We Took Our Kids to a Fancy Restaurant, and Here’s What Happened

Our oldest daughter was turning 10 and this seemed like cause for a celebration. As parents, we had managed to keep her alive and well for an entire decade. I haven’t been able to keep a houseplant alive that long, and they require much less than a child, so as my husband and I exchanged high-fives, we were likely feeling a little smug which would explain the momentary lapse of judgement we experienced when we suggested going out to a “fancy” restaurant for her birthday dinner.

Our children eat at restaurants frequently enough. At ten and six, they possess a modicum of self-control and basic table manners. Sure, they fart and burp during dinner at home, but we’d remind them enough times to act like princesses. And this was a special occasion, after all.

In my mind, we were all going to dress up nice, have a delicious meal, and make a wonderful memory. But over the course of our parenting, there have been a lot of those Expectation vs. Reality moments, and this was no exception.

Red flag number one appeared when I was leaving work and mentioned to a co-worker that we were taking our daughter to the steakhouse for her birthday dinner. He commented that she must have a sophisticated palate, and I chuckled.

No. She’s quite picky, actually, I answered in my head, but it was too late to second-guess our decision. Our reservation was in a few hours and I wasn’t even home from work yet.

I guess the next red flag should have been that my youngest daughter didn’t even have an appropriate coat to wear. I might have remembered the last time she dressed up for the daddy-daughter dance and we made her wear her velvet cape from her Little Red Riding Hood Halloween costume. I might have remembered that her winter jacket was a puffy neon-pink hand-me-down from her sister that was two sizes too big and that most days she ran around the house naked. As we were all scrambling to get out the door, I didn’t notice her choice in outerwear till we were already in the car.

“You can’t wear that jean jacket to the restaurant.”

“Daddy said I could.”

“Well, you can’t. The sleeves are filthy. And what’s that green stuff?”

She looked down and answered matter-of-factly, “Avocado.”

“You’re just going to not wear a coat, I guess.”

“But I’m cold.” She whined.

“You won’t be cold in the restaurant. Daddy will drop us off out front.”

As it turned out, she was cold in the restaurant, and she didn’t fail to remind us of it. All… Night… Long. 

After arriving at the steakhouse, we were led to a round table in a candlelit corner of the restaurant. It had booth-style seating that circled around half of the table, and the bouncy cushion pleased the birthday girl to no end. She promptly plopped herself down on it again and again. I had a flashback to my old roommate’s waterbed before I gave her my best mom-glare to get her to stop.

In fact, I spent most of the evening telling my children what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. Don’t grab the parmesan cheese with your fingers. Put your napkin in you lap. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Use your knife. Be careful. Don’t spill that drink. 

I was tense and it wasn’t relaxing. Then the waiter came over to greet us.

“Would anyone care for a cocktail?”

Me! Me! Me! I was going to need one a few.

As is their custom, because we were celebrating a special event, a photographer snapped our picture.

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After which, the birthday girl leaned toward me and whispered, “This isn’t what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?” I asked.

“I thought it was going to be like that place we went before the basketball game where I got that burger.”

The sports bar?

“Yeah, that place. Do they have any burgers here?”

They did, in fact, have a burger on their menu. The Wagyu beef burger topped with a short rib served with bone marrow butter, truffle brie, and bacon onion jam. It was 24 dollars and that’s what she ordered, minus the bacon onion jam, which I asked them to put on the side and ate with a spoon. It was seriously the best condiment I have ever tasted in my life.

“Try it,” I begged her.

She refused.

Her father and I were fighting over it now.

“It’s bacon. You love bacon. Try it.” He put a small schmear of it on her plate.

She pursed her lips and shook her head.

“How’s your burger?” I asked.

“Meh. I prefer In and Out.”

FML.

I looked towards my youngest who had stopped eating her special order of pasta, since ya know, there wasn’t a children’s menu.

“How’s yours?”

“There’s too much sauce. I don’t like it.”

I rolled my eyes and downed the rest of my wine.

