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Kids

Water Park Reflections

Friends, I am excited to announce that I am embarking on a new career venture! I’m so excited about my new opportunity, and I just can’t wait to share it with you.

I was inspired by a trip I took with my family to an indoor water park (chlorine warehouse of humidity) a couple of hours (of harrowing, near-death experience traffic) away from our home (a place where the thermostat works and water pressure exists). All the fun (exhausting and annoying) activities were nestled into a woodland (hokey) setting and were enjoyed (tolerated) by large crowds (hordes, throngs, MOBS) of diverse (ill-mannered, personal-space-oblivious, loud, pushy, slow-walking) people (animals).

It really got me thinking. Could I offer an experience like this to families at a lower cost and smaller time commitment? You betcha!

Inspiration strikes in the unlikeliest of places, and as such, it was as I sat in a plastic-strapped chair, my eyes tightly closed in an attempt to lessen the burning sensation caused by airborne chlorine, that the idea for Little Bear Hut was born.

At Little Bear Hut, we strive to provide you and your family with all the highlights of an indoor waterpark experience, but at a fraction of the cost those other guys at the Great Money Lodge would charge. And, we can do it all in just a few hours, so you don’t have to spend your entire weekend in a wet bathing suit with strangers! It’s a win-win, people!

Since I’m just getting started in the hospitality biz and you all are my most trusted friends and acquaintances, I am promoting a one-time limited offer for the full Little Bear Hut experience for just $99! I know, I must be taking crazy pills! This is a bargain basement deal. Reserve now before my accountant finds out! Or my husband. Or the HOA. Or DHEC.

When you arrive at Little Bear Hut, I will lead you to my bathroom, which will be at an optimal humidity level of 115%, a condition achieved by letting my shower run its hottest water for an hour before your arrival. Your family is welcome to do whatever is most pleasing to them, whether that is perching on the edge of the bathtub or sliding into a baby pool full of tepid bleach. The baby pool is also capable of converting into a wave pool, but you will be responsible for creating the waves. At this time, I am the only lifeguard on the premises, and I take my duties very seriously. That is unless I need to check my phone for texts or funny memes, in which case I cannot be held liable for keeping you or your family members’ faces out of the baby pool. (Come on. Get it together. Do I have to do everything around here?)

When you tire of the water activities, I will have my children (“Magic Makers”) join us. This is a family business, after all, and I want to instill in them a strong work ethic. They will arrive with “magic” wands that they will wave indiscriminately in unpredictable intervals in and around your facial region. I assure you that my children are very good at this, and they will give your family a very authentic experience. If for some reason, you feel as though their performance is in any way lacking and you have not been adequately terrified that one of your eyeballs might be skewered by a wand, I’m afraid I cannot refund your admission. That money was spent on bleach that I won’t be able to reuse because you splashed it all out of the baby pool when you made those waves. (I’m not mad, seriously. But I mean, really, this is my house, not Sea World, go buy yourself some manners.) However, I will speak with my children and they will continue their wandwork until you feel as though your ocular regions have been sufficiently threatened and you would like to smash the wands into thousands of tiny bits on my floor (but let’s remember those manners, though, shall we? I’m really not in the mood for vacuuming, especially after that bleach fiasco). Also, I cannot be held liable for any actual injuries sustained as a result of wand waving. As you will soon see for yourself, I have little to no control over the Magic Makers while they are using their wands.

At this time, your own children will most definitely want their own eyeball skewers, I mean wands, which we are more than happy to provide (at an additional cost). Most of the wands are pretty basic, but we are pleased to offer several add-ons to personalize your child’s wand (also at an additional cost). Furthermore, I have several items of poor quality and little to no practical value that your children will be insistent they cannot possibly go on living without. These items are available at, you guessed it, an additional cost. BUT, don’t be discouraged! I am pleased to inform you that, as part of your admission price, you have the option to dispose of any purchased items in my trash can on your way out of Little Bear Hut, which, in my experience, is right about the time the children forget how vital these items once were to their very existence.

Now that you have wands in hand and numerous pointless and pricey accessories in place, your family can roam the hallways of my home on a Quest for hidden objects. The Quest is always changing, as I like to keep it interesting for repeat visitors. Sometimes you will be searching for a lost sock. Other times, it may be an earring, or possibly a library book. Some days there may be a skill-based Quest, such as “Find Something We Can Eat for Dinner.” And then there are time-based Quests, like “Has Anyone Seen My Phone; It’s on Silent,” and “Where Are My Keys; I’m Not Even Kidding Right Now.” The wands are mostly useless for the Quests, but the kids will wave them like pageant queens on Red Bull, and be just as excited, to the point of incoherency, nonetheless.

The Quests end either when the object is found OR you and your spouse contemplate a trial separation and/or the logistics of surrendering your children on the steps of the nearest fire station. As lifeguard/concierge/Quest-creator of Little Bear Hut, I can give you directions. But I cannot be held liable for any domestic disturbances that occur as the result of a Quest. You brought those issues with you, so don’t be trying to make your dysfunction my problem, you got it? This is a waterpark, not Family Court.

Also included in the price of admission is to have at least one member of your party mauled by a stroller. I find that it’s best to save this activity for last, as all the previous activities will reveal who you would most like to see in a stroller showdown. Some families like to “vote someone off the island,” so to speak. We’ve also actually had some guests volunteer themselves for a stroller mauling! It’s attention to details like this that really make your experience authentic and memorable. I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’ve got to cover my bases here and tell you that I cannot be held liable for any injuries sustained as a result of being mauled by a stroller. These types of incidents are usually of the hit-and-run variety anyway, and stroller operators are generally a very entitled and unreasonable sort of people. In my experience, it’s best just to take the mauling and move on. You can’t win a fight when your opponent’s weapon is a baby.

After all this fun and memory-making, you will surely have worked up quite an appetite! Let my Hut staff feed your Little Bears a filling meal before you go on your way. Our Family Meal Deal is whatever pizza is on special when I pull up the Domino’s app, ice pops from last summer, and a mop bucket filled with Dr. Pepper and as many straws as your heart desires. After all, this is Little Bear Hut, not Little Sea Turtle Hut. No activists here! Way too expensive! The Family Meal Deal is an additional cost of $99. I know that seems costly, but kitchen overhead is just outrageous, not to mention I have to tip the delivery guy. It really adds up! However, it is included in the price of admission for all guests to receive a souvenir bag of Halloween candy (but only while supplies last, and we are really burning through this stuff, so you might want to hurry).

So, yeah, like I said, I’m super excited about becoming a “Mompreneur” and having my family provide your family with such an amazing experience! Book now to reserve a spot in our “Holidays at Little Bear Hut” experience. It’s just like the regular experience, except I walk around the house singing “All I Want for Christmas” over and over, and everyone gets glitter in their scalp (included in admission price). Truly magical. Just send me $99 via PayPal or Venmo and I’ll totally get back to you as soon as I have a chance to look at my calendar.

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Featured post

The Dog Days of Summer

“Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.”—George Carlin

A mere 9 weeks ago, school was just letting out and we were giddy with excitement for the glorious promises of SUMMER. The season of staying up late and sleeping in! A time of living outdoors and hanging by the pool! Entire meals eaten directly from crinkly packages at any given time of the day! The Season of Anarchy was upon us and we welcomed it with open, sunscreened arms.

So. How the heck is all that going for ya?

Let me tell you how it’s going for me. I haven’t stopped sweating since Memorial Day. There are about 3 more weeks until school starts back, and in my estimation, a solid 8 weeks until I’ll stop sweating like a plow mule.

If Summer was a sweater (oh, and, believe me, it is a sweat-er), it would be an itchy wool turtleneck, unusually tight around the neck and armpits.

If Summer was a beer, it would be warm, watery, and served in one of those flimsy see-through cups that’s really just a bigger version of the swish cups you get at the dentist.

If Summer was an ice cream cone, it would be melted and dripping from the bottom, with most of the scoop having fallen to the ground, surrounded by ants. Ants that appeared from seemingly nowhere, and that will not go away no matter how many things you spray on them because they have some crazy primal instinct to go back to that exact spot where someone dropped a stupid ice cream that ONE time and didn’t clean it up and now we all have to suffer and be attempted ant murderers for the rest of our lives.

