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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

E was a grouch tonight.  She didn’t really start off that way, but come dinner time, she was snapping at her sister and was the proud owner of a rather unattractive sneer.

after about the 15th eye roll, i asked her, “What is bothering you right now?”

Her response?

“I don’t know! [sorta snarky]  Nothing’s really wrong, but for some reason, everything is irritating me. [snark gone]  I don’t know why.”

I said, “wow, that was refreshingly honest.  Thanks.”

If she can maintain this transparency through her teenage years, I will survive.  I can talk to J instead when E is feeling that way.  I can eat my chili in silence.  I can respect the fact that she is a mass of roiling emotions and hormones and growing-up-ness, as long as she’s honest over rude.

After that interaction, she mellowed out, and we conversed normally for the rest of the meal.

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[This post has been sitting in draft-form since mid-December … largely because of the things explained here – I was too busy to finish it.  I find myself coming back to continue the theme, but realized I hadn’t followed through on starting the theme.]

I’ve read on several blogs that us lawyer moms are too close-to-the-chest with the reality of our work-life balance issues.  I have always hesitated to say much in that regard because my job is important to me, and I’m not willing to have a bitch-fest in a public forum.  Not that I’ve had much to bitch about, really, for the most part.  I also don’t think “oh, things are going so well!  I come home at 5:30 every day!” sounds all that genuine.  Even though for almost my entire first year, it was true.

Now, however, I am willing to share my recent challenges.  I am challenged because the case I am working on is in the throes of a discovery deadline.  I am challenged because this is what I went to school to do.  It is no fault of my firm or the partners and senior associates that I am working with that the opposing party filed a motion to compel that required our response the Monday after Thanksgiving.  Everybody on my team (a small one) is working as hard as I am – likely harder.  The senior people are certainly juggling more cases than I am, and they are adding in a ton of travel on top of the things we’re doing together that have me running ragged.

The past few weeks (or so) have been hectic, chaotic, harried, stressful and generally insane.  I feel like the first year of easy-breezy first year associate life came to an abrupt end somewhere in October.  Or so.  Or maybe before – I’m not really sure, because it’s all a blur.  

A big reason for the all-out chaos, however, is because I refuse to put certain things aside.  E was in a play during this madness, and I prioritized that.  Not only attending the play (all 4 performances), but fulfilling my commitments and responsibilities  to pitch in to the parent-run event.  I was completely unwilling to let her – or my community – down.  I informed the partner and the associate that I work with early in the week, and assured them that I was willing to work late nights (at home, after the play) and early mornings in order to make up for the lost time.  

In retrospect, I could have worked during the play, late nights, and early mornings, and done a better job.  But I don’t for a second regret that I kept that time sacred.  

I have been exhausted.  Before the holidays, I had been functioning on very little sleep during the weeks.  I was setting my alarm for 5 and 6 a.m. on the weekends, and parking myself and my research at our dining room table for the entire day.  Or at least until the latest possible moment before stopping to cook dinner for dinner guests, or to dress for a holiday party.  

During the holidays, despite making very early announcements that I planned to take the week of Christmas off (because my sister was coming to town), I ended up working almost every day that wasn’t a real “holiday.”  The stress levels were high, and there was a lot going on.  

So I guess now I know what it really means to be a lawyer.  To juggle at a frantic pace, to see 7:30 or 8 p.m. as a perfectly reasonable dinner time for a family of four …  and a couple of times, to miss dinner time (as many times in the past month or two as I had in the entire last year).  And now, to top it all off, travel is starting to creep in as a possibility on a regular basis.  

It’s been tough.  But I knew that going in, and I enjoy having work that keeps me mentally engaged.  I also am more than aware of the fact that layoffs in law firms are becoming almost routine, and I’m grateful to have this job.  I do not think it’s irrational to work my ass off right now in exchange for a feeling of security and stability.  I hold onto the reality of peaks and valleys.  Once we hit our deadline on January 30th, I may find myself twiddling my thumbs.*

And, as always, I can’t really talk about my comfort level with the situation without talking about Beloved, and his daily presence.  The girls are not alone – they are not knocking around an empty house.  If that were the case, I would be much less comfortable.  But instead, they have help with their homework, they are helping him and learning to cook, they are working on projects.  

Anyway.  These are my balance struggles.  Which I should likely keep dumping onto this forum, rather than whining to everybody in my day-to-day life about how busy I am.

* which could also be read as: putting all my time and attention to the school play that I am PRODUCING.  What the heck?

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Before we moved, I canceled all of our newspaper deliveries. 
 
We had been getting the New York Times on Sundays, and the Boston Globe every day. 
 
The reason for this plethora of paper and news was that last year, in about November, J’s teacher made a comment that she was one of the least informed in the class.  D. and I knew why.  We don’t watch the local news, or the mainstream news.  We occasionally watch the News Hour on PBS, but our schedule has shifted later and later to the point where we’re rarely settled and in front of the t.v. by 6 p.m. when it comes on.  We don’t watch the other news, because we don’t really CARE about the brutal slayings in Georgia or Idaho or wherever this week’s sexiest “news” story is happening.  We don’t care about the warped teasers thrown out before the commercial break.  We don’t care about the back door of some remote town’s school’s equipment shed that was left unlocked one night last weekend, causing a “safety concern.”  We don’t want to subject the girls’ precious little minds to the sensationalism and nonsense that comes with most news shows.
 
