In Which A Recovering Social Loser Processes Her Kids’ Social Status (or lack thereof)

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Photo by  Laura Barberis, via Flickr

Elementary school and junior high were no picnic.

I had my first breakup in the fifth grade, and it wasn’t even a romantic relationship. My best friend…okay, let’s be honest, my only friend…came over while I was sharpening my pencil by the coat rack and said, “I think we should be friends with other people.”

She used those exact words. I was too young and dumb to realize that actually meant I don’t want to be friends with you anymore.

For a year, I didn’t have any friends at all.

I was always picked last.

I never got the jokes. (Full disclosure? Sometimes I still don’t.)

I was only invited to birthday sleepovers because it was a Catholic school rule that everyone had to be invited. And people made fun of me when I was out of the room. I heard them.

High school was a fresh start for me, and three of the four years were basically good. Sophomore year was terrible, start to finish. But even during the good years, when people said, “These are the best years of your life,” I shook my head inside and chose to believe they were just being idiotic adults.

Most of the time, adults knew what they were talking about, but in this case, I’m happy to say, the teenager knew more than they did. Thank God. In college I finally found my people—the classical music crowd—but it took full-on adulthood to reach a point where I feel like I am happy with who I am and I exist in a community of people who understand me.

Frankly, I think it has a lot to do with being happily married. A child’s emotional stability, that sense of belonging, gets rocked by the onset of adolescence, and you spend the next ten to twenty years trying to find a new place where “home” means the safety you knew as a young child. Just sitting here thinking about it, I grieve for the children who never know that sense at all, and for the adults who never found it again. And, frankly, for the list of people for whom high school was the best time in their lives. Shudder. Imagine if life never got any better than that.

Why this traipse through the ghosts of angsts long past? Because now I get to experience it in a whole new way. More than one of my children is currently experiencing some variation of the not-good-enough that defined my later childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Probably it defines those parts of everybody’s lives, but in adolescence, those of us who inhabit the bottom of the social totem pole—not good at sports, not cool, viewing primping as a waste of good superhero-drawing/reading/writing/music practice time—feel that our faces are rubbed in our inadequacies quite frequently. Who knows? Maybe it’s harder to navigate those insecurities at the stratospheric end of the totem pole, because you are trying to keep up appearances when you feel like a fraud. Maybe I should be grateful for the spiritual/emotional/intellectual honesty of having had nothing to prove—both for myself and my children.

But it’s hard to see your kids suffer. As much as I value being outside the mainstream on, well, let’s face it, just about everything, I know how it hurts to be looked at like you’re somehow less valuable for it.

What I am grateful for is the fact that so far my kids want to talk to me about it. Because I’ve thought long and hard on these questions over the years, and for that reason I don’t fall back on the useless and maddening platitudes that adults used when I was a kid. Because we can use the experience as an ongoing opportunity for lessons in mercy, in recognizing how every situation is more complex than it feels, and in keeping the focus on Jesus.

And mostly, because it lets me love my kids really hard.

Michael Mayhem Graduates Preschool

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Michael, with his toy guitar: “This next song is called “Starlight Can Never Destroy A Death Star So I will Use My Laser.”

I went to his end-of-year celebration at his preschool yesterday, which consisted mostly of him attacking me at frequent intervals with flying leaps and fierce hugs interspersed with little girls coming around to take pictures with him.

It floors me to see how advanced academically he is. He is actually writing messages to us–all caps, no lower case, and asking us how to spell words–but writing nonetheless. Julianna does this app on the iPad for homework. It’s called ST Math. It’s graphic math, with no instructions of any kind, which has on more than one occasion made my head want to explode, but apparently the kids do pretty well with it. She’s doing the first grade curriculum and as we were trying to show her grandparents how this worked on Mother’s Day, Michael watched upside down and then started doing it for her. I had to get pretty firm with him to back off.

In part, it floors me because he’s in a special ed preschool, one where the primary focus of the instruction is the kids with developmental disabilities. We enrolled him as a “peer model” through the school district when he was three to try to develop sensitivity and awareness toward kids with disabilities–because of all our children, only Alex, who witnessed and participated in her early childhood therapies, really has an inherent awareness of and appropriate interaction with her. To her younger brothers, she’s just their sister. They don’t tolerate her desire for hugs, and their power struggles over the iPad and books and so on look like every other sibling struggle. They don’t give her one inch.

