If you are one of those people who believes that everyone who crouches in the starting blocks should take home a gold medal or that a scoreboard is best viewed as more of a suggestion than actual math or that spelling bees should give trophies for "close enough" then listen up, I have found your Promised Land. Cub Scouts.
In the two and a half years that my oldest son has been in our church Cub Scout troop, our family has participated in multiple celebrations of the engineering prowess of 8-11 year old boys... and when I say "8-11 year old boys" I mean the parents of "8-11 year old boys". This includes two rain gutter regattas whose balsa wood "boats" would make desperate refugees turn around and head for home and three good, old-fashioned Pinewood Derbys. (This, by the way, does not count the "Racin' for Pinks Pinewood Derby" that I organized for the 8-11 year old girls the year before we started doing time with my son... because I don't think other parents should get out this kind of nonsense just because they have daughters. How's that for post-modern feminism? Equal torture all around.)
So as not to send home any of the drivers, (or their pit crews), with wounded pride, I volunteered to print up the certificates for the winners... and when I say "winners", I mean "every kid who stuck wheels on a block of wood and pushed the thing down an inclined track". After brainstorming the first 7 or 8 awards including "best paint", "best paint color" and "best paint design", my intense and furious desire to stand guard over my son's self-esteem and my equally intense and furious compulsion to be an actual winner were locked in a cage match for domination of my personal life philosophy. On the one hand, I believe that children gain confidence through accomplishment not made-up accomplishment. They gain resilience and perseverance and humility by losing, failing and falling short. Also, they know when you are lying to them about how great they did at something that they weren't so great at. On the other hand I believe that my 10 year old son and I share a heart and a soul (also he may have hair spun from actual, real gold), so, there's that.
The solution to my battle with hypocrisy was solved by my husband. Instead of less competition, more competition. (Adam Smith is his life coach.) By the end of that derby we had first, second and third fastest cars along with the other "subjective winners", but we also had a winner for longest coast, best gym-floor donut, and longest tire spin with graphite. Who, you might ask, wants to win "longest tire spin with graphite"? Twenty five 8-11 year old boys (and their dads), that's who. Why? Because beating other people is fun, if not politically correct... and inspired by this simple truth, I now credit the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby with helping me pull off the greatest parenting upset ever. Ever.
At the very time I was knee deep in designing certificates for pretend winning, I was also attempting to potty train my 4th and final child. For the third time. I have always been committed to the idea that once you start down the potty training pathway, you do not, under any circumstances turn back. Basically, I am the Donner party of potty training. I have a high tolerance for potty training set backs, but this last kid just flat out beat me. Twice. (Humility, resilience, perseverance.) I would put him on the toilet. I would wait for that lovely liquid running into liquid sound. I had my potty dance ready to go. No sound. So, I would take him off, pull up the unders, pull up the trousers, zip the whole mess up and wash the hands just in time for him to flood the step stool. Every freakin' time. Here's something I learned, if you choose to fight the battle to mandate when another person pees, prepare to lose. (Remember, this applies to eating too, in case you ever try to feed my daughter, "the vegetarian", any vegetables.)
Then one morning I had the most genius idea ever. Instead of less competition, more competition. I woke my son and said "Today we are in a race to see who can use the potty the most. I have already gone twice, so that means that right now you are losing 2 - 0. I might have to go again soon." This produced what my mother would call a "significant emotional experience" in my three year old. The Cub Scout mom who wants her son to get a certificate for "best car with three wheels" might have felt bad for him. Unfortunately, he got the mom who has won the Portland Region Meanest-Mom-Ever traveling trophy more times than she can count. There was some screaming about needing privacy, a door slam (albeit not a very loud one) and then the score was 2-1.
It has been a good 6 weeks since the pinewood potty training triumph (we were totally accident free in two days) and my three year old is still doing a running tally of our points. Some days I beat him on purpose, just to keep him hungry, but most days I am content in the knowledge that no matter how high his score climbs, I earned the win on this one.
