Why are all my PTA experiences the Harper Valley kind?

Today was Schedule-O-Rama in our household.

Three schools, three schedules. My legs are killing me.

And, as you know, you can’t pick up your schedule without passing the PTA table, where you get the whole parent-involvement spiel, yadda yadda yadda. So I’m now a member of three PTAs/PTSAs. Yippee.

I’m just not the joining type. I’m not the meeting type, the taking-notes type, the running-the-school-book fair type. Not to dis those who are. I think it’s great – for them. I just don’t like groups. I guess that’s why I’m a cat person.

So am I a hypocrite for joining the PTA/PTSA? Probably. I’m a big old hypocrite on lots of things. I’ll probably go to hell for it, too. But I think it’s my duty as a parent to join the PTA/PTSA as a visible cue to my kids that I’m all about their schooling. Not that they notice, but they might someday.

And frankly, when I die and someone’s writing my obit, I want them to be able to say I was a longtime PTA member. Because when you read that in someone’s obituary, don’t you just figure they’re Mom of the Year material?

OK, so before you start rolling your eyes and assuming I’m just sitting at home, watching reality TV and eating chocolates while my progeny are preparing to be the leaders of tomorrow, let me just say that I volunteer at school. I do all the crap jobs that no one else wants to do – reshelving library books, going to the food bank to pick up extras for our school program for needy kids, cutting apart laminated essays for the second-grade teacher. It’s not glamorous, but it’s the kind of thing I’d rather do than sit in a meeting and bitch about how last year’s PTA dropped the ball on the cookie-dough fundraiser.

However, I long ago gave up actually being involved in the running of any of these myriad PTAs I belong to. Like I said, groups and I don’t mix. I did, though, try my hand at this officer thing in the early days of my stay-at-home motherhood, with disastrous results.

Without going into much detail – I seriously can’t for legal reasons – I ended up in dog court, defending my pooches and my reputation against scurrilous allegations from none other than a fellow PTA member. The whole incident began in the PTA and spilled over into the neighborhood. And that’s all I can say about that in writing. If you want the whole story, you’ll have to buy me a beer.

Still, it’s been six years since that debacle, and those memories have softened somewhat around the edges. So last year, I eased back into a little PTA involvement, working at the fall book fair, doing whatever needed to be done that no one else wanted to do.

Then came spring and what should have been preparations for our school flower sale. It had been an annual event since 2004. It didn’t start as a PTA affair, but in the last few years the PTA had taken it over. But the spring wore on, and no information on the flower sale floated around.

So about two weeks before the date it should have happened – the Saturday before Mother’s Day – I ran into a former PTA officer at a hardware store. We both were buying annuals. I told her I was stocking up on flowers since it appeared our school wasn’t selling them this year. We agreed it was weird.

Then that night, I was at an end-of-the-year band concert when another friend told me she’d heard the flower sale was canceled because the PTA had never paid the grower for the flowers from the 2010 sale.

Whoa. How much money were we talking about? About $1,200. Not a ginormous amount, but seriously. They’d had the money. What did they do with it?

The word on the street was that the PTA tried and tried to reach the grower, but no one ever answered the phone. So they just kept all the money.

Geez. Every morning of the world, our school principal makes like a deejay on the morning announcements and implores students and staff to, “Do the Right Thing. Treat People Right.” Every. Single. Day.

I was livid. What did they do with the money? Supposedly, there wasn’t enough in the PTA coffers to send the school’s fourth graders to the state capital, but the PTA had apparently embezzled some money. Holy cow!

So I contacted the grower, who said he’d never received the money. I asked him to e-mail me an invoice.

Then I made an appointment with the principal and told him the whole thing, even the part about the PTA officers claiming that the principal had tried calling the grower but that his call had never been returned. Pure fiction, apparently.

The principal told me to get him the invoice and he’d personally drive it the 45 minutes to the country greenhouse. So I did. And he did. Somehow, the PTA coughed up the money.

And now, I’m a non-entity to the PTA again. By the end of May, the officers looked right through me. Stopped talking when I came anywhere near.

It kind of hurt. I mean, no one likes to be ostracized. But was I surprised? Not especially.

So, yeah. I’m a PTA member. Big whoop.

Things I’ve learned this summer

I’ve always thought I was pretty quick on the uptake, but I’m gradually realizing I am a slow learner.

That’s pretty much the gist of what I’ve gleaned from a year in graduate school, studying social work. I thought I was going through the motions of getting the degree that would help me land employment doing the things I was doing for free in a volunteer capacity.

But like a good scrubbing with Windex lets the light shine through a clean window, I appreciate now that I was barely seeing the trees, let alone the forest.

This summer I’m spending two afternoons a week at a non-profit family services center in the inner city. It’s a place I’ve visited often during my years as a court-appointed special advocate. The center has an awesome daycare and preschool that can serve 600 needy kids, with a waiting list at least as large.

I don’t know what I expected to learn at Operation Breakthrough; I just knew it was where the rubber meets the road, to be trite. I knew I needed some real-world experience after a year of grad school and before my first practicum. I don’t have an undergraduate degree in the social services. I barely have any relevant undergrad coursework: A rural sociology course on the Old Order Amish doesn’t translate too well to 31st and Troost Avenue in Kansas City.

So what have I learned that’s so earth-shattering? Lots. I’m pretty liberal, but I admit I have biases. Lord knows, I’ve had to examine them aplenty during my recent coursework. And one that I discovered is that I really did sort of pass judgment on folks who’ve been convicted of crimes.

Where does this come from? I don’t know. No deep-seated childhood fear or up-close-and-personal contact with someone like Max Cady from Cape Fear . My daddy wasn’t no jailhouse lawyer, my grandpa never spent time in the pokey.  I just had this bias.

Until this summer. This summer, I’ve been working with moms who need to find jobs. They all want to work. They need to work. Some are not on public assistance. Others are, but it’s a finite thing – it does eventually run out. Some have high school diplomas, some even have college degrees. Others dropped out and don’t even have GEDs. Some are all these things and have one other stigma – they’re convicted felons.

They’re the toughest. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a Harvard Ph.D. if you’re a convicted felon. You will be hard-pressed to find a job.

I can sincerely say I never truly understood this fact until this summer. I figured if you did your time, paid your debt to society, you got a do-over, except for voting.

Except that’s not the case. Politicians rant and rave about “welfare moms” and people taking advantage of the system, implying that people without jobs don’t want to work. And then they pass laws or allow companies to discriminate against people who’ve committed crimes.

Felons have a hard time even receiving public assistance – food vouchers, public housing, what have you.

This isn’t fair. How long does someone have to pay for a mistake?

And here’s something else I’ve changed my mind about: Many of these people that I work with have felonies related to drug charges. Where once I would have pursed my lips and passed judgment, now I see human beings who made bad choices and who are being punished with no end in sight.

Like yesterday. I spent several hours with a woman looking for work. She once directed a transitional housing program for drug offenders, until she made a mistake. Thirteen years ago she was convicted of marijuana possession. It was a Class C felony. She served her time.

Yet now, after losing her job in March, she can’t find work. Her voice broke as she talked about her felony. She’s embarrassed. Every time she applies for a job, it comes up. She has a great employment history and good references, but the background check trips her up every time.

Meanwhile, she’s unable to pay her bills. She got a speeding ticket, which made her appeal for clemency to the state get delayed by two years. She’s on the verge of bankruptcy. I could see the desperation in her eyes.

It’s no wonder that recidivism is a problem.

What kind of parent would I be if every time one of my children made a mistake, I held it against him or her for infinity? I believe in doling out consequences and moving on.

Social work is based on the belief that humans have the capacity to change, and that’s long been my mantra. People make mistakes, but people can change.  But they can’t as long as society holds them back, excludes them, treats them as untouchables.

I don’t know what to do about this, but something needs to change. With drug laws and “three-strikes-and-you’re-out,” the untouchables class will continue to grow.

Whoever invented the bathing suit is a misogynist

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a female over the age of 12 must be in want of a bathing suit that doesn’t make her look slutty.

Oh.My.Gosh. To say that I loathe shopping for swimwear is a gross understatement. That’s why I shop by mail order, ordering my swim minis from Lands’ End Overstocks and trying them on in the privacy of my closet.

But now I’m living the horror vicariously through my sweet 13-year-old daughter.

Maggie needed a swim suit for camp. Last year she made it through with a cute striped one-piece from the Target girls’ department, but no more. My baby hovers on the edge of puberty and all the joy it entails. She’s in-between – too big for girls’ suits but not quite ready for a juniors’ suit even, at least not some parts of her.

This is not a new yearly dreadfest – no, we first encountered it in 2009. Read about that here.

But it’s getting progressively worse, and frankly, it’ll never get better. Like the nice saleslady at Sears told her: “Honey, about the only thing worse than shopping for a bathing suit is shopping for a bra.”

Sing it, sister.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our first stop on the annual Trip of Shame was Target. Now, seriously, Target is my happy place. But not that night.

Maggie and I visited the juniors/women’s bathing suit department, and I was thrilled – thrilled, I tell you – to discover that Target now sells swimming suits made with Spanx, or at least a Spanx-like material.

I was giddy. “Maggie!” I hissed. “Come here! Look at this!”

I held up a black-and-white suit with a Spanx bottom and long fitted tunic top. My description doesn’t do it justice. It was really cute.

She eyed it critically. “These look like Mom underwear,” she said.

I ignored that. “You don’t understand what a miracle Spanx is,” I said. “When I was kid, there was no Spanx. We just had to suck in our guts and lie on our stomachs a lot. We’d tie beach towels around us if we had to go to the bathroom or the cabana for a drink. It was positively Stone Age. This,” I shook the black bottoms, “will keep you all in.”

