Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lessons Learned

This month has been an emotional one for me, comprised of lessons learned, memories relived and lingering questions.

Lesson learned:

Being the mom of an athlete isn't all rainbows and moonbeams.

Maddie (10) has been doing gymnastics since she was two. She has always been a gym rat; taking every opportunity to bounce, flip and balance. I'm a bona fide gym mom. I don't just drop her off and use the 3 hours of practice to get my errands run. I sit in the stands and live the experience with her, day in and day out. I am constantly amazed as I watch her (and her teammates') growth and development, and I thoroughly enjoy the experience.

I have always said my only goal was to offer Maddie the opportunity to have fun, stay fit, and learn to be a successful, well-rounded person - that I'm not the "live-vicariously-through-my-kid-type", the "scary-stage-mom-type", the "obnoxious-sideline-mom-type" or the "my-kid-WILL-be-an-Olympic-and/or-professional-athlete-type". That's easy enough to proclaim, but the path to that goal is not always crystal clear. How do you respond when your athlete has a personality conflict with a coach? What do you say when your athlete doesn't meet a goal or level she expected to reach (and - more importantly - a goal or level her friends did reach)? And what do you do when your child is feeling like a failure as an athlete?

I'll tell you what you do - especially if all that is happening at the same time. You hit your mattress every night in the form of a drained, frustrated emotional puddle after spending hours carefully piecing her fragile self esteem back together...just to have it blown apart at the next practice with the drama de jour.

You hate seeing your child distressed in any way, but do you encourage her to quit? Do you cheer her on to get up, shake it off, and move forward? Is that really in her best interest, or is the real motivation that you aren't ready to let go of the sport (or the thousands of dollars you've already plunked down in advance for the season...but that's another story)? Is this just a rough patch or is this a sign that it's time to move on to other exciting new ventures?

Maddie made it easier on me. In one of our [many...many] heart-to-heart's over the past few weeks, I attempted to demonstrate I was hearing her by saying, "I can understand why you may be thinking about walking away from gymnastics when you're feeling this way, but-"

She interrupted me with a curt, "Wait - who said anything about QUITTING?!"

I'm still confident that I'm holding true to my initial intentions and goals for Maddie. After some long, difficult discussions, it is clear that what we're doing is for her, not me. What is also clear, however, is the reminder that growth and development isn't all physical. The journey to a "fit, well-rounded" adult by way of sport is littered with mental and emotional trials that are sometimes even more daunting than the physical challenges.

Memories relived:

James fainted earlier this month. I know, I know..."Say it isn't so!!!" The thing is, James is one of those who has a "pseudo-seizure" when he passes out. I've been told I do the same thing, actually, so maybe it's hereditary. Anyway, when he went down and started convulsing, I was the perfect picture of calm, cool and collected. The nurse in the room, on the other hand, was decidedly more alarmed (as he was not aware of James' fainting antics...note to self - alert medical personnel of fun little tid-bits like that in the future).

What took me by surprise was what happened the next day. I woke up an emotional and nervous wreck. I couldn't place it, but everything felt off and dark and suffocating. Then it dawned on me. It was PTSD. Even though I knew that what James had experienced was non life-threatening and benign, I was reminded of Hannah's big, bad seizure days enough that I had to work over about a two-day period to tamp down that panic and dread that was consuming me. Huh...who knew?

With that knowledge, I'm treading carefully into the next few weeks. Emily went in for an endocrinology appointment earlier in the month. You may remember that a year ago she was diagnosed with Graves Disease. The good news is that her thyroid levels are finally back in the normal range. The bad news is that her heart rate was clocked at 120 (normal resting heart rate is 60's to 70's). I feel so bad for the kid. Her heart rate has hardly dropped into the two-digit range for over a year now; I can't imagine how drained she must always feel and how her heart must just constantly feel like it's thumping out of her chest.

We had been blaming the increased heart rate (tachycardia) on the Graves Disease, but we can no longer do that. I took her to her general practitioner a few weeks after the endocrinology appointment, and not only was her heart rate still sky high, but her blood pressure was well above normal, too. She has an appointment with cardiology next week. It's all a little too deja vous, for my taste (taking me squarely back to Hannah's heart failure days), but what are ya gonna do? It is what it is, and we'll hope for the best while trying to keep the past in the past this time around.

