Class Rank

The conversation started out innocently enough. We were talking about the grades my daughter earned in the third quarter, which ended on Friday. Of course, nowadays, with programs like PowerSchool, there really are no surprises when it comes to grades. If parents open that report card and don’t know what their kids’ grades are, they’re not paying attention.

But then my daughter stared talking about a student in her AP English class who was missing much of her work for last quarter because she just didn’t hand it in. Or something. This particular student was ranked number one in the class last year, but this year… not so much.

If you’re wondering why a child would choose to slack off junior year—the year that is probably the most important, as far as college admission goes—read on. The rest of the conversation is quite telling. While the subject continued on grades and class rank, the focuse shifted to my youngest.

“I’ll bet you’re valedictorian in your class,” my daughter said to her brother. Her tone was almost accusatory.

“No I’m not,” he assured her, and he named the student who is.

“Well, you’re just a freshman,” she told him. “Your classes are easy and you don’t even do any homework. Wait until junior year. The people who are working hard now will get overwhelmed and start to struggle. Then you’ll be valedictorian.” She seemed pleased with her logic.

There was a pause in the conversation, and I thought it might be over. Then she said, “But if you’re valedictorian, you’ll have to give a speech, and you won’t want to do that. You’ll have to slack off a bit. But not too much because you don’t want Guidance to notice and ask you what’s up.”

“If I’m a junior and I’m number one in the class, I’ll have to slack off more than just ‘a bit.’”

“No you won’t,” I inserted myself into the conversation. “The top few students are really close. If one grade slips just a little, you’ll slip to number two with no problem.”

“But you don’t want to be salutatorian, either,” his sister cautioned him. “There’s really no point. If you aren’t number one, may as well go for third. Then you won’t have to give a speech, and you won’t have to be second.” If there was such a thing as an audible wink, she would have inserted one here.

And that explains why the top student in the class might slack off junior year—apparently, it’s all about the speech. And this is where I insert an audible groan….

 

Winter’s Release

This is the time of year when winter releases the many captives it has taken during the long, snow-smothered months. One never knows what will appear when the snow melts, and sometimes the discoveries can be downright surprising.

Two winters ago, I recovered a cell phone that had been buried in the snow for the better part of the winter. When I turned it on, it still worked, though the service had been disconnected weeks earlier by its owner. My challenge then was to find the owner and return the phone, which I was ultimately able to do by finding common contacts.

When my children were young, I found a wallet plowed into a pile of gooey brown road-slush. I took it home to dry it out and find its rightful owner. The wallet contained cash, credit cards, and identification, and I don’t think the man’s wife was pleased that a strange woman was calling her husband relatively late at night—at least not until she found out the reason for my call. The next day, I delivered the wallet to the bakery cafe where the man worked, and he gave my children each a large cookie from the display case.

One night this week, when I stopped at our mailboxes on my way home from work, I noticed a pair of eyeglasses in a case sitting on top of the box. The case looked naggingly familiar. It pulled at the memories contained in my brain, and as I dragged out the heavy box in which I store all useless tidbits of memory, the lid squeaked from lack of use. Interestingly, memories can slip into the storage box nearly unnoticed, but getting them out again can sometimes take great work and strain.

The memory started to emerge: A month ago—maybe two—my BF appeared at my house with new reading glasses (because we are at that age, and reading without them is challenging). He had purchased a new pair because… well, because he misplaces them. All. The. Time. These new glasses were contained in a nice case.

But the next day, the glasses had gone missing. BF seemed to think he had left them at my house, and he launched a futile search. I tried to tell him the glasses weren’t there, but he wouldn’t believe me until he didn’t find them there. He then thought he had left them in his car, but I never saw the glasses again after that. Until now.

Because now, they were sitting on top of the mailboxes, dirty from the weeks spent in the snow, but they were intact, unbroken, and in good shape. Luckily, it seemed they had not been plowed into a snowbank or run over by a car. And the case had done a good job of keeping them free of scratches. BF now has them back. At least for now.

