Search

chicwhitesheep

SPEAKER OF THE FLOCK

Category

school

Planning Your Planner: A How-To Guide

“It takes real planning to organize this kind of chaos.”—Mel Odom

Back to school season always gives me the itch to get my act together. Something about stores with long aisles loaded with organization solutions and brand new office supplies feeds a strong urge in me to put an end to my summertime mode of flying by the seat of my pants. All those orderly stacks of notebook paper and dry erase markers awaken a new dream of organizing all the things in my reach. New Year, New You? How about New Tape Dispenser, New Outlook on Life?

Are you also looking to get your act together, but don’t know where to start? Well, never fear! I am here to help you simplify the process of complicating your life. In the interest of looking out for the greater good of all people, I am setting aside my humble nature and confiding in you that I am, in fact, Her Royal Highness, Chief Executive Officer, Reigning Queen and Prime Minister of Planning all the Things. This position was conferred upon me by myself, and I proudly hold this title for approximately 3 days in August of every year. You, too, can experience an entire half of a week in organized bliss! Just read further to see how you can begin planning a plan that you will plan to put in place at an undetermined later date. I am giving you all my knowledge, absolutely free of charge! (You are very welcome, my dears.)

Some of you may be saying, “Wait a minute. I know you! I’ve been to your house. There’s laundry all over the place, and unopened bills, and I’m pretty sure I saw and smelled some very questionable fruit on the kitchen counter. Are you sure you should be advising people about anything?” Others of you might think, “Hold on, is this the lady that is five minutes late to every single place she goes? What sort of cockamamie plan includes constant tardiness?” And there may even be a few of you reading this who have attended meetings with me and wondered, “How did that hot mess get on this committee? She showed up five minutes late, her shirt is inside out, and she just pulled four lipsticks out of her purse, when I think she was looking for a pen. How can I possibly benefit from this person’s guidance?” *several minute pass* “Good heavens, she still doesn’t have a pen.”

And to all those incredibly insightful inquiries, I answer, “Those are all very valid questions. And, FYI, real people don’t use the word, ‘cockamamie.’”

 Now, moving on.

The cornerstone of every plan is a Planner. The good news is, it’s back-to-school time, and Planners are everywhere, in a vast assortment of trendy designs and sizes. It can be hard to narrow down the selection! Lucky for you, I am willing to share my best secrets for success when it comes to Planners. Gather close, friends, while I tell you that the most important thing to consider when choosing your Planner, and I cannot stress this enough, is that it needs to be obscenely expensive. Choose the planner crafted by the designer whose wares you normally can’t afford, and purchase it right away so you don’t risk leaving a single page blank. I know this sounds a little crazy (but, let’s be honest, aren’t all geniuses a little crazy?), because you’re thinking that you don’t want to spend a lot on something you may not keep up with, but that’s exactly why you have to do it! You gotta get a little skin in the game, bro! Envision yourself in October, looking at your Planner across the room, and not really wanting to fill in the new month because you’ve gotten lazy, and planning is no fun, and you can’t find your pen, and you keep forgetting to take it with you anyway, and excuses, excuses, excuses! It would be so easy to ignore your $5.98 junky Wally World Planner because you never fell madly in love with in the first place! Now envision yourself gazing across the room at that darling Planner you so lovingly selected in August, when your future was bright and all things were still possible. The Planner you spent a hefty sum on because it was so obvious that the two of you were Made For Each Other. The Planner that turns heads when you manhandle it out of your bag at important meetings and place it on the table with a satisfying thump, proclaiming, “Look at me! I mean business! I am a very expensive Planner!” Now doesn’t that make you want to get your lazy bum up out of your recliner, walk across the room and start planning some crap? That’s what I thought.

