February Break

I’m just going to lay it out there: this February break does not represent my best parenting work.

Now, I’m not saying that I suck. I have my moments, like constructing a fabulous Halloween costume, having impromptu female anatomy lesson, or getting kids to eat vegetables. This week, though? There just hasn’t been the kind of effort you’ve come to expect from a woman who spends her work life urging families to get their kids out and about.

Part of this is a scheduling issue. We had a plan for visitors that fell through. If I’d known that I was going to have a great yawning stretch of nine days, I would have at least attempted to plan a day trip or two ahead of time. Now that the calendar’s theoretically opened up, though, it’s surprising how empty the calendar isn’t. Between soccer and gymnastics, one girl or the other has had something scheduled every day this week, which discourages impromptu day trips.

And part of it is plain old lethargy. It’s cold. I have cramps. I did a free trial of Hulu+ so that I could watch the end of Parenthood, and those episodes won’t wait.

So, yes, there’s been too much tv. There’s been a discernible lack of grooming all around. Work outs have been well-nigh non-existent. But, hey, it’s almost done now.

Lucky for M, most of her friends are in town, so she’s kept pretty busy going on outings with them and their parents. M hasn’t hosted a birthday party since 4th grade, and she’s been pretty consistent about never wanting to invite anyone anywhere. It’s pretty irritating. She’ll happily run around with her friends and their parents. I’ve met these parents, and I really don’t think that I’m inherently more humiliating than any of them. These days I’ve taken to giving up and just trying to slip the hosting moms some cash. Part of me would like to plan a surprise party for M’s next birthday party, but I think that she’d really, really hate it. But with so many of her friends playing basketball, and because she never invites people over, I was really glad that kids were free to play this week.

Based on the last post, you might suppose that all of my parenting challenges are coming from the elder sister, but that just isn’t so. Sweet J has been a bit crazy-making these days, too.

J’s a poky little puppy. It always feels like a struggle to get her out the door to gymnastics. Usually, this makes sense, because she’s rushing to finish homework and eating a ridiculously early mini-dinner. But you’d think this week would be easier, with our schedule clear. Nope. I think that part of it is that traffic is so unpredictable that there’s not a consistent link between behavior and consequences. On an excellent day, the gymnastics place is 15 minutes away. Generally, I allow 20 minutes, and when traffic is nutty, it can take 30 minutes. Usually, if we leave 20 minutes before class starts, we arrive with a couple of minutes to spare. But sometimes we’ll leave on time or even early, and traffic’s awful, so we’re late, anyway, and sometimes we’ll leave late and we hit every light perfectly and skate in right on time. The result is that J seems to feel no sense of urgency to get out 20 minutes ahead. And the worst part.. . . the very worst part, is that when she decides that she’s late, she goes into a freak-out mode that seriously interferes with her ability to get her butt out the door. So I’m trying to keep her cognizant of the time without flipping the freak-out mode switch.

So yesterday, I gave her warnings at 15 minutes ahead and 5 minutes ahead, and she acknowledged it, and then about 3 minutes before it was time to go, she requested headache medicine. This was the first mention of a headache all day. In fact, the last time she mentioned at headache was right before gymnastics, and on that day I probed, “Have you been feeling bad all day, or are you just not in the mood to get off of the couch and away from the tv and do gymnastics?” She was appalled. She loves gymnastics. How could I even question it? I’m so terrible. “I’m just saying that I can understand that you might feel decent lying around and not-so-good doing back-handsprings,” I said. “But if you’re feeling really sick all day, you should stay home and rest.” NO. She was fine. So when she requested headache medicine 3 minutes before go-time I refrained from rolling my eyes, but that 3 minutes were supposed to be devoted to boot-pulling, refusing a coat, and walking past the full water bottle and going back for it, not measuring out and taking medicine and following it with a juice chaser.

She sucked down her medicine and, seeing me standing in my shoes and coat, switched into freak-out mode. I stood silently, watching her pull on her boots.

“I can’t get them on! And please stop just watching me!” I turned and sat at my conveniently-located computer. I even had some silly story to read.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” she wailed.

“Sweetheart, it’s fine,” I murmured. “I’m ready when you are.”

“Stop yelling at me!” She said this to her quiet, quiet, murmuring Mommy.

“Are you kidding with that one?” I asked, half-snorting. I mean, I was in the Mommy Zone. I was so Zen. I wasn’t late for my practice.

“You’re so mean. I hate how you’re acting all calm.” She said this. It is a direct quote. I know, because at this point it was so good I had to write it down, and luckily, I was at my desk.

“I’m sorry, baby. Should I yell? Would that feel better to you?”

I’m not usually much of a yeller, and my children occasionally accuse me of yelling when I actually get quieter. Once, strictly for demonstration purposes, I responded to the accusation by actually yelling, “This is what it would sound like if I were actually yelling” and M promptly started to hyperventilate. But in this case, J ignored me and I finished whatever I was reading on my computer and we headed out.




