Middle School

On the news today is a story of a local middle-school girl who was beat unconscious at the school dance by two other girls. This was a dance for honor students.

Does anyone actually like middle school? I hated middle school. Sixth and seventh grades were possibly the worst years of my life. My parents had recently been divorced and my dad had custody of us. Prior to this, I hardly knew my dad, even though I’d lived with him my whole life. He worked the graveyard shift at a ship-to-shore radio station and then worked more tinkering with electronics during the day (he could fix anything) and then slept while I was home. I’d hear him up in the late evenings and occasionally, I’d even be awake late enough to hear him roaring with laughter at Johnny Carson.

Then, my mother disappeared into a new marriage and a new job and a new apartment and my dad was the main parent. His wife, Pattie, was quirky. She had lived in a small house, which she called “The Little House.” This house was a free-standing garage originally and it had been converted into the tiniest house I’d ever seen. It had a miniature kitchen (no matter, she hated to cook), an adjacent living/dining room the size of my bedroom, a small bathroom and a bedroom so small that you had to walk on the twin bed to get in the room. If you got a pitcher out of a cupboard, you’d find dead spiders in it. You never heard the scritch of mice, but you’d find their droppings.

My dad left our house to live in an apartment across town, then married Pattie and moved into The Little House. My mother’s intention to remarry caused my father to spring into action and demand custody of us. I think he intended to right all his wrongs as a father.

At any rate, the year I went to sixth grade was the year all this happened. The Little House was very close to the middle school, so we’d sometimes go there after school. I remember listening to Gordon Lightfoot at that house, which seems odd since Pattie liked classical music. She was classically trained on the flute and played a bunch of other instruments as well. She had a degree in political-science, but she worked at a regional library. She was 29 when she married my dad. She wore no makeup, had long, straight-as-sticks hair and drove a Mustang convertible.

Sixth grade, though, was a bleak time for me. I’d already grown and developed, so I had this figure that an 11-year old girl should not have. I remember the day a boy named Jeff teased me in front of my entire art class. (Mr. Wise, the teacher, had a hair growing directly out of the top of his nose. Not from inside, but on top.) I slapped Jeff’s face. He never did that again, but after that I hid by wearing my heavy winter coat all through school. Getting straight A’s was no problem for me, but I couldn’t figure out how to giggle and joke and be friends with the other girls. My life had fallen apart over the summer, while they had learned to wear eyeliner and ride in cars with boys. I was self-conscious and no fun. And worst of all was the school spelling bee. I made it to the final round held during a school assembly. I missed the word “cellophane,” which was a crushing blow, because until that moment, I had not tasted spelling defeat. When I got back to my classroom, I found a teeny-tiny folded piece of paper. I unfolded it and found “c-e-l-l-o-p-h-a-n-e” printed in small, neat letters. How embarrassing.

So I hated sixth grade. Seventh grade was no better.

So I ask, does anyone actually like middle school? I’m planning to homeschool one of my twins next year. He’s always struggled in school, academically and socially. He has not really learned to write and he still struggles with his multiplication tables. He needs more attention than he can get in public school. I think he may suffer from a processing disorder of some type or an attention-deficit issue.

My other twin, TwinBoyA, can’t decide whether to go to homeschool or our local middle school. Yesterday, they had an assembly for fifth-graders and described to them what they could expect in sixth grade. Last night, he said to me in the darkness of his bedroom, “Mom, I just can’t decide.” He held up his hands like a scale. “Homeschool? Middle school? There are good things about them both.” I told him maybe he could go for a year and then decide. He said, “A year is too long.” I said, “Well, maybe half a year?” He agreed to that.

Yesterday afternon, he said middle school sounds like fun because they have brownies. And pizza. For lunch. I said, “Well, you probably shouldn’t decide about school based on the lunch menu.” He said they also have cool classes like Spanish and computer.

Is there a way to just wake them up in three years when it’s time for high school? I’ll pay extra.

