I Never Knew Football Could Make Me Happy

For those of you who know me, you realize what an insane statement that is coming from me. But hear me out.

The only time I ever played a team sport was when I was in 5th grade and was coerced by friends to play on the school basketball team. I loathed it. I had no idea what I was doing, and basically spent most of my time running from end to end of the court trying to avoid having to touch the ball. One time I got fouled at a game and had to shoot free throws. I pleaded with the ref, “Really. It’s totally fine! It was an accident, and she didn’t mean to foul me…just a misunderstanding, if you will.” 

The ref stood firm on his call and there I stood, trying not to wet my shorts or vomit on my sneakers in front of everyone. (It felt like a million people, but I’m guessing it was more like thirty.) I dribbled the ball, amazingly managing not to hit my foot, and took the first shot. Yeah…You guessed it. “AAAIIIRRR BAAALLLLL!!!” mocked the other team. Jenny, a particularly nasty teammate, stood there and gave me a slow golf clap with an annoyed look on her face. I took the next shot, and it bounced off the rim. My teammates gave me a collective eye roll and ran down to the other end of the court. I felt like I had failed my team. 

“Wait. But I thought this post was about football,” you’re saying. I’m getting there. Skip ahead 40 years later…

Over the summer, Young Son’s friend and his dad encouraged him to join their league tackle football team. When Young Son came to The Warden and me, excitedly asking if he could join, we were stunned. He had tried a few different sports through our park district but never showed any excitement about them. As far as football went, his interest was more along the lines, “Can we have wings when Dad watches the game on Sunday?”

We had our doubts. Would this be another sport that he’d try half-heartedly and then want to quit halfway through? So we sat down with him, looked at the league website together, and talked about it. 

I said, “Football is really fun, but it’s a lot of work. Being on a league team is way more intense than the sports you’ve tried at the park district. You’ll be practicing at least three days per week and have games on the weekends.”

The Warden added, “Yep. And your coaches are going to make you work hard and will be tougher on you than you’re used to. You’ll have to do training drills, push-ups…and run. A lot. You’ll have protective gear, but you’re going to learn to tackle people and push them around. Do you think you can do that?”

Young Son looked at us seriously and confidently said, “Yes. I really want to do this, Mom and Dad.”

The Warden told him, “Okay then. Mom and I will 100% support you in this, and you have to put in the same commitment. This is going to be hard and a lot of work, but I really think you’re going to have fun being a part of a team. You’re going to be so proud of yourself when you see yourself getting stronger with your hard work.” 

So we signed him up, and he and the Warden jumped in the car and went on a Dick’s Sporting Goods shopping spree. They came back triumphantly with a bag full of gear, which he proudly showed me. “Here’s my practice jersey, my cool cleats, my football pants — check out the pads in these things! Oh, and I even had to get a cup, Mom.”

“Well, gotta protect the junk. You’re gonna have to talk to your dad about how to wear it, ‘cuz I’ve got nothin’ for you pal.” He chortled and trotted upstairs to put his cup and gear in a safe place. This was going to be interesting. I wondered, would he have the same enthusiasm once conditioning started?

Early on in the training season, it was the end of practice and they had to run laps. Ugh. A lot of the other players on the team are crazy fast or have the stamina of a marathoner. Young Son? Mmmm… Not so much. As most of the team finished their laps, Young Son was still lagging far behind and bringing up the rear…but he was still trying. One of the moms came up to the other players on the sideline and yelled, “Hey! If you’re not completely sucking wind, you get out there and you run your teammate in! GO!” Without skipping a beat, they tore off across the field and ran with him the rest of the way, cheering him on the entire time. (I’m not crying, you’re crying!) It was then that I knew it was all going to be okay. 

You see, yes I was worried about my easy-going, big hearted boy playing tackle football and getting injured. But what I was more worried about was his self confidence. I knew this was going to be the biggest challenge he’s ever faced. As I’ve written about before, Young Son gives up on himself too easily, and it’s heartbreaking. Often when given something difficult, he internalizes that it’s hard because of a shortcoming on his part, rather than it’s a challenge that he can work toward achieving. And let’s face it. Most of all, I was projecting my own fear of failure and humiliation at sports on him. 

But boy, did he put my worries to rest! He has been having the time of his life and loves football! I am seeing a new side to my Young Son. His confidence has skyrocketed — and not just on the field. When he proudly wears his jersey to school on Fridays, he stands a little taller and has a bit more swagger in his step. I see it in his confidence in everyday things that are normally more challenging to him both at school and at home. He still gets frustrated when something’s not easy, but he doesn’t give up on himself as much as he used to. Best of all, he smiles and jokes so much more. His grumpy old man side doesn’t come out as often now.

And speaking of grumpy old men, The Warden is having an awesome time cheering him on and seeing all the wonderful changes happening in our kid too. It’s become something they’ve really bonded over. Surprisingly, being a football player has earned him some respect from First Born too — my inmate who fears nothing. Warrior Princess is proud of her brother too, happily helping him carry his gear to the car after practice. (Heck. At this point if she had to choose between joining cheerleading or football, she’d choose the latter and take names while she was at it.)

