Here is another oldie, circa 2009. This child hasn't changed a bit and is now getting ready to enter her freshman year of high school. It's a great illustration of how we can't control our kids. At. All.
The shame. I am the mom of the kid who “outed” Santa to another kid in her third grade class. From what I understand, the conversation went something like this: Friend: Do you believe there is a Santa? Daughter: (eyeroll) It’s so obvious it’s just your parents.
Thankfully, the friend was overheard later commiserating with another child, both of them deciding that my daughter is the delusional one and there is indeed a Santa Claus. So I think I may have just barely escaped being the pariah of Newbury Elementary for now.
My daughter has never believed in Santa. As a three-year-old strapped in the backseat of the car as we drove to Maryland to visit her grandparents one Christmas, she piped up and said there was no way Santa was real, because it took a whole day just to get to grandma’s and we didn’t even leave the East coast. I told her it was magic, and she said there was no such thing.
As a person who spends more time in daydreams – or denial – than in reality, I was saddened that my wee girl was so grounded in logic. She has never been a fanciful child. Her imagination is wonderful, but limited to things that could probably happen in real life. I tried to get her to believe in fairies by leaving tiny notes from fairies written with sparkly ink and festooned with glitter on her bedside. While she liked getting them, she maintained that I must have left them there while she was sleeping.
She also must tell the truth. On the surface, this does not seem like a problem. But when it comes to matters of Santa and the magical realm, it’s sticky. We had a chat about how many children believe in Santa, and it’s not her place to rain on their Christmas parade. Playing along is one thing, she pointed out, but if someone asks her if she believes she will not lie.
I must say I have to agree with her. I cannot expect her to lie when asked outright what her take on the Santa situation is.
As an informal poll of how other people feel, I posted the story as a Facebook status update. The responses ranged from moms saying they’d be upset if their child found out about Santa from a kid at school to suggestions for how my daughter can “white lie” to a mom who said she’d be relieved to have the whole charade overwith since her son was asking awkward questions about Santa’s ability to bring very expensive gifts.
As a parent, it’s my job to teach my children to tell the truth and also to be sensitive and compassionate toward other people. In situations like Santa, it’s very hard to do both. My sons still believe, and so far they haven’t asked my daughter what her position on Santa is. I would not be all that upset if she told them the truth, but then we don’t make a big deal of Santa in our house anyway, being of limited means, and it was not a big deal when I was growing up. I was lucky to even have a Santa stocking, given that my mother repeatedly reminded us that Santa was nothing but an anagram for Satan, who was trying to take over the holiness of Christmas – but that is a story for another day.
In the end, I hope my children are never responsible for ruining the magic and wonder of a child’s innocent believe in Santa Claus. We constantly talk about other people’s feelings and thinking before speaking, and all I can do is send them into the world believing I have taught them right – to be kind and truthful.
In the meantime, I will get through the next few weeks with apologies at the ready, should the conversation go awry again. And “Santa” will still visit our house on Christmas Eve for all good children who tell the truth.
I am gainfully employed as a teacher. A middle school Language Arts Interventionist, to be exact. I am sad to report that my first day back to work this year is JULY 31, which is a dreadful turn of events.
I wept bitterly when I saw the school supply display go up in Target on July 8, much like my tears of disdain when I see Christmas decorations up before Halloween. This is proof to me that the world has gone mad. I, like my students, will do our work while staring wistfully out of the window at the lovely heat of Indiana, daydreaming about the pool that we all KNOW is still open for business.
When I was a kid, summer lasted pretty much from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I lived the heck out of summer - swimming, vacations, hanging out in my small town with friends, staying up late catching fireflies, and, when older, causing all sorts of mayhem. It would've been anathema to go back to school mere minutes after the 4th of July. I asked a few people I know why this trend seems to be taking hold, and the main answer I received was that the extra weeks of schooling early in the year are necessary for standardized test preparation, which is a much larger issue to me than a briefer than brief summer vacation. Since I heard this from more than one person in administrative positions, I have to think there is some validity to it. These tests are so pervasive, they are taking away precious summer memories from kids - and I'd argue that not one kid is focusing on test prep when their parents are still shooting off illegal fireworks every night.