Stuff I Wanted to Mention

1) Tonight as I drive to the store for a couple of things, I notice duck, a mallard duck, crossing the road at an odd place. No pond, no wilderness, no water. But a duck. On the way back, I notice a truck pull to the side of the road and a man hurry out of the driver’s side. He walks across the road and picks up . . . a dead duck. As I pass this scene, I see a second duck on the side of the road, alive. A widow? I don’t know, but I thought that dead duck was so sad.

2) My cat is missing. This is the third day. No sign of him. Sigh.

3) Why do women go really blond after they lose substantial amounts of weight? Carnie Wilson, for instance. Why? Why do they make The Swan contestants blonder? What’s up with that? Do blond women just look thinner?

4) My kids have been saying things like, “Mom! He said the C-word!” Or “Mom, he said the F-word!” Or “Mom! He said the N-word!” The thing is, they don’t know any actual cuss words. The “F-word” is Fart. Et cetera. These kids crack me up.

5) Babygirl is afraid of weeds. She freezes and points and jabbers if she encouters a firece-looking weed in our yard. Unfortunately, there are many warrior-weeds, waiting to conquer the back yard.

As the Sun Sets

Yesterday afternoon, upon my return from Target (my “break” for the week, a shopping trip for household necessities while Babygirl naps . . . yeah, now I feel refreshed and ready for another week) I realized I had a long four hours facing me with four children alone at home again. Still. Always. My husband had to go back to work. I decided that we’d go to the beach and enjoy the last sunlight of the day. I gathered water bottles and sand toys and jackets (because truly you never know around here) and off we went. First to McDonald’s, then to the beach.

Babygirl chanted the whole way there. “Beach! Beach! Beach-beach-beach!” She couldn’t remember being at the beach before, even though she has been. A few weeks or months (?) ago we went to the beach and she freaked out when I put her down on the sand. She hated the sensation of sand under her feet. Last summer, she hated the beach because the swings terrified her (me holding her while pushing her brother, specifically) and the train’s whistle scared her.

This time, she loved the beach. She loved the grassy expanses, she loved the swing, she loved the big slide, and she loved the sand. She did not, however, like the waves which kept moving up to “get” her when she wanted to put her toes in the sand.

YoungestBoy and Babygirl are getting wetter and muddier than I anticipated. They always do and somehow, it still always surprises me.

The twins worked together frantically building a sand wall to keep back the tide. Only, just as they finished patting the sand, I said, “Hey, you know what? I think the tide is going out!” The last time they did this, the tide was coming in and they dug and patted sand and barked instructions to each other as if the lives of dozens of helpless children depended on their efforts . . . and then the drama as the waves crashed through their sand wall! Thrills! Chills! Yesterday’s activity dwindled to a sudden stillness when they realized the water was going and not coming.

So, we went home, sandy, tired, and wet. This, I hope, is what they remember of childhood.

Did You See That?

After church yesterday while I was driving on a semi-busy road, I spotted two small boys trailing after a dog on the side of the road. I slowed down and gawked. They were not in front of a house and there was no adult in sight. I realized I was blocking traffic, so I pulled ahead, did a U-turn and cruised back to where the boys were. They each had a crew cut, one blond, one brunette. The older boy was probably three and the younger was maybe two. They each carried a stick and the older boy was barefoot.

I rolled down my window and said, “Hey, where’s your mama?” The big boy said, “We’re catching my dog.” The dog was now out of sight, around a bend. The smaller boy was now standing in the middle of the road, talking to me.

A car was coming up behind me, so I pulled forward and off the side of the road. I had my own four kids in the car, but I couldn’t leave these two little ones by the side of the road. This road is regularly traveled and although the speed limit is 25 mph, usually everyone speeds. There is no sidewalk. A woman was walking a dog, heading toward me and the boys. She was on the other side of the road, but I wondered for a second if she might be the mother. She wasn’t.