When selecting your Planner, pay close attention to its features. Of course, your Planner will include several calendars. Yearly, weekly, monthly, daily, maybe even hourly. Whoa. Wait a minute. Hourly? Slow your roll, compadre. The end game here is to spend your day doing the things, not just planning the things. Back away from the hourly Planner. As an annual three-day veteran in expert planning, I’ve seen sufferers of EPB, Extreme Planner Burnout, and let’s just say it ain’t pretty when the wheels fall off the wagon. Try to keep up with an hourly Planner, and by November you’ll be living life as a suburban hobo, resistant to all plans, observing inconsistent meal times, and taking your kids to school on the weekends because you don’t even know what day it is. You’ve heard Keep It Simple, Stupid? I like to say, Keep It Moderately Hard and Somewhat Inconvenient For Yourself. Yes, KIMHASIFY is definitely my motto.

In addition to the slice and dice views of a conventional calendar, several Planners will also include a page that lists the holidays throughout the year, so you are always ready to celebrate. This is incredibly helpful to those who can never remember the date of New Year’s or the 4th of July. A very handy reference indeed.

Some Planners include stickers, which is a great feature for people who harbor a grudge against their kindergarten teacher for withholding the gold star they rightly deserved for washing their hands after circle time in the fall of 1984. If you are this type of person, you can now give yourself a tooth sticker on the day of your dentist appointment! Go ahead and give yourself two stickers if that’s what you want, because you are in charge of the stickers, dammit! Yeah! Or maybe you’d like a thumbs up sticker for the days you see your therapist to discuss the feelings of inadequacy you’ve had since kindergarten. Great job, you! Sticker it up, girlfriend!

I’ve seen Planners that have several blank pages reserved for Notes. Some people use these pages to write down useful bits of information during meetings. However, I find that these pages are also very good for writing down shopping lists and other reminders for yourself, all while looking as though you are paying attention and taking notes during dull meetings. You can even use these pages to write notes to a friend sitting next to you whom you suspect may also be suffering. Notes such as, “OMG, I’m DYING, I’m dead, R.I.P. ME, please make it stop,” or “I really have to pee, but I don’t want to get up,” or, “Do you smell that? It smells like pork chops and sweaty socks… What are you doing for lunch?” Sometimes your seemingly random notes can lead you to important discoveries about yourself. Like the shopping list I made that said, “Milk, Gas, Light Bulbs.” Not long after that, I was diagnosed as dairy sensitive. Coincidence? I think not.

With all these available special features, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so focus on finding a Planner that has a feature you can really connect with. Remember, you’re looking for a soulmate, not a roommate. For instance, I chose my Planner mainly because it includes several inspirational quotes, which I find to be very, well, inspirational. One of the pages in my Planner has the quote, “Find what brings you joy and go there.” This quote is especially dear to my heart because it encourages me to go to Marshall’s and buy all the throw pillows and phone cases that they have. Another quote in my Planner that inspires me comes from none other than the great Oprah Winfrey. She says, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” Now, any time someone asks me to make a decision, I can just reply, “I would like you to give me whatever you think Oprah would ask for.” It takes a lot of courage to ask for two balsamic vinaigrettes on the side, but here I am, doing it at least twice a week. I have my Planner and Oprah to thank for giving me such bravery.

Now that you’ve selected your Planner, you’ll need to find the perfect pen with which to fill in your Planner pages. It needs to be a subtle ink color, should glide smoothly, and feel solid and sure in your confident planning hand. It’s your favorite pen, and it’s probably already somewhere in your house! If you don’t remember where you bought it, and you’ve never seen another one like it, then this is definitely the perfect pen. Take a moment to make an appointment in your Planner (you’ll have to pencil it in, because, well, the whole pen thing) to spend an entire afternoon searching for it.

Once you’ve finally located the Perfect Pen, along with a whole bunch of other stuff you didn’t even know you were missing, you’ve likely generated several To-Do List items.  It’s now time to sit down and fill in the information that will make your Planner work for you! Go ahead and pull out your phone, where all your contacts, dates, and notes, are already conveniently located. Use your Perfect Pen to hand write all those items down in your exorbitantly expensive, fancy-feature-filled, sticker-happy Planner. Sometimes twice. Because remember, there are monthly pages and weekly pages. See? Aren’t you glad you followed my advice and ditched that hourly crap?

