eXpectations #atozchallenge

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Sometimes—more frequently than not, nowadays—my children say things that are completely unexpected, and I have a very difficult time maintaining my composure. Sometimes, I just can’t.

We were driving to my parents’ house recently. The drive had been a slow one, and it was getting on toward dinnertime. I asked J to call Grandma from her cell phone to let her know where we were. At that point, we were about 20 minutes away, and had just gotten close enough to civilization to have cell service.

She dialed, held the phone to her ear, and waited. The first thing I didn’t expect was her decision to masquerade as her younger brother, feigning a deeper voice. (Interestingly, despite the deep voice that made her seem more like her brother, she chatted with Grandma as herself.)

When she and Grandma finished their conversation and got ready to hang up, J said, as her parting words, “Stay pretty, Grandma!”

I burst out laughing. And I couldn’t stop. I had tears streaming down my face by the time I was able to pull myself together. And I was driving. Luckily, we arrived at our destination safely.

Driving or not, always expect the unexpected.

Veggies and Weeds #atozchallenge

Life Lessons from the Garden:

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I have spent the past several years as a gardener in my town’s Community Garden. At this time of year, I am typically planning my vegetable garden. I am acquiring seeds and making sure I have the proper fencing. I am hauling out tomato cages, and sorting through tools and row markers, loading up a bucket of supplies, and planning the layout of the garden I will grow. Not to mention fretting over how I am possibly going to fit everything into my small 10 x 20 garden plot (which is actually two plots in our community garden).

I have taken many lessons from the gardening experiences I have had throughout my life. I only hope that my children have learned one or two of these lessons as we have gardened together.

Planning: If you want to get the most out of your garden, you have to plan ahead. Vegetables are not planted haphazardly. Some require rows, some hills, and some—like tomatoes—are more individual in nature.

Patience: Once you plant the seeds, it will be a week or two before you even see the tiniest shoot of green emerge from the ground. And those shoots are just the beginning. It will be much longer before you can truly enjoy the fruits of your labor.

“Personal space” varies: Just like people, plants have different space requirements. Some plants only need to be separated from their friends by a couple of inches to grow to their potential, but others need their own little patch of space to grow up and spread out and produce the best vegetables.

Focus on the good: Nurture the plants you want in your garden. Remove the weeds, insects, and rodents that are not healthy or wanted and may even be harmful. These things can grow out of control, take over and ultimately, choke out the good stuff.

Persistence: As with any relationship, a gardener must constantly work at gardening. One day, you may spend hours in the garden weeding, and two days later, the weeds will have taken hold, once again, as the prominent greenery. Constant care and attention are required.

Things don’t always turn out the way you planned: There are so many variables that factor into a successful garden. Depending on the weather, the forces of nature, the local fauna, you may not reap what you think you have sown. One season might produce smaller than normal tomatoes. One season might produce a bumper crop of squash bugs—which means no squash/pumpkins/watermelon. But each season brings surprises. There maybe disappointments, but there will likely be pleasant surprises, as well.

Self-sufficiency: Growing a garden demands a great deal of attention, but it also demonstrates the amazing human potential to feed oneself using the resources of nature. And if your crop is big enough, you can preserve some of your harvest (by freezing or canning) for the coming winter.

Satisfaction: After a busy year of planting, watering, nurturing, weeding, and chasing vermin out of the garden, you can relish the satisfaction of having grown your own food. And there is nothing better than garden fresh veggies picked within the hour. Yes, vegetables taste just a bit better when you have grown them yourself.

This year, I will take a hiatus from my garden for a number of reasons. I will miss the daily reminders of these simple life lessons. But perhaps next year, I will choose to garden once again.

Ultimate Optimism #atozchallenge

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As I make my way through life, I have been collecting nuggets that I carry with me like badges. These are things I seldom whip out and flash around; instead, they are personal, trophies won through the experiences I have gone through—the struggles, the pain, the joys, and the triumphs.

One of the most useful nuggets I have acquired is ultimate optimism. Really more of an outlook on life—an approach to life, if you will—than a trophy or badge, I have had optimism since I was just a tyke. Maybe eight or ten. In fact, the only way I would have made it through some of my trials and tribulations is to hold onto the firm belief that things are going to get better.

When I am working with students or counseling my children, I will often refer to current challenges as “a bump in the road.” In the grand scheme of things, one day, as you look back on a situation from a different perspective, you will find that the trials, they really were just passing moments in time.

And at that point, when you look back on all you have been through, you will realize how strong you have become. And hopefully, you will realize that you, too, have the tool of ultimate optimism that you can draw on.

Because the truth is, things are going to get better.

Turning the Tables #atozchallenge

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Spring has brought warm weather here in New England, and we are beginning to open windows and leave our doors ajar to let the breezes bring fresh air into the house. In our kitchen, we have a deep windowsill, and during the winter, when the windows aren’t open, things tend to collect there. Often, these items are placed there, then forgotten.