Sometimes, I am amazed that anything can emerge intact after months buried in snow. And sometimes, I just wish winter would give up the fight and release the spring….

Missing…

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of one of the things that my children have missed in their lives. Because my children have been brought up almost exclusively by one parent, there will always be things that I could not provide and attention that they did not get.

This weekend, I took my daughter out to buy a prom dress. The dress was one she had picked out several weeks ago, and one that we almost didn’t get. Not because she didn’t want it, but because it almost wasn’t available.

As we walked into the store, we found only two of the desired style on the rack, and both were the wrong size. My daughter briefly seemed to think she could make the smaller of the two work, but I was doubtful. Nevertheless, we made our way to the fitting room to try it on. Because it is prime prom dress season, there were piles of cast-off dresses littering just about every available surface throughout the store. As we walked by the register, I spotted another dress like the one she was about to try on. Amazingly, this one was her size!

When we arrived home with the dress, I had this crazy flash of memory that caught me off guard and allowed me to glimpse something from my past that my kids are missing. When I was young, Mom would take us shopping for clothes (new school clothes, special occasion dresses, etc.). Later that day, when Dad got home from work, we would model our new clothes for him. He always had some approving comment like, “That looks sharp!” or “That’s a great dress!” Always, he was positive and supportive of our outfits and our emerging sense of style (no matter how odd or colorful). Always, he was supportive of us.

Back at home this weekend, I had the thought that my daughter should have someone so encouraging in her life, someone for whom to model her new dress. Every kid needs more than one person who will say, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” or “What a great choice you made!” or “You make me proud!”

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of what is missing, but I pause and remind myself of what my children have. Not all children have the same memories, but they will still have memories that are unique to them and to their experiences. Hopefully, no better or worse. Just different.

Vacuuming

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Last month, I had a very interesting text exchange with my oldest child. He started out, “Do you remember the time you got that chest for my room back in the old, old house and you picked me up from school and told me you got something for my room and it was a surprise, but you said it was something to help keep my room clean?”

In fact, I vaguely remembered how I presented the situation, but as soon as he mentioned it, I knew what he was talking about. He was just a little kid at the time, probably four or so. After all, we only lived in that house until he was five. I had found a “treasure chest” at the Christmas Tree Shop, and I thought it would be the perfect addition to his room to contain his toys.

He went on with the text exchange to let me know that at four, he had thought he was going to get his own vacuum, and he was very excited. Now, on the one hand, I wish I had known that he wanted a vacuum because I probably could have capitalized on that. But on the other hand, I know he was likely only three feet tall, at best, and I doubt he would have been able to handle a vacuum of his own.

I wonder why it is that we don’t create child sized working appliances, like vacuum cleaners? Instead, we create toy vacuums and toasters, blenders and lawnmowers. I understand why some of these things could not be actual, functioning appliances (lawnmowers, for example). But hey, it seems my kid would have been all over vacuuming his own room at four years old because at four, a vacuum is a pretty cool item.

And if he were vacuuming himself at that age, he might have saved me some time on cleaning. Then again, I might have had to spend an inordinate amount of time searching the vacuum bag for trinkets that were accidentally run over and sucked up in his youthful excitement and inexperience.

Sadly, I will never know. But at least now I know what to get him for a housewarming gift!

Music

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I’m not a fan of silence. In fact, I love listening to music. Or actually… I used to love listening to music. Recently, I have had to switch to talk radio. I have NPR blaring through the car speakers as I drive to work and back home again. The talk show hosts drone on and on and on about politics, the transition of power, the issues facing the present administration. Truth: I’m getting pretty sick of talk radio.

I used to enjoy listening to music. Usually on my way home from work, if not on my way to work, I would listen to music rather than NPR. I listened to music when I arrived home at night while I was preparing dinner. And I listened to music as I completed household chores.

However, when my sister and I were tasked with finding music for Dad’s service, the new reality of music became very clear. An entire song, a tiny line, a wistful melody, the dreamy intonation of the singer… any one of these things could turn on the tears like a switch.

