My Convertible Life

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Warm Heart

Parenthood is filled with lots of crappy moments.

Kids are whiny and messy and exhausting. There are snow days that you have to juggle with work that doesn’t close when school does. You make dinner every single night, half the time working like a short-order cook, and still they complain. They never clean their rooms without being asked – and still don’t do it when you do ask them. They pick and fight with each other. They are demanding.

But the beauty of parenthood is found in just as many tiny, lovely moments.

Even as they grow, they’ll still snuggle on the couch with me. They look like angels tucked into their beds, sleeping soundly as they snore. Sometimes they love my cooking, announcing loudly that no one makes better pancakes than mine. They give hugs and kisses freely. There are chances to be proud of them in public. Once in a while, they even ask me how my day went and actually listen to my response.

Yesterday – after the mess of putting on and taking off snow pants, snow boots, snow-covered gloves and hats, after lunch custom-made for each child because they couldn’t possibly eat the same thing, after the whining about what can we do and why can’t we watch another show – the kids and I headed back out into the cold to find some friends for sledding. As we started up the hill, each child dragging a sled, Pippi started complaining that her sled was too heavy.

“Hey, Mom,” says Junius, smiling. “I’ve got an idea. You pull my sled and I’ll pull Pippi in her sled!”

“Thank you, Junius!” Pippi replied, as he held the sled for her to climb into. Then they headed on up the hill together, with me just behind them.

My feet were cold, but my heart was melty.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

To Cancel School or Not to Cancel School...

In a big district like Wake County – with more than 153,000 students in 170 schools scattered across 857 square miles – there is probably only one job worse than being the person in charge of student assignment: 
Being the person in charge of cancelling school due to inclement weather.

Last night, as our local meteorologists sent everyone racing to the store for bread, milk, eggs and wine (the essentials, assuming you already have a stockpile of chocolate), the Wake County Public School System went ahead and canceled school for today. 

As of 4 p.m., when the school day would have been over across the entire county, we still hadn’t seen the first snowflake. We finally saw a few flurries just after 5:00.

For parents whose days were turned topsy-turvy (or worse) with kids at home, it was frustrating knowing we could have had a completely normal (albeit very cold) day. Instead, we have a snow make-up day for a day that didn’t include snow.

So here’s what makes that job – the one that has to make the call about if and when to cancel school – so terrible. If they hadn’t cancelled school and the snow started at noon (as was possible, according to the weather maps), parents would have been furious that kids were put on buses after the weather started to turn instead of before. You can’t win for losing.

As much as I wish we’d had school today so that I could have had a normal day at work, I don’t blame WCPSS at all for the decision they made. Here’s why:
  1. Wake County runs a multi-tier bus system – that means that one set of buses picks up a round of kids and takes them to school, then picks up another round of kids and takes them to school. Then they refuel and do the whole thing in reverse. On early release days, our school starts at 8:30 and gets out at 12:30 – I think that’s about as tight a turn-around as the buses can manage, meaning the last schools are released at 1:15. If the snow had started at noon as predicted, that would have been too late.
  2. I’m still scarred from January 2005 when a fraction of an inch of snow fell in the early afternoon, immediately turned to ice, and caused total gridlock across the county. My usual 15-minute drive home from work took three hours – and I had to walk the last few blocks, pregnant and frozen, because I couldn’t get my car up the icy hill around the corner from my house. As it turned out, three hours was a blessing – many people spent upwards of eight hours stuck in their cars while some children (and their teachers or administrators) spent the night at school when their parents weren’t able to get there to pick them up. Ask the people in Atlanta today if they know what I’m talking about. 

Now at 9 p.m., it’s still snowing – although it’s a wimpy sort of snow so far. With any luck, there will be enough to justify suiting up to go out and play tomorrow (obviously school is cancelled again) – but not so much to cause that poor person to have to cancel school again on Thursday.

PS: If you’re not following @wcpss on Twitter yet, you might be the only one. Go follow them now.
PSS: That's Junius earlier today (in the photo), wearing his snow pants over his pajama pants, coat at the ready. You know, just in case.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Choosing Kindergarten

When I was a senior in high school, I applied and was accepted to four universities. That was great – except that the only one I could afford to go to was my last choice.