Lingering question:

When you get a kitten in hopes he will be a great hunter, how do you train him how to go about his job? Loki is about 9 months old now and he's exceeding expectation with his predatory instinct. He prowls, he stalks, he pounces, he plays. ...And he plays, and he plays, and he plays. Occasionally he kills, but mainly he plays.

Unfortunately, his favorite playground is our living room. Furthermore, his favorite hunting time is about 4 A.M., and for the last week he has performed like clockwork. Every morning this week - without exception, - he has caught a mouse outside our bedroom window by the shed. He plays [with his obnoxious squeaky toy] until he hears me rouse from bed, then he proudly prances his way back in through the doggy door to flip, bat, and bang said toy around for a few hours...until he looses it under the piano or behind the couch. He always picks back up on the game later in the day, but he doesn't always seem interested in rewarding himself with a meal after his play time.

After praising his hunting prowess on Monday, I held the door open for him, and he took his toy back outside. He didn't seem to grasp my message that these toys are outdoor toys, because playtime was back in session in the living room at 4:30 A.M. on Tuesday. We found the remains of that toy on Thursday; it had apparently died of either fear or internal injury, curled up behind the desk. I think he has eaten the others he has brought in, but I haven't really tested that theory by pulling the couch away from the wall to see what's under it.

What I did learn was that when you're talking on your cell phone as you walk through the grocery store parking lot, you may want to lower your voice when you're agreeing with your daughter that it's hard to watch and listen to the marathon torture sessions by saying [with a laugh], "I know! I just wish he'd hurry up and die, already!"

Friday, September 1, 2017

Grief & Denial

I admitted many patients when I worked as a registered nurse at Seattle Children's Hospital. I always worked 11 PM to 7 AM, so it was a given that anyone I admitted was going to be exhausted and short of temper, and likely also frightened and overwhelmed.

I had been told that doctors had recently diagnosed one particular incoming teen girl with multiple sclerosis and she was being admitted for further work-up. When I went through the intake questionnaire with the patient's mother, I expected fatigue, irritation and nervousness. What I got was complete and utter denial of her daughter's condition. The mom was looking forward to our doctors "fixing her girl up" and going back home to the life they had left behind.

On the surface it seemed crazy that this person couldn't see what was right in front of her. Practically overnight her daughter had gone from being active in school sports to having severe vision issues and being wheelchair-bound. I didn't argue with the mom, though. I remembered all too clearly my level of denial at various point in Hannah's history. I'm sure someone could have looked at me with the same level of disbelief, for instance, when I didn't really acknowledge Hannah's heart defects (all seven of them!) when the pediatric cardiologist explained them to me.

It has been my experience that some form and level of denial is a constant, fluid part of being a special needs parent. It protects us from being overwhelmed as we try to adjust to massive changes in our lives, expectations, and future plans. In the beginning I denied/shut out the significance of Hannah's heart failure. These days I deny/shut out the significance of being her caregiver for the rest of her life or mine; whichever ends first. This mom of the teen with multiple sclerosis would come to terms with their new reality eventually, as she could handle it; there was no point in me trying to jam it down her throat at two in the morning.

As I mentioned in With Angel's Wings, a sister emotion to denial is grief. Part of accepting the reality of Hannah's diagnosis was mourning the loss of the [healthy, "normal"] child I thought I had. I've learned over the years that there really is no end to that grief, either. Just as I would expect with the actual loss of a loved one, over the years I have had good days and bad days, but I still grieve the loss of what I thought our reality would be when I gave birth to my child. There are many more good days now than there were back in the beginning, but grief has remained a part of me since the day of diagnosis.

I recently learned that I can relate to a population I never would have thought I had anything in common with. Every summer we try to get together with friends from college, Allen and Tabatha. They have two children, Nathan and Abigail, who are roughly the same age as James and Maddie. Two years ago (when Abigail was about 10), Tabatha confided that Abby had expressed some feelings of confusion and/or discomfort with her identity. Abby had told Tabatha she didn't feel like her female peers; that she didn't have anything in common with them. I suggested finding a counselor for her, but I honestly didn't think too much of it beyond that.

Last summer there was a scheduling conflict, so we weren't able to meet up with Allen and Tabatha; therefore, this summer we were especially anxious to see them. Within moments of our hugs of greeting and exclamations that it had been too long, Tabatha informed us that Abby identifies as male and prefers to be addressed as Alex. Man, you miss just one summer visit...!