So yes, football makes me happy. Seeing Young Son’s coaches pushing him to work harder and celebrating his successes… Hearing him gush about his team and coaches and how awesome he thinks they all are…Watching the team throw themselves into football because they love it so much. It gives me hope for the future when I see the leaders on his team come shining through — not just for making touchdowns and tackles — but for helping and cheering on players like Young Son. And to their parents who are showing them by example how to be supportive leaders at every game and every practice, I bow down to you and thank you.

Oh. And to that mean girl, Jenny and the rest of my 5th grade basketball team…here’s my disgusted slow golf clap for your lousy sportsmanship. You really could have learned a few things from my kid’s football team.

That Light at the End of the Tunnel Better Not Be an Oncoming Train

Somehow it’s been six months since I last wrote. I guess when life seems like one endless, arduous day, time just seems irrelevant.

But finally there is a twinkle of light at the end of this tunnel from hell. Last week, Young Son and Amazon Warrior Princess finally went back to school in person! It was time.

A typical morning for them prior to going back to in-person school would have gone like this:

Me: “Okay guys. Time to get on your Zoom call.”

WP: “Ugh! Already?!”

Me: “Yes. Unless you’d rather sit in your room all day without electronics.”

WP: [HUFF!]…”Fine!!! I’ll do it!!”

Warrior Princess stomps off to the school room. I hear papers being flung around, her chair crashing into things, and general angry muttering coming from her area. Young Son, who has gotten on his call and is making an attempt at paying attention, has had enough of the dramatics.

YS: “UGH! Will you knock it off, Warrior?! I’m trying to concentrate! Stop being such a grouch and get on your gosh darned call already!”

WP: “Leave me alone!”

YS: “Moooommmmm!! Warrior is not getting on her call!”

I walk out to the school room to find a scowling Young Son and an even surlier Warrior Princess, who is shooting daggers at her brother. I feel a headache coming on.

Me: “Warrior Princess…Please. Get. On. Your. Call.”

Warrior Princess goes completely limp and slowly melts off of her chair onto the floor into a pile of paper snips, broken crayons, random papers and glue sticks missing their caps. (There is a ridiculous amount of cutting and pasting involved in kindergarten.)

Me: “Are you about done?”

WP: “NO!”

Me: “Come on. Please get up and let’s get on your call. Mrs. Kindergoddess is waiting for you. I wonder if you’ll get to be the calendar person today,” I say hopefully.

Warrior Princess rolls her eyes, sighs loudly, slowly gets up off the floor, plunks down in her chair and we get her logged onto her call. “Well…We’ll see how long this lasts,” I think to myself.

A little while later, Young Son saunters out to the kitchen.

Me: “Young Son, why are you not on your call? It’s not break time yet.”

YS: “I just came out to see what you were doing.” (I give him one of my signature one-eyebrow-raised glares.) “Uhhh…And to give you a hug!”

I give him his hug and send him back to his desk. Nice try, pal.

A few minutes later I hear more bickering coming from the school room and decide I better investigate and nip it in the bud.

Me: “What seems to be the problem now?”

YS: “AARRGG! Mom! Warrior Princess keeps muttering and now she’s coloring really loudly! I’m trying to concentrate and I’m going to have to unmute soon!”

Me: “Warrior Princess, come out to the kitchen table and work with me.”

She huffily shoves all her junk into a pile and hauls it out to the kitchen table, where she starts to leave a flurry of paper snippets all over my freshly-Roomba’d floor and streaks of glue stick all over the table. Excellent.

A little while later I hear Young Son walking down the hall.

Me: “Young Son? Why are you wandering around?”

YS: “I’m going to the bathroom! Jeez!”

Ten minutes later, I hear him walk into the bathroom again.

Me: “Young Son! You just went to the bathroom! Go get back on your call!”

YS: “Well! I have to go again!”

Me: “Perhaps I need to take you to the doctor for a urinary tract infection if you’re having to go to the bathroom this much.”

YS: “NO!” [He quickly changes tactics, puts his charming smile on his face.] “Plus, I just needed to give you another hug and to see if you needed any help.”

Me: “Thanks for the hug….again. The way you can help me is by GETTING ON YOUR CALL!”

WP: [With a snarky face and tone] “Yeah, Young Son! Go get on your call!”

YS: “Mind your own beeswax, Warrior Jerk Face Princess!”

WP: “MOOOOMMMM!! Young Stink Butt called me Jerk Face!”

Me: [Mutters under breath, “Well, neither of you are wrong per se…”] “Both of you! Knock it off and get back to your Zoom calls. You’re driving me bonkers and it isn’t even 9:30 yet!”

Further words and rude faces are exchanged by them, and I look longingly at the wine fridge. This will continue on until it’s time for me to start the first of three lunch shifts (because why would they all get to eat at the same time?) And then I need to feed and water The Warden too…Honestly, friends. I really should be super proud of myself that I haven’t turned into a raging alcoholic by now. Although, I suppose I have the “raging” part down pat.

So yeah. It was time, especially for Warrior Princess. Ever since school started again after the winter break, she’d been getting surlier and even less motivated to participate in school. Come to find out, sometimes she’d even been ditching off her Zoom calls right after attendance. She’d go and do ABC Mouse or some other school-approved app on her iPad instead so I’d think she was doing schoolwork. Yes. At the tender age of SIX, she is already a juvenile delinquent and skipping school. I wonder if they give detentions to kindergarteners?

