Generation Y Work?

Colin has never liked school, mostly because he feels he could use the time in better ways.  I get that.  School is a lot of hours, and Lego construction is shockingly absent from the new common core.

Before he started, I naively thought he’d love school, but I should have realized he’d hate it.  When he was two or three, people used to ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up.  “Maybe a firefighter?  Or taxi driver?” they’d ask.  He loves vehicles, so these seemed like good options.

But Colin always gave a puzzled look and said, “I just want to play.”

I have to admire that answer.  When I was a kid and people asked me the same question, I answered, “doctor” or “lawyer” like the obedient little schmuck I am.  Then after school ended and I was thrust into the adult world of work, and all those dinners that used to magically appear on the table suddenly disappeared, I realized I’d been had.  How did Colin figure out at age two what I didn’t realize until I was 23?

Still, I can’t let Colin be a mooch forever.  When he was five, I knew it was time to get serious about career planning, so I asked him again what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“I want to drive a limousine Volkswagen school bus taxi that goes on railroad tracks,” he said.

Obviously I had to shoot down that dream.  “You can’t earn money for that.  You have to pick something people will pay you to do.”

He thought about this and then said, “I want to open a dealership that sells limousine Volkswagen school bus taxis.  And I will buy one.”

That almost sounds like a job!  “Good idea!”

“Yeah, and someone else will work at the dealership.”

“Oh.  But will you still be in charge of it?”

“No.  It will be someone else’s dealership.  I will just drive mine around.”

I guess I should be impressed that he found a trickier way to say, “I just want to play.”

Colin is eight now, and his current long-term plan is to live at home forever.  He does want to have a family, and he says that Andy and I will help raise his children.  At least he’s clear about his goals.  Some kids string their parents along, pretending they will move out, but Andy and I have been warned upfront that we are raising a freeloader.

Colin sometimes says that he will open a restaurant based on obscure Lego characters that no one has heard of.  But when it’s time to put dinner on the table, is this future restaurant owner in the kitchen?  No, everything’s left to Mom and Dad.  And those pizzas won’t put themselves in the oven.

Annabelle, who has not yet learned to fight the school system, says she will open a Lambie restaurant.  She will not serve lamb at this restaurant; instead, it will be filled with pictures of her stuffed lamb.  The menu will consist entirely of green food, as Lambie is green.

I know.  It’s a terrible business plan.  There’s no demand for Lambie restaurants that do not serve lamb.  But whenever I try to broach this, Lambie gets very upset, and it’s really hard to talk to Lambie when he’s tantruming.  He’s sensitive about the consumption of lamb and has banned it from our household.  Annabelle’s stuffed fish and pig likewise object to the slaughtering of their kind, and Colin and Andy live in fear of Annabelle acquiring a stuffed cow or chicken.  It should be noted, however, that when bacon is on the table, Annabelle scarfs away, and Piggy’s cries for justice are silenced.

To support her dreams of entrepreneurship, Annabelle is eager to help in the kitchen.  Often, she sees Andy or I start to cook and declares, “Oh!  I will help!”  This is very cute and thoughtful.  But not at all helpful.  Sometimes her efforts to “help” make me appreciate her slacker brother, who’s off inventing a monster truck jet with wheels that retract automatically—totally ignoring my suggestions to do some market research first.

They used to both want to help in the kitchen, and then they’d argue over who was taking more space on the stool and whose turn it was to stir and generally succeeded in driving me nuts.  But these days they want to help less and less, and even Annabelle is drawn away by the creation of the monster truck jet with retractable wheels.  Now I find I miss them shoving each other off the stool and stirring so vigorously that most of the ingredients land in their hair.

Swayed by her brother, Annabelle also plans to live at home forever and raise her kids in our house.  Colin says he’ll marry Annabelle, which means I’ll never have to deal with a new and difficult daughter or son in law.  But we have a baby boy on the way, and Colin has noticed the problem here.  What if the baby also wants to marry Annabelle?  It’s a real worry, only solvable by having another daughter.  Andy said this baby is the last one, but that was before he realized this snag in the children’s life goals.

