Thursday, August 27, 2009


Are these two related?

Due to a complete lack of planning and foresight on my part, I have two children who are just a year apart in school. The oldest, I'll call him Atticus (because that's his name) started his Sophomore year today while his younger sister, Grace, started her Freshman year. These two children of mine, born a mere 19 months apart are as different as two people can possibly be.

They say (you know, they) that birth order influences our personalities perhaps more than any other thing and these two kids exemplify that. Given they were born so close in age, to the same parents, and raised in the same house, and attend the same schools, it is incredible they can be this different but I know from talking to other moms that this is quite the norm, not the exception.

Having two kids so different but living basically the same life can be somewhat discombobulating to me. Nowhere is this more apparent than their school experience. It's like they're going to two completely different schools in different towns or maybe different countries. But no, it's just the way they approach it that's different. Here are a few examples:

School supply shopping:
Atticus takes the crumpled list out of his pocket, scans it with his eye and says, "Let's see, I don't really need this, I can get this later, HA they never really use that, umm, okay I need a few spiral notebooks." We are out of Staples in ten minutes.

Grace pulls the supply list out of her folder marked "Supply List" and with the pen she has chosen for this project begins with the first item on the list. When she cannot find the exact brand and color the school suggests she grows very agitated. It takes me some time to convince her that it will be okay and only when I promise to go to other office supply stores does she move on to the next item on her list. She chooses pocket folders and sprial notebooks with girly designs that match. They have to match. She carefully checks each item off the list. In order. We cannot leave Staples until she is done. This takes over an hour.

School clothes: Grace had the first day of school outfit picked out last week and a secondary first day of school outfit picked out for Freshman orientation. She took photos of them and sent them to her friends so they could all vote on them. She modeled them for Lilly who pretended to care. She has been back to school shopping three times and still claims she needs "more tops".

Atticus has a dozen plain t-shirts (his only fashion rule is no logos, no ads), three pairs of cargo pants, and three pairs of jeans. He had them left over from last year, they still fit so he's good to go. Now, you are thinking, "Well of course--he's a boy." But really his indifference to clothing goes beyond this normal boy thing. He really, really doesn't care. He once grabbed the jeans that I had mistakenly put on top of the pile of clothing in his room, put them on, and did not notice they were his sister's. It was not until fourth period when one of his frenemies pointed out ever so helpfully, "Dude, you're wearing girl pants" that he even realized it. He looked down, shrugged, and said, "So what." He was in the seventh grade, not exactly an age when most of us are able to shrug off wearing our sister's pants. But there you have it. He is after all, the Buddhist among us.

Study habits: Grace comes home from school, gets herself a healthy snack, goes to the kitchen table and starts her homework. She works until it is all done. Then she does homework for stuff due later in the week. Then she studies for tests that will be given in a few weeks. She stops for dinner. Then she studies some more. She gets all A's.
Atticus comes home and gets a snack, tells me he has no homework, goes to the computer and does not get off until bed time. He does not get all A's.

I did not even know they gave out homework in Middle School until Grace got there and had the exact same teachers as Atticus.

Freshman orientation: Grace goes to any and all orientations that are offered. This despite the fact that her big brother tells her that most of them are repetitious and you will get all the information you need several times over. She finds her locker and practices opening and closing it. She memorizes where it is relative to her class. She makes sure she has her schedule with her at all times. She considers writing it in Sharpie on her hand in case she loses it.
Last year Atticus skips the first of the two orientations they offer. He is not worried. He passes on using the locker they have assigned him "It's too far from my classes, I'll just carry everything" Umm, winter coat? No worries, he just won't wear one. On the first day of his Freshman year in High School he arrives and realizes he does not have his schedule. (At this point, I apologize for the nightmare you are sure to have tonight just thinking about that, I know I've had several and so has Grace over the past year) Did this bother Atticus? Not so much. He just shrugged, found someone he knew was in his first period and said, "Hey what room do we meet in?" and got through the day like that.
Today those two loves of my life will come home after having both had their first day of school. Grace will tell me lots of stories about the first day, share some of the horrors like broken back-pack straps and lost IDs. She will talk about the different teachers and what she had in the cafeteria. When she's done she will make herself a fruit smoothie and start on her homework.

Atticus will come in, answer my question with a "It was great" grab a cookie and go to the computer. Strangely, he will not have any homework.

The oldest child and the second child. They inhabit two completely different worlds. I'm always grateful to be a part of both.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It's been five years since I wrote this. To all the moms saying goodbye to first-graders and college freshman in particular--here's to you!

