I’d Like To Take a Moment To Brag on My Boys

Dave Ramsey would be proud.  My boys are growing up and learning the value of a dollar, and for the past two weekends, they’ve sold lemonade on the street for 50 cents a cup.  Here’s what their stand looks like:

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Here’s what it takes for them to get it down the street and set up:

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Meanwhile, here’s their competition:

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Funnies

Samuel in his new headgear

Samuel in his new headgear

When I was growing up, we used to wait with bated breath for the Sunday paper and the part we called the “Funnies”, aka the comic strips.  I haven’t seen a printed paper in so long, I have no idea if they still include those or not.  Do they even still print and distribute papers?  I assume so, since I still see paper stands around town.  Anyway, I loved the Funnies and have recently read in an article that comic books are now called “Graphic Novels”.  They are publishing textbooks in this format, even, for kids who aren’t strong readers but who enjoy comic books (mostly boys, I would think).

I don’t know how any of this relates to my topic, except that these days, we don’t need comic books to make us laugh – we live on a proverbial funny farm.  And yes, I am aware that a funny farm is a colloquial term for an insane asylum.  Most of the time, I feel like that’s exactly what I’m running here.  But then there are times when the inmates (aka, “the children”) are also just plain funny.  Here’s one example.

Peter gets out of school roughly half an hour after the other two, so I will often pick him up alone, after I drop the other two off at home.  I have found this to be one of my favorite times of the day, since it’s practically the only time my almost 13-year-old talks to me about school stuff.  And generally, we start off with me asking “How was school today?”.  He typically answers “Good” then launches into whatever he wants to talk about – a class or a friend or homework.  Today, when I asked my question, he answered “Weird”.  So I started probing further, until he finally admitted that they are studying the endocrine system in Science.  I started laughing and his face started to redden.  I asked if they learned anything about girls and how hormones affect them.  I thought for sure he was going to tell me something that embarrassed him greatly – which was, of course, why I was asking in the first place.  Instead he said “Let’s just say there was a lot of ‘Huh???  What’s that???’ followed by Ms. Miller (a first year teacher who was just married over Spring Break) saying ‘Ask your parents when you get home’.”

Finally…The Vacation Post!

For Spring Break, we rented a little cabin in Arkansas, at a place in the Ouchita Forest.  It was amazing.  I loved sitting on the back porch, feeling the cool breeze and looking out at the trees surrounding us.

I could also see a horse and hear it whinny from time to time. They offered horseback riding there – really trail riding – but unfortunately, you had to be at least 9 years old to ride alone, and Samuel is only 8. He could go, but would have to ride double with me or Brad, and having been there and done that before, I wasn’t about to spend all the money they were asking for the privilege. And it was a ridiculous amount of money. To sit on a horse and watch the back of the horse’s behind in front of you for an hour. I’d rather walk the trails, thank you.

There was an interesting mix of Cedar and Pine trees there. And Oak. We saw all a lot of cool things during our hikes. Our first was just on the property. We had a little hand-drawn map and what appeared to be a trail – although I use the term loosely. We walked down to the river, then followed a harrowing trail with one edge that was a sheer drop-off to the swollen Ouchita River and the other a steep hill. Or mountain, as the boys described it. Eventually, we had to move up the hill and the trail, which involved grasping at tree limbs and bushes and whatever you could reach to pull yourself up and keep from sliding down into the water. The boys scrambled up like it was nothing, of course, while I was just glad I kept from spraining an ankle or rolling back down into the water. That hike, which was supposed to be a short jaunt around the property, ended up taking around two hours and probably a few miles. Funny thing is, by the time we realized we didn’t want to make the entire round trip, we were through some of the worst parts of the trail and didn’t want to backtrack.

The boys quickly grew tired of walking, just about the time we realized we were going to have to make the entire trip. They started acting like they were going to pass out, complaining of thirst and hunger and anything else they could think of.  I was contemplating putting Samuel on my back when Brad whispered that I just needed to wait until they found something to take their mind off of it.  Sure enough, they found a fallen tree to bounce on and took off running as if they hadn’t a care in the world.

