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.

https://www.kuer.org/post/be-alive-power-poetry-pandemic#stream/0

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:

Lasagna
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.

Haiku:

Poop
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:

Alliteration:

Farts
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.

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.

It’s All a Conspiracy by Teachers

It’s only the beginning of day three of eLearning for my kids and already I. Am. Done.

Teachers everywhere have been working hard to compile assignments for their students to do online or as worksheets from home. Getting my kids to sit and do their work for more than five minutes at a time without needing a break to go to the bathroom, get a snack or find a new way to irritate their family member of choice is a whole different matter.

Here’s an average morning so far:

Young Son: “Mom?! I don’t get what I’m supposed to be doing on this dumb assignment!!”

Me: “Did you read the instructions?”

Young Son: *HUFF* “NO!”

Me: “Why don’t you start there.”

Young Son: “Fine.”…10 seconds later…”Ugh! This is stupid. Why do we have to do this? This is too hard! I just want to play Minecraft.”

Me: “Yes, I’m sure you do. Your teachers would not have assigned something they thought was unnecessary or too hard. Stop complaining and get started.”

Young Son: “But Mom!…*HUFF*…I don’t want to do this! I’m hungry. I’m going to get a snack.”

Me: “Fine. Get a small snack and then get to work.”

Young Son: [Still standing in front of the open refrigerator 5 minutes later.] “There’s nothing good to eat in this house!”

Me: “Get a cheese stick, shut the fridge, sit down and get to work.”

Young Son: “But I don’t WANT a cheese stick! I don’t know what to have.”

Me: “Then you must not really be hungry. Please sit down and get one assignment done, then you can have a break.”

Young Son: “*AAARRGGGHHH!* But Mom!…”

At this point First Born saunters in, flicks his brother in the head and makes loud slurping sounds in his ear just to piss him off. It works.

Me: “First Born! Knock it off! Are you done with one subject yet?”

First Born: “I’m starting on it. Jeez.”

Me: “Then get back to it. I don’t want to see you until you’ve got one subject done. Scoot.”

First Born: [Rolls eyes, slowly stomps up to his room.]

Me: “Okay, Young Son. How’s it going?”

Young Son: “Not. Good. I don’t want to do this! This isn’t working!”

Warrior Princess, who’s been working with PlayDoh quietly, decides it’s her turn.

Warrior Princess: “Mom. What should I make?”

Me: “*sigh*… I don’t know…Good choices for the rest of your life?…A cup of coffee for me that is still hot?…”

Warrior Princess: [Blink…Blink…]

Me: “I don’t know. How about your make your grumpasaurus brother?”

Warrior Princess: [Looks contemplative for a few moments and gets to work. A few minutes later a human-like form emerges. “Ta Dah! What do you think?”

Me: “Nice job! I like the pout you were able to incorporate into his face and the crossed arms. Looks just like him.”

Warrior Princess: “Thanks, Mom.” [Proceeds to knock over sculpture and takes rolling pin to it.]

Me: “You go girl. I feel your pain.”

Young Son: “Moooommmmm! I need help. This isn’t working.

Me: “Let’s look at it together.” [sits down with Young Son and starts going over assignment.]

First Born: [Thunders downstairs again.] “Mom? When’s lunch?”

Me: “Dude. It’s 9:30. Did you get one subject done?”

First Born: “Yeah. Sorta.”

Me: “Good. Why don’t you take a break and roller blade around the block or something to get some fresh air.”

First Born: “Nah…Do we have any chocolate or something?”

Me: “Not until you’ve finished three subjects.”

First Born: “Two.”

Me: “Then no chocolate.”

First Born: “Ugh! You are so mean.” [Stomps off.]

Me: [Turns to find Young Son still pouting, having accomplished nothing.] “Let’s try again…so, ‘Read the following paragraph and underline…”

Warrior Princess: “Mom? Can I have a drink of water?”

Me: “Of course.”

Warrior Princess: [Looks at me expectantly.]

Me: “You are fully capable of getting it yourself.”

Warrior Princess: [Gets water and takes it to table. Continues working on PlayDoh. Spills entire cup of water and now PlayDoh is slimy and water is quickly making its way toward Young Son’s iPad.]

Young Son: “WARRIOR PRINCESS! What the HECK!? Go get a towel! Hurry!”