In all seriousness, the dual system of a paper Planner and smartphone has its merits. For one thing, I feel that manually writing the events down, in addition to typing them into my phone acts as an extra reminder of my commitments. Instead of accidentally double booking myself, I’ll stop and think, “You know I feel like I have something going on that day… I’m not sure what it is, but there’s definitely something happening.” Secondly, giving others the impression that you rely on a Planner can get you out of all sorts of things. Someone asking you to bring 12 Bundt cakes to the church bake sale? You can always say, “Oh, shoot, I don’t have my Planner on me. And you know, I feel like I have something going on that day…I’m not sure what it is, though. Can I get back to you? After I check my Planner?”

And you thought I didn’t know what I was talking about. Ha! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to basking in the bliss of these 3 days that I actually have my act together. Right after I find my pen.

 

Advertisements
Featured post

Here’s to You, Mrs. Buchanan

“There is nothing so stable as change.”—Bob Dylan

Growing up, I remember a house that stood out from all the others in our neighborhood. All around us were rows upon rows of boilerplate, square homes, shingled in varying neutral shades, all with a similar wide front porch, brown front door, narrow front yard and some form of a brick chimney.

But this house was different. It had the same asbestos shingles as the others, but they were bathed in a sunny shade of buttercup yellow. A gabled roof was perched atop a quaint entrance with a freshly painted white front door. The porch was not the standard issue front-facing variety, but screened in, and thoughtfully set off to the side, under a grove of shade trees. You could see that there was sturdy white ceiling fan turning lazily, offering gentle assistance to whatever breeze was already there, and the puffy cushions on the patio furniture looked positively nap-worthy. The corner lot was meticulously manicured; a stark contrast to the surrounding lawns in this working-class neighborhood where yard maintenance was a low priority for the begrudging homeowners and renters. The house was an example of above-and-beyond smack in the middle of a lot of just-getting-by.

Every Autumn, a tall maple tree on the street corner of the yard would burst into a beautiful blaze of gold that would literally stop traffic as onlookers slowed down to admire it. It was one of those trees that most people would think was more trouble than it was worth. The glorious display would last no more than a week, at which time every single leaf would make the ultimate sacrifice and careen off the tree and onto the lawn to make a thick golden blanket beneath the empty branches. Unlike the other lawns in the neighborhood, whose leaves would remain until they were brown and crumbly and half-blown away, these gilded leaves would be scooped up within hours of when they reached the ground, stuffed into lawn bags that looked like gifts, and lined up orderly along the street, waiting for the City to come and pick them up.

One day I asked my mother who lived in the golden cottage. She replied, “Oh, that’s where the Buchanans live.”

Buchanan. I knew that name. But it couldn’t possibly be the same Buchanan that I was thinking of. The Buchanan I was thinking of was Mrs. Buchanan, the meanest substitute teacher in all of Greer, SC. Maybe even all of Greenville County. And while it would have been hard to prove, I would have bet my whole piggy bank that she was the crankiest, toughest, and downright saltiest sub in all of the great state of South Carolina. Everyone agreed. Kids who couldn’t see eye to eye on anything would unite in synchronized groans when Mrs. Buchanan entered the classroom. In general, substitute teachers were welcome, sometimes even cause for celebration. Maybe because of their ignorance of classroom rules, or their fondness for showing movies instead of following lesson plans, or just because having a substitute was a departure from the ordinary humdrum of school days. None of this applied when Mrs. Buchanan was substituting. It was as if she wanted to be tougher than the teacher for whom she was substituting. She wasn’t about to phone anything in. She doled out plenty of schoolwork and even assigned homework for the evening. She was there to teach, and she expected you to learn; no, master the material she presented. She wouldn’t take any lip, as we said in those days, and in the rare instance that a student dared to buck her authority, it was straight to the principal’s office.