Until the powers that be come to their senses, school in the dead middle of summer is inevitable, at least here in the Midwest. I have compiled the following list of ways to cope:
1. Denial. This is my main way of dealing with teaching when the days are long, hot, and lovely. Pretend that it's just some playacting. Make sure to get outside for a lot of extra "recess."
2. Realizing it could be worse. Sometimes, I forget that most adults do not get summer vacation. AT ALL. I still get about 7 weeks or so...
That's about all I've got. I know that lists are supposed to be at least 7 items, but I cannot muster 7 ways to cope with this clear disregard for the best season of the year and my personal need to suck the marrow out of it (paraphrasing the late Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society).
I did accomplish a lot this summer - maybe that's way 3 to cope! Reflection. I visited the amazing city of Malibu, CA, where I basked in the sun and came a stone's throw from Paul Rudd. I finished my first novel and convinced someone to publish it (more coming on that soon). I fulfilled my lifelong dream to try paddle boarding. I spent countless and precious hours with my children.
I am not quite ready for these lazy days to end. Being one of the few people who love heat, drought, and daylight savings time, I cherish these days. Please remind me of my coping list if you see me wandering, dazed and confused, through the school supply section, aimlessly collecting spiral notebooks along with my sunscreen.
For awhile, I thought I was becoming mentally deranged. I rarely remember where we’re going as I speed down the highway, looking frantically for the birthday gift that flew off my minivan two miles back. At least I have the wherewithal to tell the kids our final destination before we leave the house as I rummage around for my purse. What was happening to my once-famous photographic memory?
Recently, reading nonsense online while pretending to “work," I came across a name for my affliction: momnesia. A little, gray cloud lifted from my rusty steel trap mind. I am not alone. I have an actual MEDICAL CONDITION. I had to sit down with my head between my knees to take in the news that I am fine.
Before kids, I could remember phone numbers, dentist appointments, and once got an A in a course where I was required to recall entire passages from Shakespeare and then explain the relevance to the overall play. Fat lot of good that skill does me now, when a Meg Cabot novel takes all the mental agility I have to complete.
Apparently, the strain of pregnancy, childbirth and sleep deprivation make our hormones and brain synapses misfire, sending moms into a downward spiral into near catatonia in the beginning, finally leaving us in a permanent fog through which we wander the rest of our days, relying on our day planners to get us where we need to be.
According to neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain, some women's plummeting estrogen levels, which lurch from “incredibly high” in late pregnancy to “virtually non-existent” after delivery, can make it hard to focus. While estrogen plays a key role in fertility, it also acts as a neurotransmitter, sending signals in the brain.
Breast-feeding can prolong the mental haze, Brizendine says, by circulating hormones that help mothers relax and promote a “mellow, mildly unfocused” feeling.
Having breastfed children for a total of about 2 ½ years certainly explains my prolonged mental haze and continued feeling of being mildly unfocused. Mellow, I am not, but that’s another story.
There are times momnesia can come in handy. Sure, I rarely know the day or the month any more, but I can forget that just 5 minutes ago I was so annoyed with my kids I briefly considered seeing if ages 4, 4, and 7 still qualify for the safe haven program at the fire department.
I forgot the horrors of a colicky newborn long enough to get pregnant again – with twins! That Duggar woman on TLC is so addled, she has 19 children and professes a desire for “just one more.” Without momnesia, the whole species would die out.
I have long held the theory that moms lose an IQ point and a vocabulary word each day after giving birth. Now, there’s proof. Is it a bad thing? Does the fact that I’ve carried on conversations with strangers at a playground about the scope and sequence of toilet training make me any less of the former me, who could quote portions of Ulysses verbatim and in context to make an obscure joke?
Lately, I am excited to report, I have noticed a plateau in the draining of my intellect. Just the other day I used the word ethereal while describing my fantasy of being able to play violin like the Celtic Woman. I saw someone eating kim chee and the first thing I thought of was the word rancid. Ethereal! Rancid! What a breakthrough to remember them!
