Not This Year, Satan

One of the great things about our school district is the delayed start time for middle and high school students. The older kids start AFTER the elementary kids. Instead of being the first ones on the bus, they are the last ones on the bus. I’m pretty sure the school district’s scheduling decisions were based on lots of science and not, say, an unmitigated fear of what teenagers are like when they’ve had to rise before the sun. Little kids usually wake first while big kids tend to sleep in. It’s all very logical and makes sense and I think it would work really well for families with kids that aren’t broken like mine. Because mine are broken and this setup has been terrible for us.

My two youngest, elementary-aged children would sleep until the average Sunday brunch time each and every day if I would let them. They are both extremely difficult to motivate in the early morning hours. Simply raising their heads off of their pillows seems like a monumental task, so crushing are their grade school responsibilities. Meanwhile, my oldest child, my middle schooler, could watch the director’s cut of “Titanic” in the free time he has each day between when he’s ready for school and when he has to leave to catch the bus. He has so many minutes to burn that he actually gets bored, inevitably following me from room to room trying to discuss some sports thing as I’m deep-breathing my way through my first cup of coffee while simultaneously packing lunches, trying to find PE-approved shoes, stuffing the green folder in backpacks, and imploring his younger siblings to please, for the love, JUST GET OUT OF BED.

Anyway, in summary, I spent most of last school year trying unsuccessfully to wake Charlie and Millie up while pretending to listen to Henry talk about football. It was just as much fun as it seems! If you’re guessing that there was a lot of rage involved in our morning routine, you are guessing correctly.

And, let it be known that I tried really, really hard last year to be kind and gentle and loving and patient and to not say the really bad curse words before 7:00 a.m. I had Waffle Wednesdays and French Toast Fridays and special lunch box treats and hugs and kisses and all manner of gentle encouragement to get those two little kids up and out the door. Morning after endless morning, it did not work.

None of it worked. I always ended up yelling. Every time. So much yelling.

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I vowed, Scarlett O’Hara-style, that this school year would be different. Because, I simply cannot have another year full of red hot rage over having to doula my children through their before school routines. I just cannot. I need greater independence from my perfectly capable children.

Last year, we tried out alarm clocks but it went poorly. In an era when you can, essentially, just yell commands in the direction of your phone or your Echo or your iPad or your mother, the complicated multi-step process of setting alarm clocks proved problematic for the youngest of our household. Each morning, Millie would turn her bleeping alarm clock off by… unplugging it. Effective, yes, but also not very efficient. That meant, each evening, we’d have to sit down and reset the time and then the alarms and also the snooze capabilities confused each of them and we basically abandoned the alarm clocks pretty early on in the school year.

This year, I procured a Google Home Mini for Charlie. Voice commands make it easy for him to set the alarm and also, as a bonus, I can always tell when he’s awake in the morning because I can hear him yelling from his bed at the top of his lungs, “HEY GOOGLE STOP STOP GOOGLE STOP.” Millie is still using an old-school alarm clock for now because her bedroom most closely resembles our local landfill and I’m using the Google Mini as the dangling carrot in my cleanup scheme. She’s only unplugged her alarm twice this year (so far) so I can confidently claim that we seem to have rounded that learning curve.

In an effort to further streamline our morning routine, I also bought these great dry-erase charts that I hung on the back of the kids’ bedroom doors outlining what they need to do every day. These charts are working great in that Charlie and Millie remember to ignore them almost every day.

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However, laying out the next day’s outfit the night before is critical for Millie since she is forever picking things to wear to school that she actually can’t wear to school. She always picks a miniskirt and sandals on gym days or wants to wear her gymnastics leotard on library days. Laying out her outfit the night before means I can fight with her about her clothing choices at the end of the day when I’m exhausted instead of fighting with her first thing in the morning when I’m also exhausted. The whole process is very frustrating but also adorable in that Millie literally lays out her outfits.

The charts are colorful and cute and all but I’m actually thinking about just laminating instructional signs and hanging them all over my house instead. Every morning is this hamster wheel exercise in asking my kids over and over and over again if they have their shoes or their library books or their sweatshirts or asking if they’ve brushed their hair and washed their faces. I’m tired of the sound of my own voice. Signs would make this way easier. Want to know what to pack in your lunch? There’s a sign for that! Asking me repeatedly what you need for flag football practice? Reference the sign! Curious how you can brush your teeth without leaving the bathroom looking like someone was murdered with Crest? I have a sign for that!