OK, so I might have gotten sidetracked with the ants. The point I’m trying to make is that I think most of us would agree that the best parts of Summer may be behind us. Sure, it’s great spending so much quality time with our families, but maybe it would be better if we didn’t have to be together so much to do that? Definitely not all together in tight quarters with a toilet to behind ratio greater than 1:4. Staying up late is all fine and good, but it also has a way of turning children into the type of beasts only found in mythology. The pool was refreshing and fun those first few weeks, but it’s now so warm and crowded it’s more like People Soup.

crowded pool

If Summer was a hotel room, it would have two double beds very close to one another and its occupants would include children that go to bed at 8:30. It would have one shower that has no water pressure and a travel hair dryer from 1984.

If Summer was a swimming pool, it would be one of those above-ground jobs, with a 3-foot depth all the way around. The water would be a tepid 95 degrees, and more than just a little murky, due to the fact the pool hasn’t been skimmed since mid-June. Jump on in.

Did anyone make any Summer Resolutions? A Bucket List, if you will? While we’re on the subject can we please clarify that a “Bucket List” is a list of things you want to do before you DIE?? As in “kick the bucket?” Do people not know this? Because I see Bucket Lists for everything. Unless you’ve got a date with the Grim Reaper over Labor Day Weekend, you should not be making a Summer Bucket List. Stop it. Call it something else. You’re freaking me out.

Gelati ice cream cone held up to the hot summer sky
Please be sure to play with puffy paint before you die. Anything less would be a tragedy.

Anyone get workbooks for the kids? Good for you. Me? Didn’t even look at ‘em. “Summer Slide,” you say? Well, I say, “Wheeeeeeee! Sounds like fun to me! Where can we buy tickets? Is there a discount for dummies?” In all seriousness, I did think about incorporating some little educational field trips with the kids into our summer plans, but it just never really worked out. In part, because I worried if we stepped foot outside the house we might all either be incinerated on the spot, or carried away by a flash flood. That would be such a bummer. I mean, we wouldn’t have a chance to finish the Bucket List!

Did I mention the sweating? Because that’s still a thing.

Britney Sweating.gif

How about those little around-the-house projects we thought we’d finally accomplish in these slow summer months?  Listen, I’m barely keeping the lights on in this place because I keep misplacing the bills under stacks of other mail. I’ve come to realize that I am incapable of taking on any project more labor-intensive than “Keep the Electricity On.” Without A/C and Wi-Fi, we would surely go the way of the Mayans. Or was it the Incas? Just plug in the name of any civilization that mysteriously vanished. But don’t ask anyone here, because we certainly haven’t learned anything since May!

If Summer was Wi-Fi, it would start out with a great signal, and then get progressively weaker. You’d check your settings, and reset the router, and pray to the gods of Netflix to shine upon you, but no dice, friend. All you’d see is a spinning wheel until finally, you would just have to lie down because you’ve gotten all sweaty again.

Once upon a time, I thought that Summer would be a good time to practice some healthy cooking skills. Makes sense, right? All that extra time on my hands (“extra time,” I love that joke, it just never gets old, does it?), the abundance of fresh ingredients, the little people in my house so hungry from all their romping around gleefully in the outdoors…

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I told my family that we needed to eat up all the food in the house before we left for our beach trip and I haven’t done a proper grocery run since then. I’m not going to tell you if the “beach trip” to which I’m referring was last week, or right after school got out, or all the way back to Spring Break. It doesn’t matter. Don’t judge me. I promise you, no one is starving. Hallelujah, drive-thrus are still open in the summer!! And Pop-Tarts are a very acceptable choice for dinner. One of the kids asked me, “Mom, can we just put Capri Suns in our cereal since there’s no milk?” To which I responded, “You know, it’s not the worst idea I’ve heard. Maybe you should try it. It could be like a science experiment.” BAM! Feeding the body and the brain.

If Summer was deli meat, it would be one or two days past its expiration date; probably completely fine to eat, but also equally as likely to make you a little queasy. And definitely sweaty.

If Summer was a tomato sandwich, the tomatoes would be underripe, the bread soggy, and have way too much mayonnaise.

Here we are. 3 weeks until school starts. 8 weeks until we can walk to the mailbox without breaking into a full-body sweat. Hold on and finish strong, Summer Soldiers. This too shall pass. Until then, pass me the Zinc and a cold one, because once it’s over, we’ll be begging for the Season of Anarchy once again.

beverage-celebration-cheerful-1266020
 

Cheers to Anarchy!

 

 

Pool Parties and Peach Queens

“Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired… jumping, running—that’s the way to live.”—Jack Kerouac

Aside from a brief period of time when my children were small and hadn’t yet learned to swim, pools have always held an alluring quality for me. As it generally goes, the things you don’t have are the things you want the most. My family didn’t have a pool, nor were we members of a neighborhood association that provided one. This meant the only time I got to dip my toes in a pool was either when we were on vacation, or some kind soul invited me over to their home for a swim. I spent most of my summers paddling around in murky lake waters. I yearned to be in water which was clear enough for me to see my feet; and, to be able to plant those feet on a surface that didn’t squish up between my toes. Bonus points for the feeling that there wouldn’t be any unidentified creatures sharing my swim space. It didn’t bother me a bit that the chlorine in those pools turned my hair green and plastic-like, resembling some sort of radioactive straw. Never mind that my eyes were red and scratchy for days after hours spent in a pit of chemicals, giving me the look of a pre-teen meth-head mermaid. Also of no concern to me? Those pools that had the rough concrete bottoms that worked on my feet like a meat tenderizer. By the end of a week of vacation, I could still find that one spot of uninjured skin on the corner of a big toe, and I would use that to bob up and down when I couldn’t just tread water.

Dive competitions, Marco Polo, handstands, breath-holding contests, balancing on floats, you name it, I was ALL IN FOR IT. Drop me at the pool and drag me out when it’s time to eat dinner.

In high school, many of my summer days were spent sweating it out at my summer job, but every now and then, a group of us would all have a day off. I can see myself now, having spent the entire morning in pajamas, watching MTV and eating peanut butter out of the jar, just waiting for the phone to ring. (What must it be like for kids these days, to have all their friends just two thumbs away right there in their phones? I think of all that time I spent staring at the phone at my mother’s house, willing it to ring.) Some days, the call I was waiting for would finally come in.

drew barrymore scream
Actual photo of me being super excited that someone finally called me.

“Hello?”
“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“What’re you doin’?”
“Nothin.’ What’re you doin’?”
“Nothin.’ (pause) A bunch of us are goin’ over to Lotie’s. You wanna come?”
“Yeah, let me get my bathing suit on. See you in twenty?”

That was cool, right? It didn’t sound at all like I was dying to get out of the house and go somewhere, and that I would actually be ready and watching the driveway through the blinds in approximately 7 minutes, right? On the other end of the line was my friend Libba, and she was talking about getting a group of our friends together to go to her great aunt Lotie’s (a nickname for Lois, and pronounced “low-tee”) to swim in her pool.

shag girls
“Get in, loser. We’re going swimming.”

There was a pool. There were friends. There might not be diving competitions, but there would definitely be laughing. Actually, there probably would be diving competitions. Whatever it was, I was ALL IN. Libba, usually accompanied with a couple of our other friends, would pull up to my house in her gigantic, late-model baby blue Bonneville and lay on the horn. I would practically skip down my front steps and jump in for the outing. It wouldn’t be unusual for us to make a stop at the nearby Clock restaurant for cheeseburgers and fries. Not necessarily because we were all that hungry, but because it sounded good, it was on the way, and we were 16, blessed with the metabolism of caffeinated squirrels.

crazy squirrels
“Anybody got a Diet Coke I can have?”

Soon after we arrived at Lotie’s, a slow trickle of friends would start showing up for the impromptu get-together. Libba’s cousin would almost always be there, too, with a pack of his friends, and before we knew it, a small party would be underway.

Lotie’s house was an oasis hidden in plain sight in the middle of residential downtown Greer. It sat on the corner of two well-traveled streets; a modestly sized house with a backyard that was almost completely enclosed by a decorative brick wall. I wonder how many people passed it regularly, having no idea what a beautiful secret garden, sparkling pool, and quaint pool house were in that backyard. It was built in the early ‘50’s, and it is believed to be the first pool in town, and for a short while, the only one. I didn’t know Lotie personally, but she and her husband must have been quite the entertainers back in their day. For several years, they opened their home and pool area as hosts of parties celebrating the contestants of the Peach Queen beauty pageant during the South Carolina Peach Festival, which was held for many years in Greer. One year, they filled the pool with peaches for a photo shoot with the beauty queens, who had traveled from all over the state. In the pool house hung several black and white photographs from those parties. Smiling beauty queens, with perfectly coiffed hairdos and makeup, wearing modest bathing suits. Some floating blissfully on pool rafts, while others sat on the side and dangled their long legs into the clear water. I imagine an invitation to one of Lotie’s pool parties must have been a pretty hot ticket back in the day. Those gals must have primped and prissed all morning long to get ready to strut their stuff at literally the only pool in town.

