Thursday, August 30, 2012

One week down

So, School started.

There's the awesomeness: middle school is like a whole different game, not only in terms of the obvious, classes and lockers etc. (they get to read Call of the Wild! and also other things), but also in terms of expectations for parents. It's sort of assumed that we have lives outside our parenting responsibilities, for example. There's an activity bus. If Si stays late to talk to a teacher (they have after school hours, which are called, disappointingly, intramurals) (his favorite part of elementary school was the optional gym class they got before school one a week, also called intramurals), or to run track (ha) or any other scheduled activity, he can just hop on the activity bus. It drops him off a million miles from our house, according to him, but still: hot dog. Even Events are this way. Si is joining the Math League: I got a little tense, reading over the schedule of meets, until I noticed the fine print: they take the bus. And the bus brings them back to the school at 5:30, 5:45. At that point we do need to pick them up, but 5:30 is a time even my we-want-your-shining-faces-in-your-desks-for-8.5-hours-a-day workplace can accommodate.

It's like the independence I've been pushing for since 2005 is finally here.

I guess I'm supposed to feel sad, and I do (always), but not for that.

Are we in the wilderness? The high plains of Colorado? The African Savannah?
Another awesome thing is that M. and I sat down as a team and decided which days I was going to go in to work late so that I could walk Helen to the bus stop, and which days he was going to do this and I would leave early and get back in time to be here for the kids when they get home. We've needed to do this for two years, so it's nice to have it done. No complaining, no scrambling: we just do what needs to be done.

Then there's the not-awesomeness. Si's new independence is accompanied by actions favored by evolution to hasten the separation between parents and children. He argues everything, particularly if it comes out of M's mouth. He bewails things a lot. Yesterday I got a tearstained call at work (I kind of dread getting calls from home): "Dad is abusing his power as Dad." Oh, dear - what's going on? "He says we need to clean off the table AND outside. Because they're a mess. He says he can't sit down. You need to come home right away."

"That actually sounds pretty reasonable, kiddo." More tears.

Sigh. And the homework has had moments of intensity, already, and it's only the second week of school. And my other child: she goes to school. Sometimes I hear about it. I haven't seen or heard a single thing from her teachers, however: not a flier, not a note, nothing. When I ask her what her favorite part of the day is, she says, Art class. A girl after my own heart.

("You get to start intramurals this year, Helen!" Si told her joyfully. When she gave kind of a roll-the-eyes response, he said, "But you've GOT to do intramurals. It's like gym class! Before school! You get to play games!" Still nothing. I finally had to chime in, "When I was in school, I didn't like gym either. In fact, it was my LEAST FAVORITE class." And Si looked at both of us in total bafflement.)

Nope. Botanic Gardens. I suppose one tipoff might be that there is a trace of green in this grass.
Awesome and not awesome: more or less like regular life. I do feel like we've clawed our way to the second level of parenting, though. For better or worse. 

Monday, August 20, 2012


The kids went back to school today and appropriately for my mood it's overcast and fuggy. It used to be the start of the school year was an enlivening time for me - apples, sweaters, sharp pencils and new classes - but the past two or three years it's leaned more toward sober and pensive, with perhaps a big dollop of self pity (on which I am trying to cut back, so bear with me). Today I am definitely feeling sober and pensive, with occasional dips into the black bile. Just dipping the toe, though. Rather than bolt into white-hot rage when, say, some unmemorable lawmaker says something breathtakingly stupid and cruel (That's what unmemorable lawmakers do, I remind myself sternly. It's like painting their drab house pink in the hope that it will stand out from the 90,000 other drab little houses on the market), I just get irritable. Rather than feel weepy and mournful on a morning when my son starts middle school, I just make him an honorary First Cup of Coffee (sweet, and half cream - I'm not sure if these make the habit more pernicious or less), take a picture of his impatient self, and feel, well, rather more wrinkled and middle aged than not as he heads off to the bus stop. And I try strenuously to put out of my mind my unfortunate breakfast reading, which centered on middle school power plays. Augh. I tell myself with rather more bravado than conviction that Si's still too young for all of that. Or too oblivious. And I mean that as a compliment: obliviousness is a powerful social coping tool, one which I have kept sharp and well-polished.

I told him not to smile for this one. He's actually very excited.

Later this very morning, in fact, I bring it into play at the elementary school bus stop, when a gaggle of bus mothers from the neighborhood stand around chatting and their topics are: a) how underestimated their children are at school (our beloved school, which admittedly is bursting to the seams with Exceptional Children); b) how very very awful teacher X is and how both they and their children were thankful that they hadn't gotten teacher X this year (Teacher X was ours last year, and while he was not without flaws, I thought he was sweet and gentle and fine); and c) crazy ex-husbands shacking up with crazier girlfriends.

