Preschool Coming of Age

We received an invitation to a birthday party for a girl in Hal’s class. I wanted to know how he felt about the girl before giving him the opportunity to decide whether to go to the party. Call me a party pooper, but I wasn’t interested in attending a party for a kid that he didn’t particularly like just so he could get a goody bag and jump in a bounce house.

“Hal,” I asked, “are you friends with Kennedy?”

He looked up at me with a slight shrug.

“Is she one of your friends?”

He gazed carefully at my face before saying, “Mommy. I’m hungry. I really don’t want to talk about this right now.”

Fair enough. If only his older siblings could communicate that clearly. For that matter, if only he could consistently.

He has recently been expressing his displeasure with attending preschool. I suspect it’s one part restlessness, one part boredom, and one part irritation that he isn’t allowed to play on his Nintendo DS on school nights. For awhile, he’d get upset when I would respond in the affirmative to his question: “Do we have school tomorrow?”

So I was rather surprised one day when he responded, “Yes! We have school tomorrow!”

“You are excited that you have school tomorrow?” I asked.

“Yes, Mommy. You see, the more you have of something, the closer you are to being done with it. So I’m happy about going to school because that’s just one day closer to being out of school.”

The night that the boys had to sit through both a worship service and a symphony performance, Hal had swiped three coffee stir sticks from the church kitchen. Later, at the symphony, I saw my husband snatch them away from him before thrusting them into my hands.

Apparently Hal had just told him, “Daddy, I pushed this one all the way up in the top of my nose and it really hurt.”

A few days later, my husband was horsing around with Jane at the dinner table. He grabbed a spear of asparagus and acted like he was going to shove it up her nose.

Speaking with an almost professorial lecturing tone, Hal informed his sister, “Sissy, you don’t want to stick anything up your nose. I tried that once and it really hurt. So don’t do it.”

That same night, he told Daryl authoritatively that the brown spots on the extremely ripe strawberries were the best parts. It didn’t faze him that everyone was dubious at the news.

It’s fun watching your children grow up. And also sometimes sad. But I love moments like these where he steps up and claims his place as an equal of worth in the family rather than the little baby that everyone smiles at, does stuff for, and pats on the head.

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All Evidence to the Contrary

My children have lost their minds.

Our 13 year old daughter has several chores that earn her right to her cell phone. We’ve gone over what those chores are several times. I’ve walked her through them. Like, literally, stood in the room with her, told her what types of cleaning solutions to use for which chores, whether to use paper towels or a washcloth, how to not forget certain easily missed areas, demonstrated particular cleaning techniques. It has been explained.

So last night, after being told to clean the bathroom, she told her dad that she had done so. He didn’t check her work right then but commented to me later that we needed to (since we have long suspected that she’s not doing her chores or at least not doing them well). So I did this morning.

They had already left for school so I called her.

“Daddy said that you reported cleaning the bathroom last night.”

“Yeeeessss,” she said, as if confused as to why I was bringing it up.

I tried to keep my voice calm and non-confrontational. “Well, you didn’t clean the counter. Or the sinks. Or the faucets. Or the mirror. Or the toilet. Or the floor. Or the bathtub,” I said as I peeked behind the shower curtain and confirmed that the bath toys they’ve been stepping on during their showers were still there. “What exactly have you cleaned?”

I was afraid that my last question had come across too strident and we would now engage in the indignant screaming match where I would be accused of not appreciating anything she does and it’s not her fault if I can’t see all the work she did. Either that or this kind of baffling exchange: you didn’t sweep the floor _ yes I did _ then why is there visible dirt? _ I don’t know because I did sweep _ no, no you didn’t _ YES I DID! _ then you didn’t do a very good job _ I don’t know what you want me to say! I SWEPT THE FLOOR!!

She took a different approach.

“Ohhhhhhh! You mean that kind of cleaning!”

I choose to refer to this response as Selective IQ Deficit: the sudden apparent decrease in a child’s IQ to justify failure to accomplish an assigned task.

She should know that “clean the bathroom” does not mean to put the toothbrushes back in order and line up the cups and soap dishes.

When I told her that she would need to actually clean the bathroom this evening before or after volleyball practice, I finally got the explosion I was expecting.

Only I wasn’t expecting it anymore.

“What?! I’m going to volleyball practice?!”

“Um, yes,” I said, surprised and confused. “It’s Tuesday evening. You always have volleyball practice?”

“But I have UIL!”

After some very confusing back-and-forth, I found out that the school board wanted to recognize some academic award winners. Lots of people miss this. There’s no reason for her to miss volleyball practice for it. But she was enraged that we were going to make her stick to her original commitment. Whatever.

