Conversation with a Junior Higher

Sep 9 2009

I had a conversation with my junior higher this week.

It went like this:

“Amber asked me if I have a cell phone.  I was, like, ‘yah.’  Then Jason asked me if I have a cell phone, and I was, like, ‘yah.’  Then Maria asked me if I have a cell phone.  I was, like, ‘yah.’  Then Aaron asked me if I have a cell phone, and I was, like, ‘yah.'”

Did you catch that?

My junior higher actually talked to me.

What are you going to do about that?

Sep 9 2009

Here’s my very best parenting tip.

“What are you going to do about that?”

Whenever your kid presents you with a problem, a complaint, a conundrum, this is the response that (a) teaches your kids responsibility, (b) shows your kids that you believe in them and in their powers of reason and abilities to problem solve, and (c) is a total, parental cop-out and time-saver.

I love it when being lazy also makes me a good mom.

Sometimes, I’m uncomfortable with the power my children ascribe to me.

I am omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

Never was that more clear to me than last night, when Aden gave me power over the entire Realm of Pretend by saying, “Uh oh, Mom.  My pretend butterfly wings are wet.”

Of course, I responded with, “Wow, Aden, that sounds tough.  What are you going to do about that?”

“You have to pretend dry them, Mom.”

“Why can’t you pretend dry them, Aden?”  I can’t believe I’m arguing with my daughter over who’s going to pretend do something.  My laziness has probably hit a new all-time low.

Aden looked at me like I was stupid.  “Because the pretend dryer isn’t safe for butterfly kids to use, Mom.”


She trumped Lazy with Safety.

She gets smarter every day.

The truth is stranger than fiction.

Sep 3 2009

Aden, age 7, has a mind of her own.   She is unequivocally and unapologetically herself.

For those of you who’ve read “My Name Is Tiger,” this revelation comes as no big shock.

Parenting Aden is 75% joy and 25% fancy foot work and educated guesses.

If Aden follows the rules, it’s just because they happen to coincide with what she plans to do anyway.

Fortunately for all of us, it seems to make more sense to Aden these days to follow the rules.  I’d chalk this up to excellent parenting on our part, but I suspect this is more a testament to Aden’s analytical ability.

Precisely because she’s become so adept at this apparent rule-following, we’ve found ourselves surprised for the last several months that we’ve had to battle so much over one particular rule.

Do not talk to strangers.

When I was a kid, my parents read me the book Never Talk to Strangers by Irma Joyce.  A funny and whimsically illustrated tale, the rhyming story shows various situations in which a child could find him/herself with a stranger and then emphasizes the rule.  Never talk to strangers.

If you are hanging from a trapeze
And up sneaks a camel with bony knees,
Remember this rule, if you please—
Never talk to strangers.

My parents still own the book, and we’ve read it occasionally to all of our kids.

More and more often lately, we’ve worked on this idea with Aden.

One of Aden’s most endearing traits is her friendliness.  People are charmed by her, so Aden is firmly convinced that she lives in a world full of friends – just because she hasn’t met all of them yet doesn’t make them strangers.

I try not to squelch her Pollyanna attitude.  Nor do I favor the instill-fear method of raising children.

I want my children to understand that the world is full of kind and helpful people.  But I also want them to be savvy, wise and prepared.

Ah, the fine line that is parenting.

After a frustrating start, my lessons on strangers seemed to be penetrating during just the last few weeks.

Aden’s been giving the concept a lot of thought, and, on her own began pointing out strangers… with me at the gas station, pointing to the attendant… in the car in traffic, pointing out other drivers… at the park and the grocery store, pointing out adults and kids we don’t know.

“Yes, Aden,” I’d say, “that’s a stranger.” Finally! I thought, She’s actually getting it.

She even made the correlation that, if those people are strangers to her, then she must be a stranger to them.

I picked Aden up from a friend’s house.  Neighborhood kids were on the sidewalk when we were getting in our car.

“They’re strangers,” Aden said.  I concurred.

“I’m a stranger,” Aden said.

“To them,” I agreed, “you are.”

Then we went out to lunch.  I followed Aden to the restroom, and in the second I wasn’t there she’d already struck up a conversation with a woman at the sink.  As soon as the woman left, I’m embarrassed to admit that I lit into Aden.

“A-DEN!  I have talked to you about this ONE THOUSAND times!”  I started in, in a hushed but emphatic voice.  Aden’s eyes got big.

“You must LISTEN to me.  You must OBEY me.  I am your MOMMY.  It is my job to keep you SAFE.”  Have you ever noticed that ranting precludes the use of contractions?