Thankfully my last choice was still a very good option and it only took about two weeks on campus before I was completely on board. By the end of my freshman year, I couldn’t imagine ever going to the other three schools.

What I learned through that experience (among other things) is that college was ultimately what I made it. If I showed up ready, made an effort in my classes, talked with my professors, spent time making good friends and really invested in the school, then I was going to love it.

I feel the same way about my kids’ elementary school – and I want to say that to parents of rising kindergartners around the county as they fret over choosing the right school for their children. 

It’s time for families in Wake County to register for kindergarten, a milestone packed with emotion. And here, in addition to the angst over letting your little person spend the better part of five days a week with kids and adults you’ve never met, there’s the added stress of deciding on which school(s) to choose -- or wondering if you really even have a choice. We’re lucky here to have a lot of good options, but that creates its own challenges.

All over the district, parents are touring magnet schools, visiting their base school and weighing a host of other options both public and private -- although depending on where they live and what their circumstances are, some may have more real choices than others. A few years ago I was where they are now and I remember how worried I was about making just the right choice – a choice that was ultimately controlled by where the district had space for us.

Now that we’ve been in two different elementary schools over the past four years (through our choice, not a reassignment), I can see that we are fortunate to be in the same position I was as a high school senior. All of our options were good ones – some a better fit than others, but none of them bad. And ultimately what we – both the kids and our whole family – get out of the school is based on what we put into it.

Our children showed up prepared for school – a luxury that not every child starts with, I realize. My kids make an effort in their classes, learning to read and write, add and multiply, think and talk. They’ve made friends, in class and on the playground – and we’ve made parent friends, too, helping on field trips or waiting at school pick-up. As a family, we have invested in elementary school, not just through our donations to the PTA, but with our time and energy, through our communications with teachers, in our conversations at home with our kids.

So if you’re one of these parents in the midst of school decisions, here are a few thoughts:
  • It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. This is a big deal.
  • Kindergarten rocks. It’s absolutely incredible to watch those little people grow.
  • Go visit all the schools you’re interested in. There’s a lot you can learn from the way a school feels when you walk through it.
  • Talk with parents whose kids actually attend the school. Don’t put stock in hearsay and rumors. 
  • Know that every school will have teachers you love and others who aren’t as good a fit for your child. No school is perfect, not even Hogwarts.
  • Keep in mind that numbers – test scores, demographics and the rest – only tell part of the story. Don’t make assumptions.
  • Remember that your attitude toward the school sets the tone for your child. 
  • Trust that if you invest in your school, you’ll get a great return. 

Oh, and pack some tissues for yourself on the first day of school. It’s a doozy – but it’s worth it.

More thoughts on kindergarten and school choice:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Being in the Bee

Junius participated in his first schoolwide spelling bee tonight. He made it through the first round with confidence, then got nervous in the second round and spelled his word how it sounded instead of how it is spelled – “mortle” instead of “mortal.”  He was a good sport about it and stayed until the end to watch two older girls duke it out through more than a dozen final rounds before they finally got to the winner.

He looked really little up there. Only one other boy was his size, with a couple others who were close. When he went out in round two, I was a little sad – mostly because there were many other words in that round and the following round that I knew he could spell. But he was fine. And he was up there, trying and smiling, and that’s what counts.

The post below is something I wrote after the practice last week. I think it still says what matters.

* * *

Tonight Junius had a practice session for next week’s spelling bee. He was the first alternate for his class and the 2nd place finisher can't make it, so he got called up -- at his school, they let the first and second place spellers from each class participate in the school wide bee. 

I realize it was just a meeting -- a review of the rules and then a run-through using 1st grade words so that all the kids would understand the process and test out spelling into the microphone -- but I was so proud of him. As a young 3rd grader, he was one of only a few boys there and one of the smallest kids, but he marched right up to that microphone in his Panthers jersey, repeated the word, spelled it and said it one more time like he’s been in a spelling bee every day for a year. Whatever, Mom.

