Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I've been thinking that I needed to blog, but I didn't really have anything specific to write about. It's summer, and the boys are playing inside as much as possible. Tucker's been playing baseball and he ran summer track, so that was fun (and hot). As of last Saturday night, all of those activities are over. I've been working as much as I can. My in-laws are awesome and have helped with the boys a lot so I could go into the office. There's laundry, dishes, picking up the living room three or four times a day. Overall, things are just wildly normal. I have nothing clever to say about any of it. 

Today, however, I found myself something to write about. 

It was a wonderful, regular day, and after Vacation Bible School the boys had friends over to play for the afternoon. The boys, brothers, were so kind and polite that it was almost shocking. I really worried about my boys going over to their house and one of them chewing with his mouth open or putting a hand down his pants to give his butt a good scratch. The boys, Jacob and Andrew, and my boys were so good that they played all afternoon with no arguments or fights or messes. In fact, I sat at the bar in the kitchen and got a great deal of work done while they played. It was a great afternoon for all of us. 

We left about 4:05 to take the boys home because I had a 4:30 appointment with a personal trainer. See, I recently joined a new gym, and it comes with four free personal training sessions. We dropped the boys at their house, and as I drove to the gym I contemplated exactly what I could tell the trainer without sounding too lame. Honestly, he shouldn't even ask me any questions. He should take one look at me and see that I am yet another 34 year old woman who, at some point, was in pretty great shape, but now I just like ice cream and could stand to drop a few or fifteen pounds. I hate the "What are your goals?" questions at the gym -- um...to be 22, thanks. 

As I imagined my conversation with the trainer, I checked the calendar on my phone to remind myself of his name, and that's when I realized that my appointment with the trainer is tomorrow. Fail. 

So I decided to go on the gym anyway, and I apparently had all of these thoughts out loud because as soon as I had this particular thought Tucker began wailing about how he just wanted to go home.  PLEASE!!! My next thought was about being in Trey's car and, thus, without my headphones, and since the thought of running (okay, I'll just walk, but running sounds so much better so please pretend I run) on the treadmill  without watching Swamp People or 19 Kids and Counting seemed kind of awful. So I decided we would just go home. 

I was fully aware of the fact that this was an epic parenting moment. I taught my kids a) you don't have to exercise if you don't want to and b) wailing is a great way to get what you want. 

I hope you can tell by now that my brain was all over the place. In order to make myself feel better about ditching the gym and being a terrible mother, I started making a mental list of the work-related tasks I could accomplish during the time I would have been working out. 

Did I mention to you guys that on Keaton's Mother's Day card to me he did all of these fill in the blank things?  "My mom's favorite color is (blank)"and "My mom is (blank) tall."  On the question that asked "My mom is good at (blank)," he wrote "work." Seriously. Of all of the things I could be good at (mothering, for one), he wrote work. 

So I thought of that, too, as I drove home, and I was feeling really good about myself.  

I opened the garage door, parked the car, and was the first to get to the door that leads into the house. It was locked. 


This door is never locked, but clearly as we left earlier one of us locked the door. I'm not pointing any fingers, but Keaton was the last one out. 

No big deal, I thought, and then I realized that I don't have a house key. I went around the fence to the back door, hoping that perhaps I had left it unlocked as I often accidentally do, and it was, of course, locked. I had one random house key on me, and I knew in my heart it was to Trey's parent's house, but I tried it in the bolt of the front door anyway. No luck. 

But it was no big deal. Trey would be home soon, and we needed milk. "Boys, let's just run to HEB and get milk and by the time we get back your dad will be home with a key." It was a good plan. 

Then Tucker began wailing again. "I just want to stay here.  Please!!!  I'm tired!"

And so, from the driveway, I went full-on lecture mom. 

"Tucker Hickman, I cart you all over the whole free world all the time to whatever you want to do. I take you to practices and games and your friends' houses and I pick up your friends and bring them here and all I'm trying to do it get some milk so you can have breakfast in the morning and you are whining and I can't stand it anymore. You can't even get in the house anyway. Get in the car!"

My tirade ended, and I realized that everyone within three houses both ways probably just heard that. Then I thought, "Aw, hell."

