Ropeclimbing: An Elementary School Torture Technique

In elementary school in the late 70s and early 80s, we were required to climb the rope that was hanging from the rafters in the gym.

Rope-climbing day was my own particular nightmare.

Some students could fly up to the top.  I, however, couldn’t make it five inches off of the ground.

I remember walking into the gym and seeing that bastardly rope trailing out of the sky like a giant, evil, hand-cutting snake.

I remember wishing I would’ve known so I could have stayed home that day.

I remember hating the gym teacher who was constantly swinging their whistle around and around. Swish, swish.

I remember praying for a fire drill, a tornado drill, or even an earthquake.

I remember pretending to listen to the vague directions from the wind-pants teacher.

I remember waiting in the line while each and every kid attempted the rope nightmare.

I remember perspiring so much that my hands felt clammy, much like rubber cement.

I remember staring up to the top wondering what this proved to the world.

I remember getting on the monster rope and not moving up an inch.

And, I remember walking away from the horrible rope with my head held down.

Sadly, this was how one was judged.  Gym class was it’s own sort of hell on Earth.  And, quite possibly, a hideous, horrible rite of passage.

Recently, I asked my now fourth-grader what his favorite class was this year.

His answer? Gym class.

I do so hope he is better at rope-climbing than I was.

Even the picture makes me feel a little nauseous.

Even the picture makes me feel a little nauseous.

Car Conversations

Middle school is an odd time.  I say odd because there isn’t really another adjective I can use to explain how weird my discussions with my middle school son, String Bean, have become.

And the car has become the place for these odd talks.

Long gone are the car discussions about the merits of Wendy’s nuggets over McDonald’s McNuggets.  Or the chats about the zillion unique Pokemon characters (Legendary ones versus morphed ones, etc.) and how important each one is to the game.  No.  These car conversations are now replaced by talks about social skills and, gulp, dating.

I should preface – String Bean is in 6th grade.  I still recall playing Barbies in 6th grade.  I don’t remember having a boyfriend or calling a boy’s house or being at all interested in the opposite sex.

Times they are a changin’.

This past car conversation proved very interesting.  String Bean and I had just left the community theater and I was running one of the middle school girls, who is in the musical with us, home.  She is in 8th grade.  String Bean is smitten with her and, basically, wouldn’t lend a word to the conversation.

So I led it and told her that String Bean and I were going to go home and try to catch an episode of The Family Guy. This is something he wasn’t allowed to watch until he hit middle school status, so we watch it together (mostly in case of any questions that may come up!)

She laughed and said that it was a funny show.

String Bean sat there and said nothing, but his body language said it all.  I had done the worst thing a parent can do: embarrassed him.

We chatted more, and finally arrived at her home.  I waited until she went inside before pulling out of the driveway.

The silent middle child sitting in the car became quite chatty.  He asked me how I talked to people so easily.  I told him practice.  I also told him the biggest secret of all: ask THEM about themselves.  It works like magic.

He took all of it in and seemed completely content by the time we reached our home.

About 10 minutes later, he got a text on his iPod from the 8th grade girl.  It said: “Turned on the TV and The Family Guy was on.  Thought of you two.”

Needless to say, String Bean didn’t stop grinning all night.

Growing too fast.

Growing too fast.

Many Drafts, Many Possibilities

Currently, I have 47 drafts.  Most are only halfway written, some are waiting on endings and a few are events I can’t even remember.  My dear friend, Valleygirl96 over at Views From the Valley, and I were discussing blogs and drafts, and she ended up actually writing AND posting a blog about drafts.  She rocks.

Check out her post here: http://valleygirl96.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/my-shitty-first-draft/

While you are visiting her, be sure to read some of her “Tales from the Teacher’s Lounge” posts.  They are hilarious and are all happening directly outside our classrooms.

As for me, I hope to get a post up this week.  Maybe even one of my many drafts!  ;)

Computer and coffee time needed to write!

Computer and coffee time needed to write!

