Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Pumpkin Carvers

We finally carved our pumpkins! The boys have been reciting Tucker's poem from school for two weeks: Pumpkin, pumpkin, round and fat. Turn into a jack-o-lantern just like that!

I found a kit at Target that was a lot like a "lite-brite" (that was one of my all time favorite toys). Keaton used this kit because he could pound the little stakes into the pumpkin all by himself. Tucker needed a real-live carved pumpkin, so he served as Dad's assistant.
Here are the boys hard at work.

And here they are posing with the finished products.

The spooky jack-o-lanterns!

Keaton thought he should get to blow out the candles like on a birthday cake.

Life Without Peanut Butter

When we had Keaton allergy tested in September, the test results showed a severe allergy to peanuts. Not the anaphalaxis, need an epipen kind of allergy. The break-out and scratch your skin off kind. So we've taken all peanut products out of his life, including peanut butter.

The problem is that Keaton loves peanut butter. We used to come in from another room and find him sitting in the kitchen floor with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon, chowing down. He's the only other person in this house who would share apples and peanut butter with me, and a peanut butter and banana sandwich was about the best dinner we could make him.

This hasn't been a huge struggle because we've attempted to keep all things peanut from his line of sight - "out of sight, out of mind," right? Until tonight.

Tonight he was digging through the snack basket and amidst the rice krispie treats, one hundred calorie packs of fudge striped cookies, and fruit roll-ups, he found a package of peanut butter crackers. He brought them to me. "Do these have butter, Mommy?"

"Yes, they have peanut butter. You'll need to choose a different snack," I replied.

He studied the package for a moment, then told me, "No, they don't."

Back and forth we went - my three year old and I. We discussed the nature of the cracker filling, how it was made from peanuts, how Dr. Paull said he couldn't have peanuts, etc. All the while he adamantly protested that there were no peanuts in the peanut butter crackers. Finally I told him to go ask Daddy - I needed backup.

"I don't want to ask Daddy," he snapped at me.

About that time Trey walked into the room and attempted to offer his assistance. He suggested to Keaton that they read the package to see what it said. This is when we discovered that Keaton thinks Tucker is the only one in our house who can read. "Fine," Trey told him, "ask Tucker to read it."

Tucker confirmed our diagnosis of peanut butter (see, we can read!), and Keaton lost it. He yelled at me, "It don't have peanut butter and YOU DON'T CARE!"

I'm not exactly sure what I don't care about, but it was apparently very upsetting to Keaton because he crushed the peanut butter crackers in his hands and stomped away. But not for long.

Two minutes later he came back to continue the fight. "It don't have peanut butter and I'm going to hide from you now!" Then he stomped into his room and closed the door. In his defense, hiding is really no fun unless someone knows you're hiding.

I waited a while before going in search of him. So long, in fact, that he came back. He came striding into the room holding an opened package of peanut butter crackers and chewing what had to be an entire peanut butter and cracker sandwich. I guess he showed me.

I went to him and put my hand out. He proudly handed over the remaining five crackers, cocked his victorious little head to one side and announced with a full mouth, "I opened them with scissors!"

Obviously, life without peanut butter is just too much to take.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Guess what I learned...

There is a bowl of cereal on the counter in the kitchen that has soaked up all of the milk that it was floating in when we left the house this morning. It's like one giant blob of blueberry crunchies and engorged flakes.

There are cleats, socks, underwear, hats, lunchboxes, and markers all over the living room floor. I'll likely have to push everything over to one side before I go to bed so that I won't trip and kill myself if I have to get up in the night.

The remnants of a cherry poptart rest on a paper plate on the coffee table. All of the filled parts have been eaten and only the crusty corners remain. The plate is surrounded by half empty juice boxes and the hand drawn logos of virtually every NFL team.

I'm reasonably certain there is a cup of milk coagulating somewhere in our home. A cup of milk that I will find one day when I'm cleaning and then debate whether to leave it on the counter for Trey to wash or throw it in the trash.

My house is a disaster. But I can't seem to make myself care.

Tonight I learned from Tucker that the way you keep from running out of bounds in football is to concentrate. You have to keep one eye on the touchdown and one eye on the line, and you have to concentrate on getting the touchdown without touching the line.

Keaton taught me that the reason we can't see the stars tonight has nothing to do with the clouds. We can't see them because they have all closed their eyes and gone right to sleep.

How could I possibly think about cleaning house when there are all these things I need to learn?