Then, my mind took off again. I decided that I shouldn't think things like "aw, hell" because I'm working in an elementary school now and if you think things then sometimes they come out your mouth and I would be mortified if I said that in front of some first graders. I plotted on how to clean up my internal language, and this was followed by a scenario in which two sweet kindergarten girls in pink dresses come into my office asking for hugs, and I spill my diet coke all over their dresses as I hug them and then I say "aw, hell" out loud. They, of course, make that "aahhhmmmm...I'm going to tell" sound that only kids can make and then I start trying to explain to them that hell isn't always a bad word because it's an actual place only some people don't believe in it. Then I felt like a twisted, black-hearted person for trying to get away with something terrible like cursing in front of kindergarterners. Then I remembered the whole thing was only happening in my head and I felt a little better.

Tucker, Keaton, and their mentally deranged mother got in the car, and I called Trey.

I explained the key and the locked doors and the milk, and all was well with the world for a tiny moment until he said, "I don't have a key to the house either. I gave mine to Josh."

Aw, hell.

So I started driving to who-knows-where making phone calls. My sister-in-law does not have a key to my house. My mother-in-law has a key, but it's in her purse that happened to be with her on her trip to Dallas. The Hickman house was impenetrable. Fort Knox, if you will. 

My only option was to drive the 25 minutes to the Bombers ballpark where Josh, the player we're hosting, was probably already warming up for the game. I went through the mental picture of me traipsing onto the field to summon him from the team in order to get his key, but I'll save you the details of that little trip through my brain. 

I called Trey again to tell him my plan and not to hurry home from work because he couldn't get in anyway, and he asked if I tried to get in the front door. His thinking was that Josh left through the front door and since it was the middle of the day and we were all home he probably didn't lock it. 

Hmmm...I didn't try to open the front door. I only unsuccessfully tried to use my mother-in-law's house key to turn the deadbolt. (I guess when I put it like that it just seems silly.)

So I turned around, finally made it home, walked to the front door, and -- you're not going to believe this -- it was wide open

You know, like Fort Knox would be if someone left without locking the door. 

As always, there is a lesson to be learned here. I sometimes give my very smart oldest child a hard time about his lack of focus on everyday life. Case in point: he lost his shoes -- his actual tennis shoes that he wears every day -- at some point this year. I very kindly and lovingly have referred to him scatterbrained.  Today I was reminded who he gets that from. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A True Test

Grad school is finished. I have an awesome new job as an Academic Coordinator A.K.A. Assistant Principal. Professionally, things have been going my way.

The only hurdle left to tackle was my Texas Principal Certification Exam. I intentionally waited to take this test until summer. I wanted to finish grading and packing and get off the emotional roller coaster that was my departure from the high school and initiation into a brand new campus. I wanted to focus. 

In preparation for the test, I took three practice tests over the course of the year prior. The passing standard is approximately 78%, and I scored well above that on all practice exams. I never made a 100, however, which a little part of me felt was failure, but then I remembered I am a humongous nerd and no one really cares about my actual score on this test - just whether I passed or failed. 

Honestly, I was never really nervous about the test. If I began thinking too much about specific questions that could come up, I could have made myself nervous, but I chose not to do that. Each time I thought about it, I reminded myself that I had passed this test three times in practice. That I am a basically intelligent person who made a 4.0 in the grad school program preparing me for this test. That I am good enough, I am smart enough, and -- dog gone it -- people like me.

My mother-in-law graciously offered to drive me to the test because parking is often a problem at A&M, and she dropped me off at the General Services complex around 8:05. I told her I'd probably call for my ride home around 11:30 because I anticipated that the test would take me 2 to 2 1/2 hours. My report time was 8:30, and the test was to start at 9:00. I was not stressed out by being late. Things were going well.

Around 8:25, the testing proctor checked in all of the testers, and the other testers and I locked our belongings in a provided locker, including our watches. One by one he took us into the testing computer lab and hit the start button on our various tests. He informed me specifically that I had five hours to take my test, and that I could take as many breaks as I wanted but that the time would continue to count down while I was out of the room. I'm pretty sure I was the only one taking the principal test, as all other testers looked very college-aged. I assumed there was quite of lot of GRE-taking going on in that room. 