Brazindine concedes that mothers don’t become dumber, we just redirect our smarts to a different area, in this case child-rearing. In her book, she likens mothers to medical school residents who suffer from sleep deprivation and are in a similar fog as new moms, but learn everything they need to know at a rapid pace to adapt to their environment.
I made a brief list of all the new things I have learned since becoming a mom: how to fulfill three simultaneous requests while talking on the phone; how to laugh at projectile vomit and stretch marks; how to love more deeply than I ever thought possible.
I have also learned that nature is rarely wrong. Whatever happens to our minds and bodies through giving birth is for a reason. Momnesia is just a season of life which places us on the same mental plane as our young children, thus helping us endure the hard early years – which would, let’s face it, bore us all to death if we were of our full mental faculties.
I may not ever fully recover. But would I exchange my wondrous, lovely, vibrant children for my old memory? Not on your life.
This is from 2009. I am sad to report that it is still true.
Vices. All moms have them. For my grandmother, who reared her children in the 1950s, it was cocktails and "pep pills." For my mother, whose children were young in the 1970s, it was Marlboro Reds and Oreo cookies scarfed down with her head hiding between open kitchen cabinets while she pretended to put away dishes. For Gen X moms, it's arguably Facebook (and possibly the 50 Shades of Gray book series).
Like an obsessive stalker boyfriend who starts out friendly enough and later becomes impossible to avoid, and at the same time is attractive and addictive, Facebook draws you in. "What are you doing right now?" it asks. "What are your favorite books?" "What five people deserve a punch in the face?" I want to answer all the questions and placate the Facebook demon but know that there are better ways to spend my time.
For me, the low point came a couple of weeks ago when my children were bouncing around my feet like little jumping beans, clutching their empty bellies and begging for dinner — and I put off cooking for them to complete a quiz called, "Will You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse." In case you are wondering, I will be one of the first to die, but not before realizing the horror of the situation.
I have spent some time while driving recently contemplating the appeal of Facebook. It started as a social networking program for teens and college students, but now hordes of older people (like myself) have joined in.
Because of our fast-paced, child-centered parenting these days, it's hard to find time to be with friends without the kids. I think we love Facebook because it's possible to check in a few times a day and see what everyone is up to without having to rearrange schedules for face-to-face meetings. It also breaks up the monotony of housework and child rearing for a snippet of adult time. And those quizzes and games are just too much fun. Who cares that my mouse hand is starting to resemble a shriveled claw from all that clicking?
What is a parent to do? I am forever lecturing my children of the importance of self-control and limiting screen time. I fear that I often limit their screen time so I can have more of it myself. Is the lesson they're receiving a positive one? That it's acceptable to eschew human contact for superficial status updates? Do as I say, not as I do?
I have been considering detoxing from Facebook, or just becoming a lurker for a while. I ask myself if I really believe anyone cares what songs make me cry, or what I am thinking. Probably not. But it's cathartic in a way to put it all out there, just in case. To have contact with people who are taller than 4 feet and can use multisyllabic words. Who will comment back to me that they understand my plight, that some people have children who do weirder things than mine do.
Yes, Facebook is my vice and dirty little secret (not so secret anymore). And I just signed up for Twitter...
I have been asked by three people to share this gem about the horrors of having Fred Flintstone Feet. Enjoy, and hope you can shower me with compassion when we pass each other in public.
The Perils of Prodigious Podiatric Protruberances (aka, my feet)
I went shoe shopping last night. For most women, this is a blissful experience, only rivaled by having one's house professionally cleaned while one sits by on the couch, enjoying Ghiradelli squares and a nice shiraz while watching the housecleaner scrub the floors. For me, it is an exercise in frustration that I only subject myself to when my former shoes are nothing but tatters and can no longer function.
I knew I was different even as a young child, when we'd go shoe shopping and my mother would announce to the salesperson, "We need double wides. This child has Fred Flintstone feet." All eyes would immediately dart to my feet, as though they were Harry Potter's lightning bolt scar. They closely resemble rectangles with stubby toes, and could indeed propel a car made of stone wheels.
