Request Denied

“Mom? Can you do me a favor?”

This was the voice of my nine-year-old.

“When you fold my laundry, can you turn my socks so that they are the right way for when I put them on?”

I paused to consider the request.

Three beats was all it took before I said, very simply, “No.”

In my mind, though, this played out quite differently. There was an actually buzzer, like that which signals the end of a basketball game, like the dreadful X when a wrong response is given on Family Feud, like the handheld noise-maker for the game Taboo (the only game my brother-in-law will agree to play and only if all he has to do is auditorily tell players that they have erred by sounding the buzzer in their faces. Think Sissy Spacek in Four Christmases.)

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Hearing my curt “No” crushed my daughter. She had asked so sweetly and had been so brusquely denied. She looked crestfallen, and for a moment, I considered granting her request if only so that I didn’t feel like a total biatch, but then I remembered that crucial moment when my mom made me start washing my own laundry. And I remembered why.

I was in the fifth grade—one year older than my daughter. My mom had told me to clean my room. So I scooped all the clothes, dirty or clean, and threw them in my hamper.

Clean room?

Check!

Later, when my mother went to do laundry and saw that there were clean clothes, still partially folded, tossed in the hamper, she cracked. She very calmly told me that I would henceforth be responsible for washing my own clothes. For. The. Rest. Of. My. Life.

“But I don’t know how!” I argued.

And then she taught me. And she never did my laundry again.

Well, until she retired. Now all she does is laundry. My step-dad jokes that he only needs three pair of underwear. Doing the wash is kind of her hobby these days, so when she comes to visit, my washing machine doesn’t quit, which feels like an apology…And I accept.

But back to my daughter.

I guess she wasn’t asking a lot, but something about her request, much like when I heartlessly tossed clean clothes into my hamper, made this mother crack. Each person in my family has two feet, and there’s four people in my family, times that by seven days in the week (or perhaps five since at least twice a week my kids try to wear flip-flop, even in January). If each sock took two seconds to turn right-side-out, that’s…

I don’t really do math unless I have to, but what I do know is this:

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Every mother in America will tell you that there is never no laundry to be done. There are always clothes in the dryer that someone forgot about, and sometimes clothes in the washer that also got forgotten about, clothes that now smell like mold and cheese that need to get re-washed.

My mom may have been on to something when she decided that one decade of washing my dirty (and sometimes clean) clothes was enough.

For my oldest child, time is running out.

Meanwhile, round-the-clock laundry marathons continue every weekend. I may even start a load or two during the week. I continue to fold my children’s clothes and provide them with clean underwear. But about those socks…

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The Wolf Strikes Again

You stood before my dresser mirror brushing your hair. I stood a few feet away and watched you.

You wore no socks, no shoes, and I couldn’t help but think, “My, what big feet you have.”

“The better to wear high heels with,” I supposed.

I saw the silk of your hair and noted how your lips are still as plump as when you were a baby. With your large, blue-green eyes and the slope of your nose, you are beautiful, but you haven’t realized this yet.

I, however, have known it all along.

I observed your long legs and thought about how you have outgrown yet another bike. Your figure is changing too. You are maturing, and every day, I hold my breath… and wait. It won’t be long before we are shopping for bras and I am watching your cheeks flush with embarrassment.

Lately I joke that if you had an extra head atop your own, you’d be as tall as me. What you cannot know is that each time I wrap my arms around you, I kiss your parted hair if only to measure whether you’ve grown. I rest my chin, breathe in your smell, and try to be your cloak, to protect you.

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In front of that mirror, for just a moment, you seemed already a woman, and I was mesmerized.

But then, the brush got snagged in a knot of hair and you turned to me for help. Just like that, you were my child again, albeit one with great, big feet.

Still, the shift has begun. The other evening when I reminded you to use better table manners, I felt the weight of your stare. There was resistance there and defiance flickered in your irides. For now, these challenges pass quickly, but soon, you will be consumed. When that time comes, you will gnash your teeth and growl at me. You will attack when you feel you’ve been provoked–and everything will provoke you.