She sighed. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll try it on. And this one, too.” She grabbed a polka dot tankini.

We headed for the dressing room. Like a dog in a fire hydrant store, I lost focus a few times on the way there. Target does that to me. That’s why I usually go in for one thing and end up with a new shower curtain, six tubes of toothpaste and some super cute shoes.

So I found some cute dresses on sale that I wanted Maggie to try, too. Because I really like disappointment, apparently. I know that the child only wears dresses under duress, but they were SO CUTE. And I knew she’d look awesome in them.

I made it to the dressing room just in time to hear the primal sound of a woman squeezing into a swimsuit. It’s a lot of grunting, exasperated sighs, light weeping, and then a few choice curse words. I knocked on her door and implored her to let me in.

She did. I slipped in.

She glared at me. “I hate this,” she said. “I hate everything about it. I hate my stomach and my thighs. I can’t wear anything.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

I tried to explain that no normal woman likes it. I mean, what is a swimming suit but basically underwear made out of Lycra and Spandex? Are we a society who likes walking around in our underwear? No, we are not, not really. Oh, sure. There’s always the exhibitionist who enjoys baring it all and usually has a YMCA membership, or the super-skinny skank with various Chinese-like tattoos on her nethers who looks good until her skin starts losing its elasticity.

But most of us would rather not walk around vast bodies of water with nothing but a thin layer of nylon keeping our saggy parts from breaking out.

“Here,” I said, handing her one of the dresses. “Try this on.”

“Mom,” she groaned, “no.”

“See,” I said, “in the old, old days, swimming suits looked like this dress. They covered everything from your neck to your knees.”

Suddenly, inspiration hit me. Next year, no camp that requires one-piece swimming suits for all female campers.

Next year, it’s Amish camp. I think that dress’ll work just fine for that one.

Where did this kid come from?

PowerSchool is such a double-edged sword.

You know PowerSchool – it’s the nifty electronic grade book that allows parents to know at every minute of the day how their kids are doing in school. It’s both a gift and a curse.

The gift comes because no longer are we surprised when the kids bring home their grades, good or bad. The curse is that every flipping day – if you’re neurotic like me and have the high school e-mail you daily updates of your kid’s grades – you’re faced with the reality that while your kid said he understood his biology assignment, more than likely he didn’t.

A couple days ago my oldest told me I’d ruined his day, and it wasn’t even 7 a.m. That’s because I checked my e-mail at 6:30 a.m. and saw the daily PowerSchool update. And lo and behold, his bio grade had fallen an entire letter since the previous day’s update.

I didn’t rant and rave and talk about wasted potential – not then. I didn’t want to ruin his day. I don’t live to ruin the days of my kiddos, but good luck convincing them of that.

But I asked him why he’d received a big fat zero on an assignment I was pretty sure I’d seen him working on. He didn’t know, he said. He’d turned it in.

“Did you really?” I asked, knowing even as the words left my lips that I was edging into the danger zone. But I couldn’t help myself.

“Mom!” he moaned. “Why don’t you trust me?”

Hmmm. I don’t know. Why don’t I trust him? Could it be because of his sometimes creative massaging of the truth?

Except that I was 99 percent sure he had done this assignment. So I told him he needed to ask his teacher about it. Maybe she’d made a mistake.

You’d have thought I told him he’d have to take it up with Dolores Umbridge. He looked stricken. Couldn’t I ask?

“Look,” I said, “it’ll be weird if I get involved. You don’t want people to think your mommy has to fix your problems, do you?”

Actually, that’s OK with him.

And that’s what I don’t get. Neither his dad nor I is a shrinking violet. We face our issues head-on. We don’t take getting stepped on lightly. We advocate for ourselves.

And we do it in front of our kids. I mean, we’re not going around raising hell all the time. But many’s the time my husband had argued with someone about an overcharge. The kids are always rolling their eyes behind his back.

Myself, I take the “good cop” approach until pushed to defend myself, which I’ve also done in front of the kids many times.

But our oldest – he sort of takes a Zen view of the world, at least this part of it. There must be some reason his grade fell a whole letter grade. Who is he to question fate? The grade is but one step on his path to enlightenment, blah blah blah.

Let him get slighted by the xBox while he’s playing FIFA soccer, though, and hoo boy. There’s hell to pay, xBox. And if his siblings short him a cupcake or donut or eat the last Little Debbie cake, watch out!

So I’m puzzled. Is this his way of rebelling against his dad and me, by becoming passive? I am a little worried.

Don’t hate me because I’m ready for the Rapture

I’m trying to get ready for the end of the world on Saturday, but first I have to go to the dentist tomorrow morning, which might be just as bad.

Wait a minute, you’re thinking, if you’re anything like my mom. “Why the hell are you wasting your time at the dentist?” she asked when I told her that Judgment Day is Saturday yet I have a Thursday dental appointment.

Hey, I’m not making this up. Check out this web site here.

And she’s right, of course. But the original dental appointment was March 4. I had to reschedule because I was in the hospital.  So they gave me May 19. And I would reschedule for some time post-rapture, just in case, but you know how long it takes to get back into the dentist when you reschedule. And plus, post-rapture, my dentist might just be a zombie, and I really don’t want to take any chances either with zombies or plaque and tartar.

So. My problem with going on Thursday is that my hygienist is a premillennialist. She’s just so excited about the idea of believers being swept up into heaven, with non-believers left behind to fight the zombies and looters and what have you. She’s practically gleeful about it.

How do I know this? Well, I’ll tell you. About two years ago, I was in the dentist chair, getting my teeth cleaned. Now, she might be a garden-variety wacko, but the woman gives a majorly awesome tooth cleaning. Really gets under those gums, gets all the tartar.

So my mouth is wide open while I watch the TV, trying not to notice the sound of the scraping of her sickle probe on my enamel. Some kind of wild story came on the Today show, something that would just make you think, “By God, the world is going to hell in a hand basket.” And I said something to the effect of, “Ah thuh the wuh uh gung to heh i uh haabaka.”

She turned to look at the TV, then turned back to me. I could tell she was smiling by the way her heavily made-up eyes crinkled above her mask. “I’m just so excited,” she said.

I made a noise. “Huh?”

“I’m just so excited because Jesus is coming back really soon!” she said, grabbing her hose thingy, squirting some water in my mouth and then using the suction dealy to suck it all out.

I knew better, but before I could stop myself, I said, clear as day with my freshly rinsed mouth, “Really.”

“Don’t you know?” she asked. “The world is going to end on May 21, 2011. It’s in the Bible.”

I’m guessing the look on my face conveyed skepticism instead of the slight twinge of fear I was feeling, because she peered closer at me. “Don’t you know about The Rapture?” she said.

Well, duh. Who doesn’t? Only I don’t know all the gory details because for one thing, I’m a United Methodist. We don’t particularly espouse that theology. And for another, if I had a penny for all the times the world was going to end in my short 42 years, dang. I’d have at least a quarter.

And when will I learn to just go with the flow? As my mama always said, you don’t always have to let people know you know more than they think you do. But no. I had to admit to this suddenly-scaring-me woman that I had never actually read the Bible’s final chapter, the book of Revelation.

I sure don’t have to read it now, because she began quoting it and giving me details about what would actually happen on May 21 and where she hoped to be.

You’re wondering why, if I’m such a badass, I didn’t just rip off that paper drape and high-tail it out of there.

I’ll tell you. It was like watching a train wreck or a large spider spinning a web or someone you don’t know blow chunks. It horrified me, but I couldn’t look away. I was a little shell-shocked.

But hey, I quickly just filed the experience away as one to pull out at dinner parties, kind of like my story about getting hit on in a grocery store by a dwarf buying box wine(true story.)

And then last Sunday, my kids started joking about the end of the world, and I saw billboards advertising Judgment Day (somebody’s gotta make a buck, just in case they get left behind, I guess.) And then today, I remembered the dentist appointment and my crazy hygienist. Ugh on both counts.

But you know what? I figure I’m going to get left behind anyway, since I’m forever making fun of the “end of days” concept. I’m hoping God has a sense of humor (see: platypus, male nipples,) but He might not be in the mood to joke.  So I’m just going to have some fun.

If the hygienist brings this up tomorrow – better yet, maybe I’ll bring it up – I’m going to detail everything I’m doing to get ready, just in case I’m left behind: underground bunker, year’s supply of drinking water, homemade bombs, vasectomy-reversal tools in case Matt and I have to repopulate Earth, dog and cat food, and a bunch of Martha Stewart magazines – because I’m sure she’s got recipes that incorporate dirt and worms somewhere.

So that’ll be fun.

Touché

It all started with that Rihanna song, the one about sadomasochism.

I might not be able to understand all the words, but I know what that song’s about because it’s right there in the title – S&M. Not much gets past this chick.

So the kids and I were driving from one practice to the next when the song came on. I had heard bits and pieces but never the whole song. Hmmm. Maybe that’s because the kids never let me. Because, hoo boy, that is one nasty song.

Once I figured out what Rihanna was saying, I switched over to Oldies 95 real fast.

“Oh.My.God,” I said. “That is terrible. Don’t ever listen to that crap again.”

Maggie rolled her eyes as only a 13-year-old girl can. “Mom, come on,” she said. “It’s just a song. It’s not like I pay attention to the words. I just like the music.”

“Sorry,” I said, shaking my head. “I cannot, in good conscience, allow you to listen to a song about…that…you know…subject. Anyway. So, no.”

Yay me! Mom of the Year.  A regular Tipper Gore!