“She is a STRANGER.  You are not NOT NOT allowed to TALK to her.  NO TALKING TO STRANGERS.  DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

Aden looked at me with eyes as big as saucers, but also with her chin in that oh-so-familiar thrust-forward, defiant position.

“But Mommy,” she said, using a rational and calm voice, the kind of voice you’d use to talk someone down from a ledge, “You said.”

Baffled, I asked, “I said what?”

Aden explained.  “You said I’m a stranger, too.”




Parent/child communication breakdown.

I thought she was getting it.  I thought she was realizing all of the people in the Stranger Category.  I thought she was busy grouping the Us’s and the Them’s.

Turns out, she’d figured out that there was a Stranger Category, alright.  I just didn’t realize that she’d found a giant, gaping loop-hole.  Faced with a prohibition against open friendship with all people, Aden had decided to simply become a stranger.

Which would make all of the strangers… friends.

I find that strangely beautiful.

So I’ve been outsmarted again.  So what? That part’s not strange, at all.

Inquiring Minds

Sep 3 2009

Cai and Cael, age two, were in the bathtub together playing with plastic Easter eggs.

Cael, the more scientifically minded of the two, decided to run an experiment.

First, Cael discovered that the wider, shorter portion of the egg better cups his man parts.

Second, Cael filled a half of an egg with his urine.  This exhibited the excellent bladder control that has come with potty training, as he was able to turn his faucet on and then off to ensure that the liquid level was just so.

Third, Cael discovered temperature variences between his urine and the bath water.  He marked this discovery by shouting, “Mommy! My pee is hot!”

That when I made my parental error.

I questioned the validity of Mr. Cael’s experiment.  “Well,” I said, “your pee is warm.  It’s not actually hot, sweetheart.”

Obviously, Cael disagreed.  I could see it on his face.  Searching for a way to prove his discovery legitimately, he clearly understood the need for  independent authentication.

When Cai wasn’t looking, Cael poured his pee on Cai’s head.  Who yelled, “Hey! That’s hot!”

Cael turned to me.  “See, Mommy?” he said.

I conceded the point.

Back to School

Sep 3 2009

People often say to me something along the lines of “…but I shouldn’t complain about my one child [or two or three or four] when you have five” in a sort of breathless voice heavy with – is it disbelief? wonder?  Probably a combo.

I try to respond reassuringly, maintaining that, while five kids is a lot of kids, one kid is, too.

How does that math work, where one kids is many kids?  Well, when you have one child who, like my oldest, considers you parent, nurse, playmate, entertainer, personal chef, teacher, paralegal, secretary, taxi driver, therapist (I seriously could go on and on, but I’ll spare you the rest), the duties can feel a little overwhelming at times.

I remember having one kid.  It was hard.

While I wouldn’t say that five kids is easier than one (in fact, I’ll say right here that it’s not), I would say that it’s its own special kind of hard.  Different hard.  Especially when it’s time to head back to school.

I’m certainly to blame for a good portion of the annual back-to-school chaos we face.  And not just for my role in the procurement or production of said children.

I developed a philosophy years ago that each child is different with different talents, different tastes, and different needs.  (Maybe some child psychologist developed that philosophy, but, since I don’t have time to read up on the subject, I’m claiming this one for myself.)

My philosophy has resulted in three kids at three different schools.  Abby, grade 6, is attending a private school.  Ian, grade 3, is attending an intensive learning special education program at a public elementary school.  Aden, grade 2, also with special needs, continues to be mainstreamed in a public school classroom but receives additional one-on-one and small group instruction from the school’s learning resource center.

So about this time every year, when school is knocking on our door and despite the fact that I’m responsible for the chaos, I think that the scheduling stress might actually overwhelm me, tsumani-style.

My kind, reassuring words to parents with fewer children than me vanish, and I can’t quite manage to reclaim them.  It’s as though those words are intangible smoke rising from the inferno of my mad dash toward a reliable fall routine. Yes, I think unsympathetically, you shouldn’t complain about your one child [or four] when I have FIVE. I’ll think the last word with both disbelief and wonder.

I don’t wish to be uncharitable.  And I promise that eventually my head will clear.  I’ll figure out the fall schedule.  We’ll enter a routine.  I’ll stop using dramatic phrases like “smoke rising from the inferno of” anything.

I’ll regain my sympathy for parents with fewer children.  I’ll be back to my supportive, encouraging persona in no time.