When we got back to the cabin, we had a “rest time” (aka, “give mommy a chance to nap time”), then took off for another hiking trail that was nearby. This time, we knew where we were going (sort of) and how long the trail was (1.8 miles out and the same length back). And again, we forgot to bring drinks. Thankfully, I brought my cellphone. It turned out to be invaluable because it has a compass app on it. I honestly never dreamed when I saw that on my cellphone I would ever have need of it, but lo and behold, I used my compass.

We didn’t hike the full way because, hello??? 1.8 miles!!! But we went a good distance – further than we had planned, in fact, and Brad and I sprinted part of it when the two little boys disappeared ahead of us and didn’t respond to our repeated attempts to call them back. I was proud of myself for not panicking for a full minute or two. But then I started imagining them missing the trail and getting lost in the woods and it getting dark and they wouldn’t know where to go and they would be cold and I could just picture the people volunteering to come sweep through the woods…and then we found them, running merrily along the trial ahead of us, splashing through mud puddles and having a blast. They were very sorry. They are even sorrier the next day, when they lost all screen time for the day. You wouldn’t think screen time would be a big deal staying in a beautiful cabin in the Ouchita Forest of Arkansas, but then again, you wouldn’t expect to find a hot tub on the back porch either. Or a flat screen TV with Dish Network. But there you have it – I agreed to vacation in a cabin in the woods, so long as there were proper amenities.

No one enjoyed the hot tub as much as Samuel.
No one enjoyed the hot tub as much as Samuel.
Driving to Arkansas, we went through some rain and fog, just about the time we got into the mountains…and some pretty winding roads.  Even Samuel was complaining of feeling car sick by the time we found a place to stop and catch our breath.
Our first night there, it rained.  And since every meal I planned involved the grill, my man did what he had to do – he grilled holding an umbrella.
Inside the cabin, the rest of us stayed nice and dry.  In fact, we had a fire every night we were there – the place replenished our supply of wood whenever we ran low.
FireplaceThe upstairs loft had two twin beds and the boys took turns sleeping up there – and one night, Samuel slept on the floor between the beds.
Loft
LoftBut once Matthew had a turn on the couch downstairs, he decided he preferred it to the loft and that became his new bed.  That was fine at night, but during the day, when we all wanted to use his bed, it caused a lot of conflict.
couch
Here’s some nature pics from our trip, in no particular order:
On our last full day in Arkansas, we drove up to Queen Wilhelmina State Park.  Unfortunately, we didn’t bother to look at the website and see that it closed in March 2012 for major renovation and will not reopen until early 2015.  That was kind of a bummer, but we got to see some pretty spectacular views on our way down the mountain, so we weren’t disappointed.  Plus, there was a train!
Train

Someone built this as a summer home years ago. It had something like 4 stories, including the basement.

different side

   

Mountaintop view2014-03-10 15.26.11 2014-03-10 17.05.20

I’m In Love With The Frozen Soundtrack

2014-01-23 14.24.16 For months now, I’ve been hearing all the hype surrounding the movie Frozen, but just never made it to the theater to see it.  But last night, we finally rented it and watched it in our new media room.  It was as close to being in the theater as you can get without actually going…with a few exceptions.  For instance:

  • In a real theater, you probably wouldn’t have to fight the dog for space on the couch.
  • In a real theater, you wouldn’t worry about people spilling food and drink on your carpet.
  • In a real theater, you wouldn’t have children fighting over the seat closest to the outlet, so they could charge their iPods. That way, they have them to play on during the slow parts of the movie.
  • In a real theater, you probably wouldn’t have to endure all the catcalls and boos every time the characters broke out in song.  That’s what I get for watching the movie with boys.

However, I still LOVED the movie and loved the music so much, I immediately purchased the soundtrack and have been listening to it over and over.  It has far exceeded all my expectations, even with the hoopla surrounding its release.  It really is like an animated Broadway Musical.  [Full disclosure: I have never actually been to see a Broadway musical, nor have I even been to Broadway.  Or New York, for that matter.  But it's what I imagine it to be like.]

The best part about watching it at home was the price.  We paid the extra dollar for the HD version, so if you split the $6 between all 5 of us (6 if you count the dog), and if you then subtract that from the price of 5 tickets (guess we wouldn’t have taken the dog to the theater)…well, that math is too hard for me to do at 8:43am but let me just say, that media room will pay for itself in, like 20 years or something!  (Besides, who can put a price on getting to watch TV with the dog?)