For dessert, we were served Bananas Foster. We watched the rum catch fire and the orange flames leap higher as they prepared it tableside.

Our daughter doesn’t like bananas.

Or caramel.

My husband and I devoured it while the birthday girl picked at her complimentary cheesecake. (She doesn’t like cheesecake either.)

Throughout the meal, I kept wondering why we hadn’t hired a babysitter for the night. Then I’d remember that this wasn’t our date night. It was her birthday and we’d done this to ourselves. We could have been at Red Robin with balloons and crayons and a kids’ menu that includes Kraft mac and cheese, but we were foolish and naïve.

Still, it wasn’t a total fail. During the evening, an elderly woman came over to our table and complimented us on our well-behaved children. She even paid the photographer to take another photo of us.

I whispered to the birthday girl to make a funny face, and aside from palate cleansing sorbet and the hot hand towels, this is what they’ll have to remember.

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the little one finally managed to snag her sister’s coat

In the wake of that compliment (and my second glass of wine), I looked at my children and realized that they are pretty amazing little humans—but they’re still just kids. Filet mignon and lobster tails aren’t their thing just yet, and that’s okay.

Of course, the next time we’re in the mood for fine dining, we’re leaving the kids at home.

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and just like that, she’s 10

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What They Don’t Teach Teachers

Recently, I administered the writing portion of the End-of-Course Exam for my Sophomores. A few weeks later, I stood before a room of Juniors to proctor the ACT. If you haven’t guessed, we’ve entered that fun time of the school year where one attempts to teach in between all the testing that takes place.

When you are training to become a teacher, proctoring exams is not something they teach you. You don’t practice reading aloud mind-numbing scripts or circulating a room for hours ensuring that kids are bubbling in the right section, that their number two pencils are sharp, and that nobody barfs on his exam.

There are many things they don’t teach future teachers—things that, if they did, might make them reconsider the profession long before they start posting their paychecks on social media.

And maybe that’s why. Still, I can’t help thinking that novice teachers might benefit from some realistic preparation for the career they’re about to embark on.

Here’s what else they don’t teach teachers:

They don’t teach you how to breathe through your mouth when you are stuck in a windowless classroom that reeks of B.O. and where the use of scented fragrance items like Glade Plug-ins and perfumed sprays have been banned by the district because it might trigger a student’s allergic reaction.

You know what I’m allergic to? Overactive pubescent sweat glands and a lack of deodorant, and you might be too. Better to find out now while there’s still time.

They don’t teach you how to pee on a strict schedule. Much like Pavlov’s dogs salivated at the sound of a bell, teachers hear a bell and it signals their full bladders that it’s time to go, so it would make sense that during any teacher preparation program, future educators were not allowed to use the restroom from 7:30 AM till 3 in the afternoon.

A fun side-effect to this kind of rigorous urinary training is how often you’ll exercise your right to pee at free will when you aren’t at school.

This feast-or-famine mentality isn’t just confined to the water closet though. Follow a herd of hungry teachers to the local Port-of-Subs on a professional development day, and you’ll see what I mean.

They don’t teach you how to pack your lunch. Every. Damn. Day.

If you thought living off PB&J and Top Ramen ended in college, you were mistaken. There will be weeks when you survive on half a package of saltine crackers and dried out baby carrots—and not because it is a new diet trend.

In the week leading up to payday, teacher lunches get very, very sad.

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{photo: Sad Desk Lunch}

I’m sure there’s a few wanna-be teachers out there who naively think they’ll just go down to the cafeteria for the hot lunch special. But with only thirty minutes, you’ve got to make sure you call that parent; answer that email; run a few copies; explain to those five kids who just walked in what they’ll be missing this afternoon as they leave early for their baseball game, track meet, or dentist appointment— And make sure you get a chance to use the restroom.

Shit. Was that the bell already?

On the flip side though, consuming that expired yogurt from that back of your mini-fridge might help you ward off whatever flu/virus has been circulating the school for the past six months straight.