Recently, M shared some inaccurate information with me. Repeated this inaccurate information. Insisted on this inaccurate information. When confronted with solid evidence directly contradicting this information, there was no verbal admission of guilt. That, my friends, is not how she rolls.

A few days later, M was lamenting the tragedy that was her forced relinquishment of a pair of shin guards. J needed shin guards for field hockey, and she’d inherited a spare pair of M’s.

Okay, first of all, I’ll admit it: sometimes I try to get M to move on from a particular item so that I won’t have to buy something for J. Earlier this winter, due to the miracle of neighborly hand-me-downs, I had in my possession three different pairs of snow pants that were roughly the same size, which was size was slightly-too-big-for-M. J owned a single pair of snow pants: a bit snug in the waist, definitely getting worn, and sporting a duct-tape patch on one knee. Sized between the three big pairs and J’s dilapidated patched pair, the snow pants that M still had from last year were, she insisted, her favorite snow pants ever, ever, ever. The size was perfect. I argued that they seemed almost indistinguishable from the ones a size up, and that’s when M pointed out the hot pink piping, which is “my favorite! It is why I love them!” This argument seemed absurd, since for about four years she refused to wear any pink whatsoever on principle. And as this discussion continued, little J jumped in with, “I like my snow pants. The patch isn’t too leaky and as long as I don’t button the top they fit.” Because that, my friends, is how she rolls.

But back to the shin guards. For the longest time, M owned two identical pairs of yellow shin guards, until they started looking a little small for her legs, and we bought a new pair. The yellow ones have been around as back-ups, but they’d been tucked in a basket literally for months when I fished out one set for J. M readily agreed that J should have them.  That is, until the other day, when she started moaning right before a morning practice about how she was down to one pair of too-small shin guards. “What are you talking about? Where are your A-list shin guards?” I asked.

“They’re gone,” she answered darkly.

“Gone where? You had them last week! Have you looked for them?”


“You’ve looked all around your room? You’ve checked every compartment of your soccer backpack?”

“Yes. That’s what I mean by gone. Do you think I’m too stupid to know how to look for my shin guards?”

This, my friends, is a question best left unanswered.

It was certainly a Great Mystery. That is, until a few hours later, when M & J were playing outside and I decided to conduct my own search. In her backpack, I found M’s A-list shin guards in the second zippered compartment I tried.

They were nestled snugly with a jersey that wasn’t hers. At their last game, the girls had had to switch from black to white right before the game. Rather than opening her own (monogrammed) backpack and pulling out her own (numbered) jersey, M opened a random backpack and picked out a random white jersey, one belonging to the only girl on her team who wouldn’t need it for the game because she was subbing as goalie that night. I had duly laundered the jersey, hung it to dry, and left it with M’s backpack so she could return it to her teammate at that morning’s practice, the same one that had her moaning about her missing shin guards. So she had taken the jersey, shoved it in next to her (allegedly missing) shin guards as she headed to practice, and then neglected to return the jersey, anyway.

I went to the back door to call out to M, busy on the snow fort.

“M? I’m just checking–you’ve already thoroughly searched your backpack for the shin guards, but you couldn’t find them? You unzipped all the pockets?” I called.


“And, this morning, did you remember to return your friend’s jersey?”


“So, you’re saying that the shin guards are still missing, but at least you took care of the jersey?”

Yes!” She’s getting impatient with me now. Seriously, middle-aged women are pretty slow.

“Sweetheart, look.” I hold up the shin guards and the jersey. “They were in the same pocket in your backpack.” She looks at me blankly. “You know, you’re starting to develop a real credibility issue with me.”

She chirped, “Thank you!” And perhaps she missed my credibility statement entirely (like I was saying “wonka-wak-wahhnk” Charlie Brown’s teacher-style), but I swear to God, it seemed like she took it as a compliment. She positively beamed with pleasure.

shin guards

Fantasies and Concessions to Reality

I think that if I were very, very wealthy, I would like to hire someone to take all of my last little bits of stuff. Those small slivers of soap melting on the shower shelf. The lotion at the bottom of the pump bottle that’s broken so that you can no longer pump the bottle, and instead you have to unscrew the top, churn the little dipstick-straw thing inside the bottle, and swipe it against your arm. The dishwashing machine detergent that only comes out if you store the container upside-down, and then the upside-down container falls over every time you open the cabinet, which usually knocks over a bunch of recyclables, too. The gummy, frosted clumps on the lid of the ice cream cartons. Never mind, I could probably handle the ice cream clumps myself. But the point is, I think that even if I were insanely wealthy, I still couldn’t just throw this stuff away. I’d feel guilty about the waste. But I’d find someone to take it. Hell, if I were unbelievably wealthy, maybe I could pay this person well enough that they could convincingly act grateful. They’d be all, “Oh, thank you! I was so, so hoping for 1/16 of a tube of acne cream, because the only thing I like better than a pimple is to spend 45 seconds of focused attention on coaxing pimple cream out of its container until I have way too much, and then I am Morally Compelled to spread the pimple cream on portions of my skin that are perfectly clear but considering breaking out. Especially if the cream has been expired for 7 months. This. Is. Awesome.” And then I’d be rid of something and feel like I’m making the world a better place for that one special employee.

