Friday, November 3, 2017

Awkward Mom and Girlhoods

My Daring Daughters-

I want to tell you that the world is no different for men and women and that you can forge forth in any direction you chose. I want to tell you that the college-attending of your great-grandmas, the bra-burning of your grandma, and the brave efforts of all your female ancestors to be given equal rights with men have provided you with a world that is your oyster. (I am using bra-burning as a colorful example, please don't ask your Grandma if she wears undergarments or not.) I want to tell you that you will always be viewed as complete and total persons when you leave this house and not as representatives of your gender or as objects to be ogled and used. I want to, but, sadly, my rockets, I can not.

The world has made incredible progress, and it will make more, even during your short childhoods. But the truth remains that men and women are treated differently in this world. So are people of other races, socio-economic statuses, and sexual orientations. You will learn (and change) all that with time. These are huge issues that even your mother will fail at explaining to you. (I know, crazy, right?!) Once free and out in the world, you will discover most of this injustice for yourself. Explaining it only gives you part of the picture. As I hope I have raised you right, you will hate it, rail against it, and work to change it for the rest of your lives. You will discover this in time, but not today. Today, I have smaller goals in mind.

Today, I want to talk to you about your girlhood. Because your girlhood isn't bad. It isn't anything to be ashamed off, wished away, hidden, or fought. (Nor is your brothers' boyhood, but I am writing them a different letter. Maybe they'll let you read it, but you have to stop stealing their stuff if you want them to trust you....)

Your girlhood is not now, and never will be, half of anything. YOU ARE NOT HALF OF ANYONE. Additionally, you aren't part of anyone, less than anyone, or 76 cents of anyone.

People are going to tell you, probably very soon, that girls are this way and girls are that way. People will tell you that you have to learn how to cook. People will tell you that you have to wear makeup. People will tell you that you have to be good at math. People will tell you that you can't be good at math. People will tell you that you can't play guitar. People will tell you that you have to play soccer. People will tell you tons of things. Some of it will be super crazy, like "girls have to like princesses and dresses and pretty things." And some of it will be subtly crazy, like "Girls are better than boys and should be able to hit them whenever they want." And some of it will just be flat-out crazy, like "You have to be this way or you aren't a girl" or "you are half of a man."

Basically, it's all crazy.

Your girlhood is deep in your hearts, and both of them are totally and completely unique. They look like no one else's girlhoods. They are solely yours; yours forever. They will grow and morph and change in unimaginable ways; taking you from Pippi Longstocking all the way to Miss Marple. They are not anyone else's to dictate. They have little to do with anyone else, but what they do is connect you to a wondrous lineage of women that goes back millenia and travels a road so varied and magical I could never truly describe this lineage to you. The invisible threads that tie you to your world sisters are unbreakable, and while there are some you will want to cut, someday you will be thrilled to have such a sisterhood at your back. And by your side.

For I am here, behind you. Ready to catch you. Ready to push you. Ready to hand you a sandwich, anytime you need. But I am not alone. Grandma is here with me. So is Babcia. And Great-Grandma. And all your aunts and great-aunts. And the Greats that you never met. And the Greats that I never met. And Maya Angelou. And Charlotte Bronte. And Jane Addams. And Elizabeth Blackwell. And Sonia Sotomayor. And Julia Child. And Margaret Mead. And the first mother who ever cradled her daughter to her chest, singing softly as she gazed at her adoringly. And the first daughter that took off running across the fields to her own destiny, but paused just for a minute to gaze back and wave. We are all here for you. Anytime you need us. Anytime you want a reassuring smile or supportive hug. Anytime you want some advice. Anytime you don't want some advice but need it anyway. Anytime. Sometimes finding your girlhood can be scary and lonely, and you might want to check in. Or you might be hungry. Believe me, we will want to feed you.

But you won't always have to look backwards. Right now, you have each other, but you will soon be joined by a sisterhood of your own choosing. Legions of girls as different as the rocks we've been collecting on our walks. Each one special. Each one tied to you with an invisible thread of sisterhood. An army of girls who aren't marching to war, but off to make a world that doesn't need war. I trust you. You are good sisters and you will pick good sisters. It is easy in this world of wonders.

You aren't half of anyone or anything, my beautiful daughters. But total and complete people who gets to decide who those total and complete people are and will become. You are already there, my iron irises, but if you fall and forget for any reason, the girls of the world are here to catch you. And we all love you.