There’s great value in having that relationship–Julianna is always trying to get away with things based on her disability, whether she’s doing it consciously or instinctively–but I still wanted Michael to at least be capable of making a distinction.

When it came time to move him to a traditional preschool for his preK year, to make sure he got the needed academic preparation, we found ourselves waffling. He seemed comfortable, and the school was right here in the neighborhood. Often, we bike to and from. The kindergarten teachers at the Catholic school said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. He’ll be fine.” And so we left him in place for a second year.

His teachers at Early Childhood Special Ed have told me repeatedly how seriously he takes his job as peer model, but I always thought that was just teachers being nurturers; I didn’t take it that seriously until one day, Michael and I went out with my friend and her son, who is a couple years younger than Michael, after Jazzercise. The boys jumped around, climbing on and under things and generally being normal little boys while we talked and tried to keep their exuberance (and potential for damage) contained to one corner of the cafe. When it was time to go, Michael’s little friend did not want to go. It was like a switch flipped in Michael. His tone of voice gentled, he helped his friend put his coat on, he held his hand and led him out the door. My jaw hit the floor.

It will be interesting to see how the experience of being a peer model shapes his future character. In the meantime I highly recommend it for anyone looking for an inexpensive and extremely enriching option for preschool. Because clearly, it didn’t harm his academic potential at all.

In any case, such is the world of my littlest guy as the school year closes. I’m having so much fun with him.

Magic Everywhere

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On Holy Saturday, we were running an errand for my mom at the local photo/camera store, and Christian decided to surprise me with the camera lens I’ve been wanting for a long time–one that has a super-low F stop. I hadn’t had time to play around with it too much (see: busy) until this past weekend. Saturday night, as we were having a backyard fire pit cookout, Alex said, “Mom! Look at the way the light comes through the smoke.”

I looked–and then I ran for the camera.

That night, I really got to experience the “golden hour.” There was magic everywhere. I hope you enjoy.

Golden Hour Peony

Golden Hour SmokeGolden Hour House ShadowGolden Hour SwingGolden Hour irisGolden hour Peony ChampagneGolden Hour BacksplashGolden Hour ForsythiaGolden Hour ColeusGolden Hour swing colorsGolden Hour shrub

Making Mother’s Day Work

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Mother's DayChristian (whispering to Julianna): Julianna, say “Happy Mothers Day, Mom!”

Julianna (out loud): What?

Christian (whispering): Say “Happy Mothers Day!”

Julianna (to me): Mom I am so beeyewteeful!

Christian: Julianna. Happy. Mothers. Day.

Julianna: Happy beeyewteeful birthday girl!

Christian (trading a wry look with me): Hey. We keep it real in this house.

A year ago I aired out all my grievances about Mother’s Day. My opinion hasn’t really changed, but I’ve had a couple of insight moments. First was the realization that I’m uncomfortable with all big to-dos aimed in my direction. It ends up feeling like pressure: pressure to make sure I’m appropriately grateful, pressure to make other people happy by making sure my reaction is what they want it to be. And I just don’t do well with that kind of pressure. I screw it up every single time.

The second was that a day “all about me” is inherently less satisfying than a day in which time is taken to offer a gift of self to others in some out-of-the-ordinary way. For a couple of years, Christian spent his birthday stocking a food pantry, and it changed the entire tenor of the celebration for him. I loved the vibe coming off him those days, when he came home.

Motherhood is already a perpetual emptying of self. (As witness: I had to get up in the middle of the night on Mother’s Day to go wake up my 12-year-old to make sure he didn’t have a concussion. Long story. Off topic. He’s fine. Nuff said.) Emptying myself out in the service of my kids is too familiar to qualify. But sitting around pretending to scrapbook while my husband stresses himself out to be both Mom and Dad for a day—cooking, cleaning, caring for the kids—is only going to underscore that whole business about needing to be grateful enough for what’s being done for me.

I was too darned busy this year to spend much time angst-ing in advance about Mother’s Day. Or planning for it, for that matter. Friday night I went, Hey, bike ride. Hey, invite Mom over. And that’s what we did.

Christian did the grilling, set the table, and did most of the cleaning (I really hate cleaning). But I made broccoli soup and chocolate pie and got the peaches ready for grilling and flavored the yogurt. I also folded two loads of laundry and put away dishes. And I had a nice day, because it was pretty ordinary. We took a bike ride as a family, but otherwise it was NOT ALL ABOUT ME.