My friends and I arrived at Lotie’s pool party about 40 years after those beauty queens, and while there was certainly no primping and prissing on our parts, I imagine we enjoyed it every bit as much as they did. I also like to think that Lotie still enjoyed the art of entertaining. She almost always came out to greet us and make small talk (before her afternoon nap, naturally). Ever the gracious hostess, she would have her housekeeper, Imogene, bring us fresh chocolate chip cookies. Imogene was like an angel, dressed completely in white, and those cookies were undeniably heaven-sent. Even if we were still full from the cheeseburgers, we devoured those cookies as if we hadn’t eaten in days. Lotie was from another time: the summer after our senior year she asked some of the girls in our group if they had their hats and gloves ready for going off to Clemson in the fall. Her mannerly demeanor and dedication to keeping up her home had a way of making us feel special. Knowing that she thought highly of us kept us in line. We would have never wanted to disappoint her by acting like a bunch of hooligans. Now, that’s not to say that we abided by royal protocol every time we went over. There may have been some jumping off the roof into the pool during Lotie’s naptime. Probably a fair amount of foul language was batted around. But for the most part, I think we highly respected this lady who showed us that she thought we were worthy to share in her lovely oasis and partake in the Lord’s cookies.

For a hot minute, back in early Spring, I fell under the swimming pool spell and thought about having one installed at my own home.

At first, I thought it would be easy. I stood in the backyard with a very friendly and motivated contractor who told me, straight-faced, that we could be swimming by July. Sure, there would still be decking to be done, but we could work around that, right? I was like a female Clark Griswold, staring out the window at my crystal clear blue pool, with my smiling family and friends waving back at me, singing my praises for making all their dreams come true. A hero for the ages, I tell you.

cousin eddie in pool
“We love you, Mom!!”

But there was a problem. Well, several problems. The more we learned, the more we wanted, and, as home improvement projects tend to do, the plans outgrew the budget and we had to put on the brakes and redirect. I wonder if this happened to Lotie and her husband as they planned their pool? It must have seemed like an insurmountable task at the time. Not like now, when there are pool companies all over town. They were the very first one! Their neighbors must have thought they were crazy, digging a giant hole in their backyard and building a whole separate house. Think of the traffic they must have created with all the workers. And how did they find someone to help them maintain it? It was the only one in town! Surely, at some point, they had to think they might have been making a colossal mistake, that the whole thing was more trouble than it was worth. But at least one of them had the motivation to keep going with it. At least one of them was excited about being the center of the social scene. One of them had a vision of children paddling around in the backyard, growing up and inviting over a new generation of friends. They almost certainly were committed to this being their “forever home,” and couldn’t let resale figures cloud their judgment. But I doubt that even the most visionary of people could have foreseen a great-niece and great-nephew with a pack of restless teenagers still enjoying the fruits of their labors and worries a full 40 or more years after they had the idea to take the risk and make it happen. I guess sometimes in life you just have to shut out all the reasons you have for not doing something, and instead look at what kind of happiness you can create for yourself and spread to others in the process. It’s like thumping the first tile in a line of standing dominoes and having no idea where the line ends.

Lotie and her husband (and probably Imogene and many of the Peach Queens) departed their earthly oasis several years ago. The house went up for sale, and I’ve heard that a lovely young family lives there now, which makes me so happy. I hope they use the pool often and that they love it as much as so many people before them have. There are gallons upon gallons of memories and good times in that treasured pool, each generation adding more, to the point of overflowing. But isn’t that the great thing about memories? There’s always room for making more.

IMG_8223
“Off my raft, sister. I’m making room for memories.”

 

Featured post

Much Ado About May

“May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel most alive.” Fennel Hudson, author, naturalist, and countryman

“May is trying to kill us.”—Parents everywhere

A slightly bedraggled, yet smartly dressed couple, somewhere in their late-30’s to mid-40’s stand together in the well-appointed foyer of a large, bright home, filled to the brim with guests. Their heads close enough to touch, they speak in hushed tones, while looking over each other’s shoulders, seemingly in an attempt to not be seen.

 “I mean, aren’t you ready to go?” the man asks imploringly.

“Of course I’m ready to go, Derek. I was ready to go when we got here! I just feel bad. I mean, there are still so many people here, and no one else is leaving. And, besides, I can’t find my purse in this mess. I swear I put it right…here. Somewhere. Do you see it?” They both dig through a mountain of purses and light jackets scattered over a pair of matching swanky chairs. Chairs that have probably never served their purpose of supporting a single derriere.

“Susan, I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know what your purse looks like, or why you even brought it. You don’t need anything in it! I’ve got your phone and lipstick in my pocket, for Pete’s sake. And, I promise you, everyone here wants to leave. It’s just that no one wants to be the first one to go! Come on. Let’s do it. No one will even notice. Seriously. Come on. We can go to Waffle House on the way home.” Derek wiggles his eyebrows at this prospect and reaches for Susan’s waist. “The babysitter’s not expecting us for at least—“

“Oh my goodness! Are we bringing the party out into the foy-AY? Tell me you are not leaving?! Not this early!”

The gathering’s hostess, Lillian (spelled “Lillian, but pronounced “Lilly Ann,” a nuance that everyone knows, is rarely questioned and, if it is, only once, and never again), has appeared from thin air, riding on a gust of strong floral perfume and wearing a brightly geometric printed, floor-length caftan that she purchased on her last exotic vacation. Derek and Susan look at her with wide eyes and simultaneously burst into nervous laughter.

“Oh no, I just…I just came out here to help Susan look for her purse…” But Derek doesn’t look at the purses, he just looks down at this shoes, positively sheepish.

“Yes, I just could not find it anywhere!” Susan babbles away. “There are just so many of them out here… I mean, all I needed was to grab my phone. You know, check in with the babysitter… Let her know that things were running a little late… Just having so much fun (more nervous laughter)…” She tries to change the subject. “Goodness, Lillian, these chairs are just gorgeous! Where in the world did you find them?”

Lillian ignores Susan, but playfully slaps Derek on his behind. He is momentarily shocked, then manages more nervous laughter. “Looking for your phone, darlin’?” she simpers. “Well, I think I found it! Right here along with this scrumptious little peach!” Another pat (and maybe, no definitely, a squeeze, a firm one, in fact) on Derek’s rump, and raucous laughter from all three of them rings out in the foy-ay, while Derek mockingly slaps himself on the forehead as if to say, “Oh, silly me.”

“Yes, darlin’, you just go ahead and text that babysitter that you are gonna be LATE TO-NIGHT! Sweetheart, they are just now linin’ up for the three-legged race, so y’all just get right on in there! And after that, we’ll do the potato sack race. Were you in charge of bringin’ potato sacks? I can’t remember who signed up for that… Anyway, after all the games, there are AWAAAAARDS! You can’t miss the AWAAAAARDS!!!! Have y’all had a cupcake yet? Margie made them from SCRATCH, and they are simply amazing. I promise you, you will not even MISS the gluten a single bit. Y’all just come on back in, now, I will not hear another peep about you leavin’ and missin’ a single thing!”

Lillian throws one arm over Susan’s shoulder and loops her other arm around Derek’s elbow as she steers them away from the foy-ay and towards the backyard, where a multitude of weary adults shoot serious side-eye at them for their attempted escape. Lillian whispers in Susan’s ear, “Oh, and the chairs? They’re from Paris. I saw them and just could not bear to leave them there. Cost more than the whole darn trip to bring them back here! Bwahahahahhahaha!” Susan offers a half-smile and cranes her neck to see how the wine levels are holding up at the bar. The wine. It just seems so far away…

“Dude, why didn’t you tell me? I would have gone with you,” a man whispers to Derek, as he walks by. He’s in the process of tying his right leg to his wife’s left leg.

“Man, I couldn’t. It was a split-second decision. We thought we saw a way out, but…” Derek’s words trail off as he looks wistfully at the doorway leading back into the house, now filled with Lillian’s caftan-clad figure.

