And Just Like That…

Poof! Elementary school is over. I’m sitting here in a bit of a haze, trying to remember how it all started. The day I dropped him off for Kindergarten, kissed my husband bye in the school parking lot, then drove to Walmart, alone, crying. Then proceeded to sit in the car at Walmart, alone, and cry. I wasn’t used to being alone. I was used to my little 50-pound shadow following me everywhere I went. I was used to arguing about whether or not he could ride in the cart. Used to having to hit the toy aisle to look at Hot Wheels, when all I needed was milk and bread. Used to a little voice coming from the backseat to ask, “Can we stop for ice cream if I’m good?” Of course we stopped for ice cream. Of course he was always good.

Today when I do a Target run he says he doesn’t want to go. He’d rather log onto Minecraft with friends. But then right before I walk out the door he comes running up, throws his arms around me. “Mommy, bring me back something,” he will say. It’s pretty different now, but also pretty much the same. Now I have a 100-pound shadow. This shadow follows me around to tell me about YouTube videos and this “sick” arrest he made in this “pretty cool” cops and robbers game on Roblox. Now I have to remind my 100-pound shadow to wear deodorant, to do the dishes, to figure out where that smell is coming from in his room. And I hear it only gets worse.

Friday morning we all gathered around the living room television to watch the live stream of Jackson’s Fifth Grade Graduation. Jackson wore a suit, with my cap and gown on top of it. Jerimiah wore a button-up, I donned a summer dress. We watched for an hour as the teachers and administrators shared touching memories, heartfelt messages, and love, so much love, with the only class in the school’s history to not have a Fifth Grade Graduation on stage. It was different, but also the same.

Jackson won several awards, including being named a DeKalb County Board Scholar, along with five other fifth graders. He is one of the smartest, the brightest, of the group. Of course we didn’t need an award to tell us that, but it was nice to be recognized for all the hard work. His hard work, our hard work as parents, and his teachers’ hard work as well. For being a kid that went to four different elementary schools, in four different districts, in three different states, you certainly would never know it. He’s been steadfast about two things: Making friends and doing his best, and that has been abundantly clear over the last few months. His friends blow up his phone all day with messages, emails, FaceTimes, and then there are the cards that arrive in the mail from different places. We shouldn’t be surprised, but sometimes we are.

Mr. Budd read a poem to his class this afternoon and it was the only time that I wanted to cry. The past two months have been a blur of activity and of hard work. Of moving from one fire to another, but the hardest part was stopping myself every time I made a decision about my son. Was this going to be good for him? Help in some way? Do I make him structure his day like school? Take breaks? Get it all done in one setting? Do I let him play Minecraft for four hours on a Tuesday while he Facetimes a friend? Of course the answer to that one is yes, because I have a social child who needs interaction. He saw his classmates six hours a day, now he could sit in isolation all day long if I let him, but I refuse to do that. I don’t want him to be lonely, to feel left behind. I want him to know that there is a wide world of people out there just like him, and hopefully they have parents that understand this too. The poem reminded me of this. Reminded me of the way we are all probably feeling from time to time right now. Alone, without a clear path. The poem Mr. Budd read was Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. The last two lines go like this, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely/the world offers itself to your imagination/calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–/over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

We have a running joke in the house. Jackson was working on a project early in the school year and as usual his mind was working quicker than his mouth and he was trying to say, “I’m in fifth grade” and “I’m a fifth grader” at the same time and he blurted out, “I grade five!” We all cracked up. And all year whenever he thinks too hard, or gets frustrated with himself because he thinks he can’t “get” a math question, we stop and say, “I grade five!” It gets us back on track. Let’s us laugh. Slow down a minute. Reminds us that we are all in this together. That we have each other. It means love. So yeah, we are proud of this kid of ours beyond measure. And yeah, we hope that his successes in elementary school equate to big successes in life, but we know there will be struggles along the way. We know there will be crying in parking lots. There will be hours upon hours of virtual playdates. We will feel lonely. He will feel lonely. Because we know this isn’t fifth grade anymore. But we are ready.

We love you, Jackson. We are so proud of you. We hope you always listen to the geese.

I grade six.

Mommy

Fifth Grade is Almost Over

Jackson’s teacher just sent a video in which he said that there is only one week and one day left in the school year and I actually had a fucking panic attack. How is this possible? Well, it’s possible because the school year was cut short, and time goes on, every day, even on days you want it to slow down, or allow you to have a redo because you are living in a global pandemic. But you know what I mean. It’s a sad day for me, realizing my kid is almost finished with elementary school. I remember the day he got his little diploma in Kindergarten. I remember seeing the “big kids” on their fifth-grade graduation day and being excited for Jackson’s. But here we are. So how am I dealing with it? Kicking it into high gear!