Warrior Princess: [Runs over and gets 80 sheets of paper towel and starts smearing water and PlayDoh slime all over the table.]

First Born saunters downstairs again. Sees pandemonium and takes opportunity to irritate his brother again. Flicks head and slurps. Fighting ensues.

Me: “Okay. That’s it! All of you. Get outside and find something to do! Scooter, bike, do sidewalk chalk. I don’t care. Just GET. OUT! And don’t draw and write obscene things with the sidewalk chalk!”

The inmates finally get outside, still arguing and complaining. I sit at the kitchen table with a now cold cup of coffee, head in hands.

Warden: [Saunters out of office to refill coffee. He’s been on conference calls…on speaker…the whole time.] “Where is everyone? All doing their homework?”

Me: [Laser death glares.] “No! They are outside because they were trying to kill me.”

Warden: “Yeah? So what’s new?” [Pours last cup of coffee, strolls back to office and shuts door.]

[Five seconds of silence. Then yelling, arguing and banging coming from the garage. Door flies open.]

All three inmates: “Mooommmmm!!!!…”

And then I burst into flames. The end.

It is now 9:45 AM.

This has just brought into clearer focus that this is what teachers do EVERY DAY. But with 20+ students. I’m beginning to think that this coronavirus/social distancing/eLearning thing is all a conspiracy created by teachers everywhere to prove once and for all to parents that their kids are jerks and that teachers need to be paid a billion dollars a day.

[Gets out checkbook. Loads inmates into van, drops them off at respective teachers’ houses. Squeals away.]

You win teachers. You. Win.

I Survived Day #1. Barely.

I’m not gonna lie. This was not one of my better parenting days. My throat hurts tonight — not because I’ve been infected by COVID-19. No. It’s because I yelled so much. I think I may have sprained a vocal chord at some point.

The bad mood in our house has been more contagious than the Corona virus. One person gets snippy and it just sets off an avalanche of hostility among the rest of us. The fighting and arguing has already taken on epic proportions and my patience for it is dangerously thin. I know it’s because we’re dreading being cooped up with no certain end in sight. The unknown is a scary beast and already it’s getting the best of us.

I’ve been holding off on getting out special fun projects, because I don’t want them to burn through them in one day like the ridiculous amount of junk food I stocked up on. (Please don’t tell them I have said cache of junk. I have hidden it and plan on doling it out accordingly. Otherwise they will be like feral hyenas on the Serengeti after a lion has taken down a wildebeest, and there will just be a carcass of empty wrappers left over when they’re done.)

I’ve been slowly stocking up on supplies over the past few weeks, as the potential for these drastic measures increased day by day. Yes, I got toilet paper when I went to Costco, but just one package like a sane person. First Born was concerned we wouldn’t have enough. I assured him we would be fine as long as he stopped TPing his brother’s room on a regular basis. (Yes, this actually is an issue.)

You know what I went a little crazy on? Coffee. Lack of toilet paper would be far less frightening than a lack of coffee. Really, it’s for everyone’s own good and safety that the Warden and I will have our glorious vat of caffeinated goodness every morning. You’re welcome.

I’ll leave you with this gem from First Born. A few years ago when I was decorating the kids’ bathroom, I found these fun vinyl signs that I put up over their sinks. One said, “Brush your teeth. All of them,” and the other said, “Wash your hands. Use soap.” Yeah. Well, First Born took it upon himself to rearrange the letters a bit. This is what I found when I went to disinfect their bathroom earlier this week:

Well, yes they really do need to do a better job washing their anuses. I do their laundry and it makes me cry some days. In the meantime, I’m just gonna go wash my hands now and go find the snack cache.

COVID-19 is Going to Kill Me One Way or Another

Okay. Let me start off by saying, I don’t really have worries that if I do contract COVID-19 that it will kill me. My immediate family and I are generally physically healthy (mentally is another matter altogether.) Based on my obsessive reading, I’m guessing we would fall into the category of the majority of people who will experience milder symptoms. Here’s hoping.

But no. COVID-19 is going to be death by a million paper cuts for me. Between the disinfecting and being around my family 24/7, I’m gonna die.

It’s going to cause my anxiety and any underlying OCD tendencies I may have to go into overdrive.

