Friday, February 2, 2018

Just Take It

To sum up my childhood on the social spectrum,  I would say I probably fell more on the side of "outsider"than "in crowd." It's not that I didn't fit in exactly. I knew a lot of people, and I liked most of them. I like to think they liked me just as well. People tend to think I'm funny. It's true. I am. However, I wouldn't have been the first to have gotten that phone call offering a sleepover or chance to "ride around" town. While I tend to get along well with most people, something's just missing--that "it" factor. There's a reason no one has ever directed the phrase, "It won't be the same without you" towards me, and I still work to try to uncover the truth behind this.

Whether this truth bothered me or not came in waves. Sometimes, I desperately wanted someone to reach out to me and beg to have me in his/her presence even if just for an afternoon. Other times, I relished in the solitude. Being lonely wasn't all bad, if even at all. As a child, I read a lot, made lots of artsy/crafty things, spent time with my parents, and created stories with my Barbies in how I believed adults really lived (boy, was that a disappointment when the reality of adulthood hit me--what do you mean I can't arrive in a Corvette to my teaching/dolphin training job, while sailing around the world in my yacht donning evening gowns every day?). Surprisingly, I ended up having a highly creative mind and a keen understanding of the human condition as a result.

Sometimes, I think my social life was really an extension of my sister's (look up "social butterfly" in a thesaurus, and a synonym for the term reads "Amanda Bess Wahl Decker"). The only reason I even know that people say, "But it won't be the same without you there" is because Amanda attracts quite a following of devoted fans, and if she can't make it to something, the party may as well get cancelled. Oftentimes, she let me come with her to her various engagements. It was always fun because Amanda is quite a character herself. She offers endless laughs and entertainment to all she meets. However, coming home after nights of laughter and activity with her friends (who, both high school and college friends, had generously adopted me as one of their own), I always felt that flood of relief when the headlights of her little maroon Saturn shined onto our house showing that we were finally home.

As I grew older, I really relished in being alone. Amanda had moved away and started a family of her own, so I didn't have her to channel a social life through any more. The only people I really ever cared to do anything with outside of working were Jeffrey and my two friends, Marie and Sarah. It was a good life, certainly, and I would call myself happy even today except now I believe I am seeing my child pay the price for my introverted personality.

Jude has gone to the same school since Pre-K. Since then, he has been invited to countless birthday parties but has only been invited to exactly one play date. I haven't yet returned the favor of having the little boy over to our house because of all the naps and needs of my younger kids. I like the family a lot, and Jude thinks their son is the greatest kid to have walked the Earth. He is pretty adorable, and they do play well together.

However, I'm starting to see that somewhat introverted personality of Jude's. He's like me in that he likes the kids in his grade a lot, but he only really likes that one friend. I've noticed through pictures on Facebook that various kids often get together for play dates, movies, etc.;the groups of kids are never the same. They mix and mingle. One kid may be posing with two other kids from the grade and two days later, he's in a picture a whole different group of kids from the grade. They always look like they're having a blast, and their mothers look like they're enjoying themselves as well.

I don't know how to get Jude more involved with the kids in his class. Sure, we do the Scouts and sports and after school programs, but I'm talking about good ol' hanging out. I never hear about anyone meeting up for a play date until I've seen it's already happened. One time, I even put myself out there and said, "Awe, we would have loved to have done that" to which one of the mothers said, "Next time, we'll definitely let you know." It turns out that there was a next time, but I didn't know.

Now, I don't believe for a second that Jude is being left out on purpose. As far as I can tell, people like him just fine. All of his teachers have always told me that he's well-liked by all of his classmates. However, I think he's like me and just nobody notices him. I don't think he's bothered by it right now because I don't think he's aware. However, if the course of his life takes as similar a direction as mine, it will bother him sometimes, and during his childhood, it may end up bothering him more than not.

Yesterday, I took Jude to a joint birthday party for two kids in his grade. We showed up a little late, and I was a tad frazzled because I rushed down to Madison from work to pick Jude up and get him to the party. The night before, Jude had reminded me that we needed to still get birthday presents, and since Jeffrey was working late, I loaded up all three kids in the van and headed to Wal-Mart. Jude deliberated over the gifts for several minutes while I proceeded to bark orders for him to hurry up so we could go home, get supper ready, and eat. He carefully picked out two Nerf guns but different ones because as he said, "They're not the same person." He then took the time to decide which gun better suited which kid. All the while, I thought to myself, "It doesn't matter. Now, I'm hungry. Let's go!"

