I have two weeks left for this block of my graduate studies.  And they will be two weeks from Hades.  Time to take a break from blogging so that I can focus on my school work (and my family, of course).

C/ya

I went missing from Blogland for much longer than I had planned.  I had intended to only miss a week of blogging during our trip, but got busy with other things afterward.  I hope to get back to a regular blogging schedule soon, mostly because blogging is one of the “me” activities I enjoy, and it  provides a nice break during the day.

And what has kept me so busy???  Oh, just the teeny tiny decision I have made to go back to school to get my Master’s degree.  Because I made the decision to go back to school after the application deadline, and because the school was kind enough to let me still apply as long as I completed all of the requirements quickly, my time became “get transcripts transferred, write an essay, apply online, get three letters of recommendation, complete an interview, and take a big, nasty test” time.

I hope to post about our trip on Monday…

…but no promises.

One of my earliest memories of my school years is returning home after the first day of school and smelling the wonderful aroma of my mom’s homemade applesauce chocolate chip cookies.  It is a tradition she began on my first day of kindergarten (I’m the oldest of eight) and continued until my youngest brother finished school.  There were always homemade cookies waiting when we got home from school on the first day.  We would snack on warm cookies and cold milk and tell Mom about our new teacher and the things we did.

I loved the tradition so much that I decided to continue it with my own kids.  On Huh’s first day of preschool I made applesauce chocolate chip cookies.  I have continued baking on the first day of school ever since.  Yawlin started third grade on Monday.  (And, yes, he felt like a victim because he was the only one in the house who had to go to school the day after returning home from family vacation).  I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for Yawlin’s first day.  Most of the family had already grabbed cookies and dashed to destinations unknown before Yawlin walked in the door from school, but the two of us were able to have cookies and milk together as Yawlin told me about his day.

Squid has decided to live at home and attend the community college for a year before he goes on a mission for our church.  Today is his first day at the college.  I will be baking again today.  On Monday the rest of the kids start school.  I will bake yet again.  Three “first days”, three times to bake.  And the kids have all come to expect it.  It is tradition.

This year is actually an easy year.  In 2005 when Hub and I got married, Shroom, who was a 6th grader in a year-round school, was the first to have his first day of school.  Then Hoob began at a different year-round school on a different track.  Yawlin had kindergarten testing before he started, so his first day of school was a week later than Hoob’s.  Huh and Mack had decided to stay with their old school in another school district.  Their first day of school was next followed by Squid and Juju a week later.  There were five “first days” that year.  Five times to bake.  But I had to do it.  It was tradition.  It had never been a tradition for my step kids, but they liked it and look forward to it now. 

The next school year Huh and Mack switched to the school district in which we live so I thought baking for first day would be easier.  But, that was the year Juju’s mother decided to put her in a private school and we invited a foreign exchange student from Vietnam to stay with us (he arrived two weeks into the school year) so I ended up still having four “first days” to bake for.

I’ve changed the tradition a bit, it is not always cookies that I provide.  With so many “first days” I decided I wanted a little variety.  So, instead of cookies, I sometimes bake brownies or cake.  Today for Squid’s first day I am making chocolate zucchini cake because the zucchini plant in our garden is doing very well.  Zucchini anyone?

For any who know me, spending a lot of time in the kitchen is not my activity of choice.  But, the eating of baked goods while hearing about the new happenings at school is worth the effort.  Mom, your tradition lives on!

I got bored last night.  The job I was assigned to do seemed simple enough.  I was supposed to sit at a table in the hall of Sprucewood Elementary and recruit parents to be lunch recess volunteers.  The other tables seeking volunteers were getting more action than mine.  I guess parents are more interested in helping with the Reflections Contest or cutting up bananas for “Books and Breakfast” than they are in monitoring the playground and halls during lunch recess.  To entertain myself, I started to jot down snippets of conversations I overheard as people passed me.  One line per conversation:

“Have the kids all run at the same time.”

“You said two hours and I said thirty minutes.”

“She said, ‘Did I wake you up?'”

