Monday, August 29, 2011

Mama Goes Back to School--Part 1

I sent my kids back to school last week. And then I went.

Back to school.

It’s been 21 years and I am back in the classroom hoping my brain still functions. Actually I am hoping my brain functions way better than when I was a student at the U of U all those years ago. It had better because there is a lot riding on it this time around.

I have been a little worried lately about the brain thing. I keep asking the same questions over and over and my kids keep answering me over and over. I don’t listen to their responses so I have to keep asking. Here is an example:

“Are we picking up Zack for the game?” I asked.


Five minutes later: “Are we picking up Zack for the game?


Five minutes later: “Are we . . . .”


This resulted in my son telling me I had Alzheimer’s. This only increased my anxiety about returning to school as a geriatric patient who wants to be a high school English teacher.

After forgetting the pressures of school for two decades, I have new respect for my own kids who work hard every day and excel beyond what I was capable of doing at their ages.  How I ever produced such kids is beyond me.

I practically worship the ground my high school senior walks on because she is taking three AP classes, one of which is Statistics. I have a panic attack when I think about anything number-related (ex. I often have to pass the fifth grade math homework off to someone more competent in my family). So the fact that she can take this kind of a class shows her grit and intelligence. It also proves that she has a lot of her Dad in her as far as how her brain works. What a blessing for her.

She does her stats homework and she hasn’t pulled out one strand of her beautiful hair. She just does it.

Today was my first teaching certification class. I felt like my classmates were teenagers. I was old enough to be their Moms, and I told them so. I told them I had a daughter their ages. I hope I didn’t look or sound too matronly. I tried to dress a little bit fashionably, but sometimes when you’re 40-plus those efforts fall flat. My oldest daughter who counsels me in these matters has recently moved out. I got my hair done so there wasn’t a gray hair visible. After pulling myself together as best I could, all I could do was hope.

My class is four hours, five days a week plus homework. Brutal. Its main goal is to weed out people who really shouldn’t or can’t be teachers. Was I going to be one of them? This thought was almost unbearable during the first two hours. The last two hours I settled down a bit.

About mid-way through the class, one student raised her hand and said, “Does anyone else feel like they want to throw up?” This resulted in uproarious laughter.

When I walked out of the class at 11:50, my head was swimming with info and caffeine withdrawal. Sometimes there are major blessings right down the hill. Thank you, Wendy’s.

When I got home I did homework for two hours. An hour of it was spent trying to figure out how to print off a pdf document so the font was big enough to read without a magnifying class. This was a huge effort, and to my credit, I stuck with it until I figured it out. I didn’t wait for more tech-savvy people to come home to help. I did it.

That was a good first step—independence with tech things. No more, “How do you turn on the DVD player?" Life is changing.

Papers, journals, textbooks, annotating articles, (I had to ask my daughter what that was) teaching in the public schools, dressing professionally, resumes, etc. And the real nail biter--exams. This is what my life has become.

And yes to the brave student in class today. I do feel like I'm going to throw up. But you can only throw up for so long right? 

Monday, August 22, 2011

To Sleepover or Not to Sleepover

Teresa and me at our 20 year reunion in 2005

School starts tomorrow and the one thing that I will NOT miss is the question, "Can I sleepover at so and so's house?" ) Or, "Can so and so sleep over here?"

So and so is, of course, a most beloved and cherished person, without whom the world would cease to turn. Why have there been so many so and so's around this summer?

There seems to be three schools of thought on sleepovers: never under any circumstances, occasionally with close friends, and what the hell, they’re only kids once. This last school of thought seems to be what many parents thought in the 70s and 80s, and my friends and I took full advantage. Their parents thought the same thing. It’s a different world now.

Here’s what I have heard the hardliners say about sleepovers. Their stance is that nothing good can come of them. They don’t like the “sleepover hangover” in which kids are good for nothing the day after. They have heard “horror stories” of kids who have major issues later in life because of something that happened at a sleepover. A stake president said something once about the evils associated with them.

I tend to fall into the second category. I hate the hangovers, but I know of the potential fun and euphoria of a sleepover under the right circumstances. My parents, however, should have never let me have sleepovers when I was young because of my negative reaction to them.

On several occasions I was so homesick that I would call my Dad to come get me. Usually at about 3 am. I remember sneaking into my friend Kristen’s kitchen so that her parents wouldn’t hear, calling my father on her rotary phone (the noise, noise, noise!) and begging him in a whisper to come get me. I did this again with my other friend Kristin (must have been the name). On both occasions the Kristens’ parents were awakened to my utter embarrassment as we waited for my Dad to arrive. And I am sure the Kristens always wondered if I hated them all of the sudden or if I was just a wuss.

When I got older I had tons of sleepovers with positive outcomes, but there are some things I learned and saw that were maybe not so positive. These are for sure the things that the hardliners of today are warning against that we didn’t even think about then.  Maybe that is why I am a damaged adult today!

Here are the highlights of my teenage sleepovers, which almost always involved my best friend Teresa. (see above photo.)

Once Teresa had a 50s birthday party where we put on American Grafitti and her Mom donned her 50s clothes and taught us the jitterbug.