So when her teacher made the comment, we thought perhaps we should find a way to integrate the days’ events into the girls’ lives more.  (Even though E stayed aware, mostly through listening and participating in our conversations, her friends’ conversations, the internet, and her own general curiosity – something that J does lack in this area.  You might say that E is our budding activist while J is our budding Uninformed Voter.)  We decided the best thing to do was have the newspaper around.  Something she could come to when curious, but not have forced upon her. 
 
From November until July, we had stacks and stacks of newspapers in the house.  Underfoot in the entry way, almost always wrapped in their delivery bags until they were removed to be recycled at the end of the week. 
 
Hence, the cancellation upon the move.  But we missed the Sunday papers – which at least D read every week.  I more picked and chose through for the “fun” sections, but I read something every week.  On September 15, I went to the New York Times’ website and re-ordered the paper.
 
On September 21st, I heard the Sunday morning delivery person making his/her way down the street, with the “thunk thunk thunk” of papers on porches, and excitedly went to get my Sunday morning paper.
 
It wasn’t there. 
 
I pouted, but assumed my order just hadn’t gone through yet. 
 
Later that week, though, my bill arrived, and it said “Service Start Date:  9/21/08.”  I was too busy to worry about the $5 or whatever that I was billed for nothing. 
 
Then, on September 28th, again, the thunk, the running down the stairs (we live on the 2nd floor).  No paper.  The neighbors’ Globe was there.  But no Times. 
 
This time, I called.  They said there was a “production delay” in our area, and that we would not be receiving a paper that day.  I pushed whatever series of 700 buttons necessary to talk to a person to let them know I hadn’t received the paper the previous week, either.  They apologized, credited my account, and assured me that delivery would be normal the following week.
 
On October 5th, I trundled down the stairs with sleep still in my eyes clutching to the fantasy of brewing some coffee and reading the paper at my dining room table. 
 
Nothing.
 
Again, I called.  Again, they credited my account, and apologized that they would be unable to deliver a replacement paper because of some snag in production or a lack of a driver or something.  They were really nice.  I was pretty irritated.
 
October 12th.  Guess what?  No paper.  I called AGAIN, on the verge of, but not quite, seething.  They said that once again, there was a production delay, and we’d receive our paper by 10:30 a.m.  But at 11 a.m., I called again with no paper in hand.  Angry.  Now they were understanding the urgency.  They were going to “request an investigation” and “send a memo” to the distribution center.  They also were going to get me a replacement paper. 
 
I spent the whole day running to the porch at every noise and car door closing and balls bouncing.  No paper. 
 
D. suggested that we cancel the subscription.  He didn’t think they would believe us anymore.  He thought they would assume we were lying to get free papers.  He asked “are you sure they know we moved?”  And I told him:  every time I call, the recording asks “please confirm that your street number is ___.”  With the proper number – not the old (very different) number.  Then I showed him my statement, with my name, account number, and current address on it. 
 
Then yesterday – I was sure, after the investigation and all, that my paper would be there.  Of course I would have a paper now.  They investigated
 
So I ran downstairs to be greeted, once again, with an empty and dejected porch.
 
I called again.  I told them I needed to just cancel the damn thing.  The very friendly boy on the other end said, “I really wouldn’t want you to cancel your paper,” to which I had no choice but to exclaim in a possibly loud voice “BUT I DON’T GET A PAPER!!”  He pulled up my account and verified that I had, in fact, lodged “several complaints.” 
 
He did convince me not to cancel.  I mean, what’s the alternative?  It’s almost November.  It’s getting cold outside.  If I cancel the paper, then I’m committing myself to either 1) no paper (or continued on line reading, which just isn’t as cozy) or 2) trudging outside in the cold and potentially snow every Sunday morning to get a paper.  Ick!! 
 
I decided to mention the move to him.  It had occurred to me that perhaps it was the same delivery person as at my old address, and perhaps he just saw my name on the list, and since it’s a crazy-unique name, he just assumed he knew where I lived.  And kept plunking paper down in the lobby of the old building.  Perhaps stacks and stacks of weekly original AND replacement papers were barring the entry of the tenants of the old building, and the driver was pulling his hair out at the constant requests for new papers. 
 
This boy promised me a replacement copy.  And another investigation.  I rolled my eyes a little, and said goodbye. 
 
I checked a few times during the late morning, with the kids and the husband and now even the parents who were in for the weekend all laughing at me.  With good reason, I suppose.
 
But at 12:20, when my father and I were walking out the front door to go for a walk to buy a new potato peeler because I had a horrific experience helping D prepare the mid-day meal with the crappy-ass peeler that he last bought after we inexplicably lost 4 consecutive peelers just in the 4 months that we’ve lived in this house — guess what greeted me on the stoop? 
 
THE SUNDAY TIMES!!
 
I was so excited!!  I ran it upstairs and belittled D for being of little faith and for mocking my perseverance.  He rolled his eyes at me (something E is forbidden from doing so why he gets away with it, I have no idea) and then greedily snatched the precious blue bag from my hands. 
 
I did not actually read the paper until 9 p.m., but I did read more than I ever have before, and I put the Magazine in my bag for train reading. 
 