“Wash your hands for 20 seconds.”
I’m beginning to feel like Lady MacBeth at this point with all the hand washing. “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

Now I’m all in support of good hygiene. But as a mother of three, do you know how many times I ask my kids, “Did you wash your hands?” It’s become an involuntary reflex at this point, so much so that every time their butts hit the kitchen chairs for dinner, “Did you wash your hands?” comes out of my mouth. When I hear them in the bathroom and the door opening immediately after I hear the toilet flush, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. “I didn’t hear water running. GO WASH YOUR HANDS!” Followed by loud sighs and eye rolls from them. But now that the stakes are exponentially higher for the importance of good hygiene, my stress level just skyrocketed. [Paper cut]

Oh. And the whole 20 second thing and singing “Happy Birthday” while you wash? *Ugh!* Oh, I’ve seen all the other suggested 20 second song refrains you can sing instead of “Happy Birthday” — but you know what goes through my head? “Dance Monkey” by Tones. That song is absolute nails on a chalkboard to me, yet that’s the song my stupid brain cues up every time I squirt soap on my hands. It makes me stabby. [Paper cut]

“Don’t touch your face.”
Uhh, yeah. Good luck with that. (You just touched your face just now, didn’t you. See what I mean?) [Paper cut]

Crap. I just rubbed my nose. [Paper cut]

[Slathers on hand sanitizer. Wipes down keyboard for good measure.]

ARRRG! I just touched my eye! …and the hand sanitizer wasn’t dry! It BURNS! IT BUUUURRNNNS!!! [Paper cut]

[Runs to bathroom to splash water in eyes.] Oh God. Please tell me that was chocolate frosting on the faucet handle left over from one of the inmates after they actually washed their hands! [Paper cut]

[Grabs disinfecting wipe and madly scrubs just in case. Looks over at toilet.] Jeez. I might as well scrub that while I’m at it since I’m sure it’s been completely desecrated by someone in this household today. [Opens lid. Gags.] Why me? [Paper cut paper cut paper cut!]

3+ Weeks of Togetherness
You know what just may terrify me the most? My children being trapped at home for the next three or more weeks. It’s already day one of self isolating and already I want to quarantine myself in my room. Maybe by the end of the week we won’t even be speaking to one another…There’s a thought.

While I am grateful that our schools have eLearning capabilities, the thought of having to ride herd on the boys every day to get them to complete their work makes me want to cry. I’ve said it a million times before, but teachers rule and I bow down to their amazingness, patience and ability to put up with their students day in and day out. I’m trying to keep a positive outlook on their eLearning assignments, like “it’ll give them something to do!” But then reality will set in and well…

In all seriousness, am I worried about COVID-19? Yes. I worry about older family members, especially those with underlying health issues. I worry about family and friends with compromised immune systems due to cancer and other diseases they have valiantly fought. I worry about my friends with cystic fibrosis, who fight every day to breathe. I worry about my family and friends who are healthcare providers, that they will have proper protection while they selflessly help others…and that they can physically and mentally handle what is sure to come. The list goes on and on.

To stave off pure insanity that all these “paper cuts” will inflict, I’m going to turn to writing. And since there is already so much scary and serious stuff out there to read, I will try to write some goofy stuff to distract us all. I’m sure the inmates will provide an infinite amount of material. Pray for me.

In the meantime, be well. Wash your hands. And be good to one another.

The Cardinal

Yesterday I was having a really rough day. Like one of those days where it felt like nothing has been going right, that my life’s been full of endless drama (and not the good kind) and it was hard to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

When I’m really struggling, I find myself having a conversation with my dad in my head. He passed away in July 2016, and I miss him each and every day. He he was always a solid and calming presence in my life. So often when things got rough, a talk and a really good hug from my dad somehow always made it better.

Yesterday when I was feeling so very low, I found myself having a Dad talk. No, he doesn’t answer me when I talk to him, but I can imagine the things he would say. He would have had some gem of sage advice for sure. Then he would have reminded me how proud he was of me, and that I was strong and would get through it. He would have reminded me that he loved me and God loved me. And then he’d tell me to go get a good night’s sleep for goodness sake, because I was getting overtired and paranoid. (He was always right.) Then he’d go make me a fried egg sandwich, which is the best comfort food ever.

So not ten minutes after I had my Dad talk, First Born came down and said, “Hey Mom! There’s a really cool cardinal in the tree outside!” He’s not a big avian expert, but we rarely see cardinals around here and he knew it was an unusual occurrence. So we went and looked at it and I started to cry. He couldn’t figure out how a silly bird could make me burst into tears. So I explained,

He hugged me and we stood there and just watched the cardinal, who stayed with us for a long time, hopping from branch to branch.