Colin and Annabelle have taught me that I can’t plan their lives.  All the parenting experts say to let children blossom into whoever they want to become, and my children want to blossom into freeloaders who let their parents raise their genetically questionable kids.  I had a slightly different vision for them, but who am I to stand in the way of their dreams?

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Round Three

We are expecting our third!  (And, Andy says, our last.)

It took a little convincing to get Andy on board for number three.  I said that I didn’t know Annabelle was going to be our last one, so I wasn’t ready.  He said he thought it was pretty clear, since we already have a boy and a girl.  There was also that time when I was in the throes of labor with Annabelle, crawling on the floor in agony, when I may possibly have said, “I am NEVER.  DOING. THIS.  AGAIN”—or some other totally ambiguous statement that Andy probably misinterpreted.

For two years I thought about having another, and although Andy started to waver, his uncertainty made me less certain.  Part of me wanted to just be done and enjoy what we have.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about it!  I had constant conversations with myself about the pros and cons of a third.  Usually I’d finish by concluding it made sense to stop with two.  Good.  Decision made.  But then two minutes later, I’d think, “What should we name our new baby?”  So in the end we had to have a third so that I could stop being a crazy person and could actually think and talk about other things.  And it’s worked.  I bring up much more sensible topics now, like which Netflix romantic comedy we should watch tonight—A Christmas Prince or Love Actually?

The truth is that I need another baby because my situation was getting desperate.  Annabelle is starting kindergarten next year, and with both kids in school, things will be expected of me.  What if I start having to do the Costco runs?  I really, really don’t like doing the Costco shop.  But, see, now I won’t have to.  I hate to brag, but did I problem solve that or what?  And in five years, when this little Costco predicament sneaks up again, I’ve already got a solution.

Like with my other two pregnancies, I am so sick.  Princess Kate was pregnant at the same time I was expecting Annabelle, and we are pregnancies buddies again.  Actually, she is not my buddy because I am irrationally jealous of her.  A friend told me that Kate was too sick to take her son to his first day of preschool, so she had to watch it on TV from her bed.  Isn’t that the saddest story?  Ahem, guess who didn’t have anyone to take her kid to her first day of preschool?  Guess who drove her there and pulled over two or three times to throw up along the way?  Guess who waited on the floor for twenty minutes while the other parents lined up to fill out the forms because I couldn’t stand in line but instead gagged into a cup and waited until they were done?  Yeah.  I kind of hate Princess Kate.

At my worst in this pregnancy, I could not eat or drink for stretches of three days.  My mouth was so dry it hurt.  I sucked on ice and then spit it out, so I wouldn’t swallow and throw up the water.  I felt very sorry for myself, and a little like Gandhi during his hunger strikes.  But then I remembered that India is already a free and independent nation.  And I felt a little bit less like Gandhi, and a little bit more like someone who was sucking on ice and then spitting it out.

When I tutored, I typically vomited before and after every student and then excessively after the last student left.  After a particularly bad session, I told Andy, “I’m still tutoring tomorrow.  I am strong, and this will NOT break me.”  But then I threw up about five times in the space of ten minutes, and Andy got the laptop and said, “So I’ll email your students and cancel for tomorrow,” and I said, “Yeah.”  I’m pretty sure Gandhi never tutored during his hunger strikes anyway.  And Princess Kate definitely never did, the wuss.

After weeks of my sitting listlessly on the couch in between vomiting runs, Andy asked, “Why did we do this?!”  And I said, “I know!  Why didn’t you tell me this was a crazy idea?”  He didn’t really say anything after that, I guess because he was silenced by my profound argument.

Despite our long indecision and my sickness, Andy decided he wanted to be a father again, and we’re both excited to raise another.  At least, we’ll be happy when I can actually function and get off the couch again.  And also after the baby is done ripping and clawing its way out of my body.  Maybe also after those long stretches when we are up all hours of the night and walking around like sleep deprived zombies.  But after that, what joy!  And then Andy and I will both see what was important about this whole adventure, which is that I was right.  Oh, and also that we have a lovely family.

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Play it Again, Sam…And Again, and Again

One of the greatest challenges of parenting is kiddie music.