My father and I returned from the paper-finding walk at approximately 1:15.  They left for home at 3:30, and I walked out my door at 4:50 to trek to the Gap and other errands.  I was home at around 5.  E came home for the evening at 6:30. 
 
And this morning, I left my house at 7:06 a.m.  I opened the door to let the cat out before me, and he stopped to sniff yet another blue bag.  I thought perhaps it was the Monday paper – that they totally screwed up and put us on a daily schedule.  Or perhaps, they decided to try and compensate me for my frustration by adding to my recycling pile. 
 
But no – it was another Sunday paper. 
 
Now I’m wondering if a neighbor stole it, and put it back in the night time? 
 
Whatevs.  At least I was able to keep myself occupied with a pleasant distraction while watching the Red Sox lose last night … 

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We have been struggling in our house as of late with some changes coming about in E.  This pre-adolescence has been relatively calm.  I am grateful for my slower developer.  I am glad that I have time to get used to the attitude and the increased independence before I need to buy bras and tampons and listen to complaints about boys (or girls?).  I get to ease in. 

 
 
But for one area which has been painful.
 
 
The child (almost-not) eats like a freaking person obsessed.  She walks in the door “I’m hungry.”  She eats something and fifteen minutes later “I’m hungry” comes yet again.  Her desires could be worse – she wants to eat our TJ’s High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup-Free granola bars almost non-stop; she wants salami slices; she wants cheese.  We aren’t talking candy bars (although the granola bars are close, and we are phasing them out) and potato chips.  Or donuts and soda.  We’ve done a good job at getting her to understand nutrition and what’s important.   But we do have a “fruit first” rule, and she does resist it.  She also say after she has her “fruit first” she has to alternate other snacks with fruit in between.   This pisses her off. 
 
 
Does it really, though, have to be every 10 minutes?  And if I’m exaggerating with the 10 and 15 minutes, I can easily ground the conversation in reality by saying “she wants to eat every hour, perhaps less.”
 
 
We are working to put this more in her hands.  We don’t need to be developing eating issues – and part of me fears that her constant asking for food is actually coming from our up-till-now resistance more than it’s coming from hunger. 
 
 
These are the ideas we have:
 
 
1) a block cheese and some triscuits, to which she has complete access after school.
2) a tub of peanut butter and a tupperware of celery sticks, to which she has complete access.
3) teach her to make rice (a favorite of hers) and allow her to make a bowl for an after-school snack.
4) find some way to STILL insist that everything be intermingled with fruit while still maintaining a responsible hands-off approach.
5) find a way to insist that she still be hungry for dinner, with the same concerns above being addressed.
6) find a way for D. and I to disengage our frustration-buttons as she continues to ask for food and ask permission for food and ask for more food and then eat more food, and then eat 3 bites of dinner before saying “I’m not hungry.” 
 
 
FOOD!!  Argh!!! 
 
 
While J, on the other hand, maintains her vegetarian status.  We had to threaten her this week with a cessation of special-cooked meals on account of her leaving the table after taking 2 or 3 bites.  D. works hard to make her balanced meals that closely approximate the meaty items on our dishes, and sometimes she just wrinkles her nose and picks around the dish and walks away.  It’s getting to be a little deflating for the cook in the house who works so hard to be respectful of every one’s choices.  If she can just pick around the dish, then I think she can just pick around the meat and eat the non-meat.  D. understands the vegetarian a bit more than I do, though, having had his own forays into that lifestyle, and is willing to just put her on notice of what may be in store.  She seems to be taking the hint to heart, and being a bit more respectful in her own right of the work and consideration being put forth for her…
 
 
All the while I keep coming into work with my leftovers in hand just to find that I’ve been scheduled for yet another interview lunch and am forced to stash D’s fantastic cooking into the mini-fridge so I can partake in yet another 3 course meal designed to woo the best and the brightest to my firm; and to woo my gut into the next size of pants. 
 
 
grrrrr.

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When the girls are on the way out the door to their father’s house for their summer visit, and all of life feels like a giant goodbye, or an all-consuming waiting game.  There is some pressure (self-imposed, of course) to make it “special” or to ensure that they leave on a positive note.  Yet they’re antsy and hard to please.  I’m irritable, and don’t find it easy to please.

Add to the mix the looming move and the financial considerations that come with, and the stress is sort of icky for me.

I find myself counting down the days in the opposite manner of how I think I should be.  Instead of “oh no!  only 3 more days with the girls!”  I have more of a feeling that I can’t make it through 3 more days – thank god when I wake up tomorrow, it will be only TWO days!

We were going to spend the 4th down near the Charles River, as we’ve done in years past, but the weather is predicted to be stormy and chilly.  We did that last year, and were – quite frankly – miserable.  We don’t want to do that again.  So now we have to find a way to make that day work.

I kind of just want to move.  I want to pack.

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My Beloved is not my daughters’ biological father.  He is their step-father.  They do not call him dad.  They call him by his first name.  When people say, “oh, your dad is here!”  They look over and say “hi, [real first name]!” and do not correct people.  When we are walking down the street, and see him coming from the other way, they run ahead to hug him and say HI!!!  They make him adorable Father’s Day cards with drawings and paintings of people hanging up side down holding onto the floor, b/c the world has turned upside down without him.  They ask me to buy his favorite things when we’re out at the store.  They miss him when he’s gone, and on Thursday evenings – the one night he works later in the evening – they are asking me on an every-15-minute basis when he’ll be home, starting at 6:30.  