I started working on a video for the class. Turns out all the time I spent in the classroom this year, all the times I made the kids take pics, all the time spent yelling, “Oh my goodness (insert name) turn around so I can get you in this picture!” paid off. I now have a little nest egg of fifth-grader pics and I am putting them to good use. I’m hoping to wow the kids, and their teacher, and the other parents. Working on it, working on it, working on it. I’ll let you know if it works. Until then, I’ll just be running around, collecting Venmos from other parents for a teacher gift card, begging for “action” shots from people on Field Day, and generally running my phone battery down to the bare minimum while I make this thing work. It has to work.

Wish me luck!

M.

Parenting is Tough, Y’all

I had a lot of parents and teacher friends reach out to me regarding yesterday’s post. A lot of parents telling me it gets worse before it gets better, and congratulating us on being proactive parents. And while I appreciate the comments and community, what struck me was what the teachers said.

After school text messages in groups lead to classroom distraction. It seems like a duh, but it makes perfect sense. That’s what happened in Jackson’s case. It never occurred to me before yesterday, but I have repeatedly told Jackson I don’t want him getting involved in the “drama” that finds its way into these group chats because I don’t want it messing up his schoolwork, but more importantly I don’t want it messing up his friendships, his responsibilities, and/or disrupting any of his classmates, making other kids feel alienated, or bad because they aren’t “in” the group, or because someone is being mean to them, which is what happened in Jackson’s case. The boy being mean to him, egged on by the girl who wanted them to fight over her, was starting a big ruckus about these group chats and being left out.

It’s group think. I see it now, but I was so caught up in the bullying aspect of what Jackson was dealing with in school, that I didn’t even think about the how the after school group texts had repercussions on the bigger classroom community. And now I’m teetering on that line of keeping him from chatting with his friends, which I do think he deserves to do after school and on weekends sometimes, or just shutting it all down because of a couple kids who didn’t respect the rest of the group.

Then I remember that my kid is a good kid. He’s respected at school for his honesty, willingness to learn, his positive attitude, his leadership qualities, and yes his kind nature. Maybe too kind. Too forgiving. And this was a good lesson for him on how to stand up for himself. To set boundaries with friends. At the same time, not all kids can stick up for themselves. Not all kids have the courage to be “different.” To be the kid in the group chat that says, “Hey, let’s not talk about this or that, or this person or that person.” But now my son does, and I hope he takes that lesson into everyday life as well.

Parenting is tough, y’all. I’m straddling this line of being considered “that mom” because yes, I gave my kid a cell phone, and yes I let him text his friends, but also I read every message. He knows that. And now his friends know that too, but I might be judged by others. Or I might be considered an “uncool” mom. I might ask too many questions, or read the messages through my skewed view of the world, but still I do it, and still I will continue to, and teach my son lessons like how to stand up for himself, how to be the bigger person, and how to be the best version of himself even when I’m not standing next to him. And I think as parents that is all we can do. Because at the end of the day we have decisions to make. Decisions in the best interest of our kids, and decisions, sometimes, in the best interest of others’ kids as well.

So thanks to the teachers, and mommies, and daddies, and friends who reached out concerning Jackson and the bullying he encountered at the hands of “friends.” (He’s actually not allowed to talk on text message with that boy he calls “Jerkface” anymore, but of course he will still see him around school. I’m just hoping things go well on Monday, and I don’t have to make a trip up to the assistant principal’s office.) Thanks for the support, the recommendations, and for sharing your own stories. Jackson learned some good lessons from this experience. And so did I.

M.

Is This Really 5th Grade?

Jackson has been carrying a notecard in his back pocket all week with his phone number written on it. It’s for a girl. Let’s call her Shirley and she’s in his class. She got a phone for Christmas and he overheard her giving her number out to a boy on the playground. Jerkface. Oh, Jerkface. You know Jerkface. He’s loud and obnoxious. He carries on with nonsense like untied shoelaces and poking dead animals with sticks. Jackson is not impressed. But Shirley, he suspects, has fallen under Jerkface’s grip. Shirley and Jerkface, he’s heard around the playground, are a couple. So although Jackson is in Shirley’s classroom cluster, and a teammate on his robotics team, and a girl he would consider a “friend” first and foremost, he’s afraid to give his phone number to her because he doesn’t want to “rock” the proverbial pre-teen dating boat. Is this really fifth grade?