Through gritted teeth, the woman who is now firmly attached to her husband’s leg hisses, “We. Are. All. In this. Together,” As if to further drive this point home, she tosses Susan a large burlap sack. “Here. Get in.”

three-legged-racei

This? Yes, this. This “party.” This is what it’s like for parents of school-age children during the month of May. A party that started out reasonably fun, but now? We’re just so over it. We’ve met the people, we’ve made the small talk, we’ve eaten the canapes and sampled the dessert. It is time to G-O go. Vaya con Dios, suckers. We out. At this point, all we want to do is go home, take off these stupid pants and lie down for, like, 10 minutes. But the hostess of the gathering is a snapping turtle that just will not let go.

Well, legend has it that a snapping turtle won’t let go until it thunders. So I say, MAKE IT RAIN. The thought of another awards ceremony, recital, performance, recognition event, or season-ending wrap party makes me want to just lock myself in the pantry with all the snacks I signed up to bring and tell everyone to come back for me in June. It feels like everything is ending, and yet, it’s all still going on, requiring more involvement than ever! How is this happening? And some of these people want us to go ahead and sign up for next year. Next year? You’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t think about next year! Honestly, I checked out of this year right after Spring Break.

I would rather bite the inside of my cheek in the same place seven times than call out spelling words ONE. MORE. TIME. Hello? We’ve been going at this for, what? 8 months? Clearly, some of us in this house know how to spell, and some of us do not. No one has crossed over into a level of spelling proficiency any different from the one in which they started. We have auto-correct now. Can’t we move on?

If given the choice, I would choose to put my big toe in a mouse trap over trying to calmly figure out how to divide fractions. I mean, why is this still happening? One-quarter of one-eighth of a… Don’t know, don’t care, don’t wanna do it. Google it. Mama’s going out on the patio with this WHOLE glass of pinot grigio.

This week we’ve gotten multiple messages from our school as to how to best prepare our children for standardized testing. TESTING? Lord above, we are being tested every morning that we have to drag our ragged selves out of bed. Here’s a test. Can we get to school, on time, with shoes that fully enclose our feet, and shorts that go past our fingertips and last night’s homework completed, and a check for lunch money? No. No, we cannot. We do not meet standards.

Lunch money. Did someone say “lunch money?” Oh, my lands, I need to send in lunch money. Like three days ago. Please feed my children, kind lunch ladies, who are surely just as over all this nonsense as I am. I commend you all for not just tossing pizza slices to children at random. I know that’s what I’m doing for dinner tonight.

Once upon a time, May meant day-drinking and getting dressed up for parties that came with pretty invitations, not links to a Sign-Up Genius. May is supposed to represent a new beginning: the bright foy-ay leading into summer; the award we get for making it through the long, dreary winter.

Wait. Did somebody say “award?” Don’t you even start with me, May. I might be off my game, but I’m on to yours.

MAY

 

Moms on Trial

“The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are.”
–Michael J. Fox

Do you delight in having your every move scrutinized by strangers in public places? Strangers who seem to know how to handle your life better than you do?

Do you find joy in receiving unsolicited advice from distant relatives or pearls of wisdom from random women on the Chick-fil-a playground?

Do you bask in the glow of hard stares from your fellow shoppers or diners when you raise your voice to the tiny human(s) accompanying you?

If so, I have good news! PARENTING IS JUST THE THING FOR YOU!!

Just between us, I don’t like any of these things. But like a bunch of other stuff that comes with parenting (sleep training, potty training, training wheels, all the TRAININGS), no one told me that being tried in Mom Court on a regular basis was part of the parenting package.

I made it through my pregnancies with a few misdemeanors, mostly related to food: sushi, cold lunch meat, and the occasional diet Coke resulted in a sentence of serious side-eye from the Mommy Militia. My baby registry choices faced the firing squad (“You don’t really want that stroller, do you?”). My birthing plan, or lack thereof, received several citations (“You do not want to deliver at that hospital.” “You can’t do that birthing class; you need to have this lady come to your house.”)

My grand jury trial as a mother took place when my baby arrived and we began the arduous task of breastfeeding. This was an aspect of mothering that I had been warned about, and I thought I was going into it with my eyes wide open. I was fully prepared for the experience to be hard, but rewarding. I was banking on being motivated to stay the course by the vast amount of data that undeniably proved what a superior choice breastfeeding was for both me and my baby.

As it turns out, there is no amount of preparation, motivation, or hard data that can ready you for the real-life experience of being solely responsible for sustaining another life. Breastfeeding was not a magical experience for me and my baby. It was kind of awful, actually, for everyone involved. The baby was frustrated and hungry. My husband felt helpless and excluded. And I felt…all the feelings. Exhausted, hopeless and unsure of everything except that I was a complete failure as a mother, unable to fulfill the most basic of mothering functions. It was literally what my body was constructed to do, and yet it couldn’t. How would I be able to give this baby the best life possible if I couldn’t even feed her? Each time someone suggested how to increase my milk supply, it felt like a veiled way of saying, “The real problem is you’re just not trying hard enough.”  My confidence level was in the tank, and each judging comment sent it sinking lower and lower. I remember being so ashamed when I would feed the baby a bottle in public. It felt like everyone was staring at me and whispering about the poison I was feeding my baby.

You know, there are classes you can take that will certify you to be an official lactation consultant. OR, you can be like some people who think classes are for dummies, and just up and decide one day that you are an expert on all things related to breasts and milk and feeding babies. You can also roughly push all your thoughts and opinions on to sleep-deprived, confused, and emotional new mothers who can barely process the plotline of a 3 a.m. episode of The Golden Girls. You can tell these women how they should feel about this unfamiliar body that they are inhabiting. A body that is no longer their own, and yet it must be their own, because every inch of it hurts in some new way, and they feel every ache, pain, and tear. Something else you can do is deliver all that very useful, personal information in a way that makes it seem like your way is the only way to do things so that this baby will thrive, that anything less will result in a child with the IQ of a tree stump, and it will be 110% the fault of the hopeless mother who selfishly refused to perfect the football hold. You need a license to be an official lactation consultant. But all you need is a mouth to be an UNofficial lactation consultant.

It seems that when it comes to parenting, all you need is a mouth to be ANY sort of consultant. Who knew? Parenting experts are everywhere! And they are more than ready to tell us exactly what they think. About what we’re doing, about what we’re not doing, about what we should be doing, about what they’re doing, on and on and on.

“When have you been judged as a parent?” This short question posed on my Facebook page garnered some lengthy responses. The stories were as varied as the ways you can feed a baby (yes, there is more than one way). Working mothers felt judged when someone thought they spent too much time away from their children. Stay-at-home mothers felt judged because they felt society viewed them as lazy, pampered, and insufficiently contributing to their household. Mothers with small families felt judged as selfish because they didn’t have more children (as if that decision were completely under their control). Mothers with large families felt judged by others who thought maybe they had taken on more than they could handle. Mothers of children with special needs felt judged by people who didn’t understand their child’s differences, or worse, thought that they should keep that sort of thing at home, away from view.

The individual stories were each different, but they all followed a similar sequence.

1. Mother finds herself vulnerable in a situation of uncertainty.
2. A disconnected person intervenes with unsolicited opinions and/or advice, usually under the guise of trying to be helpful.
3. Mother experiences a range of emotions, including shame, rage, defeat, frustration, and more uncertainty.
4. MOTHER NEVER FORGETS.

“I don’t know why you even had these children if all you’re going to do is work all the time. They never see you!”

“Oh, so you don’t work? What in the world do you do all day? Must be nice…”

“Just one? Well, you better get on it. Can’t wait too long, you know.”

“My, you have your hands full. I don’t know how you keep them all straight! How will you ever be able to send them all to college?”

“I don’t know why she brings that child out to things like this. Isn’t there someone who can stay at home with him? It’s just so uncomfortable.”

Mothers everywhere are feeling judged. The traveling courtroom can pop up anywhere: your local Target, a PTA meeting, even in your own living room. The presiding judges are constantly rotating. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning, but know-it-all friend sitting on the bench. Often the robe is donned by a complete stranger. The holder of the gavel could be a mother-in-law, a sister, a teacher, or a Sunday School matron.

Or it could be me. Wait, what? That’s right. Guilty as charged. If I’m under oath, I have to admit to passing judgment on my fellow mothers. Even though I’ve been judged and know the pain, even though I know I’m not the perfect mother, even though I know it’s counter to everything I want to teach my children…I’ve done it.