Speaking in gross generalizations and stereotypes, there are kids you look at when they're as young as toddlers and think, "Oh yeah...that kid is gay." Then there's others who, when you find out they're gay [many years later, typically as older teens or adults] you think, "Huh. Didn't see that coming." While I haven't had as much exposure to trans individuals, I'm assuming the same is true with them - there are those who are "obvious", and those who aren't. This was a "didn't see that coming" moment for me. Abby had always been a relatively quiet girl, not overly feminine, I suppose, but certainly not at all masculine - she had long, beautiful hair, often wore sun dresses when we saw her...not anyone I ever would have guessed identified as a male. That being said, I had no problem accepting it. The only challenge was remembering to address this person as "Alex", "he" and "him" when years of practice prompted me to say "Abby", "she" and "her".

I was particularly proud of James and Maddie. They just responded to Tabatha's announcement with, "Huh. Okay. Wanna go swimming, Alex?" Later Maddie did ask me why Abby was now Alex. I told her that some people are born one gender on the outside but feel like a different gender on the inside, so they want to be treated as the gender on the inside. She said, "Oh. Can I be a boy, too, then?" I said, "Do you want to be?" She thought for a second and said, "Actually, nah. I'm happy with who I am." Then she ran off to play again.

All of that acceptance is easy enough for friends. It's a very different experience for a family. Until now I categorized families of LGBT individuals in two groups - accepting and not accepting. Allen and Tabitha can easily be placed in the accepting category; they are very supportive of Alex. That doesn't make it easy, though. I now know that accepting the "theory" of LGBT is just the first step of the process.

There are the little details to consider - those that you don't think about unless you're faced with them. For instance, it's one thing for the school to be accepting and accommodating of your trans child, but at what point do you officially re-register your child from "Abby" to "Alex"? That step, in and of itself, signals another "layer" of acceptance. It says, "This isn't me just tolerating this "phase" you're going through and calling you by a different name; this is me understanding that "Alex" is who you are." Furthermore, how do you even go about making the official name change? Do you just change the school records? What about medical records, etc.?

Then there are bigger issues to grapple with, like the decision to agree to hormone treatments. If you do, there's the overwhelming sense of "no going back"...but at the same time, doctors suggest beginning them before puberty, because it's much easier for a trans person to prevent an adam's apple or breasts than to try to get rid of them later. I don't envy Allan and Tabitha in decisions like that at all!

Another big issue, though, is allowing yourself to mourn the loss of the child you thought you had while simultaneously accepting the "new child" you are being presented with. Tabitha is in deep mourning over the loss of her daughter, but appears to feel somewhat uncomfortable expressing it, for fear people will misconstrue it as lack of acceptance of Alex. This is something I can completely relate to. I still fear the judgement I anticipate, should I openly talk about mourning the loss of the [healthy, "normal"] child I once thought I had - and Hannah is 22 years old now! The sense of loss never went away, but neither has my fear of speaking about it.

I know our friends will get through this time of transition (no pun intended) with grace; they are an incredible family. The whole situation just demonstrates to me that I have more in common with the LGBT community than I ever would have guessed. and learn!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

You're Kidding Me...Right?!

Here's the latest example of how a poorly-worded policy can create real-life headaches and an obscene level of inequity. This letter was sent out earlier this week. I'll be sure to share any response I get.

Dear Senator Murray,

I am writing to ask you to please look into changing a policy in the Veteran's Administration. I realize you are a very busy woman and I recognize the fact that the current climate in the senate has likely greatly increased your workload. I am hopeful, however, the language I am asking you to review/revise would be a quick and easy fix.

My daughter, Hannah, will turn 22 in a few days. She was born with a rare genetic disorder, Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome. She is, therefore, non-verbal, non-ambulatory, incontinent, and exclusively G-tube fed. She weighs 50 pounds, has a seizure disorder, and has the cognitive ability of a 6 to 9-month-old. When she turned 18 she was quickly approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and I was quickly awarded full guardianship.

A month or two after Hannah's first SSI payment, I received a letter from Social Security stating $94 would be taken both retroactively from her first checks and from forthcoming checks because of the money Hannah was getting from the Veteran's Administration.