Except yeah, I’m not, which my kids were so happy to point out a few days later.                                            

Once again, we were driving to some practice or lesson or what have you. And a song came on the radio.

Only this time, it was Aerosmith. Rock on! And it was Walk this Way. And I was totally jamming, trying to play air guitar and drive at the same time, cranking the volume.

“This is a ‘bad’ song,” Joe said, smirking.

“It is not,” I said. “It’s Walk this Way. It’s a classic. C’mon.”

Maggie joined in. “Mom, listen to the words,” she said. “Seriously.”

Um, OK. Here’s a sampling:

“You ain’t seen nothin’ till you’re down on a muffin, then you’re sure to be a-changin’ your ways.”

So I guess when I was younger I didn’t know the context behind that use of muffin.

Point taken.

And now I’m listening to all my old faves with the ear of a mom. Snake in the Grass? Terrible. Fat Bottom Girls? Suggestive, especially the part about the naughty nanny. Don’t even get me started on any Beastie Boys or Violent Femmes songs.

The whole incident reminded me of my seventh-grade year, when my favorite song was Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye. My younger sister and I recorded the song off an MTV video onto a cassette tape, and we played it day and night. My mom thought it was cool because she loved Marvin Gaye and was happy the guy had a new song – until one night when she actually listened to the words.

She was horrified. After that, we only listened to the song when she wasn’t around.

Which I’m pretty sure is what’s going down with that Rihanna song…

Missing my home

I should be creating a study guide for the hellish final I’m facing in Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Families, Groups, Organizations, Communities.

But like the Class A procrastinator I am, I would rather surf the Internet trying to find out how fast the Mississippi River is flowing through my home county, Mississippi County, Mo., after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blasted a two-mile wide hole in a 65-foot-tall levee there.

And doing that made me think about my childhood, which made me remember how scared I always was when the river flooded and my dad piled us all into the station wagon or van or what have you and drove us around Hell’s Half-Acre, looking at the water all out of its banks. And I was always afraid he’d lose control of the car, and we’d careen down the secondary levee to our deaths in the cold, murky, muddy Mississippi waters.

Which made me remember that I always had an escape route planned. Like if that above scenario happened, then I knew that I had only a few precious seconds to roll down the backseat windows, thereby leaving us an avenue to get out of car as it sank. And since none of us wore seatbelts back then, we’d all be able to make it. And then I would receive an award for a) being a hero and b) being smart enough to know what to do when my dad temporarily lost his sanity and drove us all into the river.

Those were the days.

None of my family lives in southeast Missouri any longer. We’ve all migrated north, back toward the land my father’s family farmed in north-central Missouri and toward the land my mother’s family tended in north-central Illinois, far from the reaches of the mighty Mississippi.

Last week, when I learned the Corps of Engineers was seriously contemplating blowing the levee, I quickly did some research. It had been years since I’d thought about the spillway cutting a path through Mississippi County. Despite a local newspaper editor’s years of reporting and writing about what was likely to happen if the right flood came along, I didn’t pay too much attention.

Suddenly, I wished that I had. So I called up my parents, who were skeptical that the Corps would do anything. My mom taught school for years in East Prairie, Mo., a town just down the road from my hometown of Charleston, Mo. Mom said officials always were threatening to blow the levee, to evacuate the spillway. “Those bastards just want to see if they can do it,” my dad said.

See, the spillway was meant to work this way: If conditions were right and the Mississippi River, kept from its natural pathway by an immense federal levee system from St. Louis south to the Gulf of Mexico, needed to let off floodwaters and ease pressure on levees and floodwalls, the Corps could blow a hole in a levee east of Charleston, allowing water to flow through the southeast part of the county. By blowing a hole in a levee near New Madrid, Mo., the water could then make its way back into the river channel.

Click here to get a link to a map of the area.

But this hadn’t been necessary since 1937. Few people remember what that was like. And since then, the land inside the spillway has been farmed (it’s some of the best farmland in the country, maybe even the world) and folks have built houses there and raised families and lived.

My parents didn’t think it was going to happen. But when the story made CNN and the New York Times, I knew it was serious. And when state lawmakers pressed their case past state courts to a federal appeals court and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned them down, I knew it was going to happen.

At my house, miles and miles away from the heartbreak unfolding in Mississippi County, my family watched in real time as the levee blew, thanks to the wonders of the Internet. Immediately, Facebook was abuzz with the comments of my classmates and former neighbors and people I’d known since I was born, checking to see if each other was all right, who’d felt the blast, whose parents had lost everything.

I wasn’t there. I haven’t been there in years. My family never has farmed that land. But I feel connected to it, drawn to the story of what’s going to happen to the people there, my friends, my old schoolmates.

No longer do we pile into the car to assess the flooding; we can do that through Facebook and the Internet and live webcams.

Now I should get back to studying for my human behavior final. But I think I maybe understand more than I thought I did about families, groups, organizations and communities.

Sunday School: The longest hour of my week

In a joke of cosmic proportions, I’m a Sunday school teacher. It’s kind of like my stint as a Girl Scout leader a few years back – somebody somewhere is laughing.

Hey, I’m not being sacrilegious. I’m just saying, they were desperate for Sunday school teachers.

Actually, my intentions were pure. I’m all about being a good role model for my kids. I volunteer at school so they know that I think school is important. I exercise so they see that hitting middle age doesn’t mean you have to be sedentary. And I teach Sunday school so they know that I believe church is an important part of life.

There’s just the little matter of my profanity. Old habits die hard. I try really hard not to cuss in front of my kids, but I am a backslider. And I justify my effin’ lapses by pointing out that at least I’m not drinking bourbon out of my coffee cup. (For the record, I do not cuss in church. I do have standards, for Christ’s sake.)

Anywho, I started teaching Sunday school when our oldest was in kindergarten. He’s now a high school freshman. So do the math. With a hiatus here and there, I’ve been teaching Sunday school for a decade – sometimes with the hubs, sometimes with one of my sisters or my mom. Am I a good teacher? That’s debatable. But I’m a warm body.

I probably should have stayed with kindergarten, maybe first grade. The older the kids get, the lippier they get. And the older I get, the less sing-songy my teaching methods are. I can feel myself morphing into the shrewy Girl Scout leader who wanted to take the cookies and shove them somewhere unseemly by the time she bowed out ungracefully two years ago.

I’m thinking this might be my last teaching stint for a while.

Right now, the hubs and I are teaching our youngest child’s second- and third-grade Sunday school class. Our church has teachers commit to a 13-week stretch during the school year. Some years we’ve taught all three periods, but this year we’re just doing the third. Good thing. One Sunday, we had 15 kiddos, four of them girls. On Palm Sunday, we were at 13, with two girls. And some of the little boys should count for about three kids.

Every Sunday, I reconfirm my long-ago decision not to pursue a career in education.

Eight- and 9-year-old boys were not meant to sit quietly and talk about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, even if you throw in the part about Peter cutting off the guard’s ear with a sword. Especially if you throw in that part, because that means the newspaper palms you just spent 20 minutes making become de facto swords.

So, this Sunday – Easter Sunday – I’m figuring we’ll talk about what everyone got in their Easter baskets, with some digression when someone tries to explain that the only proper way to eat a chocolate bunny is to bite off the head. And then one of the little girls will feign horror, and then one of the boys will relate a tale about biting the heads off all his sister’s Peeps, and Matt and I will basically lose control before regaining it with the threat of no treats. Then we’ll talk about the empty tomb and Jesus walking to Emmaus and what have you.

Of course, we have to have treats. The previous teachers this year have set a standard. The first Sunday, one little sweetie told us that they always get snacks. That peeved me at first, but after two Sundays, I recognized bribery. And now I’m on board.

Problem is, they don’t like what I bring. Last Sunday, I made homemade brownies. I mean, I didn’t have a mix. I pulled out the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook and realized I had all the ingredients. And personally, I thought they tasted way better than something from a mix.

But one little boy took a bite Sunday, wrinkled his nose, and said, “What did you put in these, anyway?”

“Sugar, cocoa, butter, flour,” I said. “I’m not sure what you put in your brownies, but that’s pretty much all there is.”

“They taste funny,” he said, as he threw the brownie away.

Sigh.

We have a couple little stinkers in the class. They’re not malicious, just ornery, and they wear me out. Tom can tell. One Sunday, on the way to church, he asked if his dad and I had had other kids who were hard to work with when we were teaching Joe’s and Maggie’s classes.

I thought about it. And yes, I’d had kids who tried my patience before. One of the worst was my oldest kiddo.

He was a doozy, he and his friend. And now they’re pretty compliant teen-agers. Which tells me what I already know – these kiddos I’m teaching now will grow up and be OK.

And it’ll seem like only yesterday that they were driving me to consider taking tranquilizers before church.

The days are long, but the years are short.

Sigh.

The school bus: Not for the faint of heart

Momonthedge is swamped this week with a group project for a class in which she’s learned nothing except that she’s still got the ability to fake it when the teacher asks who read the material. So here’s something I wrote a couple years ago about the school bus.

Seems timely, considering that current story about the school bus driver going all Jersey Shore on the middle school kiddo…

I’ll be back with new meaningless drivel next week…

Happy Easter and/or Passover!

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We live just around the corner from our elementary school. But the middle school’s clear on the other side of town. So my kids don’t ride the bus until middle school.  

That school starts a good hour before the elementary, and it doesn’t make sense to my small-town-girl mindset to spend 30 minutes or so driving to and from the kids’ school when the bus stop is literally steps from our front door. And at best, that’s a 25 minute ride. What could go wrong, I figured. 

Once again, I figured wrong.  