I realized when I took Jude in for the party that I had not yet wrapped the gifts nor brought them in. I was going to leave to find wrapping paper, but the parents all insisted I stay. It's a good thing they did, too, because minutes into the party, Jude had fallen funny on his ankle. He's fine; I think the fall more embarrassed and scared him than hurt him. Both of the mothers were very attentive and kind to him, too, and for the rest of the party, he thoroughly enjoyed himself.

As we got ready to leave, I saw the pile of presents and remembered I still needed to bring in the gifts I had left in the car. I told one of the mothers that I was sorry I hadn't yet wrapped them but that I was going out to get them really quickly. She told me not to worry about it. She also told me they didn't want the gifts and to save them for the next child who has a party. I kind of pushed it a little bit, because after all, what do I want with two Nerf guns when we've already got a' plenty? However, she insisted. I knew she meant that she didn't want one more gift, and I totally understood. I also knew that she didn't want me to feel bad for having forgotten to wrap the gifts. For a mother, it's one less toy to clutter the house, and it's one less thank you note to have to fight your child to write. I'd have likely done the same thing had I been in her position. I completely get it.

Except that I don't. I don't because when we walked out of the door, I saw that scene play out through my child's perspective. As soon as we walked out of the door, Jude asked me why they didn't want his presents. When I turned to answer him, tears had already welled up in his eyes and his bottom lip had started quivering. What were just silly Nerf guns to most (myself included) were gifts carefully chosen by Jude for his two friends. He painstakingly considered the style of gun, color, and even size of the "bullets" and even put up with a great deal of nagging from me while on his quest to get them. It hurt to see him feel so small, and as a result I also felt so small. At that moment, I had a good mind to march those presents into the building and chuck 'em at the whole damn lot of them, but emotional maturity swept in and saved me and Jude both from an embarrassment that neither of us would have ever lived down as long as we had anything to do with parochial education.

Unfortunately, I had no words of wisdom to offer my son. What do you tell a kid in a situation like that? I knew better than to say, "It doesn't matter," so instead I just threw in one of those trite, "I don't know"s followed by an "It's ok." However, what I almost said instead was, "Eventually, you'll get used to it," but I held back.

While I'm obviously upset over the situation, I'm not exactly upset with anybody. One of the mothers told me when we had gotten to the party that she would've been happy to have picked Jude up from school and brought him so I wouldn't have had to rush. I wished that had happened because Jude would have felt so important being picked up by a friend. (Plus, it would have kind of/sort of felt like play date.) Also, the mother thanked us for coming, and I could tell she really meant it.  How would they have known that Jude had picked the presents out himself or even cared enough to do so? I believe if they had known, that scene would have played out much differently, and because of that, I could never be mad at anyone.

However, as someone who contemplates absolutely everything, I can't help but wonder why this happened. Here are multiple families who more or less teach their children the same Christian values, and still someone gets slighted. The unintentional hurts feel pretty bad (although, seeing your child hurt feels the worst). I wonder if the families would have wanted to know that they inadvertently hurt Jude by turning down his gifts. I'm about 99.9% sure that had it been me someone had confronted, I'd immediately have gone on the defensive and would not have handled something like that well. I'm just a ray of sunshine like that. Because it's not something a little writing therapy won't help me get over, I'm not going to tell them. Hell, we have enough trouble figuring out how to "break in" to these social circles. It's not Jude's fault his mother's a social retard. Maybe one of them will read about it, and maybe it would make them uncomfortable, but hopefully if they get through the whole post, they'll realize we still really like them and had the tables turned, we'd have likely done the same thing without realizing how the child would have felt.

Jude did not withstand any sustainable emotional damage that day. In fact, by the time we met up with Jeffrey, he was pretty much convinced it was the best birthday party ever.  The kid's resilient that way, and he didn't get that from me.