But I love you the most-
Awkward Mom

Shine the world blind. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Awkward Mom vs. Soccer

It's a picturesque day; sunny, warm, the grass blowing gently in the breeze generated by a herd of little boys racing up and down the soccer field. I mean, except for Super 1st Grader, who is sauntering after them, hands in his pockets, watching a passing plane. The ball gets kicked this way and that way, and before you know it, it is heading straight for Super 1st Grader, luckily during a rare moment of attention. He narrows his eyes and pauses his amble to stand off with the ball. He even removes his hands from his pockets, and I lean forward, eager to memorize this sports-movie surprise. He holds his hands out on front of him, bends each finger in a different direction and tenses them like lightening is shooting out of each one, and waves them over the ball as it barrels past him towards his team's goal. Most of the surrounding parent-eyes appear to hone in on the sides of my face, but I will not turn to check. I bring my hands up to hide, but at the last moment, decide to be an adult, so I cupped my hands around my mouth, megaphone-style, and holler to my second born's unrepentant and beaming smile, "Super 1st Grader! Stop trying to use the Force!"

Super 1st Grader is not good at soccer. Will this improve in time, with practice and work? Perhaps. But probably not. He's really not good at it, and he does not care. Let's be super clear about that. This is not titled Super 1st Grader vs. Soccer. And it's probably slightly misleading to name it Awkward Mom vs. Soccer because (a) I'm not out there trying to play soccer, (b) I would totally be trying to use the Force if I were, and (c) a better name for this particular battle would be Awkward Mom vs. the judgment she is imagining the other parents are feeling about her because her child isn't paying any attention to the game and doesn't seem to care if he loses the game for his team and no amount of lectures, yelling, and incentives appear to be changing that and maybe she should give up and pull him off the team but then what does that say about follow-through and sportsmanship and why are children's sports so intense these days and were they always this intense and she just didn't notice and why can't we all just enjoy the game and learn some skills and how to be part of a team and how to lose and win gracefully or is that fragile snowflake talk and am I best preparing my children for the hard realities of life or is this whole thing really just about the fact that I don't want to look stupid in front of the other parents because I don't know what I am doing. But that's too long and won't fit in the title box.

Now, there's a lot to unpack regarding the nature of children's sports, or indeed sports in general, and I hope you will unpack it with me in the comments because I am by nature lazy and unpacking sounds like a lot of work. Time for that later. Right now, I'm mostly concerned with what to do about Super 1st Grader and his Force-approach to soccer. Bear in mind, this is Parks and Rec soccer; I haven't done anything dumb, like put him in a travel league or decide that he should play for Arsenal. So, part of me thinks it shouldn't matter. He's with his friends and he's having fun.  He says he likes soccer. He says he wants to play soccer. He clearly understands some of the rules; i.e. no touching the ball with hands, only Force-hand-extensions. But he's really really bad at it. Should that matter at age 7? No. But yes.

What about the other players? The ones who are good. The ones who do care. Shouldn't they be on teams with people who play well or at least pay attention. Super 1st Grader usually looks like an absent-minded stoner who took a wrong turn and wandered into a soccer game. And no amount of yelling at the field, or patient and sensible talks later, seem to change this. He is who he is, and he's my hippie child who finds the inner workings of his mind far more fascinating than a rolling ball. So, I should pull him off the field, right?

But he's not gonna be good at everything and maybe it's important to try new things. Maybe he'll pay attention eventually. He does take forever to warm up, as a general rule. But, then again, maybe a 6-8 week parks and rec soccer schedule isn't enough time for that, and is that fair to the other players? No. Not really, but life isn't fair and they are gonna encounter tons of people who aren't giving 110% out there in the adult world. Shouldn't childhood prepare for this? Yes, but why am I not raising someone who gives 110% and, anyway, why am I hiding from the real reason I care about any of this? The other parents.

Because that's always the shameful core of my public parenting problems, isn't it? What are these other people thinking of me? Me. Not even my child. I could give a flying fig what they think of my child, that's not gonna affect the fierce and endless love I have for that wild and defiant child out there. But what they think of me? Oh, yeah, that's gonna leave a mark. What is her problem? Why can't she make her child listen? What is their house like? He doesn't even care about losing. He's losing the game for us. They must be those everyone gets a trophy people. No ambition. No drive. Well, I mean, look at her clothes, of course she has no drive. No eyelashes either, hasn't she ever heard of Lash Boost? I should add her to my Rodan and Fields party list. But, no, she won't fit in with my actual friends. I mean, poor thing, but I don't need another project. And on and on and paranoid on.

No one is thinking this. I mean, maybe a couple of them are because, let's be real, I really do need to be using Lash Boost, but the majority of these parents are thinking the exact same thing I am thinking; Why is my child laying down in the goal?! Why can't he just behave until we get home? Why can't I go home? I hate this. I'm tired. So tired. Everyone is looking. Everyone is judging. Everyone. Is. Judging. 

And everyone is judging. Themselves. Like crazy-pants. Can we just stop? Can I just stop? Please? Can we please just stop already?