But.

Of course there’s a but. 

It’s not always easy.  

Sometimes, it’s far from easy.  

Father’s Day is one of those times.  

Everyone is acutely aware.  We’re aware that there is someone, in another state, who expects this day to celebrate him.  We’re aware that I, the mom of the house, along with almost all of the girls’ friends, have ONE father.  One wonderful, (still) involved man who has always been the focus of my father’s days, and there is a little jealousy (probably from all 3 of them).  

While trying not-to-seem-like-I-am-listening-while-trying-to-listen yesterday as they called the Middle of the Country, I thought I was putting together Ick-Head’s half of the conversation to be “oh, you remembered to call me …” to which they replied, “yeah, I remembered …. well, mom reminded me.”  

So neither situation is perfect for the girls.  They know Beloved’s role is large, but they also know there’s someone else, somewhere else, and they can’t just ignore that.  

And in the more specific, E can fight with Beloved.  She can be super-sensitive, and she can parse things and hold onto things in a very oldest-child “you’re not my father” way.  We’ve come far – so very far – but it isn’t perfect yet, and likely will never be *perfect.*  As her mother, I often feel torn between needing her to behave – to be respectful, and to be emotionally healthy toward others and with herself – and also feeling very protective about her childhood, and her happiness.  And at some point, does it matter if she creates the conflict?  If her memories of childhood include conflict?  Will that be all of her memory?  

Will she remember the good, or just the bad?

I remember a shitload of bad.  I remember my mother throwing sneakers at me from across the room, hitting me in the stomach.  I remember her locking me out of the house (I was 9, and had to “watch” my 6 year old sister and 3 year old brother).  I remember her calling me “ignorant.”  I remember her being thoroughly unreasonable and (truly) verbally abusive.  I remember her making my father cry, with the same behavior.  My father.  Who’d only cried one other time … when his brother died a very untimely (25 years old) death.  Or was it when his father died?  I don’t remember.  One of those funerals.  FUNERALS!!

I’m sure there was more.  There was good.  She talks about it all the time.  “Remember when I used to read to you before you went to bed?”  “Remember when I used to tuck you in every night, even when you were in high school?”  No, mom.  I don’t.  

So one day, when I say, “Remember when you and Beloved did that research project?”  or “remember when you read his stories for him to give him feedback?” or “Remember when we used to watch movies as a family and you and Beloved shared one couch while J and I shared the other?”  That she’ll look at me like I have 3 heads.  Like I’m making things up to hide the arguments about what time she should come home from a friend’s to get ready for softball, about whether the recycling was put in the wrong containers (she accused HIM of that one), about whether she put her bowl in the sink after breakfast.  

And my fear of that – as irrational as it may (or may not) be – it makes Beloved and I fight.  It makes him feel scrutinized and harassed, rather than supported and helped through the admittedly difficult waters of step-parenting.  And I say “I can’t give you both first priority!  My motherhood is my first priority!!”  And then I feel sad to think he – the man who tries so hard, who gives so much, who has pushed himself on so many fronts – feels alone.  

And on Father’s Day, when all emotions are raw, and we’re feeling guilty, we’re feeling torn, we’re feeling like we’ll never be enough … it all comes together.  

And it reminds us that as much as we have so much fun, and as well as we’re doing – sometimes, we have a really hard time.

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my weekend – my evening – my health.

1)  J was gone this weekend.  I thought it would be nice.  She’s younger, less independent, a little more needy.  I thought it would be a break.  It wasn’t.  It was a hole.  I missed her.  I worried about her – camping with the girl scouts in shitty weather.

And I didn’t feel good.  My stomach hurt.  As tends to be a constant lately.  It’s getting on my nerves.

2)  This evening, I took E for her first appointment with a counselor.  It went well.  She was a little tentative, but she warmed up toward the end, and I think she’ll do well with me out of the room, which starts next week.  I was thinking very much that my daughter is stellar and has no Issues and did not need to be in that Room, and then her father came up, and the summer.  Then I ended up thinking I needed to get J in that room as well as E, since J had her first “I cannot go there this summer” tantrum last night.

And then tonight …. times 10.  which is why the evening was crap.  She cried and thrashed and held my face in her hands telling me “I CANNOT GO THERE!”

It’s so hard.  Hard to know when she needs advocating, and when she needs pushing out of her comfort zone.  The past few times she’s come home, she’s been happy and good.  But now she’s repulsed by the idea of seven weeks in the Middle of the Country, and is miserable over it.  She wanted me to write the following:  “Dear [ex]:  J has decided she is unable to travel to ____ this summer due to her own emotional considerations.”  But then she realized that he would be MAD at her, and feared he would take it out on her.  So we re-wrote it.  I wrote this:  J feels like the summer has shaped up to be too long.  The girls request the following ….”  [insert 3 week visit followed by 3 weeks at home before the blasted cruise.]

But then I had to freak out, because even though I needed to respond to my kid’s anguish … uh – I work full time (pesky job).  Beloved is in school.  What are we going to do with the CHILDREN??

But as usual, Beloved saved the day.  Yeah, he’s in school, but he’s not IN SCHOOL.  he’s doing school work at home.  He said he is happy to balance the school work and the children, and will look forward to being sure that they’re kept track of and fed and healthy and happy.