Of course, the reason we went ahead and did the room was for sports.  Don’t let Brad convince you otherwise.  I’ve never seen such delight as when he turns on the Texas Rangers and looks up at me and says “LOOK HOW BIG THEY ARE!!!”.  Personally, I can’t wait for football season, and especially the Aggie games.  Maybe by then we will have adequate seating and concrete floors.  Now THAT will feel like a real theater!

 

Just Matthew

So I've started watching the TV show Parenthood. I was told by several people that I should watch it when it first started because there is a kid named Max in the show who has Aspergers. I tried an episode or two back then, but it was too painful and hit too close to home. But now that we have some of our worst years behind us (I hope), I feel ready to watch it and am enjoying it thoroughly. However, it has caused a lot of stuff to surface that I thought I had forgotten. These are just a few of the thoughts that watching Parenthood has brought to mind.

dcp_1717Matthew was named for my two grandfathers: Charles Augustus Beever and Barney Mathiews. Although he was pensive, he was a pretty easy baby. He was sweet and seemed to adore his older brother. He loved to snuggle, and very early on, became attached to his blanky, which he held while sucking his thumb. Things first started to change about the time he turned two, but got really bad when he turned three. He became extremely difficult to handle. No amount of consequences would phase him. We tried time-outs but he enjoyed being alone and just made up stories in his head. We tried spanking him, but he seemed to just firm up his resolve. We tried taking toys away – he was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and owned more trains, tracks, and train videos than I care to admit. But when he was deprived of his trains, he became violent, even kicking me in the shins and hitting me. It was shocking to me that someone so small could become so angry so quickly.

I mentioned his behavior problems, specifically his anger, when I visited the pediatrician each year, and he regularly suggested that Matthew's temper wasn't appropriate for a child his age. However, I believed I was the the cause of it all, and that bad parenting was to blame. I was also absolutely convinced that there was no such thing as ADHD or Aspergers or any other of the myriad of childhood problems people were discussing. I believed firmly that these were just discipline issues – again, bad parenting – and that it was a simply a cultural phenomenon that would pass away in a year or two. And yes, I am well aware of the irony as I write that here.

DSCN0595And so we walked down a path that grew darker and darker. I began to wonder where we had gone wrong with Matthew. He was impossible to figure out. He would grow angry over things that didn’t make sense to me and at the same time that he was being so violent, he also seemed to be reaching out to us for help. I sensed that he didn’t want to be the way he was being, but couldn’t explain himself to us. And when he wasn't angry, he was very compliant and very sweet. He loved to snuggle, he loved his mommy and daddy and big brother, and he was happy playing all by himself for long periods of time.

We added Samuel to the mix when Matthew was not quite two years old. And while Samuel was a ray of sunshine in our darkening world, he just served to show us even more clearly that Matthew was different. Matthew didn’t react the same way Peter and Samuel did. Matthew didn’t engage us the same way, and it didn’t help that he hardly spoke a word, even while other kids were chatting happily with their families. In fact, his lack of words was a cause of concern for my pediatrician – and another sign that something was wrong – but again, I assumed it was just because Peter did all the talking for both of them.

Samuel was a challenge for Matthew. As he grew bigger and demanded more of my attention, he annoyed Matthew more and more. He messed up Matthew's carefully arranged trains (yes, they had to be in a particular order and arranged just so), and from Matthew's perspective, he really added nothing good to our family. It wasn't until very recently that we began to see a softening toward Samuel and now (I'm so grateful to say), they are great friends. But in those early years, I had to be extremely vigilant to protect Samuel from his big brother, especially when Matthew grew angry.