Or… it might give you diarrhea.

If I was in charge of preparing teachers for the job, I’d make sure that each time they were about to teach, none of the technology worked.

I love sitting in on interviews where the applicant shows a sample lesson plan they developed in their undergrad program.

“It says here that each student gets out his or her Chromebook. Can you tell me what this lesson would look like with a dried out Expo marker and a copy of Huck Finn where the last 30 pages have fallen out?”

But just to be sure that they knew what they were getting into, if I was working to prepare teachers for the job, I’d make it like that one episode of The Cosby Show where Cliff Huxtable tries to teach Theo a lesson in financial responsibility by giving him Monopoly money and charging him rent. I’d make sure that rookie teachers knew how they’d live on that first-year salary once the student loans started rolling in. It wouldn’t take long before they realized why I ate a brown banana for breakfast and have a hole in  my shoe.

Of course, not everything would be designed to discourage teachers from the profession. There are many perks to working in education.

Shoot, it isn’t every job where you still get to take those awkward school photos straight into your fifties. Year after year, you can collect proof of how this job has aged you.

And let’s not forget summers off! You know, the summers that every non-educator wants to remind you of each time you mention your career.

Summer sure does come in handy for working a second job, lesson planning for the next year, taking professional development classes, and getting rid of that relentless twitch that developed after putting in the average 10 hours a day that most teachers do.

With a return date of July 31st this year though, I might still be twitching.

Now that I think about it, maybe they should leave teacher preparation programs alone. I guess there’s plenty of time to learn how to break up fights and prom grind sessions whilst on-the-job.

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Why I Teach

Yesterday I hung “Tearable Puns” all around my classroom and outside my door. My freshman students are reading Romeo and Juliet and these free printables from Laura Randazzo make my students chuckle more than William Shakespeare does.

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At the end of the school day, I sat at my desk and heard several students giggling outside of my classroom door as they took a pun or two.

This is why I teach.

Today, I walked into a colleague’s classroom in the morning to say hello. As I was getting ready to leave, a student I had taught last year walked in. He was just as happy to see me and I was him and we hugged. I remarked that he is “a true gentleman” and his current teacher agreed. In the wake of that compliment, he beamed.

This is why I teach.

I’m teaching Animal Farm for maybe the second time, the first being many years ago. I rely on the AP History student in the class to make connections to Stalin and The Great Purge for us. I am no Russian Revolution expert, but he is, and he becomes the one we all turn to for clarification.

This is why I teach.

A hard lesson in plagiarism. An essay that makes me cry. A student who says something new about the content I’ve taught for over a decade that has me consider it in a whole new way.

This is why I teach.

From the occasional happy hour with colleagues where we commiserate over our frustrations in education (of which, there are many) to sending a parent a positive email on a Friday afternoon—getting a response filled with gratitude and knowing I just made that kid’s weekend.

This is why I teach.

The untapped potential of every student, our world’s greatest natural resource. I spend my days trying to draw the possibilities out of them and get them to see the power and hope and wonder they possess.

This is why I teach.

In my class, we hold Socratic Seminars where students learn to use accountable talk, to listen to the ideas of their peers, and to disagree without starting an argument or placing blame.

But, they also learn how to craft an argument, one where they acknowledge the counterclaim, and then refute it.

This is why I teach.

Fake news stories? We analyze them. Logical fallacies? We study them. Credible sources? We find them.

I teach my students to think. I teach them to dig deeper. I teach them to know when to call bullshit.

I teach, “Enemies to peace…throw your mistempered weapons to the ground.”

And, “Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.”

And, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

I teach my students to yield their words and I show them how to use them, for I believe that “The Pen is mightier than the Sword.”

 Yet, you want me to teach while armed with a gun?

That—is not why I teach.

That—will never be how I teach.

That—is not the solution.

Those students? That’s why I teach.

Those students. They’re the solution.

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Gym Subs vs. School Subs

Minutes before my Saturday yoga class was scheduled to begin, I ran into a colleague at the gym. The class she was in had just let out and as we chatted, she mentioned that it was terrible.