I know because when I was only a little older than you, I stopped listening to my mother. I ventured into the dark wood and was swallowed whole by the wolf.

Your feet may seem in disproportion to the rest of you now, but when you are freed from the beast, your transformation will be complete. You won’t be my little red riding hood any longer, but I will still be your mother and I will await the day I hear your high heeled shoes on that well-worn path as you return home, to me.

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My 18 Resolutions for 2018

This New Year’s Eve, I slept on the living room couch with my two daughters. We spent the evening doing each other’s hair and make-up, then taking it all off to apply face masks. We played games and did crafts while listening to Kidz Bop. When the Cha-Cha Slide came on, there was an impromptu dance party. By 9:30, we had one big bowl of popcorn to share, three individual bowls of ice cream, and had cued up The Goonies.

Although my five-year-old was sound asleep by 10:30, my oldest daughter and I made it to midnight, after which we shuffled outside wrapped in blankets to listen to the fireworks and stare at the moon. It was the best New Year’s Eve experience of my life.

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Wishing everyone peace in the coming year.

As far as resolutions are concerned, 2017 was fairly successful. While I still cannot do the splits, to be fair, I only practiced a handful of times. Among my other resolutions though, I managed to run a 10K, meditate more, and drink less. Taking one day at a time still proves to be a challenge, but I’m trying to invite the mindfulness I practice each morning into other areas of my life, and for that, I give thanks.

Resolutions are crafted each year to improve oneself. The best thing I can do for my daughters is to teach them that personal growth is important. You can set academic goals, professional goals, fitness goals, financial goals, and personal goals that will help you to live a balanced life. And so, as I enter a new year, my 40th year, I am raising the bar.

Here are my 18 Resolutions for 2018:

  1. Continue to strengthen my meditation practice.
  2. Don’t use alcohol to cope with stress.
  3. Pay off debt while saving money.
  4. Grow my blog.
  5. Read books, take classes, and network with people to cultivate my professional leadership capacity.
  6. Spend time individually with each of my daughters. 
  7. Find time for solitude & silence: run a hot bath, take a long walk, go to the spa, or stay home and send everyone else away for an hour or two.
  8. Give up control occasionally—And when things are out of control, relax. Don’t fight the current.
  9. Challenge myself physically: go swimming or bike riding, try snowshoeing, practice splits and headstands, lift weights, attend new classes.
  10. Be more present. Give attention to what matters most. Limit social media.
  11. Tell people how you feel and show them that you care. Don’t assume they know.
  12. Be kind.
  13. Undertake one major home improvement project.
  14. Make time for friendships. They matter.
  15. Read at least 25 books.
  16. Step outside my comfort zone from time to time.
  17. Appreciate the world and all that it offers. Go out and explore it!
  18. Begin and end each day with an attitude of gratitude.

While I have never been a huge fan of celebrating New Year’s Eve, I love each new year for the possibilities that await. We spend so much of the holiday season focusing on others, that January offers a time to turn that attention back on our self.

Paulo Coelho said, “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”

By focussing on me, I know I am not just bettering myself, but I am also becoming better for them.

So, what will you strive for this New Year?

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Helicoptering, Homework, and Learning to Let Go

When you enter my classroom, there’s a newspaper article by John Rosemond tacked to the bulletin board that discusses why parents should not be involved when it comes to homework. As I teach an honors level English class, I often have a handful of parents each year that I would classify as “helicopter moms.” They expose themselves early enough through seemingly innocent emails, but as the year progresses, it becomes clear that they are after one thing: That A.

Often, the parent wants the grade more than the student does, and it becomes increasingly difficult to watch especially when the child doesn’t earn that A. Panicked emails are sent on the day that grades are due begging me to “round up”—emails that I’m sure are typed out with Mom hovering right behind the keyboard.