It’s just so high pitched.  And repetitive.  And nonsensical.

But my kids love it.  They perk up whenever it’s on, even if they’ve never heard the song before.  It’s like they have some kind of built in radar for high pitched, asinine singing.  Should that make me concerned?

The kids and I recently took a music class that came with a CD, which the instructor told us to listen to before the next class.  The CD sat in the car all week, but because I am the kind of person who does my homework, I popped it in on our way to class.  Check: homework done.  But when we arrived, the instructor quizzed all of us, asking if we’d listened to the CD in its entirety, every day, all week.  And he really went around the room asking each parent, “Did you listen to every song?  Did you?”

I had a good reason for slacking.  Sirius had just launched their Garth Brooks station, and it was limited time only.  Who can resist that?  I expected all the other parents to, like me, lower their gaze and mumble some lies about loving the CD.  But no!  This was their third or fourth music class!  They had all the songs memorized and listened to them on repeat!  And could we talk about the merits of this year’s CD versus last year’s?

Stupid over achievers.

But don’t worry.  My children weren’t deprived.  At their request, we listened to that CD for the next six weeks, until I went to bed with the melodies still spinning through my thoughts.

To mix it up, I recently checked out a copy of Disney’s Tangled CD from the library.  Annabelle is in heaven.  I’m thankful that Disney songs are much better than the typical kiddie songs, but there is still something about listening to a song for the 147th time that dulls my appreciation for it.

But Annabelle is super cute whenever the CD is playing.  She dances and sings, and she is always roughly ten words behind, but she doesn’t seem to notice.  This makes me love her more.

Colin notices though.

“Good singing!” I tell Annabelle.

“Um,” Colin says, possibly because the song Annabelle is singing ended two minutes ago.

“Mommy’s singing is good,” Colin says because he hasn’t yet learned that I’m actually supposed to get the notes right when I sing.  This makes me love him more.

When it was time to return the Rapunzel CD to the library, Andy suggested we buy it.

“But the reason we got it from the library is so that we could return it later,” I say.

“Why wouldn’t we want a copy?” he asks—spoken like a man who gets to escape to work for eight hours and only listens to the songs on repeat for a paltry four hours in the evenings.

Andy did suggest that we, ahem, acquire the songs another way.  But that would be wrong: Piracy is not a victimless crime.  I know this because the FBI spends all of their time translating it into 200 different languages and posting it on my Netflix DVDs.

We bought the CD.  But you already knew that.  Disney and Lego stock would plummet without us.

There are times when my kids get interested in adult songs.  Colin liked John Denver’s “Country Roads” for a while, and Annabelle has latched on to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”  Sometimes we’ll make play lists of adult kiddie songs, like “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and “Monster Mash” that capture the children’s attention, but nothing hangs on like those high-pitched voices and singing princesses.

I like when my children are happy and enjoying their own music, but there are days when I want a break from it.  Sometimes, when I’m turning on the car and I know there’s a kiddie CD cued up, I punch the radio button before they notice.  But then my kids do something really manipulative: They say, in their sweet little voices, “Mommy, can I please listen to my CD?”  So we do.  For the next six weeks.

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A Pain in the Neck

I woke up one morning with a terrible cramp in my neck that hung on for days.   I tried to solve the problem by ignoring it, so for a while, whenever I wanted to look to my right, I had to turn my whole body.  (Who says there isn’t always a workaround?)  But eventually I caved and went to get a massage.

My masseuse was a calm, relaxing woman who never gets neck cramps.

“You brought me a lot of knots today,” she said in her soothing voice.  I wasn’t sure how to respond.  “You’re welcome?”  Or maybe “thank you.”  After all, it’s not easy to develop a neck cramp so severe I can’t turn my head for a week, given that I’m living in the First World with a loving, healthy family, so it was nice that she appreciated my talent.

“How old are your children?” she asked me.

“Four and seven.”

“Hm.  So you’re not still carrying anyone.”

That’s sort of not true.