Friday, October 17, 2008


Tonight the boys were playing football in the living room. Keaton was the Aggies and Tucker was Nebraska. They were having a great time even though Keaton needed frequent time outs to just sit down on the fireplace or whatever. Eventually I was named the coach of the Aggies so that I could dictate the length of Keaton's time outs. So when he needed a break I called from the kitchen for a 30 second time out, to which Keaton replied, "No, I think I need five minutes." This, of course, launched Tucker into a detailed explanation about how 5 minute time outs do not exist and that Keaton needed to rest quickly so he could get back in the game. Both boys started calling me "Coach," and it was all fairly entertaining.

A little while later, Keaton, in his toughest, deepest football player voice, boomed at me from the living room. "Coach! I need to go to the potty. Can you turn the light on, Coach?" Being the exceptional coach that I am, I turned on the bathroom light.

A few minutes later he called from the bathroom, "COOOAAAACCHHH!!!!"

When he could see me coming, the deep, manly voice returned, this time accompanied by a very stern and serious face. "Coach. I need you to wipe my bottom."

I bet the real Aggie coach never gets that.

I don't know what's more awkward - the fact that my sons called me coach all night or the fact that I just typed the words "wipe my bottom." Hmmmm.

It's been an evening of wonderful family fun here. The boys played and colored and danced. Tucker made us all take turns being "Fabulous Falcons" (Falcons are his school's mascot), and he gave us each a plaque-like something to commemorate our ability to "use kind words and kind touches and no put-downs and take care of our things." We just enjoyed each other.

Why is this significant? This week our school lost a student in a car accident. She was 16. I didn't know her, and I can only imagine in the darkest places of my heart the pain that her family, friends, and teachers must be going through. Certainly my own children have always been precious to me, but times such as these help us all to cherish every little moment we can share.

Then I think about my students. When I read that a Consol student had been killed, my immediate reaction was to start calling all of my kids one by one to make sure they were safe. That would be the work of a crazy lady, and I earn that title well enough without creating additional evidence during a time of tragedy. So I just waited. It was about two hours before the young girl's name was released, and the empathetic grief I felt was overshadowed by the guilty relief that it wasn't one of mine. It's hard to admit, but it's true.

As teachers, we get to take other people's children and love them like our own for a short time. Then they go away. The plan all along is that at some point they go away. Of course, they go on to things bigger and better than high school. They go on to change the world and hopefully remember the years they spent with us fondly, or at least as not too painful. This tragic event makes me want to hold on to them a little bit longer.

In May, some really great kids are going to be leaving me - some of the best students I have known in my teaching career. I know we'll keep in touch and I'll hear from their parents about all of their accomplishments and I'll likely vote for one of them for president one day. However, the mere mention of the fact that they're seniors still produces a knot in my throat.

This week I remembered how very blessed I will be on graduation day to get to watch them leave.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sometimes I have no idea what I'm talking about...who's surprised?

First of all, my parents are amazing. They drove over two hours to see my boys and to watch Tucker play football, then they drove over two hours home.

So tonight was a special game. Tucker was so excited about his Grandma and Pop coming to the game, and he was determined to show them his mad five year old flag football skills.

Of course my parents have heard me brag about how good Tucker is (if you can't brag to the grandparents who can you brag to, right?). So I had to inform them that Tucker usually gets the ball on the fourth down. The coach is great, and he gives everyone an opportunity to run the ball. When they need the first down, Tucker is the go-to guy.

On the first fourth down play of the game, just like I predicted, Tucker got the ball. And just like most times he gets the ball, he broke free of the defense and took off down the field. He was flying.

Then something strange happened. He slowed down - dare I say he trotted on the last 20 yards of the field? To top it off, he stepped across the goal line and immediately out of bounds. He barely made the touchdown.

There was no one around him, no defensive player trying to pull his flag, no pressure. And he cut the corner of the goal line and trotted out of bounds.

Trey commented that he was trying to be cool and cut the corner, but I was not happy. Tucker knows he's good, but acting like he knows he's good is simply unacceptable. This is a team sport, and by golly he's going to play like a member of a team. My radar was on full force and I was watching his every breath.

During the next few plays, our team pulled the flags off the offense like it was the easiest thing they'd ever done. Tucker pulled a few, and he followed his "tackles" with a shout and fist in the air - just like any other professional athlete, you know. Just like he sees on TV.

So now I'm really fired up. Yes, his grandparents were there, but that did not mean he could act like an overpaid NFL starter.

We get the ball back, fourth down comes up again, and Tucker gets the ball. It's the same story as before - he runs full-on, then slows up near the end of the field, and this time steps out of bounds just before the goal line.

Now I'm steaming. My super-powered mom telepathy forced him to look at me as he went passed. I mom-whispered across the field, "You better cut out that show-boating. It just cost you a touchdown." He nodded and kept going.