On their first day of school, I came home after dropping them off and just stood in my kitchen for awhile…. Peace…. Sure, First Born was still upstairs supposedly doing his school work, but most likely slacking off. I decided not to care. Then I got to work and started cleaning things….UNINTERRUPTED! It was glorious! Later, The Warden strolled out of his office and even he was impressed.

It finally came time for me to go pick up Young Son and Warrior Princess. I was excited to hear about their day. After they hurled their eighty pound backpacks in the front seat and got settled in, I got an ear-full.

WP: “Mom! I finally got to meet Mrs. Kindergoddess in PERSON and not just on my iPad! And I got to see some of my classmates in person…and…” she prattled on for awhile. Young Son seemed quiet. Uh oh.

Me: “Young Son! How was your day?”

YS: “Harumf! Well, for one they changed the macaroni and cheese recipe for lunch and it was complete trash!”

Me: “Wow. I’m really sorry to hear that. Why would they do such a thing?”

YS: “I know, right? AND we had to use sporks! Do you know what a spork is, Mom? Well, it’s part spoon and part fork and it’s completely useless!”

Me : “Oh the humanity. Other than a dismal lunch, how was school? Was it good to be back with your teachers and friends?”

YS: “Yeah. The whole mask thing was annoying, but we got masks breaks. That was the best part of the day.”

Me: “Wow. I’ll bet your teachers were so happy to have Mr. Ray of Sunshine back in their classroom.”

YS: “Yeah. I guess.”

(I need to do better at teaching the inmates the art of sarchasm. Clearly it is not genetic.)

So friends, it’s good to feel a glimmer of hope again. I am forever grateful for all that our teachers do to make learning in any environment as successful and engaging as they can, even if it means bursting into song and dance to keep their students engaged. I bow down to your magnificence…and while I’m down here, I think I’ll take a nap. In the meantime…keep wearing your mask, do something good for yourself, and may your enemies be forced to use sporks today.

More Hot Lunch at Home

In my last post, I shared the Pediatric Psych Ward’s lunch menu for the week. It seems like a lot of you get tired of the daily battle of “what’s for lunch” too. Thanks for the validation!

Believe me, lunch was soooo much easier last week having a plan in place, and the inmates liked having input too. I didn’t have to hear moaning every day, “What is there for luuuunch? *HUFF* There’s nothing good in this house to eat!” as they stood in front of the open fridge. (This makes me stabby every single time.) Instead, I could answer, “Check the menu!” And you know what? I found that they looked forward to lunch daily! It was one less decision any of us had to make each day. I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of making a million decisions day in and day out.

So to help take five decisions off of your plate this week, here’s the PSW’s menu that we created together: Feel free to use, share or just mock as you wish:

Now I’m sure a lot of you are saying, “Is this woman for real? This all looks like a lot of work, and roasted cauliflower?!! Seriously??”

Wait. Let me explain. Young Son and First Born are not big fans of raw veggies. However, they will eat roasted vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, brussel sprouts even! What can I say, they’re high maintenance. Big surprise.) But I’ve been trying really hard to have healthier, more well-balanced meals for all of us that I don’t have to fight the inmates to eat. I could just throw some raw celery and carrots on their plate and pretend they’ll eat it, but we know that’s just going in the garbage. What’s the point?

The key: THE AIR FYER! If you don’t have one, GET ONE. Like today. I could write a whole post on the life-changing gloriousness of the air fryer! For the cauliflower, I’ll just break it into bite-sized pieces, toss it with a little olive oil and S&P, throw it in the air fryer for a bit and voila! Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Wednesday’s chicken tenders and smiley fries will go in my air fryer too.

The other key for making this menu work for my family is that these are things that all five of us will eat, the Warden included now that he’s been working from home. Instead of making five different lunches each day, I can make one meal for all of us in about fifteen minutes with a lot less mess and chaos in my kitchen.

If you have other ideas and meals that work for your family, please share them with me! If this menu was helpful for you, let me know and I can continue to share our menus. Have a great week!

Hot Lunch eLearning Style

If you ask any kid what their favorite part of school is, I’ll bet you a majority of them would answer, “lunch and recess!” If you think back to your school hot lunches, I bet you remember Friday pizza days. Your tray may have looked like this:

Ahhh…the rectangle pizza that fit neatly in the compartment. As I look at this picture, I don’t know what bougie school this kid went to, but we never got soft pretzels with mustard. And the fruit cocktail and milk need to be switched. What kind of monster put them in the wrong compartments?? Oh the humanity! I digress…

You could always tell a lot about a kid by the way they ate their rectangle pizza. They usually fell into one of a few categories:

  1. The Folder: This method involved folding the pizza in half and eating it like a taco. It’s efficient and no-nonsense, however this method had its drawbacks. If you didn’t staunch the flow of grease with a wad of those useless mini napkins before you folded it, you’d have to tilt it and let the grease drip out through the trough created at the fold. By the time you were done de-greasing it, all the cheese would have slid to the center and completely ruined the cheese-to-soggy crust ratio. If you didn’t do the trough method of de-greasing and just started shoveling in, you’d have a river of grease dripping down your chin and arm. It was not attractive.
  2. The Knife and Forker: This method of cutting the pizza into bite-sized pieces was generally adopted by prissy girls who wrote with fancy pens with fake flowers and flowy feathers on top. They also had a coordinating headband, bow or scrunchie for every outfit. The Knife and Fork method, while much tidier and sophisticated, was slow and inefficient, (especially if your school had plastic utensils) leaving you with little time for recess after lunch.
  3. The Slob: This is probably the most direct method of getting pizza into your gob, but by far the messiest and grossest. It required strange contortions to steer the floppy, drippy mess to your face and it was annoying and unappetizing having to sit next to this Oscar Madison. You could always tell which locker belonged to this kid too. It always had a coat or random papers sticking out their half-shut door (if they could close the locker at all), and it smelled like rotting apples or smelly socks.
  4. The Hybrid: This method requires a bit of prep, but is totally worth it in the end. First, you staunched the grease with napkins, then cut the pizza into quarters. This allowed the diner to neatly pick up the pizza without needing to fold or slop pizza goo everywhere. Students bound for National Honor Society utilized the Hybrid method.

Which kid were you? Or did you always bring cold lunch and never experienced Pizza Fridays at school?

The inmates are generally hot lunchers, and I’m totally fine with that. It’s less stress on me not having to be sure there is lunch food in the house, much less needing remind them to pack their lunch in the first place. Having one less meal to plan each day is pretty awesome too.

But now that the inmates are eating their lunch at home for the foreseeable future, I’ve decided I don’t want to be the cranky lunch lady. We decided to try to plan the weekly lunch menu together to make things more efficient and less stressful. If they decide they don’t want to eat “the main” for lunch that day, they are welcome to make themselves a sandwich. This helps in so many ways. 1.) I can more easily plan my grocery shopping instead of needing to buy a full buffet of lunch foods for them to choose from each day. 2.) It saves time every day because I don’t have to repeatedly rattle off their choices like a waitress and then waste time waiting for them to decide what to have. 3.) I’m no longer a short order cook at lunch. They either eat the jointly pre-determined lunch or make themselves a sandwich.

Here is this week’s menu:

And because I’m the quirky weird mom, I kicked it up a notch. I found a list of all the weird food holidays and we incorporate those into the menu. As you can see this Thursday is National Hot Dog Day. Last week there was International Bacon Day, so we had BLTs. Next Friday is National Cheeseburger Day, so if they have a great week, McDonald’s it is! (In case you’re interested, here’s the link to the holiday list I used: https://foodimentary.com/)

And what would hot lunch be without the compartmentalized tray?! Mmmm hmmm! Oh yes, I did! Each inmate has their own lunch tray! Here’s First Born’s lunch from yesterday:

Chicken nuggets with BBQ, smiley fries, carrots (a vegetable — I tried!) and half a banana (just like school!) Now I need to get little milk boxes and it’ll be perfect!

So far it’s been working pretty well. Come to think of it, I should have bought the Warden his own lunch tray too!

Next school element to recreate: DETENTION!

The sChOOL clASSroom

We’ve made it through two full weeks of remote learning. I still have five people living in my house. Was it relaxing as a spa day? Ummm… no. Was it the firey pits of hell? Also no.

When it was becoming clear that there would be at least some amount of remote learning this fall, the Warden and I started brainstorming ways that we could make it better than it was in the spring if we were going to survive. Spring was chaos, mayhem and frustration. The inmates did their school work (with endless hounding from me) all over the house: at the kitchen table or island, in the playroom slumped in a gaming chair, in a huge treadmill box filled with pillows and snacks in my dining room (can you guess who created that hot mess?) No matter how I tried to keep them on task and organized, it was futile. If I made them all work at the kitchen table, it was bedlam, fighting, yelling and tormenting (me included.) If they went and did their school work where they wanted to do it, that meant I had to run all over the house helping, monitoring and riding herd on them. I was a gray hair’s width away from completely throwing in the towel.

So when the Warden came up with the idea, “Why don’t we make the living room into a school room?” I had serious doubts.

“They’re going to kill each other,” I said. “It’s going to be one big MMA Cage Match in there every day!”

“And how is that different than any other day here? At least they’ll all be in one place and easier to manage. We can get some desks and they can keep all their stuff there and not all over the house. I think it could work.” He looked hopefully at me.

I started warming up to the idea. “Well, they’ll have to have good headphones for sure. And we use that white noise machine from when Warrior Princess was a baby to drown out the sound of her brothers killing each other. If it does turn into a MMA cage match, we could live stream it and Young Son could finally have the monetized YouTube channel he’s always dreamed of. Warrior Princess could be the bookie.”

The Warden ignored my brilliance and immediately turned to his computer to search for desks. He found some really cool corner ones at Ikea (I reminded him that he was in charge of assembly and the inmates would guaranteed want to “help” him. That did not deter him.) I found some desk chairs on Overstock.com and desk lamps on Amazon. Ooh! I could shop for office accessories!

“What did the inmates think of the idea?” you ask. They actually were on board with it. We talked about how eLearning in some capacity was going to happen for at least awhile, and we wanted to make it a better experience. We showed them the desks and chairs and told them they could personalize their space how they wanted (within reason!) They were sold!

Since our “living room” has never been a “living room” and has always been a playroom, I had some purging and clearing out to do. It was actually pretty satisfying and I even got out the carpet shampooer.

After a couple trips to Ikea and a few hours of some assembly required, voila! Behold…

The sChOOL clASSroom!