 

sheep as judge
Judge ChicWhiteSheep, presiding.

“Can you believe she has that child out at a restaurant this late? That baby should be in the bed!”
(One of the parents does shift work, and a 9 PM dinner is the only time of day they can be together.)

“I mean, he still has a pacifier! He must be 5 years old. That mother needs to put her foot down.”
(I literally have no idea how hard it is to wean a true paci-addict. Don’t hate me, but my babies gave them up almost voluntarily. Also, just because he looks 5 doesn’t mean he’s not just a really big 3-year-old.)

“She doesn’t work, but I can’t get her to sign up for a single volunteer position in the classroom! She needs to step up.”
(But she can’t step up because she has a controlling husband and crippling anxiety. She’s barely holding it together.)

“Kids, do you see that child acting out? This is why I tell you girls to behave in public. Don’t be that kid.”
(There are children with all sorts of special needs that I have no way of understanding. I have no idea what their mothers struggle with every day. But those mothers need groceries just like everybody else does. There’s no telling what sort of pep talk she had to give herself to walk into that store, knowing her child would probably act out in a big way.)

Let’s flip the script one more time. If the judge is not always some terrible, horrible insensitive monster, but rather a harmless busybody, or a normally kind person such as myself who sometimes indulges in a bout of self-righteousness, could our feelings of being judged actually be somewhat self-imposed?* Stick with me here. I’m not saying we’re asking for it, but could it be possible that while we’re swimming in this sea of self-doubt and vulnerability that we call motherhood we’re constantly judging ourselves, and thereby jumping to the conclusion that everyone else is judging us, too?

Hold on a minute. My head just exploded a little.

OK, I’m back.

(*FYI, I’ve already contemplated this whole idea about how we judge ourselves unfairly. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.)

Let’s go back to when I said I was embarrassed to feed my babies bottles when we were in public. Remember that? I felt like people were shooting daggers at me with their eyes as I poisoned my child with powdered infant formula. But what if they were looking at me just because I was holding a beautiful little baby? An angel with bright eyes trained on my face, and chubby kicking legs, so excited to have that delicious bottle to drink, and a warm, squishy body to melt into. What if those people I perceived as judges were actually admirers, or at least appreciators? Maybe my “judge” was actually a fellow mother who remembered what a hard season of life this was, but knew that if I heard “Enjoy every minute,” one more time I was liable to go into full-on rage mode. How I wish I could go back to that unsure version of myself and tell her to stop worrying about what everyone was thinking and just return the gaze of that sweet baby, and know that she’s happy. She’s fed. She’s loved. And, in this moment, it’s all good. You’re good.

I have so much to learn about parenting. For each perceived “mommy win” I secure, there are countless failures propping it up. But if there is one thing I know, it’s that NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING. It’s all a giant game of trial and error! The very best parents are simply doing the best that they can.

Mom Judging is real, and it needs to stop, no question. We need a village to raise these children and not one that wants to prosecute each other on the Town Square! (I mean, who will microwave the chicken nuggets if all the mothers are stuck in Mom Court?) The best place to start is with ourselves. We are our own worst critics. We have to start giving ourselves a break when it comes to parenting. When we are gentle with ourselves, it gets us in the habit of being gentle with, or at least tolerant of, others.

But let’s also be realistic here: haters are gonna hate, and judges are gonna judge. A bunch of self-care mumbo jumbo isn’t going to eradicate the scourge of Mom Judging. So, the next time you feel that you’ve been put on trial, take a beat. Your judge likely doesn’t know your heart or see your full situation. Your judge is imperfect. Your judge is misguided; possibly acting out of feelings of their own insecurity. Most importantly, your judge wasn’t picked to be the parent to your child: YOU WERE. Momma knows best.

To Mommas everywhere, doing your very best and giving it your all, just let those judgments roll off your shoulders. Remember that your judge is self-appointed. The conviction they hand down is unenforceable. You can skip bail. None of this is going on your permanent record. I found a quote that summed up the situation nicely: “Behind every person is a story, behind every story is a person. So think before you judge, because judging someone doesn’t label who they are, it labels who you are.”

Court is adjourned.

olderfemalejudgewithgavel

Find Your Merry

“May the day be the bowl of cherriest; And to all, the Merriest!” –June Christy, singing “The Merriest”

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Is it? That’s the message that gets shoved in our faces at every turn before we can even put away our Halloween candy. But by the time December arrives, things are feeling a little less than “wonderful.”

What is “wonderful” about madly dashing from one get-together to another? Arriving in a full-on sweat, watching the clock to make sure we make it on time to the next party, or to relieve the babysitter, or just figuring up how many hours of sleep we can get if we leave right now? I suppose there’s quite a bit of “wonder”-ing involved in the process of figuring out what to wear to an event described as “Christmas Casual,” or “Festive Attire.” And while all the heavy foods, drinks, and tempting sweets are incredibly “wonderful” the moment they hit our lips, the headaches and extra pounds they leave behind are certainly less than desirable. And what about the gifting? I would estimate about half of my gift list is enjoyable, but the other half is admittedly out of duty or given to people for whom I have absolutely no idea what they may want or need. Another holiday activity I’m 50/50 on? Christmas cards. I love having a great picture of my kids to share, but the arduous process of locking down the perfect photo can be downright painful. I have so much fun combing the web for all the different design options for the card, but panic sets in when I have to commit to the one that will be ours. I get so excited when I go to the mailbox and find holiday greetings from our family and friends, but I feel a distinctly Grinchy sense of dread when I look at the box holding my own unaddressed cards, waiting for my late night undivided attention.

Some holiday activities start out as “wonderful,” then take a hairpin turn into woeful. Take, for example, holiday decorating. For me, decorating anything is a painful process. Bookshelves, bulletin boards, cookies, console tables, even trying to pick out a necklace to go with an outfit is a journey of intense indecision for me. I can look at the placement of objects for hours, wondering if it’s just right or blatantly wrong. So, the task of adorning my home to make it festive for approximately just a month and a half is, well, maybe not the most wonderful time of the year for me.

Each year I start out full of joy and positivity. I don’t do my decorating until after Thanksgiving, so by then I’ve had time to look at scores of catalogs that have landed in my mailbox, making holiday decorating look fun and easy, and most likely completed by Santa’s very own elves. Just a few weeks ago, I captivated an audience of ladies at my daughter’s ballet practice by telling them all about my plans to purchase an all-white Christmas tree and decorate it with shiny ornaments and multi-colored blinking lights. Sure, it might sound tacky, but I saw it in a catalog, and it looked so fun! So easy! So festive! Everyone thought it was a fabulous idea. No one had any advice on where I could find an elf to bring my catalog idea to life. Fast forward a couple more weeks. The Christmas card pictures were snapped, scrutinized, and selected. Thanksgiving was planned, prepared, and consumed. An 8-year-old’s birthday party was hosted and (barely) survived. The Clemson vs. Carolina game was endured. The decorating was next on the list. *sigh*

So, as I’ve done in every year past, I trudged up to the attic and opened the oddly shaped little door that leads to the dungeon where unnecessary things go to finish out their useless lives. There, my gaze settled on scores of boxes and bags of merry and bright STUFF that would all have to be carried downstairs, unpacked, placed, then their boxes returned to the upstairs dungeon. All to be enjoyed for just a few weeks, when the entire process would then have to be reversed. *sigh*

It took almost 2 days and 427 heavy sighs for me to sprinkle holiday cheer around my home. Garlands and wreaths were hung and fluffed (and cursed). Ladders were climbed and dismounted. Three pre-lit trees were assembled and adorned. One had zero working lights. One had a random section of lights that were burned out, which required me to manhandle the entire tree to turn the offending section to the wall. The last tree, the biggest one, didn’t let me down until we added on the last section. I was proud of the way I held my composure up until the moment I had to snake an extension cord from the top of my pricey pre-lit tree down to the floor. The top section needed to be plugged into the timer that I’d carefully set up to provide us with automatic sparkly merriment from the hours of 3:30 to 11:30pm. Like some sort of Christmas Marine, with my belly on the floor and greenery snagging my hair while I dragged myself by the forearms towards the outlet, I searched for the carefully hidden extension cord. I found it and went to connect it to the timer so I could survey my twinkly masterpiece. This was when I discovered that the timer only had one outlet. An outlet that was already occupied by the cord supplying power to the rest of the tree. If I wanted scheduled sparkly merriment, my only choice was to start over with a new timer. *cue cursing and kicking under the tree*

angry elf

And that is the story of how I started drinking wine at 2:00 on a Sunday.