So, back to the soccer game. After the Force-attempt, there are like 5 more minutes of the game. Super 1st Grader laughs at my bellow to stop using the Force and shoves his hands back in his pockets. He wanders around the field for awhile, shouting some encouraging stuff to the goalie and then he asks him if he's gonna see the Ninjago movie. He watches a bird, makes some strange gestures that I imagine are to Invisible Grandpa about something important, and cheers when the whistle blows for the end of the 4th quarter. He rushes over to get his snack and water bottle, and, as he is making his way to me, happy and free and thoroughly enjoying this beautiful fall day, the best player on the team runs over to him and they have a brief and animated conversation about 7-year-old-boy stuff, while they do that shoving/side-hugging thing that males seem born knowing how to do. They laugh about a private joke that I really hope isn't dirty and then push off each other and, as Super 1st Grader walks backward toward me, Best Player yells, "Bye! See you at practice!" And Super 1st Grader yells back "OK!" while turning the full force of his bright Han Solo grin my direction, and suddenly I can't hear the crazy-pants judging anymore. I can hear something like bells or music or the sweet sound of doing my best for my child who might be very bad at soccer but is very good at humaning and anyway it's a picturesque day and I'm just gonna stop. Let's just stop.

Now, if soccer was about fabulous hair,
he'd be Lionel Messi.  

Friday, September 29, 2017

Awkward Mom vs. Bravery

Because bravery isn't not being scared. It's being scared and trying anyway. 

So, I'm standing around at school pick-up, talking to Experienced Mom, when this happens:

Experienced Mom: Guess what?
Me: What?
Experienced Mom: I'm gonna volunteer for the Book Fair!
Me: Great! I love the Book Fair!
Experienced Mom: Yes, I'm kinda nervous, it's totally out of my comfort zone, but I'm just gonna do it.
Me: Awesome!

I'm super excited for Experienced Mom, but I'm also super shocked. Experienced Mom isn't ill-named; her youngest is the age of my oldest and she's totally got it all together. For goodness sake, her oldest is in high school; she knows how to deal with high school moming! She's not remotely new to the moming game. The idea that anything is out of her comfort zone is simply something I had not considered.

Now, I could talk about a lot of things here; how we tend to see everyone else in relationship to us, the fact that you truly never know how someone else sees herself, the sheer terror that school events can cause, but instead I am gonna talk about being brave 12-year-olds.

You see, I have a theory that there are no actual extroverts and no real introverts. I think, deep inside, we are all terrified 12-year-olds at a middle school dance, standing along the wall, desperate to dance and equally desperate to not have anyone look at us. Not a one of us knows what we are doing, but we all think that everyone else does and we simply didn't get the memo. Does anyone send memos anymore? The group text? The Snapchat? Whatevers. Point is, we all feel nervous. Pretty much all the time. Everyone reacts to this differently: Some of us fake it until we make it, with loud laughs and plenty of jokes and sheer bravado. Some of us retreat into ourselves and our books. Some of us move to private islands and communicate exclusively through Snapchat, but I think those are just the millionaire millennials. And it's OK to be terrified 12-year-olds at a middle school dance. We all are. But, it's still a dance, and that means, someone has to actually start dancing. If not, we all just at a standing-around-while-music-plays, and we might be terrified, but we aren't immune to music. We might be scared, but, deep down, we all really want to dance. We need to dance.

This is life. Communication and commerce. Book Fairs need to happen. School pick-up needs to happen. Interaction needs to happen. Humans are social, for all our fear of rejection and humiliation, and we need to interact. This can be terrifying, and this will be terrifying. Especially if Perfect Mom shows up in skin-tight Lululemon and a tan from her recent work trip to Aruba. Terrifying. But, guess what? You CAN do it. If Experienced Mom can go outside her comfort zone and volunteer for the Book Fair, then you can be Room Mom. You can smile at the bank teller. You can decide to be on the PTA. You can wave to your neighbor. You can try a different book genre at the library this week. You can do it. You can go out there and be the first one on the dance floor. It's OK; take my hand, I'll come with you.

Because life is connection and life is caution. Don't be Elsa, angry-singing on a lonely mountaintop because no one understands you because you never told anyone anything and they never got a chance to try to understand you. And don't be Anna, trying to marry the first person who comes along because you are lonely and scared and it's easier to be part of the background of something than to actually figure out who you are and shine a little and have all the eyes on you.

You need to be an extrovert and an introvert; there's a time and a place for both. And, get this, you are both. Plus a terrified 12-year-old at a middle school dance who is about to be very brave.

Twelve and terrified. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Awkward Mom vs. the Church Directory Photo Shoot

In case anyone is curious about our previous awkward battles with Professional Photos, feel free to flashback here. And here. Over here. And there. Oh, and this one. It wasn't professional but there were attempts to coordinate outfits in a cornfield, so, you know, totally counts. Basically, professional(-ish) photo shoots seem to be our kryptonite. Throw in a healthy helping of church behavior and you've got a Royal Rumble type battle on your hands.