Our first indications that we had a real problem on our hands came from the church nursery, where Matthew's anger turned toward other children. He started biting, and biting is the one thing that a church – or any childcare – cannot tolerate, because it really does put other children in harm's way. We tried to teach him not to bite, but we also started keeping him out of the nursery as much as possible for the safety of the other children. I finally tackled potty training with Matthew when he was three. After going through it with Peter, who practically trained himself, I very nearly gave up and just let Matthew wear diapers his whole life. He didn't care a bit about potty training, no matter what I tried to entice him with. One particularly memorable day occurred when Brad was out of town. Somehow, the baby gate we put across the door to Samuel's room got wedged between the door and his dresser, and I couldn't get into his room. At the exact same time, Matthew pooped on the carpet (he was on the potty, but in my desperation to get Samuel's door open, I missed him running off) and if memory serves, Peter was sick with a stomach bug. I had so many days where everything seemed to fall apart at the same time, I honestly can't remember it all. But while I was finally able to use something that I ran under the door to move the gate and no one was hurt in all of that, it was one of those moments when, as a mother of three very young children, I sat down on the floor and just cried and cried.

When Matthew was four, and finally potty trained (for the most part – he continued to have accidents for years after), we enrolled him in a Mother's Day Out program two days a week. He struggled from the very beginning and was very nearly expelled the day they did a fire drill and without anyone noticing, he ran back into the building and was found playing in the room next door to his with some toys he had been eying for a while. He put that poor teacher through a lot. Meanwhile, Samuel was in a baby class down the hall where the teacher absolutely doted on him. She even threatened to take him home with her, she loved him so much. Peter was in a First Grade and already had been identified as a Gifted & Talented student. Everyone loved our kids – at least, the other two. Matthew was a completely different story. Matthew was a hard kid to love – even if you were his parent.

When Matthew was five, I enrolled him in a different preschool – one that met three days a week – and kept Samuel home with me. His year at that preschool was a really good year for him. He had a teacher – Ms. Cindy – who could see immediately that there was something different about Matthew. She did things for him that made such a difference – like warned him when the fire alarm was going to sound for a fire drill, and even put her hands over his ears. She would sit with him on the playground when she could see him starting to lose control, and help him calm down. She told me that he needed a teacher who could understand him and his needs, and I saw living proof that year that she was right – the teacher made all the difference with Matthew.

The following year, Matthew started Kindergarten at the same elementary school where Peter was now in 3rd grade. Peter was a doll, and never had a teacher who didn't immediately fall in love with him. Matthew's Kindergarten teacher was a really, really good teacher, but she had a large class to deal with and couldn't always attend to the needs of one child. Also, Kindergarten was real school, and they expected Matthew to fall in line with the routine, but Matthew has always marched to the beat of a different drummer. And so he started acting out. He pushed kids down on the playground during recess and hurt kids during PE – regularly. He wouldn't stay in line because he never just walked – he has always walked on his toes, and in school, he generally was pretending to be someone else, so he did ninja moves down the hallway or something like that. He got mad at his teacher frequently, and was uncooperative, so she would send him next door to sit by himself while a different teacher worked with her class. That suited him just fine, as he really didn't want to be in school anyway, and sitting alone he was free to make up stories in his mind.

From the very first day Matthew was in Kindergarten, we got regular calls from his teacher or some member of the school administration – usually the assistant principal, because when he was really bad, he got sent to work in her office. At one point in first grade, she even suspended him for a day, to see if that got his attention. But he loved being home so much, he begged me to just homeschool him. And believe me – I considered it!!! But something inside me knew that if Matthew could not learn how to be a part of a classroom, he might never be a part of mainstream society. And so we pressed on.

And then one day in first grade, after some pretty terrible weeks at school, the assistant principal said she was going to call a meeting of the student success team, to discuss Matthew with them. I had never heard of such a thing, but it consisted of the school psychologist (who I never even knew existed prior to this), some teacher and a few counselors from surrounding schools in the district, plus our school administrators. Her reason for doing this was that she told me she was convinced Matthew wasn't a typical “bad” kid, who got in trouble on purpose. She said she could see so much potential in him – but he just couldn't seem to control himself.

That was just before school let out for Christmas break. And it was during that break from school that the school psychologist called me to ask if I had ever heard of Aspergers. Yes, I had heard of it, but no, I wasn't very familiar with it. She asked if anyone had ever mentioned it in relation to Matthew, and I said that no, that had never even been suggested to us. She went on to tell me she was 99% sure Matthew had Aspergers, and that she was qualified to diagnose him herself but she wanted the district's autism team to evaluate him.