Now before you get your knickers all in a twist, the mural on the wall is wallpaper, and it’s been up there since First Born was a toddler.

Has it been perfect? No, but we’ve tweaked things here and there and it’s starting to work pretty well. The inmates are driven by money, so they have a reward chart for every week. Here’s an example:

Each day the inmates can earn up to 4 stars, worth $.25 each.

So far they’ve been doing a pretty good job too. For now I’ve been reminding them about charging electronics and being ready for the next day as we get used to this new system. The Positive Attitude can trip them up. Give your brother a wedgie while he’s on a Zoom meeting? No star. Start complaining about school work or classmates? No star. Distract or annoy classmates on purpose? No star. Make Mom come out and yell? NO STAR!

Is this ideal? No. We all are longing to have our kids back in their classrooms with their teachers and friends. But in the meantime, we’re grateful to be together and healthy, and the inmates are liking their independence and taking pride in their special work areas.

Do you want to know one of the craziest things to come out of quarantine and remote learning? The inmates have become closer with each other. I see them looking out and caring for one another more and wanting to be together in their free time. I’m really proud of them for taking this in stride and with grace…as much as possible. (I’d be worried if they didn’t murder on each other at least once day!) If one good thing comes out of all of this, may the great bond they are creating last a lifetime.

A (Different) New School Year

Hi friends. Yep, I’m still here and I somehow managed to survive The Summer of 2020. It’s been forever since I’ve written anything. Honestly, it feels like this summer has been just one never-ending boring day, and I’ve had little inspiration. I know I’m not alone.

First Born, Young Son and Warrior Princess start seventh grade, fourth grade and kindergarten respectively this week. I had been looking forward to that day for years. It was going to be my first day in over twelve years of having more than two and a half hours to myself. But COVID-19 dashed that fantasy, as the inmates will be doing eLearning for the first trimester.

What an excruciating journey it has been to get this point. For weeks, the Warden and I had been weighing our options on having the inmates physically go back to school or keeping them home for remote learning. Like a lot of parents, it felt like it was impossible to make the “right” decision. Normally the Warden is an extremely decisive guy. He collects as much data as possible, thoroughly analyzes said data and makes his decision. Boom. Done. Onto the next problem. But even he struggled and changed his mind multiple times each week. (Yeah, pal! See how it is to live in MY head??!)

It wasn’t even a decision of picking the lesser of two evils. It was just deciding between two evils. On one hand, we desperately wanted to have our kids back in school — to be with their friends, teachers and peers and get all the benefits and joys of in-person learning…and albeit selfishly to actually get a few hours of peace and quiet, for the love of God! I love my children, but I really need to love them from afar for awhile!

On the other hand, the thought of all of the risks of sending them back either on a full-time or a hybrid schedule, much less what that would even look like, was crippling. Proper mask wearing, maintaining six feet of social distancing, constant sanitizing, no collaboration or playing with their peers, guaranteed cycles of quarantining…ugh!

What kept me up at night was the thought of the significant risks this posed for their beloved teachers and school staff. Having to put “Update will and life insurance policy” should NOT be on their back-to-school to do list!! (Seriously. A friend who works in a neighboring school district was told this by her administration!) Since I have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom, wasn’t it my moral responsibility to keep my kids at home to ease the burden of my three kids on the school, teachers, and other families who desperately need their kids to be back at school so they can be employed?

In the end, our district decided on 100% eLearning for at least the first trimester. Of course there are a lot of angry parents, who are now thrust into an impossible situation. It makes me want to cry at the thought of Warrior Princess not getting the magical kindergarten experience every kid deserves. (That girl is ready to kick ass and chew bubble gum!) The constant worrying over what this is doing to my kids’ social/emotional health is making me ready to break out in hives at any moment.

At this point, however, I’m at peace with it. As with all things COVID-19 related, there is very little anyone can control. But how I react to it is something I can control. We’ve been frank and honest about it with the inmates — it is going to be different, challenging and surely there will be glitches along the way. But we can do this. It’s not forever and it will help us appreciate school even more when we finally do get to go back.

Instead of focusing on how much it’s going to suck, I’m trying to think about some of the positives and plan on ways to make it fun. Here are some of my ideas:

Less Rushing in the Morning: Granted, they’re still going to have to get up and ready to be on time for their first class, but there won’t be the stress of getting ready to catch the bus. No waiting outside in the rain or cold and no weird bus smell either.

Wardrobe: While our rule is they have to get dressed everyday and may not wear what they slept in, they can put on a clean T-shirt, jammy pants and cozy socks. No shoes required.

Lunch & Snacks: They can still choose hot or cold lunch (and will even help plan the weekly lunch menu). Want to use your lunch box? Sure! Thursdays can be Brunch for Lunch, Fridays can be Pizza Day (and if they’ve had a good week, we can have it delivered from Luigi’s!) No nut allergies here at the Pediatric Psych Ward (thankfully!) — bring on the peanut butter! Although they will probably have to deal with a cranky lunch lady.

The New sChOOL clASSroom: We’ve tried to create a fun work area for them. But you’ll have to wait until my next post when I’ll tell you all about it.