Two years ago, when Joe was the first to take the bus to school, he and his naïve walker buddies became convinced the bus driver had it out for them.

He seemed like a nice guy to me. He explained how the process worked to my sister and me when he picked up the kids on the first day of school. This guy had a system. Eighth graders sat in the back, seventh graders in the middle, sixth graders in the front. He joked around with the kids but tried to run a tight ship. 

However, he was a little sarcastic. And his sarcasm didn’t go over well with the sixth graders, none of whom had ridden a bus before.

One day, a bunch of them mutinied, and the guy had to pull the bus over to regain control. Some kids were crawling under seats, and others were asserting their rights to be treated with respect by the driver. My sister saw all this on the school bus video a day or so later, when she investigated her own daughter’s involvement. 

Joe called me on a borrowed cell phone during this incident, and I could hear the pandemonium in the background. I’m sure it sounded just like the Bounty. 

I hung up with him, called my sister and asked her to drive toward the bus and then called the transportation department and told them the bus driver needed help. By the time my sister got the six blocks to the bus, it had started again. But my niece and three other kids were walking home. 

My son, however, got off at his regular stop. He would have walked, but he was bringing home his baritone and didn’t want to lug that monster six blocks.  

Later, when the dust cleared, I told Joe that he was going to have to ride the bus to school. For 30 minutes twice a day, I said, you can stick your iPod earbud in your ear, look straight ahead and grin and bear it. 

He did. We’ve had no problems since.  

But now, Maggie’s the newbie. She knew about what happened during Joe’s sixth-grade year. There’s a different driver now, a woman. Maggie likes her, calls her by name, knows some personal details. She doesn’t have any issues with her. 

No, her problems revolve around a boy a year older whom she’s known since she was in kindergarten. If what she tells me is right, this kid should be in the Navy. “Potty mouth” doesn’t even begin to describe what rolls off his tongue.  

I can’t even type here the things that he’s said, mostly about other kids. And Maggie (and Joe verifies this) says he sits at the front of the bus, not the back, where such obscenities were uttered in my day.  

When the boy started picking on Maggie’s friend, whose mother’s reputation was unjustly defiled by this foul-mouthed kid, that was the last straw for my little social-justice activist. She took up for her friend. And now, she’s the mean boy’s target. He’s called her some bad stuff.

Now, I know this kid’s mother. Part of me wants to talk to her about this. But in the past, she’s tended to think he’s been wronged, picked on, misunderstood. She generally believes what he says. I don’t know that speaking with her will do any good. And the kid might just focus even more on Maggie. 

So on Tuesday, after Maggie came home telling me the heinous word he called her, I called the transportation department. I told the discipline officer there my dilemma, and she said she’d review the bus videotapes and see if she could tell what was going on. 

I just hope to heaven that Maggie didn’t say something equally bad or worse back to the kid. That’ll be embarrassing. 

And where was Joe during all this maligning of his sister’s character? Sitting there with his iPod earbud in his ear. He claims obliviousness. 

Maggie and I were talking about it tonight, and I told her she needs to move away from the boy and to tell her friends to do the same. It’s only 30 minutes twice a day, I said. You guys don’t need to prove any points, you just need to make it home. 

And then I told her about my own horrific school bus.

It was the 1980s in a small town in southeast Missouri. My bus driver was about 105 and wore glasses as thick as Coke bottles. He was as sweet as he was blind and deaf. And his bus was a rolling hellhole. 

I went to Catholic school through the fifth grade, so sixth grade was my first year on the bus, too. But in those days in that town, all the routes were kindergarten through 12th grade. The big, bad nasty kids sat in the back of the bus. I tried never to go past the middle to find a seat. 

My older sister was supposed to ride with me, but she always managed to avoid it when her friend Victor, who drove a Chevelle convertible, pulled up to the bus stop and whisked her away from all that.  

In my memory, the back of the bus was a hazy, pot-smoke-filled place. There may have been kids having sex back there for all I know. A few rows in front of Gomorrah sat members of the Murray family, a particularly mean-spirited bunch who would spit in your face if you made eye contact. 

I cowered in fear at the front of the bus from the sixth grade until early high school, when our ancient bus driver retired, only to be replaced by a stone-faced mechanic who demanded silence on the bus so that he could hear the engine at all times. What a relief. 

That was almost 30 years ago, but apparently nothing much has changed on the bus. And you can see I’m no help to my children. At least Maggie has more guts than I ever did. 

Mom and son go to the birds

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, my immaturity rears its ugly head.

Like the other day, after my oldest son’s soccer game. His high school team formed an off-season team and is playing in a competitive league against, presumably, other high school off-season teams.

Now, generally, I’m the parent who’s pretty clueless as to the specifics of what’s happening on the field. I mean, sure. They make a goal, I can figure that one out. I’m not too sure about what constitutes “off-sides,” though. Basically, I just try to cheer positively, something along the lines of, “Way to be there!” and “Follow your shot!” and “Get it out of the middle!” You know, basic general stuff.

On Saturday, though, my son’s team played a team that was highly populated with European foreign exchange students. These dudes play some serious futbol. If you watched any of last summer’s World Cup games or ever catch any games on Fox Soccer Channel (which I watch every afternoon when my kids get home from school,) you get the picture.

Sneaky slide tackles. High kicks. Under-the-breath insults. And righteous indignation if the referees call any fouls that don’t go their way.

The game was a tough one, and my son’s team lost by three goals, to a team of guys wearing pink jerseys. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it just added insult to injury, ya know?

So he and his buddy packed up their gear, and we trudged to the parking lot. There was a long line of cars waiting to exit right on to the side street but no one turning into the parking lot. A bunch of cars that were turning left headed down the wrong side of the road, and we followed, since they were going our way.

Just then, a black Chevy Cavalier full of pink jerseys sped across some grass toward the road. I thought for sure they’d stop when they saw our station wagon barreling toward them, but the driver just grinned and turned on to the road right in front of us and cut in front of the car to our right to turn on to the road going west, the opposite of our direction. My hubs laid on the horn, and the jerkos in the Cavalier just laughed back at us.

That’s when my middle finger flew up alongside my head and slammed against my window, in full view of the carload of pink jerseys. Their eyes grew big and they looked like they wanted out of the car to come beat my a**. Except they didn’t want to lose their place in the line of cars going west.

The next thing I know, Matt is growling at the back seat. “Are you flipping them off?” he asked my son. “Stop it. Stop it right now!”

Geez. “I’m flipping them off, Matt,” I said. “They’re jerks.”

He ignored me and went on. “You do not flip them off, do you hear me?” he told our son. “It’s inappropriate.” He cast a scathing look my way. “I don’t care what your mother does.”

The other boy in the back seat – our son’s friend – was conspicuously silent. I looked back at the black Cavalier and jammed my finger back against the window where Matt couldn’t see it, smiling all the while.

And my inner 15-year-old considered flipping him off, too, but thought better of it.

I’m not competitive. I just want my kid to win.

So some of you might remember a post I wrote on another blogging site last year after our youngest son’s first pinewood derby. You can find that post here, in case you’re just dying to read all about a little boy’s broken heart.

Yeah, Tom was convinced his car was going to TAKE…IT…ALLL, BABY!! And, of course, it didn’t. Didn’t really even place in any heat, if I recall. And Tom put on his brave face until we got home, at which time the floodgates opened and tore a big hole in my maternal heart. He cried, I cried, we both hyperventilated.

Once the tears dried, the hubs and I vowed that this year, he’d do better because we, his educated but somewhat mechanically inept parents, would enlist help.

And then January came around, and suddenly the Cub Scout pack’s pinewood workshop was upon us, and my little guy and the hubs cut out the car with little thought to aesthetics or design or anything. They just came up with a design on the fly. And then they forgot about it until the end of February.

This year’s derby was March 19. On March 1, I was in the hospital, with lots of time to contemplate the future. And I asked Matt if he’d talked with Andy, our brother-in-law who’s also an engineer, for any advice. He hemmed and hawed and pulled out the Blackberry and emailed Andy. I also suggested he talk to some of his friends, like Donovan, a father of three boys and one girl who designs the coolest pinewood cars EVAH every year. Donovan takes his, er, his boys’ cars on the Scout overnights and sands wheels and what have you.

Um, no. He didn’t talk with Donovan, except at the pinewood workshop, where Donovan suggested that Tom might want to put a cockpit on his car because it would be cool.

Periodically, I inquired as to the pinewood car’s progress. They had a name: Rocket Man II, named after last year’s car, Rocket Man. It would be black. That was about it.

The week of the derby, Matt asked me to go buy some decals for the car. I found some at Hobby Lobby, where I also discovered a whole aisle dedicated to pinewood cars. Overstimulation. There were cool bodies, axels, weights, little guys to stick in the driver’s seat, etc. I just found some decals appropriate for a rocket, but I told Matt all about the magic aisle. He said the stuff that came in the pinewood kit was good enough.

The day before the race dawned, and Rocket Man II did not have any wheels yet. Tom wasn’t worried, but I was nervous. Matt assured me he knew how to put the wheels on. Sure, I thought, you know how. But do you know how to make sure they’re fast as greased lightning?

That evening, our other brother-in-law, Mike, stopped by. I was harping about the pinewood car, and Matt told Mike I was pressuring him, that I was too involved in my kid’s car. So I asked Mike his winning secret, since his son had won his pinewood derby. He gave us a few tips.

It was 9 p.m., and the wheels still weren’t on. I was sitting at the kitchen table, using my laptop, while Matt painstakingly sanded each wheel nail. I asked what he was doing.