We were shocked. Nothing like this had ever entered our minds. We were so busy blaming each other, ourselves, and the school, that we missed the obvious – Matthew wasn't a typical child at all. He was a child with special needs.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with the Assistant Principal – now Principal – who took Matthew's case to that team. I told her how her choice not to write him off changed the course of his life and ours. I tried to express to her what she has meant to us all these years, but words just never seem to do justice to our level of gratitude. She might never know, this side of Heaven, what she meant to a mother who was diagnosed with clinical depression because she blamed herself for all of Matthew's shortcoming. But I tried to tell her, and I'm saying it here – she very nearly saved my life.

 

‘Tis The Season For Grace

I listen to the local Christian radio station, and every year around this time, the stories start coming out about “random acts of kindness” or whatever they are calling it this year.  I think it was “pay it forward” one year; this year it’s something about “drive-thru giving”.  Anyway, whatever the name, the idea is this: people “bless” others by randomly paying their check at a restaurant, paying for the car behind them at the drive-thru, etc.

It’s a nice idea, isn’t it?  The idea that we live in a society where, at least for a season, people treat each other the way they would like to be treated.  We recently experienced this when we ran to Sonic for dinner and someone had taped $5 Sonic gift cards to each station with just the word “Enjoy!” written on it.  I felt very odd taking the gift card, since I felt there were others who probably needed it more than we did, but in the end, my 12-year-old convinced me that since he didn’t have a regular source of income, he needed it as much as the next person.  I caved, but wondered if that’s really what the giver had in mind when they placed it there.  Did they imagine someone pulling into Sonic on fumes, with only $5 in their pocket, having to decide between buying gas or buying their next meal?  Would they be disappointed to know that my son is going to use it to buy himself ice cream some time in the future?  I really don’t know, but in the end, it was just a $5 gift card, so I took it without really giving it much thought.

But then, yesterday, I was at the elementary school, trying to maneuver around the carpool lines, when I saw a truck coming toward me.  I was pretty much in the middle of the street, and heard someone honk.  I thought it was the car coming toward me (in retrospect, I think it was one of the cars in the line, maybe even not honking at me), so I began to back my car up so he could pass.  I was looking backward so I didn’t notice that he was trying to move around me.  I zigged, he zagged, and we scraped bumpers.

My first instinct was to yell at the man.  I wanted to say I WAS TRYING TO BACK UP FOR YOU but instead of yelling the words, I managed to say them in a normal voice, to which he replied, “I was trying to go around you – there was plenty of room.”  I apologized then, because, of course, I was the one in the middle of the road, trying to rush around the line of cars.  We pulled over to exchange information, and I steeled myself for what I surely deserved – the wrath of a man whose truck was just swiped by a crazy lady with two kids and a dog in her minivan.  Instead, this man offered me grace.  He started out telling me he didn’t think any damage was done to his truck.  He said he rubbed on it and it looked like it would just wash off, like it was more plastic than anything.  Then he told me his brother was a police officer, and in this case, he didn’t think either of us would be issued a citation, so we didn’t need to bother calling them.  I was wary of his kindness, wondering if he was just trying to avoid getting in trouble himself, but he was clearly aware of my doubt and offered his hand, introducing himself to me.  He continued to assure me that this was no big deal, that his truck was just fine, and that these things happen.  He said several times “Don’t worry – this is really no big deal.”

I was caught off guard.  I was prepared for someone to ream me out; instead, he was nice.  He could have been so mean – but he wasn’t.  He was just – kind.  We did exchange information, just in case, but then he told me just to get the kids home and not to worry about it anymore.  So I did.  I went home and called Brad – who of course was only concerned about our safety and didn’t even care about the state of the car – and then I went on about the business of my day.  But when I had time later to stop and really think about it, I realized how rare a gift this man offered me.  It was…loving.  It was undeserved.  It was a reminder to me of what this season really is about.

Because God didn’t offer a random act of kindness when He sent His Son to earth.  God didn’t look down at humanity and just pick out a select few, then offer to pay for their sins.  He didn’t offer a band-aid, either – a temporary fix to our problem.  When God sent Jesus, He was offering His love in exchange for our hate.  He was offering His peace in exchange for our fear.  He was – and still is – offering us a way back into fellowship with Him.