A small pickup truck pulled up and the guy rolled down his window and asked me if I knew where the boys lived. I said, “no,” and said, “Should we call 9-1-1?” He nodded, but then he pulled his truck ahead of mine and parked. He walked back down the street and took the boys by the hands and led them back to where I was parked. The dog-walking woman said she knew where the dog lived, back quite a few blocks. The man started walking the boys to that house.

Now I was comforted and worried. A strange man now has these two little boys by the hands and they are willingly walking with him. I asked the dog-walking woman if she was going to follow the man and she said that she was going to make sure the stray dog got back home, too. Even though she was following the man, I still drove my car slowly in circles until the man delivered the little boys to a duplex. He knocked on the first door and a very young woman answered the door with a broom in her hands. She seemed completely unconcerned that her barefoot child had been found blocks from home. She gestured toward the other side of the duplex. The boy went inside and the door closed.

Then the man took the other boy to the other front door. Same thing. Door opens, young woman seems unsurprised by the turn of events, small boy goes in, door closes.

When the man walked back to my car, I said, “What did they say?” He said, “They didn’t even notice the boys were gone.”

I thought briefly about calling Child Protective Services. But I didn’t. But what kind of parents let their small children–a two year old and a three year old–out of their sight? These children (one barefooted) walked two-tenths of a mile from home. They crossed a street alone. One had on no shoes. They could have been hit by a car or abducted. They had no idea where they lived.

What stupid, stupid parents.

Here’s the funny thing. Those kids will probably grow up to be stellar human beings–bright, over-achievers–because they had to fend for themselves. My kids–my overprotected “no you cannot watch an R-rated movie or spend the night at someone’s house if I don’t know their parents” kids will probably end up living at home until they are 35, watching MTV and eating Frosted Flakes for dinner while I bleach their socks and scrub their toilet.

The Wind in my Hair

You know how sometimes you are driving and suddenly you realize, I have no idea how I got here. How long have I been driving on auto-pilot? Did I stop at that last stop-sign? Your mind has been whirling away while your foot is on the gas pedal and you have no memory of the past stretch of road.

That’s how I felt today when I spontaneously pulled out an old home video from 1999. The twins were six years old then and YoungestBoy was 18 months old. I thought, how did I get from there to here? I know the minutes passed in full sixty second increments, the hours lasted precisely sixty minutes each, the weeks were a complete seven days and the years lasted exactly fifty-two weeks. But it seems like I have been daydreaming the whole time because I cannot for the life of me remember the actual drive.

I think this is probably as God intended it to be. You can’t remember everything, just the highlights and if you are especially pessimistic, the worst parts. And, of course, the things your write down and the videos you make and the photographs you take. My whiny journals will be balanced by very happy images of children playing and showing off and smiling. We look happy. We are happy.

Except today. The twins were quite unhappy because they could not compromise on their video game. Each insisted that it was his turn to play and refused to listen to the other. I told them to come outside and negotiate while I was watching. Their tactic is to yell louder and louder at each other. I finally said, “Look, you need to listen to him and then repeat back to him what he’s said.” (This is called Active Listening and I didn’t just make it up. It’s a real communication technique.) TwinBoyA was incensed that I would suggest such a thing and he refused to listen to TwinBoyB. They sounded like a presidential debate, only without the civility she says wryly.

I did what has worked before. I said, “Hey, hold on, I’ll be right back.” Meanwhile, they are still yelling while I run inside to grab the camera and the newly charged battery. I return–they are still hollering–and I can’t fit the stupid battery into the recorder. I want to record them arguing and fighting so they can see how ridiculous they look and sound. I fumble with the battery, growing more and more frustrated. Babygirl is fussing at me, YoungestBoy is saying, “Mom, mom, will you videotape me?” and TwinBoyA is shouting, “No” and TwinBoyB is outing, “Listen!”

You know how the video “The Blair Witch Project” was shot all crazily, the camera bouncing around and the subject’s nostril in focus and the cameraman shouting while running? Well, I didn’t actually get the battery in, but if I had, that’s what that moment would have been like when TwinBoyA belligerenly looked at me and said, “Mom, get out of here! Leave me alone! Go away!”