Now, navigating a collection of songs is like walking through a minefield. A song will come on and I will be fine. The next song, and the next will not be a problem. Buried in the album, a line will be sung, and I will dissolve—suddenly and completely—into a puddle of tears. I never knew how swiftly these feelings could come and sweep me up into the tide of emotion.

And then subside just as quickly.

I used to enjoy listening to music; it would keep me company and drown out my own thoughts. But perhaps at least for now, I am better off listening to the sound of silence.

Creative direction

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Creativity comes in many forms in my household. I have the creative writer who develops fictional worlds, populates them with characters of his making, places those characters in impossible situations, and then writes them out of (or deeper into) those situations.

I have the visual artist who recently used her artistic talents to explore mental illness through drawing and painting. She used both color and black and white images and some 3 dimensional work, as well. The resulting pieces will be added to the portfolio she will use as she applies to colleges in the fall.

And I have the science-minded engineering type who uses computers, 3D printers, electronic components, and the tools of engineering to create and develop the ideas that populate his brain on a daily basis.

None of these forms of creativity is any better or worse than the other. My children have discovered the tools and materials that intrigue and inspire them; they started from the same general place—creativity—but they have gone off in completely different directions. And I must say, it is fascinating to watch them develop their skills day by day.

For Christmas, I gave Himalayan salt lamps to two of my children. For my birthday, my son created a small lamp for me. Using the salt lamps as inspiration, he designed the “crystal” and created it and the base on his 3D printer, completed the wiring, and assembled the whole thing. I had no idea that he was doing this until I opened it.

Creativity… it’s an interesting concept that manifests differently in everyone. If we really look, we can recognize it as a trait every individual possesses. Personally, I like the way creativity shows up in my house.

 

Snow Day Hyperbole

 

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Tuesday was a snow day for us. When I woke up in the morning, the radio mentioned school cancellations, but I was half asleep and didn’t believe it. Through my five a.m. fog, I reached for my iPad, pulled up the local television station website, and scrolled through the cancellations. Sure enough, our town had cancelled school. The town in which I work had also cancelled school, though there was nothing yet from the university.

I stumbled to the kids’ rooms in the dark to turn off their alarms, trying my best not to disturb them more than necessary. I went back to bed, armed with my phone to take the “alert” calls that would inevitably come. Nowadays, it is so easy to tap into the school cancellation list, and with multiple schools and school districts involved, that can be a good thing.

But later that morning, when I finally looked outside, we had about two inches of snow. Two inches. And a snow day? Clearly, this must have been an oversight on someone’s part. A day off means, the kids will have an extra day tacked on to the end of the school year. Sigh.

In a text to my sister, I told her I suspected the world had grown wimpier since we were kids. I remember schlepping through snow up to my thighs (though I will admit, I was a bit shorter then) to get to school. Occasionally, my boot would become lodged in a snow crater when I tried to step, and I would have to reach my arm all the way into my leg-long footprint to retrieve it. Once, a storm closed school for two consecutive days, but that was a memorable spring storm one April when winter was supposed to be over. That storm dumped three feet of snow, and I can still tap into the feeling of wonder and excitement I had walking through the labyrinth of shoveled pathways.

On days when the world seems wimpier than in years past, I tend to become one of those parents, just like my parents before me, and their parents before them. You know the ones I mean…. Back in my day when life was simpler, we trudged through three feet of snow every day to get to school. Maybe it was a two-mile walk to get there. And it was definitely uphill both ways. And maybe it was 10° below zero every day during the winter because back then, it was commonly believed we were entering the next Ice Age.

Or maybe—just maybe—I tell hyperbolic stories because here in northern New England, a snow day for two inches of snow feels ridiculous, and it’s not something responsible adults feel the need to encourage.

And even though my children roll their eyes at my stories, there is no doubt that 20 or 30 years from now, they will be telling their own hyperbolic childhood stories to their own children, their nieces and nephews, their students. Because this…. this is the way we express to the next generation that we think they are getting too soft around the edges and too wimpy in the middle. And this is the way we let them know that maybe, just maybe, things aren’t quite as bad as they like to believe.