We didn’t make a huge production of my mom, either. We just all relaxed together, shared a table, enjoyed each other, and let that be enough.

I sometimes catch flak about my jaded, negative view of virtually every holiday that comes around. But my objection is that they are all built up to be a BIG DEAL, and we are made to feel such pressure to live up to ideals that can’t be realized. You have to do grand (expensive) romantic gestures on Valentine’s Day and Heaven help you if you do not make sure Mother’s Day is the pinnacle of human existence.

Basically, it too often feels as if holidays have been exploited by those in pursuit of a buck, when the truth is, we celebrate best when we keep it simple and focused on relationship, not decorations, not gifts. That may not be true for everyone, but it certainly is true for me.

We kept Mother’s Day deliberately low-key this year. I stayed entirely offline except for a single post (which I scheduled through Hootsuite so as to avoid the swirling vortex of Time Suck that is Facebook), and I gave myself permission not to have a transcendent, forced-mushy day.

And it was a very nice day.

Friday Favorites: Bobby McFerrin

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So I have two things to tell. First, when I was in University Philharmonic at Mizzou, Bobby McFerrin came to campus and did a concert. But not just any concert. It was a concert where he conducted us. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. The real memory moment was when he had the trumpets do the fanfare to the William Tell Overture (if you don’t know what that is, consider this your home schooling assignment du jour: Google it), and then had us all sing our parts.

So that’s one story. Now, watch the video, and watch his hands.

Do you notice that about halfway through the Ave Maria, the fingers on his left hand are “playing” the microphone?

I always thought he was solely a vocalist, but this makes me think he’s an instrumentalist too, because I do that ALL THE TIME. I have learned perfect pitch and I just start playing whatever is going on–in a concert, on the radio, in church. I play steering wheels. Concert programs. The backs of my hands. I don’t even know I’m doing it anymore. And Christian frequently says to me, “Kate! Stop playing my hand!”

🙂

Happy Friday!

Random Venting On A Wednesday

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Image via Pixabay

Can someone explain why you would ever put carpet in formal dining rooms? I don’t get it. Of all the rooms in the house you would NOT want carpet in, the top two I can think of are bathroom and—dining room. The two rooms most likely to end up with messes on the floor. (Note: I was just looking at a $1.2 million real estate listing, which prompted this moment of befuddlement.)

Speaking of real estate listings, I’m getting a lot of them in recent months as we’re looking for empty ground to build on–or a plot of land holding some run-down trailer we can dispose of and start fresh. We took the cap off our MLS request so we could see how much it would cost to get the piece of ground we’re looking for, but I’m starting to think what we’re looking for almost doesn’t exist in this school district. In the meantime, I’m getting more savvy about eliminating listings by looking at one line on the detail: “HOA.” If the word following the colon is “yes,” the listing is off the table. We’ve had enough frustration resulting from the very low-cost, low-maintenance HOA we’re part of right now. In sum: We have a standard 2-car garage and no unfinished storage in the house, and storage sheds will get you sued by the HOA, which means our garage looks like this (Laura F, hide your eyes):

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And this is missing two bicycles and the tomato cages, which are in use…I feel there could be some snarky comment inserted here about whited sepulchres. Ahem.

Incidentally, the above mentioned house with the carpet in the dining room? Their annual HOA fee is $1500. I shudder to think what nonsense is wrapped up in that.

Also speaking of real estate, I’m noticing a pattern: the more expensive the house, the less character it has. That’s not a 1 to 1, but it’s close.

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My current motto. Paired with “get a better attitude, Kate.” (Image via Pixabay)

On another topic, I sometimes think I’m just not a very nice person. Without getting into too many specifics, I had a really frustrating late afternoon and early evening yesterday, trying to deliver kids to two different activities starting simultaneously yet located a twenty-minute drive away from each other, and then getting home in time to grab a bite and get Michael to his first baseball game ever. There were some…shall we say…hiccups in the process. Some with my kids. Some with…other people. And I was kind of a butthead to an adult I’d never met before. I had some provocation, and I didn’t say anything nasty, but I sure gave him a lingering nasty look that let him know exactly what I thought.