Hug a Teacher

The best days are those when a child actually gives a real response to the everyday questions, “How was your day?”

This unbelievable occurrence happened in my household on February 28th at approximately 3:11 p.m.

I notated the date and time because it is a rarity.  Rarer than the talking dog from the film Up.  Rarer than my husband likes his steak.  Rarer than me being on time for an event.  I am talking rare, my friends.

Since my oldest has hit middle school, he arrives home before the rest of the household.  He usually has about 10 minutes before I get there. Most of the time I find him watching The Family Guy on Netflix (he has been instructed since the beginning of time to start his homework, alas it doesn’t happen often without prompting).  This was different.  The TV was silent and the dude was sitting at the computer looking something up on Google.

“How was your day?” I asked.

“It was OK,” he answered.  A typical response at our house.

“That’s good.  Anything else going on?” I questioned, hoping he may add something to the conversation.

“Mom, you know what?”

I turned, shocked that I was actually asked a question!  “What, kiddo?”

“It stinks that it is the end of February.  I liked February.”

My mind raced trying to think of why… Maybe it was because he had one of the leads in our community theater’s production of Willy Wonka (he was Mike TV, appropriately) and we were heading into the final weekend of the show? Maybe because snow days are fewer in March? Maybe because a free Pokemon download wasn’t available after February at Game Stop?  Maybe I should just ask him?  Yeah.  That’s the ticket.

“So, why did you like February?”

“We learned a lot this month in Social Studies.  We learned about all sorts of people I had never heard of,” he replied looking a little melancholy.

“Really?  That’s awesome!” I exclaimed, excited that he is actually absorbing what he has been taught. Then, curiously, I added, “Who was the person you liked learning about the best?”

“Ella Fitzgerald.  She was very talented.  She was an inspiration,” he answered without hesitation.

“Wow, I’m impressed,” I said.

“I know, right?  Who knew February would be such a great month in Social Studies!” he said, jumping onto Minecraft on his iPod.

“So true,” I said as I began humming a little Ella.

I will be hugging his teacher soon.  For sure.

And he is back on technology. Again.

And he is back on technology. Again.

Airplanes and Truth Serum

A little while ago, The Captain, the dudes and I flew to Houston to visit my dad and my stepmother.

It may seem strange, but The Captain refused to sit next to me on the plane.

There is a back story here.  I have a strange “power.”  It is the ability to talk to anyone and they will share some of their deepest, darkest secrets with me without being prompted to do so.  I don’t know where this gift (or curse) may have come from.  I do know this: With great power, comes great responsibility.  So, I am now letting my secret out.  I am human truth serum.

It started many years ago when I was traveling with business.  Flying alone can get lonely, but I love the quiet time to get absorbed in a book or take a quick nap on a plane.  However, this does not happen for me.  Ever.  People talk to me.  I smile.  I nod.  I show interest.  And then they spill it.  All of it.

I never really thought much about my days of flying until The Captain and I flew on an earlier journey to Houston many moons ago.  It was one of the few times he would meet my dad before our wedding, and to suggest this trip was a big deal is putting it mildly.  We ended up in a three-seat row.  I put The Captain by the window and sat in the middle.  A Mrs. Frizzle look-a-like sat down next to me.  She began knitting what looked like socks.  I smiled at her as I opened my novel.  She started asking me about my career, where I was going, etc.  By the end of the flight, I found out that she was divorced three times and was on her way to meet (for the first time) “a nice, solidly built man from the Internet.”  I don’t know why it was important to add the “solidly built,” but whatever works I guess.

The Captain rolled his eyes.  “I am not sitting next to you on a plane again.”

And so here we are.

On one occasion, my brother and I flew to Mississippi for the funeral of our grandfather.  On the first leg of the flight, what looked like a college student sat next to me.  I was annotating To Kill a Mockingbird for Monday’s lesson plan.  She leaned over and told me it was one of her favorite books.  She proceeded to tell me about her upcoming graduation from college, her job search, her cheating boyfriend and her impulsive interview for an out of state job.  By the end of the flight, and to my brother’s amazement, she hugged me and thanked me for the support.