I know there’s way more to it than that.  I am no theologian.  But I have seen God’s love in action this Christmas Season, and it humbled me.  Somehow, that’s what I think defines a true act of kindness – it is so undeserved, it brings the receiver to their knees in humility.  And maybe for someone who can barely afford their next meal to have someone else step in and pay – maybe that produces that same response.  Maybe that’s the point of the random acts of kindness – I’d like to think so.  But I still say it’s a whole lot harder to look someone in the eye who has just side-swiped your car and offer them grace, than it is to place a $5 gift card on the stall at Sonic.  That’s just my opinion.

Driving On Ice

20131212-151332.jpgThe ice storm over the past weekend may be ancient history for most people, but we still have so much ice on our driveway, I almost couldn’t get my car in the garage this afternoon! Here’s the driveway:

The neighbor’s house across the street faces North, and this is what their yard looks like one week after the sleet fell:

20131212-151451.jpg

On Tuesday, the day the kids went back to school, I saw an accident right in front of me when a truck was going too fast over an icy bridge and spun out, hitting the outside wall with his bumper.  He was able to continue driving it, but there was plenty of damage from what I could see.  That same day, on another icy bridge, I heard the unmistakable sound of tires sliding on ice behind me and looked back just in time to see another pick-up sliding from the outside lane to the inside lane, almost taking out my back bumper in the process!  But the worst was when we got home Tuesday just after dark and the driveway was totally iced over but wet on top from the few hours we were above freezing.  That time, I tried – repeatedly – to pull my van into the garage but just couldn’t get enough traction.  My tires would slip and spin and no matter what gear I was in, I just couldn’t make it.  So I had to let the kids out on the ice, and all 3 of them fell at some point.  But the very worst moment happened when Peter fell and took Matthew’s slush from Sonic with him.  The whole thing was dumped out on the ice leaving a bright red spot that looked to an innocent bystander like someone had smashed their head open and bled out.  I think we were all expecting Matthew to actually attempt this with Peter’s head, but surprisingly, he handled it very well and accepted Peter’s offer to share his drink with him.

As for my car, I did finally get it in the garage…by backing all the way into the alley, then entering the garage at an angle.  This put me on Brad’s side of the garage, but by the time he got home from work, the slick ice was re-frozen and he pulled directly into my side.  So all’s well the end’s well.  Oh, and as for the dropped slush?  Well, the dog ended up licking and biting the ice until she removed all traces of red.  In return, she left plenty of yellow, but thankfully we all know not to eat that.

Ice Storm of 2013

2013-12-06 07.59.18We’ve just been through another ice storm – this time only four days – but it was pretty bad.

It all started Thursday.  I was aware of the possibility of snow and ice, but we had company coming in town so I had to make a run to the grocery store.  I went around mid-day, and as I pulled into the parking lot, my windshield was starting to see a few tiny drops of water, but it never crossed my mind it was the beginning of the sleet.  However, by the time I walked out of the store, it was sleeting in full force, and to my dismay, my car was facing straight North!!!  My windshield was totally iced over, and it was almost time for me to pick up the kids from school!  2013-12-07 08.32.53I had to sit in the parking lot and melt the windshield with my heater until the wipers could clear it enough for me to see out.  Then as I drove to get the kids, I received a text from the district that all after school activities were cancelled.  We got home and it was coming down hard!  I called my husband to caution him to get on the road, and thankfully, he made it home without any problems, but our house guests did have a minor accident later that evening when they were going through an intersection and were rear-ended.  That night, I was awake off and on as the sleet pelted our North-facing bedroom windows for what seemed like the entire time.  I think they cancelled school before we even went to bed Thursday night, so the kids were home on Friday, along with Brad and our house guests – Brad’s brother and his wife.