A particularly bad time for me was in fifth grade, when jelly shoes were all the rage. I squeezed my feet into a pair, only to have my flesh ooze out of the little holes, not unlike Play-Doh through a garlic press. Determined to be in style, I lived through the pain for the morning, until my circulation was completely cut off and the shoes had to be carefully removed by cutting the plastic with small toenail scissors. "Don't you know better? Your feet will never be cute and small," said my mother as she encased my damaged feet safely in my brother's Converse.
So I bypass the adorable, strappy heels and the ballet flats and head to the industrial strength shoes with clunky heels and a "wide toe box". I have, on occasion, shopped in the men's department. The only relief I have had came during the grunge phase of the early 90s, when roomy Doc Martens were acceptable.
My current shoes were in such bad shape they had holes (colored in with a Sharpie to hide it on the black pair) and the interior looked and smelled like the inside of an apartment in the projects. I spent several days psyching myself up for a trip to Kohls for new shoes - I have to go to places where it's self-serve, because I cannot bear the thought of springing my hideous feet on an unsuspecting shoe salesman.
After looking longingly at the shiny patent-leather, low-cut pumps in cherry red that I always covet, I moved to the sturdy shoes. After trying them all on, I settled on a pair I like in brown and black. Then, I spied some Mary Jane heels that looked like they were well-suited for the drag queen population! They had them in my size! I tried them on and they fit! I quickly tossed them into my bag, envisioning a day soon when I would muster up enough courage to put on some tights and wear them with a sassy skirt (another fashion item I have trouble pulling off, what with my SNL Wide-Hip Family meets Bilbo Baggins body).
With a few new pairs of shoes in tow, I left the store in relief that I won't have to do it again for at least a year. Whew! Now back to my regular life...
Keeping in posting some of my favorites, here is an entry that was also one of my favorites published in my parenting humor column in the Newburyport Daily News, Free-Range Parenting, which ran from 2008-2010. Keep reading for some original work mixed in with the oldies-but-goodies.
Bad Mommy Rises Again
So, lately I have been wondering if I am a neglectful, bad mommy who allows her children to run wild with no boundaries. I have always worked very hard to teach my children what’s right, and was once called “draconian” for making my kids say please and thank you, enforcing bedtimes and refusing to run a catering service for my children – they must eat what is in front of them or go hungry.
However, when we are outdoors, they are given a very wide berth. As long as I can see them and they are doing no harm, they may travel as far as they wish. If there is a tree they may climb it; if there is dirt they may play in it; if there is a stick they may hold it (within reason). If they want to make fools of themselves by wearing a cape in public or running around on all fours because that day they have decided to be Little Foot the dinosaur, so be it.
It is my firm belief that kids these days are forced to spend far too much time in square spaces with so many other kids with every second structured by an adult – from before school care, all day in school, after school care and then activities. Not unlike chickens in those “bad” farms, I always think. I want free-range, home-educated kids, free to roam and learn and nourish their minds with what they discover. But I digress.
It seems that everywhere I go, someone has something to say about the doings of my three kids, all of whom are extremely bright and energetic with what some might consider divergent imaginations. Just this morning, one of my boys (who is 4, by the way) was running freely around pretending to be Spiderman, shooting fake webs from his little hands to catch the myriad imaginary felons inhabiting the Inn Street Playground. Lo and behold, a mom I have never met rushes over to him and starts talking to him, finger in his face. Horrified that he has hit or pushed, I go over just in time to hear her tell him, and I quote, to “stop making aggressive hand gestures at the other children.”
Huh. I briefly considered making an aggressive hand gesture myself, but showed remarkable restraint by just picking my dumbstruck little boy up and assuring him he was doing nothing wrong and attempting to explain the nuances of pretend play to the other mom.
After a cooling off period, I let my little guy back into the fray. The same mom, helicoptering over her own child, who desperately seemed to be trying to get away, proceeded to let me know everything my son was doing (as well as a running commentary of the misdemeanors being committed by other tots to their moms). His offenses included: climbing up the slide, jumping from too high, hugging (his twin brother), and bumping another child.
Unsure of how to proceed, I just banned him to the area of the playground with the trees to climb, and asked my friend to tell me honestly if his behavior was so horrible we should leave and if I just had blinders on because of my love for this child, or if the helicopter mom was just being way too concerned with the affairs of others.