My youngest started first grade today and all week long everyone I run into says, “What will you do with your free time now?” A lot of people ask this in jest, knowing full well there isn’t much you can do with the few hours when all the kids are out of the house at once. Others ask in earnest knowing that a world of possibilities has just opened up.

I have some ideas. I’m going to start exercising again. I’m going to write more. I’m going to finish my novel. Some of my friends will go back to work with the help of sitters and nannies. Others will fill up the time doing more around the house, taking part-time jobs, or volunteering even more of their time to the schools. It is strange but as a stay-at-home mom if you do your job really well you are rewarded by having your job taken away from you little by little. Today I was demoted to part-time. It’s not a huge chunk of time; 9:00 to 2:30 due to staggered start times among my three children, but nevertheless it’s a much bigger chunk of time than I’ve had in eleven years.

It’s not a total shock of course. The free-time comes quite gradually really, from the crazed frenzied days of breast-feeding and diaper-changing to the slightly less frantic days of potty-training and pre-school schedules to the relative calm of kindergarten and early elementary days. But some parts of it are not so gradual. Like today, the first day of school. It’s a wrenching change in my life. My youngest is the best of my three children at expressing herself. This makes parenting her sometimes easier and sometimes much more challenging. Last night, she sat in my lap as I read “The Kissing Hand” and as I struggled to get through that tear-jerker she interrupted me to say, “Mama, I am not ready for first grade.” “What do you mean?” I asked prepared to give her a pep-talk, to remind her that her best friend is in her class, she has the same bus route as last year, and she can already read chapter books. “I’m not ready to be away from you for so many hours,” she said simply. This stopped me dead in my tracks because the truth is I’m not really ready to be away from her for so many hours either. I mean maybe more than the 2 ½ hours of a kindergarten day but I really don’t need her to be gone from me more than seven hours which is what it turns out to be with the bus ride to and from school. Can’t they have a four hour day in first grade while we all adjust? My eyes filled with tears but I turned my head so she could not see. I forced a cheerful answer, “But honey, you were gone that many hours just yesterday with Margaret when you went to her house and then to the movies and you didn’t mind that.” “But I can’t be away from you that many hours every day,” she countered.

Now I began to cry in earnest, thankful that children seldom look their moms in the eye and as I sat with her in my lap trying to compose myself and most unhelpfully I remembered a Dave Barry column in which he drives his son Rob to Kindergarten for the first time and as they sit in the car outside the school, saying goodbye, Rob asks, “Daddy, how long do I have to do this?” and he can’t bring himself to answer, but he thinks, “Forever and ever.” I remember crying when I read that column and I didn’t even have children then. I shook my head trying to get the image of Rob and Dave Barry out of my head and to distract myself I tried to figure out how old Rob must be now. He’s probably in college or older, and not nearly as close to his father as he was when he was five. That was no help so I lifted Lilly off my lap and told her I’d be right back. I went into the bathroom and closed the door and sobbed into a bathroom towel. I was thinking of all the other mothers in my town, in my state, and probably in the world doing the same thing; crying into a bathroom towel because who else can you cry to? If only we had some acceptable way to share our collective grief maybe it would help but parenthood demands we act cheerful and even relieved when our little ones begin to leave the nest. For the most part we are relieved. But we are grieving too.

So please remember that when you see us looking a little dazed at the bus stop in the morning or a little anxious for the bus in the afternoon. Do not be deceived by our breezy answers to your question, “What will you do with your day now that the kids are all in school?” Because we’re not really sure ourselves. Oh we have lots of ideas; but we are afraid that any them will pale in comparison to the wondrous job we are leaving behind, the privilege of caring for a little one 24/7.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


As most of you know, the last Saturday before school starts is the major North American holiday, known as "Molly-day the Holiday" (which is rather tricky to say as the words rhyme but not really--I think that is called assonance which I only know from that movie, Educating Rita. That was a good movie wasn't it?)

Anyhoo, if you don't know about this holiday,which was invented last year by Lilly and Grace, it is a day in which we spend the entire day celebrating our dog, Molly. You arise early and give her a special breakfast (the wet food she hardly ever has). Then you pull her back to bed and let her sleep in with you. Later you will take her to the park. In the wagon since she is the only dog in Glenview who really, really will not take a walk.

In the afternoon you might dress her up. Maybe in that dog Flamenco dress Aunt Beth helped you make (that's what she's wearing above). Then around 3:00 your friends with dogs come over with their dogs and you all run around the back yard and have a bona fide play date. After that, you will all come in the house (with gates placed strategically so mom won't lose her mind) and enjoy the dog cake you made out of kibble and peanut butter and the human cake Grace baked for the people guests.