On the second leg of our flight, I was sitting next to a twenty-something who seemed very busy.  She was organizing her airplane space, and had a book on her lap.  I was ready to snooze.  Five minutes into the flight, I passed a piece of gum to my brother and offered one to her (to not offer it would be rude, right?!).  She took the piece of gum and then proceeded to tell me her life story.  By the end of the flight, I learned she had survived a horribly abusive marriage and finally had won custody over her two-year-old daughter.  She was flying to pick her up and bring her to her new home where she had made a fresh start.  We were both in tears by the end of the flight and exchanged email information (and she, to this day, is doing very well).

IMG_4384Flying back home on a different flight than my brother, I thought there would be no way to top the truth serum from the first two flights.  I was wrong.

The first leg of the flight, I had an aisle seat.  One woman crossed over me to the window seat and opened her gigantic purse to reveal some KFC.  She pulled it out and began eating.  Boarding continued, and the person who was in the center stopped and asked me if I could move to the middle seat because she “couldn’t stand the b**** at the window.”  I was speechless.  I grabbed my things, almost afraid to say no, and moved over.  The woman at the window muttered some foul language toward the other woman.  Then, amazingly, they realized they could use me as a middle-man for their argument.  It began innocently enough when Window said, “Tell Aisle I can’t believe she did that to me.”  Aisle responded by stating, “You can relay to Window that she is a complete _____ and ______ and should have slept with my husband.”  Now it was beginning to get awkward.  Let me just conclude this by saying the flight attendant had to come over three times to ask them to stop yelling at each other.  Each time, she would throw me a look of sheer pity.  A stiff drink would have helped, too!

After we landed, I knew it couldn’t get any worse.  I boarded the last leg of the plane and had the horror pleasure of being seated in the front.  I thought I was alone in the row.  I began to relax, look out the window and prepare myself for a nice little nap on my flight home.  So wrong.  A guy sat next to me.  He had his shirt unbuttoned like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.  His name was Glenn and he was a genuine gigolo.  Glenn had on three very thick gold chains and two gold bracelets.  I secretly wondered if he had attacked Mr. T. earlier that day in the Atlanta airport.  He informed me that I was a “lovely woman” and he was “lucky to sit by such a jewel.”  I must say I am neither lovely or a jewel.  Glenn told me he was on his way to Ohio to “check his investments” before returning to his villa in Mexico where he “painted naked pictures of willing subjects and sometimes got lucky.”  After downing three Glenlivits, Glenn told me about this magical villa and his thankfulness to Pfizer for inventing Viagra.  I have never wanted to use a plane’s barf bag before this day.

And to all of the lovely jewels out there – stay far, far away from anyone named Glenn that owns a villa in Mexico.

Middle Schoolers Seeking Dating Advice From Crazy Parents: A True Story

My oldest son is now in middle school.

We have entered the big leagues, my friends.

The thought of String Bean walking through the doors of middle school sent me into a panic. All I could think about were my uncomfortable days of junior high.  I never wanted to relive those moments of hell again.

Fortunately, all my worrying was for nothing. String Bean has had a good run thus far.

Lately, he has been asking me some unique questions.  Questions that he has decided I am the best resource to ask.  Questions about dating.

Yes, dating.  Apparently something resembling this happens in sixth grade.

Sadly, I don’t want to share my middle school dating experiences which only consisted of one slow dance, a note that had the words, “Will you go out with me? Circle one: yes, no or maybe,” and being dumped by the said note-writer because I wasn’t allowed to go with he and his older brother to an amusement park.

Obviously, I was not the best person to ask.  I didn’t become a good person to ask until later in high school and in college.  Oh yes.  Good times.

So sorry – I digress. Back to String Bean.

“Mom.  Can I talk to you?” he said as he is working on his math homework.

“Sure thing, dude,” I said as I stared blankly at his math homework.  It looks more advanced than my college Algebra class.

“How do you know if a girl likes you?” he said, not making eye contact with me.