“We had a sub. Hope yours is better,” she called over her shoulder as she made her way to the locker room.

I got into class and rolled out my mat only to realize that we also had a sub that day. A man walked up to the front of the room and I noticed the regulars around me start questioning, “Where’s Kim?” But before long, we were meditating and there was no more time for questions.

After a challenging yoga class, I thought about the role that substitute teachers play.

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{photo courtesy of @musclesmusicmotherhood}

How is it that the expectation for subs is higher at the gym than it is at schools?

My yoga teacher didn’t have to write out a plan for her sub. She didn’t have to tell him how to spend that hour of class time. He came in understanding it was a power yoga class and he taught one.

He didn’t come in and say, “I can’t find the plans, so you can talk quietly amongst yourselves.” He didn’t try to get rid of us by sending us to the library elliptical machines. True, it was not the same experience as when our regular yoga instructor is there, but I still left with the benefit of a power yoga workout. In fact, I had a personal best when it came to my crow pose and I enjoyed experiencing a different teaching style that day.

For teachers, it’s almost not worth it to stay home sick or take a personal day. I spend hours writing out detailed plans, making sure all the copies are there, and labeling with sticky notes which stacks of papers are for which classes. I make sure there are instructions on how to use the technology in my room, instructions on what to do if the lesson doesn’t get completed, and instructions for what to do if there is remaining time. I even include who to go to in my hall if there are problems and send them an extra copy of my plans, too.

Just because I am out for a day, shouldn’t mean that my students stop learning.

Yet despite this, there are still days when I return to work after having been out and the plans haven’t been touched.

I think the worst was when I was teaching a class of juniors. We were studying Macbeth at the time, but someone in the office had mistakenly handed the sub a DVD for another teacher in the school who taught history but shared the same first name as me. That day, my students watched a documentary on The Civil War. I wasn’t sure what annoyed me more: that the sub didn’t question the content of the film versus the content I teach, or figure out that the plans I had meticulously written (assuming he read them) didn’t mention a DVD, or that my students never said a word.

Imagine if this happened in the gym?

The sub for yoga comes in and sees the exercise bikes in the corner of the room.

“I guess you guys are supposed to spin today. You brought shoes, right?”

It doesn’t help that there’s a shortage of substitute teachers out there either. You would think that having a colleague cover a coworker’s class might help matters.

It’s sad to say, but often it’s worse. Many a teacher prep subs grudgingly. Regardless that they are getting paid to do so, mentally they are still on prep. I get it though. We need our prep time. Still, when the “lesson” doesn’t include some busy work or a film, they get miffed.

Let’s take it back to the gym.

You ‘re stretching on your yoga mat waiting for class to begin when, at the last-minute, the aerobics instructor walks in. There’s a sheen of sweat on her brow from the class she just got done teaching. She saunters to the front of the room, tells the class to get into Savasana, then sits down with her protein shake to crochet a new pair of leg warmers.

Many a teacher has gotten so tired of their plans not being followed that they stop writing them. Instead, they leave a movie because it’s easier—but I still can’t bring myself to put my student’s learning on pause just because I had jury duty or my kids got the flu. Even if the film connects to our content, I know they won’t watch it. They’ll silently Snapchat while the substitute sits at my desk and naps.

If the subs at school were like subs at the gym, I wouldn’t have to write plans at all. What the sub taught might not be what I would have taught that day, but they might come in with their favorite poem—a poem that I may never have included that year, one that might spur a student to check out the complete works of Cummings or Dickens or Giovanni. Or maybe they’d bring in The New York Times and get my students writing opinion pieces on current articles. But whatever they had them do, it would be something they loved about literature or writing, something that would challenge my students’ minds, and something that might actually give the “real” teacher a break.

Hey, a teacher can dream, right?

Actually, I can’t. I need to start writing up my plans for when I take my personal days come May.

Hopefully, I’ll get a good sub.

