What’s On The Other Side?

Hal is the youngest member of our children’s choir at church.  As such, it’s sometimes necessary for him to step out of the choir room before rehearsal is actually finished.  This could be because he’s just gotten too restless or it could be because they need to work on a song with the older ones.  Either way, the ladies running the choir seem to always have a plan for him.  This week, he made a miniature “paper doll”.  He told me it was him.

20140928_203114I told him it was great and I really liked that he was wearing pink shoes.  The shocker was when he turned it over.  The back, in fact, shocked everyone.  His big brother told him he was stupid, which earned a sharp rebuke and lecture from me.  Later, his sister, standing in line for dinner with the youth group, expressed her shock without insult but a handful of teenagers bursting out laughing as he proudly showed his ‘doll’ was too much for him.  He buried his face in his dad’s leg in shame.

It hurt to see him hurt like that.  He was so proud of what he had done.  What none of the other children had bothered to do was ask why.  Why had he drawn what he did on the back?  It’s simple, really.  Take a look.



Those are butt cheeks.  What possessed him to draw (albeit too small) butt cheeks?  Isn’t it obvious?  Do you see any pants covering the back of that boy?  No?  Me neither.  Which means we’d obviously see his butt cheeks.  And that’s why he drew them.  Because that’s what we’d see.  And even though it’s a bit off-color and most people won’t be able to keep from laughing, I’m proud of him.  It shows intelligence and creativity and attention to detail and… humor.  He knew he was being funny.  In a silly little boy kind of way.

Sometimes I ache for him, growing up as the youngest of three.  Worse, growing up five years younger than the next youngest.  And, without a matching partner in any of our friends’ families.  One of our closest sets of friends has two kids: a girl 2 weeks younger than Jane and a boy 2 1/2 months younger than Daryl.  Our kids have been close friends for years, but when Hal is around, he’s the third wheel and is often treated as such.  One of our newer sets of friends also has two kids: again, a girl in the same grade as Jane and a boy in the same grade as Daryl.  Jane and the girl are friendly, not as close as they’ve been in the past, but Daryl and the boy are pretty much best friends.  And Hal wants to be part of it.

Hal gets upset every time the boys get together and he’s left out.  He doesn’t understand that he’s too much younger.  He doesn’t understand that he’ll eventually make friends of his own.  But even if he does, it won’t be kids from the families we currently socialize with.  So when those families gather, he’s still left out.

I don’t know what kind of effect this will have on him long-term.  I certainly don’t regret our decision to have another go at the kiddo roulette wheel.  But sometimes I wonder whether this was fair to him.  Whether we spent any time thinking about the impact of this gap on him.  Whether we even had the capacity to understand it had we thought to consider it.

Take this doll, for example.  If he had been Jane – the firstborn, he would have been met with nothing but praise and merriment.  He would have only had adults to show it to – loving, supportive adults.  He would have been validated, his creativity rewarded.  But as the “baby”, he still receives the love and support, but he also receives ridicule and rejection from people he truly looks up to.  Even if he believes the supportive adults, he is still left with the sense that something about his creativity was maybe not-quite-right.  And that’s sad.

All we can do now, of course, is make sure he knows just how much he’s valued.  And how much I love his tiny-butt-cheek, pink shoe wearing, googly-eyed selfie and every other wonderful thing he comes up with.  And help him (and his siblings) navigate this tricky path we’ve laid for them.  And teach his siblings that he is worth their respect.  He has feelings too.


Hairy Spiders

My ten year old son shaved his arms yesterday.  For those of you that were around two years ago, this event might remind you of the last time he worried over his hairy arms.  If you weren’t, you might check out that story.  It sets the stage well for this one.

Despite his third grade concern about turning into a “hairy beast”, I was still taken aback yesterday.  He approached me and said, “Hey, mom.  Feel this.”  I rubbed the proffered arm and blinked in shock at the perfect smoothness awaiting me.  He smiled proudly.

“Did you shave your arms?!”  I asked.


“You really shouldn’t have done that.  Come here,” I said, leading him to our bedroom where Jane and my husband were.

“Daryl shaved his arms,” I said.  His Daddy, never one for any sort of societal conventions or expectations, smiled.  I glared at him.

“Wait,” Jane said, “Did you use my razor?”

“No.  There were three razors in there.  I used the blue one.”

“That one was mine!  You used my razor?!”

“Why did you shave your arms?” I asked.

“Because I looked like a spider!”

“No, you didn’t.  You looked like a normal human.”

“No!  I looked like a hairy spider.”

“People have hair on their arms, Daryl.  Look.  See my arm?” I asked, showing him my arm.

“You people are missing the most important problem here!” Jane interjected. “He. Used. My. Razor!”