Bear in mind, I had the best intentions (and we all know what those pave), so, sometime in July, when the church announces that they are putting out a new directory and that we should go to this handy-dandy website to schedule a time, I am on it. Despite being a month post-partum, I am so on it. I schedule our session, put it on the calendar, and go back to being the lovely and loving embodiment of mother earth for my precious little Super Baby. I am so ill-named, I am grace itself. Except, I'm really not. Because Super 1st Grader is signed up to do fall soccer, and, for some strange reason, my mother earthy self forgets to put that on the calendar. So, a week before, when I finally remember to put soccer on the calendar, I am surprised, and why I still get surprised is a mystery for another time, but I am surprised to realize that soccer collides with our church directory photo shoot time. No matter, I naively say to myself, they have been announcing that there are plenty of times still available. I'll just pop on this here website and reschedule. For a Friday. At 8pm. Yeah, that'll be fine. There's nothing remotely problematic about taking 5 children, under the age of 10, into a space where they are supposed to be reverent, quiet, and still, after their first week of school, at 8:00 at night. That's totally gonna be fine.

And it might have been. You know, with normal children, but I wouldn't know about that. Because I am suddenly home, on Friday afternoon, recovering from the first week of the school drop-off/pick-up/was there a memo I missed because all these other moms are rocking lululemon and I am still wearing maternity pants and a VBS tshirt from 4 years ago. And I am sorta freaking out but I am yoga breathing and reminding myself that I have hours to bath people and comb out summer-damaged hair and select coordinating outfits, when Awkward Dad starts herding children into the van. It's not time, I yell, and he yells back, it totally is time. The toys went on display at midnight! And this is when I realized that Awkward Dad is operating from an entirely different calendar and the only thing on it is Force Friday. And before I have time to question if today is really the best day to go to Toys R Us to gawp at $1000 Lego sets of Hoth and  sentient imperial walkers, he has fast-and-furioused himself and 4 of my children out the driveway.

Suddenly robbed of my preparation hours, I have a good cry, remember that I am resilient, bathe Super Baby and put her in a beautiful lace dress that she promptly spits-up all over. So, I have another good cry, remember that I am resilient, let Super Baby hang out in her bassinet in a diaper, and set out nice church-photoy clothes for the other 4 children. Since they have been living in dirty shorts and Star Wars tees for the summer and all of their uniforms are now dirty after a solid week of school, pickins are slim. I come up with: (Super Oldest) a cleanish pair of shorts with a too big plaid button-up shirt that is missing 2 buttons that I hide with a sweater vest despite it being 87 degrees and August, (Super 1st Grader) the uniform shorts he is currently wearing while wandering around Toys R Us in Star Wars induced glee with a too small green buttonup shirt with ink stains on the sleeves that won't button all the way so I am hiding his belly with a tanish vest that sorta matches his shorts if you don't look too close, (Super Kindergartener) a verging on too small dress with a broken zipper that I fix with a safety pin and strict instructions that there be no cartwheels, (Super Toddler) a clean pair of shorts that are only clean because they are slightly too big and his one collared shirt that is wrinkly and definitely too small, and (Super Baby) her only other dress which is beautiful and slightly too big and some white pants that I intend to put her in the second before the photo is taken. I place all of this on the bed, remember that I am resilient, and wait. And wait. And wait. And wait some more.

They get home, full of ideas and waving Christmas wish lists at me, 15 minutes before we have to leave to get to the church on time. 15 minutes. 15. Minutes. I've blocked the next 15 minutes out so you'll just have to imagine it. Just picture this.

By some miracle and due to some speeding, we get to the church. On time. Sorta suitable dressed and not too sticky. To be told that they are running a tad bit over and there are 2 families in front of us. Should be about 15 minutes.

It is actually 30 and I have also blocked that out. There is no video scary enough on youtube to help you imagine trying to keep 5 children, quiet, wearing their nicest clothes, in the church vestibule, for 30 minutes. Frankly, I'm surprised we are all still alive.

We finally are ushered into the room with the backdrop and the lights and the camera and the little foam blocks that people are supposed to stand on and not start throwing at each other like my children are doing and the photographer stares at us like she has never seen children before and I feel really sorry for her because in motion it looks like there are 25 of them and I totally smell her fear but I am also really annoyed that we are taking photos 30 minutes later than anticipated so I stop them from throwing the foam blocks but I don't really do anything about the loud rock-paper-scissors fall-out about who gets to hold the baby for the picture and I think it made her ears bleed a little. It's not my proudest moment.

Nor is what happens next.

Sit still.
What the heck, stop licking things!
No, you can not take off your shirt.

I'm sorry it's itchy but you have to wear it.
Don't touch that!
Sit still.
I don't care if you're hungry, you should have eaten earlier!

Stop it.
Just stop it.
I don't care who started it!

Don't do that with your hands.
Don't do that with your face.
Don't do that at all.
Just don't.