They’ve Been Preparing for This: People have asked me if I’m worried about the inmates being online all day long. Yes, but they’ve been preparing for this all summer with the copious amounts of time I’ve allowed them to be on electronics. They’ve really built up their stamina for their long days of eLearning. I’ll call it a win…or just my way of justifying lousy, lazy parenting on my part. Hey. At least with eLearning they’ll be getting smarter instead of wasting brain cells on watching asinine YouTubers all day long!

In the end, I hope what comes out of this is resilient children who have learned to make the best out of a difficult situation. By making it as fun as possible, giving them lots of love and assuring them they are being kept safe, we can do this. In the meantime, let’s all set good examples for our children: to give each other grace, to be kind and to care for one another. Always. Oh…And wear a mask, for the love of Nellie!

Transforming My Anger and Shame into Change

I’d like to be able to write something lighthearted about what’s been going on over here at the Pediatric Psych Ward, but I really don’t think I can do that until I write the following blog post.

I have been struggling to be able to put into words what I have been thinking about and feeling since the horrible death of George Floyd. What makes it so hard is there is no single emotion — it’s a tangled mess of them. Anger. Sadness. Shame.

The other day, First Born was looking through some memes online and started laughing. He brought his phone to me, “Mom! Check this out! I think even you will find this hilarious!” (Which is a usual guarantee that I won’t.)

I looked at the image and was immediately enraged, and I completely went off on him. It was not one of my prouder parenting moments.

“Delete that right now! That is awful! Why on EARTH would you think that’s funny?!” I yelled at him in a rage. (I won’t re-post the meme here.)

“But it’s funny!”

“No!!! It is NOT even remotely funny! Do you even understand what it means?!”

“But look at the picture!” I looked again, and taken out of context I could see why he, a twelve year old boy, would think it funny. But with the text that was with it, the picture was twisted into something awful. But how would he know what it was really saying?

My rage came to a screeching halt. I had to stop and take a few deep breaths. “Okay. We need to sit down and talk. You are not in trouble.” I realized that in the craziness of trying to get through the rest of the school year and with all of my anger, anxiety, fear, exhaustion and sadness over COVID-19 and current events that had been building up over the past months, and especially the past week, I hadn’t truly taken the time to sit down with him to talk about recent current events.

So we sat at the kitchen table and I told him the story of what had happened to George Floyd, the resulting peaceful protests and violent riots that were happening all over the country, and even the world. He was stunned and saddened.

“How can things like that still be happening today?” he asked. I didn’t have a really good answer.

“Probably because we have allowed it to happen. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to these things in our comfortable, sheltered lives. We can go about our daily lives without a single worry about being under undeserved scrutiny just because of the color of our skin.”

One of the hardest emotions I’ve been feeling, though, has been shame. I think about my life as a white, suburban woman and stay-at-home mom, and I nearly choke on my overly privileged life. How was I so lucky and blessed to be born into such a life? And how dare I ever take it for granted. It is shameful.

I am ashamed that I haven’t done more or spoken out more. And more so, I’m ashamed as to why I haven’t: because I’ve been timid and afraid. Afraid that who am I — this privileged white woman — to think that I have anything meaningful or substantive to add to this discussion? What have I done to ever promote change to right the racial injustices that go on around me in my privileged white suburban life?

First Born asked, “What can we do to make it better?”

“That’s a really good question, and one that I’ve been asking myself. It’s not any one thing.” So we started to come up with a list of how we can help change:

  • Speak out. Use our voices to call out injustices.
  • Educate ourselves. Read. Read. Read. From lots of different perspectives and voices.
  • Support organizations who affect change in the battle against racism.
  • Check ourselves whenever we find racial prejudice and bias in our own thoughts and actions, whether conscious or subconscious.
  • Listen. Observe. Learn. Grow.

One person alone cannot change the world, nor can any one action. But we all can be a part of the change so that we can leave the world a better place for our children and future generations.

We Survived the 3rd Grade Poetry Unit

Here’s a conversation I had with Young Son recently:

Me: “I know you’ve really been missing your buddy, so I’ve ordered that game you wanted so you and he can play together online on your Switches.”

YS: “Really?! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Mom!”

Me: “It should arrive tomorrow, but you know what has to happen first before you get to play it.”

YS: [Sighs] “I know…get my school work for the day done first.”

Me: “Yep. AND you need to do it without all your usual drama, moaning and groaning the whole time you do it.”

YS: “Arrrggghhh! But Mom!!!”

Me: [Blinking]…”Seriously dude. You are complaining about not being allowed to complain. You are a piece of work, my Grumpapotamus Old Man.”

YS: [Pouts…while trying not to smile.]

Me: “You know, I think you complain for sport. Like you should try out for the Olympics. You’ve been complaining so much, I think you got your PE credit in for the day.”

YS: “Really?!? COOL!!”

Me: [Rolls eyes. Sighs.]

Oh Young Son. Compared to his big brother, he’s generally pretty chill and usually a rule follower. He’s a lover, not a fighter. (That’s not to say he won’t throw his siblings under the bus when push comes to shove. He is human.)

For as much as First Born makes me completely lose my mind and make me want to quit this whole parenting gig sometimes, his fearlessness and creativity does get put to good use (when he’s not creatively wearing me down or tormenting his little brother.)

The words, “I can’t do this!” have never come out of his mouth. Life is pretty much a dare for the kid — both good and bad. (You’ve heard a LOT about the bad already.)