After having a good, hearty laugh, as we pictured Hannah having a secret life in the military and earning veteran status, I called the local Social Security office to alert them to their [obvious] mistake.

They said, "Hmmm...prove to us she's not getting money from the VA."

I called the VA and suffered through a conversation with a gentleman who clearly didn't want to speak to me (a lowly civilian). He did eventually agree, however, to send me a letter stating that Hannah does not receive any funds from the VA.

I sent that letter on to Social Security, and they paid back, retroactively, what they had taken out of Hannah's SSI checks. But the next month I received another letter telling me $94 would be deducted from Hannah's checks due to what she was getting from the VA.

About every two months I would have to call Social Security, referring them to the letter from the VA that was in Hannah's file. But after a year they said, "Hmmm...this letter is a year old. She could have potentially become a veteran within the past year and started getting money from them. You'll have to prove to us [again] that Hannah is getting no money from the VA."

Another borderline hostile conversation with another gentleman at the VA later, I had another letter of proof. I was sure - this time around - to provide my ex-husband's Social Security number. He's Hannah's biological father, he is a veteran, and he was my number one suspect for what I was convinced was some sort of fraud. Another two years of hassles with Social Security told me that the fraud was never investigated.

Last month I made my annual call to the VA for a letter of proof. A woman answered the phone...and listened to me. What she told me, though, had my chin hitting the floor. She said that a veteran with a "helpless child" (apparently that's a technical term in the military) gets an extra monthly stipend (my guess is that it's in the amount of $94), and that the stipend continues for as long as the helpless child is alive.

I said, "But he lives 3000 miles away in New Hampshire. He has never had custody of Hannah. He hasn't even laid eyes on her since she was four months old! He paid child support until she was 18, but it was $155/month [total] for both Hannah and her sister. I can't imagine that included $94 from the VA. Now that Hannah is an adult, I'm her legal guardian and she has absolutely zero ties to him. How is it that he gets money in her name?"

She said, "He simply gets the stipend for having a helpless child. There is no requirement for custody, cohabitation, or guardianship, and there is no requirement for the veteran to relinquish that stipend to the helpless child." ex gets an extra $94/month for being little more than a sperm donor more than 20 years ago, and I get a monthly headache with Social Security as a bonus to the responsibility of being a full-time caregiver for the rest of Hannah's life or mine - whichever ends first.

Life isn't fair. That is a lesson I've learned very well over the years. That being said, this policy feels like the government kicking me when I'm down. I ask that language be added to the rules about this "extra stipend for helpless children" that would require the funds to actually go to the helpless child in question. Either that or the stipend should be discontinued altogether, since the needs of "helpless children" are already covered by SSI and Medicaid.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. Take care and continue fighting the good fight for us in "the other Washington"!

Your Supportive Constituent,                      
Stephanie Collins                               

Saturday, July 1, 2017

School's Out

The end of the school year is here. We have successfully survived yet another grade.

There were intense highs and lows this year. Maddie earned honor roll report cards...the first I have ever experienced from the standpoint of a parent. I was surprised how much it affected me. When you have special needs kids you try to convince yourself that all kids shine in their own ways, that academics don't always adequately portray an accurate accounting of ability, that the kids' grades don't necessarily measure your level of parenting proficiency. Over the years I've religiously repeated all of those politically correct phrases of encouragement and enlightenment that special needs parents are supposed to remember [and believe].

Regardless, I've still come to associate those little 1/2-sized, mustard-yellow envelopes that come home with the kids every few months with feelings of failure. ...But when it registered last fall that - for the first time - I was actually seeing a beautiful row of  A's and B's...I was overcome with delight! Elation! Vindication! I had dreamed of having honor roll kids from the time I first discovered I was soon to become a parent (that was a full quarter century ago, by the way), and I was finally living the dream. "See?," the report card seemed to whisper in my ear, "You're not so bad a parent! You have successfully prepared a child for academic achievement!" The high lasted for weeks, and just when doubt nearly had me convinced it was just a fluke - just a outlying report card anomaly - I was lifted, yet again, with another honor roll report card. Joy! Bliss! Euphoria! I unabashedly basked in the glow of it's glory.