As long as we’re fantasizing, I would pay some serious (imaginary) money for the type of beautiful and spacious mudrooms that you see if you Google mudroom images. The photo below signifies my most recent concession to reality in my house:

shoe mat

I have no doubt mentioned that our perplexing little home comes equipped with four doors to the outside, one for each side of my house. The door off of our kitchen is hardly ever used, with three notable exceptions:

  1. When, instead of actually cleaning cutting boards of bread crumbs, I lean out the door to brush the board off for the birdies before sliding it directly back into the cupboard;
  2. When I am having a maple syrup candy-making emergency; and
  3. When the kids come to the side door to pound furiously while gazing through the door’s window, looking aggrieved about how I’ve “locked them out.”

Currently this door is so adrift in snow that even its limited uses are well-nigh impossible.

Meanwhile, the front door is used by people who just don’t know any better. To encourage the learning process, our doorbell only works roughly 30% of the time, so your chances of actually gaining access to the house via the front door are poor at best. I believe that we’ve replaced the doorbell once or twice already, so perhaps it’s possessed. But that front entry isn’t entirely useless! In the months of January and February, the small, ugly, linoleum-floored entrance way is transformed into a walk-in refrigerator. This is particularly convenient for soup and football season, so that our refrigerator isn’t overflowing with soup pots and beer.

The backdoor is our most often-used door, and just inside the door, there’s a tragic bottleneck with a smallish-but-very-deep closet. Even when it’s optimally clean, it doesn’t fit much, and it’s tough to get into it:

clean closet

Sadly, it’s not usually this clean. It tends to be a sloppy pit full of shoes, mittens, and bags. It’s lined with tons of hooks that are perfectly set for my children’s height and yet they seem to find it extraordinarily strenuous to actually make the motion required to hang anything from these hooks. This closet opens onto a teensy space right next to the downstairs bathroom. In fact, if you open the door to the bathroom wide enough, you can rig it so that you can’t actually enter the house, because the back door collides with the bathroom door. If you can believe it, there actually used to be a door in this doorway to the closet, too, but we only had to jam three doors together about five times before we knew something was coming off the hinges.

And that leaves our screened porch door. This is just off the driveway, making it our favorite door for ride pick-ups and drop-offs. It’s our cat’s favorite door, and it’s where J has been tromping in every day after school, leaving a mess of melting snow behind her.  After muttering darkly for weeks, I had the brainstorm that I should remove the area rug from our refrigerator-foyer and just set it down next to the screened porch until the end of snow and mud season. Which was the right decision. But it also feels like I’m surrendering, because it signals that I’ve officially given up trying to keep things contained in the back door closet area. Sure enough, within a day of the rug move, boots, shinguards, and mittens had popped up there like mushrooms. I’m officially marking time until May, people.

It reminds me of another household concession I made. It used to drive me crazy that every time I sat down at our kitchen table, I found a random pen or pencil there. I’d harumph to myself, especially because they were often writing utensils from my desk. Finally I gave up and put a mug out as a pen-and-pencil catcher. It was silly, I reasoned, for me to retrieve my pens and pencils from the kitchen just to have them swiped again. I’d make a place for a pencil to await a writer, and then no one would need to bring more into the kitchen. A few weeks later, and this is what it looks on my kitchen table:

pencil cup

Note that there are still a pencil and pen randomly cluttering up the table, in spite of the super-conveniently located cup. Which apparently is some sort of magnetized sucking vortex, because it’s accumulated pencils, pens, a marker, a letter opener, a bookmark, and a pair of scissors. And what does my pen/pencil cup look like, over on my desk?

pencil less cup

Completely writing-instrument-free. I am not even kidding about this one. Sigh.

On a side note, I wanted to point out that I really have been keeping up with updating my Events page pretty well. So don’t forget to look.

I haven’t added lists of links to the blog much lately, and I think that’s because I tend to share them via Facebook pages instead. The KidsOutAndAbout page gets most of my misc. parenting links, and the Working Group on Girls of Schenectady tends to get my girl power links. Unless they’re too profane.


Awesome Local Girl Power Film Festival!

How cool is this?

. . .

Okay, I’ve misled you.

There actually isn’t an awesome local girl power film festival. But on the bright side, it feels like there’s an unofficial, slightly-spread-out-on-the-calendar girl power film festival. Here’s what’s coming up:

On Wednesday, February 25th at GE Theater at Proctors, there’s a 5:30 pm reception, 6:30 pm screening of The Empowerment Project. The film’s short description: “The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things is the incredible journey of 5 female filmmakers driving across America to encourage, empower, and inspire the next generation of strong women to go after their career ambitions.” This is the one-hour film, geared toward middle school and high school girls and their parents, and it’s for parents and girls ages 10 and up. It’s free, but you’re supposed to RSVP to ensure your spot. You can see a trailer here.