The baby looks like a zombie.
No, obviously not a real one!

Stop making crazy eyes!
Sit still.
If you pinch her again, you will be in a timeout.
Oh,I'll find a place, don't you worry.

Sit still.
Sit still.
Sit still.
Oh, for the love of God!
Sit still.

This is what we went with for the church directory. 

Blessed are the awkward,
they shall inherit the inability to 
sit still! 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Awkward Mom vs. It-All

I can't keep up. With Super Baby, of course, but just in general. I can't keep up with all the paper that comes home from school. I can't keep up with if kale is still in. I can't keep up with which milestone I am supposed to be freaking out about for which child. I can't keep up with Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. I can't keep up with what my socially appropriate title is these days. (Is it still stay-at-home mom? Household CEO? Home parent? Is housewife still passe or are we trying to reclaim that one?) I can't keep up with developments in my past career field and wonder if I'll need to be totally retrained when I go back. If I go back. I can't keep up with politics, wars, diseases, the economy, natural disasters, or if it is supposed to rain tomorrow. I can't keep up with Game of Thrones, and I fell off the Defenders bandwagon. I can't keep up with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. I can't keep up with dinner. I can't keep up with exercise. I can't keep up with cleaning this house. I can't keep up with dinner prayers and evening prayers and God questions and explaining communion in a way that doesn't sound vampiric. I can't keep up with taking all the pictures that need to exist to prove that childhood wasn't just Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and the occasional Lego fight around here. I can't. I just can't keep up with it all.

So here's the thing: I'm giving up on it-all.

Look, we're women (for the most part; hi Dad and the maybe 3 dudes that read this), and we are modern women, at that. We have been raised from day 1 to want it all. To need it all. It-all is what we are supposed to go after, accomplish, process, explain, document, and tie up in a pretty bow with some artful overhead shots before posting it on Pinterest. The problem is that no one ever really defined what "it all" is. Is it a Career? Children? Children and a career? Clean Children? Climbing Career? Charm? Connected? Civility? Capability? Centered-ness? Cute? Cookies? I want it to be cookies. If it's cookies, then I have crushed it-all and we can all go home.

It-all doesn't exist. Know why? Because it's ridiculous, impossible, and fairly insulting to think that there is one sanctioned path to true womanhood when there are billions of unique, gloriously human, stunning women roaming the planet. Therefore, I am done seeking the one true it-all and focusing my limited energy on my own five it-alls from here on out.

Right now my it-alls are: (1) singing Though the Mountains May Fall at the top of his lungs from a shower that is approaching its 20th minute, (2) spinning in circles in the living room with Invisible Grandpa, 2 teddy bears, a stick, and an Ewok, (3) creating art at the top of her outside-voice in the bedroom with another Ewok and a naked doll that has been colored on with a permanent marker and more than resembles a prop from some horror movie, (4) hurling his 18th truck down the stairs while laughing like a Bond villain, and (5) staring at me in a particularly disconcerting way.

You know what might help me tackle tonight's current it-all concerns? Cookies!

My It-Alls fit rather nicely on the couch, don't they? 
Cookies were most certainly involved in making that happen... 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Awkward Mom vs. Lunch Duty

Here's the thing, a lot of parenting foes are tackled solo. You surround yourself with friends, sidekicks, partners, but in the middle of the night, it's you and Colic throwing down until one of you emerges victorious. And exhausted.  La Leche totally has your back, but Baby-Won't-Latch is gonna have you doing all the heavy lifting. Dropping your first child off at Kindergarten is surrounded in hoopla and support, but when you get behind the wheel of your car, after all the confetti and chaos, it's just you and Mom Guilt, duking it out, until you give up. Or get home. Or let Chocolate tag in. Point is, most of moming is Batmanesque; brooding dark journeys into the inner alleys of your tormented soul. With penguins.

However, Lunch Duty is no place for lone wolves and it is not time to deal with your inner demons or daddy issues. Lunch Duty is no B list villain and she holds her own with the big dogs; right on up there with The Riddler, Magneto, PTA Meeting. Perhaps she's not quite the level of Lex Luther or Potty Training, but she is nothing to attempt lightly or alone. Lunch Duty is not just your kid. Not a friend over on a playdate. Not even a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese. No. Lunch Duty is your kid. And that kid. And those kids. And more kids. And they are all moving. And there's ketchup packets and corn. And milk cartons and juice boxes and those fruit cups that require the grip strength of an America Ninja Warrior to open. And girl drama. And food fights. And somehow more kids. And syrup on French Toast Stick day. Lunch Duty is a gosh darn alien invasion and nothing less than the Avengers is taking that down.

Lucky for you, you happen to be part of the Avengers. You didn't know that? Oh, my sweet fellow parent. Look around! You are surrounded by fellow superheros; Lunch Staff, Janitors, Teachers, Dads, Moms. The persuasive power in that lunch room is enough to bring about world peace. Or get a 5-year-old to tie his shoes. There is massive ability in here and the moment those kids arrive, it's gonna spin itself into beautiful crystal precision, with you leading the left flank.