And the trouble is, it really wasn’t important. I was just in a bad mood because I feel like I’m running helter-skelter through my days a step behind control and half a step ahead of a complete meltdown.

I know so many people who roll with the punches and when other people screw up or display massive incompetence, they’re so gracious. They say, “Oh, that’s okay, don’t worry about it.” I don’t know if those people are just suppressing their annoyance/anger/frustration/irritation, and will vent about it in a safe space later, behind the back of said Screwup Causer, or if they are genuinely better people than I am. I only know that I seem to be almost completely incapable of NOT displaying whatever reaction I’m actually having inside.

This feels Confession-worthy.

We are now on Week Four of activities every single night of the week, including Fridays. Spring is always ridiculous in this household because we do baseball and it’s intense, but this year it seemed less so. I didn’t realize it felt that way because our kids’ coaches were not giving us a schedule laid out for the entire season, they were doling it out it week by week for quite a while. By the time I realized what was going on, I was deep in the middle of it. I was not mentally and emotionally prepared. Overnight I went from thinking, “Oh, this is so much better than it has been the last few years!” to holding-on-to-the-edge-of-a-cliff-with-my-fingernails.

There has not been a single block of time since Spring Break, which began March 26th, when Christian and I could have a date. We think the last time we went out was to see Hidden Figures. But we aren’t really sure, and we really hope we’re wrong because that was deep in the winter sometime.

Such is the state of my world. How ’bout you?

Mayonnaise versus Miracle Whip, and other things that just don’t matter all that much

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OK, so if you haven’t picked up on it by now, you can’t possibly have been paying attention, there’s this: I am really opinionated.

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Photo by The World Through My Lense, via Flickr

I come from a long line of passionate and vocal opinionated people.

My kids are well on their way to continuing the family tradition.

A few weeks ago at Jazzercise, our instructor asked us “Mayonnaise versus Miracle Whip?” Now, considering we were all working our butts off, the response was fairly moderate. But still, we were all making faces and giving the stink-eye to people who swing the other way, so to speak. Myself included. But then it occurred to me, why the heck do we get so bent out of shape about this stuff? This is called “personal preference,” and there is no right or wrong.

That was the moment this crystallized for me, but it wasn’t the beginning. I’ve been pulling my hair out over the same issue lately in my family.

“Frozen is STUPID! It’s the WORST MOVIE EVER!” proclaim all the boys.

“No, it isn’t,” I said. “You liked it just fine when you first saw it. You’ve just seen it too many times. And Julianna likes it, so there’s no reason for you to be that way.”

“Jar Jar Binks is dumb!” (Alex.)

“No, he’s not, he’s totally awesome!” (Nicholas.)

Insert shouting match in the back of the van.

“GUYS!” (Me, at the top of my lungs.) “YOU CAN NOT LIKE JAR JAR BINKS, AND YOU CAN LIKE JAR JAR BINKS, AND IT DOESN’T HURT EITHER ONE OF YOU!” (Although Alex is right on this one. See also: opinionated.)

“Batman is the best superhero!” (Michael.)

“No, he’s NOT, HULK is the best superhero!” (Nicholas.)

“GUYS!” (Me, insert previous rant, with altered names.)

Okay, I hope you’re all chuckling, because this is the part where I hit the rest of us, who should have outgrown this a couple decades ago.

For instance: why can teachers not look forward to the last day of school, and work-at-home moms dread it, simultaneously? Both experiences are valid expressions of our own realities, and it costs us nothing to affirm and validate the experience of the other.

Or: why do we insist that the ONLY proper way to put the toilet paper on is over/under? I mean, really? Petty, ever?

Or: why can one person not say, “Decorating for every season makes me happy,” and another say, “Decorating for ANY season makes my head want to explode!” Why is it so threatening to us that people are–gasp–different?

It’s hardly any wonder that we can’t discuss the big issues with open minds and reason. We seem, collectively, to have decided every minor, unimportant, morally-neutral personal preference is a hill worth dying upon.

Which is why I’m stopping here today and sharing this (clean version of the) cartoon that came to me via one of Christian’s co-workers last week. It talks about the science of changing our minds–specifically, why we get so threatened by new ideas. It has a lot of food for thought in it. Hope you’ll click on through.

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe_clean

(And I swear, if the FB or blog comboxes devolve to arguments over Miracle Whip versus Mayonnaise, I will…I will….I don’t know. Do something obnoxious.)