And this is the start of the story of how I turned it all around. The timer dilemma is actually a rather small event in my storehouse of holiday snafus. One year, half the lights went out on the tree after it had been fully decorated. I was planning to just slap a bunch of extra lights on it, but after a closer examination, I noticed that I’d put the sections together in the wrong order. The whole thing had to be disassembled and reassembled AND extra lights strung. Incidentally, that tree ended up at the dump the day after Christmas. One year, the entire tree fell over approximately one hour after the decorating was complete. That tree ended up on the curb, along with dozens of shattered special ornaments. And what about the year that I dragged our little family onto an odyssey to capture the Christmas card photo, only to arrive at the destination and realize that I’d forgotten to pack the camera? That was a long time ago, as in, before the days that phones had cameras. We don’t really talk about that, actually.

So, in the midst of all this drama and these less-than-wonderful duties, where can we find our merriment? For me, it’s not surprising that I find my merry in a song. After I shimmied myself out from under my half-lit tree, located a new timer (and, yes, a glass of wine), and got my corner of the living room sparkling bright, I turned on a little mood music to carry me through the final stages of decorating. I stood back and surveyed roughly 500 pretty little lights and all the boxes of ornaments that were about to escape their exile to get their chance to shine when I heard the first strains of the song that would usher in the official start of the holiday season for me.

“I-I-I don’t want a lot for Christmas…

 “There is just one thing I-I-I need…”

 Y’all, I don’t care what kind of diva-like behavior she displays, Mariah Carey is an angel. She could rob a bank in broad daylight wearing a full-sequined Dynasty-esque dress, carrying a Chihuahua, and when she went on trial, the attorneys would play “All I Want for Christmas” as Exhibit A, and all charges would immediately be dropped.

mariah-carey-macys-1024-2

But maybe that’s just me.

Christmas music, when used in moderation, can cure many holiday ills. I’ve seen it firsthand! In the interest of spreading merriment, and because I can’t buy you all a present individually, I made you a mixtape. Enjoy responsibly.

Jingle All the Way Playlist (get it here on Amazon Music)

“All I Want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey. Because the song is magic.

“Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” by Michael Buble. Because it’s a law that every holiday must include some Michael Buble.

“Run Run Rudolph” by Kelly Clarkson. Because she completely rocks this song.

“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley. Because he’s the King.

“The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. Because of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, duh.

“Cool Yule” by Louis Armstrong. Because he, and this song, are the epitome of cool.

“Donde Esta Santa Claus” by Augie Rio. Because it’s adorable and catchy and we all need to know more Spanish.

“The Man with the Bag” by Kay Starr. Because if you’re not waiting for the man with the bag, you are the man with the bag.

“Mele Kalikimaka” by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters. Because we can all empathize with Clark Griswold and his swimming pool dreams.

“Jingle Bell Rock” by Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert. Because your family drama doesn’t seem so bad when you compare it to hearing yourself on the radio singing Christmas carols with your ex. Ummm, awkward.

“Merry Christmas Baby” by Lou Rawls. Because “got me some good music on the radio…”

“Jingle Bells” by James Taylor. Because it’s funny to watch people sing along to a song they think they know, but it’s arranged completely differently.

“My Favorite Things” by Tony Bennett. Because Tony Bennett is a national treasure.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by The Temptations. Because once you get past the first 15 seconds, your whole family will be singing along.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” by the Eagles. Because sometimes Christmas is sad and it makes us miss our people.

“Sleigh Ride” by Harry Connick, Jr. Because you gotta bring the party back up after those Eagles made you sad.

“Christmas in Hollis” by RUN-DMC. Because the lyrics are actually family friendly and you also want to know who’s really listening to your playlist (hint: they’re looking pensive and saying, “Wait, is that…RUN-DMC??”)

“What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder. Because it’s happy and has the right message.

“Winter Wonderland” by Aretha Franklin. Because, in true Aretha fashion, she hits it hard from the first “Sleigh Bells RING.” Oh, I’m listening, Aretha. Bring it.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Ella Fitzgerald. Because that’s what I want for you.

A holiday full of merriment and quality time spent with those precious people that you love and enjoy, free of stress and pressure and unrealistic expectations. It’s a tall order and will take nothing short of a miracle to achieve. But it just so happens that this is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and miracles abound if you just open your eyes.

 

 

What I Did This Summer : Family Edition

I know that teachers nowadays are way creative and no longer require students to write the quintessential “What I Did This Summer” essay, but I remember doing a few of these back in school. I wondered what it would be like if I asked my family to submit their own “What I Did This Summer” essays. Just a guess…

What I Did This Summer
By: Mom

The summer was just really great. I mean, I didn’t even mind that there was no rest whatsoever between those crazy last two weeks of school and the start of a new set of activities for everyone. It just did not bother me a bit that we traded homework for afternoon swim team practices. And I am telling you right now that I am completely fine with all the towels that I washed and dried this summer.

We went to the beach, where we sweated buckets and sprayed $18 cans of sunscreen into the wind and carried all the things to all the places. But it was a resort and we did not wash any towels, and that made it a vacation.

We went to the lake, which was kind of the same, except we carried all the things onto a boat, so we could see what it’s like to cram all our things under the seats and not be able to find them when we needed them. And then we could carry them off the boat later when we were really, really, REALLY tired. We are completely convinced that wet towels are 100 times heavier than dry towels.

Meanwhile, back at the homestead, I opened and shut the back door approximately 57 times a day so the dog could go in and out at her leisure and not do her business on my already dirty floors. By doing this, I generously provided cool air to the entire backyard. Always giving back.

I called the air conditioning repairman 8 times because it felt like the AC was struggling to keep up. I don’t know? Is 85 degrees an acceptable indoor temperature? Whatever. Nothing works like it’s supposed to.

I went to the grocery store almost every day. Turns out, every single being that lives here has to eat. Every day. Multiple times!

Do we get extra credit?  Because I can also tell you what I DIDN’T do, which is cook the food from the grocery store. I didn’t even act like I was going to. For 3 months, all the people in my house consumed food that came in crinkly packages, and no one is even remotely close to dead. Even better, the kids have learned that they can actually prepare this kind of food by themselves, and I am beginning to think that once they learn the Amazon password, I may be out of a job.

Something else I didn’t do? Schoolwork. That’s right. Aside from sporadic required reading, which served the dual purpose of getting everyone away from everyone else, I basically stood at the top of the Summer Slide and pushed my kids down it. (Sorry, teachers). Wheeeeeeeeeee! Then I greeted them at the bottom of the Summer Slide and handed them iPads. It was in those moments that I knew I was loved.

I didn’t take my kids roller skating, something I hear about every other day from my 7 year old. I didn’t let my tween get a YouTube channel because I don’t even know how it works, and it sounds like a bad idea, no matter how many times she tries to convince me otherwise. I didn’t do any home improvement projects. I didn’t plant a garden. I didn’t keep the house clean. I didn’t declutter the playroom. I didn’t book next summer’s vacation. I didn’t read a ton of books. I didn’t lose my cool, except once…a day.

You want to know what I did this summer? I WASHED ALL THE TOWELS. I KEPT ALL THE LIVING THINGS ALIVE.*

(*most of the outdoor plants were dead before summer actually started, so they don’t count)

 

What I Did This Summer
By: The Tween

The summer was ok. I mean, better than school, I guess. Mom made me do swim team, which I HATE. Because swimming every day and being with my friends is THE WORST. She let me play on my iPad a lot, which was cool, except sometimes, out of nowhere, she would yell, “Oh my gosh, you are such a zombie!” And then I would have to stop, right in the middle of what I was watching, and try and find something else to do. And that’s’ hard, because there’s nothing awesome to do, ever. Sometimes, if I was really super bored, I would do stuff with my sister. Mostly we would just pull out a lot of junk that we never play with anymore, and leave it lying around in what Mom calls a “very inconvenient spot.” I mean, does she want us to play with the stuff or what? She’s always saying, “We buy you all these things and then you never play with them,” but then when we do, she wants us to just put it right back where we got it. Whatever.