On Wednesday, March 4th at the Spectrum, there’s a 7 pm showing of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. Spectrum’s short description: “Mary Dore’s film resurrects the buried history of the outrageous, often brilliant women who founded the modern women’s movement from 1966 to 1971. The film takes us from the founding of NOW, when ladies wore hats and gloves, to the emergence of more radical factions of women’s liberation.” You can see a trailer here.


On Thursday, March 26th at the Kahl Campus Center at the Sage Colleges, from 6-8 pm (actually, I’ve also seen it as listed at 7:30 pm; my guess is that the film’s at 6 & there’s a 7:30 panel discussion following), there’s Finding Kind. The film’s short description: Two female filmmakers “set out in a cross country journey of discovery and education. Interviewing women and girls along the way about their lives and experiences, Parsekian and Thompson find, among all of the unique personal stories, some universal truths about growing up as girls. Finding Kind is a document of that journey, and of the filmmakers’ quest to take these experiences and find a common ground of kindness and mutual respect.” This one’s free, too, but you’re supposed to RSVP by March 26th. You can see a trailer here.

finding kind But, wait, there’s more! You can continue the girl power in the comfort of your own home through the splendor of Netflix.

Girl Rising is on Instant Netflix: “Viewers get to know nine unforgettable girls living in the developing world: ordinary girls who confront tremendous challenges and overcome nearly impossible odds to pursue their dreams.”

girl rising

Miss Representation is on Instant Netflix: “highlight[s] and challenge[s] the limiting depictions of women in the media and our larger culture.”


Maindentrip is on Instant Netflix: “14-year-old Laura Dekker sets out—camera in hand—on a two-year voyage in pursuit of her dream to be the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone.”


Half the Sky is on Instant Netflix: “the [four-hour] documentary series introduces women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable — and fighting bravely to change them.”

half the sky

Now, I wonder if I can get the girls to join me at the film festival. . . .


Snowy Afternoon

Right now, my children are hard at work.

They’re diligently harvesting icicles for their snow fort. Each icicle requires going to one of the upstairs bedrooms, clambering onto some furniture to reach the upper portion of the windows, opening the windows from the top down, carefully breaking off the precious spear o’ ice, swaddling it into a towel, carrying it carefully down the stairs and through the house, nudging into a pair of shoes at the door, maneuvering out the doorway without breaking the icicle (this part’s particularly tricky), and stowing the icicle with the ever-growing pile.

As you might imagine, this process if fraught with household perils. Not fully closing the upstairs windows is one of them. Forgetting that the windows should be closed at all is another. Occasionally there’s a sharp sound of breaking glass above me that indicates that the icicle wasn’t successfully transferred from the eaves into its towel-swaddle. And, really, the towel-swaddling is evidence of progress from previous harvest after repeated maternal complaints about a trail of drips. They’re not so fast out the door, leading to enough of a draft that Cute W, two or three rooms away, asks what’s going on. The shoes bring just a bit more snow in every time they’re slipped on, and when the shoes are not exactly where they’re expected, one sister will steal the other’s pair, which works just fine until the second sister is at the door with no shoes immediately apparent. Then, her only recourse is to open the door, step out onto the porch barefoot, and call to her sister until her cries and the wind whipping in through the open door rouses me to point out the vast array of sneakers and boots available, as well as the sister’s slide-on shoes, which were only tucked under the vast array of sneakers and boots.

And yet. They are so happy, so diligent, cooperating with each other and planning their building and setting the stage for an afternoon outdoors, that I do my best to ignore the irritation. I choose not to venture upstairs,  I turn the thermostat down for the duration of the icicle-harvesting process, and I throw a towel down by the back door. When the girls finally determine that their supply is big enough to move the entire construction project outside, I remind them to check the windows and wipe the floors, and they are extraordinarily compliant. They know that this entire operation requires considerable maternal forbearance, so when I throw out the requisite tasks before they can head out, M beams, “Yes, Mom, we love you, anything for you, Mom.” And even if there’s a bit of the Eddie Haskell in her response, I can’t help but be charmed.

As they’re bustling outside, Cute W, who’s ventured into the kitchen to make some lunch, offers them some grilled cheese, and I suggest that they take it outdoors. Cute W’s flummoxed. “You don’t want to do that, do you?” Oh, on the contrary! An outdoor winter picnic is one of the girls’ favorite things, and it’s always better if you’ve got something warm and cozy, so grilled cheese is perfect. I shoo them out, and ten minutes later I’m setting the plates of grilled cheese out on the back porch, AKA the take-out window. We’ll hope it holds them for a long time, but meanwhile, I’ll get cocoa prepped on the stove. When the girls come in, they’ll squeal and declare that I must be psychic, and I’ll gravely agree with them. Why yes. Yes, I am.


Rainbows are Better Than Snow

Okay, I’m feeling a bit fed up with the snow. I can’t remember if I’ve told you this before, but years and years ago, my toddler nephew thought that I was in charge of precipitation. I don’t know how he got this idea, but I loved it. It made me feel like a goddess.

These days, I’m pretty sure my goddess-named cat, Isis, believes that I’m in charge of this weather. Why else would she pad out over the powder and then turn back and shoot me such resentful looks?