Actually, it’s a medical marvel that Annabelle’s muscles haven’t atrophied beyond use because, in four years, her little legs have almost never touched the ground.  My mom always says that she can hold a baby on her hip forever, and I can too, as long as I never need to see anything that happens to my right.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit this, though, so after a little pause, I said, “Well, I maybe kind of still carry my daughter just a bit.”

“Hm.”

“She might be my last one!” I said.

“Hm.”

“She really likes to be carried.”

My masseuse had to stop hmming then because my back was starting to resemble a game of Whack-A-Mole with new knots popping up everywhere.  (“You’re welcome?”  She didn’t praise me this time, so maybe no “thank you.”)

When Colin heard about my neck pain, he kindly volunteered to help by giving Annabelle piggy back rides.  At first I wasn’t so sure, but he insisted, gentleman that he is.  And perhaps it was good for him.  Nothing builds character like a few knots in the back.

But the truth is that I want to keep carrying Annabelle for as long as she wants because in another year, she’ll be in school.  My last baby will be in school.  When I tell her I don’t want her to go, she says, “I don’t want to go either, Mommy, but I have to.”  Which is so disturbingly logical.

Sometimes Annabelle says she’s worried about me being all alone while she’s in school, and she advises me to have another baby.  Andy’s not sure he wants one, but Annabelle says, “If Daddy doesn’t want one, you should just have one anyway.”  Perfect logic again.

Colin usually pipes in here with his rant about the endless abyss that is the school system: “You don’t want to go to school, Annabelle.  Once you start, you have to keep going for 13 years, and then you think it’s done, but no.  You still have to go to college, which is more school.  And then you have to work for the REST OF YOUR LIFE.”  It’s a pretty accurate summary, so none of us contradict him.

I’m still debating whether I should take Annabelle’s advice and have a third.  Andy says that he doesn’t want another but that it’s my decision.  Sometimes when he says this, I hear, “I don’t want another.”  So that’s a no.  But sometimes I hear, “Blah, blah, blah, Kirstin, you have supreme decision-making authority in our household.”  So that’s a green light on a puppy too.

If I have another baby, I’d want another Annabelle.  Colin is everything that’s perfect, but when we’re talking about babies, we’re talking about sleep, and Annabelle is an incredible napper.  When I told a friend this, she said, “You’re not going to have another Annabelle.”  But she would say that.  She didn’t even have one Annabelle.

When I got home from my massage, Annabelle said in her cute little voice, “Mommy, I’m sorry your neck hurt.”  It was the sweetest.  Then she asked me to hold her.  So I did.  Looking to my right is overrated anyway.

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My Family, the Real Incredibles

Everyone in my family has a super power—not like Superman, who can fly around and throw cars—more like Batman, who has less traditional powers, like popularizing eccentric outfits with vestigial capes.

My super power is that I can type really fast.  Sometimes I do it in front of students, and they inevitably tell me I’m amazing.  I try to be humble, but I’m distracted by having to open a window to get rid of the smoke that’s flying off my fingers.  A lot of mistakes slip out as I type, but it’s still impressive because I’m typing those errors really fast.

My other super power is that, back in my bible study attending days, I could flip to a book and verse of the bible faster than anyone.  I never met my equal.  Even if someone called out a verse from a minor prophet, like Habakkuk 2:13, I was there.  It’s a hard super power to have, though, because it’s awkward to get to a verse first and call out, “Ha!  I’m already there, suckas!”

Colin’s talent is that he has an amazing memory.  He’s seven now, and he can recount vacations and events from when he was two.  He even remembers when Annabelle was born.  Sometimes Colin will tell me a story that feels like a dull memory drifting somewhere in my mind, but then he adds details and polishes it until I’m sure I remember it too.  Actually, that sounds more like brainwashing, and my memory’s not so hot, so maybe it is.  Now I feel like I’m bragging—because, wow, manipulative brainwashing.  That’s a skill to make a mother proud.

Annabelle’s super power is her apology.  It’s so well-timed and sweetly stated that it can de-escalate any situation.  Sometimes I feel myself bursting with a lecture, anger pulsing through me, and then she looks at me and says, “I’m sorry, Mommy” in the cutest and sincerest little voice, and I’m defused.  She could commit grand theft auto and give me that sweet apology, and I’d say, “It’s fine.  Just show Mommy the car you stole.  Is it parked in the driveway?”

