Category Archives: Adventures in Parenting

Who I want to be when I grow up

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My younger son recently announced that he wants to be Spiderman when he grows up.

“You can’t,” said his very literal brother.  “You can’t be someone who isn’t real.”

I kind of hope he’s wrong about that, because I too want to be a fictional character when I grow up.  My choice?  Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath.

If you know the story (about which I blogged just a few weeks ago – I must really like it), you know why I idolize her.  Ma keeps her family together throughout all the trials and challenges of their trip from Oklahoma to California.  She is able to handle drought, death, stillbirth, poverty, whiny children,  floods, hunger, car trouble,  rude people, and still hold it together.  Other people bring their crises to her because they know she can handle them, and she does.

I love how Ma has the quiet inner strength that she needs to buck her  family members up when they are feeling low.  As the narrator explains, “It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials,” which is a great way of reflecting  what parents do for their kids when times are tough and we try to find any little positive thing we can to change the tone of the moment.

It’s what I try to do when my own little family hits rough patches, but I know I’m nowhere in Ma Joad’s league.   Changes in the normal running of things tend to throw me; I kvetch loudly about car trouble and broken dishwashers, and I am slightly obsessive about needing to know what is coming next.  But Ma Joad – she takes anything life throws at her, which in this book is quite a lot.   And though Pa is the titular head of the family, everyone in the story knows that Ma is the really strong one.

And it’s not just that she’s tough; she’s loving, too.  As Jim Casy says, “There’s a woman so great with love – she scares me.”  That love extends not just to her immediate family, but to the other needy people she encounters along the way.  It’s inspiring, no matter how many times I have read the book.

So I guess my son and I each have our own personal superhero.  His is a guy who can shoot webs and walk up walls; mine is a woman who can soothe her fearful children and keep the faith and set up camp anywhere life takes her.  And maybe one day, if I’m lucky, I will be just like her.

Finding God in the math homework

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Two weeks ago my kindergartener and I were sitting at the dining room table after dinner.  I was helping him with his math homework, which involved counting and coloring stars.  He sat there, blue crayon in hand, intent on his work, when all of a sudden he spoke.

“God made the stars to give us light,” he said.

“That’s right. He did.”

“And he gave us the moon and the sun, too,” he informed me solemnly.

I love it, these childhood flashes of spiritual connection, this flexible little mind that thinks of God right in the middle of a math worksheet.  Increasingly, I can do the same; I have become better over the years at letting awareness of God’s presence color the various events of my day.  But there are still many things I do where it’s harder to sense God, to connect the dots between my task and the divine.

I think of things like sitting in traffic, or grading stacks of papers, or waiting on hold with the DMV.  And I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of God while doing a math assignment, unless it involved a desperate silent prayer uttered moments before a pre-calculus test.  (I’m a word girl, not a number girl.)

But St. Ignatius believed you can find God in all things, and ultimately I believe it, too.  Some things and situations are easier than others,  but maybe that’s why we need other people; they find the connections we miss, just like my son did when his math homework became an occasion to think of the Creator.   Other people see the fingerprints of God in places where I just see smudges.  And when they share, they gently train us to have a sharper, clearer vision than we did before.

So that’s my challenge: to try to make my mind as flexible as my kindergartener’s, a mind that bends toward God even in the traffic and the math.

Why I stink at resting

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I went to the doctor earlier this week to ask about this weird cold/respiratory thingy that has dragged on and on for weeks.  He gave the diagnosis I always hate to get: An unspecified virus, something that medicine won’t cure.  Nothing to do but wait it out.

“And you really should be staying home from work and resting,” he told me.

I almost burst out laughing.

“I’m a teacher,” I said. “Unless I’m dying or in labor, it’s just easier to go to work.”  He must have a teacher or two in his family, because he smiled sympathetically .

Later that day, I recalled our conversation. I realized that it touched on a few big truths: one about my profession, and one about myself.

Teaching may be one of the only jobs where it is just as much work to stay home sick as it is to go in.  A sick teacher gets the joy of writing directions and lesson plans, figuring out what a sub needs to know about the students in your class.  There’s the retweaking of the lessons you thought you’d be doing yourself, which  will have to be altered in the face of your absence (even the best sub won’t be able to give that background lecture on Victorian England).