On Monday he wanted to ask her for her number, since she appeared to be readily passing it out. And he was prepared to, until he wasn’t. Until his nerves got the better of him. Until he heard the “girl drama” on the playground. Saw Jerkface doing high-kicks over the seat of the swing. He let himself get intimated. All worked up.

On Tuesday it was decided he would suggest that he give Shirley his number, that way if she ever wanted to text, or link up to play Minecraft online, she had it in her phone. But when the time came, he backed away slowly from her desk, saying something about a dropped pencil. Le sigh.

On Wednesday he met me nervously at the front door of the school and flashed me digits on the notecard. I smiled and asked if he worked up the nerve to ask Shirley for her number. No, he mumbled, racing me to the sidewalk, that was his number he wrote down to pass it to her, but he had chickened out again. Close, but no cigar.

By Thursday he had devised a plan. Shirley is in charge of the morning announcements. So while she was in the office each morning, he had about five precious minutes to slide his notecard onto her desk. He added a diagonal arrow to the nameless notecard, to indicate that it was from him. He sits diagonally from her. Smooth.

On Thursday afternoon he came bounding out of the building and ran at me while I was talking to a friend. She’s the mom of another girl in Jackson’s class, so he stopped just short of us. We both turned and looked at him and he said, “Hi. Mommy I need to talk to you.” We excused ourselves and started down the sidewalk when he said, “Operation Shirley was a success.” I told him congrats and asked what happened.

Turns out he was too scared to give it to her face to face, so he waited until the walkers had been called to line up upstairs. She happened to be away from her desk getting her book bag, so he placed a folded up note on her desk as he walked by. The note said, “Hey, it’s Jackson G. I heard you got a phone for Christmas, and I wanted to give you my number in case you ever want to text or anything.” As he walked out the door he looked back to make sure she had the note, and she was reading it, so he ran upstairs.

And just like that, girls are a thing now.

Great.

M.

I’m the Trusted Adult

As I was sitting in the dentist office, watching Jackson get sealants put on his teeth, it occurred to me what he’d asked just moments before. “So what are they doing?” He’d asked, glancing around the small room, eyeing all the very fancy, very expensive equipment. “It’s nothing,” I said, getting comfy in the Mom Chair. “Okay, cool,” he said then he sat back and relaxed. Truth be told it really wasn’t a big deal, the sealants. They just help protect his adult teeth from cavities, something certainly not offered to me as a kid. But he was walking into an unknown, and he was fine, as long as I was there. I’d never really given him a real answer though, and he would have understood. He just didn’t care. He just knew he trusted me. And the dentist. And he’d be okay.

About an hour later, while he sort of yelled out, in a squeaky, pre-pubescent man-boy voice, “You lied to me!” things were a bit different. You see, I had made him back-to-back visits at the dentist office. He knew this, and he also knew that the second visit was a consolation with the orthodontist. We went to a consultation with another orthodontist about six months ago, and that orthodontist wanted to wait to start work, so we did. We’ve always known he would need braces one day. The first time he went to the dentist, as a bright-eyed, eager, two-year-old, they told us upfront, “Start saving for his orthodontia treatment.” We didn’t, “start saving” as it were, so with the first ortho came the surprise of the cost, so we decided to “shop around.”

Once I got home though, and did the research, I realized there wasn’t a lot of shopping to be done. In fact braces, on average, cost about $3,500. That was even at the Georgia School of Orthodontics, which was recommended to us as a cost-saving measure. So when, right after his consultation, they hit us with a price-tag of $3,000 at his dentist, the one we already know and trust, Jerimiah and I were all, “Tell us where to sign!” It seemed too good to be true, but it wasn’t. That’s when we were gathering our things, Jackson having already been through a rough “sealant” procedure where they had to redo a couple of them because he is a “salivator”. And another 30 minutes in the ortho chair. It was nearly 6:00 pm, and the Ortho turned to us and said, “Great, let’s get started.” We were like, “Okay,” as we walked to the lobby to sign papers, and give all our money away. Then Jackson piped up, “I’m not getting braces today, right Mommy?” I assured him that he was correct, then the Ortho was all, “No. No actually, we’re gonna go ahead and stick them on the top teeth today.” That’s when the squeaky yell heard by all in the office came, “YOU LIED TO ME!” And that’s when I realized I was a horrible mommy.

I try to set us up for success, as a family, as often as I can. This just wasn’t an example of me doing that. There are others. Many others. But the thought of actually doing that day, was so far off my radar, that I’m sure my chin also hit the floor when the doctor said that. I just had no one to accuse of lying to me in that situation. I was the trusted adult. I was the liar.