But one admirable quality in him is that if it’s something he is passionate about, he goes full tilt at it. He’s very much like The Warden: Go big or go home. I always say, if First Born would harness his powers for good, he could change the world.

Young Son often lives in his big brother’s shadow. While I appreciate that he doesn’t do every crazy thing that comes into his head, I wish some of First Born’s can-do attitude would rub off on him a bit more. Often times if something is challenging, Young Son takes it to mean that he’s not smart enough or strong enough to do it. It breaks my heart. Convincing him otherwise is usually an uphill battle.

So when it comes to trying to get him to do his eLearning every day, it makes me appreciate and worship his teachers even more. Somehow they are able to coax and encourage him to do the hard things that he thinks he can’t, and they haven’t set their hair on fire in frustration yet.

The past two weeks have been Poetry Weeks. Oh sweet Jesus. For the first week, each day they studied a new type of poetry and had to write a poem in that style — Haiku, Clerihew, Tanka etc. You’d think he was supposed to write a dissertation on quantum mechanics in Olde English. It was excruciating. For both of us.


The whole “power through and just get it done” method does not work for him. No. He prefers moaning, groaning, dragging his feet, complaining and making it as miserable as possible. He took it to a whole new level when it came to writing poetry. We managed to clobber out a few poems, but it left me frustrated and exhausted. So imagine my disdain when the second week was writing more poetry, but this time for their poetry journals. It nearly brought me to tears.

I decided then and there that this poetry assignment was not going to break us. I needed to come up with a different approach. We needed to come at this like a nine year old boy. That meant getting weird and gross. He finally decided on which style to write, but then he started in on the, “but I don’t know what to write about!!!”

“Okay. Let’s write about silly stuff. We’re having one of your favorites for dinner tonight: lasagna. You’ve been helping me make the sauce and we’ll put the lasagna together later. What’s awesome about lasagna? How do you make it? Let’s write down some descriptive words. And so we did and here’s what he came up with:

Free Verse:

Super cheesy Italian food
Mozzarella, Parmesean, Ricotta
Layers of noodles, sauce and cheese
Super yummy in my tummy

Homemade sauce
Layer on noodles
Then the cheese
Add more sauce
Repeat Repeat Repeat

Bake in oven until it’s hot

Okay. Not bad for a third grader. We survived writing that. But the next day he needed to write another poem in a different style. Forget any progress we made yesterday. We were back to the same drama. “But there’s nothing good to write about! I can’t do this!”

“Okay. Well, what’s the grossest thing you can think about?”

“Poop,” he said with a defiant sneer, thinking he was going to call my bluff.

“Okay. Let’s write about poop. Haikus are five-Seven-five syllables, remember?” He looked at me for a beat, raised an eyebrow, got a mischievous look in his eye and went to work.


Everybody poops
Cats do, Dogs do. People do.
Poop smells really bad.

He was quite pleased with himself. Now you might be wondering, “But what did his teacher say?!? Wasn’t she appalled? How do they give detentions during eLearning?!” Well, luckily my kids have had some really amazing teachers and I knew this wouldn’t phase her a bit. Plus they all know what a nut job of a mom the inmates have, so the bar has been set pretty low I’m guessing. In fact his teacher responded that she thought it was funny and that it fit the pattern, even though Haikus are supposed to be about nature. Ummm, excuse me. What’s more natural than POOP??!

So the next day was yet another poem type to write. But it was game on for Young son! “Today I’m gonna write about FARTS!”

“Fantastic!” We reviewed the remaining styles of poetry he could choose from and he thought alliteration would be the best. After all, he had lots of expertise in the subject matter. After a bit of word smithing together, here’s his poem in all its glory:


Freddy farted ferociously.
He ate a billion baked bean burritos
His powerful poof produced a plume of poison
Freddy fainted flat.

Young Son beamed with pride and would randomly recite it throughout the day followed by gales of laughter. That night, his teacher died laughing and said it made her spit out her tea at her computer when she read it. You would have thought she had awarded him a Pulitzer, he was so proud of such high praise!

Now granted these aren’t “hang on the locker for Arts and Academics Night” material for all the parents to see, but it got him to write poetry with the least amount of pain for both of us. I consider that a huge win.

After all, Alfred Mercier said, “What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” Still, I’m not holding out for a future career in poetry for him. But we survived the third grade poetry unit. Better yet, we had a positive step away from a fixed mindset toward a growth mindset. Success.

Landfills to Lemonade

Good Lord. What are we on now, like day number infinity of shelter in place? One thing I’ve realized during all of this forced togetherness is that everything seems amplified for me. And not in a good way.

For instance, lately sounds have really been driving me crazy. The crinkle of wrappers about sends me into orbit. From nearly any room in the house I can hear the deafening sound:

[Crinkle Crinkle Rustle Crackle]

The hairs on my neck go up. They might as well have dragged a fork across a chalk board. “Who’s into the snacks for the 500th time today?!?”

[Sound of chip crumbs and an empty bag hitting the floor, followed by stinky boy feet hightailing it out of the kitchen.]

“Young Son?! First Born?! Get back here and clean up your mess!”

Dead silence in return. Then I mutter a bunch of martyr-ish things under my breath and huffily clean it up myself.