Later that day as I was driving home, another cardinal flew past my car…as if to say, “I’m still here.”

I’m not normally one to put a lot of credence in “signs and symbols” — but yesterday this was exactly what I needed. It made me miss my dad even harder, but it was so comforting to imagine that he was really with me somehow, watching over me and my family.

So look for cardinals the next time you’re feeling bad. And then go make yourself a fried egg sandwich.

Inappropriate Use of Super Glue

I don’t know what Santa puts in the stockings at your house, but here at the Psych Ward, he gets “creative” in his stocking stuffers (translation: desperate.) In addition to candy canes, chocolate “coal” and other random junky toys, Santa goes a little utilitarian. Everyone always gets new toothpaste, toothbrush, flossers (which will most likely get used for anything but teeth or shoved in the back of the drawer never to be used), fun pens, crazy socks and the like. The adults also receive things like Tylenol, breath mints, hand sanitizer and SuperGlue. We go through an alarming amount of SuperGlue at our house, because the PSW inmates’ motto in life is, “Drive it like you stole it.” (It’s a good thing we don’t live in Japan and do the whole Kintsugi method of repair — We’d be flat broke!)

As always, Santa came through on the Super Glue. I try my best to keep it out of reach from the inmates, but I guess that just seems to make it all the more tempting for First Born. The other day I found a tube of it sitting on the counter. “Hmmm…I don’t remember leaving it there.”

So I went and poked my head in the Warden’s office. “Did you use the SuperGlue recently?”

“No. Why?”

My shoulders drooped and I shook my head. “Well, if it wasn’t you, then that just means that First Born’s been up to something.”

“Hey First Born. What were you using the Super Glue for? And before you deny it, I know it wasn’t Dad, so it had to be you.”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

Great. That meant it was something particularly devious and I was sure to find out what it was when I was either delousing his room or at some other inopportune moment.

That moment came a few days later when I was up to my elbows in sorting laundry. “Didn’t I just do all the laundry like ten minutes ago?!! How?! How does one person go through this many T-shirts? But wait. Shouldn’t there be more underwear? Where’s the underwear? Oh…still attached to the pants I see. Excellent.”

Just then, Young Son comes bounding over wearing only his Pokemon undies. “Tah Dahhhh!!! BEHOLD!” Then burst out into hysterical laughter.

On his head he was wearing a winter stocking hat with something sticking straight up off the top of it where the pom pom should go. I sighed. “What fresh hell is this?”

Young Son gleefully answered, “It’s a PENIS!” and then rolled around on the floor gasping for air between gales of laughter.

Yep. So it was. It was an eight inch penis made out of bright yellow modeling clay, complete with testicles and a surprising amount of detail. And how was it attached to the (brand new) stocking hat??? You guessed it. Super Glue. This stunt had First Born’s trademark all over it.

In addition to being annoyed that a brand new hat was basically ruined, my mind immediately came up with all the ways that First Born was planning on using said penis hat. Other than corrupting his little brother and sister, what if he wore it to a friend’s house? What would the mom think?!? Or what if he wore it to school?! I broke out in a cold sweat just thinking about that call from the principal.

I ripped the penis off, threw it in the trash and tossed the hat in the laundry that conveniently surrounded me.

Suddenly we heard First Born thundering down the hall yelling, “YOUNG SOOOOONNN!!! What did you DO!?! Where’s the PENIS!?!?! GIVE ME BACK THE PENIS!!!”

I turned to Young Son, “Dude. You better hide!”

First Born burst into the room, nostrils flaring, looking for his rat fink of a little brother. “Why did you have to go and show Mom for?!?! What were you thinking?!?!”

Then he turned to me. “Where is it?? Give me my penis back!!!”

At which point, I burst out laughing like…well…a pre-teen boy! “Really?! You’re really asking me where your penis is?!”

Oh. He did NOT like that. At. All. I don’t know if he was more angry that Young Son had gone and shown it to me, or more embarrassed that I had seen his weird pornographic headwear. He decided to stick with the anger part and tried to pound on his brother.

“Why did you think Mom would think that’s funny!??”

Now normally, he’s right. The funnier they think something is, the less I’m amused by it. And based on Young Son’s reaction, I was definitely not going to be amused by it.