“Do you talk to the girl at school?”

“Yes. We sit near each other in Social Studies.”

“Have you talked to her about anything in particular like movies or Legos or anything?”

“Mom. Seriously? You think I am that dorky that I would talk to a giiiiiiiirrrrrrrlllll about Legos?”

“No, not at all. Probably not a good idea to talk about Legos.  I was just thinking about Legos for a second. My bad,” I said while looking at the Lego Shakepeare figure he gave me last week.

“How do I know if she likes me?” he said, starting to lose patience with me.

“Has she given you any hints that she likes you, such as giggles or whispers to her friends or smiles really big when you are around?” Yes, I am grasping here.  Failing like I failed many a math test.

“Yeah, kind of.  So, how do I ask her on a date?”

Wait a second.  A date? Wwwwwwwhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaatttttt???

“Umm. You could ask her if she likes Thor, and if she has seen any of the movies,” I said.  I am not sure where my response came from except for the fact I really like Thor.  Really like him.  And I want to see Thor, so I would take anyone to see it with me!

“OK.  Maybe I will talk to her about movies then,” he says and goes back to his homework.

Successful dodging of topic!  Hooray!

Later in the evening, as we are doing the bedtime ritual, I go to tuck String Bean in.

“Mom.  So how do I ask a girl on a date again?”

“Starting talking to her and then see where it goes,” I said, and, knowing full well The Captain was nearby, I added, “Maybe you should ask your dad because he is a guy also.”  Ha.

“Dad, how do I ask a girl out on a date?” he said.

The Captain appeared in the doorway looking completely baffled at the question, but without missing a beat, he replied, “You are too young to go on dates.  Now go to bed.”

String Bean looks at me and whispers, “See, Mom, this is why I asked you. Dad must not have had any dates in middle school.  He probably talked to girls about Legos.  Poor guy.”

They grow up too fast...

They grow up too fast…

A Time to Tap

My favorite tap shoes.

My favorite tap shoes.

A million moons ago I taught tap.

I was the kid in middle school and high school who was always in dance classes.  I was the kid who kept taking dance classes even as other students dropped out.  I was the kid who competed in dance.  I was that kid.

My specialty was tap.  I loved tap dancing – the rhythm, pace, sounds – all of it.  And I was pretty good at it.

In my 20s, I was approached by a friend to teach tap at her studio.  I was a young pup, and with my schedule, it was easy and fun.  I taught for her for quite a few years, but when I was pregnant with our second son, I was put on bed rest.  I wasn’t allowed to teach tap – or do much of anything for that matter.  After Squishy was born, I did not go back to teaching tap.  I really didn’t miss it that much.  My hands were full with a three-year-old and a newborn.

But, in the summer of 2012, I was approached by a former dance student of mine named Lacey.  She was in her second year of running her own dance studio, and wanted to talk to me about a few things.

I stopped in and she sat me down and asked me to teach tap for her.  She said all of the right things to convince me to teach: that I was enthusiastic, that she looked up to me, that I was a great tapper and that I was hilarious.

She played the funny card.  I was hooked.

I taught classes at the studio all last year, and realized that, yes, I did kind of miss it.

At first, the mirrors were daunting.  I wasn’t used to seeing my full self in floor to ceiling mirrors.  Do you know what this can do to someone’s self esteem?!  Scary times!  Those mirrors helped motivate me lose weight.  Really.

I also wasn’t used to tapping for three to four hours in a night.  After teaching angelic high school students English all day, tapping until the sun was in bed was a hard transition for me.

Recital time!

Recital time!

But I did miss a few things about teaching dance. First, I missed the kids and how entertaining they were.  Fixing hair bows and tying tap shoes and consoling little girls who missed their mommies was something I was not accustomed to being a mom of boys.  I also missed the thrill of seeing their dance steps finally click – those “I got it!” moments.  I missed choreographing and perfecting recital dances.  But what I missed most of all was me.  I know it sounds strange, but all the memories flooded back about how much I loved tap dancing and who I was when I was knee deep into shuffles, flaps and wings.  I had found a part of me that was lost; a part I truly missed.