“I’m trying to get the grooves out,” he said, rubbing a tiny sliver of sandpaper along the nail. “Donovan did this last month at the overnight with his dremel.”

I threw my hands into the air. “For crying out loud, Andy has a dremel,” I said. “Go borrow it, for Christ’s sake. This is pitiful.”

Then he looked at me, and I saw the pain in his eyes. “Did I ever tell you about my first pinewood derby?” he asked. I shook my head.

Then he told me how he built his first pinewood car on his parents’ back stoop, all by himself. He didn’t know to ask for help. His dad wasn’t too mechanical, and it never occurred to him to ask his mom or his grandpa, a woodworker. He found some sort of handsaw in his parents’ garage and used that to cut out the car. He didn’t know about sandpaper or dremels or what have you. He painted the car using gray porch paint and orange paint leftover from the trim in his bedroom. Then he proudly took his car to the derby.

“The car couldn’t even make it to the end of the track,” he said. “And no one’s dad offered to help me. They all worked at the Ford plant. My dad came to meetings in his suit and tie. I think they just didn’t want to help a kid like me.”

He kept sanding the nail and went on. “So the next year, Uncle Pat helped me,” he said. Uncle Pat is an architect. Aha! I thought. Success.

“We made the Super Shark. It was sleek,” he said. “Which just goes to show you that it doesn’t matter how the car looks because that one didn’t make it to the end of the track, either.”

I wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but I was starting to realize why he didn’t want to ask for any help this time around, either. Except this wasn’t his car – this was Tom’s.

Didn’t he want his kiddo to fare better than he did?

The next day, Tom and Matt took Rocket Man II to the derby. I arrived just before the race started and found myself the butt of many jokes amongst the dads in Tom’s den. Matt had told them I was pressuring him to help Tom make a car that could win it all.

He didn’t need to win it all. But I was hoping he’d at least show up for the race so we could avoid a night of woe like last year.

And I’m happy to say Tom’s car placed first in his heat, although seventh overall in his den. No tears that night – from him or me. And Matt’s put his pinewood demons behind him for another year.

My week at the spa

Some of you might have been wondering where momonthedge has been the last few weeks.

Poolside in Palm Beach? Cruising the Caribbean? Snowboarding in Steamboat?

Alas, no. I have been to the only weeklong spa escape I’m likely to get unless I achieve my dream of visiting Oprah’s show this season and scoring the one day she sends everyone in the audience to Canyon Ranch.

I was in the hospital.

Before you put me on your church prayer list, let me tell you that it wasn’t all that serious, really. I didn’t break a leg or have a heart attack or burst my appendix. I had a garden-variety drug-sensitive staph infection. Not even the flesh-eating-bacteria kind.

Not to say it didn’t knock me on my hiney, though. Which is how I ended up in the ER and eventually in a tiny hospital room that was begging for an extreme makeover.

Let me explain.

A couple weeks back, I got up early one Wednesday morning and felt an itch on my lower back. I thought it was a bug bite and didn’t give it another thought. The next day I went to the gym to run on the treadmill, then went home to shower. I noticed the spot on my back looked irritated, like a spider bite. No bigger.

The next day it was angrier, so I put some Neosporin on it and went about my business. By Saturday, it was really hurting and kind of bulging. This is when I made my fatal mistake: I lanced it myself.

Hey, I’m a mom, and I was busy. I figured I’d drain the thing, pour hydrogen peroxide all over it and put some Neosporin on it, all of which I did. But by noon, it was way worse. So I decided to find an urgent care place and get it looked at. Plus I was starting to cough and kind of ache all over, which I weirdly attributed to the sore on my back.

Here’s a tip: You don’t want to be the last patient seen in the urgent care joint during flu season. It was nastier than gross in there. I waited an hour in an exam room before a tired-looking doctor came in, looked at my back, said it was staph and gave me prescriptions for Bactrim and Bacitracin ointment. After another hour at the 24-hour pharmacy, I headed home by 8 p.m.

The next day was a busy Sunday, and my back felt sort of better in the morning. But by lunch time, I knew I needed more intervention. So Matt drove me to the emergency room. There, a cute young doctor confirmed the staph diagnosis but said he’d have to open up that abscess, which he did, taking care to make as small an incision as possible so it wouldn’t scar and harsh my bikini line. So cute. As if I’ll ever willingly wear a bikini again.

Matt was concerned but also strangely fascinated with the little surgical procedure. It was like he was watching his own personal copy of the “world’s biggest zit” video on YouTube. He wanted to narrate the incising, but I begged him not to. He’d tried this kind of thing before, when I’d had my first amniocentesis, describing in detail the length of the needle, the way my stomach looked when it went in, etc. I don’t need to know these things. I was just trying to find my happy place.

After the doctor packed the wound, I felt a little better, but I think that was from the lidocaine he’d shot into my lower back. I had a big bandage back there and joked that if anyone noticed, I’d say it was a tramp stamp gone bad. The cute doctor probably thought I reminded him of his mom, only nerdier. He smiled condescendingly.

So we went home, but the darn thing kept getting worse. The pain woke me up in the night, and Monday morning I felt like crap. But so did both Joe and Tom, who were coughing and sniffling and running temps. I took them to the pediatrician, who said they had viruses. And he said I didn’t look or sound too good myself. I showed him my back, and he recoiled. I thought maybe I should go back to the ER.

Here’s another tip: Monday afternoons are the absolute worst time to visit the ER. Who knew? I figured Friday was terrible, but Monday afternoon the joint was full of people who should have gone to urgent care. By the time I got back to a room, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be going home for a while. Before I knew it, I had an IV in my arm and was floating from the oxycodon they gave me for pain.

However, I didn’t have time for a hospital stay. I had places to go, kids to shuttle. I had a paper due in one of my grad classes, and I hadn’t even started it. I started tearing up, but then a nurse told me I could just do my homework while I was lying in a nice, quiet hospital room, letting the IV antibiotics do their thing.

She had me at “nice” and “quiet.” Suddenly, the thought of checking out of my hectic life for a few days sounded OK. Again, it was no doubt the oxycodon, but I figured I could watch whatever I wanted on TV, sleep later than 6:15 a.m., catch up on my school reading. Wow.

Yeah, so I signed up for that package before I realized a) I’d be in a hospital room slightly bigger than my closet and b) they’d be giving me Heparin shots in my stomach twice a day so I wouldn’t develop blood clots. Oh, and right after I arrived at my room, a nurse and nurse’s aide came in and put these inflatable boot thingies on my legs. They filled up with air every 30 seconds or so, supposedly massaging my calves to prevent blood clots.

That karma, she is a byotch.

Have you ever tried to sleep with something gripping your legs every 30 seconds all.night.long? Between those bastards and the nurse’s aide coming in to check my vitals every few hours, I felt worse in the morning than I had the night before. They gave me bags of IV fluids between antibiotic doses, and by 7 a.m. I looked like the Crypt Keeper’s crazy Aunt Kate. I was puffy and disgusting.

So much for my spa vacation.

Over the next few days, my cough got worse, too. I kept asking for Mucinex, but no one seemed to be listening. On Wednesday, when my doctor came in to tell me I’d be going home soon with a catheter inserted in my arm, he asked about my cough and ordered a flu test. They stuck a probe up my nose and a few hours later, I got the news: positive for influenza B, despite getting a flu shot in the fall.

My week just kept getting better. My flu diagnosis earned me a sign on my door advising anyone entering to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer before they left my room. I couldn’t leave the room except to go get an x-ray or use the shower. And then I was masked up, too.

Late that afternoon, a drippingly sweet nurse came to insert my PICC, the catheter in my arm. Before she did it, she told me everything that could possibly go wrong. For instance, if I coughed too, too hard, there was a chance I might cause the catheter to pull out of the vein it was in. But everything would be OK, she assured me.

After Matt left that night, I cried inconsolably. I missed my kids, two of whom had the flu, too. I’d missed Maggie’s honor society induction. Matt seemed to have everything at home under control. I felt like life outside the hospital was marching on, but in my room it was like Groundhog Day.

Just when things couldn’t get any more dismal, Thursday dawned and Aunt Flo arrived. You know who I mean. She was early. I thought I was hemorrhaging before I realized what was going on. Like a 13-year-old stuck at school without proper supplies, I explained my predicament to the nurse. Lovely. Being a chick can be sooo much fun sometimes.

And it turns out that if you complain about chest pain when you’re in the hospital – even if your pain is coming from your flu-ridden lungs because no one has ever gotten you any freaking Mucinex – you automatically get an EKG and a visit from a cardiologist before you can leave the joint. That whole detour caused me to spend an extra day in the hospital.

Finally, Friday dawned. Outside my window, the skies were dark with clouds, and rain threatened. But I didn’t care. I was ready to go. And by 3 p.m., I had left my spa week behind for the sweetness of my crazy, loud, unpredictable home.

Me and my middle-aged brain

I knew it was going to happen one day. Frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened long before now.

I hurried my kids out the door to a soccer game that wasn’t even scheduled.

Well, that’s not entirely true. That game, the one we showed up to, was scheduled, all right. But my kid wasn’t a part of the team warming up to play.

So confusing. I know. I’m living it. But let me explain…

I looked at my calendar last week and realized that Maggie had a soccer game at 10 a.m. Saturday, the same time Tom had a basketball game at a different venue. And Matt was out of commission, since he had a daylong board meeting. Grandparents were out of the question for various reasons, and I couldn’t be two places at once.

So we asked our friends who coach Tom’s basketball team if I could drop off Tom at 9 a.m. on the way to Maggie’s game. They said sure, and we were set.