It wouldn’t be pretty to look at but at least any houseguests we may have would know how to pour themselves their own bowl of cereal in five easy steps.

I don’t want to seem overly confident or anything and I know we’re not that deep into the school year yet but I have super high hopes for less rage this year with our charts and our instructional signs and our more advanced alarm clocks. Last year was so endlessly frustrating that I think it can only get better from here, right? I mean, even if this year still proves maddening, I can always look forward to the middle and high school years with their later start times. That’s only – let me check my math here – FIVE YEARS AWAY.

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Off They Go

School has begun around these parts.

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As part of our back-to-school prep work, Bob and I took the boys to a sporting goods store to buy them much-needed new sneakers. We found a pair pretty quickly for Charlie but finding anything for Henry was proving problematic. Nothing seemed to fit. After searching through several areas of the children’s section, Bob finally looked up at me and said, “There’s nothing here past a youth 7. What comes after a youth 7?” I thought for a minute, audibly gasped, and replied, “Hot ham. I think it’s men’s sizes.”

MEN’S SIZES. Henry wears the sizes of men. When the kind sporting goods store employee walked over and asked if he could help us find anything, I yelled, “MY LITTLE BABY BOY. HAVE YOU SEEN HIM? ABOUT YAY HIGH. HE LIKES DUMPTRUCKS. HE IS NOT HERE. I CANNOT FIND HIM. WHAT HAS HAPPENED?” No, I didn’t actually say that even though I was screaming it internally. Instead I said, “Hey, we were totally unprepared to spend $150.00 on men’s sneakers for our 11-year-old. What do you have in a men’s size 8 that does not cost so many dollars.” We eventually found a pair that worked for everyone in the ADULT SECTION of the shoe department and now I trip on a giant pair of shoes whenever I walk in the front door and it’s like a fully-formed grown-up lives with us now instead of a newly minted sixth grader.

Middle school is a whole new world but Henry is game.

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Charlie. Oh, Charlie. Always disappointed that school is a thing that continues to exist. Our good buddy spent a portion of his summer with a tutor helping him improve his reading and math skills. Although his tutor was complimentary of his behavior, I pretty much surmised that Charlie was merely tolerating this exercise in summer schooling.

Charlie also spent a portion of the summer at his elementary school being tested by an amazing team of specialists that are determined to figure out how Charlie learns best. I am easily overcome with emotion (not really a challenge for me, ever) when thinking about the road we’ve taken to get to this point with Charlie. His endless frustration with certain concepts, the tears shed over – and sometimes directly on – his homework, the crestfallen look on his face when he would wake up in the morning and I had to tell him, “Yep, it’s a school day, bud.” I am hoping all of these things – understanding, abilities, attitude – improve dramatically in third grade. With the school switch we made this past spring, he is finally in a place with the resources to help him. I’m so hopeful they can find the key that makes everything click for Charlie.

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Like a prisoner in solitary, Millie has been notching marks in her bedroom walls, counting down the days until we let her out of this hellhole and send her for some formal education.

Millie’s enthusiasm for kindergarten knows no bounds. She arrives home with stories of the friends she is making, the kids that misbehaved on the bus, stacks of be-stickered worksheets to proudly hang on the refrigerator, and an eagerness to do homework that she does not actually have. Unfortunately for Millie, they do not assign homework in kindergarten and this has not sat well with the child that has patiently waited two years for homework. So, we just kind of make things up or Millie finds an old workbook to write in and we all pretend that, yes, my goodness, she has so much homework to do!

She is having a delightful time and that makes me so very happy.

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High Emotions

Back-to-school time on Facebook is pretty much my most favorite time of the year on Facebook. It’s so fun to see how all of my friends’ children have changed over the summer. I adore seeing everyone’s kids all squeaky clean and polished up for the new year. Hair is combed, shoes are tied, backpacks are still in one piece. It’s great to see how happy everyone looks before the devastating realization of daily attendance sinks in.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend proudly posted a back-to-school picture of her two kids to Facebook. She mentioned how she was looking forward to getting back to a routine with school finally in session and how exciting it was to have a little time to herself again after a busy summer. Basically, neatly summarizing how most of us moms feel when late August rolls around.

