Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keepin it real

Apparently the person handling the transition to the new school year with the least grace and enthusiasm

Yesterday Roscoe did his second theater audition of the year. He got a decent part in the first but didn't get called back to audition for a leading role for the second. He'll still be in the second production, with a potentially decent role. But not the one he wanted. I hate Roscoe's audition days. And the days the cast list is posted. My feelings about Roscoe have always been tied to such painfully deep heart strings. Maybe it's the intensity of my love for my first baby. Maybe it's his pure, guileless soul making its way through this guile-ful world. Maybe it's that he works so hard to be so good and I just feel luck should run more his way. Or all of the above.

As is apparently de rigueur for this time of year, Jesse's been a wreck. It's either baby talk or a screaming fit. And both have shredded down to my last nerve. Getting him dressed for school today required threats, removal of privileges, hog tying, and distraction with salacious details from the new Harry Potter movie.

My plans to get Betsy on a consistent nap schedule in which she sleeps the whole time Jesse is at school: not fully successful as yet.

My children seem to have some noxious little nubbin in their souls that makes them fight compliance. They know things like how to get clean laundry without trashing laundry room, how to move sandwich-making supplies from edge of counter to avoid dropping crumbs on the floor, how to take turns in the bathroom, how to come for dinner when summoned, how to get ready for school. But for some reason they prefer to be reminded (nagged) and given consequences. I've put everyone on a system of levels. The higher your level, the more privileges you get. And moving up a level requires nothing more than basic completion of your daily duties. Some people are choosing to learn the hard way. I don't see the appeal.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

First Day of School (again)

Today Jesse went to his first day of kindergarten. I've been saying it's soon, then I said it's tomorrow, and then all morning I told him it was today. When finally I had him change into his uniform and grab his backpack, he could hardly believe the moment had finally come.
I'm not quite as glib about Jesse's academic future as I once was. Yesterday I took him to "test" with his kindergarten teacher. I peeked through the window as she asked him questions like, "Can you count for me?" He began singing the ABCs. Badly. Then she prompted him, "1...2...3..." and I thought, "Oh no, stop counting before you say all the ones he knows!"

But all was rosy when, on our way out the door, Jesse's teacher handed him...his homework folder. A vinyl two-pocket folder for taking papers to and from school. Exactly like the ones he's seen the other kids toting for years. When she said, "Here is your homework folder" it was like she had said, "Here's your golden ticket for a lifetime of free rides at Disneyland." He lit up like Christmas morning.

I keep telling myself I should have practiced letters with him more, made him write his name more. And I keep telling myself it wouldn't have done any good anyway and he'll learn when he's ready. Let's hope I'm right.

Meanwhile, Roscoe started his junior year earlier this week. No cute picture of him on the doorstep--because he leaves at 5:45, when I really don't care about pictures or doorsteps. He has an incredibly challenging schedule and is already auditioning this afternoon for the Shakespeare troupe. In Mark's father's blessing last week, he blessed Roscoe with "wisdom" to see clearly how to prioritize his many responsibilities.

I feel like I shuttle kids to school and then rush home to pray, pray, pray them through their day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bit o' Betsy

Let's take a  closer look at that one.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A First Day of School Fable

As I stood chatting with Levi's teacher on the morning of the first day of school, an adorable little girl approached us. She held aloft a perfect, new yellow pencil and asked, "Can I sharpen my pencil?"

"Oh sure, honey," I thought I might hear. "The pencil sharpener is right over there."

Instead the teacher arched an eyebrow and asked, "Do you have a personal pencil sharpener?"

The girl's pigtails quivered. "No," she answered.

"Then you'll have to borrow one," said the teacher, sweetly, but with unmistakable firmness.

That afternoon after school, Levi's first words to me were, "I need mechanical pencils!" Then he launched into a copiously detailed account of all the wonderful ways a mechanical pencil frees you from the need to sharpen a pencil. This then segued into, you guessed it, "And I need a personal pencil sharpener!"

At that moment I realized that his teacher was a girl after my own heart.

I can picture it now. Each day her twenty-three students each asked to sharpen their pencils twenty-three times, generating class-time interruptions and learning disruptions that equaled...well, the math was above anything attempted in the fourth grade. The sound of even the sweetest, "Can I sharpen..." sounded to her like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Finally, she realized it had to stop and devised a clever plan. Next year, she resolved, I will require all students to bring their own pencil sharpener! And I'll encourage them to bring mechanical pencils--they never need sharpening! In a culminating stroke of genius she disassembled the classroom pencil sharpener. As she dumped the offending appliance into the trash she felt a subtle shift in the universe, as if balance had been restored.

So tonight I went to Target and bought a jumbo pack of mechanical pencils--did you know that one mechanical pencil lasts as long as 2.5 old-fashioned wooden ones??--and a handful of personal pencil sharpeners.