On Saturday morning, everything went like clockwork. We dropped off Tom and headed to the soccer place with enough time to spare that I stopped for gas and a cup of coffee. I dropped Maggie off at the door and found a parking spot, then Joe and I went inside for the game.

Maggie was sitting on the bleachers, looking a little lost. I saw some girls from her team kicking a ball around, waiting for the current game to end, so I told her to go warm up. Joe and I sat there talking, but I could feel someone watching me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a parent wearing the same team T-shirt I was staring at me. I didn’t recognize him, but it’s not like I’m close with any of these soccer parents.

A little background: Maggie played on this team two years ago. It was her first girls-only team, and it wasn’t the greatest experience. She only played in fall and decided to go back to her co-ed rec team, which caused a mini-uproar on the team she left. Some parents told my husband and me that we were doing our FIFTH GRADER a disservice by not forcing her to play on this competitive team, to which we just smiled sweetly and secretly flipped them off in our minds.

So when the guy kept staring, I figured he knew all about that history and wondered why Maggie was back on the team. And for the record, she’s only playing on this team to get some touches on the ball before her school’s spring soccer season begins.

And this particular club has two teams with the same name playing in this league. They just split up their regular team for the 6v6 season. Maybe, I thought, Maggie’s team was playing the other team from her club.

Anywho, a few minutes later, Maggie came back. She looked confused.

“Mom,” she said, “none of these girls are on my team.”

I looked back at the gaggle of blonde, pony-tailed girls dribbling the ball. They all looked the same to me. Except there were perhaps too many blonds. Maggie’s team has a few brunettes.

“Hmmm,” I said. “Maybe your team is playing the other team from your club, you know? I’ll bet that’s it. Go ask the coach.”

So she did, and he came over, smiling kindly.

“Maggie’s got a game at 7 a.m. tomorrow,” he said. “But if she wants to play today, we can use her. We might have someone missing.”

I could feel my face turning red. I looked at Maggie, and she shook her head.

I thanked him and told him I must have read the schedule wrong. Then we walked the long walk in front of the bleachers toward the facility’s exit. I could feel all the parental eyes on me.

Right then I knew who would be bringing Maggie to her 7 a.m. game, and it sure has heck wasn’t going to be me. And I started casting about for a way, any way, that I could blame Matt for this. There had to be a way, but I couldn’t see a clear one.

So we piled into the Suburban and drove to Tom’s basketball game, which just had started. I laughed about the soccer screw-up with my friends there. One said I could still blame Matt because he should have corrected me when I insisted there was a soccer game on Saturday, but I thought that was stretching it a little.

Later that day, when Matt got home from his meeting, I told him all about it. He told me that if I had a Blackberry, I could put all the times and places I needed to be in my electronic calendar, and that would solve my problem. But I reminded him that I still would have had the wrong date and time in there, so what was the good of that?

I didn’t have it in my calendar,” he said smugly.

I stared at him. “Why didn’t you tell me, then?” I asked.

“Because I knew you’d get mad and tell me I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “So I didn’t think I should tell you.”

 So it was his fault. I knew it.

Whatever you do, don’t get me a Kindle for Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day, but I’m not expecting much, mainly because I told the hubs not to get me anything.

You can call me a Valentine’s Scrooge or the “b” word or any number of nasty things, but the truth is the hubs and I have a checkered Valentine’s past.

Our very first Valentine’s Day together was a Mars-Venus event. That was in 1990. We were in college and had been dating about a month. Matt planned a date, and I assumed it would be a romantic dinner. I mean, he’d sent this gorgeous bouquet of a dozen sweetheart roses. Eleven were red, but one was white – because I’m one of a kind (awwwww…..).

So I waited for him to pick me up at my apartment. I was wearing a red corduroy jumper and a white blouse with a big collar (it was 1990, remember – end of the preppy era.) White tights. Black flats.

He showed up dressed a lot more casually. He was thinking bowling.

We’re both vague on the details now, but the night wasn’t a huge waste. We were young and in love and didn’t have many cares. By the next Valentine’s Day, we were engaged.

I don’t remember every Valentine’s Day between then and now, but we’ve had a few misfires.

And that’s OK, because really, I think Valentine’s Day is sort of contrived. I mean, sure it’s nice that people go around in the middle of February, the shortest but most boring month, telling each other they love each other and such. But shouldn’t they be doing that all the time and without expectation of receiving flowers or candy or expensive greeting cards?

So over the years, Matt and I have given each other little tokens. He often sends flowers. I buy cologne. Since we’ve had kids, we usually include them in our Valentine’s Day plans because what are they but a manifestation of our love?

Except there was that one Valentine’s Day about six or seven years ago. A few weeks earlier, the pre-Blackberry Matt was extolling the virtues of his Palm Pilot. It kept him organized. His calendar was in the palm of his hand! He could synch his calendar with Outlook, keep his appointments, make lists – all with a device in the palm.of.his.hand. Wow.

Blah blah blah. So finally, he suggested maybe I should get one.

Dude. I was a stay-at-home-mom with a baby and two kids in elementary school. The most pressing schedule I needed to keep was knowing when to feed the baby. I left the house around 9 a.m. to walk the kiddos to school. Took the baby to Kindermusik one morning a week. Went to the grocery store after. Got my hair cut every couple months. Made it home to watch Ellen at 3 p.m. before picking up the kids around 4 p.m.

Wow. Did I really need a handheld device to keep track of all that excitement? I didn’t think so. I mean, it would take me longer to figure out how to use the dang thing than it was worth. And I didn’t have room in my brain for that useless information. So I vehemently, I thought, made my point.

Well, comes Valentine’s Day, and what did I get? You guessed it: a Palm Pilot.

I was speechless. I really was. Because apparently Matt had not listened to one word I’d said. And that conversation had lasted an hour, I swear.

But here’s where Ms. Nice Guy left the room. Did I politely accept the Palm Pilot and move on, like I did a few years later with the iPod I never use? No. I was a little rude, I think. That wasn’t my intent. But for crying out loud, I had specifically said I did not want a Palm Pilot and then there it was, staring up at me. And I didn’t care that he got it for a steal. I threw a bit of a hissy fit.

I realize now that I might have overreacted. I hurt Matt’s feelings, I’m pretty sure. I know he was just telling me he loved me by giving me something that was such a help to him. My feelings were hurt, though, because he’d not really been listening to me.

Now the Palm Pilot is an inside joke between the two of us, just like the power washer I got him for Father’s Day and the Weed Eater he got me (but mainly himself) for Mother’s Day.

And now, 21 years after our first star-crossed Valentine’s Day, we’re not observing it, except to tell each other what we don’t want. For Matt, it’s an iPhone and a turtleneck. For me, it’s a Kindle. And a pair of Pajama Jeans.

Living vicariously hurts

Sorry it’s been a while. Between shoveling 2,500 inches of snow from the driveway and wiping butts and taking temperatures, I’ve only had time to do laundry and watch late-night reruns of Law & Order.

But I’m back, so down to business.

Here’s what’s going on in my parenting world: I’m living vicariously through my 13-year-old daughter.

It’s something I swore I’d never do, and I can honestly say I’m not doing it the way I dreaded, pushing my little girl to become everything I wanted to be but never could: a ballerina or competitive dancer or soccer star.

Frankly, I gave up hoping I was raising a dancing queen when Maggie was 3. We enrolled her in a combo dance class. I bought her lots of cute tutus and leotards and tights and the sweetest, tiniest ballet shoes. The little blondie was a doll, I tell you.

Only she hated everything but acrobats. She hated plies and first position and, OK, the tutus. She wanted to do flips and handsprings and cartwheels and what have you.

And you know what? I realized pretty quickly that what I wanted for Maggie and what she wanted, even at 3, didn’t jibe. I was projecting my lost dream of dancing the part of Sugar Plum Fairy onto my little blonde sweetie. We enrolled her in an acrobats class, and she’s been flipping and tumbling ever since.

So no, I’m no tiger mother. Just the opposite. I try to be supportive and let my children figure out what they want to do. And that’s the easy part.

But emotionally, I’m living my early teen years all over again. And it hurts just as badly the second time around, even through the lens of 30 years and the knowledge that things do get better.

I sound dramatic, and Maggie’s life is anything but. She doesn’t have time for the drama. And that’s part of her problem in middle school, where many girls thrive on drama and fights and imagined scenarios.

Not Maggie. Raised with two brothers, she’s not accustomed to navigating the badmouthing and backbiting and conniving that mark some girls’ entrance into the teen-age years. She doesn’t think that way. I like that about her. She can’t really “read” girls well, either, because she’s never had to. In her world, people pretty much say what they mean and mean what they say.

So it confuses her and hurts her feelings when someone she considers a friend suddenly does something mean or thoughtless. She can’t anticipate that; she’s not wired that way.

I, on the other hand, know all about middle-school girls and their drama. Sandwiched between two sisters, I witnessed my own share of drama within the confines of my childhood home. It wasn’t horrible, it just was. And I learned from it. Then I saw it at school, got drawn into it, decided it wasn’t my thing and moved on. And I know that middle-school drama princesses often grow up to be adult drama queens.

One day, a friend whose daughter is in school with Maggie called to see if her daughter could wait at our house until time to pick up her brother. The call confused me, because I thought my friend knew her daughter was always welcome in our house, and I said as much.

But she told me her daughter didn’t know if Maggie wanted her there and had asked her mom to call. We worked it out, and I hung up, then told Maggie the other girl would be coming home with her after school.

She looked confused. “I tell her every day she can come over, Mom, but she never does,” she said. “It’s weird.”