“Daryl,” I said.  “You don’t want to shave your arms.  Unless you are wanting to join the swim team, that is.  You have to keep doing it.  It’s a pain.  And the hair will grow back darker.  Please don’t do it again.”

“Is anyone listening?  He used my razor!”

“But it feels so good!  Feel it!”

“Yeah, ok,” I said.  “But you wanna know what it’s going to feel like tomorrow?”


I took his hand and walked over to my husband.  I rubbed my son’s hand on his father’s stubbly shaved-the-day-before face.  “Like that.”

“What?!  Why?”

“Because hair grows back, honey.  That’s what hair does.  Jane, keep your razor in your room if you don’t want him using it.”

“Great,” she said.  “Now I’ll never shave again.  Because I won’t think about shaving until I’m already in the shower but then my razor will be in my bedroom.”

The conversation meandered on to Jane’s inconsistent shaving habits.  It was humorous and we all enjoyed the joking around, but I can’t remember the details now.  I guess I was in too much shock to take in much beyond the fact that my son approaching puberty decided his arms were too hairy and took action on it.

TBT: My Car, My Step-dad, and Me

This week’s posts about timid drivers and the discussion about bad day birthdays got me to thinking about my stepdad.  Specifically, some experiences we shared while I was learning to drive.

When I turned 16, I bought a 1972 VW bug in bad need of a paint job from my grandparents.  I paid them something like $50 a month for a year.  In the months and years leading up to that birthday, I had insisted that I would take any car, ANY car, except a bug.  I don’t know why I hated them so much, but I did.  By the time I turned 16 though, an 18 year old hand-me-down bug for $600 seemed just fine, thank you very much.

Now, this car had more issues than peeling paint.  It also had a sticky throttle.  Sometimes I’d pull up to a stoplight and the engine would begin to race.  I’d have to put the car in neutral, engage the parking brake, run around to the back where the engine was, pop the ‘hood’, push the throttle thingy back down, and then race back to the driver’s seat, put it back in gear, and take off before the car behind me honked.  If I was lucky, I was transporting either my little brother or my boyfriend, both of whom had been trained to hop out and do it for me.  Sometimes I wonder how much experiences like that keep you humble.

Anyway, before I was trusted to drive around by myself or with other young passengers, a lot of time was spent driving around the neighborhood with one of my parents.  It was a manual transmission, quite different from the automatics that we learned with in my Driver’s Ed class at school.

The neighborhood had a lot of hills and I’d typically pick routes that would not force me to stop on a steep uphill incline.  I hadn’t yet mastered the (now probably lost) art of balancing my left and right feet on the clutch and gas to keep the car stationary and then gently transition to forward progress.  It seemed like a good plan to get good at that on flat surfaces before attempting hills.

My stepdad had a different view of the world though.  He was more in the tradition of “sink or swim” training.  So one day, he directed my progress and it resulted in me stopping at a stop sign at the top of the steepest of steep hills in the neighborhood.  I protested as we approached, saying I wouldn’t be able to start up again.  He said yes I would.  Shortly after I stopped, a car came up behind me.  I began to sweat.  I rolled (yes, actually manually rolled) down the window and tried to motion them to go around me.

I can’t remember now what happened next.  Maybe I’ve fused several memories into one.  I don’t remember if they went around me or refused.  I don’t remember whether I stubbornly stayed put or gunned it.  I don’t remember if I successfully (but with a really revved up engine) passed through the intersection or if I killed it or rolled all the way down the hill.  It seems like I had all of those experiences.  Obviously, I eventually left the hill.  All I know for sure is that I was irritated with him.

I doubt it was that same trip, but on one such neighborhood tour, he insisted when we returned home that I back into the driveway.  I’ve noticed over the years that most people don’t back into their driveways.  Most pull in and then back out.  Both my mother and my stepfather, however, strongly believed that you should back into the driveway and pull out.  The best explanation that I was given was that on icy days, it was easier to exit if you had previously backed in.  If I pointed out the unlikeliness of getting iced-in during the summer months, for example, I’d be told that it was important to keep good habits.

Anyway, I began to pull into the driveway one day and he told me to back in.  His car was already in the driveway and I told him I wasn’t comfortable backing in with it there.  He told me I needed to learn and to do it anyway.  I insisted that I wasn’t comfortable.  He insisted that I do it anyway.

“Fine!” I finally responded angrily.  I pulled either down the street or into the drive across from us, threw my arm over the seat, and looked over my shoulder as I began to maneuver into the driveway.  Likewise, he looked over his right shoulder to watch my proximity to his car.

“You are getting close to the Ford,” he said.  I corrected my motion some.

“You are getting too close to the Ford!” he said again.  I made another adjustment.

