20 Signs That You Have an Elementary School Kid

(This post originally ran on Huffington Post Parents)

The days of bottles, potty training, snotty noses and sippy cups are far behind me. I now have two kids in elementary school and, like so many parents of similar-aged kids, find myself pondering about how much my life has altered as I cruise around the grocery store at 9 p.m. on a Saturday evening. One on the one hand, my kids are more independent: they can read, they can write, they can tie their shoelaces (well, almost) and I’ve even been paying them to sort, fold and put away their laundry! But on the other hand, the sheer volume of school/PTO requests, homework and social activities threaten to overwhelm and quite frankly, erode any chance of quality me-time (other than grocery shopping late at night). Does any of this sound familiar?

Here are many ways to know when you, too, are the parent of elementary school kids:

  1. You find out about a school project/permission slip/photo day at 8 a.m. the day they are due.
  2. Play dates and parties are drop off… and you are thrilled.
  3. You proudly wear rainbow loom bracelets (while muttering under your breath about the chaos of rubber bands littering your house).
  4. Math homework makes you quake with fear.
  5. You manage to squeeze your lower half into those tiny seats during parent-teacher conferences.
  6. The days of the week take on new meaning: Monday is “you have PE, don’t forget your sneakers day!”, Thursday is “return library book day”, Friday is “pizza day!”
  7. Minecraft.
  8. You are scared to put your hand inside their backpacks.
  9. Your second job is peddling wrapping paper, raffle tickets and other fundraisers (and your friends and family deftly avoid you).
  10. Ninety percent of the morning mayhem in your house is created in the last 10 minutes before school drop off.
  11. Your iPad/laptop is no longer your own.
  12. You have to explain why Miley Cyrus is really not that cool.
  13. You are adept at stealthily throwing away the latest ‘art project’ in the trash can outside, making sure to hide it underneath other stuff.
  14. You find yourself singing along to Kidz Bop (even when there are no kids around…).
  15. Gloves and hats and socks get lost with uncanny frequency.
  16. Pokemon.
  17. Your toddler knows to yell “BUS” as it approaches the end of your driveway.
  18. Your weekends are a complex logistical challenge — full of parties, play dates, sports and errands.
  19. You are not beneath drying papier maché volcanoes in the microwave.
  20. You know that the day when you’ll have to explain the birds and the bees is inching closer and it terrifies you.

Holy Crap!

Since when did the word ‘crap’ become an acceptable and commonplace part of the English language? I hear people saying ‘crap’ left right and center and fully expect that any day now, I’ll hear this ugly – but apparently tolerated – word coming out of my kids’ mouths.

Don’t get me wrong: I am no prude. I have a filthy mouth. I’m just trying to delay the inevitable moment when my kids repeat explicit words and I have to react with the requisite  levels of discipline and feigned horror (while hiding my giggles.)

Flashback to the 70s … upstairs in my big brother’s bedroom. He was complaining about how crap his math teacher was in hushed tones so the parentals wouldn’t hear. I, at the tender age of about six or seven, had no clue what this word meant. (Shit, now you can work out how old I am … ) Anyway, later that evening over dinner, Dad was asking us about our school day. I excitedly offered up this new tidbit of information I had recently acquired: “Dad, did you know that Jonathan’s math teacher Mr. Agnew is crap?” (Side note: apologies to Mr. Agnew, I’m sure you were a fine teacher and my brother was just an extraordinarily large pain in the arse.)

Silence at the table. Uhoh.

Without going into the details, what followed involved soap, some chasing around the living room, my mouth and lots of crying.

(For which, I have never forgiven my brother.)

Hence, my friends, you can understand my sensitivity about the word ‘crap’. This punishment also applies to calling someone an ‘old bag’, I also discovered.

Kids, you’ve been warned.

Summer Swan Song & Back to School Angst

Well, that went fast! Here we are, just three days of summer camp left and back to school in a week’s time. It’s a time to pause and marvel at summer’s imprint on my kids – before I, true to form, start stressing about the imminent change to our schedules, logistics and my inevitable working Mom guilt.

Summer has a habit of showering my kids with one heck of a growth spurt: both mentally and physically. Mentally, they become more self-assured, strutting off to camp every day, confident in their character, willing to learn, practice and hone new skills, navigate complex social situations, make new friends – both peers and counselors.