As for the spare Nerf guns--Jude has another birthday party coming up--a little girl's. I texted her mother last night to find out if the girl was into Nerf guns as a joke. It turns out that she would totally love one!  However, Jude may still insist on going to Wal-Mart to find her the "right" gift.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Literature and My Boy

People who don't believe in magic or miracles don't engulf themselves in literature. I love the power a book has over me. I love the escape it provides and how it's the only activity I can participate in sans children and not feel one ounce of guilt (because I'm enriching my mind...and I'm only one "MOOOOOOM" away from snapping back to reality). In fact, the only guilt I have over reading books is that I still haven't gotten around to reading ALL of the books.

I've long recognized the positive benefits of reading, and I've made an entire career out of sharing those benefits with budding scholars. However, what I haven't fully realized, until now, are the benefits of literature on my own child, and seeing him get excited over "what's going to happen next" has brought me great joy.

I've chosen to write on this topic in my blog instead of a Facebook status because that way anyone who wants to read it can with a simple click, and anyone who doesn't won't feel forced to read my Facebook status and go "Oh Gag." The truth is, I'm kind of bragging here, and not everybody likes braggy parents. I, for one, have found myself rolling my eyes!

But I have to record this time in mine and Jude's life because I don't ever want to forget it, so for those who are taking the time to read my words, thank you.

This past Christmas, we bought Jude a set of E.B. White books. I remember reading Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web when I was younger, and I had always envisioned sharing those stories with my own children. When Jude opened his gift from me and Jeffrey, he was more excited about the sports themed pajamas included in the bag than the books. I expected as much, too.

The truth is, we haven't had the easiest time in First Grade. I say "we" because I haven't particularly enjoyed watching Jude struggle with his handwriting or Math. I also haven't enjoyed seeing notes come home about his behavior (mostly things like talking-- and there was also that time he actually called another kid annoying one day--and the worst part: he gets that brutal honesty from me!). This year, I've watched my little boy go from being excited about absolutely everything to saying things like, "I'll just read that tomorrow" or "Can't I just go somewhere else" when tasked with homework and writing practice.

 That's not to say he hates school. He does love his teachers, and he loves his friends (I mean, obviously he's talking to somebody what with the notes coming home!) However, the enthusiasm for school and learning has somewhat lessened this year, and I suppose it was bound to happen at some point.

What Jude doesn't realize, however, is that he's actually a pretty good reader. I tell him he is, but it's like he doesn't want to believe that about himself. However, I catch him reading to himself all the time: billboards, Frank's baby books, directions to Legos, games, and other toys. He knows what he's doing, but for some reason, he never wants to read when I prompt him.

Back to the E.B. White books. Over the holidays, I kept trying to encourage Jude to sit down and read one of the books with me. He would pause and finally say, "Maybe tomorrow." Finally, one night before bed, I said, "Let's just look at one chapter from one book, any book you want," and Jude decided that was fair enough. He picked the longest of the books, The Trumpet of the Swan, and told me he wanted me to read aloud to him. Fine. Whatever gets him into the story.

The first few nights, I wasn't even sure he paid much attention  since the book has very few pictures. Then, he left for a few days to visit grandparents. I figured we'd just give up on the books altogether and tackle them when he got a little older. I had to keep reminding myself that he is only six years old. Do six-year-olds even like swans?

A few nights ago, however, Jude came in the den where I was, holding The Trumpet of the Swan, and asked if we could still read it. I was exhausted after a long day of work and getting supper together and taking care of children, but I mustered up every ounce of energy I had left and read another chapter of that book. Then, Jude begged for another chapter, and so I read. He would stop me occasionally to ask questions about what different words meant or laugh about something that had happened to poor old Louis, the "dumb" swan. (Because as Jude pointed out, "dumb" isn't a bad word in this case. The swan is plenty smart; he just can't speak.)

When we got to the chapter where Louis falls in love, Jude couldn't wait for me to read it. He reminded me several times earlier that day, "Tonight, we're reading the LUUUVVV chapter!" I guess Jude was particularly interested in this part of the story since he himself has his sights set on a little girl from his class this year. He claims they are in love, but like Louis and his beloved Serena, I think only Jude knows about it.

While Jude is not reading this book independently, he is paying attention. I don't know if he's becoming a "better reader," but he's becoming a better person. That intense enthusiasm for learning about the world around him has returned. He is sitting at my side each night listening to a story about a swan who has so much talent and intelligence but struggles with simple things others take for granted. Jude's sense of empathy is also developing. Just this morning, Jeffrey and I were talking about a former student, and Jude piped up with "That's kind of like Louis."