“I’ve never caught one that far.”

“We’re making sure life goes on.”

“But it’s outside.  It’s kinda nice.”

“You’re chasing all those kids.”  Followed by, “Well, you have six of ’em.”

“No, you know me, I’m quiet on everything.”  Followed by laughter.

“So, uh, did you have to actually haul him out?”

“She’s got a bag of carrots too.”

“It’s a big step for us.”

“I’ll do it if I can do it with my partner.”

“Did you try calling me a few weeks ago?”

“Isn’t she in her forties?”

“Have you ever been hit by a softball?  It’s not very fun.”  (This one caught my attention because I have been hit by a softball.)

“He’s his own boss.”

“You guys goin’ every Saturday?”

“He’s three times the size of Cooper!”

“He slept constantly.”

“If I’m not teaching that night I can probably help.”

“There’s a muscle that is supposed to pull it down.”

“It set him off.”

“Has there been any talk about the east west division?”

“If they fall out they’re not supposed to swim either.”

“Turn it in before my brother’s wedding.”

“I love that face!”

“Do you cut his hair?”

“I didn’t know if I was supposed to drop it off and leave it for someone to pick up.”

“It’s okay until about three quarters of the way up.”

“No!  One more?  Oh!”

“He’s a vegetarian.”

“Anyway, he fell out of the boat…”

“Years ago my daughter, Jade, told me my hair was black.”

“She’s trying to talk me into it.”

“You know, that teacher appointment thing works so awesome!”

“David missed the first day of school because he got really sick.”

“Our toenail wasn’t doing well.” 

Kinda gets the imagination going, doesn’t it?

So, that’s my post for the day.  I’m heading out the door to my daughter’s softball tournament.  I know there’s not much substance to this post, but softball calls…

A few nights ago I got to be a kid again.  My eight-year-old son asked me to play “school” with him.  He, of course, got to be the teacher.  I was a kindergartner named Libby (a name chosen by my son).  The classroom was in Yawlin’s bedroom.  My desk was an extra thick coloring book placed on the floor.  I was provided with two lead pencils, a bunch of colored pencils, some crayons, and some erasers.  “Libby” had been printed carefully on a post-it note and taped to my “desk.”

Mr. “R” began class by handing me three coloring pages and telling me to color them and then hand them to him for correcting.   I was a dutiful student and began coloring.  I stayed in the lines.  I chose my colors carefully.  And I began to forget about all the stuff I still needed to get done.  The laundry in the dryer, the dishes in the sink, the grocery list that needed to be written, they could all wait.  I was at school.  And I was coloring.

I handed my papers to Mr. “R” and was told I could have free time.  I chose to play with magnets while my papers were being corrected.  I received a check mark and a smiley face on all three of my papers!  I proudly put them in my “cubby” (a story book).  Mr. “R” handed me two more papers to color and then told the class (me) to keep working, he would be right back.  He then went downstairs to the “teacher’s workroom” (Hub’s office) to make more copies of more coloring pages on the printer/copier.  I was a model student.  I didn’t get out of my seat or throw spit wads or talk to the stuffed orangutan with the afro seated next to me.  I colored.  I matched the colors of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger perfectly.  I colored the grass and the sky.  I added polka dots to the honey pot.

Mr. “R” returned.  The dog was with him.  I raised my hand.  “Um, Mr. ‘R?’  There is a dog in our classroom.”

“He’s not a dog, he’s the principal.”

“Oh.”  A pause.  “Max is the principal?”

Mr. “R” nodded his head authoritatively and said, “Yep.”

“Oh.  Okay.”  The principal came over and sniffed me and then my desk.  I went back to coloring and the principal decided to take a nap next to the stuffed orangutan with the afro.

I colored three more papers.  Mr. “R” corrected them all.  Yes!  More check marks and smiley faces!  My school day lasted for about thirty minutes and then the principal decided to park himself on my desk and Mr. “R” decided to go see what his sisters were doing.  