Andy is an amazing sleeper.  His head can be falling to the pillow, and he’s snoring before his ear touches cotton.  Sometimes he’s so fast that I have to wake him up just to ask, “How do you do that?”  I don’t feel bad about this because he’s asleep again in seconds.

When I think about my family’s super powers, I get the uncomfortable feeling that mine aren’t as good as theirs.  Maybe hanging on to life’s memories, earning forgiveness, and sleeping soundly are more important than, you know, typing fast.  But here is one power I forgot.  I used to watch The Princess Bride repeatedly as a child, and I now have the whole film memorized.  Inconceivable, you say.  But it’s true.

“Hello!  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”   You can imagine how often that little nugget proves useful in casual conversation.

That’s still lame.  Maybe my super power is surrounding myself with family who have really great super powers.  I’d be jealous of them, except that I know something they don’t know.  I’m not left handed.

That was a line from The Princess Bride.  It might have been a clever ending to this article if, you know, anyone in the world besides me knew the reference.

What I should have said is that having lesser super powers is a hard pill to swallow.  But chocolate coating makes it go down easier.

Come on!  Who doesn’t know that one?  Billy Crystal said it to that hello-my-name-is-Inigo-Montoya-guy.

Nevermind.  Let’s just race to Malachi 2:10 and see who can type the verse first.  I’d do it with my family, but Colin’s probably memorized the whole book already, Annabelle said, sorry, but she doesn’t want to, and Andy fell asleep before I could finish the sentence.

 

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To Keep or Not to Keep

We have an issue with throwing things away in our family.  Mostly, that we don’t want to.

Andy believes everything is useful.  From empty butter tubs to pencils that are too short, he has uses for everything.  He’s not a hoarder.  He really does have a purpose for all of these items that the world sees as trash, and there are moments when I’m a little awed by a man who can find the beauty in an empty butter tub.

Andy says that he has to store things everywhere because we may need them in the future, and I hate to admit it, but he’s right!  Over and over, we’ll be out and needing something, and Andy will have it—in his pocket, in the car, in his wallet—he’ll pull it out of somewhere along with a smug grin.  How can I argue against these magician-like moments when he saves the day?  Other families may have more space in their homes, but if someone ever comes to the door holding a mound of butter with no place to put it, those people are going to feel very silly.

Colin also sees beauty in the seemingly useless.  When we were cleaning up Christmas (a very emotional event for both children), I asked the kids to clean the decorations out of their rooms.  Colin came back with a decoration that he’d hidden in his room since last Christmas.

“You told me to clean up last year, and I just couldn’t let this go,” he said.  “So I hid it.”

For a whole year he hid this thing!  And what was it?  An empty paper box with tissue paper in it.

Yeah.  I threw it away this year.

I’m lying.  I put it in the Christmas box.  I had to!  He kept it for a year!

I can’t criticize.  I’m just as bad as Andy and Colin.  I hoard baby toys and clothes because what if we have another child?  I could have a boy or a girl so I have to keep, well, everything.  “Be prepared,” the Boy Scouts say.

I talked to a woman recently who said she never keeps baby clothes.  “It’s better to share with other people,” she said.  “I’ll just buy new ones.”

She’s right, obviously, and a much better candidate for sainthood than I am.  But sainthood won’t keep my nonexistent baby warm in the winter.

Annabelle is an example to all of us.  When we’re cleaning out her room, if she doesn’t play with something, she chucks it into the donation pile without a second thought.  During our last purge, she tossed in her My Little Ponies that she used to love.  That was hard for me.

“Are you sure you want to donate these?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, totally unconcerned.

That was when Colin pawed through her donation pile.  The poor kid was appalled.  “You can’t give away this!  Or this!”  It didn’t take him long to convince her she really wanted those My Little Ponies.  But she’s also started playing with them again.  So that was a confusing lesson for all of us.

Then there are those times (rare!  Very rare!) when the kids are looking for an item that I already purged.

“I think you got rid of that,” I told Colin when it happened recently.