I don't know where this nightly reading is taking Jude, but I love the direction it is steering him. It is through reading where Jude will find out who he is and how he fits in with the rest of the world, and it is through reading where he'll learn to question why we've raised him with certain values and he'll either take ownership of those values himself or find a few of his own. Finally, it is also through reading where he will figure out what he can do to make the world better for himself and for others.

He may not be ready to read The Trumpet of the Swan or other classic novels by himself, but in the meantime, I'm sure happy to be along for the ride!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Social Retard

So I realize the title of this post is far from PC, and I understand if the two folks who actually admit to reading  my writing want to stop now. It's fine. I get it.

Or...curiosity just got the best of you, and you will keep reading. I know I've had my share of reading things I can't unread!

Tonight, something lays heavy on my heart and mind. After years of trying to figure out my own weird deal, I finally found the words to put with that feeling I have every time I address an unfamiliar crowd. It boils down to I am socially retarded.

Earlier today, I took Jude with me to pay his school tuition. In the past few weeks, Jeffrey and I have had conversations with him about the sacrifices we make so he can go to Catholic school. While we make sure to point out that these are sacrifices we want to make for him, we also want him to know that we expect him to perform at his best. (Note this does not mean we expect all As. If he tries his darnedest and earns a C, we'll be proud of him.  If he merely settles for a C, though, we won't feel so thrilled.) Because we've talked money for the past few weeks, it seemed appropriate to drag Jude up to the school to witness the exchange of funds.

Jude will be entering first grade in August thus beginning his third year at the school. I have had plenty of time to get acquainted with the different school employees, and everyone there seems to know Jude and treat him well. They also know who I am and treat me just as nicely, which is why I can't explain why I clam up and speak with parrot-like responses whenever one of them addresses me. Today, the ladies in the office complimented on how cute Frank (who also tagged along) was and proceeded to tell me that I looked great. They, of course, had no idea of the internal struggle I fight daily over my weight and body image, so the compliment left me a little shocked. While I silently told myself to just say "Thank you," instead I stammered out,"Oh...pause...well...pause...I wish I looked greater." (Hey, I was honest.) I could tell from the looks on their faces that they weren't sure how to respond.  Even Jude looked at me like I had lost my mind. I could not get out of there fast enough. When we returned to the van, Jude earnestly said, "You know you're still the best mommy ever, right?"

Even on the last day of school for Jude, I found myself at a loss for words. As Jude's teacher said good-bye to him, I caught myself getting choked up because...the kid's growing up and entering grades that have NUMBERS assigned to them. I wanted to tell his teacher in the moment something along the lines of "I couldn't have picked a better teacher for Jude if I had tried. He loves school, learning, and God thanks in large part to you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you," but instead I quickly escorted Jude out of the room so I wouldn't cry.

My social awkwardness goes beyond Jude's school environment. This afternoon at swimming lessons, another mom complimented the dress I was wearing. I did, in fact, say "thank you," but then I caught her attention again to point out how I got it off a clearance rack at Dillard's for six dollars. Why? She was just being nice, and I'm sure she didn't give two rips about how much I paid for it. Then again, I think the bargain is what makes the dress so lovable in the first place!

Here's the puzzling part, though. I can stand up in front of dozens of eighteen-twenty year olds (with the occasional fifty year old) nine months out of the year and speak like it's my job (oh wait...). I've had colleagues tell me how they look forward to my speeches at the annual student awards banquet. I've given presentations to different audiences in different states. My words have brought defensive linemen to tears. Once, I made one of my superiors actually cry (not that I'm proud of it...ok, maybe just a little proud). I lead a large department (a department that now includes Speech--how's that for irony?).  I'm getting much better in my role as a lector at Mass. Finally, I dole out stories and advice to my fellow colleagues like a Jehovah's Witness shamelessly knocking on my door, Watchtower mag in hand, inquiring if I know the Lord.

Yet I can't say thank you to the people who have been so wonderful to my child. I'm at a loss for words around people who raise children like mine. I open my mouth and a bunch of stupid vomits out leaving everyone there to witness the verbal train wreck wishing for a way out (myself included).