Everything about Mrs. Buchanan was no-nonsense. Her silvery blond hair was coiffed into a perfectly wispy helmet, likely the result of a weekly wash and set. If there was a threat of rain, she would proudly don a clear plastic rain bonnet to protect her investment as she walked through the parking lot to her spotless, waxed gold Buick. She wore small reading glasses that she kept on a golden chain hanging around her neck. When not needed for reading, those glasses rested on her formidable bosoms, unmovable in their WWII-era underpinnings, meant to withstand a bombing with nary a jiggle. Smart, neutral sweater sets paired with polyester blend pants and sensible flats provided her with a uniform that was both comfortable and the height of appropriateness. She was there to do a job. Not to make friends, or to waste time, or to collect a paycheck for doing the bare minimum, and, heavens above, not to merely babysit.

“Class, today you will have a substitute teacher, Mrs. Buchanan.”
All together now: “UUUUGGGHHHHHH.”

So, of course, this house must belong to another set of Buchanans. A cousin, perhaps? There was just no way that that Mrs. Buchanan could live in this lovely house full of goodness and light. It was like seeing the Wicked Witch of the West wearing Glinda the Good Witch’s dress. It was all wrong.

My mother was still talking. “Oh, you know them. Mrs. Buchanan. She used to be a school teacher when I was your age. I think someone at the church told me she’s a substitute now. Couldn’t stand being retired…”

Nooooooooooooooooooo. How could this be??? Mrs. Buchanan (a.ka. Mrs. ButtCannon; kids can be so clever in their mean-ness) was the force behind this lovely home of sunshine and buttercups? You’re telling me that the woman who used wooden rulers to paddle little hands came home to relax with a tall glass of sweet iced tea on that breezy screened porch? The same stoic lady I saw stand like a stalwart captain behind my teacher’s desk by day also stood gazing out the window with the delicate white curtains patterned with sweet little yellow flowers washing dishes by night?

As a child, I could not possibly reconcile the two. So, I blocked this knowledge out of my brain. I didn’t tell any of my friends that I knew where she lived. I stopped looking at the house when we passed it in the car. I don’t know why, but it felt like some sort of betrayal. My imagined story for this place had been shattered by cold, hard truth.

As an adult, however, it makes complete sense. The perfect home doesn’t just happen. You either have a full staff at your disposal, or you have to be a no-nonsense battleax to stay on top of the never-ending tasks. You have to have a Mr. Buchanan who will take orders. And you have to be willing to work. HARD.

Mrs. Buchanan, who was old even when my mother was young, has long since passed away. I think I was in college when I heard the news, and it made me sad. Meanie or not, she made an indelible mark on my childhood, and I think I always knew that deep down she had a soft heart. She showed her caring through discipline, not coddling. And there was always the case of that lovely home. A beautiful and welcoming space can only come from a beautiful and welcoming soul. She might have hidden it from us crass kids, but to those she kept close, she was surely a loving person.

Homes carry the character of those who inhabit them, and once Mrs. Buchanan left us, the home began to pass away, too. I see it often when I go to visit my mother, and I’m usually disappointed to see how it has deteriorated. The once cheerful yellow has taken on a very tired, almost sickly hue, and all the bright white trim paint is peeling and flaking away. The lawn is full of weeds and almost always in need of a trim. I can sometimes see people relaxing on the screened porch, but I also see that the ceiling fan blades are wilted from humidity, and the screen is torn and stretched out in places. Someone must have decided that the traffic-stopping maple was indeed too much trouble; all that remains of it is a ground-level stump.

I know that Heaven is not a place with disdain or annoyance, so I can’t imagine Mrs. Buchanan as I’d like to: an angel glaring over the top of her reading glasses at these ingrates who have run her haven into the unkempt ground. Instead, maybe she looks down with love on those that are leisurely enjoying the simple pleasure of sitting on that shaded, screened porch without the hours and backbreaking toil of the upkeep. Maybe.

I don’t like change. I never have and, unless something changes, I never will. But, change we must, and if Mrs. Buchanan can accept change, then I guess so can I.

 

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

 

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.

 

Featured post

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:

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 1.06.45 PM

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

 

 

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