As I began clicking through the on-screen instructions ("don't cheat," "don't tell the questions to your friends," "if you cheat you will be drawn and quartered") I realized the computer was moving very slowly. In my effort to remain calm, I took a deep breath and decided that maybe the directions were just slow. 

But it wasn't just the instructions. Once the questions began, I quickly realized that it was taking forever for one question on the screen the change to the next. Okay, I thought, I have to figure out if this is costing me time on my five hours. If this is costing me time, it could create a real problem. 

So I answered the next question, checked the timer on screen, and then clicked the magical "next" button. The timer stopped while the computer loaded the next question, and I felt so relieved!  The speed of the computer would not impact the amount of time I had for the test, so I was good to go.

I answered question after question, clicking the answer and then waiting waiting waiting waiting for the next question to pop up. It seemed to take almost a minute to change questions, but I decided that it was just my anxiousness to keep going that made it feel like so long. 

Sidebar: I have always been a good test taker. I'm one of those people who often looks smarter than I really am because I'm good at taking tests. I am also a fast test taker who doesn't second guess myself. I answer a question and move on, and I almost never go back to review my answers on a test. It's my personal strategy, and it has worked pretty well for the first 34 years of my life. 

But this test-- this stinking test that held my entire future career in its hands -- took that away from me. I answered a question, clicked "next," and then stared at the question and answer choices for what seemed like a full minute before the next question came up. I found myself rationalizing answers that I didn't choose, figuring out why they could be right even though I deemed them wrong. Each time, just as I over-analyzed enough to really question my answer choice, the next question would finally pop up. I frantically marked the last question number on my scratch paper so I could go back and look it over again at the end. I did this over and over.

This left my brain in a muddle. Was the last question right?  Was it worth the five minutes it would take to try to go back and read over it again? Am I over-analyzing?  Am I failing?  Am I unprepared?  Was my 4.0 dumb luck? Am I going to be that person who gets fired because she can't pass her principal test?  Will I be forever blacklisted from all jobs that require tests?  

Needless to say, I began to feel anxious. So I took a break. 

As I signed out of the testing room, I casually asked the proctor, "Does this test always run so slow?'

"Yeah," he replied, "ETS is having a problem lately that is making their tests run really slow. Sorry."

Okay, well, I guessed this would be my testing reality. I took a brisk walk to get my blood flowing again, drank some water to rehydrate my brain and did some cross-overs with my arms to get the two sides of my brain cooperating. I thought through the facts.

1) In practice, I have passed the test three times.
2) I am good at tests.
3) I never read over and over my answers after I choose them.
4) The slowness of the test is taking away my best strategy and replacing it with stress.
5) Getting frustrated will not do my any good.

I took a deep breath, signed back into the testing room, and proceeded with a new plan. I needed to answer the question, click next, and then not look at the screen again until the question changed. First, I counted. 1 mississippi, 2 mississippi, 3 mississippi. I determined that it was taking approximately one to two minutes between questions. 

Then I made up variations of songs in my head. One of the most popular sing-in-my-head songs was Stutts's "I'm gonna pass this test. I'm gonna pass this test." I also thought about words that rhymed with "test" so I could sing more than one line of the song I really didn't know. I came up with with "best," "lest," and "hest" (which I'm really not sure is an actual word). 

I wrote names on my scratch paper. If I know you, I probably wrote your entire name in my best handwriting at least twice. Then I went for initials. I pretended to be a calligrapher writing invitations for a fancy event.

Then I made traingles. I estimated how many triangles I could fit into a half sheet of scratch paper, and then I began dissecting triangle after traiangle to increase my number. When that got old, I shaded in every other triangle to make a pattern. 

I am particularly proud of the brick structure I made around my name. It had bricks going in various directions, but they were all exactly the same size and shaded in various colors. It was a masterpiece. 

All the while, every two minutes, I answered a question that could change my entire future. No pressure. 

Finally, I answered the last question. Then I went back to each question I had marked from the early part of the test (before my strategy change), and I did not change even one answer. Going with my instinct was the right thing to do. My total test-taking time: 2 hours, 19 minutes.