The other night, as we sat down to dinner at the table, it was warm in the kitchen despite the open front door. I surveyed the windowsill, which was cluttered with things that had not been put in their proper places.

“W, you’re going to have to clean off the windowsill so we can start opening that window,” I said, knowing that most of the time, the stuff that lands there belongs to him.

He turned and looked at the sill, most likely mentally calculating the amount of work required to complete the task. “That’s not all mine,” he determined. “J puts it there when she cleans off the table for dinner.”

“Well,” I thought for a minute. “What about those lifesavers?” I had watched him take a couple each morning on his way out the door to the bus. “What are the lifesavers doing on the windowsill?”

“Those?” he asked, pointing to the opened bag and the white candies scattered over the pile of magazines and mail. He looked me straight in the eye. “Those aren’t mine.”

I tipped my head in question. “Yes they are. You have been eating them.”

“Yeah, but they’re not mine. They’re C’s.”

With the mention of his name, C snapped to attention. “Those lifesavers are not mine!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes they are,” W confirmed. “They’re the ones you took to Dad’s house.”

“Oh,” he suddenly appeared sheepish. “Is that where they went?” He looked more carefully at the windowsill.

“Those are the lifesavers you took to your father’s?” I asked.

“Yeah,” the two boys confirmed, simultaneously.

“I guess they’re mine then,” C shrugged.

“If those are the ones you took to your father’s, they’re mine,” I stated, deciding to claim them since the boys were still arguing over them. After all, I paid for them. Then again, by that standard, there wasn’t much in the house that didn’t belong to me.

“Okay, they’re yours then,” W said decisively. He paused for half a second, then turned to look at me, his eyes penetrating and his face comically stern. He took on my tone and inflection. “So Mom… what are the lifesavers doing on the windowsill?”

Wait… what?

Self-care, Sleep, and Single Parenting #atozchallenge

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When one of my coworkers left work on Friday, she said, “Have a good weekend. Be sure to do something for yourself this weekend.”

Yeah right, I thought, mentally running through the lengthy list of things that would consume my time in the two days before I returned to work.

“It’s important to take care of yourself,” she continued. “If you don’t, you won’t have anything left to give others.”

I know she is right. But for single parents, self-care is a luxury that is too often pushed to the back burner. For me, self-reflection takes place in the car on the way to and from work, and sleep…? Well, there is never enough of that.

But her comment did give me pause. Maybe—just maybe—I can figure out how to shake up my priorities so I move “self-care” a step or two up from the bottom of the list.

Respite #atozchallenge

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I am taking a break from complaining—not that I complain a lot. However, I have come to the realization that the things I tend to complain about are things that I cannot—or at least not at this moment—change, for whatever reason. And so it is really not worth the time and energy to complain about them.

My son, on the other hand, has taken up complaining with a vengeance. We got in the car the other day, and someone on an NPR talk show used the word, “acrossed” which, of course, isn’t a word.

“I hate when people say ‘acrossed,’” he informed me. “That’s just wrong!”

“I know,” I agreed. “Me too.” I turned to back out of the parking space. Now, W was focused on the back of the car to our right.

“I can’t believe the dealer put their insignia on the car crooked. You’d think they could at least put it on there straight,” he commented. Silence ensued for a minute while he thought about his words, and then he said, “Apparently, I am just complaining tonight.”

We had only traveled a few feet when he said, “Can you believe how that person parked? Who would park like that?”

As we drove, he found myriad complaints—from the items in people’s yards to the cars passing us. And he jumped on everything I said. “Oh yuck!” I said, commenting on a particularly nasty roadkill as I quickly turned away.

“What?” he asked, suddenly looking at my side of the road rather than his.

“A squirrel,” I told him.

“Someone hit a squirrel? Who would do such a thing?” By this point, he was having difficulty keeping a straight face. “How rude!”

As we drove, he continued to complain about everything he could. A tree that was not growing straight; a person running on the side of the road; a shrink-wrapped boat that has not moved from the same yard in several years. Anything was fodder for his complaining, and by the time we reached our destination, I was laughing, and he had cracked a smile that he couldn’t extinguish.

Complaining seems to suit him for now, but I’m glad I’m taking a break. I just thought this break would be more… well… peaceful.

Queen #atozchallenge

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I think it would be grand to be Queen for a day. It would be great to have someone to do my bidding: fetch my shoes, drive me around, make my meals? Oh, and do my grocery shopping! Yes, I would like to be queen for a day.

I would spend the day being waited on hand and foot, and I might even indulge in a massage. I would definitely delegate the tasks I least like to perform: laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning toilets. Yes, I would enjoy a day—just one—as queen.

Heck, I’d settle for a day on the couch, reading a non-work-related book. Did I say a day? I meant an hour!

Period. #atozchallenge

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Recently, I found a chocolate bunny that was left over from the Easter holiday. I stuck it in a sandwich bag, and I broke it into pieces. (Had I done the reverse—broken it up and then put it in a sandwich bag, I might have lost some of the smaller pieces…). I had been eating little bits from the bag each night.