Another amplified annoyance that sends me into a rage is how my house has become about as tidy as a landfill. I mean it’s not like I need to have my house “company ready” any time soon, but still…


The other day I had just finished vacuuming the kitchen and decided I was going to be an overachiever and actually MOP the floors too. I left to get the mop out of the laundry room only to return to find Warrior Princess sitting at the counter eating shredded cheese out of the bag. My momentarily-swept floor was now covered in shards of cheese.

Me: “Amazonia! Come ON! I JUST VACUUMED! And you do realize that we have cheese in stick form, right?”

WP: “Nuh uh. The cheese sticks are gone.” More cheese falls from her mouth.

Me:What??! I JUST bought some yesterday!” I yank open the fridge and pull out the deli drawer. “See?! Right heee….” as I hold up an empty cheese stick bag.

WP: “Yeah. You should probably add that to your grocery list.”

I give her one of my best searing Mom glares as I take the empty bag over to the trash can under the kitchen sink. There I find the counter covered in more random wrappers, a half dozen coffee mugs and water glasses the Warden must have cleaned out of his office, and another dozen half-full drink cups from the inmates. Well, at least they are near the empty dishwasher and trash can. How generously helpful of them.

The amount of food these inmates have gone through over these weeks has been staggering. I’ve been trying to limit my grocery shopping to about once per week to restock but it’s basically like trying to fill a bucket with water, but the bucket has a giant hole in the bottom.

I had someone tell me, “Oh, but I saw a great article that said you should make each kid a basket and put their snacks in it for the day. Then when they’re gone, they’re gone and they don’t get any more that day.”

And then I laughed hysterically in their face. Seriously? The inmates would take that as a challenge to see who could snarf their’s down the fastest followed by making the most inappropriate thing out of the basket, wrappers and crumbs. (Hmm…Maybe that could count as Maker Space homework or some sort of STEM activity…)

Actually that just gave me a good idea. I should be making stuff around the house more educational. For instance:

Lab experiments: How many days does it take a half-eaten sandwich to grow mold? Do conditions matter? (ex: in the dark under the bed? in the playroom? Crammed into a baggie and shoved in the back of the fridge?) What is your hypothesis? In which scenario does Mom yell the loudest when she finds it?


Elapsed time:
Mom asks you to clean your room at 9:00 AM. At 10:15 AM, she checks your room to find that you haven’t started. She reminds you again that you need to clean your room. Then another 1 hour and 50 minutes has elapsed. Is your room clean? (Answer: of course not!) Mom tells you AGAIN to clean your room. Another 30 minutes passes. Mom starts yelling. How much time has elapsed from the time Mom first asked you to clean your room until she gets out the garbage bag and starts throwing your toys away? Show your work.

Vacuum the kitchen floor and under the table. What is the total volume of dirt collected in the canister? What is the ratio of dust to food crumbs? What is weight of all the dried PlayDoh you vacuumed up? How many times did you have to empty the canister before you were finished? Now measure a 1:3 ratio of Mr. Clean to water into a bucket. Mop the floor.

Find your favorite show on TV. Go under settings and turn on captions. Mute TV. Now watch your show.


Follow steps for reading assignment, but change caption settings to “Spanish” and complete assignment.

Write a well thought out essay on why your parents are so mean. Provide supporting evidence. Give 3 solutions to the problem. Essay may be handwritten or typed and must be at least 500 words. Spelling, punctuation and capitalization count.

And there you go, fellow parents. Lemons to lemonade. There’s your lesson plan for the week. You’re welcome. Teachers: you may commence your well-deserved summer vacation. We’ve got this.

eLearning is Not Magical

I’m not gonna lie. This whole eLearning thing sucks rotten eggs. Over here at the Pediatric Psych Ward, we are completely over it and DONE. And it’s not for lack of teachers putting together a variety of interesting and meaningful material for them every day. Honestly, it’s mind blowing to think how much these angels of education are toiling behind the scenes to put together the shattered pieces of their lesson plans and presenting them in a way that is remotely engaging and educational.

No matter how hard they try, there is no way for them to convey the magic of school. No, the inmates don’t go to Hogwarts, but magic does happen each and every day for them at their school. They collaborate with their peers to help each other learn. Their teachers help explain things in creative ways the Warden or I never could, and do so with infinite patience. Recess now is boring and lonely without friends to play with. Even when I do get them to play outside, it isn’t rejuvenating for them. How could it be without the the smiling faces of their friends and the cacophony of children laughing and having fun. It’s like watching a funny movie with the dialogue and soundtrack turned off. And lunch? The lunch lady is getting surlier by the day and frankly, I’m surprised there haven’t been more food fights.

For our teachers, eLearning is like asking a world-class chef to cook without any herbs and spices and to do so over a hotplate. No matter how fresh the vegetables or high quality the meat they use, the end result provides nutrition and sustenance but lacks the complexity of flavors only masters can impart. For students, it’s like ordering take-out and having to reheat it in the microwave and then eat it over the sink. It’s just not the same.

Every day I push, prod, hound and force the inmates to complete their school work. I feel like an angry drill sergeant making them run another five miles and drop and do 100 push-ups. While I know they need to do their work to keep their minds active and fit, there is no joy in it. How could there be when the only thing my kids want is to be back at Hogwarts with their magical professors, Hagrid, Hermione and Ron. Instead, they are trapped inside the cupboard under the stairs.