Category Archives: Parenting

Building The Resume

Chairs

I haven’t been writing much; it has been kind of a rough week.  The kids went back to school, which meant I had to go back to work.  Since the temperature has been too frigid for outdoor recess, the students at the school where I work have been acting the way I imagine caged rats might: nervous, cranky, a bit manic.  On my first day back at work I managed to immediately catch a cold and develop a whopping migraine, which is fantastic to experience amid the screams and squeals of hundreds of disgruntled children.

Not everything has been all bad this week.  Before Christmas vacation I was offered a promotion at the school.  Until then I had been working as a lunchroom/playground aide (I know, fancy title).  The school needed someone to spend time in one of the classrooms as a paraprofessional (the politically correct, more difficult to pronounce term for teaching assistant).  I was flattered to be considered a good fit for working with children in a tutoring capacity.  And the children do love me, so that helps.  On my first day as a “para” I was informed that soon I could (if I wanted) transition into just working in the classroom, with the same hours and better pay.  Um, count me in!  For now I get to do both jobs, and my foot is in the door for a potential long-term career in education.  If I can handle it.

The thought of giving up my playground/lunchroom duties did cause some consternation for me.  Being a playground/lunchroom aide allows me to interact with so many incredible little people, but my new supervisor reminded me that my promotion is a resume builder.  It is certainly my prerogative to remain in my current position, but if I am serious about advancing my career, I need to be open to changes.  Building my resume has been a major goal.  Before coming to the school, I hadn’t added anything new in ten years, and there were still jobs listed from my high school days!  Not terribly impressive, I’m afraid…Now I have been gainfully employed for nearly eighteen months, which is good, but I am delighted to be taking another step up the professional ladder.  It feels wonderful to be actively engaged in educational services, to contribute to my family’s income, and also to finally be building a base for a future careers.  I never have had that!

It has also been a long time since I’ve had a truly fulfilling job.  I’m sure that working with children is part of the secret.  Hugs, funny conversations, special moments… it’s all priceless.  Oh, there are still days when the little monsters leave me wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed with the T.V. remote and a pan of brownies.  Most days, however, I have a marvelous time working with the students and I am exuberant to tell my husband about my adventures.  I have learned that taking care of other parents’ children requires an abundant amount of energy.  Long before I clock in at the school my day begins with children.   I watch a neighbor boy in the morning and take him to school with my daughters.  After school I bring home a trio of vivacious youngsters along with my own, and listen to their lively conversations until their parents pick them up in the late afternoon.  I can now add ‘Nanny’ to my resume.  I’m really just doing my neighbors a favor so they can achieve their work and school goals.  Their children are very well-behaved and full of the vibrancy of young life.  It is nice to have a house teeming with children.  It is also nice to have quiet moments when I can rest and not be anything for anyone.  Not Mom, not Miss V, not “Hey, Lady“!  When I calculate the amount of time actually spent without children around, I don’t really get much of a break!

I was getting a little burned out right before Christmas.  Too many kids with attitudes, too much stress floating around the school.  I started considering looking for a different job, weighing the pros and cons of making a transition with my mediocre resume in the highly competitive job market.  Getting the promotion made me reevaluate where I stood at the school.  I have a good thing right at my fingertips; I just need to see it through.  I might never find a job that I love as much as my work with the students, and I would most certainly regret giving up a surefire path to a potential long-term career.  After being accustomed to so many children floating in and out of my life, I don’t think I would want things to change anyway.  I wouldn’t want to go work in an office with big boring adults after getting to be around children all day.  Children are much more interesting!

—G

 

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Our Neighborhood Belongs to the Children

One of the neatest things about living where we do is that our neighborhood is under the control of the hundred or so children who constantly swarm in and out of our houses, caring little whether the house is actually theirs.  I have never lived any place where this was possible or even acceptable, and there is something so freeing about it.  In other places we’ve lived, always basically nice neighborhoods, the idea of children roaming unattended through the streets, playing in neighbors’ yards, and entering unfamiliar houses was unthinkable, maybe dangerous.

In our neighborhood this behavior is not only allowed but enforced by the children, who would have it no other way.  Perhaps this regime was established years ago when the neighborhood was still brand new and the first families decided to band together to create a close knit environment; then the environment thrived into a microcosm where the children exercise their democracy through the freedom to run and explore, free range, inside the established boundaries.

What a visitor sees when coming to our street is a residential scene from a bygone era: children shooting around on vintage looking bikes, scooters, and skateboards, the muffled sounds of lawn mowers and sprinklers mixed with laugher and the crack of baseball bats, and then in the distance the ice cream van’s jingling songs play merrily.  The children might disappear momentarily to grab a fistful of change, but soon they are back, jostling into a jagged line to buy ice cream and popsicles, and then it is back to zooming around on the now empty street.