Rosemond claims, “There is no evidence that actual achievement is enhanced through parental involvement in homework. After all, achievement has gone down as parental involvement has gone up. Grades improve, yes, but that is because parents make sure homework is returned to school virtually without error.”

As achievement decreases, anxiety (and often depression) increases. Some students will completely disengage with their school work, while others live in fear of making a mistake. The result is a growing society of people who lack responsibility and are paralyzed when it comes to making decisions.

By the time a student is in high school, it is no longer age-appropriate for the parents to be involved in homework. My five-year-old though? She can’t even read the directions to her homework on her own, and many of her assignments demand our involvement.

For math homework one night, my kindergartener had to play a game called Bicycle Races. A makeshift spinner was created by using a paperclip and a pencil. A button and a ring acted as the game pieces. I read through the directions, then asked my husband if he would play the game with her.

After they had completed a couple rounds, I inquired who had won.

“Daddy did. Both times.”

“Was it a game of luck?” I asked.

“Not for me!”

Often, homework is a chore. It is one more thing that needs to get done in the short hours between the time we arrive home in the evening and the time the kids go to bed. In a two-hour span, there’s dinner to cook, eat, and clean up; lunches to pack for the next morning; baths and showers to be had; teeth to be brushed; and the request for an episode of Teen Titans Go! Add to that homework, and it’s a tight fit.

That’s not to say I don’t believe in homework. I do. I assign it with my students and I am thankful that my children’s teachers assign it too. There is merit in struggling with a challenging math equation without a teacher nearby to help, just as there is merit in requiring children to read each night. Through homework, children learn how to manage their time, how to problem solve, and how to take responsibility. However, when it comes to completing homework, the less involved I need to be, the better. After all, often I am sitting at the table with my own stack of grading to do.

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In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the kindergarten homework assignment was to disguise a turkey. My daughter decided she wanted her turkey to masquerade as a slice of pizza. I manned the hot glue gun and cut out red felt pepperoni, my older daughter cut up orange and yellow construction paper into strips of shredded cheese, and the mastermind behind the project assembled it all together with some scissors, red paint, and a giant glue stick. After the feathers were attached, it was a collaborative work of art, but I can only imagine what it would have looked like had I truly let her do it on her own.

Still, it’s a slippery slope.

Recently, a colleague of mine asked one of her junior-level AP students where his project was when it hadn’t been submitted on time.

He matter-of-factly replied, “My mom and I are still working on it.”

She had suspected that this mother had been involved in some of his previous assignments, but never expected he’d come right out and admit it. But it doesn’t surprise me.

I’ve read countless articles on helicopter parents who keep on hovering right on into college and adulthood– calling college professors about grades, submitting resumes on their child’s behalf, even attending job interviews. I’ve witnessed students of mine, while he or she is in class, receive text messages from their mom the second a grade is entered that is deemed unsatisfactory. If a parent hasn’t loosened the reigns by high school, it’s likely they never will.

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As the first semester of the school year wound down, my kindergartener had another holiday homework assignment; this time it was to decorate a foam Christmas tree cut-out. Unlike the pizza turkey, she did it all on her own.

When I came home from work that evening, she was eager to show me her creation.

With brown marker scribbles and globs of light blue glitter in a nonsensical arrangement, it was truly hideous.

“Is this your best work?” I questioned.

She said that it was.

Having just bought some Christmas stickers for my own classroom, I offered her some. She stuck a few on, but it didn’t help. The tree still looked like something a five-year-old would do. But then again, she is a five-year-old…and this was her homework, not mine.

Looking at it, I shrugged my shoulders and stuck it in her backpack to be returned to school where it would be proudly put on display.

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, in a Ted Talk titled 12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing says, “you can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and Chap Stick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to.”

That release, I’d argue, is one that begins with homework. It begins when I don’t frequent the online portal to check my children’s grades. It begins when I only review my fourth grader’s homework if she asks me to. It begins when I allow my five-year-old to complete as many of her assignments as she can with total autonomy, no matter how challenging for me that may be.

 

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