Schools do lunch different ways; cafeteria, at desks, shifts, all at once, throwing popcorn at them in the hopes they all go away. That last one might just be the home-schoolers, I'm not sure, but, point is, there is endless variety with school lunch. At the Supers' school, they do lunch in the cafeteria, in shifts that consist of three grades at a time. They mix them up a bit, but for my purposes, which are some clarity but mostly dramatic tension, I'll be telling you about them in oldest to youngest age order.

Lunch Duty with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders is a small scale alien invasion. You might not even know you are being invaded. These aliens are well organized and mysterious; you will have no idea what their true aims are but they are definitely going to achieve them. Quietly and with minimal fuss. Whole social structures rise and collapse and phoenix back up during this lunch period and you will not know about any of it. You may hear rumors about it next week, when it's news as old as the fall of Rome, but aliens this experienced aren't gonna give much away. Lotta whispering and side-eye going on here. Frankly, it's a good warm-up for your Avengers team; a couple pointed glares at the napkins on the floor, a word or two about the chips that are crumbing all over the table, some sarcastic comments, and the room is clean and everyone is heading out to recess. They are a well-organized machine of superiority and sass, but where do you think they learned that? We may be old but we are not dead; hormonal, humorless preteens are a cakewalk compared to what is coming.

3rd, 4th, and 5th are the worst of both worlds really; you've got crushes and crumbs here. They are starting to work the gossip mill, but they can't always work their cheese stick wrappers. Your Avengers team needs to be ready for anything because this alien invasion isn't quite sure what it wants. It's gonna be disjointed and disgruntled and downright dirty. Get ready to break up fights; actual ones about stolen Twinkies and the far worse ones that hurtful 10-year-old girls can cause merely by sitting with a different friend today. Prepare for the occasional food fight. Work on your shut-up-glare because you don't want to sink to their level and tell them to actually shut up but, believe me, you are gonna want them to shut up. Astronomical noise, and most of it about absolutely nothing. Let the teachers take the lead here, they have amazingly inventive ways to produce silence; back them up and look suitably serious. The last thing you ever want to do with this age group is crack a smile; if they think what they are doing is amusing, they are never, ever, going to stop doing it. So, even if the next coming of George Carlin is up in here, don't laugh. Bite your lip if you have to. Dogs can sense fear, but kids can sense inconsistency. This is a chaotic alien invasion, use that to your advantage; divide and conquer. They're inexperienced and confused and, most importantly, open to change. They are still susceptible to a gentle nudge toward the kid sitting alone or a head nod toward the juice box on the floor. Don't forget that they are still interested in your approval. Praise works wonders with these aliens; we might just assimilate them yet.

Your Avengers are either exhausted or flying high, depending on how the 3rd, 4th, and 5th period went, and neither is great because here come the babies. Lunch Duty with 2nd, 1st, and Kindergarten is a nuclear annihilation kind of alien invasion. There will be no cooperation or coming in peace; these aliens just want to watch the world burn. Your team has got to be everywhere at once; half these kids are still getting used to eating with forks. Opening milk cartons, ketchup packages. Reminding them that napkins exist. There's usually one or two that try to eat something that is decidedly not food. Someone misses his mom. Someone decides to do a cartwheel and shows the whole cafeteria her underwear. There's sandwich envy. Someone throws away her whole lunch, including the lunch box. Someone loses her glasses. Where'd that kickball come from?! What's that smell? Whose sweater is this? Stop using that unclaimed sweater as a napkin! Someone calls someone a name. There are tears. And now we have vomit. He has to go to the bathroom. She has to go to the bathroom. Everyone has to go to the bathroom. Now, you have to go to the bathroom. Which playground is recess on today? Wanna hear a joke? Why do I have to eat peas? Where do peas come from? Why are peas green? 800 more questions about peas. And all the untied shoes.

It's do or die time, and you will do. You won't notice how amazing you are until it's over, but you are amazing. The lunch staff will achieve the impossible feats of getting 5-year-olds to try green beans and hold trays horizontally. The teachers' endless patience will rub off and you will smile during 18 stories that have no discernible characters, plots, or point. You will open 2 ketchup packets with one hand, while opening a milk in the other, plus sooth a homesick 1st grader and list all 8 planets in order from the sun, throwing in Pluto at the end, to check who's paying attention. You will tie so many shoes that you can do it without looking, which you will have to do because you are urging a Kindergartener to please get down from there. It will be epic.

And that's the thing about alien invasions and lunch duties and hurricanes and human crises; they are epic.  But they are only epic because people just turn into the Avengers. Don't think about it. Don't plan it. Just calmly and confidently take care of, well, everything. Every last one of you is impressive and amazing in your own right and during your own battles, but give humans a national disaster, or a room full of children to feed, and folks come together in ways that you only though John Woo could choreograph. It's beautiful. And messy. And exactly like life.