I’m used to seeing him be tough at hockey or basketball. He might not be the biggest or the fastest kid on the team (although sometimes he is), but he’s always in it to win it-- or at least to have a great time trying. I don’t often get to see him compete on his own in an academic setting. And when he’s not playing sports, he quickly turns shy in front of an audience. But not tonight.

Ironically, his practice word was “shy.”

I'm sure it makes me more than a little dorky, but the whole thing was awesome. Totally nerdtastic, and I would know.

When I was in 5th grade, I competed in my school’s spelling bee. It was a K-8 school, so I had to spell against older kids who didn’t expect me to do well. That only made it more satisfying when I won the whole thing. (I lost in a very early round at the next level, so my moment of glory was extremely short-lived.)

I don’t expect him to win the school spelling bee. But as a mama who makes her living using the right words and spelling them correctly, it warms my heart more than a little to see my sporty boy enjoying the spelling bee limelight.

Monday, January 13, 2014

In Which My Daughter Tries to Kill Me By Refusing to Sleep Through the Night

In case you thought perhaps Pippi's bedtime was all moonlight and unicorns, with little back-scratching fairies who carried her off to sleep, here's your reality check.

Pippi was generally a better sleeper than her brother was as a baby -- although truthfully that’s a pretty low bar. But where Junius tried to kill us quickly through insanely intense sleep deprivation during his first year, his sister has taken the slow-torture approach and is trying to bring about my demise in a more methodical, diabolical fashion.

She continues -- even at age five-and-three-quarters -- to wake up during the night (sometimes more than once) and require attention. Sometimes she calls from her bed, with a sing-song "Moooooooooooooo-mmyyyyyyyyyyyyyy." Then there’s a 15-second pause, followed by the same pitch of Moooooooooooooo-mmyyyyyyyyyyyyyy," (almost never "Daaaaaaaaa-ddyyyyyyyy") which continues steadily until I go into her room. Other times she appears at the edge of the bed, as if by magic, her round face and hot breath an inch from mine -- which still scares the crap out of me when I realize she’s there. Frequently she wakes up around 5:00, which gives her plenty of time to go back to sleep while robbing me of my last 30 minutes before I have to get up for boot camp.

I am basically rude and not at all sympathetic to her when this happens. But I walk her back to her bed, tuck her in and tell her I love her -- because I just. want. to go. back. to sleep.

It seemed we had finally bribed parented our way out of this deadly pattern a couple of months ago. But she has resumed her nocturnal neediness over the past week. Why? I have no idea.

Well, actually, I have a few…

27 Reasons That May or May Not Explain Why My Daughter Wakes Up During the Night
  1. She is lonely.
  2. She needs to pee.
  3. She needs to pee and wants to use my bathroom instead of hers.
  4. She needed to pee and just wanted to tell me that she already went. All by herself.
  5. She peed and now she wants someone to tuck her in.
  6. She wants someone to lie down with her.
  7. She wants someone to lie down with her who is a human and not one of her “friends” that is a stuffed animal.
  8. Her bed is too crowded.
  9. She just wants some company.
  10. She wants to know if it’s time to get up.
  11. She wants to know how much longer until morning.
  12. Her legs itch.
  13. He back itches.
  14. She can’t find Shirley (the Sheep, pictured above).
  15. She wants to know if she has school tomorrow.
  16. Or the next day?
  17. She just remembered a funny story about what happened at school yesterday and needs to tell me about it right now.
  18. She had a bad dream.
  19. She had a silly dream. And needs to tell me about it right now.
  20. She wonders how many days it is until her birthday and how many friends she can invite to her party and can it please be a sleep-over?
  21. Her room is too dark.
  22. Her nightlight is too bright.
  23. There were these really awesome Hello Kitty socks in the dollar bin at Target and she wants to know if we could go buy them in the morning.
  24. Her closet doors are open.
  25. She thought her brother was up.
  26. She wants to know if she can play Minecraft on Daddy’s iPad.
  27. She needs a tissue. And she may or may not have a nosebleed.
If you've got any favorite reasons from your own house, feel free to add them below in the comments. If you've got those kids who magically slept through the night as a six-week-old baby and never looked back, then you should just keep that to yourself.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Love in the Time of Back Scratching

When she’s older, I hope my daughter remembers the back scratching.