But in this case, it was sorta funny. I mean I did cringe at the thought of what he was planning on using the hat for…and he did ruin a brand new hat in the making of it. But really. He’s eleven. That’s what boys that age do. They make jokes about penises and balls and farts and poop. Annoying? Yes. Abnormal? No.

After he calmed down later, I said, “Look. I love your creativity, but could you please harness your powers for GOOD?!” He sullenly agreed.

In the meantime, the penis has mysteriously gone missing from the trash. Perhaps he’s taken my advice to heart and he’s busy setting up his new millinery shop on Etsy. I’ll keep you updated.

Please note: I have not posted a picture of the detailed penis so I don’t get banned from Facebook or have the authorities knocking on my door.

Pranks from the Darth Side

Somehow I’ve managed to survive most of winter break with a few remaining shards of sanity. That’s not to say my children haven’t tried their best to break me. Considering the condition of my house and their things, “broken” seems to be their preferred state.

At least a few of their toys have stood the test of time. A couple of years ago, I found a four-foot tall Darth Vader figure on super duper clearance after Christmas and gave it to First Born for his February birthday. Darth has been an unwilling prop for of quite a few pranks in our house.

Poor Darth. He used to have a light saber, but Warrior Princess knocked him over within the first five minutes being in our house and it broke. Yeah. That was fun.
Like I said, broken is a constant state in our house.

For instance, one April Fools Day, he and Yoda were hanging out in First Born’s bed reading Star Wars books together. Or there was the time Darth was lurking in First Born’s closet in case I went in to search for contraband. (Luckily First Born was at school when I found him that time, because my scream would have been far too rewarding for First Born.)

Sadly, First Born did not find this as amusing as I did. What a dud.

Or there was the time I hid him in our bathroom to try to freak out the Warden when he was coming home late from his monthly poker game. I ended up freaking out myself, because I forgot Darth was in there when I stumbled into the bathroom later that night before the Warden even got home. *sigh* It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, because I doubt it would have even fazed him. He would have just rolled his eyes and muttered things about how weird his wife was and questioned his reasons for marrying me in the first place.

Darth came out again the other day when Jiminy Cricket, his little brother and their mom were over. All was going so well — the littles were in the living room playing all things Paw Patrol, the bigs were upstairs doing stinky boy things and we moms were sitting in the kitchen enjoying a break from them. Suddenly we hear screaming from the littles, then the sound of our front door opening and them running outside yelling, “Darth Vader is outside!!”

Now most other moms may have been alarmed. Not Jiminy’s mom. In case you don’t remember, she survived The Epic Sleepover and has five kids of her own. The woman’s seen things and lived to tell about them. She merely raised an eyebrow and we strolled out to the front to see what was going down.

Here’s what we saw:

And then here’s what our neighbors or anyone driving by saw:

I’m just grateful no one called the cops and that our neighbors still speak to us.

Getting Ready for Christmas at the Pediatric Psych Ward

Warrior Princess will be happy to tell you exactly how many days it is until Christmas, as she asks Alexa about twelve times per day and is dutiful with moving the candy cane each morning on our Advent calendar. The other day Young Son got to the calendar first and moved the candy cane before she could. She was not pleased and gave her brother an earful about his poor choice. Then she moved the candy cane back to the previous day, stared him straight in the eye while slowly moving it back to the current day’s pocket. She threw in an extra pissy glare at him to solidify her domination of the Advent calendar, and then stomped off to take names elsewhere. He stood there slightly stunned, looked at me and mouthed the word, “WOW!” I could only shake my head and shrug in response. Sorry pal. Get used to it.

As usual, I’m behind schedule and all my hopes and dreams of a peaceful, memorable holiday season are all but nil. But at least The Pediatric Psych Ward’s annual Christmas card is finally wrapped up and in the mail. Every year I keep promising myself (and our photographer) that next year will be better — more organized, less yelling, and not a complete debacle of epic proportions. Alas, the annual nightmare continues. Here’s how it usually goes:

In October I start thinking, “I’m going to be organized this year and get our Christmas card done in November. I better start coming up with a fun idea for this year’s design.” I started doing crazy cards when First Born was two years old. (Like you expected The PSW’s cards to be classy??) Since then it has become an expectation from people that each year will be creative and goofy. Friends and family start asking me months in advance if I have my card planned out. (Cue the start of the holiday stress.) Every single year I wrack my brain to come up with something new and amusing and present my ideas to The Warden to see if any stick.