Avengers Assemble! 
(Sign up for Lunch Duty today.) 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Awkward Mom vs The School Drop-off Lane

By all rights, the school drop-off lane should not be a master villain in the Awkward Rouges' Gallery. The school drop-off lane is seemingly benign, an ally even; all warm and inviting and convenient. I'm here to make your life sugar and rainbows, school drop-off lane purrs while nestled next to the school, all autumnal and littered with acorns and red leaves. Like a Siren, she calls to you; stay in your car, Friend, I'll help you. Leave those shoes at home. Don't bother with that bra. You are a queen in your seat, I'll take care of everything. She's like a vision to your tired and grateful eyes, and it all seems like a beatific time-saver for the hassled parent on the go; pull up, unload, pull away. Perfection in motion. Snail slow motion because you are in a school parking lot, but motion none the less. However, don't let school drop-off lane bewitch you. Believe me, she'll betray you. For you must never underestimate the evil potential of the seemingly sweet; that's what happened to the Ghostbusters, you know.  And before you know it, you are running for your life from a 18 story confection in a jaunty sailor hat. Or having to make small talk out your van window while operating automatic windows and doors, which is far worse.

Now, I don't normally use the drop-off lane. This is a hold-over from last school year when the Awkward Mobile was a 2005 Toyota Sienna that had been in over 10 accidents, 1 fairly serious one and 9 ones that were basically me forgetting where the walls of the garage were. That gentle beige giant had more dents and scraps than an amateur wrestler and the electrics in her once automatic passenger side sliding door were shot during the winter of 2013. To open said door, you had to pull slightly up and to the left and that is just too much information to shout out the window, that didn't roll down all the way, to a drop-off volunteer at 8:06 in the morning. Therefore, I got in the habit of parking in the first non-handicap parking place, unloading the children, and walking the maybe 10 feet to the 2 sixth-grade girls who guard the crosswalk like it's no man's land somewhere in World War I France. Then, I would rush back to Super Toddler, who had been shouting his displeasure at not joining us, coo at him for a minute, pop in the van, merge into the exiting side of the drop-off lane, and go to Target. It was a good system.

Our 2005 Toyota Sienna has gone to the great junkyard in the sky (RIP), and our new Awkward Mobile is a baby blue 2014 Honda Odyssey that's fancy as hell. If Odysseus had sailed this sucker, his journey would have taken like 4 pages tops.

2 if he let Super 1st-Grader drive. 

Basically, it's a lovely mini-van and I still have no idea what half the control panel does. I mean, there are about 98 buttons alone and I swear one looks like it fires missiles out the trunk, so not wanting to accidentally annihilate the gym and half the cafeteria, I've been parking like last year and walking the children over to the crosswalk. Of course, if I leave the lights on or the door open, the van screams at me in decibels heard from space, but some of these kids look sleepy so maybe that's not a bad thing. It's all been roses for the week that school has been in session.

Well, not yesterday, Readers. Yesterday, the construction that is happening on the church roof got to a stage that affects half of the parking lot, including the spot I usually park in and the no man's land of the crosswalk. I can park toward the back of the parking lot but that's like the other side of Europe and anyway Spain was neutral during WWI. (Does this make the construction workers the Huns?)  Anywho, I don't mind leaving the little Supers in the van solo if I am going 10 feet, but a whole parking lot? In a van that may or may not shoot missiles? With roving bands of potentially Axis construction workers everywhere? (No, wait, that's World War II, better stop this analogy before it gets out of control.) So, parking is out for the duration of the week, and you know what that means. Whether I like it or not, I am going to have to use the school drop-off lane. Yikes.

So, yesterday, I channel my inner Mr. Mom and head over to the school. Some background. Wait, what? No, not about Mr. Mom. How have you not seen Mr. Mom?! You go do that, I'll wait. (Annoying hold music.) Back? OK, so, here's some background on the van seating arrangements. Since the little Supers are still, well, little, and need help with their car seats, I have them in the middle. Super Baby is directly behind the driver and Super Toddler is behind shotgun. The original plan was to have all the big Supers in the way back, so they could plot against me in peace, but since all three big Supers aren't actually that big and still require boosters, this makes putting on seat-belts a jostling nightmare. Therefore, 2 of them sit back there and 1 of them sits in between Super Toddler and Super Baby, where there is more room because apparently Honda Odysseys are designed by magicians. Unlike normal children, who avoid the middle seat of the middle of the car, the Super fight over it. I have no idea why because that's weird, but they do. Therefore, they are on a rotation and it's Super Kindergartener's turn. This comes up later.