After a few days of this nibbling, I went into the pantry closet to have my nightly ration. I looked where I thought I had left the bag, but I couldn’t find it. I searched one bin, then another. No bag of bunny bits. Bummer.

I must be going crazy.

The following night, I thought I should look again. Perhaps I had missed it the day before.  Again, I searched the logical places, and again, I came up empty. Where could I have put that bag? I strained my memory trying to recreate my actions in returning the bag to the pantry.

“I know I had a chocolate Easter bunny in here,” I said to no one in particular. “I just can’t seem to find it.” I sighed. Loudly.

“Wait. That was yours?” C asked from where he sat in the living room.

I turned and looked through the doorway, studying him sitting on the couch, suddenly alert. “Did you eat it?” I asked accusingly.

“Nope. When W got home from school the other day, he found it in the pantry, and he asked if it was mine. I said no, so he assumed it was his. He ate it.”

“He ate my chocolate bunny?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure,” he said, sounding not quite certain. “You’ll have to ask him.”

“Ugh! I have been going crazy looking for that bunny!” I made the statement as dramatically as I could.

“Mom,” C retorted. “You are going crazy. Period.”

NO! #atozchallenge

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Recently, I have come to the strange realization that cat treats and human treats are contained in similar bags. Sometimes, when I pull out a bag of chocolate covered somethings, the cats will suddenly appear in the kitchen, believing that they might get a small tidbit to keep their poor selves from starving to death.

This evening, I took a bag of chocolate covered blueberries out of the pantry and put them on the kitchen table. As frequently happens, I was distracted by the need to complete a task, and I went upstairs. As I was coming down the stairs, I thought I heard the bag rustle, as if someone was eating my treats! This must be the sound the cats hear before they come running.

C was in the kitchen, eating a snack and getting ready for bed. I studied him for a moment, narrowing my eyes. “Are you eating my blueberries?”

He nodded. “Yep,” he stated proudly.

“Um… no,” I stated matter-of-factly. “Those are my treats.” I moved the bag just out of his arm’s reach. His arm stretched, he leaned, and he pulled them back toward him.

“They’re my treats, too,” he informed me.

“Nope,” I tried again. “I paid for them. That makes them my treats.” I offered what I thought to be an irrefutable argument.

“But I am eating them,” he informed me, his own logic trumping mine.

I sat down and pulled the bag closer. “Go on,” I joked. “Isn’t it bedtime?”

“Just a couple more,” he teased.

“No!” I waved him away, stifling a giggle. “These are mine!” I clutched them to my chest like a treasure. He disappeared upstairs. No doubt, the minute I am not looking, he will eat them.

The letters N and O. Perfect together, but not always what we want to hear.

Middle School #atozchallenge

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My youngest child is finishing up middle school this year and moving on to high school. I have to say that I couldn’t be happier. Overall, middle school has been my least favorite parenting experience. And it was my least favorite childhood experience, as well. Middle school is the time when children are forming their own identities away from their parents, moving into cliques, discovering what they might like to do, what they are good at, and realizing that they can project the things they don’t like in themselves onto others.

When my oldest entered our town’s middle school, I distinctly remember sitting in a parent meeting in the cafeteria with a large group of parents. The principal stood on stage giving her spiel, and finally, she proudly stated, “There is NO bullying in our school. None.” And then she turned to the students she had coerced to be on stage with her and said, “Isn’t that right, students?” To which they all nodded, looking like deer in headlights.

As a teacher, a parent, and a long-ago middle-school student, I remember thinking that principal must have buried her head so deeply in the sands of self-created utopia that she had no idea what was happening in the halls she walked each day. And in fact, I was correct.

There was plenty of bullying at our middle school. But there was also much opportunity for growth. Middle schools are tough places, and so I offer some thoughts to help prepare for this experience.

1. You will not find “your people” in middle school. There will be a lot of people there, but they might not be people that you want to hang out with. They might not even be people you like. Don’t be discouraged. You are more likely to find them your people high school, but you might not find them until college. You will eventually find people with whom you have much in common.

2. Don’t work on being popular. From my experience, middle school popularity (even high school popularity) is fleeting. The people who are popular now will find themselves in amongst people who are older and smarter and more popular than they are, and they won’t know how to fit themselves in with those people. Besides, the focus on popularity holds you back from true success in life.

3. Those people who look like they have it all together? The people who don’t accept you because you don’t play a sport or you don’t live in the right part of town? They are just as insecure as everyone else. If someone doesn’t accept you, that is a reflection on who they are, not who you are.

4. Middle school is just a brief period of time. I know it may seem like it lasts forever, but it will be over before you know it. Keep your focus on your school work and on developing the best you that you can be, and you will come out stronger and more amazing than when you started. You are enough, and you are exactly what this world needs. Develop your talents and figure out who you are becoming.

I am quite happy that we are reaching the end of our middle school experience. For all of you who are not, I wish you the best of luck. Remember: this too shall pass.