Teaching tap again has made me a better person.  It amazes me how life can be a series of reinventions, but sometimes it is important to look back to help remember, reflect and refine today.  Dance does that for me.

My flowers from the recital and my happy dance-teacher face!

My flowers from the recital and my happy dance-teacher face!

On the day of the recital, I told Lacey how important the year of teaching for her had been.      I told her how I found a piece of myself I thought may have been lost forever.  I thanked her for what she had given me – a chance to find a hidden side of myself I had thought was long gone.

She said these words to me: “You made my year special and memorable. I couldn’t have done this without you. Thank you.”

Maybe we all find ways to find ourselves.

Gotta love the dance.

“You Old Hag” and other not-so-nice sayings

I knew that I had a wild child when he told my dear grandmother, Charlotte, that she was “nice stupid.”

My youngest, Squishy, has a way with words.

Here is Squishy at age 3. He is on the right with the not-a-smile expression. An expression of wild.

Here is Squishy at age 3. He is on the right with the not-a-smile expression. An expression of wild.

When he was just a little dude at the tender age of three, he vocalized his feelings.  He didn’t hold back; he just said whatever was on his mind.

My dear grandmother, who was in her early 80s at the time, was talking to him asking him what he wanted to eat (she always wanted to feed all of us – all of the time).  He kept telling her that he wanted ice cream, but she had trouble decifering the toddler-speak.

Finally, when she asked him for the third time, he stood up, put his hand on his hips, and blurted out, “Mam-ma, you’re stupid.”

Enter epic parenting fail.

She, however, didn’t miss a beat, and, this time, she perfectly understood what he just said to her. No decoding needed.

“Luke, Mam-ma is not stupid.  Mam-ma is nice,” she calmly retorted.

He turned as if he was about to leave the room, and then turned back, dropping his arms to his side and tilting his head ever so slightly.  The wheels were turning in that three-year-old brain of his.

And I was petrified by what he would say next.

“You’re right, Mam-ma.  You are not stupid… You are nice stupid,” and he did an about face and left the room.

This is when I knew I was in trouble.

At school, Squishy was (and is) the perfect angel.  It is just at home where his filter is lacking.

A few summers ago, when Squishy was six, he called my mother-in-law an old hag…in front of her bridge club.  (Yes, I am a proud parent – cough, cough).  Apparently he was “just kidding” and “only wanted some snacks.”  When she asked where he learned that phrase, he said “my mom.” I don’t recall ever in my life uttering the words “you old hag,” but in his mind, it was a free pass out of trouble.

How can anyone be mad at this face? Or not laugh at this crazy expression?

How can anyone be mad at this face? Or not laugh at this crazy expression?

More recently, he has been caught saying “shut your pie hole.”  Now I do know where this reference came from.  It is from the movie “The Sandlot” and The Captain was very excited the dudes liked the film.  Very excited, indeed, especially when Squishy not-so-subtly said this to my mother-in-law.

I found out about this gem of a phrase when I walked in on my mother-in-law discussing my “poor parenting choices” with a friend of hers.  She went on to tell the friend, “and she just laughs at what he says instead of disciplines him.”  Later I found that, once again, he blamed me for teaching him the phrase.  Hmmm.  Is there a trend going on?

When I addressed the behavior, he justified it by saying, “She wouldn’t stop talking, Mom.”

Touche, Squishy, touche.

Autumn and the Zombie Archives

In Ohio, the autumn weather can be tricky.  Usually there are some pretty days of glorious color followed by overcast and drizzly days.  This past weekend, we were lucky enough to have one of those gorgeous fall days when I want to spin on a hilltop singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music!”  Wait, that is another fantasy.  I digress.  Of course, there are only a few pretty days left on the calendar, and this was one of them.

With a beautiful weekend day comes the classic question: “Mom, can we go outside and play?”

Of course, my answer is, “Yes, please, do, go, bye!”