We scored a couple of more touchdowns and pulled a few more flags, and then halftime was upon us. Tucker came over and grabbed a gatorade. I wasn't surprised to see the coach come jogging over after him. I thought he was about to get a productive little chat about attitude.

"Great job, Tucker. Thanks!" the coach said.

He must have seen the shock on my face because he explained, "I asked Tucker to step out of bounds right before the goal line. It's my best chance to make sure every kid gets a touchdown. He just missed it that first time and scored the touchdown, but then he got it." With a quick pat on Tucker's back, he jogged away.

And thus my coaching ability and mom-sense were thrown out the proverbial window. What I percieved as taunting was actually a way to help out his teammates and do what the coach said to do.

I think he stepped out of bounds two more times in the second half, and I was proud every time. I think Grandma and Pop were impressed, too.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Peace and fruit

The word "peace" today has gotten a controversial reputation. Often it brings forth images of wars and politics and debates and right and wrong. Peace-keeping and peace-making just seem like an awful lot of work.

This has troubled me of late because I've been a little frazzled. I mean, take a look at the SAT essay post below and realized that those are the words of a crazy woman. Without peace (not the "world peace" variety - the personal kind) we fall into a trap of self-doubt, stress, and negativity.

But I'm a busy girl. I often comment that a good day is when you cross more things off your list than you add to it. So how in the heck am I supposed to find peace in all that?

Then today, on what is perhaps my busiest day of the year (school picture day), I had the best day. It was wonderful! I'm tired and my feet hurt, but it doesn't even matter because I had a great day. The surprise is that tonight, I feel more at peace than I have in a couple of weeks.

Welcome to the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. When I look at this list and consider which of these I have been putting into practice in the last week or two, well, I fall terribly short.

I've said things that should never be said and responded to people in an emotional, mean-spirited way. Mostly in my head and in repeating situations to Trey the way they should have gone, but that doesn't make it acceptable behavior. When the students haven't listened, I've snapped at them. My kids have frustrated me. I have found something wrong with everything.

Until today God showed me in a very basic and real way through an uneventful day at school that I have joy in my life. Not just a good day here and there, but I have actual and complete and total life-changing joy. And I've let others and myself take it away. What a waste!

Consider Isiah 61:10: I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Seriously. Now that's some joy. I mean "clothed me with garments of salvation" and "wrapped me in a robe of righteousness." That's some pretty joyful stuff. And some responsibility, too.

Add to that the fact that I love my job - really love it in an obsessive way - I have a great family, church, life. Joy should be seeping out of my eyeballs!

Today I rediscovered peace through remembering to hang on to my joy and to wear it on my face and spill it out onto every person I know. Some gentleness and temperance may help me be the one bringing others up instead of dragging them down into the muck. I have a good feeling God's going to provide those, too.

I leave you with this brilliant piece of poetry because it makes me happy. From one of those middle versus of "Amazing Grace":

"The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine."


Three interesting things about my boys:

Keaton thinks that breakfast happens twice a day, once in the morning and again before you go to bed at night. The boys always want a snack before bed, and we always let them have something to avoid the "I can't sleep because I'm so hungry" argument. Tonight we skipped the snack, and sure enough Keaton couldn't go to sleep because he missed breakfast.

Keaton had a little runny nose this weekend - nothing terrible, just a little allergy problem. We had quite a busy weekend, and for some reason Keaton wanted to wear his tennis shoes everywhere. Usually on the weekends he wants to wear his crocs or his flip flops. I kept thinking it was odd, until I realized Sunday night that he was saying "tennis shoes" instead of "tissue." He kept saying, "Mom, I need a tennis shoe!" because his nose was running - not because he wanted to put his shoes on.

Yesterday Trey's mom gave Tucker and Keaton each a book. Tucker got "Brown Bear" and Keaton got "Panda Bear." Keaton had been at his Mimi's that afternoon, and it was when Tucker and I went to pick him up that he presented Tucker with the book from Mimi. "It's Brown Bear! Mimi got you Brown Bear!" Keaton excitedly explained. Tucker joined in on the excitement. "Thank you, Mimi. I love this book. Did you know it's written by Bill Martin, Jr. with pictures by Eric Carle?" How does he remember this stuff?

It gets better. Today when I picked him up from school he couldn't wait to show me that he had drawn Brown Bear. "You drew a Brown Bear?" I asked.

"No, I drew all of the animals in the book, but I think I forgot one," he replied. He proceeded to show me each of the hand-drawn animals he had created and cut out during art time - a brown bear, a red bird, a yellow duck, a green frog, a purple cat, a black sheep, a goldfish, the teacher, and the children. As he was showing me, he realized he had forgotten the blue horse. Victory! He remembered!