So now I hope the ex says “uhhhh, okay.”

3)  I never feel good anymore.  I constantly feel like my intestines are trying to process lead boulders.  Sometimes the scale says I’m 16 pounds up from the fall … other times 6 pounds up.  The 10 pounds are there when I feel like crap, but not when I don’t.  I don’t know what’s going on.  I have excellent insurance, but not insurance that makes me anything but a new patient at any non-law-school provider, and so I can’t get in to see a doctor for another month.  I feel like the things I’m feeling are just exacerbations of things I’ve dealt with since at least high school on a low level, and it is just starting to be constant and to affect my life.

I’ve hugely altered my diet.  I’m currently (for 2 weeks now) trying a gluten-free diet, and I’m also (less strictly) restricting myself from all white carbs.  I am considering going lactose-free, and sugar free, and perhaps – eventually – solids-free.  I feel like everything – even innocuous things (hello?  apples?) – hurt my belly.

I am unhappy, and I think that something’s wrong.  I hate that I’ve gained weight while eating almost nothing.  I hate the feeling of discouragement I have every time that I look at weight loss programs, and they’re all focused on reducing appetites … I have no appetite.  Food hurts my stomach.  I never want to eat.  Yet I gain weight.

I look at these f’ing magazines with their “tips to incorporate exercise in your every day life.”  Take the stairs; leave the car home; get off the train a few stops early and walk.  I don’t have a fucking car.  I walk to work rather than make train connections.  I take a LOT of stairs.  I lug groceries around town by foot.  I walk EVERYWHERE.  Constantly.  Up hills, down hills, downtown, through windy paths.

No – I haven’t made it to the gym, but is it really right that I have to exercise up to 3 hours a day in order to NOT GAIN weight?  When I eat very little, and very wisely?  When I lead a far-from-sedentary life?  I’m sure I walk an hour a day – if not more.

Crap.

I can’t believe I just wrote such a whiny post when, honestly, there’s so much good in my life.

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Even though my past two posts were full of how great my kids are, we are of course, well rounded people.  With issues and up hill battles and what not.

Which is why I now have an appointment in place for E to visit with a therapist.

I mentioned that during Play Weekend I had my first ever negative parent-teacher conference regarding E.  It was a regularly scheduled (twice a year) conference, and I knew going in that she is not the perfect child.  I think as she gets older, and school becomes more independent and more social, these imperfections become more obvious to the teachers.  The structure is a little looser, but demands are higher.

I also went in feeling like a new kind of parent – one who doesn’t know everything about her kid’s life anymore.  She’s a little more close-to-the-vest now with her days, and her friends, and whatnot.  Oh, she definitely enjoys telling us what they’re doing in school and I get various stories, but I have caught wind that she’s had issues with her teachers that she doesn’t talk to me about.  I was taking consolation in the fact that if they were big issues, I would have heard from the teacher.

The conference was opened with, “We’ll start with the hard stuff.”  Then some blah blah about the transitions that kids go through in 6th grade, then “She makes me so angry that I feel like my head is going to explode right on top of my shoulders!!!”  [I have repeated this quote so many times to so many people, I feel like it should be my tag line for the year.]

Before I go on – let’s put this into perspective.  I had about 24 hours where I lacked perspective – between the conference and E’s report card showing up.  From what her teachers were saying (actually, it was one out of three), I was thinking I would have Cs and Ds delivered into my mailbox on Saturday.

Not so.  She had 4 A’s one B.  They also have “effort” and “behavior” grading – 1 – 4.  One is “excellent,” 2 is “good,” 3 is “inconsistent” and 4 is bad.  She had mostly 1’s, with 2’s from this particular teacher.  He told me she was on the verge of 3’s, but he didn’t give her 3’s, because he hadn’t sent home a progress report mid-marking period, which is supposed to alert us parents to improvements or deficiencies since the last report card.

Back to the conference.  She makes him mad because she won’t go outside to recess.  I could not understand.  If I tell E to go outside, she goes outside.  How can she just NOT go?  But my first question was “why?”  I asked, “do you know if she’s having difficulties with the other kids, that’s making recess difficult and making her want to avoid it?”  The teacher-who-hates-her looked at me as if I either a) had two heads or b) was the stupidest person on earth.  “That has nothing to do with it – she stays inside to work on projects.”  Teacher-who-loves-her said, “That has everything to do with it – that’s always what informs the kids’ decisions at recess.”  Teacher-who-hates-her took a minute to make his head stop spinning.  Huh?  Teacher-who-loves-her said, “she doesn’t have any problems – she’s getting along fine with everyone, she just wants to stay inside if her friends are inside.”

I was working very hard to not be railroaded at this conference (3 teachers: 1 parent), and so some pieces didn’t come together until later.

The complete recess picture:  Kids stay inside to do other things.  They are no longer required to go out.  As of next year, it’s not even called “recess” but rather a “free period” and they don’t even go out to the playground.  This year is a transition.  The 6th graders who do go outside don’t “play” anymore.  They wander around and talk.  They sit on benches and talk.  However, teacher-who-hates-her needs a break from E.  Because his head needs to re-group and not explode.  So E, and only E, has to go outside for recess.  Unless he tells her to stay inside, which is often.  Or unless the kid-driven activist group is having a meeting, which is once a week.  Or unless one of the teachers holds a review session during recess.  Which is often.  Or unless one of the teachers wants to discuss something with a kid about their grade or homework or a discussion in class – which is often.