Actually I hope she remembers all of the wonderful, caring, selfless things I do for her – like make dinner every night, paint her nails, “help” clean her room, take her to playdates, buy her clothes, do her laundry, color pictures, play Go Fish, take her to the ballet. But if she only remembers the back scratching and it makes her smile, that would be a good start.

Most nights I’m the one putting her to bed. We read a book, say prayers, then turn out the light – at which point she immediately asks me to scratch her back. Sometimes she also requests a song or a story, but always the back.

“If I’m very still and very quiet, mommy, will you please scratch my back?” she asks, anticipating the requirements before I can say them and turning her face to the wall so her back is pointing at me.

I’m always exhausted at this point in the night. Ready to be done with bedtime so I can have my own time to write, read, watch TV or (gasp) be with my husband. I don’t actually like doing bedtime because the whole routine just makes me tired.

But I cannot say no to the back scratching request.

When I was a kid, I loved having my back scratched. Okay, I still do. My mom, a pianist, never had long nails, but she had the gentlest touch and the patience of a saint. Sometimes, if I managed to randomly sit close enough to her hand, she would absent-mindedly start scratching my back simply because it was there and that was what she did. It’s a most ordinary and yet most intimate gesture.

One day, if Pippi is lucky enough to have her own exhausting little person to put to bed, I hope she’ll catch a memory of snuggling under her blanket with her soft, small back sticking out. I hope she’ll recall my weary fingertips running circles across her pajamas and her skin, through her fresh-from-the-bath hair.

And I hope she’ll know in that moment that – despite all the times I wasn't what she needed me to be – I have always loved her.

Friday, January 3, 2014

On Visiting the Plastic Surgeon

I lost another part of me today.

This time it was part of my back -- a dysplastic nevus that rated “severe” on the spectrum of atypical moles trying to turn into skin cancer. My dermatologist biopsied the spot a couple months ago and gave me the option of going to a plastic surgeon to ensure that it was entirely removed.

Being in a plastic surgeon’s office was a weird experience. The continuous video promoting various creams and injections didn't make me feel any better about my own 41-year-old face, which was free of its usual make-up. I found myself looking at other people in the waiting room and wondering why they were there -- breast implants, liposuction, face lift, dyspastic nevus? And then wondering what they assumed I was there for -- which, let’s face it, would be a boob job if they were paying any attention.

I took myself to the appointment after convincing my husband I could handle it on my own. The nurse had assured me it was a simple, quick procedure and I’d be fine to drive and carry on with my day. Just an inch-long incision in the upper left quadrant of my back, no big deal.

Except that once I was lying on my stomach on the operating table feeling the bizarre tugging sensation of stitches on numb skin, I started having flashbacks. Having had two c-sections, I’m all too familiar with that feeling that my skin has turned to thick, tough leather that’s being stretched, shoved and pulled in new directions. At least this time there wouldn’t be a newborn to take care of afterward.

The whole procedure took less than 30 minutes, including check-in and check-out paperwork. It wasn’t until after the surgery was completed and I was trying to pencil in the post-op appointment on my calendar that I realized my hands were shaking.

Guess this means I don’t have the stamina for that boob job after all.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Bird By Bird

250 words a day.

Over the course of 2014, that would mean writing [...pauses while she accesses the calculator...] 91,250 words.

Sounds like a lot -- and I guess it is -- except that writing the equivalent of a letter to the editor each day really shouldn't take all that much time. And maybe at the end of the year, all those words would add up to having something to say.

It’s like the StoryPeople print that I quoted on my meal-planning board a few years ago: “Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.”

I don’t yet know how to make that quotation real, but maybe this 250-a-day is a good place to start. Maybe carving out  smaller pockets of time will actually stretch the time farther -- spend less time worrying about not having enough time and instead just use all the bits of time that are there.

So often I put off doing things I want to do -- read Anne Lamott's new book, call a best friend, write a blog post, organize a closet -- because I think I don’t have time to do it all at once. What would happen if I savored small doses of all of those things in 10- or 15-minute bites instead of never getting to the big serving of a multi-hour block?

Maybe 2014 is the year to find out.