It's true that I'm an introvert at heart and that I look at any speaking role I have as more of a performance that serves as a means to get a job done. I'd much rather have my head in a book at any given time, but sometimes the unavoidable occurs and I must speak.

However, I have to tell myself the same thing I would tell Jude, Malcolm, and Frank. Just keep trying. At the very least, Jude's still young enough to think I'm cool.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The "Wahl"flower

On the ride home from my parents' house tonight, Jeffrey and I fell into a deep conversation, or rather, I aired out all my grievances as he patiently listened while every now and then throwing in his two cents. Several times on Facebook this week, I've mentioned or hinted at how these next two weeks are some of my most stressful ones of the year, worse than spring semester even. This is the time where my grading load becomes almost unmanageable, and while ten years of teaching has shown I'll get it all done by the deadline, I never believe that I'll actually get it all done. This is the time where students show up to my office stressed out, begging for a do over, and this is the time where I have to tell them, "No," not because I don't care about them, but because I neither have the time to come up with and grade an extra credit assignment nor do I believe I would help them out in the long run by letting them have extra credit. And then it becomes the time where I feel like a complete asshole for saying "No" because it's Christmas after all, and my heart probably bleeds even redder in the excitement of the season.

That's just my work stress. I can't even go there with the children and Jeffrey's job.

This year, though, this year is particularly special. For the first time since Jeffrey and I got married, come Saturday, he will sport his tuxedo and I will wear one of those dresses that makes those swishing sounds when I walk and attend an event that benefits Jude's  Catholic school. There will be music, good food, libations, silent auctions, and...lots of people I don't know. Sounds exciting, yes, but I can't get past the part where I'm scared. My dress, a rental, (because what woman on a teacher's salary can actually afford to buy a Badgley Mischka gown), will arrive tomorrow along with its back up size, and what am I going to do if either one doesn't fit? For the last few weeks, I've pacified myself the best way I know how: with food. Seriously, every time I think about that dress, my next thought shifts to "I want a cookie." Why is that? I don't think I've ever pondered cookies so deeply as I have since the rental cost of that dress was debited from my bank account.

Then there's the people part. Don't get me wrong; everyone I've met at the school so far--teachers, staff, other parents--have all been perfectly nice. However, I just don't know them. As much as I want to get out on the dance floor and shake a tail feather or two, is that even o.k. in front of people I don't know? Plus, I usually like dancing only when I'm surrounded by my good friends. I'm not good friends with these folks, at least not yet. As far as I know, about the only thing I have in common with these folks is our shared belief in transubstantiation, but I hardly think bringing this up in conversation would earn me many new friends. It may, however, earn Jude the utterance "Explains a lot" whenever he tries to "freeze" someone with his hand or "move" them with his Magneto powers. (The kid inherited my eyes, and unfortunately, my social retardation.) So does this night promise to be full of awkward small talk, toothy smiles, and other wallflower antics? Because all of a sudden, I just want to hurl (but I won't because of what damages to that dress might cost).

There's also the setting up and getting ready for the gala. Tomorrow, Jeffrey and I will help with set up, which has actually gone on all week, though we're coming in at the tail end of it. Neither one of us know what to expect with that, and we both imagine a lot of awkward standing around figuring out how to make ourselves useful, which we agree isn't our ideal Friday night.

To say I've been on edge over this is a big fat understatement, and I imagine many would find a #firstworldproblems appropriately inserted here. The anxiety I have over this event has my emotions in complete overdrive. It's why halfway through a class of essays, tears well up in my eyes. It's why Jude has watched more television after school this week than he probably has  all year. It's why I can't muster the energy to clean up my mess from when I made potato soup last night. It's why I keep forgetting we have a faculty Christmas party at work tomorrow, and even worse, that I have forgotten that I love the faculty Christmas party. It's why I got offended over something my mother did tonight that really wasn't even a big deal. It's why I decided to write this all down because surely someone will read this and can relate.