“I don’t think I wanted to get rid of it,” he said.

I walked away quietly then because, um, that was probably true.  I might have helped him get rid of it.  But we wouldn’t donate anything if it were up to that kid, or my husband, or me.  Thank goodness for Annabelle, who tries to keep the house in order.  We should definitely always listen to her—unless she tries to donate her My Little Ponies that she hasn’t played with for a year.  Obviously that kind of crazy has to be reined in.

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Common Core Kindergarten

Last year, my son Colin started kindergarten.  For the first couple of weeks, I was dying to hear what he’d learned.  Was he writing novels?   Translating a bit of French?  Maybe splitting a couple of atoms—while wearing safety goggles—the teacher would make sure he wore his safety goggles, wouldn’t she?

I am lucky that Colin loves to talk and was happy to share about his days.  In the first week, Colin learned (drum roll, please) that the teacher has a big dog, that she has all brothers, and that she owns an R2D2 alarm clock.

“Anything else?” I ask.

He thinks.  “She also babysat her mom’s cat.”

“Okay.  But anything else?”

More thinking.  “She used to live in Alaska.”

The transition to getting up early is painful for us.  Annabelle cries.  Colin cries.  I cry.  But it’s all worth it, what with Colin absorbing knowledge like a sponge.

Once I started volunteering in his classroom, I was happy to see that far more is being taught than Colin reported.  One day, the teacher was having the students draw a picture and then write a sentence about their drawing by completing the prompt, “I see a…”

One student wanted to write, “I see my Mom.”  Another said, “I see a train.”

“What are you going to write?” I asked Colin.

“I see a big rig monster truck driving down the road with boxes of toy cars.”

I left him to that.

Annabelle, then two-years-old, said she was going to write “I see a school bus.”  At two-years-old!  The wonders of school.  If you write the standards, they will meet them.

I worked my way around the room, helping kids sound out words, and they were all doing great.  There was a high school helper who was writing the words for the kids to trace.  Her method was much faster than mine, but I’d already started the sounding out thing, so I stuck with it.

I sat down beside a little boy I’ll call Greg.  He wanted to write, “I see a spider.”

“Do you want to do it yourself, or do you want me to write it and you trace it?” I asked because the student helper was causing me to question years of pedagogy.

“I want to do it myself,” he said.

Ok, I was game.  I sounded out each letter of “spider,” and he laboriously wrote the letters.  We were on a roll until we got to the last letter.

“Rrrr,” I said.

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s an ‘r’,” I whispered because the teacher wasn’t around, so I figured I could get away with it.

“Oh.  I don’t know how to make an ‘r’.”

I’m resourceful.  I’m a problem solver.  So I picked up the name tag sitting next to me.  It said “Parker.”  I covered all of the letters except the last one and showed him what an “r” looked like.

He nodded and, wordlessly, started erasing all of the letters he just wrote.

“What are you doing?!”  I wanted to remain calm, but that’s five minutes of our lives that we could never get back.

But nothing I said could stop him.  This kid was on an erasing mission.

The student helper nodded.  “Sometimes I just want to erase everything and start over too,” she said in a happy, sing song voice.  Easy for her to say.  She was relaxing while a table full of kids traced her letters.

Then, after Greg was done eradicating his letters and my confidence, he started writing “P…A…”

“What are you writing?!”  Me again.  “Are you writing ‘Parker’?  Do you want to say ‘I see a Parker’?”

“No.”  He’s very serious.  “I want to say ‘I see a spider’.”

“That’s what you had, see?  You were writing that.”

It was still there, faintly, underneath the Pa, because erasing isn’t a common core standard until third grade.

Greg nodded, erased the “Pa,” and order was restored in the world again.  I sounded out each letter of spider for him, and he made it through to the end.  The teacher hung it on the wall, and we both lived happily ever after.

Meanwhile, I returned to Annabelle.  She had made a bunch of scribbles but no sentence, the slacker.

Next I checked on Colin, who had written “I see a big rig.”  He looked at me.  “Okay, now how do I write ‘monster truck driving down the road with boxes of toy cars’?”

“You put a period,” I told him.

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