In the evening you snuggle on the couch and watch (what else?) "Benji" and "Air Bud" and Molly's favorite, Animal Planet. And finally, you will go to bed where Molly will sleep right next to you. Oh, yes, well, she does that every night but tonight you will both be really tired from all the festivities of Molly-day the Holiday and your sleep will be especially delicious.

I hope you enjoy whatever it is your family does to celebrate this big day and remember, life is much too short to confine yourself to only the holidays on the calendar.

Monday, August 10, 2009


See you in September
see you when the summer's through
here we are saying goodbye at the station
summer vacation is taking you awaaaayyyyy

I am singing to the (really) oldies station at the top of my lungs. Lilly asks, "Is this a really old song?"
"Yes it is. Why do you ask?"
"Because you actually know the words to it."

Oh dear. Am I that bad? Yes, yes I am . The thing is, if it is an old song (from my childhood) I have it stuck in my head for all eternity. If it is a somewhat old song (from high school and college) I can remember most of the words. Anything more "recent" and by that I mean in the past 2 and half decades, and all bets are off.

But I always remember what the song is about. I remember the gist of a line if not the actual words. Which is why you will often here me singing something like this:

Billy Jean is not my lover
I am not really the father
I had sex with her but check my DNA
You have to believe what I say

The kids either roar with laughter or cover their ears. They don't get it. They hear a song once or twice and remember every word. In the actual order in which it comes! This astounds me. As Atticus once said, "Mom, you know all the words to the songs, you just don't know where they go." EXACTLY! And shouldn't I get credit for that?

Of course they don't get it. They have freakishly plastic brains that recall everything. I noticed this the other day when Lilly was singing along to the theme song of a show called The Big Bang Theory. She has only heard this song when the show is on and we have only watched it, maybe, ten times. Here you can listen to this song and imagine for a second how long it would take you to memorize the words well enough to sing along.

Music is stored in our brains in a weird way isn't it? I can't remember my children's names in the proper order ("Grace! Atticus! Lilly! Molly! Oh christ, whatever your name is, get in here and pick up your shoes!") but the other day I remembered that show "Room 222" and could instantly hum the theme song. It has no lyrics but I'm sure I would rememember them if it did just as I know all the words to the "Here Comes the Brides" (the bluest skies you'll ever see in Seattle) and that ridiculous Bobby Sherman song, Julie, Julie, Julie. Geez what a waste of brain cells.

Anyhoo, I leave you all with that thought today--at what point did you stop learning lyrics to songs just by being exposed to them? Hopefully it was somewhere further down the line than it was for me as I do not remember much past the disco age.

Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
Cause it took so long to bake it....


Monday, August 03, 2009


Nice shirt. Could be pajamas too.

Summer School

This spring Atticus(15) asked us if he could take a summer school class. That's what the kids do around here--not so often to make up a bad grade but to get a class out of the way and have some breathing room during the school year. We were opposed to the idea. "You're only young once, why do you want to spoil it with school?" we asked him."Think of all that down time you're giving up." But he was not to be dissuaded.

"Please, Mom and Dad, let me take chemistry," he actually begged. At last we relented amd I signed him up for two summer semesters. Having allowed him to take this class (and paid for it) we wanted to impress upon him that he needed to take it seriously and get a decent grade. But we did not want to say "You must get an 'A'" or anything that definitive because as any parent knows you only cause trouble for yourself if you go around making such quantifiable demands. So Jeff tried a casual approach.

"You know, if you're going to take that class we want you to apply yourself."

"Yeah, I know," Atticus grunted.

"So you should, you know, stay out of the 'C-hood'," Jeff said and warming to his clever use of language pushed on, "And kind of shoot for at least the 'B-ville'," and now thinking he was handling this just right, "And really, we'd like you to keep it in the 'A-ness'."

At which point he had to stop talking because all three kids and I were laughing so hard he couldn't continue.

My T-shirt

So I like to wear my Obama t-shirt as a pajama top. It has his head and shoulders and the words "Obama 2008" on it. Because it is my pajama top, I do not wear undergarments with it.

One morning, as I sat in my Obama pajama top reading the New York Times, Lilly came in and got herself a bowl of cereal. After several minutes of silence she looked up at me and in a pretty spot-on imitation of our president said, "Look, umm, I'm just saying, if you are going to wear that and your breasts are resting on my shoulders, umm, you should at least think about wearing a bra and bring those things up to my ears."