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The Mom Bubble

A marvelous idea for an invention came to me the other morning as I attempted to meditate.

The moment I settled onto my cushion and closed my eyes, my cat sauntered over to paw at my lap. In case you’ve not had the pleasure of this experience, it’s rather difficult to focus on your breath when your inner thigh is being kneaded like the soft dough it resembles. No matter how many times I shooed him away, he returned purring louder than before with those tenacious claws. Perhaps this was the real test. To reach Zen, I must maintain my calm whilst swatting at the world’s most persistent pet.

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Just when I had finally managed to rid myself of the feline, my five-year-old wandered out of her bedroom and plopped herself down on top of me. First startled, then annoyed, I tried to shoo her away too, but she threw her body on the rug and cried.

And cried.

And cried.

It was in that very moment that the concept for The Mom Bubble was born. The Mom Bubble would not only come in handy during meditation though. There are a variety of uses that make The Mom Bubble a must-have for every mother.

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Would you like to be able to have a phone conversation where you only communicate with the person you called? Then The Mom Bubble is for you. You’ll no longer hear, “I’ll let you go. It sounds like you’re busy,” from the person on the other end.

Why, just the other day I was on the phone with my cousin when she asked, “Did you just go poopie?” I was about to answer when I realized she wasn’t asking me. Perhaps the sing-song of her voice should have tipped me off, but The Mom Bubble can help avoid embarrassing situations like these.

As a mother, it’s inevitable that you’ll get a farewell leg-hug from your toddler when you’re headed out the door in a pair of slacks fresh from the cleaners. If you’re lucky, you’ll notice the snail trails your child left smeared across your thigh before you exit the house. With The Mom Bubble, gone are those days of being used as a human Kleenex. Now you can go out in public without accessorizing in dried boogers.

Projectile vomit? No problem! Watch those chunks slide down the outside of The Mom Bubble while you stay safely inside. As an added bonus, the putrid odor that once sent you retching towards the toilet is guaranteed not to enter your sphere.

Speaking of odors: The other night while watching TV, my youngest said she wanted to sit on my lap for a second.

For a second? But you’re right next to me.”

Then it dawned on me. Her intention was to fart on me. As if sitting right next to me and breaking wind was not enough, she wanted to actually place her buttocks directly on me to let one rip. It’s no coincidence that Pink Eye outbreaks are at all-time high in my household, but The Mom Bubble will keep you out of harm’s way.

Not only would The Mom Bubble protect you from kid farts, but dog farts too. Imagine watching your family gasp and cough while you enjoy the sweet-smelling air of The Mom Bubble. 

Do you have a little one who likes to climb in your bed at night? Sleep in The Mom Bubble and you’ll never have to cling to the edge of the mattress like you do your sanity. Those elbows, feet, and knees will find another body to disturb while you get the rest you deserve.

Lack of personal space got you down? Just because your offspring once inhabited your womb, does not earn them the right to hang from your body like baby orangutans. The Mom Bubble gives you the ability to say “I love you, but please don’t touch me” without actually saying it.

Now I know you’re probably thinking that what you really want is a little peace and quiet. Equipped with noise-cancelling technology, The Mom Bubble will make it so that you won’t have to listen to another ear-shattering temper tantrum ever again.

With The Mom Bubble, you’ll quickly realize that letting them cry it out is a great parenting strategy when you don’t have to hear it. And your darling child will likewise cease having quite as many fits once they find that when you’re inside The Mom Bubble, you’ll never cave to their 87th request for Fun-Dip at 6:30 A.M.

Equally important is the autonomy your children will develop when they can no longer ask you to pass them their cup of water that is literally sitting RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. Imagine the peace of mind that will come from knowing that The Mom Bubble is as much of an investment for them as it is for you.

The Mom Bubble: The best thing to happen to motherhood since the epidural. Coming soon to a Target near you. Look for it near the wine aisle.

