No Pressure Though

One of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself over the past couple of years has been the permission to underachieve when it comes to special events and holidays. I feel absolutely zero pressure to set the perfect table, craft a perfect menu, prepare a perfect meal or even change out of my perfect stretchy pants before dinner begins.

I can certainly appreciate all of the finer points of a fancy feast, well-groomed children and exquisite table centerpieces but have realized that that ideal will never be my ideal. I can maybe hit one of those three things at a time but have resigned myself that my children will be grown and gone before I ever have an Easter table that looks like this:

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Instead, today, when our family celebrated Easter, we enjoyed this:

I know those two pictures are so similar you might be struggling to figure out which one was my home so let me break it down for you.

That ham right there is from the grocery store. Not even a fancy grocery store. Just your totally average grocery store. I bought it yesterday, which is when I remembered I should come up with something to serve for Easter. The totally average ham coupled with the roasted asparagus is pretty much the cornerstone of any Easter dinner so I really think I hit a menu home run right there. We would have had roasted red potatoes as a side but I forgot to buy them so I pulled those cooked pasta shells from the bowels of the refrigerator thinking I could make a pasta salad as a side but then realized I didn’t have red wine vinegar for the dressing and promptly gave up. There’s celery there for my son since he won’t eat the asparagus and, at 41 years of age, I still like to cater to every individual diet preference of each of my precious children. There’s TWO packages of dinner rolls because my kids still like any food that is brown in color and as my friend, Jenn, once wisely explained, kids will eat anything in miniature form. Bob cut up some strawberries because, sure, why not. Makes enough sense to me. We round things out with a block of cheddar cheese because cheese is delicious.

The table is set in the kitchen and not the dining room because there is so much stuff piled on the dining room table that removing it all to eat there seemed like an insurmountable feat. So, Bob arranged the table in the kitchen but, please notice, he used the fancy water glasses. These glasses are impossible for my children to operate and water will be spilled by all three of them before this meal has even begun but whatever, they’re from Pottery Barn and are a skosh fancier than our other set of water glasses which advertise beer from Bob’s hometown. Our paper napkins really play second fiddle here to the stunning display of condiments serving as the table centerpiece. I didn’t even bother to put them in cute condiment dishes with little condiment spoons because that would increase my condiment dish-washing responsibility by 100 percent. It was too hot for candles so I tried to set the ambiance with some inspirational music but just ended up playing The Cure instead.

The food is getting cold here because Bob is chatting with a neighbor in the front yard while the kids play frisbee nearby. The kids are still in some variation of their church clothes which, for the boys, means the donning of a shirt with the dreaded COLLAR OF DOOM AND SUFFOCATION. So fancy! All three of them could probably benefit from a shower or bath or both and I’m not even positive Millie wore underwear today (I REALLY need to do laundry).

But, it’s all fine because the windows are open to the most wondrous weather and warm mountain breezes and we’re all together and Bob and I got to have an uninterrupted twenty minute conversation on the front deck before I took a rare afternoon nap after which I raided Millie’s Easter candy stash for all of the Kit Kats and I felt not a lick of guilt nor stress about putting together this mediocre meal with this totally average ham that I served to my could-be-cleaner children that we ate around a centerpiece of mustard and ketchup bottles.

I like myself so much better when I don’t care about perfection.

How to Not Stay Married

Step 1: Have a long and rich history of purchasing unnecessary pieces of furniture and assorted decor for your home.

Step 2: Purchase a salvaged fireplace mantel from an antique store. Make sure you do not consult in any way with your husband prior to purchasing your new antique fireplace mantel.

Pretend not to notice your husband rolling his eyes when you arrive home from shopping and giddily tell him about your new antique fireplace mantel.

Also, make sure that the home that you live in at the time has a perfectly lovely brick fireplace surround that would not even accommodate your new antique fireplace mantel thus ensuring that no one, not even you, can justify the purchase of a new, antique fireplace mantel.

Step 3: Ask your husband to return to the antique store with you the next day to help you haul your new fireplace mantel from the bowels of the warehouse-like building to your minivan.

Ignore the deep sigh that emanates from his general direction.

Step 4: Retrieve new mantel from antique store and attempt to fit it into the back of your minivan. Be unsuccessful at this. Witness your husband’s complete exasperation. Witness your positive attitude making everything worse. Jerry-rig the mantel with improvised ties in such a way that makes it impossible to close the back hatch of the minivan so the entire 30 minute drive home, the BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of the car’s there-is-a-door-open warning system is blaring.