Because a girl who devises a system that prevents children from senselessly draining her energy and sanity? I'm with you, sister.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

(First) First Day of School

This morning these three headed off for their first day of school.

It was a pretty jarring transition. Until yesterday afternoon, we thought Levi had ten more days of summer. (We haven't even finished our book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.) But at the last moment he was accepted into the charter school Logan, Haley, and Jesse attend. Meaning that we should never again have kids in four different schools at a time (like last year). Just the charter school and high school.

Since Levi wasn't yet officially registered, I walked him into the school to drop off paperwork and help him find his class. Haley was all dressed up in her cute little pleated skort and bouncy ponytail. We walked her to her classroom door and she strode confidently in. In Levi's classroom I stood chatting with the teacher while he circuited the room to assess the lay of the land. I confess, I choked up a little. I was sending these shining little stars out into the big, wide world! And the nerves the kids had been feeling all morning were rubbing off on me.

After the school drop-off, I took Roscoe (who doesn't start school until next week) to the DMV, where he got his driver's license. Meaning that this year I won't have to drive him to early-morning seminary or pick him up from late-night theater rehearsals.

So after months of the near-constant presence of six kids, today I was home by noon with just Jesse and Betsy.


  • A bit of peace and quiet.
  • The excitement of new uniforms, new pencils, new classes.
  • The alluring vistas of all the learning and growth that will happen this year.
  • The opportunity to give Jesse some extra attention.
  • No one to raise their eyebrows when I drive-thru for a Diet Coke.


  • Schlepping back and forth to the school morning, noon, and night.
  • Waking napping baby for said schlepping.
  • No extra hands to hold Betsy.
  • No built-in babysitters when I took Roscoe to the DMV.
  • Jesse getting progressively more restless as the afternoon sans siblings wears on. Good thing he's starting school this year. (Also doesn't start until next week.)
  • The chaotic after-school furor of eating snacks and doing homework and competing kids yelling, "And I need mechanical pencils!" and "Can you sign this?" and "Can I have a graham cracker?" and "Today was Chelsea's birthday!" and "Can I play wiiiiiii?" all at the same time.
  • Missing my kids.
  • Jigsaw-puzzling life around the school bell.
For Family Home Evening on Monday, Mark gave the kids father's blessings. In Haley's, he blessed her to know when to ask for help. I would never have thought to pray for that for her, but it's actually just what she needs to know as she tries to navigate the world. In Levi's, he listed a litany of "opportunities for bad" that Levi might face and admonished him to always choose the right. Again, I wouldn't have outlined the dichotomy that way, but I can see that it was wise and apt counsel for Levi.

In retrospect, I can hardly imagine how we made it through last year. I was so sore and tired so much of the time. And the kids' schedules were so crazy. I'm grateful for the opportunity for a more sane school year.

Knock on wood.

Last Day of Summer

What did I see out my window this morning?

 Let's take a street view:

I got this water slide rental for a song on CityDeals and decided it would be the perfect thing for our last summer playgroup. I won't post pictures of other people's kids, but by the end of the day no less than thirty-five kids had played on this thing. We blew it up at nine a.m. and I kicked the last kids off at five o'clock. Logan brought out his CD player and the driveway became a dance hall-slash-tanning beach.

Little did we know at the beginning of the day that this truly was our last day of summer. In the afternoon, I got a call that Levi had been accepted into the charter school that the other kids attend. So instead of having kids at four schools, like I did last year, they'll all be in just two. Praise be! And school starts tomorrow! Roscoe has tomorrow to take care of a few loose ends--like getting his driver's license--then he's off for a weekend Scout trip before he starts school on Monday.

This was a great summer. The summer Betsy and Roscoe were both with us. The summer we finally had time to relax and enjoy our complete family. I'm glad we ended with a bang.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Things I rarely do now that I have teens
  • Vacuum.
  • Unload the dishwasher.
  • Mow the lawn.
  • Hire a babysitter.
  • Take more than a couple kids to the store.
  • Watch a show or movie I can't justify the moral soundness of.
  • Clock out at eight o'clock.
Things I do now that I have teens
  • Drive endless circles around the church parking lot giving driving lessons.
  • Stay up late waiting for someone to come home.
  • Parent when they'll accept it, which usually comes after nine o'clock.
  • Discuss gender roles, sex, intimacy, real men, atheism, choosing a career, religious doubt.
  • Buy shoes and clothing in sizes larger than my husband’s.
  • Monitor shaving and use of deodorant.
  • Call my children "dude." (Somehow it softens the blow to say, "Dude, do your chores" or "Dude, that was lame.")
  • Watch tasteless youtube clips.
  • Spend hundreds of dollars to register for school.
  • Spend hundreds of dollars on groceries--frequently.
  • Listen to rap and pop.
  • Worry more.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer Theater

Summer’s winding down, and it just didn’t seem long and lazy enough. We’ve already been to Roscoe and Logan’s schools to fill out forms, pick up schedules, stand in lines, and hand over checks.  Logan and Haley start school next week.