OK, so, the trip from the house to the school is remarkably uneventful. We groove to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, Super Oldest sees a hawk as we near the river, Super Baby snores a little, all is well. All is well until we pull into the parking lot, avoid some orange cones set up to mark off the construction area, and join the drop-off lane. Super 1st-Grader, who doesn't like change and who apparently wasn't listening when I explained the new plan over breakfast, promptly loses his mind and starts yelling that he wants to park and, barring that, he wants to go home. All the windows are open and heads are starting to whip our way. I turn the music down and attempt to use my calm Mary Poppins voice, mostly because the windows are open and Nasty-Yelly-Mom is not a moniker that I want this early in school year. By April I won't care, but it's not even September. Naturally, he totally ignores me and continues shouting. By now we are next in line with the second volunteer (there are 2 areas to unload children), and the cheerful and way-out-of-her-depth volunteer is smiling at me through the open passenger window. In my panic to calm Super 1st-Grader, I totally forget how the automatic sliding doors work and open the driver's side one. This wakes up Super Baby, who decides to join her brother's cacophony of shouting. The confused volunteer starts to walk around the van, so I panic again, shut the driver's side door, and open the trunk. I then beep the horn for no reason whatsoever, shout to her that I'm sorry, I don't know all the buttons but verbally drop the -ons somehow and it sounds like I'm talking about buttsshut the trunk, and open the correct sliding door. I try to smile but I'm all tense so I think it looks more like that face a vampire makes before biting you because she recoils a little.

Super Kindergartener is in the middle and she's super tiny, so she gets past Super Toddler with minimal fuss, grabs her backpack out of the front seat window, flashes a blinding smile to the volunteer, and dashes off. This sets up a misleading precedent. Super Oldest climbs over the seats into the middle, but only half of him makes it; his right foot gets caught near the headrest and gets stuck. He flops around like a fish, knocking into and annoying the baby further, and then proceeds to kick off his shoe, which flies into Super Toddler's face, before ricocheting off the volunteer's coffee cup, and landing on the curb. She picks it up and, dazed, hands it to him as he emerges from the van, reaches into the front seat, grabs my purse, and attempts to leave for his friends. I holler at him to come back here, he ignores me, or probably just can't hear me over the sibling noise, and I lean further toward the passenger window, bracing myself on the steering wheel and accidentally pressing the radio volume down all the way. Cherry Bomb comes blasting out of the van just in time for the entirety of Lourdes Catholic School to hear Down the streets I'm the girl next door. I'm the fox you've been waiting for. Hello, Daddy. The sheer inappropriateness of it appears to push the volunteer away from the van and she collides with the volunteer from the spot ahead of us, who has decided that I'm taking way too long and is going to help the people behind me. They untangle just in time for our volunteer to run into Super Oldest, as he returns to the van with my purse. He recovers faster than she does, hurling the purse at Super Toddler for some reason, grabbing his backpack, and rushing off, before she has time to take a bracing sip of her coffee and return to the side of the van to get Super 1st-Grader. I hope to God she has some whiskey in there.

Super 1st-Grader has not moved from the backseat and he shows no intention of doing so.I shoot him my best I-am-going-to-kill-you glare, and he just shuts his eyes. I coo that I'll see him later because I have lunch duty, but he covers his ears. I tell him that I will take him to Hobby Lobby after school to buy Halloween decorations, so he leaps over the middle seat like some Olympian high jumper. He stands up and tries to push past his brother's legs, but ends up sitting on him instead. This makes them both start screaming, Super Toddler shoves him, and he basically falls onto the volunteer. This makes him lose his nerve and he clings to the sliding door of the van, which I have already started to close, and I have horrific visions of crushing my son into the passenger side of the van and driving off with him hanging there, like some grisly windsock. Naturally, I panic again and start mashing buttons down. This stops the sliding door, opens the other one, the trunk, the sun roof, starts the back windshield wipers, and probably shoots missiles into the construction site. I don't know because I'm too freaked out to check. The volunteer repeats It's OK, Sweetie three times in a row like she's in a trance trying to summon Beetlejuice, and hauls him onto the sidewalk. I throw his backpack out the window at both of them, shift into gear, and nearly crash into the truck that was behind me but has decided not to grow old waiting for my circus and is now driving around me. I wait for him to finish and try not to make eye contact with our volunteer, the other volunteer, the people behind me, or any other eyes. This is not easy in the slightest because by this point my van of horrors has everyone staring like the Stay Puff Marshmallow man is tearing up Manhattan. Because that's what happens when allies go bad; the whole world watches while you go down in flames. Sticky, hard to wash out flames.

And then you have no choice. You have no choice at all. You simply have hold your head high and exit the parking lot like you weren't just betrayed by the school drop-off lane. And you do. You hold that head high. At least until you are out of sight and you can go have a good cry and purchase the entirety of Target. Because Target will never betray you.

There is no Super Kindergartener. 
Only Zuul.