After we’ve come up with a final plan, I loop in our photographer to my weird ideas. Let me tell you, the woman is the patron saint of patience. She has been chronicling our crazy since we got married over fourteen years ago, and she hasn’t blocked my number yet. She has SIX boys of her own, and either they have completely broken her and my crew is a walk in the park, or she uses it as a reality check. “Oh yeah. I guess I DO have it good.”

Photoshoot day is always a complete cluster, but she just rolls with it…or maybe she just heavily medicates before she comes in. The inmates take over her studio, chaos ensues, props are abused, fights are fought, outfits tugged on and someone is crying (it’s usually me.) Then First Born starts trying to run the photo shoot, striking bad senior portrait poses, making weird faces or yelling at his brother to smile like a normal person. Then I start yelling, sweating, bribing, threatening and begging. Over the years I’ve finally learned that I just need to leave the room and let her work her magic, because let’s be honest. I am half of the problem.

This year she came to our house for the annual torture fest. As soon as she pulled up, the inmates were clamoring over who got to help haul in her expensive equipment. (I mean where are these punks when I have a trunk full of groceries?! Not helping me, that’s where!) As she was setting up, they were all up in her business asking her rapid fire questions about her lights and backdrops, telling her vast details about Minecraft or showing his or her latest stupid human trick. Oh to have just a fraction of her patience and grace…

Then came time to get down to business. Young Son put on his outfit without a fuss, Warrior Princess squirmed around and grabbed her crotch a lot because her tights were too short, and then First Born saw the sweater I’d bought for him. Holy hell. “WHAT?! I’m not wearing that! That’s hideous! I could enter an ‘Ugly Sweater’ contest in that thing and I’d win first prize!” (Mind you, it was a plain burgundy V-neck sweater. Do you see what I live with?) At that point I left the room after giving a stern reminder that Miss Sarah was in charge and to listen…or else!

She started to pose them and I kept hearing, “Okay! Look at me…No. First Born, stop making that hand gesture. Thank you, now straighten your head…Warrior Princess, can you tilt your chin down like I taught you so we don’t get glare on your glasses? No. Not that far. Okay. Better….Young Son, look at me. Okay. Smile nicely. No, I don’t need to see ALL of your teeth…First Born, seriously. Stop with the hand gesture! Okay! Ready…one…two…Young Son, look at the camera!” And it and on and on it went. How she never breaks down into a puddle of tears and profanity at some point is simply amazing. (Note to self: ask Miss Sarah which happy pills she takes.)

All the while, The Warden had been hiding out in his office avoiding the whole spectacle. This year I decided it was time to take a whole family portrait again. Because really, why not add to the torture? He hates having his picture taken even more than I do, so I considered it a win when I got to make him miserable for awhile. I called him out of his office and heard muttering and shuffling. “Why exactly are we doing this??”

“Because it will make our mothers happy. Suck it up.”

“Sigh…Fine. Guys, come on. Let’s get this over with.” We all sat awkwardly together and tried to look as if we liked each other. First Born started in again being obnoxious and the Warden got after him through clenched teeth, “Will you knock it off?! This is totally uncomfortable sitting like this. Can we get just get done already for the love of God??!”

Miss Sarah shot pictures as quickly as she could. She scrolled through the images, tried not to grimace and said, “Okay…I think can work with these.” Let’s just say I’m extremely grateful for her PhotoShop talents. The Warden made a beeline back to his office and shut the door. Mission accomplished.

It was finally time for Miss Sarah to pack up and head back to try to work miracles on the photos she shot. The inmates helped her wrestle all her gear out to her car, and I thanked her profusely for putting up with the nightmare once again. As she was pulling away, Warrior Princess said, “I bet Miss Sarah’s going home to take a nap now.”

And miracles she did work. Among all the pictures taken, somehow she was able to cobble together a nice one. First Born either had his eyes shut or was making weird hand gestures in half of them. In the other half, Young Son was doing his bizarre side-eye smile. (I swear to God, the kid always looks like a crazed serial killer in every posed picture.)

After about 80 of my obnoxious revisions to the copy and layout, our Christmas card was born and they are now in the mail. I am having an anxiety attack just thinking about how they will be received. Will people like them or just think I’m really weird? Will relatives call my mother and ask if I’m not well in the head? Every year, people. Every. Year.