As I mentioned in the "Homework,Insanity & Revenge ~ Oh My!" post, James struggled this year. While his grades have never been great, and nothing school-related has ever come easily for him, he has never failed a class for the year...until this year. Eighth Grade Science was a train wreck for him from day one. I scrambled throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters, trying to help him bring that "F" back up, but it was obvious by his 3rd report card that he was doomed to fail.

I ended up accepting that defeat with relative ease. It wasn't one of those classes that was "mandatory" to pass for the year (like history was this year). I was assured by the teachers that it didn't necessarily represent the beginning of the end of his scholastic career. Obviously it won't do him any favors for future science classes, but maybe with new teachers and new material he'll find inspiration in high school where he found none this year. We had lost the battle, but we could still win the war.

What ended up crushing my parental soul was - in the big scheme of things - relatively insignificant. Once I put the science loss behind me, I threw my energies into ensuring a strong finish in his history and math classes. He had big end-of-the-year projects due in both, and I wanted him to feel a great sense of success so he could enter high school with confidence. I grabbed my cheerleading pom poms and coach's whistle, took a deep breath and got to work. Last week we were in the homestretch and I was feeling pretty good about our progress. He had just gotten a B+ on his history project and later he gave me the following note:

Unfortunately, it ended up being a rather hollow victory. The B+ he got on the project wasn't quite enough to bring up the "F" he had in history for the final grading period. He passed for the year, but he didn't have the strong finish we had set out for.

We had one hope left - math. I had been pushing him to keep up with his math project at a nice, steady pace so he'd be sure to have it turned in on time. That was a challenge; his end-of-the-year fatigue was a formidable foe. We trudged on, though; we persevered. The day before it was due, we actually high-five'ed when everything was done - both the "fun" portion - the map - and the "work" portion - the packet. Never had "complete" felt so phenomenal. I indulged in a sweet daydream of the "C" James currently had in math transforming to a "B". All he had to do was turn it all in the next day. That's allllllll he had to do. Just Turn. It. In.

Murphy's Law of Parenting #8462 ~ Don't celebrate scholastic success until the grade has been logged in the grade book.

I got a panicked call the next morning. "Mom, I left my map at home! Would you please bring it to school? I think it's in the folder with the picture of the pug. It should be on the kitchen table." I was at the doctor's office with his sister, but I assured him I could get home and get it to him in time. I got home to find the pug folder...with nothing but blank paper in it. No map. I called the school and told him to retrace his steps, to pull his backpack apart, go through his locker with a fine-toothed call out the hounds! We needed to find that map so he could turn it in!

A few hours later I nervously chewed my fingernails as I paced in front of the living room window, anxiously awaiting his return home and word on the location of the map. Finally I caught sight of him...feet shuffling slowly up the driveway, head bowed, shoulders drooped. I had my answer. And I. Was. Devastated.

I was again surprised by just how much an academic success or failure for one of my kids affected me. It physically hurt. I was overwhelmed with an utter sense of helplessness. I mean...he had DONE the work! He had DONE it! He just...tripped at the finish line.

With tears threatening to leak from my eyes, I quickly left the house. I thought a brisk walk might help to calm my nerves and put things into perspective. I think at some point my Fit Bit stopped counting steps and just said, "Hey...wanna talk about it? It can't be all that bad."


And the Fit Bit was right. It wasn't like James had lost the entire assignment; he at least had something to show for the work he had put into it. Just the fact that he did the work means he very well may have learned something. It wasn't much to allay my frustration and disappointment, but the sun continued to shine, we continued to breathe - it wasn't the end of the world.

Of course, later I learned that - to add insult to injury - James told his teacher, "I'm looking for the map. If I can't find it by the end of class I'll turn the packet in tomorrow." That made the entire project late, on top of being incomplete, so he failed the project. The "C" he had for the class - that I had been so anxious to see change - dropped down to a "D".

You win some, you learn some. My goal had been to help James gain a sense of success that would carry him through the summer and boost his confidence for high school. That didn't end up happening, but as a consolation prize we got valuable lessons about the importance of organization and critical decision making skills. Now I will do my best to shake it all off and allow summer to rejuvenate I'll be ready to jump back into the trenches in September. Hugs and high-fives to all you other parents who survived yet another grade this year, too.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Vegas "Vacation"

Maddie attended the Trampoline and Tumbling Regional Championships over Mother's Day weekend. It's as if the Gymnastics Association Powers That Be decided to have a little "fun" with parents. Hmmm...where can we hold a western regional event that will make parents work their hardest and put them on the spot more often than anywhere else...?