Then, at long last, I was done. I was so proud that I found a way to work with this ridiculous situation, and it felt good. That's when I discovered that I had to answer 13 survey questions, one at a time. 

THIS was frustrating, but I answered each question until I finally reached the "Report my scores" screen. I clicked it with victory, and then waited the two minutes for the confirmation screen to come up. The next screen read (did I mention it was two minutes later) "Your testing session in complete." Of course, it also came with a "next" button.

I clicked next, and left the testing room. I explained to the proctor (a new shift of proctors -- now a young lady) that I thought I was finished but I wanted to be absolutely sure. She offered to go in and check the computer for me.

She returned several minutes later and asked, "Wow!  Was your computer that slow the whole time?"

I checked the clock, and then informed her that while I had actually tested for two hours and nineteen minutes, I had been sitting in front of the computer for five hours and five minutes

"Oh my gosh!  I'm so sorry!  I wish you had said something because we would have moved you to a different computer. Next time be sure and let us know."

Seriously? Next time? I hope there is never, ever, in my life a "next time."

I suppose all's well that end's well. I am "officially" qualified for my new job. I passed the test with an equivalent of about 91. However, the true test, I suppose, was of my patience. In the midst of the insane slowness of the test I did not throw the computer across the room or begin pulling out my eyelashes one by one. I calmly made a plan and made it work. 

Perhaps I am prepared for this new job after all. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My Sweet Baby Boy

On Monday, Keaton will be six years old. I can't believe it. What did we do in the 2 1/2 years we only had one child?  What did we do our whole lives before that without Keaton?

A few reasons why Keaton is awesome.

1) He takes great care of himself, even at almost six years old. If Keaton needs a drink of water, he gets some water. If he's hungry, he grabs a snack (usually a peach or some green bell pepper slices or a honey bun). When it's time to clean up, he makes a game out of it and gets it done (most of the time).

2) For his birthday cupcakes, we went to the store, and he chose the cake mix, the frosting, and some gold decorative frosting to write on the cupcakes. Tonight, we made the cupcakes together (he did most of the work), and then he carefully instructed me on how red to make the frosting so that it would be perfect. Then, he gave me specific instructions on how to frost the cupcakes -- the flower-looking ones are for the girls. As a final touch, he wrote the first letter of each person's name on a cupcake so that all of the partygoers can have special cupcakes just for them. You can't read some of the letters, but who cares?

Keaton is thoughtful even on his special day -- he wants everyone to be happy and feel special. The cupcakes kind of look like they were made by a six year old, but they WERE made by a six year old and he and I both think they are beautiful. When he finished his work, he gave me a gigantic hug and said, "Thank you, Mommy, for making my cupcakes." What an awesome kid!

3) He randomly assembles things and makes up new games almost constantly. Tonight he was jumping from the "diving board" of a pillow in my room into a pile of blankets. Yesterday he took an old backpack and filled with first aid supplies so that it would be an "emergency backpack" he could use to help people who are hurt. Tonight when Tucker complained of a tummy ache (because he didn't want to brush his teeth), Keaton came running with the emergency backpack and told me I needed to take Tucker's temperature.

Yesterday he made this contraption, which he said was good "for moving stuff." After I took this picture, he connected the end he is holding to his Tonka truck, and then the whole thing was on wheels and could move "really heavy stuff."

4) He has a vivid imagination, even in his dreams. Every once in a while he'll crawl in bed with us, and usually he's talking so much that I have to wake up and listen carefully to whatever crazy thing he's talking about. I'm also convinced he sleepwalks because many times he comes into our room shouting about something that has apparently just happened. At 2:30 this morning he appeared at the foot of our bed screaming, "I am getting so tired of this!"  Hmmm...if we only knew what it was he was tired of.

5) I could go on forever, but I will finally add that for Keaton anything is possible. Even changing his name. He told Trey tonight, "You can start calling me James if you want. It is my name, you know." Then he talked about how at Greens Prairie Elementary he might just tell everyone to call him James. It is his name, you know.

My sweet Keaton is going to be six, and it's hard to be too sad about him growing up because I am so excited about all of the things he's going to do in the near and far future.

Happy birthday, baby boy!