When I was a little girl my sister K. had the long hair and I had the short hair. I wanted the long hair. I wanted plastic barrettes with stars on them and and those super awesome ponytail holders with the two huge plastic balls on either end that look like they might come in handy in a knife fight... (if you didn't have a knife.) I dreamed of doing that flippy thing with my hair that Charlie's Angels did when they were being super tough and hot at the same time. (Did you ever see Sabrina Angel pull that move? No. Sabrina had short hair. Sabrina was the practical one not the pretty one.) I did not want to be Sabrina Angel. (Although at one point I did want to be Mary Lou Retton. Long hair : 16,789,023 ... Short hair: 1). Mostly, I ended up wearing many variations of short hair, usually curled in a tight roll around my face, and I heard lots of questions like "What size shoe would you like for him?" Also, sometimes I had a perm . Yep, a short hair perm. (I may have liked my hair better if it had been blonde or red or that really shiny black that my Asian friends had, but even my color was rather... let's put it this way - I have a friend who refers to our hair color as "New York Rat". )
As a teenager I was all about changing my hair. I grew out my hair and colored my hair and, on occasion permed my hair. (Apparently a girl can never get too much of a bad perm). I wore curlers and made my bangs really tall, and carried Aquanet in my back pack... just in case. I shaved the back of my head once. I had an asymmetric bob - twice. I used Sun In multiple times. (PS - Sun In only turns your hair blonde if you start out blonde. Otherwise, it turns your hair orange. Just a friendly warning to all you would-be Sun In users. Also, henna is also very effective if you are a fan of the orange hair.)
Finally at the end of my freshman year of college, and mostly to show off my dream-of-the-90s ear piercings, I embraced my inner pixie cut, hacked the whole mess off and found, to my total astonishment, that I really like having short hair. It makes me feel pretty. I have been wearing it relatively short ever since and my long hair envy is a thing of the past (like my ear piercings)... except when I don't want to do my hair. Up-dos are hard to pull together with 4 inches of hair. Luckily, Pinterest and YouTube have solutions for just such a moment. I call it "the short hair ponytail", you might know it as a "scarf".
When I first started wearing these a few years ago, I mostly stuck to cute little wide headbands. These are a fashion gateway drug, and in the last year, I have slippery sloped into a full-on, hard core user. My favorite scarves now cover my whole head and are tied in a huge knot of material all twisted around at the back like a bun. I love wearing them and they have become my go-to for those flip-a-coin-between-showering-and-having-lunch-days. (Yes, sometimes I shower at noon people. Don't judge me.)
One of these non-shower days happened last Saturday when my husband was out of town and I had promised my kids I would take them to see the Alphabeticians (two dads who are apparently getting the band back together) at our local library. We got there too late to get seats in the cushy chairs, but early enough to get good spots on the floor near the front so that no bovine growth hormone using preschoolers would plop down in front of us. The space appeared to start filling up, but really it was just the space around me starting to fill up. I got that feeling that you get when someone is standing too close behind you in line at the grocery store, but you can't really turn around to see what's up with them because they are too close to have your face that close to them. So I just sat there with all of these people and their kids pressed around me and tried to enjoy the songs about , you guessed it, the alphabet.
At the end of the concert, I grabbed as many of the hands of as many of my kids as possible and turned to try to flamingo walk my way through the huddle of people hosting an Occupy movement in my personal space. I'm not sure if there is an official term for a whole heck of a lot of Muslim women sitting all together decked out in full on hijabs, but if there is, that is what I saw circled up around me and my makeshift headscarf. Trust me, I know the "Hey, we don't know you. Did you just move here, or are you a new convert?" face when I see it, and once they got a look at me and my kids, these ladies had it. I don't know what my face said, but my mind was inner monologueing like crazy; "Oh... oh no... no... I am not Muslim. No... not Muslim; Mormon. You know... like Mitt Romney? Ummm... not that there is anything wrong with being a Muslim. I am sure you are very nice people, I just ... um, I just didn't wash my hair and ...' cuz it's short, so the head scarf... and then I sat on the floor. I wasn't lying to you or anything. Wait. Is it rude to be talking about not being Muslim in my head, because I am sure you are very nice people."