“You are getting too…” {{BAM!!}}  “…You just hit the Ford!”

I quickly adjusted the car and hopped out.  So did he.  We were both angrily yelling at each other about the accident that had just occurred in the driveway.  He was yelling about how he had been telling me I was getting too close and I didn’t adjust.  I was yelling about how I told him I didn’t feel comfortable backing into the driveway but he just wouldn’t listen.  My mom came hurrying down the sidewalk from the front door: “What is going on?!”

“She just hit the Ford!”

“He made me back into the driveway!”

I don’t remember anything after this.  I think they made some deal about them paying for repairing my car and painting it if I just did XYZ.  I never did XYZ.  I don’t know why.  I came to love my little bug in serious need of a paint job and a nice dent in the rear passenger-side fender.  It was a very nice match to my platform shoes, bell-bottom jeans, and rainbow sunglasses that I wore to the band’s “hippie dance”.  And it got me where I needed to go.  Most of the time.

Just Turn Already!

My husband honked his horn at another driver this weekend.  Not once, but twice.  To understand what a big deal this is, you have to know my husband.  He’s a fairly patient driver.  He doesn’t speed.  He doesn’t crowd people.  He doesn’t float stop signs.  But he doesn’t suffer idiots lightly.

Let me set the stage for you.  We were pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot.  This was at the very end of the parking lot and the entrance was under construction.  This meant that when you turned into the entrance, you could not go straight as most people normally would.  You had to turn right.  Any vehicles exiting here would be turning left to leave.  The road adjacent to the parking lot was one way.  Here’s a picture:

The truck, labeled ‘T’, was exiting the construction area.  The woman who provoked my husband’s ire, labeled ‘TL’ (for ‘timid lady’) was in the red car and we were in the green.  TL pulled into the entrance part way and then stopped, waiting for T to pull out of the construction zone.  There was no need for this because T was traveling straight and therefore not impeding TL’s progress.  He couldn’t turn left when he exited since the road was one way.  There was, in short, no reason for the woman to stop her own progress.  But she did.  So my husband, who’s rear was hanging out in the road, honked at her.

She moved forward slightly but then stopped again as if she were at a stop sign.  The truck was still sitting next to us.  She motioned to the first car waiting to exit to go ahead and go.  Again, her right turn did not prevent A’s left turn.  Nor did A’s left turn prevent TL’s right turn.  No one needed to take turns here.  Nonetheless, she encouraged them to turn.

Of course, they couldn’t because T was still sitting there.  So they indicated to her that she should go on.  She motioned that she preferred them to go.  They motioned to her again.  This time my husband, beside himself with frustration at the idiocy on display, honked again.  For a longer duration.  She indicated with a central digit on her left hand what she thought of his honking but went ahead and made her turn.  A and B were looking straight ahead.  C was outright laughing at the scene.  I think D was wondering if they’d ever get to leave the parking lot.

We engaged in the usual “what was that woman’s problem?!” discussion as we proceeded to find a parking space near the grocery end of the store.  The woman, thankfully, progressed to the other end.  With any luck, we wouldn’t recognize each other in the store.

I could come up with only two possible explanations for the woman’s behavior.  The first is an overabundance of “manners”.  That is, she’s one of those drivers who throws the rules of the road aside and lets others go ahead of her.  People think they are being polite in these situations, but it’s actually a pretty bad idea.  If you have the right-of-way, you need to go.  To not go causes problems.  To motion others to go instead can cause even greater problems if someone else is not expecting them to go.  No, leave the manners for the dinner table and just follow the rules when driving.  Please.

The other explanation seems like the more likely and is why I named her Timid Lady here.  She might be one of those drivers that isn’t comfortable in tight spaces.  Specifically, she can’t make a right turn without first veering far out to her left.  So, in this situation, she wasn’t going to be able to comfortably turn right until the construction truck and the entire line of vehicles waiting to leave had vacated the area.

Oh, wait!  I just thought of a third explanation.  Perhaps she is a passive aggressive driver.  She hesitated as the truck was moving for whatever reason but after my husband honked at her, she decided to “show him” by making him wait for all the other traffic to clear out.

Regardless, I wasn’t impressed.  I had fun drawing my diagram in Microsoft Paint though, and we verified that our horn is still functional.  So I guess it worked out ok in the end.


How to Botch a Birthday

My husband turned 40 recently.  Forty is one of those milestone birthdays that shouldn’t pass by unremarked.  I started planning back in June.  I commissioned a very talented wood worker to make a custom box to hold my husband’s playing card collection.  I asked for 10 drawers that could each hold 10 decks each.  It turned out beautiful!  And also much bigger than I expected.  So the Saturday before his birthday, I took him to the gentleman’s shop to pick it up.  To my relief (the price tag was not trivial and thanks to Dave Ramsey, I couldn’t hide the price tag), he loved it.  Success!