Sound confusing?  The way we left the conference on the recess point was “I will tell E that she has to go outside for recess.  Please keep in touch with me about this.  There is no reason why if you say ‘E, go outside’ for her to just not listen.  If I tell E to go outside, she goes outside.  I need to know if this continues.”

On Monday, E comes home.  I ask, “what did you do at recess today?”  She says, “I stayed to talk to [teacher who wasn’t at the conference] and then I went outside.”  The next day “What did you do at recess?” [teacher-who-hates-her] made her stay inside to work on a “card.” (not a school assignment, but a project that a few kids were assigned to make a thank-you for someone who came to speak to the class.)  The next day was a meeting.  The next day she went outside.  The next day was a review session.

And he hasn’t called me.

The other issue:  E does this thing that he calls “spinning.”  He is not wrong.  I call it “getting stuck.”  E hits a wall in her own head, and she can’t explain to herself how to turn around and walk around it.  It’s been this way since she was 3.  The more I think about it over the past weeks, the more I think it’s a self-soothing skill that she’s lacking.  So I suppose it traces back to me as her mother in her days of infancy.  I held her too much.  I shouldn’t have co-slept.  I should have taught her to calm her own self down.  I’ve been trying to do so – I’ve spoken with her since she was 1 about ‘taking deep breaths’ and ‘finding solutions’ rather than freaking out and getting hysterical when something is thrown in her path – but it hasn’t worked.  (Clearly.)

This is how it looks to her teacher:  He hands out a homework sheet during the morning.  Explains it 1/2 way, has to stop because it’s time to go to Gym.  Tells them to put it in their desk.  At the end of the day, with about 20 minutes left to class, he returns to the sheet, tells them to take it out.  They go into their desks and get the sheet.  But E goes into her desk, moves some papers around, and frantically raises her hand.  He asks her what’s wrong.  “I can’t find mine!  It’s gone!  I think I left it on my desk and it got thrown away!”  He says “E, I’m in the middle of explaining this to the class right now, I’ll have to go and make you another copy after class lets out.”  She freaks out further “I can’t! I have to go somewhere right after school and I’m in a carpool and we’ll be late if I stay after class!” (true.)  She is not calm as she’s explaining this, she’s sort of frantic.  He’s pissed off.  His head is starting to crack around the edges.

This was a story that he told during the FALL conference.  So come spring, when the behavior is still presenting itself, he’s PISSED OFF.  (And she knows it – he’s yelled at her for it, and singled her out during end-of-the-day-whole-class-lectures enough that she’s well aware of his opinion of her, and it has driven her to tears in class, which has resulted in him yelling at her more and sending her out of the classroom.)  I spoke to E about this after the fall conference.  I talked to her about what she could have done different.  We talked about noticing the internal signs that she’s starting to get worked up, and early on, choosing instead to push the pause button.  To breathe deeply, and realize that there is always a solution.  I told her that we live right near the school.  I told her that taking 2 minutes after class to tell her teacher that she had to go, and could he please put the copy on her desk, and she will pick it up later – would not have made her late.  We talked about how if you can stop and think, there is always a way to work things out – that we always DO work things out.  She said okay. I followed up with this conversation later – this was not a one time conversation.

Yet we were back to the same theme in the spring conference …

Hater-teacher then segued into the fact that she is not doing well in math.  That she’s “lacking confidence” and “not using her resources” and “not trying hard enough.”  The behavior he explains is very similar to what her 4th grade teacher identified, and things taht we have been attempted to talk her through at home.

Guess what it is?  She hits a wall, and doesn’t know how to move around it without having her hand held.  “I need help!”  “I can’t do this!”  “It’s too hard!”

I pointed that out to him, and again he looked at me like I either a) had two heads, or (this time) b) was an absolute genius.  “Wow.  I never that about that.  You’re right.”  Then he says,  “Well, then.  I’ll have a conversation with her.”  Really?  A conversation?  I never fucking thought of that!  Maybe I’ll go home now, and have a little chat, and then … waa la!  All fixed!  I told him, “Mr. Hater, we’ve been having conversations with E since she was 3.  A ‘conversation’ is not going to fix this.  She is not moving forward like she should be, and so we will have to look at other solutions.”

So I said, “so perhaps this is not only about YOUR irritation with E, but rather something that she needs to work out and deal with — what we’re all doing isn’t working. ”  (Wha?  Huh?  Belittling and driving a child to tears isn’t helping her to work out some behavioral/psychological issues?  why not?)  “Perhaps we need to look at additional resources.”

“No.  E is a great kid.  these are small areas.  She is an A student.  She’s remarkable in English, Social Studies and Science – she’s the lead in the play – she has a lot of friends – she’s a good student.  She doesn’t need additional resources.”

Teacher-Who-Loves-Her went on to say that he totally “gets” her – she’s a social person who does fantastic in those subjects that lend to social exploration of issues.  She’s an excellent thinker and conversationalist, and she keeps all of her classes moving with her lack of fear of taking a minority viewpoint.  The problem is that MATH is not a social subject.  Kids don’t sitting around talking about the fascination of sums and negative numbers.  You can’t bounce mathematical ideas off your classmates.

I appreciate the support, nice-teacher-man, and I appreciate your constant counterpoints to the Hater.