As I saw it my options were "say something stupid" or "smile and stay silent". I went with the latter and managed not to step on anyone from my new community as I headed for the door. In the end, I really am sure that all of those Muslim mothers, who were there for the same reason I was - our kids, really are nice people and I decided I am okay if people think we are all together. I do like myself a colorful headscarf after all... and I can think of way worse things to be mistaken for than someone of a different religion, (like a 12 year old boy with an inexplicable affinity for bad perms ).
It is always hard to come back to something that you love, but haven't done in awhile. I feel that way about running and yoga and eating kale (wait did I say love, I meant "I think kale is totally gross, but I live in Portland so I need to act excited about hiding it in smoothies") and writing the run-on sentences that make up this blog. When I went back to school to finish the degree that I quit in my 20s I basically did nothing but study, write papers and go to labs. The downside - studying, writing papers (professors don't like parenthetical asides by the way), going to labs and the near-death experience of this blog. Also, I missed a lot episodes of Vampire Diaries. Don't judge me. The upside (other than no longer being a college drop out) - I held a human brain (and various other pickled body parts) in my hands, learned I was good at using terms like "diaspora", "perpetual dependence" and "conversely", and also I can look really smart while helping my daughter with her cell structures crossword puzzle for her 7th grade bio class.
My long term plan was not just to work hard and earn my super useless degree in Social Science, but rather to work hard and earn my super useless degree along with all the prerequisites to apply for an accelerated graduate degree in nurse midwifery. (Hence the human brain in my hands.) Anyone who knows me knows that if I don't catch me some babies in this life I will haunt the halls of maternity wards whispering to birthing women to get off their backs already... although I might do that anyway. My application was due on December 1st. My application is still in my underwear drawer (it's pretty much the only place I don't lose stuff) ... along with two letters of recommendation and the cancellation notice for the appointment to sit my GRE.
This decision was mostly made for me one afternoon when my first grader (for the second time in two years) pulled an escape from Alcatraz (aka. the local elementary school) and, like any self respecting fugitive, ran straight home to his Momma. 20 minutes after he and his classmates finished off their nut-free, gluten-free, sugar-free and taste-free lunches there Q. stood at my front door in all his sweaty faced, heaving chest, dimpled glory. He apparently ran the mile home from school and just beat the phone call from the trying-really-hard-not-to-panic front office lady, who I am pretty sure lost a crazy competitive, best of 20, rock-paper-scissors death match with the principal to tell me that they had lost my kid. I explained that he had just arrived home. She was not even a little impressed with his 1600 meter time.
After many attempts by his very dedicated and talented public school teacher to help him engage in any kind of learning (seriously, she has been great) and countless hours of helping Q. finish tedious worksheets that he didn't finish during class because "they are the worst, most boringest things in the world", my husband and I have decided that there just might be a reason you can't nail jello to a wall, fit a square peg into a round hole, or talk a 7 year into thinking that his walk between classes is the same thing as recess. It seems so ironic that through all of my sacrifices to stay in school, my son has been straining to flee it, both mind and body. As a result, we have decided to take the proverbial road-less-traveled, a road which for us, ends up at our kitchen table with me and my son learning about the math, reading, grammar and the ocean (his learning topic of choice) in a way that will convince him that education is not punishment and that it is normal for little boys to wiggle and run while also giving him the skills to control the wiggles and the running when necessary.
I have my fingers crossed, one eye closed and am trying to remember to breath deep as we head down a totally new route that we hope will give Q the tools he needs to like learning and like himself at the same time. It could be a disaster... or it could be his greatest run yet. Ready. Set...