Thirty minutes of coloring.  Thirty minutes of pretending.  Thirty minutes that my son had Mom all to himself.  Thirty minutes he got to be in charge.  Time not wasted.

Some random vignettes of the last day of school here:

*Me making french toast for breakfast.  Hearing, “Yum!” from various family members as they stick their heads around the corner to see what is for breakfast.  Burning the last piece because I sat down to eat and forgot about it.

*Hub quickly ironing Squid’s graduation gown because Squid left it lying on the floor after parading around in it all afternoon yesterday.  Hearing Huh say, “Aw, aren’t you the nice dad to iron for your son?”  And me saying, “She says that because she knows her mean mom (me) would have told her to iron it herself if she had left her graduation gown (or any article of clothing) lying on the floor.”  Hearing Hub laugh as he continues to iron.

*Sympathetically listening to Yawlin complain that he still has the rest of June to be in school.  He thinks year-round school stinks.  Making sure he has brushed his teeth before sending him out the door to school.

*Seeing Mack show off the outfit she has chosen to wear to 9th grade Lagoon day (a local amusement park).  9th graders received their yearbooks yesterday because they get to go to the amusement park today.  Mack laughingly reminds me how she greeted me yesterday as I walked in the door.  “Wanna see my face?” she’d asked, holding out her yearbook.

*Hoob heading out the door to join friends as they head away from the school and toward Einstein’s Bagels.  Yearbooks don’t get passed out until 5th period, so why get to the school before then?

*Squid running out the door wearing his cap and gown.  Before he can jump in his friend’s car I holler, “Seat belt!”  Squid says, “I will.”  I’m not done though.  I holler, “You tell “P” to wear his too!”  Squid says, “I know, that kid, he never wears it!”  Hmmm, sounds like I need to give “P” my seat belt lecture.

*Huh borrowing my car to go to the high school to get her yearbook.  She doesn’t plan on staying long.  She and friends have plans to see a movie.  She says she’ll get people to sign her book later.

*Leaving the house with Hub, Juju, and Shroom twenty minutes later than we should have to get to Squid’s graduation.  Hub driving faster than he usually does and calling his parents at the same time telling them to save us a spot.  Me turning to Juju and Shroom in the back seat and saying, “Seat belts!”   

*Sitting through graduation rites for the nearly 800 member class of 2008.  I get through exactly half of my magazine.  My mother-in-law is able to finish five crossword puzzles.

*Congratulating Squid on the lawn after the ceremony.  Being invited by my mother-in-law to join my husband and step kids in a picture together after being snubbed by Hub’s ex as she took pictures of everyone else.  Feeling very grateful for my mother-in-law.

*Returning home after the graduation ceremony to find Hoob and six friends sitting in our kitchen eating ice cream.  They haven’t made it to the school yet.  It’s not 5th period.  They tell us about the close call they had after leaving Einstein’s Bagels.  A police officer had pulled up and nabbed a group of kids for truancy.  They’d just missed it.  They’ve decided our house is the perfect place to hide out because it is across the street from the school.

*Telling Hoob and her friends that the caller ID shows that the school called at exactly 9:39 a.m. and that it is a good thing I hadn’t been home at the time because I would have told the school the truth.  Seeing the eyes of all the girls grow to the size of saucers as that bit of information sinks in.  “You mean you wouldn’t have covered for your daughter?”  I shake my head, “nope.”  The girls go into the back yard and in a matter of a few minutes they sneak out the side gate and head toward the school.

*Sitting down to type this post and looking out the window in time to see three Jr. high boys running down the street as fast as they can toward the school.  They keep looking around to make sure there are no police officers around.

*In seven minutes I leave to go do my afternoon crossing and bring Yawlin home from school.  Tonight he will be the only one to have homework.  He really thinks year-round school stinks.  Later tonight I will get to look through yearbooks with my kids and hear about the adventures of the day. 

Thus ends our 2007-2008 school year.  And so begins our summer break.