However, the math issue is a small offshoot of the bigger problem (emotional issues – lack of self control/self soothing, self whatever).  And even if it were its OWN problem, a kid can’t kiss math goodbye in 6th grade.  The child needs to conquer this emotional barrier to an intellectual area that she is 1000% capable of doing well in.

Seriously – she had homework a couple weeks ago on the first day of their unit on negative numbers.  She called me at work to say “I can’t do my math.”  This happens at least 2 or 3 times a week.  Almost every time, I say “Alright, E, save it for last, and we’ll look at it when I get home.”  9 times out of those 10, she pulls it out when  I’m home, re-reads the instructions and says, “oh, nevermind, I get it now.  I read the instructions wrong.”

This time, though, it was hard.  I looked at the sheet and thought “crap.  I don’t remember negative numbers.”  But I sat down with her anyway, and we went through it.

I didn’t need to remember negative numbers.  She understood it perfectly.  If I could break down the steps for her, she could sail through them.  She had a full understanding of the number line, and how to move up and down it with adding and subtracting of negatives and positives.  She just needed to see it as a series of ledges, rather than the face of a mountain.

I used to think that her trouble with math was that it doesn’t come as automatically to her as the language arts/social studies area does.  She can’t just dive into the middle and shoot from the hip like she can with literature, writing, history.  She has to actually STOP and THINK, and to her, that feels “wrong” when everything else comes so easy.  But I think I misread it – I think it is more the same exact issue as I described above – an emotional hurdle that she has, and that she needs to master.

I am not happy that her teacher doesn’t like her.  I don’t like that he’s more consumed with his irritation than he is with solutions.  I don’t like that out of the three things he raised as problems, he did not ONE TIME look for reasons, explanations, or underlying problems.  That he was shocked when these connections were pointed out to him.  I think it was nice to have the counter-balance of the teacher-who-loves-her, but the more I thought about it later, the more I felt that the Hater was out of line.

But the reality is, we would be better off if this happened in the younger years, and it is more than likely going to continue to happen (she is not going to have the good fortune of loving all of her teachers from here on out, and they are not going to all love her).  If she wasn’t adored every year until now, perhaps I would have been forced to look outside the school to help E work out these other issues.

Her teachers this year have the entire grade on their radar.  The kids are in classes of 20, but they rotate amongst the teachers for the various subjects.  So while the Hater is her homeroom teacher, he also teaches the other two classes of 6th graders at various parts of the day.  He can’t know every aspect of 60 kids.  And perhaps he teaches 6th grade (as opposed to third, or kindergarten) because he doesn’t WANT to know every aspect of them.  And this is only going to continue.  Next year, the 7th grade teachers also teach 8th grade.  In high school …. well, I don’t need to go on.

And so, I am looking to provide E with the tools that she needs to continue to be that A student that she is more than capable of.  To even have the tools to deal with a personality conflict and not allow it to overcome her perception of school (so far hasn’t happened) and cause her to check out and become the C student her mother was.

I so don’t want her – with all of her abilities and talents – to become the C student that her mother was.

I don’t want her to spend 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grades sneering at her teachers, like her mother did.  I want her to keep loving school.  Maybe even more than she does now.  I want her to look at intellectual pursuits as fun.  (Debate team, perhaps?)

I am not sure what the answer is.  I toyed with tutoring – with therapy – and wondered if there was something in between.  Is there a “behavioral training” or an “emotional coach”?  I want her to have coping skills.  Seems more concrete than “therapy.”  I mean, I’m sure therapy is great, and will help her in an overall manner.  Of course when i spoke to the intake coordinator, the second they hear that she lives with her mother and step-father, and her father and step-mother live out of state, they’re all over her – of COURSE she needs therapy!!!  And perhaps that’s true.

But I really want to be sure that she gets real hard and fast tools as well.  Something Beloved and I have tried so hard to give her, but nothing “sticks.”  We talk to her about ways to calm herself down – to take a moment to focus her mind.  She says okay, and we see her try for at least a week.  But then she stops, and when we remind her, she rolls her eyes at us.

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On Day One of vacation, we found ourselves at a school playground in town – one replete with younger-kid play structures and a large toddler population.  An odd place to be, having these older children of mine.  The kids on the swings and the slides were so very short.  The kids wracked with sobs in their mother’s arms (they fell?  their friend wouldn’t share a shovel?  the sun got in their eyes?  they dropped their lollipop?) were a world away from my current experiences.

We three Older Women (ages 35, 11 and 9-for-two-more-weeks) sat on a bench with our ice cream cones, enjoying the sun and the relaxation.

A little posse of 5 year olds approached.  They gathered around E.  They seemed to be looking at her ice cream.

Did you get that ice cream at JP Licks? The brave one asks.

Yes, E replies, friendlier in tone than she normally is during these random exchanges.

I like JP Licks, do you? The girl pursues.

I like it a lot. E responds, still friendly and clearly willing to converse a bit more.

Once, I saw my teacher there.

Really?  Was that strange?

Yes.  I go to K.  This is my school.

Oh, I don’t go to this school.  I go to a different school.

IKNOWISAWYOUINTHEPLAYSEUSSICALANDYOUWEREHORTONANDILOVEDTHATPLAYANDYOUWERESOGREATANDILOVEDYOURSONGSWILL YOUSINGTHEMFORMEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE!!!!!!