But getting an awesome gift a few days before your birthday does not mean that you are ok with your birthday just passing by like any other day.  Unfortunately, I was sick all week.  Already prone to be self-centered, when I get sick, I become completely engrossed in me and only me.  Pitiful me.  Sick me.  ‘Please pamper me’ me.

So even though we had discussed birthday dinner plans the day before, when I woke up the day of, it was just another miserable, I-wish-I-didn’t-have-to-get-out-of-bed drag toward the end of the week.  We did our usual routines.  He took the kids to school.  Since I was still dragging, I was home when he got home.  I hugged him before I left.  He seemed unhappy about something.  I didn’t know what.

I was at the end of our street when I remembered our evening plans, which reminded me that I had just left my husband without wishing him a happy birthday.  And, worse, I had failed to remind our children so they could give him a hearty Happy Birthday before they went to school.  I was late to work but I U-turned at the intersection.

Back home, I hung my head and said I was so sorry.  Since he was on the couch, I knelt down in front of him to give him a hug and wish him a Happy Birthday.  He smiled and said, “Well, I almost made it to 8:00 without anyone wishing me a Happy Birthday!”

He proceeded to have a rotten, too-busy, non-satisfying kind of day.  When he called me late in the afternoon, it was obvious he was overwhelmed.  I thought about how he made a cake for my birthday.  I had no plans for him.  No cake.  No card.  He had told me that morning that we weren’t going to go out to eat after all because we really needed to fix the pork chops that had been marinating for several days.  No favorite restaurant.

Help! I begged a friend via email.  I need to do something special for his birthday but I can’t think of anything that’s not food!  He’s not eating chocolate and he’s on a health kick, so I don’t want to necessarily do any dessert but what can I do?!

She suggested a fruit parfait, which sounded great.  I stopped at the dollar store to purchase some cheap glasses to hold the individual servings.  I went to the grocery store for the fruit and yogurt.  While there, I picked out two Mylar balloons and a bouquet of brightly colored flowers with glitter sprinkled over them.  One of the balloons had a phrase making it clear the recipient was getting on in the years.  The other had Phineus and Ferb on it.  I smiled at the thought of the confusing signals I was sending anyone trying to decipher my purchases.

When I got to the car, I thought to myself, I need to tie down these balloons somehow so they don’t blow away when I open the hatch at home.  Spying the car seat L.A.T.C.H. system on the back of the seat, I threaded the ribbons through it and then wrapped it around the plastic cover a few times.  Perfect, I thought.

I left the kids at another friend’s house and hurried home to assemble the parfait.  When I opened the hatch on the back of the car, I noticed that the bag with the food and flowers had fallen over.  I wondered whether I should pick that up first or grab the balloons.  Better safe than sorry, I thought and reached for the balloon ribbons.  As I began to pull them loose, I thought to myself, Wow.  They are really securely wrapped around there.  I think I can go ahead and grab the bag first instead.

At that point, I let go of the now-loosened ribbons to gather up the bag.  I had the dollar store bag in my right hand and almost had the grocery store bag secure in my left when I noticed that the ribbons were very quickly snaking out of their hold.

“No!  No!  No!” I called out as I grabbed for the ribbons with the already occupied right hand.  I succeeded in catching one ribbon, but the other continued to slither away.  I reached high with my left hand, grocery tote bag hampering the movement.  I just barely missed it.  Fearful of breaking the glasses or accidentally losing the secured balloon if I attempted to drop the bags, I ran around the side of the car toward the floating balloon, clutching the two bags and one balloon.

I jumped and jumped, reaching with my left hand, but barely missed the tail of the ribbon as the balloon gained altitude and floated over the house.  I stood still for a moment and watched its progress, hoping that maybe, just maybe, it’d get snagged in the tree behind the house.  No luck.

With a sigh and a shrug and some paranoia about possibly losing the other balloon while digging for my house keys, I entered the house.  At least I still had the Phineus and Ferb balloon.

The parfait assembly was uneventful, and then I remembered that I wanted to put candles in his.  Digging through my box of birthday “stuff”, I found a 4, a couple of 1’s, a 6, and a broken 9.  No zero.  Well, I thought, the broken 9 looks like a 0 now, so… ok.  Done.  I’ll use the 4 and broken 9 for 40.

After secretly assembling everything, I left the house just as he pulled into the driveway.  I hustled him into the car and took him and the kids out to eat at his favorite restaurant.  Pork chops, be damned.  This was the third time to eat out that week though, which means we’ll have to not eat out anymore this month to keep our budget, but hey, he’d had a bad day.