A light bulb went off. Years-dormant instinct told me what was going on: The girl didn’t want to pick up her brother from school and was playing her mother. I said as much to Maggie, who looked completely, absolutely befuddled.

“Huh?” she said. “Why would she do that?”

I sighed. How to explain that one before the morning bus came? “We’ll talk about it later,” I said. “You just need to know it’s not you she’s messing with; it’s her mom. She’s just using you to work her mom.”

She nodded, but I knew she didn’t understand. Would she ever?

It reminds me so much of something my sweet grandmother, bless her soul, said 14 years ago while my younger sister was laboring with her first child.

It was the day before Thanksgiving, and my sister had been induced. Grandma had arrived for the holiday, and she insisted on my dad driving her to the hospital so she could see Molly. She sat in a rocking chair for a while, watching Molly breathe and grimace in pain. Pretty soon she decided to go wait in the waiting room.

As we walked past the nurses’ station near the door to the mother-baby unit, I spotted my obstetrician, who was also my sister’s doctor. I introduced my grandmother to the doctor.

“Listen,” Grandma said to the doctor, “I want to ask you something.”

“Sure,” the doctor said. “What can I do for you?”

“Well,” Grandma said, “when I had my first baby 64 years ago, they gave me ether right before the baby was born. With the second baby, I had chloroform.”

The doctor smiled and nodded politely, wondering, like I was, where she was going with this.

“And what I want to know,” Grandma said, “is why medicine hasn’t figured out a way to make childbirth less painful. Why does it have to hurt?”

Before the doctor could spit out an answer, Grandma had moved through the door.

And I guess that’s what I want to know now. In the years since Grandma was a teen, since my mom was a teen, in the 30 years since I was a teen – why hasn’t someone figured out a way to keep the teen-age years from hurting?

Who finds a career at 14? Gimme a break.

So my oldest kid comes home from school Monday and tells me he’s figuring out what classes he’s going to take next year, his sophomore year in high school.

“My biology teacher’s going to recommend me for regular chemistry,” he said, shoving a forkful of food into his mouth.

This year he took pre-AP biology, and he hates it. But he’s always liked the physical sciences, like chemistry and physics. “Why doesn’t she think you should take the more challenging section of chemistry?” I asked.

“Because,” he said, mouth full of food, “she asked me what I want to be when I grow up. I told her a teacher. So she said I didn’t need to take the hard science class.”

What?!? What kind of back-ass reason is that? Coming from a SCIENCE teacher, one who’s actually teaching an advanced science class?

Now, granted, I’m getting this information from a 14-year-old who’d rather play football in the front yard than study biology. But he pulled a B in the weighted class last semester, so I’m sure he could handle pre-AP chemistry.

OK, I need to get more information before I blow a gasket.

But here’s the deal – who asks a 14-year-old what he wants to be when he grows up and bases his academic advisement on that? Last year, the kid wanted to work at NASA. Not so very long ago, his career goals included professional baseball player and construction worker in the off-season.

So yeah, this month he wants to be a teacher. But dig deeper, biology woman. Ask him what kind of teacher, and he’ll tell you he wants to teach social studies. Yes, he loves history, but more importantly, he thinks you have to teach social studies to be able to coach.

And furthermore, just because he wants to be a teacher certainly does not mean he shouldn’t take the most challenging courses he can. Does it? Was that this teacher’s chosen academic path? Does she think that those who can do, and those who can’t teach?

Before you trash me for criticizing a teacher, know this: I come from a long line of teachers. My parents, my dad’s parents, one great-grandmother and a great-great-grandfather were teachers. I’m on their side, believe me.

Still, that doesn’t mean every one is a good one. And I think this woman’s advice sucks.

I ended up a journalist. Did I take pansy courses in high school and college because I didn’t need to know how to do anything but spell and type? Heck, no. My teacher parents made me take four years of high school math, including calculus. I took physics and chemistry. I took a humanities course in high school and art history in college.

Do I use any of them directly in my career? No. But did studying them make me a more complete human being? Definitely.

So tonight, as my kid and I were preparing to go to a curriculum information night at the high school, I asked again about the science. He said he wanted to take general chemistry, not the advanced class.

“Why?” I pressed. “You’ve always liked science.”

“It’s not in my career path,” he said.

Give me a freaking break.

Love me, love my ‘hood

For months, we wondered who would buy the brick Dutch colonial across the street.

The lovely house was a victim of foreclosure, but not for the reasons so many Americans lost their homes in 2010. The family who lost this house didn’t take out a sub-prime mortgage. They just had a run of good old-fashioned hard times.

Our neighbor and his bride bought the home on June 3, 1999. I remember the exact day not because I’m a savant but because that’s the day my nephew Sam was born. I returned from the hospital that morning to see an auctioneer holding court across the street, selling the brick house and all its contents months after its longtime elderly occupant died heirless.

The couple who bought the home was excited. She’d just discovered she was expecting their first child, and they were looking forward to moving onto a block with so many children. By fall, they’d refinished the hardwood floors, painted the walls and planted roses. The baby arrived in February 2000. In 2001, two years to the day after they bought the house, they welcomed their second child.

Four years later, the rosy picture faded. The wife left her husband and children for another man. The upheaval contributed to a flare of Crohn’s disease for the husband, a Gulf War veteran. On top of illness and despondency, he lost his job. All the while, he struggled to keep the house around the corner from the elementary school so his kids wouldn’t have yet another shock to their systems.

By last summer, though, it was over. The bank repossessed the house he loved, and our neighbor and his two kids moved in with his mother. All fall and into winter, the brick home sat empty, entertaining frequent visitors lured by the bargain price set by the bank.

We watched with sadness and, yes, anticipation as the parade of potential neighbors tromped through the house and over the yard. We waved and smiled and tried for all we were worth to look like the kind of neighbors you’d want to have, not the Clampetts we actually are. Our kids hoped a young family would buy the house and deliver some new playmates.

One afternoon, the doorbell rang. Our dogs went crazy, and I wrestled with them to get to the door. Outside was a nice-looking middle-aged woman with a couple of twentysomethings. She smiled hopefully.

“Hi,” she said. “My son and his fiancée are looking at the house across the street.”

“Great!” I said brightly. “What can I do for you?”

“Well,” the older woman said, “what can you tell me about this neighborhood?”

Hmmm. I truly wasn’t sure what she meant, so I asked.

“Is it safe?” she asked. “What about crime?”

I looked blankly at her. There I stood, inside the door of the home I’ve lived in since 1994, the home my husband and I have sunk a ton of money into, refurbishing the floors and every single room and constructing an addition that doubled the home’s square footage. Was she serious?

“Well,” I said, “I guess we have some petty crime. My car’s been broken into.”

“Do you feel safe here?” she asked.

Really, lady? I was starting to steam. So I told her how long we’ve lived here and that my entire family – parents, sisters and their families, even my husband’s aunt and uncle – live on the block. She nodded encouragingly.

But I wasn’t sure what she wanted. I finally said lamely, “The bottom line is that if you don’t like kids, I wouldn’t buy that house because we’ve got a bunch of kids all over this neighborhood.”

They thanked me for my time, and I never saw them again.

Over the next month, there were some repeat visitors to the house, but no takers. The list price dipped below $70,000, and my husband and I worried a slum lord might snatch it up.

Then one Saturday, I pulled up in front of our house and saw an older couple and a little girl in the front yard of the house across the street. I smiled politely as I got out of the car. The lady came across the street and told me they’d just decided to buy the house. I’d never seen them before.

“So,” she said, “what can you tell me about the neighborhood?”

What is it with people? I live in this neighborhood. Do they expect me to say I’m just dying to move, that I wish I’d win a million bucks so I could move to Johnson County? Or that I love the neighborhood because nobody cares if I make meth in my basement? Cripes.

“I guess I’m not sure what you mean,” I said. And what I was thinking was: Are you asking me whether any black people live around here? Or Hispanics? Or Jews? What?

“Is there crime?” she asked. “Is it safe?”

She was going to buy a house without checking out the neighborhood? There in my front yard played my 8-year-old son. What did she think, he was wearing a flak jacket under his hoodie?

And then, “What about the schools? Are they good?”

What did I have to lose? “This neighborhood is diverse,” I said. “There are pockets with nice homes and blocks with lots of rental property. We have racial diversity, too. And sometimes, people I suspect might be homeless walk down the street.

“But my husband and I have lived here since 1994, and we don’t want to live anywhere else. We like that our kids go to school with kids from all backgrounds. We want the diversity. But if you don’t like that or you want to live in a neighborhood where everyone is white, you probably don’t want to buy that house.”

I smiled.

She thanked me, and I went inside my own house. Then a week later, she was back and said they’d bought the brick home.

About a week ago, the sign came out of the yard, and we’ve seen comings and goings. They shoveled the walk, and we see lights on in the dining room at night. The new neighbors are going to rehab the kitchen before they move in with their 6-year-old granddaughter, who’ll go to the elementary around the corner.

I guess we didn’t scare them off.

Is there anything more magical than a snow day?

I was going to write a new post today, but it’s a snow day. You know what that means: my time is not my own.

So I dug around in my archives and found something I wrote about five years ago. The sentiments are the same today…

************************************************************************************************

It’s a fact that the blush comes off some things as you age. It’s all about perspective.

Consider:

• Christmas isn’t so much magical as merely a day to get through without offending a relative.
• Quite a few food items actually are better without ketchup.
• Ovaltine really tastes kind of gross.

And now, in my middle age, I’ve discovered the naked truth about something I cherished as a child, something I yearned for, prayed for, planned my life around: the snow day.

They’re not that great when you’re an adult.