Until then, I leave you with this year’s compiled school supplies list (with a special shout-out to my husband, who spent 4 hours inventorying what we already had and another untold # of hours procuring most of the supplies):

Writing/Drawing Implements:

  • 12 mechanical pencils with erasers
  • 62 sharpened No. 2 pencils
  • 6 Black ballpoint pens
  • 6 Blue ballpoint pens – Both Please
  • 6 Red pens
  • 2 boxes Colored pencils, sharpened
  • 2 black Sharpie markers – ultra fine
  • 1 highlighter
  • 2 dry erase pens
  • 2 boxes of short twistable crayons
  • 8 pink pearl erasers
  • 3 sets of water color paints
  • 1 box 16 color set of crayons
  • 1 box of 32 color crayons (no neon)
  • 1 hand pencil sharpener
  • 1 pkg. Crayola WASHABLE broad tip markers
  • 1 pkg. Pencil eraser caps


  • 1 pkg, loose leaf paper, college ruled
  • Graph paper


  • 2 – 12” metric/inch ruler
  • Calculator
  • Compass
  • Protractor (clear, see-through type)


  • 6 pair of Fiskar pointed scissors (for 3 kids? 6 pairs? Really.)
  • 9 boxes facial tissue
  • Small plastic water bottle (optional)
  • 3 sturdy backpacks with zippers


  • 3 spiral notebooks, college ruled, (max 100 Pgs)
  • 3 – 1” 3-ring binder (one with dividers)
  • 5 Folders with 2 pockets on bottom (1 girl, 2 boy, 2 neutral)
  • 1 composition book


  • 23 Glue sticks
  • 3 bottles white school glue


  • NIV Bible


  • Pencil pouch to hold protractor, calculator, compass
  • 3 plastic snap school boxes (6”x8” size)

Food for Thought

Aug 28 2009

I try to feed my family healthy and appealing meals.  This takes the form of a lot of homemade cooking, a general preference for locally grown food, an insistence that my children befriend vegetables, and an attempt to limit sugar and excess.  Attempt does not always equal success, but, hey, I’m trying.

We almost never have dessert, mostly because I don’t want my kids to learn that the reward for eating food is to have sugar.  Every once in a while, though, I surprise them and pull out a treat.  Tonight it was a luscious lemon pie.

I planned ahead (knowing it takes hours in the fridge to set after baking), and I made this pie from scratch.  I mean, I juiced the lemons and grated the zest myself.  I altered ingredients to cut the sugar and the fat without compromising taste, hoping to treat my family without the guilt.  I much prefer cooking to baking, so this was something of a sacrifice on my part.

And my family was appreciative.  They really were.  Everyone said, “thank you” without being prompted – a mark of success in every mother’s book – and that pie was gone in a blink.

To top it all off, I received these two complimentary gems:

“Yum! This tastes like jello.”


“Good job, Mom! This isn’t poison.”

I’m veritably saturated with pride.

“The reason why I’m so smart is because…”

Aug 26 2009

There are a lot of things that go through my mind when one of my children opens a conversation with a line like my eldest daughter, age 11, recently did.



“The reason why I’m so smart is because…”

Now, you have to really extend the “uh” syllable in “because” to make it sound as tantalizing as she did.  More like, “the reason why I’m so smart is becuuuuuuuhhhhhhz…”

Followed by a long pause designed especially for me to guess the reason behind this new found self-awareness.

Maybe the reason she’s so smart is because her mother has taught her many weighty and wonderful things.

Maybe the reason she’s so smart is because she’s been reading the dictionary secretly at night, knowing how much an excellent vocabulary will please me.

Maybe the reason she’s so smart is because I strictly prohibit watching junk like the Disney Channel on TV.  (Oh, wait.  No, I don’t.  Scratch that one.)

I admit it.  I have a reputation for having a big mouth and saying what’s on my mind.  It’s partially deserved.  (Those who know me would probably say it’s well-deserved.  But this is my blog, therefore my reality.  So there.)  I’m not sure whether it would be in my favor or not for people to know all of the times I actually bite my tongue and don’t say what I’m thinking.

Nevertheless, this time I managed not to say any of the pithy, smarmy comments that came to mind.  Chalk one up in the Mommy Column.

And the reason she’s so smart?

“Becuuuuuuuhhhhhhz… I did NOT just smack Ian on the head even though he totally deserved it.”



I was expecting something a tad more profound.  And a lot more self-serving on the Mom front.  Something that might justify all of the time and thought and attention I put into parenting.  Something that might follow her through life as a memorable lesson on how smart her mother is.

I suppose I was hoping all along that “the reason why I’m so smart is because…” could somehow be interpreted as “the reason why you’re so smart, Mom, is because…”

But when I really consider it and try to remove my selfish self from the situation, she’s right.  She was pretty smart.

Particularly because I’m quite certain Ian did deserve it.  He’s 9.  And a boy.  He’s pretty irritating at this stage.  Especially if you’re 11.  And his sister.

Which makes me think.

I’m pretty smart.

The reason why I’m so smart is because I taught my daughter not to smack her brother on the head.