Everyone brought tons of candy and pop and we gorged. Three girls ended up throwing up and having to go home, and that was a major downer for the rest of us. One by one they fell victim in the middle of the night like an Agatha Christie novel. After that, Teresa couldn’t have another sleepover for years it seemed.

 Murder in the dark in Teresa’s woods was one of the best. There were hand-picked boys who were invited to play in the woods with us but then “left” at a certain time determined by Teresa’s parents. I remember Teresa not coming in the house for a long time after the deadline, and then all of us peppering her with questions about a certain boy (who she later married).

Truth or dare. The thrill of learning intimate stuff you wanted to know about your friends, but wishing you’d never confessed the stuff you did. “We swear that what we say tonight, will never leave this room” was the standard safety net to get you to tell, but later someone blabbed your secrets and you were busted. Never mind, you blabbed theirs, too.

There was the old standby ritual of putting a sleeping girls’ fingers into a glass of warm water to get her to pee in her sleeping bag. The perpetrators always claimed success, but the victim always ended up crying and hating the mean girls who did it. They were out of sorts for the rest of the night, understandably (especially if they really did pee in their sleeping bags).

Why did we have sleepovers with mean girls? So stupid.

Sometimes we slept on the trampoline and giggled so loud the neighbors complained.  We told some hand-picked boys what we were doing, and they scared us to pieces and got us screaming in our jammies. The boys were banished by annoyed parents and we were threatened with having to go home.

I don’t know how our sleep-deprived parents stood it. Maybe that’s why many parents today are saying no. Some have come up with a great alternative that I have used as well: lateovers. Sleepovers are fraught with unknowns, but lateovers are safe. A kid is retrieved by his or her parents at around 11 pm. They have still had fun, but they will get their sleep and not get into trouble. Parents today are smarter than parents of my day! This works!

So I am torn. There is a closeness and a deepening of friendship that comes about at a sleepover with a best friend that often doesn’t happen other times. There are the amazing memories (both good and bad) that make for great stories then and later in life.  There are life experiences that shape ideas about friends and fun. There is the feeling of doing something special with people you care about. It shouldn’t be something that happens often, but that happens with the right people at the right times.

Friends are the cherished people who won’t be around forever like families, and so it’s nice to take advantage when the time is ripe. When’s the last time you, as an adult, had a sleepover with your childhood best friend? Probably years ago, but I bet you still remember every vivid detail, and sometimes wish for those carefree summer nights

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mother Google

Artwork by Mary Lee click to enlarge

I have been thinking about how Google is really too good to be true for lazy parents like me. Three times this week my kids have asked me some questions:

1. When did Disneyworld get started?

2. How many people live in the United States?

3. Do black bears attack people as much as grizzly bears?

I had sort of a rough idea of the answer to these questions, but like most, parents I don’t know for sure (and I know I can’t fake it). Sometimes I don’t even have the slightest idea (and they know it).

So instead of saying, “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” or “Go ask your father,” I took the slacker Mom way out. I just said, “I don’t know. Google it.”

And they jumped on the computer and Googled all the questions and found their answers and a whole lot more than I could have told them. Simple. Easy. Too easy.

Sometimes when I’m feeling even more "slackerish" I tell them to read Wikipedia when they want a bunch of information on a certain topic. I figure if I do it, so should they. This is the Age of Finding Out Things Fast. Wikipedia is oh so fast and informative and fills my mind with meaningless trivia that I promptly forget. It’s sadly more entertaining that going to the library even. Never thought I'd say that.

I should feel OK about this practice, but I just can’t shake the knawing feeling that this is a big Mom copout on my part, and not exactly how I should be interacting with my children—at least not very much.

Yes, Googling things is quick, convenient and makes it so I can continue reading my novel on the couch or flipping through aromatherapy catalogs, but. . . . . it also limits the valuable connections and discussions I could potentially have with my children.

My Dad used to answer my questions by pretending he knew everything about the topic at hand and then somehow morphing the conversation into his own loosely formed connections. It was entertaining but not necessarily informative. I appreciate him now, even though I suffered through his long-windedness back then. I might give anything just to have one more of those conversations.

To the brown bear/grizzly bear question my children asked this week, I could have responded: “Well, I think it might be grizzly bears because they are bigger and stronger and seem to be more aggressive. We have a book about different kinds of bears. Remember what we saw in that pamphlet we got in Yellowstone Park last week? It talked all about this. I will see if I can find it.” Then I would have to get up off the couch.

That would have been the "non-slackerish" way to answer the question. It would have required eye contact in which I could have ascertained the general physical condition of the child, like if he or he needed to take a shower or change his clothes or brush his teeth.

If I am sitting on the couch absorbed in an Eddie Bauer summer sale catalog, however, I have no way of knowing these things and other important things like why they need this information. Is there a report due tomorrow or have they made a bet with a friend? Or are they so fascinated by this information that it may open up a lifetime of inquisitiveness and study that could lead to a career as a park ranger or wildlife biologist?

These are good things that parents should know, and can find out fairly easily if they pay attention and get up off the couch--especially slacker Moms like me!