When I got off the phone, I noticed that her 10 year old brother, fully dressed for school, had really greasy hair.

“Did you take a shower this morning?”

“No.”

“Did you take one last night?”

“No.”

“Did you take one yesterday morning?”

“No.”

“Your hair looks nasty. You need to take a shower.”

“I’ll be late to school!”

“I don’t think so. I’ll call Daddy and make sure he agrees but if he agrees…”

I called Daddy. He agreed there was enough time to not be late for school. I hung up and turned to my son.

“Go wash your hair.”

To my surprise, he walked to the bathroom without complaint.

“And do a good job!”

“I will.”

As I put on my shoes, I wondered why the shower wasn’t starting. I had heard a brief turn of the sink faucet. Surely not…

I opened the bathroom door. He was at the sink.

“Um. You’ll need to get in the shower.”

WHAT??!!” Yeah… there’s the reaction I was expecting.

“You cannot wash your hair well at the sink while fully dressed. Get undressed. Get in the shower.”

UGGGH!!! I’m going to be late for school!!”

“As long as you leave in the next twenty minutes, you’ll be fine. Hurry up.”

He glared at me.

I checked on him later. The sides of his hair were not completely wet. He was trying to lather the shampoo while standing under the stream of water. He was only washing the top. I reached in to help him out. He indignantly exclaimed that he knew how to wash his hair.

Ahhhh, son… all evidence to the contrary…

Indeed, all evidence points to the conclusion that my children will never grow into fully functional, productive, responsible adults. I’ve been assured that they will, but times like this… I have serious doubts.

Music to my Ears

Jane declared the love of her life to me today.

“I am totally in love with music! I mean, I’m just in love with music.”

“Are you in love with playing music or just listening to it on your iPod?”

“I love it all! I love listening to it. I love playing it. I love figuring out how to play different instruments that I’ve never played before.”

“You don’t like to sing.”

“I know, but I love instruments.”

Earlier in the evening, as chime choir practice wrapped up, she had sat down at the piano and begun picking out Good King Wenceslas. She’s never taken piano lessons. Well, unless you count the 2 or 3 basic lessons she had at the preschool one summer. She’s played the song on violin and viola, but never piano.

By the time the chimes director had turned off the lights in the room to encourage (force?!) her to leave, she had it figured out. And pounded it out in total darkness as I called from the hallway, “Jane! We need to go!”

In the car, waiting (forever!) in the Taco Bell drive-thru line, she concluded her gushing of musical love by categorizing the band instruments and their players.

“I’ve thought it might be neat to play the tuba,” she said. “Because, you know, I’m big and it’s big. It kinda fits. But…”

“But what?”

“Did you ever notice when you were in band that certain people seem to play certain instruments?”

“Like how the tubas tend to be the big chubby guys?” I asked.

“Yeah! And quiet. They are all quiet. And the trumpets are loud and obnoxious.”

“I often found them full of themselves.”

“That’s true. And the trombones are weird in a quiet kind of way. And the french horns are… well… You know, Mr. Thomas says the french horn is the hardest instrument to play.”

“I can believe that,” I said. “I always thought the french horns were kind of formal. Stuffy.”

“Yeah! That’s it! Formal.”

“And what about the flutes?” I asked, naming her instrument.

Without missing a beat, she said, “They are the girly ones.”

“You and Jason are girly?” This surprised me.

“I’m not but he sure is. He’s got a high-pitched voice and he’s always going on about stuff like the girls do.”

“Okaaaayyy… what about the clarinets?”

“They’re the normal ones. I mean, not *normal* normal – they are still in the band, you know, but they can kind of pass for normal. They are interesting, like their own person, you know?”

It was about then that I decided she was a remarkably perceptive judge of character. In case you were wondering which instrument I played.

“What about the saxophones?” I asked. She had earlier stated that the saxophone was her favorite instrument.

“They are loud and annoying but funny.”

“And the percussionists?”

“Nerdy band nerds.”

“Um. They are all nerdy band nerds, honey.”

“Well,” she said, “they are always doing this.” She began to bounce up and down like she was keeping the beat of a song and getting into the groove. I smiled.

She thinks of “the twins” anytime she sees bassoons or oboes because the bassoon and oboe in her band are played by twin brothers. I said I had found them to be “pinched”, although the person most prominent in my mind didn’t fit that bill.

I was curious, since she has played a stringed instrument for eight years, what she thought of strings players, even though they aren’t in the band. So I asked.

“Snobbish,” she said. “And different.”

“Snobbish? Really?”