Huh. I don’t know if her bad attitude is fully captured, but trust me, Kitty Be Pissed. Although it can be even worse with rain, when she travels from door to door, hoping that this side of the house will have a better offer than the back did.

But my kids love me, at least! That’s because yesterday, we did one of their favorite things ever. We went to the car wash.

What is it about the car wash? I never go by myself, because my kids find it so entertaining. In fact, M said that after a recent birthday party the mom asked if people minded if they paused to wash the car on the way home, and everyone shouted for joy.

Seriously. M got in the back seat with J because Car Wash Joy simply must be shared with someone as thrilled as you are, not some lame-ass adult who’s too busy fretting about whether or not she remembered to fold the rear-view mirrors in. Is everyone’s family like this? I have to imagine that if your kids aren’t literally shrieking with happiness, you neglected to go premium, because you know, for a couple of extra dollars you can get . . .


Oh-my-gosh, YES! It’s the rainbow wash! It’s thrilling to see it squirted on, it’s sorrowful to see it swooshed away, and as it’s tidied, each of the last little remnants must be identified and celebrated with fervor until. . . Psshhhhhh! . . . they, too, pass out of existence. It’s the circle of life.

Ummm. . . what else? Yesterday I was telling J (again!) that if such a thing as a Daughter Store existed, with models of every possible girl available, I would totally pick out one J and one M. I used to say that from long ago, like, sure, you arrived by accident, but I love your You-ness. But this time, J said, “Mom, that’s creepy.” Whaaat? “Yeah, think about it. It’s actually a really creepy idea.” Okay, yes. Upon consideration, it is creepy. But it had never occurred to me. Or them, back in the olden days. But both of the girls have read Sold, so they’re aware of the issue of human trafficking now.

Man, now I am completely skeeved out. I feel like someone needs to hose me down with some rainbow wash. But I’m afraid to go drive in the snow.


A Holiday That Isn’t Yet

I woke up this morning feeling festive. Yes, I know, intellectually, that when a coming blizzard is described as “potentially historic,” I should be more worried about traffic accidents and shivering shut-ins, but, to me, it feels like an impending not-yet-officially-declared holiday. I’m thinking, do we have the makings for cocoa, and are everyone’s mittens dry? Well, alrighty then! Let’s bring it!

Or, that’s how I was feeling before the day started getting me down. This morning I was all set to do a morning workout at the JCC (so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about missing my evening class if the snow had started), stock up on some groceries, and rush over to the library before it opened to avoid fines. And then I couldn’t find my damn car key. Crap.

What’s unbelievably awesome about our new car is that you don’t have to insert the key into the ignition–you just need to have it on you. My key’s usually deep in the pocket of my backpack or coat, and I’ll literally go days without even seeing it. So I was dressed in work-out gear and toting grocery bags and audio books when I climbed into the car and pushed the button. And. . .  nothing.

It took hours. And yes, there were multiple calls to St. Anthony. I watched the class start time come and go, I called Cute W to ask if he’d brought an extra key to work, and I cleaned. Whenever something’s lost, I always clean. That way, even if you’re not finding anything, you’re at least making progress, right? But I got pretty cranky. Not being able to find one’s keys can seem like a minor inconvenience or like Just More Evidence That Your Life Is A Shambles In Every Way, and this morning, it felt like the latter. The key was eventually located, between sofa cushions, where it must have landed after coming out of a clothing pocket, although I have no recollection of having put the key on my person. But whatever. I’m trying not to be bitter. I’m trying to move on. At the time I found the key, I was close to giving up and walking to the grocery store. Which is lovely when you have a few things to pick up, but my planned purchases were not suitable for hiking. So I guess that’s good.

But meanwhile, it’s still not snowing, and J’s after-school floor hockey class has been cancelled. The school texted me and emailed me, and then someone had J call me, too. Yes, yes, yes: I know. Thank you. So it’s not quite feeling like a holiday, after all.

Speaking of thank you-but-no-thank-you from J’s school, the teachers sent the kids home with marigold seeds at the beginning of the school year. Theoretically, we were going to nurture our little marigolds and watch as they literally blossomed as a symbol of our blossoming children. A week or two a classmate’s parent saw that ours was still alive and kicking. She congratulated me: theirs was long-dead. I know that it was a lovely concept, but I really hate getting something alive to symbolize my children when the survival of said Symbolic Object is not assured. And, sadly, our marigold has died as a result of its own success. . . that little stem got loner and longer, and we tried to support it while keeping it in a sunny spot, but. . .  the stem got crimped. Here it is, the symbol of J and her intellectual growth this year:


Now, that’s just too bad. We tried. Cute W had actually bought a little “grow your own bonsai” kit on a business trip, and the bonsai plants and marigold have been coddled, let me tell you. Plant food and a special plant light and some prime real estate on a table in our dining room. It’s been months and here are the baby trees:


Part of me is relieved that the marigold is out of its misery and we’re now down to two teensy baby plants to try to keep alive. But seriously, I wish schools wouldn’t send home anything alive. . . half the parents don’t manage to pull papers out of the backpacks for weeks, so it’s like authorizing plant-murder. And those of us who actually try could probably spend their time and guilt over something more productive.