While all this is going on there is limited parental supervision.  One or two parents may sit on the front steps of their homes, or fiddle with a dodgy sprinkler in the yard, but no one hovers over the kids while they play.  Some might consider this as irresponsible parenting, but I have had the chance to get to know some of the parents in the neighborhood, and they do not strike me as the type.  It seems more like a social experiment, an understanding between parents and children in which parents allow their offspring to leave the nest and venture out into the world to explore and network with peers.  In this cell phone age when parents and children are just a call away, why not let children explore unsupervised to give them a stronger sense of confidence, accomplishment, adventure?

Often the adventuring leads neighborhood children to my door.  Since I am a well known authority figure in their school, the children feel comfortable coming to me for all kinds of reasons: to ask for a glass of water or a popsicle, to see if they can help me in my garden, to ask if I will teach them how to make sushi, and my favorite, why my hair looks so funny.  I also often look out my window to find neighborhood children just playing in my front yard for no other reason than because their parents probably told them to “go play somewhere else”.  This causes no concern except for when the little boy on the corner is in my yard.  I frequently find him going after my daughters with a hollow plastic baseball bat.  They probably instigate the ‘attacks’ and on the flip side, they are all smiling and laughing, and my girls always have foam pool noodles for self defense.

One day I woke up from a nap to hear noise outside and when I looked out the window there were half a dozen children in my front yard with a remote control monster truck.  They were racing it up the driveway and trying to jump it off of my bottom step.  It kept crashing all over the place and they were making quite a racket.  When I threw open the front door they all froze and looked at me with guilty expressions.  “What are you doing out here?”  I asked.  “Uhh…testing out the monster truck…”  “Do you want candy canes?”  “YES PLEASE!!!”  I shouldn’t have fed them, now they are in my yard all the time.  But they are cute and sweet and they don’t mess with me because I yell at them plenty at school.

Another caveat to the free ranging children is that for some reason they will inevitably want to come into my house and explore when they get tired of exhausting the resources of the surrounding outdoors.  Usually I can fend them off with a popsicle bribe and a hollow promise that “sometime soon” they can come in, perhaps when I am making cookies, but “not now, the house is way too messy!”  It always is.

The best lesson I have learned from these little intrepid spirits is that when they come to my door, it is the perfect excuse to drop the laundry, the dusting, the cooking, or whatever mundane house chore I feel obligated to drudge through and go outside to get in touch with my inner child.  Their subtle, adorable hijacking of the neighborhood has given me a little freedom because I can say to myself, “hey this is not so important when there is a beautiful evening to experience!  I’ll outside and see what my kids are doing, and get back in touch with neighbors I haven’t seen in ages!  Goodbye laundry basket and mop bucket!”

Zombie

Zombie Princess drawn by my daughter. Happy Halloween!

Tomorrow the neighborhood will be swarming with children in costumes.  Our neighborhood is THE place to trick or treat.  Many neighbors go all out to decorate houses and stash truckloads of candy for the hoards of costumed youngsters who will invade.  Children at the school have been asking me all week if I will be at my house to hand out candy.  I bought a five gallon pumpkin shaped bucket to fill and still need to go back to the store for backup candy.  It would not be surprising to see at least 200 children at my door tonight.  Children from other parts of town and as far as Fort Riley will come to our neighborhood for candy.  That is fine with me, just as long as no one asks to come into my house.  It is still a mess.

— G

Birthday Cake Makes My Kids Homicidal

Since Halloween is almost upon us, I wanted to bust out some scary stories from my life to shock and amaze.  Sadly, what I came up with will make me look like a bad person at worst, and at best be ridiculously funny.  So after some thought I chose to lead off with the story that makes me look like a bad parent and my children look like demon spawn.  At least you all will get some entertainment from this, but I am still traumatized so at least one of us has been adequately affected.

My daughters are for the most part sweet children, but they are a tad high strung.  I can actually hear my immediate relatives laughing right now from distant corners of the globe at this grievous understatement.  Okay, to be fair they are very high strung, and I do not give them any caffeine at all because they already act like addicts going through withdrawal.  Their sugar consumption is also strictly monitored because it doesn’t take much to send them into the atmosphere for hours.  They are actually quite wonderful, and they just have so much nervous energy (I blame this on my husband who is exactly like them) so as long as they are kept busy and not overstimulated, they act like relatively normal children.

I wonder if Disney Princesses have this problem...