Summer mostly leaves her mark on their bodies. Long days of constant motion and outdoor action convert their little bodies into long, lean, muscular, bronzed creatures. They grew at least two feet taller each summer – I’m not kidding. The sun bleaches the soft down on their foreheads and rains golden streaks into their hair. Their bums are shocking white in contrast with the rest of the lanky, ripped bodies! Summer renders them ever more beautiful.

Best of all, they return home from camp each night filthy, hungry and tired. They eat their body weight in dinner, chug several pints of milk, shower off the day’s dust, grime, sun screen and bug spray, and fall, clean and exhausted, into their beds and into deep, sweet dreams.

This evening, we talked about what they’d miss most about camp. Their friends and swimming every day were their answers. Then we talked about what they were looking forward about going back to school. Their friends and learning new things, they responded.

It amazes me how seamlessly and confidently they slide from one season to the next, without angst, without regret, with anticipation.

And so we go back to school. However, for me as a working Mom, the transition isn’t quite as carefree as the kids.

Back to school, for me, brings a change of schedule with school starting an hour later, meaning I get to the office later, compressing my already busy work day. It brings regret that I don’t have the time in my schedule to walk my kids to school. It foists guilt that I can’t be as present in the classroom as maybe I could or should be. lt slams me with frustration that I’m not able to pick them up before 6pm every day, meaning our evenings together are all-too-short.

Surely, they deserve more of me?

This is a state-of-mind and heart that I face at this time of year every year. I struggle with it. And then accept it, for my choice to work is my choice. And, luckily for me, my kids weather this time of year  better than I do – so I guess I must be doing something right.

I Am The Working Mom Who …

Needs to leave work at 5pm in order to safely pick up kids by 6pm.

Thinks she can squeeze in one more email, call or conversation.

Ends up leaving the office somewhere between 5.15-5.30pm.

Realizes she doesn’t have time to pee as she’s already running late.

Can’t walk straight to her car because she is responding to email.

Spends the entire drive either on the phone or emailing when stopped at lights.

Screeches into the parking lot as the clock turns to 6pm.

Apologizes to staff.

Every. Single. Day.

Learning from the Mean Kids

My outie is better than your innie.

You’re not my friend any more.

Little makes me sadder – and madder – than when one of my kids tells me someone was to mean to him or her  and it hurt their feelings. My first instinct is to locate the brat and his parents and give them a good punch talking to. My second instinct is to envelop my kids’ heart in bubble wrap so that no wretched child can ever make them feel that way again.

We usually have these discussions around bathtime and bedtime. With their eyes wide open and teary, or sometimes with their shoulders caved in and chins dropped, we discuss who said what to whom and how it made them feel. And I have come to realize, through these end-of-day discussions, that my kids are counting on us grown-ups to help set things right again in their little but ever-so-large universes so that, tomorrow, when they get back on the school bus, it all will be OK.

But I’ve also realized that, Mama Bear rage and retribution urges aside, my job is to actually help them (figuratively) fight their own battles. These are life skills that will help them from the playground to the sports field to college and into the workplace – or wherever their journeys take them. Because there will always be meanies.

And, because, I like to group things into neat buckets, lists and bullets, I figure there are four key ways to tackle the meanies:

  1. Respect: It’s tough then the mean kid is actually a friend, and all the more so, if he or she is  from a family you know. In our family, we talk a lot about how important it is to treat other people the same way you want to be treated (and my kids’ karate lessons do a great job reinforcing this.) So maybe this meanie needs a gentle reminder that respect is the foundation of friendship. I urge my kids to say: “That’s not a nice thing to say to a friend,” and to go find someone else to play with until that kid is ready to resume being a real friend.
  2. Empathy: The meanie might be unhappy or lonely or shy. This kid might be from a household that is dealing with stuff, or maybe he’s a little insecure. I encourage my kids to think about what might be going on behind the mean words. Perhaps they should consider this an opportunity to be empathetic and extend the hand of friendship?
  3. Forgiveness: People say hurtful things when they’ve been hurt themselves. I’ve seen this first hand when my son had a fight with a close friend. It doesn’t matter who said what first. If you really value your friendship, put injustices aside and say you are sorry. In our case, we talked it over, the boys shook hands and, within seconds, were BFFs all over again and in full Pokemon mode.
  4. Laugh it off: Comparing belly buttons, seriously?! Giggling together about whatever ridiculous nonsense is being thrown out can change the dynamic of the whole encounter. Maybe all the meanie was looking for was a way to make a connection? Turn the whole thing into a hoot and maybe you’ll find a new friend? (This often goes hand in hand with #2.)