On Saturday, the sun was shining, and I received the question I knew was first thing on their minds when they woke up that morning.

“Mom,” said Squishy, “It is nice outside! Can we go outside and play?”

“Of course you can,” I said, looking up from the waffles I was making. (Actually, Eggo made them. I put them in the toaster. For me, this is domestic bliss.)

“Well, when can we go? We have some business in the woods to take care of,” he said sounding like he was about to audition for The Sopranos.

“What ‘business’ do you have in the woods?” I asked.

“Oh, Mom, all you need to know is that it is for your protection. OK?”

“What, in fact, are you protecting me from?” I questioned him as I sprinkled cinnamon on the waffles (see, I am a domestic diva!)

Zombies are the thing.

Zombies are the thing.

“We are saving the neighborhood from the upcoming zombie attack,” he said with sheer seriousness.

I turned to him in horror thinking maybe he had seen an episode of The Walking Dead or something?!

“What would make you believe there is an upcoming zombie attack,” I asked, praying he didn’t access my Netflix account on the iPad (darn you, zombie shows that pull me in, darn you!)

“Mom, it is just a matter of time when someone makes a vaccine that will take out the human race and turn everyone into a zombie.  Seriously, you should know this. You are a teacher.  Gosh,” he stated as he rolled his eyes, disgusted with me.

Now I am wondering if he was scoping out my Kindle and came across my latest read, The Passage.  Or maybe I Am Legend.  Was there some zombie thing on TBS or something?  Darn you, TBS, darn you!

“I highly doubt that will happen, Squishy, but if it does…”

“If it does, Mom, you will probably make us have the shot at the doctors, and you really won’t be prepared when we turn into zombies. So, we must prepare now,” he said interrupting me.

What the heck is he watching on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel?

“OK,” I said, knowing full well he was getting antsy to get outside and save the world.

Taking zombie precautions one street at a time.

Taking zombie precautions one street at a time.

After a while, I went outside to check on the progress of thwarting the impending zombie apocalypse.  I found Nerf guns, sticks and a mountain of leaves ready to protect the innocent.  I also found the neighborhood posse in the middle of the street strategic planning their next move.

“What are you all working on?” I said to the group of defenders.

“Mom, I already told you. We are making sure the neighborhood is safe,” Squishy answered.  The rest of the posse nodded enthusiastically.

“Well, in that case,” I said, “carry on.”

And they did.

So, a message to all zombies: Beware, zombies, beware of our street.  We have protection in the form of elementary students.  Scary, right?

For Halloween we had a zombie and a werewolf.

For Halloween we had a zombie and a werewolf.

Coffee Mug Crusade

When it comes to travel coffee mugs, I have horrible luck.

Now I know this isn’t a deep topic, but I realized this morning as I stared into the cupboard that I only have three travel mugs left in existence.  There is an eight to ten extinction rate with my travel mugs.

This is a problem for it seems I can never find the perfect mug.

Or, it seems that no mug will ever fulfill its sacred duty: traveling day to day with me to school and back and living to tell about it.

For some reason, I have incredibly bad luck when it comes to travel mugs.

I blame my husband, The Captain, for part of it.  He does not heed to the warnings imprinted on the bottom of the coffee mugs.  Many say, “Not dishwasher safe.”  He believes they say, “Put in dishwasher. Hope they last.”

The Disney one is the first one, followed by the rest that are now long gone.

The Disney one is the first one, followed by the rest that are now long gone.

One of my favorites came out of the dishwasher in the shape of a lava lamp.  Another ended up with so much condensation inside it looked like it came straight out of the rainforest.

And then the worst of all.  My Disney Finding Nemo mug began to leak.  From the bottom.  Leaking water, not coffee.  I do not understand how this is possible, but, alas, it is.

Darn.  I love that mug.

So, now, I am in a quest to find quality travel mugs that can a.) withstand being useful each and every day of the school year, and b.) withstand The Captain’s insatiable desire to put anything and everything into the dishwasher.

Wish me luck!