I wonder if Disney Princesses have this problem…

So let’s introduce a far from normal scenario for my girls: a kids’ birthday party.  We walk into a house we’ve never been to before, and there are a dozen weird children running around screaming.  Something starts to slowly fray in my girls’ frontal lobes until they reach a point of no return when they are no longer able to make reasonable decisions or think anything through before trying to beat their peers senseless.   After so much cake, ice cream, wrapping paper flying through the air, and adrenaline soaked girl drama, my kids just lose their cool and go completely ballistic.  I am terrified of finding party invitations tucked into their school folders and try to dispose of them quickly before they remember that classmates had passed the invites around.  I cringe when neighbors casually invite us to an impromptu party because I just know my kids will probably beat up their kids or kill their cat or set their house on fire, and then there is a good chance we won’t be friends anymore.  I get the feeling that some of you readers (those who are not immediate family and close friends) don’t believe me, so I am going to present a list of evidence as to why I am so traumatized by my children’s behavior.

Birthday Party #1

Everything was fine until it was time to go.  In my defense, I let my daughters stay through the entire party, so they had plenty of time to play.  When I told them to put their shoes on they both went boneless and flopped around on the floor crying.  I had to drag them up the stairs to the front door.  This was at a house where I hardly knew the hosts or anyone else, so I was getting a lot of mixed looks of sympathy and judgment.  Once I had the front door open my girls both grabbed onto the door frame and held on for dear life, bawling like stuck pigs.  I had to pry them loose and drag them out to the car.  The whole time they were screaming “No Mommy! No!” as if I were beating their butts.  So embarrassing.

Birthday Party #2

Amazingly I allowed the girls to attend a second party the following weekend, thinking surely that last party was just a fluke and they would be on their best behavior.  I was so wrong.  This time we were at a recreation center and again I was with parents I didn’t know very well.  These were the parents of kids I work with at the school, and most were the bratty ones –that would be parents and kids.  I had a bad feeling when we walked in, and instinct told me to make up an excuse to leave early.  But no, I stayed and made polite conversation with some of the cattiest mothers I have ever met while their children started instigating trouble with mine.  And then I saw it coming: S-n-n-n-n-a-a-a-p!  Both Annie and Alexis (my girls) decided that they had been pushed around enough and tiny fists started flying.  I had to do the right thing, so I collected my screaming, red faced children, made apologies, scolded my girls and loaded them into the car.  But secretly I was proud of them.  I was sick of listening to their mothers but I couldn’t indulge in that behavior, no matter how much I wanted to slap their prissy faces.

Birthday Party #3

Surprisingly we were invited to yet another party, this time by a sweet mom who had witnessed the behavior at Party #1, and she either didn’t judge me or didn’t care because Annie is close friends with her daughter.  I was really paranoid by this time, especially because the party was in an art center where I had done three months of teaching internship.  I really did not want to make a bad impression, and as we were driving to the art center, I kept envisioning horror scenarios of paint splattering like blood onto the expensive art for sale in the gallery.  I read my girls the riot act before we went inside, “Mommy used to work here, there is nice art on the walls, you absolutely have to be on your best behavior!  If you do one thing, if you hit someone, if you scream, if you do anything mean, we will leave and you will lose all privileges for a week!” I shrilled at them before we got out of the car.  Things went fine until Annie felt that she had been wronged by a toddler who took a cupcake topper that Annie had claimed.  Annie was 7 years old at the time, but she had snapped once again and there was no rationalizing that a 2 year old should be spared her wrath.  I intervened and discretely threatened the death penalty so Annie would calm down.  We somehow made it out of the art center with no casualties, but it took some very strategic thinking and fast moving on my part.

Birthday Party #4

This party was the most traumatic party of all, to date.  Some close friends invited me and the girls to their house for a small get together to celebrate their son’s first birthday.  They went all out: delicious meal, homemade cake, a piñata full of candy in the back yard.  My girls were so excited they could hardly contain their joy at the prospect of filling a little bag with goodies.  There were not many children at the party, and very little chance for drama, so I relaxed a bit, had a tiny glass of wine, and chatted with other guests.  I let my girls have a huge piece of the homemade cake as a courtesy to the hostess, since I could not eat gluten.  I swiped a finger of frosting off the cake and wished I could ignore my diet for a day.  I was starting to think that maybe those bad birthday parties were just anomalies, three bad coincidences in a row and nothing more.  Then my friends announced that it was time to break open the piñata.  Each child had a turn.  Apparently I had not been paying enough attention to my own children because I didn’t hear the sound of Annie snapping.  But everyone saw her take the two foot piñata bat when it was her turn and come after her little sister with a murderous glint in her eyes.  She actually managed to chase Alexis a few feet, swinging the bat viciously, before another adult grabbed her.  Oh, mortification, take me now!  I wanted to die.  We all cried in the car on the way home.  My friend sent two enormous pieces of cake along for “when the girls are feeling better”.  I ate them both for dinner that night with more wine and got very sick.  I didn’t care.  This party had confirmed my worst fears.  My children absolutely cannot tolerate birthday parties, not even a little bit.