Of course, he had somewhere to be shortly after dinner, so we ran home with just enough time for him to see the balloon, hear the story, blow the candles out of his parfait, listen to Hal throw a fit about not blowing out candles, relight the candles, watch Hal blow them out, and then head out again.  The kids ate their parfait while finishing up homework.  Hal spirited the balloon away to his bedroom.  I waited for my husband to return so we could eat our parfaits together.  But neither were hungry enough to finish it.

Before long, we adjourned to the bedroom where we played some Words With Friends before turning out the lights.  I guess I didn’t totally botch the birthday, but I certainly made a valiant effort.

The Amazons vs. The Pixies

I drove Jane to school one recent morning. This was a rare event brought about by a disagreement over showering requirements that had her left behind when the Daddy Wagon departed. She was an emotional wreck, as is common with teenagers when they feel they aren’t in control of their lives, and indicated that there were other stressful things going on in her life beyond her father’s expectations on personal hygiene.

Namely, she said she has been doubting herself. On the one hand, this didn’t surprise me since that’s one thing the average teenager does quite well. On the other, she has always seemed to exude confidence and an impervious response to the harsh words of her peers.

When she was finally ready, I put my hands on her cheeks and said, “You are beautiful and smart and funny and outgoing and a great person. It’s our job to make sure you make good choices and sometimes you aren’t going to like the way we do that. Just know that we are always on your side. There are no more committed players on Team Jane than your Daddy and me, ok?”

And then her Daddy, who had just returned home, mangled one of our favorite lines from The Help and told her, “You is smart, you is pretty, and you is sweet.” She smiled and hugged him – peace restored – and then we headed to the car.

Once rolling, I asked what was going on. I was met with an explosive expression of frustration about the new boyfriend of one of her best friends. He had tagged her with a nickname the year before which had been intended as an insult about her muscular thighs. She had worn it as a badge of honor. Only, recently she had discovered that it wasn’t about her thighs after all. It was that he in general though she looked “manly.” And now other people had taken up calling her that and it was getting to her. Especially since she considered him to otherwise be a nice guy. I guess it would have been easier to take if she could have written him off as a jerk.

She had actually already mentioned the true intent of the nickname last week so I had been thinking about it quite a bit. I took a deep breath and jumped in.

My daughter is beautiful. She truly is. But she’s also a big girl. Now, I don’t mean that as a euphemism for someone overweight – she is not that. She’s just bigger than most. At 5’8″ and probably done, she won’t be considered tall by the time everyone catches up but she’s been the tallest person around until recently and still one of the tallest girls. Her feet are very long. As a women’s size 11, she frequently shops in the men’s section. Her bones are big – her wrist was bigger than mine when she was in the third grade. Her back is broad, her limbs are muscular, and her facial features are strong. I simply marvel at how splendidly made she is.

Add in her intelligence and tendency to put it front and center, and she’s not a girl for just anyone.

“Sweetheart,” I said. “You are a big fish and quite frankly, this is a pretty small pond.” I named some of her petite little friends and said, “Most of the boys are going to be drawn to girls like them. They are little pixie girls and they fit the role of what the boys think they are looking for. They can be the cute little side kick that hangs on the boy’s arm. I’m not saying that’s what they are but the boys that are looking for that can see them as that. You aren’t that. It’s going to take a special guy to appreciate what you have to offer, but trust me, that’s the kind of guy you want.

“Yeah, you are a big woman,” I continued, “but that doesn’t make you unattractive or manly. You are an Amazon woman. You are Wonder Woman.” This made her smile. “Seriously, girl. You are statuesque.”

“You are one of them.”

“One of who?”

“You are one of those pixie girls. Especially now with the short spiky hair.”

This derailed me for a minute. I’ve never once thought of myself in a similar vein to that of her smaller friends. True, I’m petite: not very tall and small boned, but I’ve never had the bubbly personality. My hips are too big and my face too strong featured to be a pixie. Nonetheless, in her eyes, I’m tiny, just like them.

Anyway, I pressed the issue regarding her friend’s boyfriend, who appeared to be the root of her problem. “You know,” I said, “his girlfriend is pretty much the same size you are. You guys trade clothes.”

“Yeah,” she said, “she’s just a little bit smaller in the waist and not quite as tall.”

“So the next time he calls you manly, just say, ‘You know, Marissa and I are the same build. We trade clothes with each other. So what does this mean you think about your girlfriend? Personally, I think she’s beautiful and so am I.”

Her face lit up. Sometimes all our kids need is some help with the witty comebacks when other kids are getting them down. I went on to talk about how hard the teen years are and how there’s pretty much “the cool crowd” and “everyone else.” I assured her that when she went away to college, there’d be a lot more people and it’d be easier to find her “people” – those folks who are interested in similar things and who appreciate her for who she is. Right now, she just has to hang on and survive Small Town USA.