We went to the beach, which was fun, except for the sunscreen part. Sunscreen is the WORST. Mom says that being sunburned is actually the worst, but, I mean, how does she even know? She sits under an umbrella the whole time. Whatever. We went to the lake, too. I really like being there and going out on the boat, but there’s no Wi-Fi anywhere near the lake. Nowhere. There’s a TV, but it only has 4 channels. But, Mom lets us eat ice cream twice a day, and we can have potato chips for breakfast, so… Whatever. Summer’s OK, I guess.

 

What I Did This Summer
By: The Little One

The summer was awesome! Swim team was so cool. I loved hanging out with my friends, and I think my dive got a lot better! I missed being at school a lot, but I asked Mom to let me buy a workbook, and I almost finished the whole thing! I thought that since I finished it all that I could skip the second grade, but Mom says it doesn’t work that way. We went ice skating one day, which was awesome, but we didn’t get to go roller skating like I wanted to. I kept asking her about it because I didn’t want her to forget, but all she said was, “Camp Mom is over. Play with some of this stuff you leave lying around everywhere.” So, I did, and it was so fun! I made a lot of crafts. I like cutting things into teeny tiny pieces. Some of the pieces I glue to other things, and some I just leave on the floor. I like being creative. Sometimes my sister would play with me, which was the best. Mostly she would just make me bring her stuff in her room, and act like I was on her pretend YouTube channel, but I didn’t mind. It was fun! Summer is the best!

 

What I Did This Summer
By: The Dog 

Summer? Summer? What’s Summer? Can I eat it? Does it squeak? Can I eat it while it squeaks?

No? Soooooo, Summer is a period of time? Oh, so all these days it’s been really hot and all the Little People are around all day, that’s Summer? Yeah, it’s ok, I guess. I have a hard time deciding if I want to be in the house, hiding from the Little People, or if I want to go outside, where it is H-O-T, so I just get The Lady to let me in and out, over and over. Sometimes I don’t really even want out, but it’s funny to see her get worried that I’m going to pee somewhere I shouldn’t. I like to wait until she’s either sitting down or has her hands in a sink full of dishes. HI-LAR-I-OUS. Her face. Oh, man, you should see it. But, you know, now that I think about it, she might not even care about that whole potty business inside the house thing anymore. A long time ago I went into the fancy room no one ever goes in and left a little “present,” if you know what I mean. It was just too hot to go outside and that big neighbor dog was out there, always giving me the evil eye even though I bark and bark and bark at him. Anyway, The Lady never even yelled at me and my present is still sitting there, behind that fancy chair no one ever sits in. You know, I think I’ll go poke it around a little bit right now. Is Summer still happening?

 

What I Did This Summer
By: Dad

What did I do this summer? I WORKED. Like I do in the Spring, and the Fall, and the Winter.

So, um, hey, what’s for dinner?

 

**Featured Image courtesy of IFC.com.

 

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Beating the Bully

“Fighting means you could lose. Bullying means you can’t. A bully wants to beat somebody; he doesn’t want to fight somebody.”–Andrew Vachss

bully collage

Greer, SC. 1986. I’m wearing my favorite Rainbow Brite t-shirt, and my head is pressed against the cold metal of a bathroom stall door. With one eye, I’m squinting through the crack of the door at Cheryl Hawthorne, who is propped against the painted cinderblock wall by the dirty porcelain sinks. Cheryl is the meanest kid in all of the third grade. She has close-cropped black hair, a loud laugh and she cracks her knuckles constantly. She is in trouble with the teacher every single day. This moment is the most patient and calm I’ve ever seen her to be, waiting for my stall door to click open. I’ve assessed all my options at this point and I see exactly zero ways that I can get out of this bathroom without Cheryl turning me into her personal punching bag. We are predator and prey, and I am about to be eaten for lunch.

You’re thinking, how did it come to this? Well, my dears, Be Kind and Rewind, and let’s go back to three hours before this restroom standoff. Back to Mrs. Fowler’s third grade classroom at Woodland Elementary. Back to morning reading groups, when someone was talking when someone wasn’t supposed to be. Insert a teacher who was fed up at 8:30 that morning; who was probably fed up 20 years before that morning even dawned. A teacher who said, “If someone doesn’t tell me who was talking, you’ll ALL be inside for recess!” Enter Stage Right a pale blond little girl with a Rainbow Brite t-shirt and a penchant for people-pleasing. Willing to fall on my sword in order to get the entire class outside for recess, I spoke up.

“It was Cheryl.”

Cue the ominous music and gasps from the audience. With a satisfied half-smile, Mrs. Fowler sauntered over to the chalkboard and added a check beside Cheryl’s name, which rarely ever left the board. It was Cheryl’s second check of the day, which meant once again she wouldn’t have recess. But the rest of the class would, so I’d made a worthy sacrifice.

Or had I? The rest of the morning, Cheryl never took her eyes off me. Each time Mrs. Fowler turned her back, there was Cheryl, giving me the evil eye, or making a menacing hand gesture. As I walked to the pencil sharpener, she hissed “I’m gon’ git you, girl.” In the lunch line, she stood as close as she possibly could without actually touching me, her breath hot on my neck. She hardly touched her lunch; instead, she used that time to shoot more venomous stares my way.

I tried hard to let the whole thing roll off my shoulders. I wanted to save face in front of my friends, but I was seriously shaking in my jelly shoes. I kept thinking surely this would all blow over soon. If I could just get through the day, tomorrow we would start over, no one would have any checks on the chalkboard, and we’d all get recess. By this time tomorrow, the whole thing would be forgotten, right?

Cheryl’s eyes narrowed as they caught mine (I’d been doing this thing all day, where I’d look to see if she was looking at me, and if she was, we’d lock eyes, then I’d quickly look away, or act like I was actually looking at something just past her. It wasn’t working. She knew I was looking at her.). Her balled up fist smacked the palm of her other hand as she nodded her head and said, simply, “The Bathroom.”

Sweet mother of Debbie Gibson. I’d forgotten about the bathroom! Every day after lunch, Mrs. Fowler’s class went to the bathroom in “the tunnel,” a brick breezeway between the buildings. Even if you didn’t feel the urge to use the facilities, you still had to go in there, because Mrs. Fowler didn’t let anyone go to the bathroom any other time. Well, unless you had an “emergency.” But everyone knew that “emergency” meant you had to go Number Two and admitting to that was a social infraction that would take weeks to get over. The post-lunch bathroom break was not up for negotiation.

I held off as long as I could, hoping against hope I could somehow skirt the mandatory bathroom visit. Cheryl was near the front of the line (no doubt because she wanted to start the pummeling as soon as possible), so I got in the back, thinking maybe she would have to leave the restroom before I got there. Oh, but no. Cheryl might have been a meanie, but she was no dummy. She just waited as the line of girls wound their way through the stalls and sinks. My friends offered no real assistance, but I saw their lack of teasing as a sign of solidarity. Their sympathetic looks and silence were a way of paying their respects. They were grieving me already. I didn’t fault them for not coming to my defense; no one wanted to tangle with Cheryl. And Mrs. Fowler didn’t tolerate tattling. My predicament served as a cautionary tale for anyone contemplating their own David vs. Goliath scenario.

Oh, you all enjoy your recess, friends. I’ll just be in the health room, having my face reattached and my broken limbs reset. No, really, it’s fine. Happy to take one for the team. You go have fun.

So, there we were. Wolf and sheep, penned together in a four-stall, 2 sink, brick and block prison. It didn’t take long for me to know that I couldn’t hide out in that stall any longer. For one thing, the longer I waited, the more people outside were going to suspect I was in there going Number Two. For another thing, it was well past time to get this thing over with. I ripped the stall door open and made a run for it (What? Did you think I was actually going to fight her?). Cheryl caught me halfway to the door and punched me in the stomach. I got a few more steps towards the door before her right hand clutched my neck and shoved my back against the wall. I eeked out some sort of panicked animal noise that caused Mrs. Fowler to open the door and bellow, “What’s going on in here?” There was no explanation needed. Cheryl was sent to the principal’s office and she never so much as glanced my way again.

Someone asked me, “Have you ever been bullied?” And I now know my answer is, “Yes. For three hours, in 1986, Cheryl Harcourt bullied me and made my life a living hell.” The comedic nature of two little girls in a bathroom standoff like a Clint Eastwood movie is something I can laugh about now. But something has to be said about the fact that this happened 30 years ago, and yet I can still remember the feeling of fear and dread in the pit of my stomach. I’ve long forgotten many of my friends from elementary school, but Cheryl’s face is burned into my brain forever.