2013-12-08 11.23.13Saturday found us all wearing our pj’s and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors from inside by the fire, but by Sunday, we were all starting to feel a bit of cabin fever.  When our company tried to run some errands, but returned before even making an attempt, we learned just how treacherous the conditions were.  Thankfully, they were able to make it the airport Monday morning even though the district decided to go ahead and cancel school for another day to let the roads clear.  By tonight, the roads were mostly dry but our yard is still covered in a layer of white.  It looks pretty, but after melting slightly and refreezing several times, it’s extremely thick and impossible to break through.  Walking on it is akin to trying to walk on an icy pond without your skates.  Thankfully, I was able to spend another day warm by the fire with the kids, but tomorrow, we’re back to school.  All good things must come to end, I suppose.

Here are some links to movies I took:

Manners…Or A Lack Thereof

I’ve let my blog sit idle for a while now, but today is the day I break my fast.

(Does that make this post breakfast?  If so, I wonder how to follow it up.  Will my next post be lunch?  Or maybe brunch?)

Any who, I feel I just have to comment on something that I see going on in my little neck of the woods.  It’s becoming more and more evident to me that some people these days simply have no awareness of the other people around them. Nowhere is this more evident than in the carpool lanes of the elementary and middle school where my children attend.

Before I begin to describe what I have encountered in these carpool lanes (or “circles of hell,” as I like to call them) let me just say that prior to having children, my husband and I spent nine years becoming the resident experts on how to raise the perfect kids.  Of course, a small dose of reality in 2001 destroyed our expertise (nothing like having a baby to put you in your place), but nonetheless, one thing we observed has remained true: the next generation that is being raised has largely not been instructed in the art of “otherness” – which is what manners are, at their heart.

[Quick disclaimer: if you know my kids, you know this is the pot calling the kettle black.  I am aware of the irony of the mother of possibly the most selfish kids alive writing a post on manners; however, it's not the kids I'm condemning; it's their parents.  So stick with me.]

Having given birth to 3 very self-absorbed kids has taught me how difficult it is to train children to put others first.  It’s hard enough to train them to eat with utensils (how many times do I have to say “Spaghetti-O’s are NOT finger food!” to my 8-year-old?), but putting others first?  That’s darn near impossible.  We certainly haven’t figured it out.

But here’s the thing – what hope is there for children to learn this if their parents have never learned – or at least, refuse to put into practice, these basic principles we in the South like to call “manners”.

Before you crucify me for being old-fashioned, and before you plant a picture in your head of someone with a frilly long dress and matching umbrella worrying about which color of gloves are appropriate for an afternoon tea, let me explain.  See, manners are so much more than just chewing with your mouth closed and addressing an elder with respect.  Putting your napkin in your lap and looking someone in the eye when you speak to them – these are all manners too – but at the heart of all of these is this idea of simple “otherness”.  Deference to another human being.  Awareness that you are not the center of the universe.  THIS is the general attitude I fear is going the way of the Dodo in our society.

(Of course, it’s not extinct yet, as evidenced by the young men – all Aggies – who recently delivered our firewood.  They were incredibly polite, even writing “Yes, Ma’am” in their text messages to me!  They understand something so few people seem to get, and that is the importance of treating others at least as well as you would like to be treated.)

So, now that I’ve built it up, you’ve got to be wondering what in the world caused this rant?!!  It was small – just a few things that happened the same morning while I was trying to get my children to school.  The first was at the elementary school.  One car was showing patience and allowing another car to turn in front of them, despite the fact that the first car had the right-of-way.  It’s a common turn-in to the drop-off lane, one which we all maneuver through once or twice a day.  First car – the one that was being polite and taking turns – had stopped and was waving the other car through – when the SUV behind her got mad and went around her, cutting off BOTH cars – the one being polite and the one she was waving through.  It was just so…arrogant.  Such an ugly display of selfishness.  We were ALL waiting our turn, we were all playing nice – until that one person decided that for some reason, they mattered more (or more likely, their KID mattered more) than the rest of us waiting patiently in line.