Often, staying home affects the rest of the week’s lesson plans, too, as you realize you can’t do Thursday’s lesson unless you’ve adequately covered the stuff you were going to get to on Wednesday, and since someone else will be doing Wednesday’s lesson now, you have to make sure the kids learned everything you wanted them to learn before you go on.

This is why I teach when I’m sick.  It’s just too much work otherwise.

But this conversation with the doctor also touched on a truth about my non-professional self.  Even when I’m not teaching – when I’m home during summer, say– I’m simply not very good at taking it easy when I’m sick. 

Is this a female thing?  I think it might be.  Even though my husband is fabulous about taking care of the kids, there is still some very primal, very archaic part of my mind that seems to think that I need to be on top of it all, because I’m the mom, and the wife, and the woman.  I feel guilty about resting, even though no one is making me feel guilty but my own weird little mind.

And even if I’m home sick, I still notice things that need doing: the unmade bed, the teetering laundry baskets, the stuff in the entryway that needs organizing.  My husband has a higher tolerance for clutter than I do, which is good in some ways, but it also means that he’s not likely to take the initiative and de-messify on his own.   And when I’m not feeling good to begin with, I feel even worse when the floor is strewn with stuff.  This means that my ill little self ends up putting it away instead of hunkering down on the sofa with a blanket and an entire season of Monarch of the Glen.

All of this explains why — bizarre as it sounds – I don’t dread going to the hospital.   I look back with nostalgic fondness on last summer’s surgery, as well as on last year’s day spent in the ER for stomach pains. I’ve realized that being in the hospital is the only way that I can completely rest without guilt.   I can’t clean house if I’m hooked up to an IV, can I?  If you plotted my relaxation levels on a graph, my hospital stays would be right up there with my infrequent spa visits.   (“That’s really, really sad,” said my brother-in-law.)

He has a point.  If a friend of mine were to tell me all this, I’d tell her she needs to change.  I’d tell her she needs to be better about doing what the doctor ordered and – gasp! – resting for a while.  I’m not sure how, but I know I need to find some way  to chip away at these old thought patterns – some are actually more like  instinct patterns, not even thoughts – that make it so darn hard to stop taking care of everyone else and let others take care of me for a while.

Something to strive for, anyway.

If I could pick my own set of superpowers….

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As the mother of two boys, superheroes are often on my mind (and on the floor, and under the table, and wedged between sofa cushions).   This is one of the many discoveries of parenthood; as a kid myself, my own tastes ran more towards Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake than Batman and Spiderman, so the whole Marvel thing is pretty new to me.  But I have to say, there’s something pretty cool about these characters and all their superhuman powers.

And all this leads to an irresistible question: If I myself could possess any  set of superpowers, which ones would I choose? 

Obviously, if this were a real choice I’d go for the big ones, like curing cancer or ending child exploitation or global warming.  But once those powers were firmly established, there are still some secondary superpowers I’d like to have. These are powers that would exist simply to make my life as a working mom a little bit easier.  (I can dream, can’t I?)

Here they are, in no particular order.

*The ability to find an available parking space just by thinking about it, even in the most crowded lot (particularly when a small passenger has just informed that he really REALLY needs to use the toilet).

*Related power: The ability to snap my fingers and clean even the most noxiously disgusting public restroom.

*The power to bilocate (needed for the days when the boys are on vacation and I, alas,  am not.)

*X-ray vision so as to immediately locate the miniscule Lego figure that is lost somewhere in the snarl of our messy house and whose discovery is absolutely critical to a small boy’s happiness. (Couldn’t they make those guys bigger?  Outfit them with  GPS tracking devices? )

*The power to make all airline flights run on time.   (If you’ve ever been delayed in an airport with small kids, you know that every minute feels like a week).

*Super-elasticity, so I could make the bunk beds without flirting with back injury

*The power to freeze time, for those moments when your child does something heart-stoppingly earnest or sweet or touching.  (If only we could, right?)

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but that’s my first pass at the list. What are the superpowers that YOU long to have?

The World Cup in our living room

It’s all about the soccer these days.

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And aren’t these fans remarkably sedate?

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