Speaking of sending things home from school, there are a few things that I would like to see from school. M, who is an awesome-tastic student, had a less-than-stellar test. I had been told about this less-than-stellar test, and I’ve been informed that this test was particularly poorly received by the bulk of the 7th grade community, and I have now seen the actual score of this test through that miracle of technology, the parent portal (all hail!). But the test itself has never materialized. My daughter has told me that they weren’t given back. Excuse me? I would like to see this test. I would like to know what the test looked like, what she got right, and more importantly, what she got wrong. This seems like a reasonable thing to want to know. It seems like, if there is an indication that material was not entirely grasped, the responsible thing to do would be to review this material to ensure that this material is learned even if that particular unit has passed. And if everyone did horribly on this test and the teacher’s doing something to address it, then I could rest easy, but nobody’s saying anything about anything. So can’t I please ask? I am not That Parent who thinks that their child poops rainbow bubbles and therefore any evidence to the contrary means a conspiracy. I just feel like, if we’re trying to teach the kid and limited evidence suggests that the learning isn’t happening, it’s worth looking into it.

Of course, my desire to see this test is viewed as evidence that I am an Evil Shrew bent on Abusing and Humiliating a daughter who is Clearly A Deep Disappointment To Me. Any mention of the test could have absolutely no purpose but to inflict emotional abuse, clearly. So when my daughter said that bringing home this test was not possible and I said that I’d email the teacher, there was Sorrow and Pain and an insistence that the daughter would acquire this test if only, please, for the love of puppies and butterflies, don’t email the teacher! Because that would only amplify the crushing humiliation. Okay, I said, as I stuck the dagger that I’d intended to shove under my daughter’s fingernails into my waistband. . . for now. I will be asking for the test later in the week, and if I don’t get it, I’m emailing the teacher and just asking this teacher not to rat me out.

And speaking of teachers, I’ve sent another note to our governor expressing my deep disappointment with pretty much everything that comes out of his mouth regarding education. Feeling that way, too? Let him know.

So, the grouchiness continues. I’m ready for the flakes to start falling so I can break out the cocoa and Baileys and be done with the day, already.


The Adventures of Housebound Mom

This is a very, very old piece of writing that I could have sworn I’d already published, either here on the blog or via KidsOutAndAbout.com. But then I couldn’t find it, and I wanted to link to it via the KOA newsletter, because I’ve been nagging everyone that they Must. Go. Outside. And I know that that’s tough when kids are little. So here it is. (What? You’re not signed up for this newsletter that we send out each week. Get on that, please!) And if you’ve known me for a while, you may home seen it before, from waaaaaayyyyy back when I was doing the newsletter for the Niskayuna Moms’ Group.

After J got a fever at 9 days old, leading to a stay in the hospital and various torturous medical procedures, our family has decided to remain in relative seclusion until Thanksgiving, when the baby’s immune system would be up to speed. At the time, we’d been experiencing the first of the yucky fall weather and I’d been, frankly, half asleep most of the time. So I thought some other mommies might enjoy my ideas for incredibly lazy and cheap activities that your kids might enjoy when you’d rather—but think you probably shouldn’t—plop them in front of another show. If you have some of your own, I’d love to hear them and pass them along.


Fun with the Digital Camera: Kids love pictures.

  • Take pictures of favorite people and put them in an album or on the refrigerator for the very youngest kids examine. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even make an alphabet or counting book with objects around the house. I know people who’ve sent away for books like this and shared them with cousins. Impressive!
  • Print up little (or create a folder on whatever electronic device you’re willing to let a child hold containing) photos of various objects to use for various fun and games. We take pictures of objects around the house to play scavenger hunt or pictures of our most-often-purchased food items so that we can occupy ourselves searching the grocery store.
  • After being bashed by the toy motorcycle one too many times, Cute W pasted a photo of my daughter into a document to create a driver’s license for her. Now if she crashes into him too often she “loses her license”.
  • For older kids, take pictures of the places that you go and the people that you see regularly, then put them on a calendar to help them understand days of the week (Wednesdays is Moms’ Group) or look forward to a big event, like Grandpa visiting.
Come to think of it, the girls would also "help" grocery shop by looking for items on a picture list. No wonder these kids are slaughtering the state testing.
Come to think of it, the girls would also “help” grocery shop by looking for items on a picture list. No wonder these kids are slaughtering the state testing.

Kitchen Concoctions: Pass some time with easy activities.

  • Put a pile of cornstarch in a plastic dish and add enough water to get it all wet.       It’s likely to get a bit messy, but the crazy solid-liquid texture can fascinate toddlers (and adults, really) for a long time.
  • Pull out a bunch of spices from the cabinet and have a smell-a-thon. The only danger here is that they’ll want to do it again tomorrow when you’re just trying to cook dinner.
  • Mix half a cup of rubbing alcohol and a couple of drop of food coloring in a plastic bag that seals, then add dried pasta and shake it up. Spread the pasta to dry on waxed paper and you have colored noodles make string or paste. Crafty, and great when you need to clean out the cabinets, anyway.