Birthday Party #5

We abstained from birthday parties for a long time after that.  I was so traumatized that I couldn’t even consider the idea of sending my kids to a party.  The potential repercussions were too horrifying to imagine.  Then a neighbor up the street invited us to a casual little shindig and I thought, well maybe this will be a good opportunity to gauge their “progress”.  Oh why do I do this to myself?  My girls were horrible all day, screaming at each other, hitting each other, talking back to me, typical sisterly behavior.  They actually lost their privilege to go to the party, and I was going to make them take a nap.  Then miraculously, they stopped fighting, began to treat each other politely, picked up their toys, got dressed, and apologized to me.  So I basically fell for it, but told myself that they had earned enough redemption to go to the party.  The neighbor’s house was close enough to walk, so we strolled over, but the whole time I was reiterating my riot act.  I told them it would only take one act of violence or disrespect and we would leave immediately.  They made it exactly 30 minutes before Annie punched Alexis in the chest.  And I kept my word; we walked home immediately, me striding ahead angrily and the girls crying and yelling and stomping behind.  It was a tiny parade of rage for the whole neighborhood to watch.

So I have come to three possible conclusions and they are all scary.  Either 1) my children truly are demon spawn, 2) somehow I have failed as a disciplinarian, or 3)  birthday parties are just too intense for my children, AND other parents have this same problem but just aren’t talking.

So if anyone else has this problem, and more importantly some hilarious and scary stories of birthday party debacles, I would love to hear them!  You can share by commenting at this site, or if you are my friend of Facebook, you can join the conversation there.  Halloween parties are coming up next week, please pray for my family, and any families that may be directly impacted by my children!

—G

Playground Follies

My beautiful picture

After taking a week to convalesce from chronic illness, I went back to work at the school yesterday, and it felt great to return!  Six weeks of fighting viruses and a nasty staph infection that incubated in my body following a minor dermatological procedure left me completely burned out.  My supervisor and the principal at the school encouraged me to get the much needed rest, so I spent the week sleeping, watching Netflix, and guzzling Gatorade.  And writing of course.  One major change had occurred at the school during my recovery week.  The school added two low climbing walls to the Kindergarten and First Grade playground to give the students more activity options during recess.  Last week the students and teachers anxiously watched as they were built, and today was the climbing walls’ debut.  As soon as the First Graders hit the playground, they swarmed the walls, clambering rabidly over each other to be the first to the top.  It looked like the Wall of Jerusalem scene from World War Z, only miniaturized.   Thankfully, only a few children ended up with scrapes and most were completely happy being used by their classmates as human step stools.

  A tight knit group of students at the school has really got my number lately.  When I first started working they had me thinking that they were very sweet, quiet and innocent children with no ulterior motives to sabotage my career in education.  This year they have started several mini riots in the lunchroom, often using my simple conversational attempts as the basis for their incursions.  Most recently was what began as my asking the newest member of the group whether or not he had moved from the Philippines.  This led to the group leader succinctly and harshly analyzing my inability to distinguish the origins of Asian peoples simply by looking at them.  Somehow the group then swiftly transitioned into a political debate ending in the shaking of fists and chanting of “North Korea is our enemy!  North Korea is our enemy!”  as I frantically tried to get them to stop before my supervisor came back into the lunchroom.  All this happened within a matter of 60 seconds.  That is how quickly kids can turn on you.

My beautiful picture

There are so many unusual challenges encountered working in a school.  I literally have no idea what children are going to do to me when I walk through the doors every day, and every single day it is slightly different.  I have been almost barfed on (I turned and ran the other way, an indicator of my level of bravery), I have had to chase down runners and break up fist fights, I have even been doused in Go-Gurt, the worst of all fates.  But I love my job so much that when it was time to come back on Monday, I was completely psyched to see my kids again, all of them!  I don’t get paid a lot of money and I don’t receive compensation in other forms for my efforts.  But I did discover that there is a hidden benefit to working with children.  Those little boogers are swirling perpetual happiness creators, and the love they spread is just as infectious as their viruses.  I am going to have to remind myself this during cold and flu season.

—G