On the ride home, as Jeffrey and I talked, it dawned on me that I wouldn't go at it alone. Jeffrey doesn't want to wear a tuxedo any more than I want to look like a busted can of biscuits in a designer gown. He would talk to me, about transubstantiation and anything else I brought up. (He will probably  still utter "Explains a lot" whenever Jude does something strange, but then again, that utterance could apply to himself just as well.) Jeffrey may even dance with me that night, though we're both fairly pitiful dancers and likely resemble the Peanuts characters in their dance scenes (though can't we just look like Johnny and Baby just once in our lives). Jeffrey doesn't realize it, but he made me feel better. Eleven and a half years of marriage and I don't just love the man, but I still really, really like him!

The party may be a lot of fun, or it may be this awkward wallflower's nightmare. However, God bestowed on me the gift of making fun of myself, so while I dread the anticipation leading up to the party, I look forward to laughing at myself afterwards.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

School Days

Jude started school about three weeks ago, just Pre-K, though. Then again, I guess Pre-K is more significant than it appears on the surface. This is Jude's first time in a structured school environment, though he's no stranger to structure itself. I had always marveled over how his baby-sitter had lunches, naps, and play time at the same times every day. Even though Jude took naturally to a solid routine, I still wondered how much a school environment would shake up his world.

For the first time, Jude has to put on a uniform, shirt tucked in. Some days, he even wears a tie.

For the first time, Jude sits in a room with thirteen other children all vying for both teachers' attention.

For the first time, Jude realizes that some children are more likeable than others, but he still loves all of them anyway.

For the first time, Jude sits quietly in daily assembly, keeps hands to himself throughout the day, speaks respectfully to his teachers and classmates or face the consequences of having is clip pulled off the behavior chart.

For the first time, Jude has a behavior chart.

For the first time, Jude eats lunch off a tray in the cafeteria.

For the first time, Jude discovers girls don't quite play the way he thinks they should.

For the first time, a teacher assesses Jude's academic abilities and motor control.

For the first time, Jude can assume titles throughout the school year, such as "Helper of the Day" or "Student of the Week." 

For the first time, Jude receives formal instruction in mathematics, science, social studies, language arts, art, music, P.E., computer, Spanish, and most importantly, his Catholic faith.

For the first time, Jude participates in after-school activities (just more art, music, and athletic stuff).

Three weeks into the school year, Jude has loved every second of all of it. He made that apparent when on the second day of school, he told me and Jeffrey that he would rather walk into the building by himself. Every afternoon when I pick him up, he comes running toward me with a big smile on his face. I know he is in good hands just like I knew he was when I would drop him by his baby-sitter's.

Jude doesn't tell us much about his school days, but his sunny disposition and willingness to go to bed by 8 every night tell me everything I need to know. He is cared for, he is safe, and he is challenged. A folder containing his assignments and behavior report comes home to us every day. He seems to follow directions well, and he's gotten stickers for behavior every day so far. Although, on one of his assignments dealing with shapes and numbers, he pasted two squares instead of four. I simply showed him the assignment without making any reference to the error, and he said, "Oh, that has two squares; I should put three and four on there." 

As far as Jude's academic abilities go, I believe he is right on par with the other children. Some things he does well, and some still need improvement. I'm o.k. with that as long as he tries. I don't send my child to school to be THE best. Instead, he goes to be HIS best. If he ends up at the top of the class as a result, that's an added bonus and an honor belonging all to him.

As far as Jude's athletic abilities go, well, let's just say HIS best probably won't ever be THE best, but as long as he enjoys himself and burns some calories, who cares?

Perhaps my favorite part of the school year so far are the moments when Jude gives me insight about the other kids in his class. He was talking about one child, a little girl, and how he didn't think he liked her. I asked him why, and he said, "I don't know. I just don't." So I asked, "Well, is she nice" to which he responded, "Yeah, she's nice" so I asked, "Is she pretty"..."Oh, she's really pretty." I then asked about other girls in his class and if he liked them and finally asked about one, we'll call her "A", and he immediately perked up, "I like 'A'!" When I asked why, he said, "'A' plays trains and stuff." And there you have it. "A" is the total package.

As it turns out, all these "firsts" for Jude are exciting for him but a little unnerving for me.
For the first time, I have truly let go of my child so he may have all of these opportunities.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Mama Taught

Warning: This post is gonna ramble! I've got much on the mind today.