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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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{via emol.org}

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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The Perfect Christmas Gift

It’s that wonderful time of year where my children view every retail destination as if it’s FAO Schwarz. Whether we’re food shopping in Walmart or making a restroom stop at a gas station, they’ll hold up some toy they’ve spied and give me their best Puss-in-Boots eyes. Usually, by the time they sit down to write their letters to Santa, they have forgotten most of the things they had pleaded for, which suits me just fine. However, this year proved otherwise.

With the help of her big sister, my five-year-old wrote out her Christmas list rather early. Among other things, she’d written down an American Girl doll, a giant Beanie Boo, a Kindle, and lots of Legos. But it didn’t end there. On and on and on it went. Everything from sneakers to pajamas to hair bows. She took inventory of her sister’s room and recorded anything she’d seen that she herself didn’t own. She wrote till the construction paper ran out and the marker went dry. She may as well have scribbled the lyrics to “Santa Baby” while she was at it.

“You have a lot of expensive things on that list.” I told her.

“Mom,” she sighed as if I were the five-year-old, “Santa doesn’t buy the presents, he makes them.”

I couldn’t help thinking that my five-year-old was outsmarting me at Christmas, a sure sign that we were in trouble.

“You know,” I told her, “You’re only supposed to ask for three things: something you want, something you need, and something to read.” I later found out that something to wear is also included in this minimalist version of the Christmas list, but she was getting the gist.

My nine-year-old was suddenly curious. “Really? Is that like, a rule?”

“Well, it’s not a rule so much as a guideline.”

My five-year-old, in all her wisdom, pointed to her list. “Something to read: Kindle.”

I’m certain I rolled my eyes.

I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the consumerism that is Christmas. This year, I felt it more than ever when I couldn’t find a single gourd for my Thanksgiving table yet poinsettias were aplenty. We hadn’t even carved our turkey and they were selling me fruitcake.

As a parent, I struggle with not wanting to spoil my children at Christmas, while still hoping to dazzle them with the magic that Santa brings. But this year, Santa was already exhausted, and he hadn’t even started shopping yet.

In an article humorously titled “Christmas is Ruined by Children,” Trevor Mitchell states, “parents these days are time-poor and over-compensate for this by indulging their offspring.”

Mitchell may be right; when it comes to time, there isn’t even a jingle in my pocket. And in Christmases past, I had indulged my offspring. While staring at the piles of wrapped boxes, I would often ask my husband, “Do you think that’s enough?” No matter his answer, I would find a way to sneak in an extra trip to Target for a few more stocking stuffers.

This year, however, I just can’t Christmas.

Sure, my tree is up and there’s lights on the house, but every time I set foot in a store, I have a visceral reaction that makes me flee.

Take a mother’s mental load and add in a major holiday where children’s happiness is at stake, and it’s a recipe for a spontaneous midlife crisis. It’s no wonder that I often find myself having a psychotic break come Christmas.

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My psychotic break, unfortunately, does not resemble this scene from Bad Moms 2.

As I tucked my kids in the other night, I pulled Once Upon a North Pole Christmas from the bookcase for their bedtime story. Dot, our Elf, had delivered it as a special treat the year before. In it, the grown-ups are grumpy and tired, “trying too hard to make Christmas too perfect or running around everywhere.”

A story I thought was intended for children, turns out, might have been for me.

Shoot, even the Grinch comes to realize a few things before his book is through.

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The truth is, when I came right out and asked my kids what they were most looking forward to this Christmas, my oldest didn’t hesitate. “Spending time with family” she said, and then after a brief pause, “and eating quiche.” Despite her long list, even my youngest rattled off a good three or four things before any mention of gifts.

And so, this Christmas, rather than going to ugly sweater parties and standing in check-out lines, I want to stay in my pajamas and abuse Amazon Prime. Rather than feverishly baking cookies to exchange and sending out Christmas cards, I want to order pizza and play Parcheesi. Rather than giving more presents, I want to give more presence. If I can figure out how to do that, I think it will be the perfect Christmas gift for everyone on my list.

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