“Well, especially violins. They think they are all that because they always have the melody.”

“And what about violas?”

“Well violas are awesome, of course!”

“And cellos?”

“They think they are the best because they’ve got the biggest instrument.”

So now you know Jane’s official band and orchestra classification system. If you were in one or the other, do you agree with her? How did you see the different sections?

When we enrolled her in the Suzuki Strings program in Kindergarten, we were hoping to inspire a love of music. We felt mastering an instrument was an important skill. There for awhile, as she chafed under the continuous years of lessons and itched to try new opportunities, I was concerned we had failed in that endeavor. I am so pleased to know now that we succeeded.

Murder, She Wrote

I planned a murder with my daughter this week. We corrupted Daryl as well, causing him to add his own ideas to the mix. In our defense, it was an assignment for school. A friend of mine whose daughter has the same teacher found the assignment tediously involved and time consuming, not to mention a bit macabre.

We really got into it.

The purpose was to teach the importance of attention to detail. They had just read The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright. Each child was to create a murder scene diorama, building a room in a shoe box depicting a murder scene, complete with all the details that would clue the police investigators in on what happened.

After reading through Jane’s initial draft, I had some questions. Quibbles, if you will.

“So, he comes into the yard and stabs her and disfigures her face?”

“Yes.”

“And then he drags her unconscious over to a tree and hangs her from it?”

“Yes.”

“And then she wakes up and hacks the rope from her neck with a hoe?”

“Yes.”

“Where’d she get the hoe?”

“She was holding it when he attacked her.”

“And you don’t think she would have dropped it in the attack? Say… maybe when she went unconscious?”

“Yeah, I was thinking maybe she should have gardening shears in her pocket instead.”

As we began building the diorama, the events of the murder simplified a bit. The rope and the tree didn’t work out. She needed to be stabbed on the wood walkway so the blood would show better than it would on the grass. The body would crush some flowers in the flowerbed when she fell. The murderer would crush a few more as he made his escape. She’d drag herself up onto the deck in a futile attempt to grab at her phone, but alas, she’d fail to complete the call before succumbing to a loss of blood.

Jane originally planned on having it set in modern times and the phone a cell phone that she had left sitting on the table. It would be shattered.

“Why would it be shattered?”

“Because she dropped it.”

“Do me a favor. Drop your phone. Did it shatter? Phones don’t shatter.”

“Some people’s iPhones do.”

“It seems like a stretch. Besides, how tiny would this cell phone have to be?”

I ultimately convinced her that casting her scene in the 1980’s would allow her to have a regular ole corded phone that she dragged out of the house in case she got a phone call while working in the garden. So now instead of failing to call 911 on her cell phone, she manages to only knock the handle off the phone.

Construction was fun. The boys wanted to help and since we didn’t want to spend a small fortune at Hobby Lobby, we made a lot of our own props, like the pitcher of lemonade and two cups, and that phone:

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The phone in the picture was actually the first generation phone. We made another smaller one with a tighter cord after deciding the handset really didn’t need to go from the top of the woman’s head all the way down to her waist.

We started with the back wall of the house, constructing it slightly away from the wall of the box and using the box’s own flap as the roof. We then used a really old can of spray adhesive we found in my craft box from back before I had kids. We had to keep spraying it upright in the yard before turning it down into the box to attach the “grass” we bought at the local train hobby store. The rocks in the picture are to hold down the papers screening off the areas not to have grass. It was a very windy day.

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Jane had gotten her original idea from the supposed murder caught on Google Earth, which was on an octagonal deck out in a lake. I protested that there wasn’t much detail that could be added to that scene. I also pointed out that the murder claim has been thoroughly debunked (she still doesn’t believe me). During the planning stages, I gently nudged her toward coming up with her own story, which she did, but she steadfastly stuck to the octagonal deck.

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She built the deck by attaching all the “planks” with duct tape and cross beams (which were also duct taped). We printed out an octagon from PowerPoint and she traced the desired shape. She expresses a fear of cutting herself with the saber saw so Daddy did all the cutting. She built the fence and table top the same way.

The benches and edge pieces of the deck, however, were cut using a chisel and hammer:

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Once the backyard was finished, Jane initially declared it too beautiful to corrupt with a murder scene. But the deed must be done. She painted the bottoms of the “murderer’s” feet (some poor smuck in the package of 5 people we bought at Hobby Lobby who happened to be in the process of walking).

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Then she staged him walking across the deck, through the flowerbed, across the yard, and out the gate.

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She also wanted a bloody hand print on the gate. So first she ripped the arm off the guy…

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…and then she used his hand to make the hand print.