These are not lessons that can be learned and applied overnight. Heck, I know many an adult who could learn them too and I’m including myself in that mix. But, you know me, I like to look on the bright side and I’m hoping that, with a little dose of respect, empathy, self-awareness –and let’s not forget, silliness – we can all get along a little better.

The Conversation I Didn’t Want to Have

(Note: This post originally ran on Sunday on the Huffington Post. The good news is that, despite the tough and sad topic, my son and I ended up having a wonderful conversation about kindness and respect.)

As I sit here, my 8-year-old son is consuming his fifth waffle and watching some inane Sunday morning cartoon. His life is carefree, focused, as kids often are, on entertainment, fulfilling his needs, and fun, fun, fun.

But, at some point today, I have to sit him down and have a conversation I don’t want to have to have. One that will bring back memories of another conversation we had to have just over four months ago. One that upset him then and which will upset him now. One to which, when he asks why, we will not have the answers.

I guess this is parenting. I guess this is real life. It stinks.

Yesterday, we received notification from our kids’ school principal that they plan to hold Open Circles in class on Monday so the children can share any questions, concerns or feelings they have about this past week’s sadness and madness here in Boston.

First, let me say that I fully support the mission of the Open Circle program, which is described as:

  • Strengthening students’ [SEL] skills related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing care and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively
  • Fostering safe, caring and highly-engaging classroom and school communities

Flash back four months to the days following the ghastly events in Newtown. School somberly informed us they’d be holding Open Circles in each class. I understand why it was necessary: many were distraught and we needed to provide a forum in which facts could be confirmed, mistruths corrected and, most of all, security and safety assured. But my husband and I, we struggled all weekend with the timing, feeling like ours hands were forced into having a discussion with children before school resumed, so that they could hear it from us first: the two people they depend on most for wellbeing, confidence, faith. I, for one, was not willing or ready for the responsibility of penetrating their carefree universe with the ugly reality that bad things happen to good people, without cause or sense. I needed more time to process, find the right words, consult with other parents. But the clock was ticking, the weekend hours running out before the Monday morning school bell and the wagging tongues of many kids.

To read the full post on Huffington Post, click here.

Should I Limit My Kid’s Reading?

My son was slow to learn to read. He left kindergarten with six-month delay in his reading abilities and this caused me to worry. Compared to all the other kids who were already speeding through Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the Encyclopedia Britannica, my son was still struggling, even with that damned Cat in the Hat.

But, thanks to an IEP (Individual Education Program) and being placed in an inclusion class with a higher ratio of teachers to kids, he emerged from first grade a confident reader. Now, halfway through second grade, he’s become a ravenous reader. I can’t stop him! If he’s not stuffing his face, watching TV or playing with Legos, you’ll find him knee-deep in books. He devours them. It’s a beautiful thing.

Until it’s bedtime, that is.

It’s nice that his bedtime no longer involves hours of negotiation after tucking him in and reading together (“Yes, I’ll rub your back some. Yes, I’ll get you some water. No, I won’t read another book. Yes, I will put another light on. No, you can not still be hungry …!”) Now, all he needs is a quick hug, a kiss and a tussle of his hair and, quite frankly, he’d probably not even notice if I didn’t do that, because his nose is firmly stuck in a book. Either side of his pillow are books. At the last count, there were about 12 books around his bed.

But the “problem” is he’s staying awake longer and longer at night, sometimes not falling asleep until 9.30 or 10pm which, in my mind, is too late for an eight year-old. Especially one who, until this past month, was averaging 10 or 11 hours sleep a night. It makes for grumpy mornings, that’s for sure.

I realize that he is growing up and maybe that means his bedtime no longer needs to be the same as his five year-old sister. But at the same time, it’s ridiculous when he and I are going to sleep at the same hour!

After talking with friends with kids of the same age, I discovered that this “problem” seems to be happening across the board with our kids. Most advocated setting a 9pm “lights off” hour, something which I’m trying to now enforce.

But my son keeps asking, “Why are you trying to stop me reading, when all along, you’ve been trying to encourage me to read better and more?”

And, he has a point.

Processing Tragedy & Bad Guys

“Hey Mama, did you know that aliens don’t have brains. Just like bad guys don’t have brains. Hey, did you know that a bad guy went into a school and killed a lot of kids and teachers with a big gun …?”

These heart-stopping words came out of my five year-old’s mouth at the dinner table yesterday. It was one of those moment when all the air is sucked out of the room with a deafening whoosh. This wasn’t the first time she had talked about that ghastly, tragic day—just two months ago now. The first time was when she came home from school the following Monday and independently offered up her simplistic recounting of the facts of that day, parroting what had been told to her and her classmates during the special Open Circle they had held.