The Mail: You get it every day: why not milk it for all that it’s worth?

  • Make the mail truck an event. Get to know your postal carrier by offering cookies or a hand-painted picture once in a while, and you’ll have a friend who visits your kids daily.
  • Cut up those complimentary return address labels from charities so that you have an endless supply of stickers: we’re biggest fans of the ASPCA’s puppies and kitties.
  • If I have any piece of junk mail that can remotely interest my toddler (anything with pictures of children, animals, vehicles, or toys), I tell her that it’s “her” mail.
  • If credit card companies send you one of those fake cards, hand it over to your child to fill wallets and purses, or keep it with your real stuff in case you need to negotiate a quick trade because they’ve gotten something important.
  • For older kids, hand over those Pottery Barn and other home catalogs and let them cut out and glue furnishing and other items to make their own room on a page.

More Life at Our House

This morning M was snorting over one of our baby photo books. “And put syrup on Isis!” she cackled. For a few weeks when J was a toddler, she had discovered humor, and her idea of a joke (probably born during a pancake breakfast) was to add this phrase to anything anyone else said. As in, “Girls,” says Mommy, “don’t forget to brush your hair and–” “And put syrup on Isis!” J would shriek, and the girls would completely lose it.

Actually, it was pretty funny, at least for the first couple of times.

“It’s so sad,” M lamented. “We don’t say anything cute or funny anymore.”

Not true. I insisted. She demanded an example, and I had one handy.

Over Christmas break we’d invited a couple of friends over for pizza dinner. They were friends we used to see all the time, and now everyone’s so busy that we just don’t. We’d fit dinner into a somewhat tight schedule, deciding that the friends were too true blue for us to fret about how clean the house was. M had a soccer game for late afternoon, but we figured that if we hustled out right after the game, we’d be all set. We headed straight to the car, as planned, and had driven to the first stop light when I asked J if she’d remembered the book she’d brought. Nope. We looped back and J ran in. We waited. The clock was ticking. She came back out, book-less. M and I, exasperated, ran out to do a second look. M hit the lost & found while I retraced our steps to the bleachers. Nothin’. As we were heading out of the soccer place, Cute W was heading in. “We’ve already checked!” I yelled at him. And M and I headed back to the car, me muttering that Cute W thought that we were incompetent, and then swearing that I would be deeply, deeply bitter if he actually found the damn thing, but Don’t Tell Daddy.

Sure enough, Cute W strode out to the car, smirking and holding the book aloft. Dammit. Apparently J had wedged the book into the underside of a bleacher or something? I don’t know. I wailed in distress, J thanked him graciously, Cute W laughed, and M immediately threw me under the bus. “Mom said that she was going to be mad if you found it.” Traitor.

But the point was, we were now officially late to our own party. So Cute W raced along while I texted our friends that we’d be home any minute. We were still ahead of them, but just barely.

As we parked in the driveway and tumbled out, M said, “I just keep thinking about how the people on Downton Abbey spend days getting ready for a party, and we’re almost not here to open the door for people.” At which point she opened our back door while singing a Ke$ha line, “The party don’t start ’til I walk in.”

Give me a break. That girl is funny.

I am frequently reminded of that quote from my favorite essay ever from Anna Quindlen. Like her, “I wound up with the three people I like best in the world.”

They’re being extra-lovable these days, too (knock on wood!). M’s declarations of fierce hatred for her parents have dropped significantly. Part of me is over-analyzing whether she is retreating to her family because 7th grade sociability has been less reliable for her lately, but I am trying my best to stay out of it and just appreciate her generally pleasant demeanor. The other night Cute W was out of town overnight, and thus I was ignoring the really ridiculously messy kitchen in order to finish something on the computer. There was a bit of suspicious pot clanging and later, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a dishwasher unloaded and reloaded and the counters wiped down. It was. . . so very, very beautiful. I love that girl.

J, meanwhile, has been hard at work on her social studies project, recreating the steps in Native American clothes-making. How cute is she?


At one point she was trying to color small wisps of cotton black to look like ash from her campfires, but they somehow managed to look a weak grey-blue. I suggested that I could actually burn a piece of paper to create actual ash, and she looked like I’d just told her we were going to Disney World. M, meanwhile, began to panic: she still hates fire. J and I took the lighter into the other room to spare M the fretting.

J has recently been dabbling in floor hockey. She signed up for the weekly after school program, which is basically a bit of a free-for-all, but she was super-excited about it.  So then I suggested the town’s upcoming weekly program that was field-hockey-oriented skills and games for girls, and luckily it didn’t conflict with gymnastics. So she signed up. When she arrived and jumped out of the car, the first girls she encountered were significantly taller than her and were toting their own field hockey sticks, so she panicked and fled, blinking back tears. I sort of tough-loved her back into the gym, and she ended up having a terrific time. So I’m psyched.