“No Kid Could Right That Good”

I have a confession to make.  I like to read Dear Abby.  I’m not sure why, but there it is.  I read it on uexpress, which now has a comment forum on each letter.  There are many ‘regulars’ who comment – sometimes supporting Abby’s advice, sometimes offering different advice, and sometimes ridiculing Abby herself.

A recent letter on September 17th resulted in  people claiming the letter was fake.  This is a frequent claim, especially when it results in a plug for one of her pamphlets.  Here’s the letter:

DEAR ABBY: I’m a 15-year-old girl. When I’m with the high school group of kids at my church, I try to extend myself and talk, but they never reciprocate much. I always have to try to think of something to say and be careful I don’t embarrass myself. Especially around guys, I feel awkward and self-conscious.

I feel OK about myself, but I still get nervous. Other girls find things to talk about to each other but not me, and guys never talk to me first, either. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or being too careful.

I’m an only child. I get along pretty well with adults, but I have a hard time with kids. I heard you have a booklet about these issues. If you think it might help me, how can I order it? — UNPOPULAR IN SACRAMENTO

Now, some of the reasons given for it being fake were potentially sound.  How would a 15-year old girl have heard about Abby’s pamphlets?  And if she had heard about them, why wouldn’t she just Google for information about them?  For that matter, why wouldn’t she have just Googled for an answer to her question anyway?

There was one reason, though, that really got under my skin.  It’s a reason given often when an underage letter writer is deemed “fake.”  Here was one instance of it:

Dear Abby, Is it ethical to pretend that I’m a 15 year old girl who writes to you using words like “reciprocate” and “extending myself” and who actually spells the word “embarrass” correctly, and who asks about a booklet I’ve “heard” that you sell? Sign me: Peddling Books Under a Pseudonym

One person responded to that comment with:

“:D That’s what I thought too! I figured it was either Abby or the girl’s mom pretending to be the girl. I have a 15 year old who is an only child and she’s very intelligent but she doesn’t talk that way at all. I would, but not her.”

Yes, because the fact that you think your child is highly intelligent yet doesn’t speak that way means that no intelligent child would speak that way.

Another person said:

No way in a small, unfortunately named town in Michigan did a 15 year old write this.

This example of poor writing caused a lot of confusion since the original letter was from Sacramento – the doubter was referring to the town of Hell, Michigan.  “No way in Hell did a 15 year old write this.”

My children are readers, and Jane, in particular, is a writer.  They have impressive vocabularies and use them.  They are also exceptional spellers.  (And I would hope the average 15 year old would know how to use a spell-checker if they didn’t know how to spell ’embarrass’ anyway.)  Jane has some trouble fitting in with some of her peers because (according to one of her friends), she doesn’t dumb down her language for those around her.  It makes the other kids think she’s a little strange.

Yesterday, one of her teachers asked the class if anyone could think of a synonym for ‘valor’.  She claimed that no one had been able to come up with one yet.  Jane suggested ‘chivalry’.  Everyone turned around and looked at her.  The boy sitting next to her said, “Do you even know what that word means?”  Her response, not geared toward winning many friends, was “Of course I know what it means.  Do you think I would have used it if I didn’t?”  Jane is thirteen.

In sixth grade, she got crosswise with one of her teachers at the beginning of the school year.  After we talked through it, she decided (unbeknownst to me) to write a letter of apology to the teacher.  When she told me about it later, she said the teacher had said thank you but not really responded to the content.  I happened to have a parent teacher conference with several of the teachers the next day so asked her about it.

She made it clear that she believed I had written the letter because “no sixth grader would use big words and long sentences like that.”  I, in turn, made it clear that there was currently one sixth grader who would and that I had not written the letter.  She had actually dismissed Jane’s letter entirely because she didn’t believe a child was capable of communicating like that!

When Daryl was in third grade, a girl on his Destination Imagination team was making a sign that was to say “Flower Shop.”  Only, she had written ‘shop’ as ‘shope’.  All the other kids told her there was no ‘E’ in ‘shop’.  Daryl walked by and said, “If you want to spell it with an ‘E’ at the end, then it needs to have 2 P’s.”  His team manager was blown away.  She now turns to him for all spelling questions.

Surprisingly, the tendency to dismiss people with solid writing abilities is not limited to child writers.  When my husband re-enrolled in college in his late twenties, his English Composition professor actually accused him of cheating on his papers.