In truth, I am still furious that her school openly discussed it with the kindergarteners. I had emailed her teacher to say that I did not want her to participate—but the email reached her too late and the deed was done. Or rather the damage was done.

Or was it?

The school had all kinds of justification for talking about it with the children and they handled it very well. The acknowledged only the facts and the sadness. They did not try to rationalize or explain. They reassured the kids of their safety, the procedures in place.

Rationalizing and explaining was left to us parents (as if we have the answers.) My five year-old, in fact, had no questions. But my eight-year old, whom we proactively told ahead of school that Monday and the Open Circle so that he wasn’t blindsided by facts or gossip, had questions galore. How? Why? What about me?

With every fibre in my body and soul, I loathe the fact that my kids are aware of such inexplicable acts perpetrated by one sick, evil person. I shudder and feel like gagging every time I replay that conversation my husband and I had with our eight year-old. I did not want to do it but felt like the school forced my hand, as well as all the parents who opinionized on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. I’m not yet done with processing that.

But what shatters my heart the most is those words, uttered from the innocent and beautiful mouth of my youngest. They shocked and scarred me the first time she spoke them. But hearing them pop out of her, out of context, two months later concerns me even more, making me gasp for air. Maybe it was just word association? Maybe, by recapping the facts (masked as a question “Hey Mama, did you know …”) she’s seeking corroboration that the story is not fiction? Maybe she’s just showing off something that she learned at school?

Or maybe it’s been lurking in her mind ever since. Maybe this is how she is processing it, even two months later. Maybe her world will never be the same, now that she knows.

Why should a five year-old have to know these things? Why?

I don’t have any answers.

For the Love of …. Doing Nothing

I love doing nothing. It’s right up there with eating. And watching TV. And sleeping (which, I guess, is just doing nothing with your eyes closed.) I long to do nothing.

Back in my single, pre-kid days, I excelled at doing nothing. I practiced long and hard. Put in a lot of time and effort, mastering the art and skill of doing nothing. It was lovely, indulgent, righteous. I also did a lot of stuff: partying, studying, working hard, traveling, moving to new countries, making new friends. But there was always the option of doing nothing.

These days, there is not a lot of time available for doing nothing. Kids school, kids activities, kids play dates, school vacation, domesticity, family and a career all have this horrible way of getting in between me and my favo(u)rite pass-time. Society imposes this crazy requirement for being busy, as if a full schedule is the key to fulfillment. I beg to differ. The schedule is what causes the most heartburn in my life, especially as working parent. The schedule is one of the few things my husband and I argue over. Who is picking up which kid? Who gets to stay home to cover the kids’ early release days/snow days/sick days/school vacation day? Whose meeting is more important? Whose schedule/employer is more flexible?

Because the weeks are so crazy, we try as a family to do nothing at the weekends. We try not to pack these precious two days with outings, activities, errands, parties, play dates and socializing. However it doesn’t work. There are always errands, parties, play dates and socializing. But that’s cool. As long as there are a few hours tucked away, reserved for vegging out on the couch watching a movie, hanging in the backyard, lazing in bed, taking a long bath.

There is however a really, really fine balancing act, I’ve found, between organizing stuff for the kids to do and letting them play freely. Here’s what can happen when you let them do nothing:

a. They play quietly
b. They get creative
c. They break stuff
d. They break each other
e. All or some of the above

It is currently day three of school vacation week. I’m trying to perfect a formula that mixes a variety of planned and spontaneous activities with free time for doing nothing.

So far, the kids have only broken one piece of furniture. The house looks like a tornado blew through it. Laundry is piling up.

It’s not exactly the kind of doing nothing I’d like to be doing on vacation. But it’s fun.

p.s. I’m not including a picture because I can’t be bothered to search for one.

Every Parent’s Morning Mayhem

Kids awake, brimming with energy and awesomeness.

Parents arise, groggy, potentially irritable before the coffee infusion.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to get dressed.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to eat breakfast.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to brush their teeth.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to get their backpacks ready, shoes and coats on.

Repeat over and over and over and over. Tick, tick, tick.

Parents check emails, tweets, FB posts …. distraction.

Panic!

Where are my library books?

I have swimming today!

Oops, I forgot to do my homework.

Do I have lunch money?

Honey, can you pick up the kids tonight, just realized I have a meeting?

Tick, tick, tick.

Repeat Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

Sound familiar?

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