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She had a little too much fun giving the victim doll its wounds.

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The scene was complete with a shattered vase, knocked over as the victim scrambled onto the deck – actual pottery shards provided by her dad; a knocked over pitcher with the awfully bright lemonade spilling out; two cups – indicating that the victim was expecting company, although only one had lemonade in it; the phone with its bloodied handle hanging loose from the table; and a homemade umbrella.

I couldn’t find a small enough drill bit to make the hole for the umbrella so we were trying to use a kabob skewer from the kitchen and not getting very far. The boys were hovering, offering suggestions and wanting to help. Hal, being only five years old, was getting on my nerves. I had already asked him to leave a couple of times.

As he watched us with the skewer, he asked, “Why don’t you use a pushpin or something?”

“Hal!” I said, “That’s brilliant!”

We soon had an umbrella pushed through a hole in the table and Hal had a high five from me and a huge smile on his face.

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The friend who wasn’t enjoying the project told her daughter that her murder would have to be due to suffocation with a pillow or something because she wasn’t going in on all the gore. Another friend was doing Humpty Dumpty. Still another was doing a scene where a banana ate another banana. It was to be called Cannibananalism.

At the volleyball games this afternoon, we saw pictures of one girl’s detailed kitchen scene that appeared to show murder by large animal. Another mom raised all of our eyebrows when she said her daughter hadn’t started. “She says she knows what she’s going to do and it won’t take that long. She’s doing JonBenet Ramsey and wants a Barbie doll. Personally, I don’t want her doing that story – it’s too sad.”

At the time of the conversation, we had yet to stage the murder in our beautifully serene backyard scene. We knew we easily had another hour or two of work to finish up details like window frames, sky behind the fence, scraping up the grass where the gate would have opened and shut, lemonade, broken vases, blood, bent flowers, and more. Jane had made a list when she went to bed yesterday – a day that saw probably eight hours of concerted effort.

I sighed a relieved sigh. At least my daughter wasn’t the one that hadn’t started yet.

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Bullying

I’m sure that everyone has been waiting anxiously to learn what two words from Evening Television Language were used in Jane’s anti-bullying assembly today.

After posting the story about the recorded phone message from the school, I got some feedback from other district parents. One fellow middle school parent predicted that the words were derogatory terms for homosexuals and promiscuous girls. One high school parent informed me that her daughter couldn’t remember any bad words from the video. Another told me that her daughter said one of the words was slut.

This morning, I told Jane to be sure she had pen and paper at the assembly. “I want you to write down any candidate words you hear.”

She rolled her eyes at me.

“I’m serious! You are performing research for a blogger! I need accuracy. Please!”

She added a slow head shake to the eye roll. “I’m not taking pen and paper, mom. I’ll use my phone. If we don’t get out of here soon, I’ll be sitting in the back anyway. No one will see me.”

I didn’t get a chance to talk to her until 7:00 this evening as I drove her and her friend Jennifer to Stardusters.

“Did you get the two words?” I asked as we climbed into the truck.

“Yep.” She nodded. “But it was three words.”

“What?! THREE words? You mean he lied to me on that phone message? Three words changes everything! I shouldn’t have let you see it.”

She rolled her eyes at me.

“So what were they?”

“The A word, the B word, and slut.”

“Oh. Well, maybe he didn’t consider ‘slut’ to be Evening Television Language. Maybe that’s just afternoon television language.”

She rolled her eyes at me.

“Was it good?”

“Yeah. At the end, we could sign this banner as a pledge not to bully and if we did, we got this anti-bullying bracelet. I was walking down the hall after the assembly and I saw this guy shove this other guy up against a locker and start cussing him out. The guy against the locker is a known bully. And they were both wearing the bracelet. I found it richly ironic.”

“That’s why I have my doubts that those assemblies do any good,” I said. She nodded. After a moment of silence, I amended my thought, “Maybe it makes a difference with the bystanders. The kids that see bullying happen. Maybe it makes them more likely to speak up.”

“Yeah, maybe. There’s this one kid that if you bully him, you get suspended from school.”

“Because he’s been picked on so much?”

“Yeah.”

“He cries in band because he’s always being bullied,” Jennifer added. “I sit right next to him.”

“He’s… He wears his pants really high up and… his guardians don’t have a lot of money. That’s part of the problem. His guardians. He doesn’t have parents. They don’t have a lot of money so he wears these cheap black shoes with really thick soles and he’s kinda queer [Note: she means ‘weird’, not ‘gay’]. Last year, he actually proposed to Mrs. Duncan. I mean, with like a ring and everything. And he’s got a funny walk.”