I have to admit, I was skeptical at first.  When my daughter told me the plan that she and her friends had hatched, my natural inclination was to protect her.  After all, I’ve been “burned” plenty of times in my life.  I know what it’s like to be hurt and I like to think I can spot a scam and manipulation from a mile away.

The history:

My daughter, Mack, really struggled for the first few months at her new school.  Changing schools while a teenager can be devastating.  She felt alone and friendless, hated the teachers, and had no interest in excelling at anything.  She stuck it out (she had no choice) and began to make friends.  Once friends were in place, her attitude about school changed.  Her confidence returned.  She began to like the teachers and once again get good grades.  Seventy-four kids showed up to her birthday party.  (I had given permission for twenty).  On a social level things are going well for Mack.

Enter Hannah.  (To protect privacy, all names in this post have been changed).

I first became aware of Hannah when Mack mentioned a girl at school who always seemed sad.  She reported that the girl talked suicide and that she was worried about her.  The girl didn’t have many friends.  In fact, most of the kids at school considered her strange.  We didn’t know the girl’s family so I advised Mack to tell the school counselor about Hannah’s comments and encouraged her to be her friend.  I didn’t hear much more about Hannah except for the occasional report that she still seemed sad.

Then last week Mack announced that she and three of her friends, Nikki, Lisa, and Becca, had decided to take Hannah shopping at the mall.  They felt that a few new clothes might cheer Hannah up.  Hannah had mentioned that her mother couldn’t afford to buy her new clothes and so she always wore hand-me-downs.  Each of the girls planned to donate her own money to the shopping trip.

I was worried.  I didn’t know Hannah or her history.  What if it was all an act?  Fueling my skepticism were recent news reports about panhandling in our area by teenagers who claim to be homeless but really aren’t.  Many people have bought into their sob story and have given them money.  Mack has to earn the money she receives by babysitting and doing extra chores, she doesn’t have an endless supply of the green stuff.  Was she about to throw her hard earned cash away on a lie?  Manipulation?  A scam? 

I know my daughter’s heart.  She genuinely cares about other people.  In grade school she stood up repeatedly for an autistic boy who was the butt of many cruel jokes.  Because Mack knows what it feels like to be alone and without friends, she has empathy for anyone in the same situation.  She truly seemed concerned for Hannah.

Still, the mother instinct to protect was in place.  “How do you know she can’t afford new clothes?”

For Mack the issue wasn’t the clothes or the money.  “Mom, she is so excited that we are doing this.  She even put on her MySpace page that some friends are taking her shopping.  Some of the kids at school are teasing us for doing this.  They think Hannah is weird.  But we don’t care.  We are going to do it anyway.”  The issue for Mack was that someone desperately needed some friends.

On Saturday the girls all met at Lisa’s house then walked together to Hannah’s house.  Lisa’s mom provided the transportation to the mall.  While at the mall they decided to let Hannah have a mini makeover.  In order for the makeover to be “free” they had to make a purchase.  Mack bought Hannah some eye shadow.  Then they visited some of their favorite stores.  Nikki and Becca pooled money in one store for a new outfit for Hannah, and then Mack and Lisa did the same in another store.

Mack was excited when she returned home from the outing.  “Hannah was sooooo happy!  She kept thanking us over and over.”

Hannah wore the new clothes to school on Monday and Tuesday.  Mack says that whenever Hannah sees any of the girls in the hall she runs up and gives them a hug and claims they are her new best friends.  I asked Mack if the other kids at school were still teasing and making fun of Mack and the others for taking Hannah shopping.  Mack says she hasn’t heard any negative comments.  She also says that she feels happier inside after having served Hannah.

I am so proud of my daughter and her friends and I am glad I didn’t stand in their way.  A new friend has been made, compassion has been developed, and a girl has been cheered.  The girls exhibited courage by not backing down to peer pressure to forget serving Hannah.  Not only was a good example set for the kids at school, a good example was set for me. 

The lessons I learned:  Don’t judge.  Serve anyway.  And don’t stand in the way of your kids if they are showing courage and taking the initiative to show compassion and empathy to someone else.

Lessons learned.  Lessons lived.