Truth be told, after the little squeaky yell, Jackson actually took it all in great stride, and by the time we were leaving, him with a full set of upper brackets in “Gryffindor” colored rubber bands, and us with a lighter wallet, we were all quite satisfied. And in fact, Christina, the Ortho Assistant (who by the way did all the work, what does an Orthodontist do again? I’m kidding I know the answer, but for real, yay Christina!) said Jackson was “the best” patient and such a “great kid,” yeah, even with the panicked, squeaky, lobby yell.

So just like that we’re the parents of a pre-pubescent boy with braces. And I’ve been transported back to my own brace face days, and I’m trying to help him the best I can. And we will get through this phase, just like we have all the rest. A little trial. A little error. And little yelling, sure. But a lot of patience and care.

M.

Field Day, 2019

Today has been a busy day, and it isn’t even lunch time yet! Whew! We were up at ’em at 5:30 this morning to take Mama to the airport. (She landed safely in Kansas City at 10:00 am), then we got back to Tucker, dropped Jackson off to school, and Jerimiah and I had a nice, quiet breakfast at Matthews Cafeteria. Then it was back to school to participate in Field Day. Well, participate is a stretch, as we were just spectators. It was also the first Field Day that I didn’t volunteer to work! It was amazing to be able to move from activity to activity and not be stuck at a damn sno-cone machine, or in this case, the apple slices station! But bless the mommies and daddies who did it!

It was a fun, old-fashioned field day too! Complete with a balloon pop (of which Jerimiah and I did end up working because it takes all hands on deck for that one), a three-legged race, a relay race, and the parachute! Oh the parachute! As soon as we walked into the cafeteria to watch them with the parachute I was transported. All the way back to my elementary days at Anthony Elementary School. Back, back, way back, to Mr. Hendee and the bouncing parachute. It was just what I needed to see.

Jackson’s class was steady in second place for all the activities (there are three fifth grade classes), and when the kids were telling us that was okay, the Spanish teacher at the school overheard and whispered to Jerimiah and me, “Well this class may have taken second, but they are always FIRST in behavior. Man, this is a good class!” We beamed, cause yeah, we saw it with our own eyes. I told Jerimiah later that I felt lucky to have Jackson in such a good class, and he laughed and reminded me that it wasn’t luck. It was hard work in parenting to get our kid into the classes that he is in. It’s kinda neat having a kiddo that all the teachers want in their class. (Excuse me while I pat us on the back…) And honestly, there are a lot of “Jacksons” in his class. That’s why they took second so many times. They went slow and steady. Even in the three-legged race, when some of the other classes had kids sorta pulling their partners along, Jackson’s class was slow and measured. “This is what happens when you have a group of perfectionists,” Jackson’s teacher whispered to us. It was super cute to watch.

Anyhoo, here are some pics of the morning. It was a bit chilly down here, so some of the activities (most of them) were inside because y’all, Georgia kids cannot handle 50 degree temps! 🙂

Here’s to fun, old-fashioned field days!

M.

You Are What You Read

In elementary school I participated in the Book It! Program. If you don’t know Book It! it was a program designed by Pizza Hut in the early 1980s. The then-president of the company was called to action by President Reagan, who asked big business to find valuable ways to help with education in America. Pizza Hut stepped up to the plate, literally and figuratively, with the Book It! Program. Book It! awarded elementary school children the chance to read appropriate-level books, in exchange for stickers, buttons, and you guessed it, free pizza! I don’t know much more about the program from the business side, but I did find an informative and fun article here, if you are so inclined: http://mentalfloss.com/article/501605/12-cheesy-facts-about-pizza-huts-book-it-program.

What I remember about Book It! was the awesome personal pan pizzas that you got whenever you finished your “chart”, which was a brightly colored poster board with the names of everyone in your class, and stars representing how many books you had read. For each book you got a sticker. For every ten books you read, you received a coupon for a personal pan pizza. This was a great incentive to kids who were not planning on reading ten books a month, a fun bonus for those of us who were, and a smart marketing move on behalf of Pizza Hut. I mean, parents will do more with less, for an excuse to NOT cook and do the dishes on a Friday night. It was a win-win, and honestly, one of my favorite memories from elementary school. We were sorta poor, and Pizza Hut was not a place we frequented. My mom cooked food at home, so once a month I knew I would get to go out to dinner. It wasn’t anything fancy, but my mom would take me to Pizza Hut. She would get us a water and a Diet Coke, then she would order two personal pan pizzas and we got one of them free. It was a sweet deal, and a fun evening for us because the nearest Pizza Hut was at the mall of sorts, in Leavenworth, called The Plaza. It had some shops in it, an arcade, a book store, ice cream, etc. It was small, but always exciting to go look around with my tummy full of free pizza. Sometimes, if it were near payday, we would walk around and dream of the stuff we wanted, then hit Baskin Robbins just before we drove home.