Here's a conversation that took place just before we boarded the plane headed for Vegas. The kids were playing 20 questions.

[14-year-old] James: Does the item start with an "S"?

[10-year-old] Maddie: Yes.

James: Does the second letter start with an "I"?


James: What? What's so funny?

My silent reflection: Ahhh...this is going to be fun little family get-away; I'm so glad we have the opportunity to do this!

Here's a conversation that took place moments after we got off the plane:

Maddie: [looking at a larger-than-life, live action screen display] Why is that lady twerking that guitar?

James: Oh, that's not a lady. That's Britney Spears.

My silent reflection: Oh yeah...this is VEGAS. Well...I'm sure our hotel will be a little more "family friendly", since they booked the meet to take place right there at our resort.

The moment we walked into our hotel:

Maddie: Mommy, why is "sexy" spelled with TWO x's in all of these signs?

Me: would appear gymnastics isn't the only entertainment here this weekend. Of course.

Me: I guess the extra "x" means it's extra sexy.

James: Mom, I'll try to distract Maddie. Just hurry up and get the key so we can get her to the room.

Me: Huh...who would have guessed James would jump right into the role of Protective Big Brother?

Two hours later, when Daniel and James returned to the room after taking a walk around the resort so Maddie could get right to sleep:

Daniel: So we looked around for the convention center, like you asked, so we'll know where to take Maddie in the morning. We found it, but we also found ourselves in a hallway where a bunch of girls were gathered, apparently waiting to go on stage for the show. Suddenly we were surrounded by a sea of tassels, pasties, and g-strings. James will dream well tonight!

The next day we had to walk through a casino in order to get to the gymnastics meet from our room. About the 8th time we walked through:

Maddie: [sounding disgusted] Why do so many people smoke here? And gamble? I don't even understand gambling. Why would you want to just waste all your money?!

Me: I don't know, kiddo. Smoking, drinking, and gambling are all things you have to be at least 21-years-old to do. I think they made that rule because if you're that old and you STILL want to do those things, then go for it...but they're stupid things to do, and we don't want our kids doing stupid stuff.

After Maddie was done competing (she did GREAT; so proud!!!), we had tickets for the Cirque Du Soleil show, Mystére, but we stopped off at Señior Frog's for dinner, while we waited for the show to begin. It was a fun meal that included watching an entire wedding party pass our table (prompting a conversation about the prevalence of Vegas weddings and how they often "differ" from traditional weddings) and a guy getting alcohol poured down his gullet to the music of an ear-splitting whistle and the ruckus cheers of all of his buddies, in apparent celebration of his birthday (prompting the question from Maddie, of course, "Why are they doing that to that guy?!").

The festive meal also included elaborate balloon animal hats. I passed on getting a hat for myself (prompting the question from James, "Mom, why aren't you any fun?").

After the meal, James and I waited outside the restaurant while Daniel took Maddie back in to retrieve something she forgot. James noticed an advertisement sign.

James: Ugh...look at this, Mom. 'Ladies Night every Wednesday' and 'Bikini Contest every Thursday'. I mean...can you believe it?

I was skeptical about his disgusted tone.

Me: wouldn't want to go to the bikini contest?

James: Pffff...well...I mean...I wouldn't say NO!

Minutes later we found our seats for the show. I took a deep breath, looking forward to at least an hour or two of entertainment that would be blissfully free of awkward questions.

First character on the stage: You will see smoke on the stage. That's okay - for US, here on the stage - not for YOU! For you, there is no texting...NO SEXTING! Now, enjoy the show!!!

Maddie: What's sexting?

Me: [Groan]

The next day [Mother's Day] we took a bus tour to the western rim of the Grand Canyon, with a stop at the Hoover Dam.

Dam Dab

On the bus, on the way to the Grand Canyon:

James: You're the best, Mom!

Maddie: Yeah, the best mom, EVER!

Me: I don't know, guys. Just last night we established that I'm no fun.

James: Oh,'

Daniel: [laughing] Did you hurt yourself there, buddy, trying to choke that out?

The Grand Canyon was amazing. The skywalk was breathtaking. Learning about the Hualapai Tribe was fascinating. We had a wonderful time. It was an even more educational trip than I anticipated, too.