Assure yourself that the noise is probably why your husband is no longer talking to you.

Step 5: Arrive home with your new antique fireplace mantel and have absolutely no logical place to put it. Ask husband to carry mantel to the third floor storage room while you “figure out a plan.”

Step 6: Devise brilliant plan! Decide to create one of those fake fireplace vignettes in your dining room. Something like this:

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Request husband retrieve mantel from third-floor attic so you can get to work!

Step 7: Do not get to work.

Step 8: Look at mantel leaning precariously against dining room wall for several months, hoping it doesn’t accidentally fall on one of the kids. Eventually, put some candles on the top that also lean precariously.

Step 9: Decide to move. When husband asks if the mantel should, logically, be left behind, react with shock and horror at such a suggestion. Explain in earnest that if you’re moving, the mantel’s moving, too.

Place mantel in basement of new home, leaning precariously against a wall. Hope it doesn’t accidentally fall on one of the kids.

Step 10: Wait three years.

Step 11: Clear out the entire contents of your basement in advance of construction work. Carry load after load of items to the garage, both you and your husband working diligently to ignore the antique mantel leaning precariously against the wall until it is the only item that remains.

Wordlessly and while making no eye contact, move the antique mantel to a dark corner of the basement.

Step 12: Bravely suggest to your husband that the super talented contractor working on the basement could maybe, possibly, perhaps also look into replacing your current fireplace mantel with the new antique mantel?

Watch as your husband rolls his eyes while simultaneously sighing deeply and reluctantly agreeing.

Step 13: Wait until your husband has worked an 11 hour day after rising at 4:30 a.m. and THEN ask him to help you bring the mantel up from the corner of the basement so the contractor can take some measurements and provide an estimate.

Ignore your husband when he exclaims, “FINE. BUT IT’S NOT GOING BACK DOWN THERE.” Wave your hands in a sarcastic, dismissive manner when he threatens to chop the antique mantel into many, many pieces and throw it into the fire pit. Do not, under any circumstances, suggest this might be ill-advised since, “it’s probably covered in lead paint anyway.”

Step 14: Get a response from your contractor that indicates the mantel installation is doable but that provides no indication of a work start date.

With great enthusiasm, relay this information to your husband. Watch him have much less enthusiasm.

Step 15: Pretend, along with your husband, that the new antique mantel isn’t currently sitting in the middle of your living room, leaning precariously against a buffet, like a ticking time bomb. Like an elephant in the room that is almost the actual size of a small elephant.

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Convince yourself that the old newspaper and small kindling your husband is gathering is for an entirely unrelated project.

The Cutoff Kid

A few weeks ago, I was slicing up a pizza for the kids for dinner, Millie by my side watching intently. I sliced it once and Millie piped up, “You made two halves!” I replied, “Very good, Millie.” When I sliced it through once more, Millie said, “Now you made four quarters.” Thinking I would be able to stump her because besting my kids brings me great joy as a parent, I then made two more cuts and asked, “Alright, smartypants. What comes next after four quarters?” Casually, she replied, “Eighths!”

I’m exceptionally bad at math so I was super surprised that she knew the answer which, was probably less an inherit ability to do complex math and more of a working knowledge gained from an iPad app. But still, Millie’s bright.

Millie has always shown an early aptitude for school. And, by “early aptitude,” I basically mean she was preceded in birth order by two boys. Henry and Charlie are both intelligent, eager and highly skilled in many areas but they certainly weren’t demanding to do homework at three years of age or crying unconsolably at four because they didn’t know how to read. Millie was.

Whether Millie’s aptitude is the byproduct of being third in line in succession behind two boys or true, unbridled genius, I can’t yet tell. Regardless, she has always had this Matilda-esque ability to pick up new skills, revel in novel ideas and master concepts that often times leave Bob and I sort of staring at each other, slack-jawed.

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Obviously the work of a genius. Just look at those jazz hands.

I can’t remember exactly when – probably at some point when I was researching schools during our move to Northern Virginia – I came across the Virginia regulation that mandates incoming students must be five years of age on or before September 30 to be accepted into kindergarten. The boys’ birthdays fall nowhere near the cutoff date so I guess I just hadn’t paid attention to the language before but with an October 12 birthdate, Millie would miss kindergarten admission by 12 days. No exceptions, it would seem.