The other thing I remember about Book It! was how unfair it suddenly seemed one day in fifth grade. I was a fairly smart kid. No rocket scientist, but I was an avid reader, a strong reader, and a lover of books. One day my class came back inside from recess and sat at our desks with the lights off. This was something we did everyday. It was a rest time that Mrs. Coughran, our very patient teacher, bestowed upon us. Mrs. Coughran took this time to turn off the lights and let us rest our minds and bodies before we stumbled into whatever was next on the agenda. Everyday she would read aloud during this time, from a book that we all voted on. We had three choices. We could either listen while we rested our eyes (think: trying to get a quick snooze) or we could color or draw, or we could read our own book silently at our desk. I usually chose to read silently, especially when I was close to completing my ten books for the month.

One particular day I excused myself to the Book It! Chart to see how many books I had left. Mrs. Coughran or Mrs. Simmons, the school librarian, had to pick the books for us, as reading at your appropriate level was one of the requirements. On this day I meandered over to the chart to see which book I had next so I could decide if we had it in the classroom, or if I needed to go find it in the library. That is when the shock set in. My chart looked like this: Island of the Blue Dolphins, Indian in the Cupboard, Number the Stars, Anne Frank, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Giver, etc. etc. Meanwhile, a large number of the rest of the class were reading books like this: James and the Giant Peach, Sarah Plain and Tall, Little House in the Big Woods, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Superfudge, and Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing. See a pattern here? I was getting saddled with these “big” books, which is how I thought of them, when really they were just more advanced subject matter, while my classmates read what amounted, to me anyway, as Dr. Seuss. I was pissed.

I went home that night and told my mom, who really had no idea what I was bitching about. She was convinced my teachers knew which books I should be reading, and what the hell was a Superfudge, anyway? She told me stop complaining, but she did offer to run me down to the public library so I could pick out whatever I wanted. I took the bait.

The next day at silent reading, I looked around the room before I lifted up my desk and snuck out my brand new public library copy of Pippi Longstocking. Now I had read Pippi Longstocking before. In fact, I had read all of them and watched the movies back in, ohh, second grade? But it was funny and short and I didn’t need to look up words in secret in my bedroom at night. I spent the better part of our fifteen minutes trying to hide the cover from Mrs. Coughran, who seemed to be inching closer to my desk. I figured if I could get the book done quickly, I could just run over and jot the title down and have her give me a sticker without her even looking at the cover. It was a tense few minutes.

I was still reading happily along to Pippi’s antics when someone switched the lights on without my knowing. I was so engrossed, I didn’t look up until Mrs. Coughran’s hand touched my arm. I looked up at her, my eyes wide, I had been caught. She knelt down next to my desk and asked me what I was reading. I showed her the cover. That’s a good one, she said, not taking her eyes off of me. I think it is a movie now too. I shook my head and gulped. Are you going to count that as one of your books this week? The question sort of stayed out there, in the air between us. I wasn’t sure what to say. I found the nerve, maybe from Pippi, to say, I think so. Okay, she said with a smile. I think that’s a good idea. But don’t forget that Mrs. Simmons wants you to finish “Number the Stars” this week too. I shook my head. Yes. Yes. The holocaust book, I remembered quickly. She smiled and walked away.

That afternoon as the bell rang, and we all ran to the freedom of our parent’s cars, Mrs. Coughran called for me. I stopped in the doorway, a little bit scared. She put her arms out for a hug and I fell into her. I had been so afraid she was mad at me. Then she looked me in the eyes. Reminded me to look her in the eyes, something she had been working on with me since day one, and she said that she was proud of me for being a class leader in the Book It! Program. She confided that we were probably set up to receive the coveted pizza party at the end of the year because of our hard work, and that I had really helped bring the class reading up. I smiled a shameful smile. Then she said to me, Remember, Missy. You are what you read.

We did end up earning a Book It! Pizza Hut party on the last week of school. We read and ate until we were too sick to read anymore, then we watched old episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy and ate some more. Someone’s mom brought in cupcakes, another brought juice boxes, and Pizza Hut brought boxes of piping hot pepperoni pizza. We felt like royalty.

M.