Me: Well, guys, is the Grand Canyon like you imagined it would be?

James: Pretty much, but it's still cool.

Maddie: No. It's COMPLETELY different. But, yeah; it's really cool.

Me: What did you think it would be like?

Maddie: Oh, I thought it was a water park.

The next morning we were in a cab on our way back to the airport. It was 5:30 AM.

Me: [to the driver] So is this the beginning of your shift or the end?

Driver: The beginning; I just started my day.

...Early morning, "pre-coffee" silence...

Maddie: [yelling from the back seat, with a standard-issue, complimentary entertainment brochure in her hand] So...what's so special about an ASIAN massage? I don't get it. What makes an ASIAN massage any better than a REGULAR massage? This one says, "...girls taking care of all your needs..." here it says, "happy experience, throughout"...



James: [grabbing a brochure for himself]


Monday, May 1, 2017

Surviving Science Fair Season

Remember when you were in high school and you longed for a day when you'd be through with intrusions on your life like book reports and science fairs? Remember how you hungered for a life that no longer included homework? Remember the incredible freedom you felt on graduation day as the weight of syllabuses, memorized locker combinations, and term papers rolled off your shoulders?

I now realize I was a BIT premature in feeling like I had walked away from all of that. It's especially clear when I'm stressing in the morning to help get forgotten homework completed or when I'm supervising a large school project. Days of doing homework aren't DONE; the difficulty level has just been increased. Books, notes, and/or instructions are often left at school, requiring guesswork on what the teacher intended and expects. There is a direct ratio between my understanding of the assignment and arguments from the child, who has misinterpreted said assignment, but is certain he/she DOES understand. Most of all, there is a distinct drop in control over time management (as, inevitably, any assignment or project I help with has been put off until the last possible second).

Right now the school year is about 65 to 75% done. The kids are 90 to 100% done. The gap ends up requiring 110% effort from me (don't worry; it all adds up when you apply Common Core math). For some reason (likely some sick sense of humor) the schools choose THIS time of year to assign the largest, most time-consuming homework, like science fair projects.

In years past I prided myself on obtaining that perfect mixture of allowing the child to "help" just enough to honestly say he/she "did" the project, while ensuring I created a scientific work of art.

This year I attempted a new strategy. It was actually out of necessity. I was distracted with trying to minimize the damage of the train wreck that was my son's grades, so I allowed my 5th grade daughter to take on her science fair project all by herself.

I recently quit doing the kids' laundry. I was tired of putting clean, folded clothes on their beds to be put away, only for them to be kicked around until they fell to the floor, get kicked around some more, then get thrown right back into the dirty laundry. As a new member of the laundering community, Maddie decided to test which stain removers work best.

It is hard to put into words just how painful it was for me (a self-admitted control freak with a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder) to watch said project leave the house the day it was due.

Here was her hypothesis:

Here; let me offer a bit of punctuation for that last one, since complete sentence structure didn't seem to be a priority for this project in any way, shape or form.
Stain remover, organic or not: I think it will work. Well, not as well as bleach, but...well...because, like I said, bleach takes out all the color and stain remover doesn't.

Here were her conclusions:

Again, I'll offer a bit of punctuation clarification.
Soap: It was...well...I don't know how it was, but it just was.
Bleach looked like it was from the start - plain white. I was right; yay!!!!
Organic was way worse than non-organic. Weird, right?

And...drum's our [beautiful?] finished product.

I don't drink. I think if I did, this would have been a good time to grab the bottle. Instead, it is times like these when I am extremely thankful for friends who take the sting out of some of these parenting challenges (whether they realize what they're doing or not). A few weeks ago my friend, Vickie, stopped by the house unexpectedly. She had recently made a quilt; the colors of which were inspired by a recent trip she took to Sprague Lake.

She decided - for whatever reason - to gift me the [breathtakingly beautiful] quilt. Now, on mornings like that one, when my nerves are particularly fried, I curl up under said quilt and escape into one of my books, allowing my energy reserves replenish in time to face whatever challenge the end of the school day may throw my way next. At night I keep it folded up at the end of my bed, and when I climb in at bedtime, exhausted and drained, the weight of it on my feet feels like a daily hug from my thoughtful, talented, and very generous friend. Thank you, Vickie, for helping me survive this year's edition of Science Fair Season!