I thought for a second about just getting into the car and driving away and then realized that, of course, I had to stay. So I ordered TwinBoyA and TwinBoyB into the house. I am completely irrational, because I finished fiddling with the battery before I turned to them and by then, they were huddled under a blanket, finally hammering out a peace agreement. I made them come out and they were rational and announced they had agreed on a plan.

Then I explained calmly and rationally that they were simply not allowed to speak to me disrespectfully. Okay, just kidding. I lectured very sternly until TwinBoyA was crying. He apologized, but when I said, “What are you sorry for?” he couldn’t actually say why he was sorry for a long time. He reminded me so much of “The Fonz” from Happy Days. The Fonz could not say “I was wrong.” I mean literally, he could not get the word “wrong” out of his mouth.

Anyway, finally TwinBoyA managed to squeeze out an actual apology and I told him that he will not be allowed to be disrespectful to me or any other adult. I said, “I will not let you be a teenager who speaks disrespectfully to me, and if you ever do that again, you will suffer a very serious consequence that you will not enjoy at all. Do you understand me?”

I think he did. At any rate, I think I’m glad I didn’t get that all on video. The twins went back in their room to resume their video game play and I went in the backyard with YoungestBoy and Babygirl. I shot some beautiful footage of Babygirl toddling around and YoungestBoy singing three kindergarten songs (“Folks, this is the second song and don’t worry if you can’t understand the words because it’s an Indian song!”). YoungestBoy blew bubbles for Babygirl and she shrieked “be-be-be” when she spotted a bumblebee. How does she have any idea what it is and that it might sting her? Then she carried the hose around for awhile until we bribed her to come inside and watch “the babies.” Babygirl loved the videotape we’d just created.

See? We are happy. I have proof.

Perfection

My husband took the boys to church tonight and I sat in the $2.00-from-a-garage sale lawn chair in my backyard and watched Babygirl wander the back yard with the hose turned on medium-low.

It would have been perfect, except for the following things:

1) I was cold. The sky was clear, but the sun was weak and I was in the shade.
2) The lawn is spotty at best. Our former dog tore up the lawn pretty badly. Babygirl likes to make mud puddles in the bare spots.
3) Babygirl’s hair is thinning. She needs Baby Rogaine. I have started to fret that she has “trichotillomania, the chronic psychiatric disorder in which patients pull, twist, pluck and otherwise remove their own hair” because really, why not worry that your 20 month old has mental issues? She pulls on her hair while I nurse her and then shows me the strands in her hand and says “hair.” She has little hair anyways. I was a baldish baby myself and now I have enough hair for three grown women (at least I do for now–when the grays start to come in, I may develop trichotillomia myself). Babygirl probably inherited her sparse toddler hairstyle from me.

Come to think of it, those moments were perfection, despite the chill and the bald spots, both human and horticultural. Sun, water and a babe–who could ask for more?

 

!– ckey=”2C94E3A6″

Is it a crime?

Is it a crime to wish that the boys wouldn’t come home from school today? I would like the quiet afternoon to stretch into the evening without the noise and mess of boys.

Well, they are home.

TwinBoyB: “Mom, what does the word constipated mean?”

Oh please, someone, save me. Or whisk me away to Moorea to snorkel in the South Pacific sea.

TwinBoyA: “Mom, he just took the entire box of Cheez-Its!”

I wish I could lay in the weak sun all afternoon and drift to sleep. I wish someone else would iron my husband’s khakis tonight. I wish my fingers and toes weren’t so cold.

I wish TwinBoyB would not make random, loud, mouth noises. I wish he wouldn’t ask every day, six times a day, “What’s for dinner?” and then respond with “Ewww, that’s nasty.”

I wish I could sleep in until noon and then spend the rest of the day puttering around in the closets, sorting, purging, organizing.

I wish I had unlimited wishes and a fairy-godmother to grant them all.