Yesterday, Jude received a letter from his first school teacher welcoming him to the class and informing him of the first day of school and Back to School Day (not night--it's Catholic School. They do Back to School Day immediately following Mass on Sunday. There's a hidden meaning in that letter, too. You better have your butt in a pew before you trek up there to drop off your nap mat. Ok, ok, maybe there's no hidden meaning. That's the curse of the literary personality who reads what's there and isn't there, even in her child's pre-school welcome letter. There ought to be professional help for this.) 

I like that the teacher, a Mrs. Burns (hadn't met her yet but like her already), addressed the letter to Jude. I like how she stated the information with nursery rhyme clarity. I like that she included a fun pirate theme in her letter. I like how when I handed Jude his letter, he immediately said, "I don't like school" yet smiled so big and proud for he could not help himself.

And I like how, God willing, Jude will be a part of this school on up through sixth grade where he'll then go on to its feeder school.

I have no doubt this particular school will prepare Jude for academic success. Will he be the smartest kid in class? Will he end up the valedictorian of his senior class? Honestly, I'm not that concerned about any of that. I mean, sure it would be nice to brag on him, but his daddy and I weren't first in our classes and look how we turned out! (Shit. We're in trouble.)

Of course, as I get ready to send my first born off to a place where he'll continue and eventually conclude his childhood, I can't help but feel somewhat emotional about it. While I believe his school will provide the setting that encourages him, nurtures him, inspires him, and challenges him, I know there are lessons he'll learn that won't get taught, and those are the lessons that will stick with him. I'm not scared of what he'll learn in school; I'm scared of what can't get taught in school.

For instance, bullies...

School bullies exist. Maybe my child won't be one. (Today, at the sitter's, I heard him telling his friend, "Now, remember, we don't hit with our toys, we play with them," so I hold a little hope.)

However, one never escapes bullies. Where school bullies exist, so too do workplace bullies and bullies of other kinds. Those feelings of inadequacy a child may feel at school, well, those feelings will come back later in adulthood, and you can bet that someone will be there to remind you of them every chance he/she gets.

But hopefully, if I've done my job right, Jude will learn to not let the jerks get to him and to keep on keeping on.


I have to admit, sending my child to a private school freaks me out considering that Jude will not have the best of everything.  I don't have the financial means to provide for him all the latest gadgets and wingdings. If he wants that stuff badly, hell, he's getting a Catholic school education that could possibly prepare him for some career that pays better than a teacher's. (Although, I wouldn't oppose him going into education so long as his heart is in it.) Even though I can't get him the latest and greatest of everything and don't really want to, I know he'll see kids in his class with all the cool loot, and he might wonder, "Why can't that be me?" And then I'll go on to tell him about how the stuff doesn't define him, and it's all about his good character. He may even believe that eventually one grows out of wanting to have stuff until he realizes in his thirties that people still try to shove their fancy cars, name brand bags (well, I guess a boy wouldn't notice a bag, at least not a boy walking around with half of Jeffrey Brown's DNA), and other flashy stuff in everyone's faces.

But hopefully if I've done my job right, Jude will just view those people as slightly pathetic, maybe likable still, but pathetic all the same.


I've never been one of those "who you know" types. I know a lot of people, some of them successful. However, I don't run around any particular social circles. People don't envy me, don't really notice me even. There's actually this formal event the school hosts in December that I'm already freaking out about because I'VE NEVER BEEN TO SOMETHING LIKE THAT BEFORE! To top it off, I'll have to go in a formal dress and totally live out of my comfort zone. Seriously, I love new clothes, but formals are foreign territory for me. I never pick the right one. This upcoming event has me remembering the jr. high dance where I wore this skirt and sweater combo while all the other girls wore these sparkly puffy creations. Someone even told me, "You look like a teacher." Ouch! So, to say I'm a tad socially awkward is an understatement, and I'm afraid I may have passed that trait on to Jude. However, some kid's going to like mine because some kid liked me well enough back in the day even though I've worn the wrong thing a time or two. Jude may not become popular, but he's funny enough that some folks will like him. I'm proof of that. However, he may want to hang up the idea of becoming a status symbol. Between Jeffrey's slight geekiness and my superpower of clamming up when someone new and cool tries to speak to me, that kid's screwed.

But hopefully if I've done my job right, Jude will learn to love who he is, love and accept the friends he has, and won't even care or notice that someone cool is speaking to him.

