium on time. She is, however, the child who covered me from the top of my turtleneck to the bottom of my blue jeans. I was an experienced mother by that point, though. I didn’t miss a beat. It happened in the bathroom so I turned on the shower, then stepped in fully clothed. I set the baby on the shower floor. Baby, clothes and I all got clean quickly and easily. I believe I actually thought, “Thank God, she only puked on me.”

My daughter doesn’t remember the most spectacular spewing involving her. It happened just minutes after she entered the United States for the first time. When we went to China to bring her home, we were warned again and again about drinking the water, eating the food, etc. So we took great care throughout our trip. The last night in China, though, I got sick. I got really sick. And then I got sicker. The hotel doctor came to our room with a nurse and syringes. He injected me with a magic potion that stopped the vomiting and the nurse injected me with fluids to counter the dehydration.

I felt better. We got on the plane. I felt fine the whole trip. I felt fine until I stopped feeling fine while we waited to go through Customs. I got that unmistakable feeling and began frantically looking for a receptacle of some sort, any sort. Nothing. Nothing, that is, except my new daughter’s lovey, a soft piece of blankie with a bunny head sewn to it. A mother does what a mother has to do.

I didn’t tell my daughter this story until after she’d outgrown her lovey. She never begged to have the story told, preferring to hear one of her brother’s. Recently, though, she included the story in her “all about me” presentation at school. I understand it was a big hit. You can’t beat a good puke story.

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