One night not long ago, as snow piled up outside our house, my husband and I turned on the 10 o’clock news. The temperatures outside were plummeting, Arctic air was barreling toward Kansas City, and school districts were canceling school left and right. My husband chortled.

“A snow day!” he said, with all the excitement of a little kid. “The kids get a snow day tomorrow. Man, they’re lucky.”

I grimaced. He continued.

“You’re lucky, too,” he said. “I wish I could stay home and play.”

And what could I say to that? “Oh, God, save me,” sprang to mind, but then there’s the guilt of feeling like I would rather shovel the driveway than spend a day inside with my own children. So I just managed a wan smile.

I love my kids with all my heart. And before I became a stay-at-home mom, I felt guilty when snow days occurred because I usually couldn’t stay home with my children and cavort in the snow. I begged for child-care help from their grandparents or aunts.

But now, snow days seem a lot more difficult than regular school days. Sure, there are no threats to get them out the door by 8 a.m., no swearing to turn off PBS if they don’t eat their Pop Tarts, no fighting over who didn’t put the lid on the toothpaste.

We have, instead, children who know instinctively that school is canceled and so rise from bed 30 minutes earlier than usual. They argue about everything. And the begging to go outside begins before breakfast. That’s especially annoying if the temperature is below 20.

After that recent snowstorm, I explained to my 7-year-old son that he couldn’t play outside when the temperature was 1 degree. He’d have to wait until after lunch, when I expected it to climb to 10 degrees.

I intended to make him and his sister wait until 2, the so-called heat of the day, to play outside. But after lunch, my stamina was waning. So I told them if they bundled up, they could play outside awhile.

They headed out the door. Quiet descended on the house, interrupted only by the crying of the 15-month-old, who had donned his boots and wanted out, too, and the dog’s occasional bark. It lasted five minutes.
I was in the kitchen when I heard the screaming.

“Mom, Mom,” my older son was crying, only it sounded like he was holding his tongue.

He bounded into the kitchen, holding his tongue with a hand ensconced in a really dirty glove. I could see blood.

“Did you bite your tongue?” I asked, examining it.

He nodded. Then I noticed the blood underneath. “Why would that thingy that holds your tongue to the bottom of your mouth bleed if you just bit your tongue?” I wondered aloud.

My son closed his mouth. Then he opened it again and explained that he hadn’t been quite truthful. He didn’t really bite his tongue. He had stuck it to the metal railing along the steps to our neighbors’ back yard. His sister had helped him get loose.

Apparently, all those hours spent watching the movie “A Christmas Story” were for naught. I wanted to laugh, but that wouldn’t have been appropriate, what with the blood and all. So I wrapped an ice cube in a towel and stuck it in his mouth. The bleeding lessened a little, but he was in pain. I called our dentist.

You remember this scene, right?

After his laughter died down, he told me to monitor the blood. If the bleeding didn’t cease within a couple of hours, he needed to see my son, who’d probably need to eat soft foods for a few days.

I hung up the phone. My son stood there looking at me, the towel shoved into his mouth, his eyes hopeful.

I stood there looking at him. He wanted to be outside. This was a magical day, a surprise vacation from school. I could remember the joy at such a gift. The bleeding would stop.

“OK,” I said. “Just be careful.”

He promised he would. And as he headed out the door, our big Labrador mix bolted through it, jerking the hat off my son’s head.

Later I found a girl’s stocking cap in our driveway, and all afternoon I could hear the screams of the neighborhood children as the dog stalked them for their hats.

Someday, I thought, they’ll look back on this day and remember it as a thing of beauty.

Welcome to 2011: Time to take out the trash

I’m not one for making resolutions at the start of a new year, but I do like to embark on self-improvement.

How else to explain my copies of “The Flat-Belly Diet!” and my Prevention magazine subscription and various forays into spinning classes and Weight Watchers?

But I’m not resolving anything – that’s just setting yourself up for failure. I see self-improvement as a journey, one that will never end until I do, which I hope is far, far in the future.

Some of you know I’m a FlyLady devotee. Not a very accomplished one, since I alternate between worshipping her and cursing her, between frantically reading her e-mail reminders and canceling them. Right now I’m kind of in-between – not reading the e-mails but knowing her mantra to tackle the big jobs with baby steps.

So this year I set my sights on my closet. Baby steps, I told myself. But I’d been telling myself that for years. And that meant that once every few months I pulled out a Santa Cruz sweater from 1985 that I’d been saving in the hopes that I’d somehow someday weigh what my driver’s license says I do, gave it a once-over and delivered it to the Goodwill.

Meanwhile, my walk-in closet was not walkable in the least. Old gift sacks and hangers littered the floor, along with big rolling tumbleweeds of cat hair and some old curtains.

I entered that cesspool every day and just ignored it. And then in early December, as I folded my sixth basket of laundry one afternoon, I started watching that A&E show “Hoarders.”

I looked into the abyss, and the abyss looked back. Yikes.

So on Sunday, I just waded in, trash bag in hand. My bedroom was full of unfolded laundry and a ginormous basket of my own folded clothes that I had not put away because, well, I would have had to enter the closet.

And somewhere between the dried piece of cat poop and the box of my husband’s baby clothes (?) I discovered something about myself, something that could be improved: I like to keep stuff.

For that reason, I will never, ever have to purchase another gift sack. Never. Ever. Because I found about 232 on the floor of my closet (they’re now ensconced in a green rubber tub in my closet.)

Other discoveries:

• I have 15 pairs of black shoes. Those are just the black ones. I also have tennis shoes and brown shoes and a pair of navy blue pumps from the office days.

Now, before you call me “Imelda” or think I’m Goth, I gotta tell you: they’re not Manolo Blahniks. They’re from Target, mostly. And they’re not emo, either. They’re mules and clogs and loafers and one pair of Doc Martens that always were too heavy for my narrow feet. And the sad thing is, I rarely wear any of them anymore, since I haven’t worked in an office in 10 years.

• There were at least 19 purses in my closet. Again, they’re not Dooneys or Coach bags or anything cool or hip. They’re mostly knock-off Vera Bradleys that I bought at Dollar General for $8 a pop.

• Four stuffed animals from my childhood were hiding in a corner. They were covered with dust and cat hair.

There’s so much more. I found my kindergarten diploma, my high school band letter, envelopes of vacation photos I’d intended to put in scrapbooks, pictures from my 21st birthday, a box of addressed Christmas cards from 2002 and a potato peeler.

This is one of the photos I found in my closet. That's me just after I turned 21 -- wild and crazy...

It took me hours to go through it all. No baby steps – these were gigantic big-girl steps. Out of the closet came four bags of trash and a bunch of stuff that can be donated. There’s still more in there that I can get rid of, and I will.

But some things I couldn’t part with yet, and maybe ever. I found a list of potential baby names that Matt and I had compiled after we first married. I found a box of my own babies’ clothes, tiny little Mary Janes and jeans and bonnets. I found handkerchiefs from my grandmothers.

That’s OK. It’s not in me to live a sparse, barren life. I need things around me that remind me of where I come from, those I love.

So I boxed those things up and stuck them in my closet for another day. And then I threw out the trash.

And that’s my self-improvement theme for 2011: Lose the trash, keep the good stuff.

Bullies only have power if we let them

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Recently a bully targeted a friend of mine. And it wasn’t the first time.

Both bully and victim are adults – sort of shocking, I know. Some of you know I blog on another site. The two involved both blog there, too. The whole incident took me aback.

My friend had shared a personal story that left her a little vulnerable. She talked about the joy she finds in giving and teaching her daughter to do the same. The bully accused her of bragging and patting herself on the back. And, like all bullies do, the aggressor seized the opportunity to ridicule my friend and poke fun at her.

It’s one thing to disagree with someone – nothing wrong there. But to do it with harshness and animosity and pure, unadulterated spite – that’s just wrong and uncalled for.

Most distressing of all was the fact that others joined in – some because maybe they didn’t see the bully’s actions for what they were, but many because it’s easy to pick on someone once the taunting starts. Snark is a mask behind which cowards hide.

The whole incident made me ill, and I stewed about it for days. Anger and resentment welled inside me. It wasn’t even my battle, but I can’t stand seeing a friend wronged.

Well, this past semester, I took a course in human behavior. And if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that people act the way they do for a reason.

So I decided to analyze the bully’s actions and figure out what motivates this person to be so mean-spirited. Because if I’m going to be a social worker, I’ll be working with plenty of people who rub me the wrong way. But that doesn’t mean I can judge them or refuse to work with them. I just have to accept them where they are before I can come up with an intervention.

This time around, I figured it out.

First off, when my friend wrote about giving, she caused the bully and cohorts to feel guilty. They likely realize they could do more to make the world a better place. But instead of feeling inspired or sharing stories of their own philanthropy, they chose to lash out at the person they identified as causing their feelings of guilt.

How immature, you might say. And you’d be right, because by my calculations, such behavior is indicative of people with arrested development who are stuck in the fifth stage of Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. The fifth stage is adolescence – a time when children posture and doubt themselves and learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them.

Most people move through that stage to the sixth stage of young adulthood, where they begin to realize their place in the world and develop committed, mature relationships. You can only reach this stage, however, if you’ve completed the fifth stage.

For a variety of reasons, many people don’t move beyond the adolescent stage. Which explains why you’ll find adults acting like bitchy middle-school girls.

So I believe for this bully, being mean is a defense mechanism that hides the bully’s true feelings of inadequacy. And for this reason, being mean recharges the bully’s internal battery.

Knowing this, I no longer bear animosity toward my friend’s bully and her posse. I just feel pity and hope that they get the help they need to move forward with their emotional development.