What if those three hours had stretched into six? What if instead of just that one day of bullying, I had to face Cheryl and her threats every single school day? What if my friends chose to distance themselves from me so they didn’t have to bullied, too? What if my teacher said, “Oh, kids will be kids,” and chose to focus on her curriculum instead of the social dynamics in her classroom? What if I spent my entire school year waiting and praying for it to be over, so I could be in a new classroom where Cheryl wouldn’t be? Would the story be so funny then?

You don’t have to have school age children to know that “bullying” is a serious issue facing all ages. So, what do we need to know about it?

First, of all, what is bullying? There are many definitions, but the most encompassing one I found is the one used in the legal sense:

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That’s right, the legal sense. There are adults dealing with this, who feel so intimidated that they will plead their case in a court of law. There are all types of bullying, but most can be divided into two types: Aggressive and Social Isolation. Aggressive Bullying is usually physical in nature, and can mostly be attributed to similar physical aggression at home. Physical intimidation can be harder to hide and easier to prove, so it seems to happen less in our schools because punishment is swift, once it is recognized. Social Isolation Bullying is stickier for many reasons. Social Isolation can go on for weeks or months before an authority figure recognizes what is happening. These bullies are usually very skillful in denying their behavior, and their victims are reluctant to come forward, out of embarrassment. In a battle of words, context is very hard to prove. “But that’s not what I meant!” is the battle cry of many Social Isolation bullies.

Social Isolation bullying is for all ages. You see kindergartners freezing kids out of a game of Red Rover. Teenage girls post slumber party photos to Instagram with full intent of ostracizing other girls. Social media gives rise to more sinister Social Isolation bullying, too, with some kids sending out sexually explicit photos to large groups of people without their subject’s authorization, thus decimating that person’s social life. And adults aren’t above it, either. The “popular kids” have popular moms, who are quick to post those same slumber party photos, but just with the kids. And what about Direct Level Marketing? It’s one thing to be annoyed by a friends’ constant Facebook posts about her “amazing new job,” but it’s quite another when she bombards you with personal messages, phone calls and “party” invitations until you just break down and buy the stuff already. Bullies may be born on the playground, but they are refined in the workplace. Bosses who require that you stay late, repeatedly. Co-workers who consistently take credit for your hard work. Clients who insist you buy just one more round (the company’s paying for it!). Bullying is repeatedly intimidating or taking advantage of someone you perceive as weaker.

Next, who are the bullies? Anyone can be a bully. Budding gang members (yes, there can be a gang presence in school, even elementary), sweet-looking kindergartners, children of abusers, teenage girls (hello, Snapchat), PTA moms, athletes, honor students, soccer dads…all these people can use their own brand of intimidation to subdue and tear down another person.

Why do people bully? I asked my kids if they knew any bullies. “Oh yes,” they said. They went on to explain, “Bullies are ‘bucket dippers.’ Their buckets don’t have enough happiness, so they want to steal yours.” (Props to our school’s teachers for giving my kids the confidence to recognize this behavior, by the way!) Every bully is different, but their core motivation is the same. What they want is power. They want the upper hand. They want to win. A bully recognizes an area in his life where he is not winning, and he wants to put himself in the place of power. The easiest way to do this is to intimidate the person who he sees as the winner and force that person give up the top spot. In sports, this could show up as repeated, harmful “trash talk” in an effort to make a teammate’s mental game diminish their performance. In teenage girls, it could be leaving snide comments on social media posts or sharing unflattering photos to make another girl retreat, bringing the attention back to the bully. You might see little kids taunting emerging class leaders because it’s the first time in their lives they haven’t been the focus of constant praise and adoration. Some bullies are modeling behavior they see at home. In homes where physical abuse is present, a child may become a bully simply because that is the only way he knows how to interact with others. Or, if the child is the abuse victim, assuming a role as a bully over a weaker person is the only chance he has to wield power. But physical abusers aren’t the only bullies at home. What about the dad that constantly screams at the coaches on the kids’ soccer field, or the mom that daily belittles the teacher and her ridiculous homework assignments? We’re sending our kids a message when they hear our disparaging remarks about other authority figures, or see us strong-arming those same people into doing what we want on behalf of our child. There’s a fine line between standing up for yourself to get what you deserve and using your power and influence to gain preferential treatment. When your child sees you cross that line towards something that looks like intimidation, why wouldn’t she try to do the same thing?

I talked to several teachers and school administrators while writing this piece. I was astounded at how many people saw bullying in schools as a consequence of affluence. Cheryl Harcourt isn’t the bully anymore. The new bully is an articulate, well-liked child from a prominent family. This kid singles out and attempts to weaken another child or group of children at school, and gets in trouble for it. The kid shows very little remorse, and continues the behavior, getting in trouble again. The parents swoop in, in disbelief that their little angel would do such a thing. This goes back and forth between parent and teacher for a while, with the parents usually undermining the authority of the teacher. How much damage has been done by the time the teacher has to hand if off to a higher administrator? What has it done to the self-confidence of the child being bullied? Has that child’s parents completely lost faith in the system? Now, consider what happens if the bullying problem goes to the administration, and mom and dad stand in the principal’s office, reminding him/her of how much they’ve contributed to the school this year and what a shame it would be if Dad’s office pulled his company’s sponsorship of the school fundraiser. The bully has successfully intimidated his/her targeted classmate, the classmate’s parents, the other classmates that feel like helpless bystanders, the teacher, the administration and the set of rules it has put forth AND he walks away with the feeling that this is how life will always go for him. I don’t think this is a common scenario, but I’ve heard the same story with different players enough times to know it’s not rare. At any rate, it’s a good example of the multi-level nature of bullying.

Lastly, what can we do about it? The same thing we do about everything in parenting. Talk to your child. Know what they’re up to. Know their friends and their interests. Ask questions, even if they don’t want to answer them. And don’t just try to get the facts: show your child that you’re genuinely interested in them. Even if it feels like they have zero interest in you and would rather gargle river rocks than listen to what you’re saying, showing true interest is a form of showing love, and they’ll remember that.

Keep the lines of communication open, and make sure your child has a trusted adult in their life. Ideally, that trusted adult should be you, but find a spare because there are some things kids just won’t bring to their parents. While I was writing this piece, a friend of mine shared her experience with her son being bullied at school. She and her son had a very open and honest relationship, and she felt that he would come to her with any problems. However, her son suffered bullying for months without saying a word to anyone. Finally, a friend of his confided in his own mother, who then shared the situation with my friend. It turns out, my friend’s son didn’t want to tell his parents about it because he was afraid they would be upset and sad for him. He was protecting their feelings! This is a prime example of how important communication and trust are in these situations. More than one child had to be trusting of an adult and willing to communicate. Further, the adults involved had to be trusting and communicative as well. I also thought this was a great example for us all to know that helping someone doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Just because you don’t literally stand between a bully and his target on the playground doesn’t mean you can’t be just as helpful, but in a quiet way.

Be open and understanding. In the bullying situation described above, did I mention that the parents of that child were a school counselor and a psychologist? These are involved parents, well-educated and trained to spot such behavior. It would be easy for them to say, “This can’t happen to my child; I would catch it immediately.” But they didn’t. They were open to knowing that you never say “never” with kids. You do all you can to educate your child and teach them the things you think they need to know, and then you hope it sticks. Parenting is a life-long calling. Your job is never finished, so stay open and understanding to your kids, and to the people that care for them.

Cheryl Harcourt was a bully, but our altercation was not a severe case of bullying. A marker of bullying is that it’s a repeated behavior. The intimidation makes the victim feel hopeless, as if it will never be over. Ours was a one-time incident, and I am grateful that my school’s authorities put a swift end to it. But, as I said before, it made a big impact on me. When you’re nine years old, a brick breezeway is a giant tunnel and the walk to the lunchroom is a miles-long trek. The whole world fills the space between home, school and church. Your entire life’s memorable experiences wouldn’t fill up a marble-backed composition book. When you’re a kid, all the little things are BIG things.

Know. Talk. Keep your mind open. Be a good role model. We face bullies in every stage of life, but we don’t have to give them our power, and we don’t have to sit back while they take someone else’s. Make small, quiet stands for what’s right. Guard your heart and your bucket and help others do the same.

For more information about bullying, go to https://www.stopbullying.gov/index.html

 

 

 

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