Personally, I think this is a sad commentary on our society as a whole.  Do we really expect so little of each other?  My oldest two children had both maxed out the reading level grade equivalency by third grade (12.9 – equivalent to a graduating high school senior).  When they would brag that they read at the level of a high school senior, their Daddy would say, “No it means the average high school senior only reads at the level you do.”  He took it more as an indication of how poorly others read over how well our children did.

We have always spoken to our children the same way we speak to each other.   I remember talking to Jane when she was 18 months old in such a way that my mother-in-law’s husband asked, “Do you actually expect her to understand you?”  He was laughing.  But my perspective was this. When do you know when to stop the baby talk?  How do you gauge when the child is ready for more complex conversation?  I always felt it was best to just talk, and explain if need be.

Do I think my kids are exceptional?  Of course I do.  Do I think they are the only ones out there?  Of course not!  That’s why responses like that above irk me.  There are a lot of children out there like mine.  Shoot, the thirteen or fourteen year old daughter of a friend of mine is learning to write in Japanese Kanji.  So maybe instead of dismissing a well-spoken child as a fraud, people should consider that there are still people out there learning how to maximize our rich language.

TBT: Square Peg in a Round Hole

The discussion on my post about my youngest child’s recent Kindergarten homework reminded me of my daughter’s struggles that year.  So this week’s Throwback Thursday travels back eight years.

She’s nearly 14 years old now and in the eighth grade. But eight years ago, she was the bright-eyed, excited Kindergartener in our house. She had a great teacher. The teacher was highly requested, was very good with the kids, taught them a lot, and even received the district’s teacher of the year award that year. I loved almost everything about her.

What I didn’t love was a facet of what made her so good. She ran a tight ship, which allowed her to produce solid results. However, she didn’t have much room for out-of-the-box thinkers on that tight ship. And that’s where my problem lay. Because my kids aren’t good at fitting into other people’s expectations.

On the first day of school, the teacher greeted each child at the door and encouraged them to find their chair and sit down. At each place was a big glob of gray clay. She cheerfully encouraged each child to kneed their “magic play-doh” and see what would happen.

Jane looked around the room at the children who had arrived before her, all gleefully squishing their clay and laughing in delight as it began to change color. Some had red, some blue, some yellow, and so on. She glanced down at her clay and pondered it for a minute. Then, as if she had a sudden inspiration, she tore the ball of clay open to reveal the drops of food coloring inside.

With her face lit up and expecting praise at solving the puzzle, she ran over to the teacher, “Look! Look! I figured it out! See?! I figured it out! There’s this stuff inside. That’s what’s making them change colors!”

The teacher was more irritated at the possibility of the cool activity being ruined for the other kids than she was appreciative of my daughter’s skills of deduction. She gave a quick “That’s nice, Jane. Now go sit back down.” before turning her attention to the newcomers. This left a bad taste in my mouth but I chalked it up to new-mom-pride on my part, bothered that the teacher didn’t seem to find my child as impressive as I did.

Several months later, it was time for “brown” show-and-tell day. They had gone through a series of colors, shapes, and letters over the previous weeks, each one being the criteria for choosing a show-and-tell item. Jane had been growing increasingly frustrated with a boy in her class who always tried to figure out what everyone else had brought. She wanted her item to be a surprise.

So for brown show-and-tell, she came up with the perfect solution – many days or weeks ahead of time, actually. She was so excited when she told me how she was going to bring her hair for show-and-tell: “Because that way, he won’t be able to see what I have because it’s my hair!”

I was excited for her on brown show-and-tell day so as I tucked her into bed that night, I asked her what her teacher had thought of her brown show-and-tell item. Her face fell.

“She didn’t like it.”

“What do you mean she didn’t like it?”

“I didn’t get a ‘good choice’ Kissable.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you do something good, she gives you a ‘good choice’ Kissable.”

“And you didn’t get one?”


“Did everyone else who brought something for show-and-tell get one?”


I was flummoxed. The best I could come up with was that the teacher thought Jane had forgotten her show-and-tell item and had chosen her hair while sitting at the table, waiting her turn. I thought a letter to the teacher would surely clear things up.

In the letter, I explained that Jane said the teacher hadn’t liked her show-and-tell item. I explained that Jane had not forgotten, that she had been planning it for some time and was very excited about it. I told the teacher that she had done it so the boy couldn’t guess what she had and that we had been proud of her problem solving.

The return note surprised me. First, she showed an inability to understand that children can tell when adults don’t like something even if the adults don’t explicitly say they don’t like it. “I never told Jane I didn’t like her show-and-tell item,” she said. As if withholding the treat for participation did not say it clearly enough.

Continuing, she said, “I told the children that they were to bring an item from home. Her hair is not an item from home. If I start letting them use their hair or eyes or clothing, then pretty soon we won’t have anything to show and tell about.”