So now that this year’s Christmas card insanity is put to bed, it’s time to start baking and wrapping gifts. I have neither baked a single stinking cookie nor wrapped one present. I went into the season with my usual good intentions, but as always things just fell apart. Why do I do this to myself year after year? I hope when the inmates look back at the Christmases of their childhood, they’ll at least know that I tried to make it magical and wonderful.

In the meantime, I hope you have a beautiful and magical holiday season!

Back to School Anxiety

THE END IS NEAR!!! I can see the light! School starts this week!

One could interpret that in two very different ways:

busPositive: “Hooray! I survived summer break without a visit from DCFS or jail time! There is light at the end of this never-ending tunnel! Is that bus headlights coming toward me?? *Sniiiifffff* I smell diesel! Hallelujah!!!”

 

Negative: “I’m dying! The Four Horsemen are coming! That light is so beautiful…but why do I see my ancestors beckoning me to come hither? Yep. The non-stop fighting and complaining of the inmates has finally killed me.”

First Born and Young Son go back to school on Wednesday. (Meaning Tuesday is Supply Drop-off/Meet the Teacher day, and we all know how much I loathe THAT day.)

But even more stressful than that is the fact that First Born starts middle school this year. I know he’s looking forward to some aspects of it, like feeling grown-up and having more independence. But I can tell that the reality of it has been starting to sink in over the past few weeks. Let’s just say he’s been far from a joy to live with lately. I need to remind myself that this isn’t all toxic pre-teen hormones making him surly and short-tempered. All. The. Time. A lot of it is anxiety oozing out of him in the form of asshole-ish behavior.

I remember when I started junior high 35 years ago (ugh!) I was terrified. The entire summer before I was sick with fear, dread and so much anxiety that I had trouble sleeping and was nauseated most of the time. My teacher the year before had drilled into us how hard and different junior high was going to be, she made it seem like we were going to be going directly to college instead of 7th grade. We were going to have insane amounts of homework heaped upon us, expectations of us would be exponentially more difficult, we’d only have four minutes to change classes and they would be located 3 miles apart (don’t even think about going to your locker or the bathroom)…and worst of all, we would have to change and shower in front of our peers for gym class!

But after the first few days, I found out that my teacher was basically full of crap, and junior high wasn’t nearly as bad as she had made it out to be. Sure, it was a change and a little confusing at first, but it was a good thing. I wasn’t stuck in the same classroom with the same idiots and same cranky teacher day after day, hour after hour. I began feeling more grown up and started gaining a bit of confidence…which was immediately snuffed out by hellacious adolescent peers who still live in my nightmares to this day. (That’s a post for another time.) Best of all, we did not have to shower after gym class. We all quickly learned how to do strange contortions with our clothing so that the least amount of skin and underwear showed, doused ourselves with Wild Musk perfume and and Tickle deodorant and called it a day.

Is there a pedagogical reason why some teachers put the fear of God into their students to prepare them for the rigors of the next step in their schooling? I get that students need to understand that expectations will be higher and things will be different than what they are used to. But so often what is lost in translation for the student is that all the work they have been doing and the skills their teachers have been teaching them are what makes them prepared for the next step. Instead, so many (like in my case) are left feeling overwhelmed and terrified that they aren’t ready and are going to fail miserably.

I get it. When I get frustrated when First Born’s immaturity peaks out sometimes, I find myself saying things like, “You need to get more organized and on top of things! In sixth grade you won’t have your teacher holding your hand all the time! BE RESPONSIBLE!” Instead of getting him to shape up, I’m sure I’m just adding fuel to the fire of his anxiety of not feeling ready, mature or smart enough. Don’t get me wrong. I know this is going to be a big change for him and there are going to be some pretty big potholes along the way. But I need to keep my anxiety in check so I don’t add to his.

So next time he’s acting like a total beast and feel like ripping his head off and using it as a bowling ball, I need to remind myself to pull him in for a hug instead of yelling. Maybe it will help to ease the anxiety for both of us.

To my fellow parents sending their kids back to school: congratulations! You made it through another summer! And to those teachers going back to the grind and craziness of the classroom, good luck, God speed…and have mercy on my inmates! Just remember: I am their mother, and they can’t help a lot of it.