Bullies, materialism, and status are things Jude will witness in school, but he won't really learn from them until he is older. School will teach him many things, but only I can teach him how to lessen the hold bullies, materialism, and status can have on him. None of these things ever go away, but how we handle them is within our control. That's what my Mama showed me, and that's what I'll pass on to my children.

In a few weeks, I will watch my son get out of the car and walk through the doors of the place where he will begin his academic future. I will cry, hopefully one of those pretty, sweet cries, but I may as well gear up for the snot slingin'. Jeffrey will do his thing where he becomes silent and won't look at anyone (I guess I'll drive that day). At the end of the day, we'll hug Jude tight and ask him what all he did and he'll respond in classic Jude fashion, "Nothing" leaving us to guess. And thus our new normal will begin.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Two steps forward...three steps back--life feels like that for me sometimes. Last summer, a stupid deer jumped out in front of my Volkswagen causing $7500 worth of damage--not quite enough to consider the car totaled. Anyway, after several weeks, the good people of Barnett Body Shop restored my car, but unfortunately, the air conditioner didn't work quite right. After another trip to the body shop, they figured out the problem and fixed it.

Fast forward to this past weekend in New Orleans.

Saturday morning, we took Jude to the Audobon Zoo and later planned to make our way to the French Quarter for some vittles. On our way to the Quarter, we got stuck in traffic (one of those perks of driving in the middle of Mardi Gras), and as we waited for a parade to go by, the car began overheating and the air went hot. However, when Jeffrey accelerated, cooler air came through the vents, and the car returned to normal temperature.

We knew our car's malfunction had something to do with that damn deer.

Anyway, Jeffrey told me that maybe I should look into trading in the Volkswagen for another car. I agreed with him that we may be dealing with a pretty big problem. I mean, what car overheats in 70 degree weather? I had decided that I would look up different cars as soon as we returned home, hoping to find another Volkswagen.

Unfortunately, I found nothing. Well, nothing I wanted to pay that much for anyway. I couldn't believe it. Three years ago when I bought my Jetta, I wrote a check in the neighborhood of $15, 000, handed it over, and drove off in an almost brand new car. Now, that same sort of car (a one year old car), costs at least $5,000 more than what I paid for one three years ago! Seriously?!?!?

The thing is this. I like the car I have. I don't want to get rid of it. Why? Probably a pride thing. My Jetta is the second car that Jeffrey and I paid cash for. We like not having car payments. We like putting crap loads of money into savings. Could I cut a check for $18,000? Sure. But why should I pay that much for something I'm not even dying to have?

Then I asked myself this question: "How in the world can people afford this stuff?" As it turns out, $18,000 for a one year old used car is actually nothing compared to other car prices. What I found on was that the average price of the sort of sedan I would want ranges around the $25, 000-$30,000 mark. Don't even get me started on the price of a SUV! Let's just say that I will be bending over strapping two babies in cars seats, and after seeing those prices, I won't even complain about it. Even if I had that sort of money to throw around, yeah, I don't think so. Not as long as deer roam the great roads of Mississippi!

However, I don't think I'm searching for vehicles beyond my means. Most people I know that drive these sort of vehicles make around the same amount of money I do. I guess the difference is that they finance, and I won't. I wonder, though, if most people bought only what they could afford (meaning no financing), would car companies lower the price of their cars? Is the reason cars are so expensive because so many are willing to go into debt for them? Are the consumers to blame for this inflation (at this point, I think one can easily guess that I didn't study much of in the way of Economics).

I'm sorry, but I just can't do that. It's bad enough that I have a mortgage. Granted, we have about nine years left on it, but still. That's nine years we owe someone!

I realize my view on debt is not popular. For the record, I don't have a smart phone, Tori Burch flats (even though I've wanted a pair for YEARS--I visit those flats at Saks every summer), or a lot of other cool stuff, like a $30,000 car. However, as I was feeling sorry for myself over this car issue, it dawned on me that I've always been able to afford the stuff I needed even if I can't always afford what I want. I'm glad I don't operate in reverse as that seems to promise nothing but a life of misery from never being able to keep up. So I may have to buy another car. Hey, at least I can, even if it's not the fanciest thing on the market. However, I'm still holding out hope that my Jetta will get fixed for good and my money can remain where it belongs--in the savings account--just in case an emergency like this arises later.