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I will concede that the teacher had considerably more experience with Kindergarteners and thus her concern was probably reasonably well founded. My problem was not that she didn’t appreciate Jane’s contribution (although taking the time to understand why she did it would have/should have caused her to appreciate it). No, my problem was how she handled the situation.

She didn’t need to shame Jane by denying her the same reward everyone else got. She didn’t need to hold her accountable for a very strict interpretation of “an item from home.” She could have achieved her objective of stopping the impending snowball of non-item show-and-tell presentations by simply saying this:

“That’s very creative, Jane, thank you. But when I said I wanted you guys to bring an item from home, I meant one that you don’t bring to school every day already. So let’s everyone keep that in mind next time. Here’s your Kissable. Joseph, you’re next.”

That night, I had one of my better parenting moments when I comforted her. I told her about how all my friends, some of whom were teachers, simply loved her show-and-tell item and her reason behind it. I told her I thought it showed tremendous creativity. “But that’s not what Mrs. Smith was looking for. And now that we know what she’s looking for, we’ll be able to meet her expectations next time, won’t we? I love you sweetheart. Good night.”

What I didn’t do, and now wish I had, was contact the teacher again. Then again, I had already explained the motivations of my child’s choice. All that was left was to tell her how she could have done her job better and that seems like a dangerous area to enter into. Maybe it’s best that I let it go.

But sometimes, looking back, I wonder how much the push to conform has changed my children. Are they as creative as they would have been if people hadn’t kept trying to force them into a shape that didn’t fit?

Age is Relative

At dinner last night, Hal told his older brother that he had figured out why he (Daryl) was so mean to him (Hal) when Daryl was hanging out with his friend Tony.  Now, I already know why.  No one likes their little brother trying to hang with them – especially when that little brother is five years younger.  Hal pretty much hit the nail on the head:

“It’s because you are acting like a teenager.”

Jane jerked her head up, correctly interpreting that she, as the only teenager in the family, had just been slighted.  But it got her to thinking.  “Wow.  You know when Hal is a teenager, I might not be living at home anymore.”

“You better not still be living at home!” her dad said.  “I’ve got plans for that room.”

“But when Hal’s a teenager, I’ll be…”

“Twenty-one,” he finished.

“I could be attending the local college still.”

“But hopefully not living at home.”

Hal looked up from his Daddy’s lap and gave him a big hug.  “When I’m twenty nine, I’m really going to miss you.”

“Well, honey, you don’t have to miss me.  We can visit each other.”

“You mean you’ll still be alive then?!”  He sounded surprised but hopeful.

“I sure hope so!” Daddy responded.  “I’m turning 40 in a few days and my parents are still alive.”

“Mommy,” Daryl cut in, “You know that lady at church?  She’s got short gray hair and wrinkles?  She’s only 37.”

“Who are you talking about?” I asked.

“She always helps with the potlucks.  She’s only 37!”

Figuring out who he was talking about, I responded, “Um, honey, she’s older than 37.”

“But you look younger than her, Mommy!”

“I am younger than her, sweetheart.”

“But she said that if I kept doing what I was doing that one day that I’d make her older than her 37 years.”

“It was a joke,” Jane responded.  “She was joking.”


Age is such a tricky thing for kids to get a handle on.

On The Way To Work

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These cows caught my attention on my drive to work this morning. They were investigating the watermelon near their salt lick. I was bemused by the presence of the watermelon and suspected that they were too.

As I drove by, I thought, That would be a pretty cool picture.  How often do you see cows eating watermelon? I turned down the next road and thought, No, really. That’d be a cool picture. You should go back and take it. So in a rare spark of spontaneity, I did.

Now, I may live in rural Texas such that I drive by these fine bovines every day, but I’m not really a country girl. I stop and take pictures of things I think are cute. That’s not something my neighbors would do.

And it was my neighbors who caught me taking pictures of the cows. I hopped out of the truck, hoping not to be seen, but there was the couple that lives in the corner house, drinking coffee out on their front porch. I waved and sheepishly told them I thought the cows looked cute with the watermelon. I motioned with my phone and indicated I was just going to take a picture.

They weren’t their cows. They didn’t care. But I’m sure they thought I was odd. Especially since I had turned around and come back to take the picture. I was beginning to feel foolish.

As I got closer to the fence, I heard the man on the porch call out: “Hoooooo-weeeeee!!!!! Here they come! They think you are going to feed them!”

I looked up from my camera in time to see the other dozen cows that had been nowhere near my two subjects running toward me. One was even kicking her back legs up in excitement.

I apologized to the cows. I nodded to the neighbors. I got back into my truck. And drove my city girl butt to work. And tried not to think about just how silly I looked.