It took a bit of coaxing, but eventually E complied, leaving J and I on the bench rolling our eyes and shaking our heads.

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Posting has been light, but with good reason.  The kids’ school play was this past weekend, wherein E was one of the leads, and J was an adorable little singer & dancer.  I, meanwhile, was on the “production team,” and ended up spending every spare moment – both at work and at home – dealing with various play-related issues.

Because of the play, and the importance of it to E, we had a few other things going on this weekend –The Ex was in town; my parents came for the day; and I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to schedule E’s parent-teacher conference for Friday, thinking that I would be at the school all day anyway.

But uh, Zuska?  Did you forget?  You have a job.  It’s sort of full time.

This whole thing worked to force my firm to live up to their oft-stated promises of being a place where work-life balance can be achieved.  I will find out tomorrow (maybe) if there is any fall out to my proclamation of unavailability.

The balancing of the two universes in my life gave me great stress.  It was very uncomfortable, and tense for me.  I did not have uncomfortable interactions (well, sort of one, but I think it was okay), but I had stress and guilt emanating from my very soul.  I am so glad it’s behind me.  (Although I still have a twinge of bad-feelings due to the fact that I am taking the week after next as a vacation week.)

Once that was all folded up into its work box, I was able to shift my stresses to the personal realm.

And how.

In order of events:

  1. I have my first ever negative parent-teacher conference about E;
  2. The ex shows up and drops a summer-related bomb on me during the intermission of the kids’ show – and would not let it go despite several repetitions of “i don’t want to talk about this right now.”
  3. My parents came for the day, bringing all their accouterments and noise;
  4. E woke up on the day of her second show with a scratchy voice, stuffy nose, and persistent cough;
  5. My parents and the Ex and his wife, and Beloved all had to wait in line for the play together for an HOUR, standing no more than 3 feet away from each other.  (That’s where the civility came in – thank you to all.)
  6. Beloved was assigned (by me) a play-related job that required us to partner in dealing with the actors and the cues and such – it didn’t work out so well, and we had the great pleasure of having an in-public argument.  I think people noticed.
  7. I was recognized publicly for my work on the play, with a spotlight on my face.  I hate being in front of a crowd.  Ptooey.
  8. My work at the play included being sure that people weren’t sneaking in to “save seats” and keeping the right people in the right places.  SEVERAL people now refer to me as “that bitch over there,” because unless someone was blind (there were two of them) or otherwise impaired, they were waiting in the fucking line with the rest of the universe (including my family and my children).

It is no small feat that my parents and the Ex managed to stay civil.  I was very worried.  Wanna know how worried?  Here is a funny story.

I told my mom on the phone about the Ex’s stunt re: the summer, while she was driving here from Connecticut.  She was lamenting the fact that she had to see him, and was promising me that she would not even acknowledge his existence.  Which I knew could be very awkward, since I knew they both wanted to be first in line (the line that other people felt too special to go into) so they could have good seats in a sold-out show to see their daughter/granddaughter.

While the parents were finishing their drive, I was e-mailing the ex about the fact that he dropped the fact that tickets to a cruise have been bought by his mother for a week that he does not have the kids, and for a week that Beloved and I planned on taking them to Maine for vacation.

Then the parents arrived.  Mom asked me for a book.  I gave her “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter,” which I must say I didn’t like so very much, and found quite UNremarkable, but thought she would like.  She doesn’t like my favorite books.  She finds them “too hard.”  So I’ve learned to give her books that I find to be a bit …. thin.  She read the back of the book outloud.  It’s about a doctor, who because of a blizzard ends up delivering his own children.  One is born a perfectly normal boy, the other a girl with Downs Syndrome (This is all on the back of the book, I’m giving nothing away)  He turns to his nurse (tiny little sole practitioner office, his nurse his only employee) and tells her to take the baby to a home.  His wife is unconscious.  The nurse instead keeps the baby and moves to another city to raise her.

A beat goes by.  Perhaps other topics discussed.  Then:

Mom:  I am mad at him already

Me:  Mom, please don’t talk about this right now (because I just know she’s talking about the Ex, despite the fact that J is curled up on the couch with her).

Mom:  What?  I’m entitled to my feelings.  Maybe I’ll change my mind, but right now, I’m mad.

Me:  MOM!  I am serious, I need you to not discuss this right now.

Mom:  [sticks her tongue out at me]

Me:  I am NOT kidding!  If you don’t stop right now, I am going to need to talk to you in the other room.

Mom:  You are being very unfair.  I’m not saying anything but my own feelings and I’m entitled to my feelings.

Me:  RIGHT now, you need to come with me in to the other room.

[she gets up with me and comes into my bedroom]

Me:  The girls do NOT need to know that anything is going on, I don’t want you to …..   [her perplexed expression causes my brain to click into gear.]  oh.  You were talking about the doctor, weren’t you?

Mom:  What ELSE would I be talking about?

Me:   I am sooooo sorry!  I thought you were talking about the Ex!!

Mom:  NO!!

Nice one, Zuska.

J later said that she knew we must have been talking about different things, because she knew I would never get so mad about her just talking about a BOOK.  At least she knows that about me.  And is not thinking that she has an irrational control-freak bitch of a mother.

Like I said to my mother – I guess we now know what’s at the forefront of MY mind.

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