A Pause

It’s 5:45 p.m., that odd time of day when sometimes we pause. My husband’s gone to a meeting–he’s on a Rescue Mission board and he won’t be home until after the kids’ bedtime. The boys are in the backyard wandering around with sticks and having an imaginary adventure. The sun shines, still and it’s warm. I think it reached 80 degrees today, but our backyard always has a nice breeze and shade in the afternoons.

Babygirl was laying on the floor, watching Teletubbies. Lately, she has to have all the “bee-bees” (the blankets) on her at once. That means three afghans and three fuzzy pink blankets. But her bladder distracted her and she wanted to sit on the “pobby” (the potty), so she insisted that I strip her clothes off (which reminds me of George Costanza–fans of Seinfeld know what I’m talking about). Today, she shocked me–and herself–by managing to make her first “deposit” (if you know what I mean) in her little potty. We greeted it with great acclaim and carried it with deep respect and love to the regular toilet where we bid it adieu. “Bye-bye poopy!”

When my twins were her age and older, they always denied that they had a dirty diaper. They had no interest in using the toilet–despite our repeated viewings of “It’s Potty Time!”, a hilarious video which includes the song we still sing today (and by “we”, I mean my husband and me): “He is a super duper pooper! He can potty with the best! No more diapers to get in his way! We are very impressed!”

Anyway.

Only two hours until bedtime and then the debate: Do laundry? Straighten up the house? Vacuum? Work on VBS project for church? Exercise? Or just sprawl in the recliner and watch Fear Factor and eat fat-free Kettle Korn?

Stealing the Newspaper

Babygirl and I were walking around the block Saturday. Actually, she was riding while I was pushing her in the umbrella stroller. We passed Sleeping Beauty’s driveway and Babygirl spied a newspaper lying near the ivy. “Paper!” she said.

“Yes, paper,” I repeated. And I kept pushing her.

“Paper!” she said again, with urgency. I can read her mind and I knew she wanted that paper. She loves to pick up the plastic-wrapped newspaper from the driveway and carry it into the house.

She began to pull at her seatbelt and said, “Walk! Walk!” I unbelted her and let her walk. By now, we were a house or two down from Sleeping Beauty’s house. She turned and headed back towards the newspaper.

Now, Sleeping Beauty’s house is a house obscured by vegetation. It reminds me of the fairy tale in which the castle was overtaken by thorny bushes while Sleeping Beauty slept under a spell. The two-car driveway is now a one-car driveway because half of it is covered with ivy. The ivy has crept up the front of the house. Moss has taken over the roof. An overgrown flowering tree hides the front windows and the door. Once a year, the man who lives in the house mows his lawn. Once.

Babygirl makes a bee-line for the newspaper and grabs it, triumphantly calling out, “Paper!” She brings it to me like an obedient cocker spaniel. I say “thank you” and say, “Now, you want a ride?” I figure I will get her back into the stroller and then toss the newspaper back into the driveway as I hurry Babygirl away. She’ll never know.

Just then, an upstairs window slides open and the man appears. He says, “HEY!” I am holding his newspaper and he looks at me as if I am about to hotwire the gigantic late model pick-up truck which is parked in his driveway. I smile and say, “Oh! I’m not going to steal your newspaper. She just wanted to hold it. I’m going to get her in the stroller and put it back.”

He’s staring at me as if he might pull out a gun and shoot me. And also as if he does not speak English.

So I say again, “I’m not going to steal your newspaper. Okay?”

He says, “Oh, sorry.” The window shuts abruptly.

I put Babygirl into her stroller and toss the guy’s newspaper back into the leaf-littered, ivy-covered driveway. I’m pretty sure that guy was the Wicked Ogre who is holding Sleeping Beauty captive.

And because I just realized that my thumb is bleeding all over my space bar (I grated it along with the cheddar this evening) I will leave you to conclude this tale with your own clever ending.
The end.

My Very First

I checked out my curly hair in the mirror this afternoon and saw an errant, weirdly textured hair on the top of my head . . . I plucked it out for examination.

It was gray.

That was my first one. I really am getting old.

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