She assured me that there were way worse things he could be doing than pretending to shoot webs at people, and we both got a secret thrill when the meddling mom finally left in a huff and her son had a full-on tantrum on the ground.
I also recently had a neighbor knock on my door to chastise me for allowing my children to play outside in the yard without my hovering presence (they could get kidnapped), heard comments about letting them catch, study and release frogs at a pond (they could get a parasite or worse, get wet/muddy), told the dangers of letting my daughter go on a body board in the ocean (riptides, even though it was a calm day) and received looks of horror because my children like to go very fast on the zip line at Moseley Pines (they could fall).
Perhaps I should vacuum-seal them in a bubble right now!
I am guessing that most of these helicopter moms had childhoods like mine, where we were practically locked out of the house in all but the worst weather, left to roam neighborhoods and the woods looking for our own fun. If we got thirsty, we just went to the nearest spigot for refreshment. We had FUN, something children are apparently not allowed to have anymore.
When did we become so scared, and moreover, why do we feel so free to make comments about what other parents allow their children to do, which is what I am doing myself on some level by writing this? Why did the mom I encountered this morning care so much that my son was allowed to hug his brother, pretend to be Spiderman or jump from high up? I know my child’s limitations, thank you, and will keep their boundaries for them until they can do it themselves.
So back to the bad mommy question. I am far from being a perfect mom. I have yelled at my kids, dragged them around when they were clearly tired and then punished them for meltdowns, I have fed them McDonald’s twice in one day (but only once). I have allowed the TV to be a babysitter, I have made up reasons to go to the grocery to escape from them, and they have been known to lash out at random kids on the playground. But they also know to be contrite and say sorry when they have offended and they are still learning, free to become whoever it is they are supposed to be.
I guess there are two camps. Those who would say I am a bad mommy and those who say I am not. I prefer the latter, of course, the other free-range mommies with free-spirited children who would never tell you to hem in your child’s passion for living. Just my opinion, but I’d rather hang with the no drama mamas who have better things to worry about than my personal choices for my own fabulous kids.
I blogged for several years, then took a break to ramp up my teaching career and finish my first novel. Since then, I have lost access to my first, beloved blog, Educational Anarchy. It can be found at www.educationalanarchist.blogspot.com, but cannot be edited. I feel as if I lost a child here. In order for everyone to enjoy the musings of that blog, I am uploading my favorite entries here. I hope they are enjoyable! If you love them, please send your friends here.
Here's my first blog entry, from way back in 2008 when blogging was fairly new and I was homeschooling my three children:
How I Became an Anarchist
I first learned I was an anarchist a few months back, when the California Teacher's Association described homeschooling parents as such and also claims parents are "amateurs" when it comes to matters of education. As "anarchist" means, basically, freedom from government, I guess I have to agree with the assessment.
In my youth, I tried to be a real anarchist, dying my blond hair all sorts of colors not occurring in nature and drawing the anarchy sign on my Doc Martens with white-out. I listened to the Dead Kennedys and smoked clove cigarettes and had an unsuitable boyfriend, but in the end I realized I am just a small-town gal from Nowhere, Indiana and gave up my quest to be edgy.
Who knew that on the verge of middle age, my dream would come true at last! Yes, I drive a minivan, my hair is its natural color and 2 of my children play soccer (so I am, quite literally, a soccer mom). Yes, I live in a quiet New England hamlet - and yet beneath it all beats the heart of a crazed anarchist, going against the wishes of the federal government and daring to think I have something to teach my young children! Avast! Who knew you needed a "teacher certification" to impart cutting, gluing, reading and writing skills? To teach a child math by showing them patterns in nature? Am I so scary to society simply by espousing the philosophy "rocks and sticks until they're six" and battling against mandated schooling before that?
Call the cops, I am a real threat. Even though I do have a (lapsed) teacher certificate. Even though I spent 7 years teaching in government schools (which was a driving force in my decision to keep my own kids out of them). Even though my kids are all at least a year or two ahead of where random government officials have arbitrarily decided they should be. Or is this what scares people the most?
So, are you with me, fellow anarchists? Let's rise up and let them know we mean business.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.