We’ve consistently tried to get each girl interested in more than one sport because it’s supposed to help prevent injuries, and I tried to get M to do some basketball, but all I managed was one week of morning summer camp. And I think that she regrets it a bit, now, because several of her friends are doing basketball after school while she’s home, with her lame mother. But she loves-loves-loves soccer, so she’s got that. J, meanwhile, does a ton of gymnastics, but that’s separate from school, and M had so much fun on her school team this year–it just feels like a great way to have guaranteed middle school friends. Plus I’m ambivalent about just how much time Josie spends at gymnastics practice. She likes it and I wouldn’t want to make her quit, but I can’t help thinking that if it ever did get overwhelming for her and she didn’t have another sport, her poor little body would go into some kind of shock without 11 hours of practice a week.  So it’s nice to keep our options open. And of course, now her schedule’s busier than ever, with one sport or the other every day except Sunday. Or, theoretically, because tomorrow morning there’s a gymnastics meet! Of course, for a gymnastics meet you really do about half an hour of actual gymnastics and six hours of being nervous.

That’s what’s going on around here. Except, have you noticed how beautiful it’s been lately? Here’s the view from my car after a JCC class the other day:


And this is my view as I look up driving on my way to and from the JCC. That’s right. I had to pull over an take a picture. I love the spring when the tunnels of greenery come back, but this is pretty gorgeous too.


That’s right: I’m just like my tv alter-ego. I’m actually starting to love winter.


Winter Fun at Lapland Lake

We spent the weekend at Lapland Lake, and I wrote a review of it for KidsOutAndAbout.com.

Wow, everyone there really loves winter. It’s pretty amazing. We left on Friday night, and I was a little stressed out, actually. I’d originally said that we’d arrive around dinner time, but then M had an evening soccer game, so we ended up going afterwards. And then, since it was later, I’d said that I’d call when we were on the way, but the phones were out, so I ended up emailing. Between my low texting skill level, my somewhat lame phone, and my propensity to get car sick if I dare focus my eyes anywhere, this was more arduous than it sounds. I shouldn’t have worried–they were perfectly lovely and we got there just fine.

Basically everyone had more fun than they expected. We took a family skate skiing lesson, which Cute W and I thought was much more fun than classic skiing. The girls had never been on cross country skis before, but since they downhill ski and ice skate, they were pretty well prepared. And, in fact, they did very well. Halfway through the lesson the ski instructor watched M tearing up the hill and murmured, “You have a natural skater there.” J struggled a bit more, and she got a little frustrated by the end of the lesson, but once we started exploring on our own, she was happy again.

M Lapland Lake

After doing some cross country skiing, the girls tubed for a little bit. They each had their own tube, but shortly after we got started, a 3-year-old and his mom appropriated one of ours, and no one had the heart to try to take it back. I think the girls had a much better time sharing one tube, anyway.

Girls tube Lapland Lake

We were tubing in anticipation of the Scandinavian pole sledding activity. I was confused: I’d conflated the description and told a small crowd of parents that the activity would involve the resident reindeer. I was wrong about that. Basically, there’s an upright pole frozen into the snow, and then they attach another pole that sticks out to form a radius of a large circle with the sled on the end. A grown-up (someone on staff) pushes the pole in a small circle while the kid on the sled flies in a bigger circle.

J pole sled Lapland Lake

They loved the pole sled, although I think M got a little motion-sick. After that we did a quick snowshoe walk, but the girls were eager to get back to skiing.

Honestly, I was faring the worst of all of us. Between being overdressed and exerting myself with my inefficient, first-time-skate-skiing strides, I was literally steaming.  That’s right: literally steaming. The rest of the family found that pretty hilarious. By the end of the day I was hatless & coatless in the objectively super-freezing weather, and I was still a little too warm. Plus, I acquired a blister on each foot, which made each stride a little bit ouchy. Luckily, I’d just finished Unbroken, so when I felt like whining about my feet, I reminded myself that Louis had survived through extended time on a life raft and then in a Japanese POW camp, so maybe I should just suck it up. Things improved later, when I took advantage of the sauna. They have “men only” and “women only” times, so I was on my own, and when I arrived, I was relieved that I was, in fact, alone. I was just a little too sleepy to make awkward chitchat with a naked stranger. But it made me wish that I had a couple of girlfriends or sisters and a bottle of wine. Yeah, you’re probably not allowed to drink wine in the sauna. Well, whatever.

We exhausted ourselves. Cute W took pictures of us, at my request, in the restaurant in the evening. I wanted to capture the cute whine goblets and Christmas lights that had dressed the place up for the evening. Instead, all I could see in those photos were two girls who looked like they might, at any moment, drop their faces into their plates and start snoring.

We went for one last ski on Sunday morning before heading home in time to make football snacks before the Broncos (season-ending) game. It was definitely a bunch of fun. Details here.

ALSO: I’m going to be on WNYT Newchannel 13’s Live at Noon TODAY (Thursday) talking about active winter fun.