Last night we went, for the second time, to the Shakespeare-in-the-park performance of Coriolanus that Roscoe is in. Roscoe fills like four different roles as a soldier, citizen, and rebel. The production does a fantastic job of modernizing the story with costumes and blocking. The actors deliver their lines like real communication, not just iambic pentameter. Jesse, of course, lost interest long before the final scene, so sometimes behind the stage we could see him running through the grass wielding his light saber.
Theater in the round.
Roscoe as his doppelganger, the punk rebel he could be but isn't. The people oppose  the war that  Marcius (later known as Coriolanus) is mounting.
Roscoe (back) storms Rome.
That mask used to be my cami. And those are his suit pants!

The price of war. Marcius has triumphed!
The play is largely about the fickleness of mindless crowds. After his victory, Coriolanus' opponents become his groupies.
Roscoe as returning soldier greeting his wife.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

a.m. / p.m.: Two Vignettes on Sloth, Entropy, and Industry

Mark and I are trying to usher the kids through their Saturday chores so we can get this place whipped into shape and get to Levi's soccer game. And because, good heavens, let's just get it done already. We cajole and remind and follow-up. The kids act like they have never before experienced this "cleaning of bedroom" of which we speak. They resist and complain and whine before ambling off to do what my mother would call "half-way jobs." (Mark's dad had a slightly more colorful term for it.)

I lose it when I walk into the laundry room. The floor is covered with what I presume is a mix of dirty and clean laundry. Yesterday's clean laundry is piled in a basket--wet. The contents of the dryer are also wet. It's been mildewing all night. The carelessness! The laziness! The slovenliness! The disrespect for clean laundry!

It's too much to bear.

Somehow, finally, the kids have hit their stride. I look up to see Logan heading out the back door with a pair of hedge trimmers. Roscoe comes in the front door from having vacuumed out the car, a neatly coiled extension cord  in hand. Even Jesse is sorting clean silverware from the dishwasher caddy into the drawer. Bedrooms have been dusted, sheets washed, the lawn mowed.

Once again the nefarious forces of entropy have been held at bay.

For now.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


First she was no longer a newborn, and now she's really no longer a little baby. She doesn't fold up in your arms like a hot potato. Her long legs trail down off my lap when I feed her. The little stinker has somehow become five months old!

How is it possible to feel that I've missed it when she's been in my arms most of the time?

Why does it take so long to make a baby and so little for them to grow up? (Feels like kind of the same ratio as time spent making dinner versus time spent enjoying it.)

She often has an amused but slightly skeptical expression as seen here...

Or maybe it's more shocked than amused...

Maybe because she's constantly being thronged like this:

I never really understood why people seemed to pity me for never having a baby daughter. I liked my family just fine, thank you very much. But now this girl feels like the cherry on top. Or the lemon drop.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer before its gone

Signs of the new school year are creeping around us like the bogey man. I avert my eyes from the huge back-to-school displays at the store. But thick envelopes of registration paperwork are piling up in my mailbox, and I was lured in by Old Navy's school uniform sale. And I have to confess, now that I've thought about it, the idea of a few less kids around here has a certain appeal.

Before summer slips away entirely, here are a few of the summer systems we've been using:

I was trying to think of a way to fund the kids' inevitable desires for things like bounce house passes, movie tickets, pizza, and new wii games. So we made flyers inviting all neighborhood kids to a weekly playgroup. We charge $2 per kid. My kids plan the activities, supervise the kids, and clean up afterwards. Overall, it's been very fun. The kids have done a good job making sure the playgroup is fun for everyone and balancing structured activities with free time. They used their proceeds from the first half of the summer to buy a new car DVD player for our trip.

Random rewards
I'm always telling myself I need to give fewer negative consequences and more positive reinforcement. So I sometimes set up a system wherein behavior x earns reward y. And then I find the mandatory rewards annoying and counterproductive. Finally I came up with this system of random  rewards, which I like much better.

 On each square I've written something ranging from "thank you" to "Happy Meal for lunch." Any time I see someone do something good, I can tell them to choose a sticky to remove from the chart. But it's never linked with any specific behavior.

I stack it so that about half the time they'll just get a pat on the back ("You make our family great" or "Chuck Norris is impressed"). I also try to make the rewards strengthen my relationship with the kids, so some of them are things like "Hug Mom" or "Play wii tennis with Mom." I think the kids' all-time favorite is "Mom cleans your room."

I guess we're all still enamored with our new fridge and the water and ice in the door. The kids saunter into the kitchen for ice water about three thousand times a day. And had been using a new cup each time until I finally gave them each their assigned spot on the counter.