Several hours later we got home (the homecoming carnival was tonight at my school), and he went straight to the paper and markers. To make a blue horse, of course. He couldn't stand that it was missing.

Let me also note that until yesterday, we didn't own this book. Can you say "rainman."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What's a girl to do?

I decided that I want to score essays for the SAT. Why? Well, there's the philosophical reason that I will be better able to prepare my students for the SAT if I am an actual scorer - credibility and all that. Then there's the cash factor. It pays something like $18.00 per hour, and I would work something like 40-50 hours in a scoring period - potentially eight or nine hundred dollars in two weeks. A trip to Vegas coming up makes this a great idea.

So I spent the afternoon yesterday going through the training and practicing scoring papers. For each of my practice sets I scored within range to qualify as a scorer. You see, you have to grade all of these practice papers - three sets of ten - and score within a certain range to qualify. But then I was tired. Turns out looking at hand written essays on a computer screen for two or three hours is not as exciting as it sounds.

Then I couldn't sleep last night. What if I don't qualify? I mean, these people are grading my grading, and that's a little scary to me. It's hard to adjust my expectations to someone else's expectations and then use those expectations to assess student work. It's complicated even writing it! On the scores where I was off by a point, I was always scoring the essay one point lower than the approved score.

This leads to all kinds of issues - am I too hard on my students? are my expectations too high? am I grading harder because I don't know these computer students? do I cut my own kids more slack? am I good at assessing student performance? do I even know what I'm doing? how did I get to be a teacher anyway? do the people who pay me know that I'm an awful teacher and grader? when am I going to get fired?

I couldn't sleep.

Today I decide I just have to get the qualification over with because it's stressing me out. I'd rather work in my yard or read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle again or make a key for my Scarlet Letter test. But this is me, and I'm task-oriented. So I sit down to do my first of 3 qualification sets. (I have to qualify in 2 out of the 3.)

It was miserable. Tucker was in the bathtub splashing and the sound was driving me crazy. Just splashing - not screaming or bugging or anything - just splashing water. I kept telling myself that I just had to get through that one set.

Then it got worse. I didn't qualify by one point. One point. This means that I must qualify in the other two sets or I'll get a "thanks for your time" from Pearson. No pressure, right? Arrgghh!!!

I'm left with this: do I really want to do this? I mean 40 extra hours of work in two weeks when I already have a job, a husband, and two kids seems like crazy talk. However, an extra $800 in Vegas would buy more than one Jackie Collins cocktail at Spago. Am I being greedy? Maybe I'm being a quitter. I mean, had I qualified today would I even be having these thoughts? It's true that while I don't mind being wrong from time to time, I really despise failure. Really, honestly, truly despise it.

I have a couple of days to sort this out, I guess. I don't have to finish the qualification until Wednesday night. But I need to sleep between now and then. I have to decide if I'm using my family and work obligations as an excuse to not risk failure, or if I've just decided that Spago isn't as important as 40 hours of my life. Ugh. Whatever I decide, the answer tonight is to turn off my brain and stop thinking about it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Literal One...

Tucker had to go to the allergist today. Since we visited the allergist in August, Tucker has had clearer skin than he's ever had in his life. Suddenly he's all broken out, so we're off to the doctor.

The plan was for Trey to pick up Tucker before lunch, take him to the doctor, pick up some lunch for him, and take him back to school.

Apparently, before Tuck left school he told his teacher he was going to get some lunch on his way back to school. She innocently replied, "Don't forget my lunch, too." He said he would bring her one and that was that.

So Trey picked Tucker up from school before lunch, took him to the doctor, and offered to stop and pick up some lunch for him on his way back to school. Tucker didn't particularly want to go back to school, but he refused to go back to school without taking lunch to his teacher.

He was so adamant that Trey let him get his teacher a sandwich at Subway. Tucker chose ham and cheese for her with apples and water as her drink and side, and proudly marched into school with a special lunch for himself and one his teacher. Just like he said he would.

She sent me a sweet email this afternoon thanking me for the nice lunch. I don't know how to tell her she can thank Tucker. He truly believed she told him to get her lunch, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

I wish he listened to me that well!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tucker's Lifelong Dream

Tucker's lifelong dream - all 5 1/2 years - is to play football. His second game was tonight, and he is having so much fun! Here are some pics.

First, you should know that screaming helps you get the flag. I love Tucker's face in this pic.

In between plays he noticed the camera.

You're not supposed to tackle in flag football, but that didn't stop Tucker from getting that flag!

Here he's running for his first touchdown of the night. His coach called him "Speedy" and I think he liked it.

I think this one is touchdown number 2.

He's checking out the playing field...

If you care to catch the action we're at Central Park on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6.