The girls told me this in really sad tones. They weren’t making fun of him. They were just stating a heart-breaking reality. Jane later shared that she cried during the assembly, saying that some of the stories in the video were really sad. I couldn’t help but wonder if the anti-bullying video, like so many things in life, was simply preaching to the choir.

Evening Television Language

Our school district has implemented a new automated phone notification system. We get phone calls with the principal or someone else’s recorded voice telling us about Meet the Teacher night, school assemblies, no-school days, etc.

The one we received this week seemed oddly and unnecessarily euphemistic. The Middle School principal announced that there would be a school assembly about bullying on Wednesday. The presentation had previously been given at the high school.

The oddness started when he resumed speaking after the first bit had been repeated in Spanish. “This is a serious subject,” he said. “However, there are two words in the presentation that could be seen as the equivalent of ‘evening television language’. If you do not wish your child to attend the assembly, please notify the school and we will make other arrangements.”

Evening television language? Did he mean profanity? Why not just say so? The problem with euphemisms is that they are so easy to misunderstand, especially across cultural differences. Profanity is fairly universally understood to involve certain words. But evening television language? Only, this wasn’t even evening television language, but simply words that might be seen as equivalent to it. I wish I understood Spanish so I could tell if the Spanish speaker had made a literal translation of “evening television language” or had converted to some euphemism that would be understood by Spanish speakers.

I wasn’t inclined to withdraw my child from the assembly based on two words. I mean, she listens to uncensored Mackelmore and Pink songs. We’ve watched Pitch Perfect ad nauseam. She reads extensively. And, well, quite frankly, she goes to public school. I have a hard time believing that either of these two words will be new and/or shocking to her.

But I do wonder what they are. And why they didn’t just tell us the two words. Maybe he could have spelled them in a low whisper, like when fifth graders are talking about “naughty” words. If I were a concerned parent, I’d be forced to call the school to ask what words they were. I hope there aren’t too many concerned parents, or the poor secretary will be doing nothing all day but repeating these two terrible words to parent after parent, all day long. I’ve asked Jane to take pen and paper and write down all the candidate words she hears. I’m curious.

Flat Tea

This was my Facebook status this morning:

It’s maybe a sign of a rough start to my day when I pour tea into the iron instead of water.

You see, I have a bad habit of assuming that any random cup of liquid I come across is 1) full of water and 2) available for my use. The first time this assumption bit me, we were visiting my mom. The kids were in bed (thankfully) and the adults were sitting in the living room. I was in the kitchen, in sight of the other adults, when I saw a cup of water on the counter and decided to drink it.

They all looked up to see me spitting rapidly and frantically into the sink, then desperately washing my mouth out.

“Did you just drink that?!” asked my husband, sounding shocked.

“Yes! I didn’t know it was bleach!”

“Really?!” he laughed. “I could smell it from here!”

This second and most recent event, I played to a smaller audience. As Daryl sat quietly eating his breakfast, I prepared to iron a shirt for Jane. Since it was cotton, I decided to add water to the steamer. There was a cup with a small amount of water on the table.

But as I poured the water into the iron, I noticed it was a very light brown. Oh, no I thought. So I sipped it. Yep. Jane drank tea for dinner last night, not water.

I quickly unplugged the iron, poured the tea into the sink, and rinsed it out a few times. When I plugged it back in, it let off a bit of smoke.

“Keep an eye on that thing and holler at me if it does anything dangerous,” I told Daryl, who looked up at the iron, stared for a minute, and then nodded. I wondered what he thought of the request.

I left the room to verify with Jane that this shirt still fit her. She insisted it did. But when she came in a few minutes later to see me clearly fulfilling her request to iron it, she said, “Oh! I don’t need you to iron that. I decided to wear a different shirt.” Really. And my question about the shirt didn’t clue you in? No.

As the rest of the family left for school, Hal settled in to eat his breakfast while I prepared to take my shower. I was feeling a bit hyper. I had run on the treadmill while watching a hilarious episode of Firefly, and then had the great tea-in-the-iron drama. I was up for a bit of silliness.

So as I locked the door, I looked at him and said dramatically, “Ok, look. I’m going to take a shower. Don’t touch that,” I pointed to the iron. “Don’t unlock the door. Don’t go outside. Don’t do anything that will get you hurt, maimed, or killed. Got it?”

I had spread my arms out wide in a grand expression as I finished my little monologue. He slowly swallowed the cereal in his mouth and said, “Ok. How about I just play with my train table?” That’s what I love about that kid. Sometimes he can be so dry.