This means, for the past couple of years, as Millie’s abilities have become more apparent, I have absolutely fretted about her kindergarten start. That is the only word to describe my anxiety over when and where and how this would all play out.

There didn’t seem to be any way around the September 30 regulation and, because so many preschool programs also abide by local school system policy, we kept running into it, like a brick wall. When we enrolled Millie in preschool at almost four years of age, she was the oldest in a class of mostly young three-year-olds. She deeply enjoyed the curriculum and we adored her school but her overarching daily complaint was that several of her classmates didn’t “behave,” were always in her face and “annoying” her. It was simply an issue of maturity but I bemoaned the cutoff date responsible for her placement.

As the months marched on towards her fifth birthday, I stopped asking for kindergarten advice when the responses were, “Don’t rush her.” Or, “You should just enjoy this time.” It was hard to explain but in actuality, it wasn’t that I was pushing her, it was that I was trying to keep up with her. There is a huge difference between the two.

Millie was academically and socially ready to be with her peers. She’s been ready. It was endlessly frustrating that twelve days made such a huge difference.

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Wedding anniversary tribute. Missing that pesky silent E.

Everything came to a head this past fall. With a kindergartner ready for kindergarten but no kindergarten to attend, we were left with three options:

  1. More preschool.
  2. Private school.
  3. Homeschool.

My least favorite option was private school. Not only does our rural setting make the getting to and picking up from a traditional private school in the nearest major town logistically impossible, the tone deaf suggestion of, “Well, you could always private school!” consistently enraged me.

While additional preschool would have given me the brief respite I needed from the unrelenting care of three children, I still didn’t feel like it would meet Millie’s needs best. She adored all of the art projects and circle time at her preschool but had been pushing us at home to do more of the work she had seen her brothers doing for school. I knew her preschool wasn’t offering that type of enrichment.

So, in the end, I felt that Millie’s needs could best be met by homeschooling her for kindergarten. Bob concurred. If there wasn’t a spot for her at our school, we’d have to make do at home.

We’ve been making do at our little ad hoc at-home kindergarten since last September. Our curriculum consists of workbook time, artwork time, inappropriate wearing of pajamas all day, occasional coffee with friends, extensive field trips to Target and A LOT of iPad learning-to-read apps. It’s the most relaxed syllabus in kindergarten history. Millie also plays for hours in her room with all of her toys and dolls and little treasures. She’s doing a lot of imagination building this year which, I tell myself when life gets in the way of our schoolwork, is a key component of kindergarten.

I have put zero pressure on myself to accomplish huge things this year with Millie’s education. I’m not a trained teacher so my main goal was to keep her engaged and interested in learning through this odd gap year. I think we’re achieving that goal even if she’s still frustrated that she can’t yet read Little House on the Prairie.

There are some states that address cutoff kids with Transitional Kindergarten programs to help fill just such a gap year. Targeted specifically at children that fall in the months right around that cutoff date, they offer classroom experience with less rigorous curriculums. Something like this would have been ideal for Millie.

But, we had to settle for our dining room table instead.

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And, as much as I’m sure Bob would prefer to stop talking about it, the dilemma over Millie’s education isn’t over quite yet. We have additional decisions to make this fall about whether to place her in kindergarten again or test her into first grade.

Even if she is academically and emotionally ready to rejoin her peers in first grade, I have serious reservations about her being the youngest in her class as she advances through middle and high school. Since “redshirting” kindergartners has become more commonplace, Millie could potentially be starting high school with kids that are much older. Not to mention, entering college at 17. I quickly run off the rails with what-ifs.

My concern isn’t without precedent since I lived this exact scenario. I tested into kindergarten at four years of age and was successful throughout middle and high school but burned out spectacularly my freshman year of college. I rebounded but have wondered, as I’ve walked this path with Millie, if having an extra year under my belt would have made a difference down the educational line.

However, holding her back because of her age and not ability is exactly what we’ve been railing against for two years. This is all so confusing. And, the decisions seem so momentous and long-reaching. Wanting to do right by your kids sure is emotionally taxing!

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Millie says this is me. At least I’m smiling?

While there are still moments when I wish this year would have been different for Millie, when I wish she could have joined a classroom that she so badly wanted to be a part of, I’ve mostly treasured our time together. She is an eager learner, game for almost any adventure and, just this week, emptied the dishwasher for the first time all by herself. In summary, she is a superb student.