But, because Facebook’s fine print apparently states that all comments posted must be completely ridiculous, an acquaintance of my friend stated in response to my friend’s lovely photograph how sad it made her to see so many moms so eager to send their children away to school. How upsetting that forced separation seemed. How the distance would just be too much for her. How she just couldn’t ever imagine being apart from her babies. How the whole prospect just made her want to cry.

Huh.

Really?

My thoughts when I read her comment can best be summarized as:

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Also:

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In addition:

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I mean, I’m my kids’ biggest fan but even I’m all, “SMELL YA LATER” when the first day of school rolls around.

I don’t seem to be built with the same genetic code that makes other mothers super emotional over big milestone moments. I can sympathize with their feelings and I absolutely don’t begrudge them their sentiments (of course not!) but I just don’t share them. I am always happy to see my children growing and maturing and learning how to empty the dishwasher all on their own because mama deserves a little help at this point.

Sure, I shed tears over plenty of things: certain episodes of The Good Wife, a particularly delicious dinner that I didn’t have to prepare, the day that my youngest child learned to wipe her own behind, when they sing It is Well at church. My heart isn’t made of stone. But, I absolutely never get worked up over my own children’s increasing independence. I am completely on board with them growing up. I guess I just pragmatically assume that was the goal of having them to begin with.

So, when the boys headed back to school a couple of weeks ago, I was excited! The first day of classes I was all:

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Then, I was kind of tired from the dancing so I gave myself the rest of the week to lounge around, in pajamas, exhibiting questionable personal hygiene, while eating a large amount of nachos because, well, nachos are really tasty and this past summer was really long.

THEN, week two arrived. I took a shower, hopped off the nacho express and decided to do something with my life. Task number one: The Great Back-to-School Purge wherein I eradicate ten weeks of accumulated summer detritus from Henry and Charlie’s bedroom when they are not around to voice opposition. I grabbed one of those outdoor garbage bags, donned protective headgear and headed in to clean out and organize every corner of their shared space. I threw out old summer camp loot, VBS crafts, torn up magazines, broken army figurines and an alarming number of raisins(?). Then, I set about to switch some furniture around to make more space for Lego pieces. Because it’s all Lego all of the time around here.

In rearranging the boys’ room, it made sense to weed out some of the older toys that they no longer play with. I dragged bins out from the closet, bins out from under the bunk bed, bins out from a couple of dark corners and piled everything into the center of the room in an attempt to create some sort of a donate/recycle/trash sorting system.

Only, I didn’t get very far.

One of the bins I found contained all of the big Tonka trucks we’ve purchased or been gifted over the past decade. There are garbage trucks and fire trucks and tow trucks and even a crane and no one plays with them anymore. They never come out of their bin. They have been occupying precious space on a shelf in the boys’ closet for more than two years now.

Something about seeing those trucks for the first time in such a long time, remembering how the boys used to play with them non-stop, remembering how they would drag them all over the house, scooting around on their knees, leaving tracks in the carpet, making fire engine noises, picking up pretend garbage, remembering how many times I tripped over them, kicked them in frustration. Something about those trucks and thinking about those baby boys and their little baby hands with their baby knuckle dimples, thinking about the years that have passed and how big they’ve grown and how Henry will be in MIDDLE SCHOOL next year and how everything is changing and, oh, my, suddenly I was all, what is this moisture coming from my eyes?

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It had to have been their dusty room. I certainly didn’t spend the better part of an afternoon crying over the sunrise/sunset moment of finding a bin of oft-neglected Tonka trucks. Other moms do that, other moms on Facebook. The emotional ones. Yep, it was definitely the dust.

Then, the boys arrived home from school, tossed their man-sized shoes all over the floor, started eating everything in sight and retreated to their shockingly clean room to fight over Legos. They were less than receptive when I asked them to please stop growing while hugging them uncomfortably tight.

I don’t even know what is happening to me anymore because I couldn’t bear to part with the trucks. I tucked them all neatly into a trunk in our bedroom. I don’t imagine they’ll get much use but no one is allowed to give them away.

And then, last night, I snuck into the boys’ room after they had gone to bed just to watch them sleep. It’s kind of smelly in there because boys, it turns out, are super stinky but it was nice to be able to stare at them when they couldn’t yell at me to “stop being weird.”

My robot interior appears to be crumbling.