Now, I understand that sometimes, there are emergencies.  Maybe she had just spilled coffee on herself and needed to hurry home.  I can forgive those unusual moments of someone’s rudeness.  But then I drove to the other school – the middle school – to drop off my older son.  Because there are no teachers outside to direct traffic and help open car doors, it is way worse at the middle school.  In fact, it’s been so bad that people have taken video of cars cutting each other off or running stop signs and sending them to the front office, who then distributed them to all the parents to see the latest “cars behaving badly” video.  I only wish it made a difference but it hasn’t.  Instead, on a daily and bi-daily basis, I see parents pull up directly in front of the school – right in the middle of the cross walk, where there are cones preventing anyone from going around you – and then proceed to park their car and talk to their child before letting them out of the car.  Never mind that there is a line of approximately 237 cars behind you.  Never mind that you have chosen not to pull up enough so that the rest of us, whose children have long since exited our car, could pull around you.  Never mind that the staff at the school has over and over again asked parents to pull up past the front of the school before letting their children out.  Never mind all that – you have important matters to discuss with your child.  To heck with all of us, you need to hand her a dollar for her lunch.  Don’t worry that all those people who can’t even turn into the school yet are trying to get to work and can’t even get close enough to the school to let their children out.  You go right ahead and take all the time you want.  JUST AT LEAST PULL UP FAR ENOUGH SO THE REST OF US CAN GO AROUND YOU!!!!

It’s just beguiling that the parents – the ones who should be setting the example – are the ones behaving badly.  What hope is there for our children if we don’t have the decency to at least give a thought to the other people who must live in society with us?  What will our world be like in one or two generations if we continue this pattern?  What kind of world will we be living in, once common decency has deteriorated and gone?  Can you just imagine what our kids will be like if we don’t stop being the center of our own universes and start paying attention to those around us?

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Of course, according to Samuel, this could all be avoided if we had an RV.  He’s been advocating for us to buy one, even putting it at the top of his Christmas and birthday list.  Because, if we had an RV, the kids could eat breakfast during the 5 minute drive to school instead of having to sit down at the kitchen table in the mornings.  And since I would be basically driving a bus, I could pull into the bus lane and let them out, avoiding all the other traffic.

Leave it to Samuel to find the perfect solution.

Ready Or Not

Well, it’s here. All the wailing of gnashing of teeth cannot stop the march of time that has brought us here, to the brink of another school year. The kids aren’t too excited about it either.

That’s right. I’m the one who is dreading next Monday more than anyone in this house. Because while yes, I will be glad to have a little sanity back in my daily life, I will also miss the boys terribly while they’re at school. I will make the trips to their schools and leave them all with their respective teachers and administrators, then I will come home and cry. Because without them, the house is so quiet. And because I will be acutely aware again of how fleeting this life really is. Our time with them at home is slipping away, and no matter how hard I try to hang onto each passing moment, they seem to be going by faster and faster.

I am reading a new book that deals with the subject of life after 40, and I could hardly read past a line in the introduction that hit me like a ton of bricks. It said that we are passing into a phase of life where our children and our careers will no longer be the primary sources of joy in our lives. BOOM! Just like that, I realized all over again that this magical time is going to end, and before we know it, we will be sending our boys into the world to become the men God has created them to be.

Forgive my nostalgia, but this time of year for me is very much like New Year’s is to everyone else. My life isn’t measured by the change of the date on a calendar as much as it is by those big life moments, and each year, the first day of school ranks right up there with birthdays, Christmas and all the other biggies. It’s always been that way, maybe even as far back as when I was a kid preparing for a new school year. At the very least, I know it’s been this way since we took Peter to Kindergarten on his first day, then Brad went to work and I went home and locked myself in my closet so I could cry my heart out without scaring Matthew and Samuel. I remember that day like it was yesterday. And I remember the emotions from that day, primarily that of pure loneliness. Peter had been my buddy for five years! Then one day, our long days together came to a close and I started sending him away to spend seven of his waking hours with someone else. It felt so wrong and I struggled with it for years. But now that I’m a little older, I can see how easy it would have been for me to have leaned too heavily on him for my own sense of well-being, had I not let him go. And of course, he’s really started to enjoy himself these last few years. I wouldn’t take that away from him for anything – from any of them. No, school is the best place for the boys, I made my peace with that a long time ago. It’s just hard on my mama’s heart to go from these carefree days of summer – days of playing board games and taking swim lessons and traveling – to the regimen of going to bed on time so we can get up on time so we can make it to school on time…and so on. I know I’m going to lose something next week. But I will just have to lean even more heavily on the grace of God to get me through each new day. His mercies are new every morning, after all!