Also very excited. And maybe got a up a mite too early.

Ai yi yi. It reminded me why usually I say a polite hello and bust obliviously on home.

Friday, August 17, 2012

On the brink

Last week, we had nine boys with guns over to celebrate eleven years of this guy:

Even at this age, Si's favorite thing to do was throw things.

It was a fitting tribute. Equally fitting is that his job for the next eleven years is to pick fluorescent airsoft ammo out of the lawn and garden. He was game for the first day, and stoked that he'd managed to trick Helen into helping (two minutes in, however, she quit - "I didn't know that this was going to be boring!" and he's been miserable, but committed, ever since).

On Monday, he starts middle school, the first step toward his much-anticipated adulthood. He regularly points out all the things that are proof of his ready-to-be-independent status: he can cook for himself (smoothies and chocolate milk), he is too old for a babysitter (cough not cough), he can earn money to pay for his own entertainment and consumables (from us, though. I'm still hoping he adds an external revenue stream to his earnings sometime soon.)

Character traits: goofy
I could go on about his usual personality markers: baseball, math, games, the newish interest in (fake) guns. The way he is at heart a bookish kid who, through baseball and games, has positioned himself squarely among the jocks. The way he is basically shy and respectful but has an unexpected flair for performance. How when M., reading out loud from a magazine, said "Having confidence and asking questions are not being rude," Si jumped up with a light of revelation in his eyes and said, "That's good to know! I'm always worried about seeming rude."

But with a sense of responsibility. And of beleaguered oppression.
In the past few months he has discovered radio and developed the regulation eleven-year-old taste for mass-produced music. While I am sorry that Beethoven is no longer in the hizzouse, and I am probably approaching my lifetime limit for 97.5 The Party, it's fun that he can take charge of this aspect of himself. It's gone along with some more inspiring acts of independence, too: he decided, in response to seeing his baseball friends buckle down and train, that he needs to improve his running speed. All month we've been going to the middle school track after dinner and running speed intervals and endurance work: this is probably the first time he's taken initiative in self-improvement, and it's good to see. As the kids and I drove home from the track last night, with them dangling their arms recklessly from the open windows and party music blaring, it felt like the new normal: life with big kids.

Not afraid to take a break.
It felt pretty good.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Last Days of July

1. Last week we drove across Kansas twice and I spent the whole time coveting the 4-foot high sandstone fence posts of Post Rock Country. Normally I do not understand statements like "85% of people would steal from you if they could" (really? I'm one of the 15%? I'm embarrassed to even look at other people's family photos on display when I'm dogsitting for them), but perhaps it is because other people do not have the right stuff. Apparently I am perfectly capable of starting to plot ways to sneak off with post rocks. (Step #1: have enough room in the car.)

2. I also spent some time trying to figure out how to trick my family into spending our next vacation visiting the Tallgrass Prairie National Scrap and the El Cuartelejo ruins in southwestern Kansas. And Bent's Old Fort. I have been trying to convince everybody that they want to drive five hours into flatland Colorado to visit a national historic site for approximately 5 years, though, so. Maybe this will be my year.

3. City Museum in St Louis? Is possibly the coolest place ever. Look for me to be futilely buying bags of quikrete in the hopes that some morning I will wake up able to create elaborate serpentine treefish out of concrete.

4. Frogs. My kids don't have enough frogs in their lives.

This creek, this action: the best time of my Ohio summers
5. Places we've watched the Olympics this week: my parents' TV in Ohio; nailed-down TV in the Super8 motel in Lawrence, Kansas and that was SO NOT a bedbug I saw; internet-accessed highlights on the iPad on I70; home. Home home home.

Seven Days of Refusing to Be Photographed
6. Other activities of note: badmitton; volleyball (uggghh); croquet (this activity caused the most sibling strife. That and the mysterious Nanner No Tagback game that somehow involves Penske trucks and yellow cars and screaming); listening to Alice in Wonderland in the car; tick checks; geocaching; making dinner with my mom; reading; napping (napping!); running through the woods; life list wildlife sightings (kit fox; live possum; screech owl in the wild) (that last one was a wildlife hearing - click the recording in the link).

Croquet also caused grandparental and parental strife. We were all too MEAN.
Other than the drive across Kansas AND Missouri AND Illinois AND Indiana, the only drawbacks to the trip were the inadequate drive-day-to-vacation-day ratio, not enough time with my sister, cross-trail spiderwebs while running, excessive heat, and the sense that this may be the last time we ever get to do this with everything okay.

But everything is still gathered on the precarious knife edge of okay. So for now we can continue.