Sunday, January 29, 2012


I'm a mom.  Multitasking is my superpower.

This weekend, though, I am being forced to be single-minded.  I'm substituting for the light tech at Little Brother's play.  Fortunately, there's a high-tech light board that just requires me to push a button labeled "Go" for each cue.

This task requires an amazing amount of focus, as I learned during a rehearsal when I missed several light cues because I had gotten caught up in the play (that I've seen three times a week for the past two months...there are no surprises here anymore!)  So I can't really watch the action on the stage; instead, I look at my copy of the script, following the action by listening instead of letting my eyes get distracted.  It's easier to stay on track that way (Big Brother taught me that trick; both my Big Kids have run lights before, either at school or for community theatre.)

All that focusing can be a good thing.  It's certainly something with which I'm completely out of practice.  There are always so many things going on at once; even when I'm the only one home and I'm working here at my desk, I'm keeping an ear out for the dryer's buzz.  I'm reading several books at any given time.  Right now there are 10 browser windows open on my computer.

There's a fine line between multitasking and being scatterbrained.

Many times, multitasking can't be avoided--and in most cases, I'm pretty good at it.  But I appreciate the opportunity I've had this week to really practice paying attention.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Funeral Etiquette for Teens

This morning Middle Sister told us that one of her friends' grandfathers had died.  She was, understandably, sad for her friend, since she certainly knows what it's like to lose a grandfather.  I told her to let me know when the funeral arrangements were made, and that if she (and other friends) wanted a ride to the wake, I'd be happy to help with that.

So here's the big question:  I've met this kid's parents maybe twice.  Do I go in with the kids to the funeral home, or just wait outside?  Do I go through the whole "condolences and procession past the casket" thing when the only family member I really know is a teenage boy?  (Awkward...)  Or do I go in and just stand in the back and wait for all the kids to be done?  At this point, I'm not sure what my daughter wants, or if she even knows.

In a completely unrelated matter, Middle Sister's friends all think it's weird that we say "wake."  Apparently, here in South Jersey, which is a completely different country than North Jersey, where I grew up, they say "viewing."  Even if it's a closed casket.  (So when she texted them with my offer of a ride to the funeral home, they all said "What's a wake?")

Monday, January 23, 2012

What "Extracurricular" Means

Last week when I was substituting for the day at Little Brother's school, I took the opportunity to tell his teachers that he'll be having some late nights this week.  It's Tech Week now for Pippin; the show opens Friday.

Basically, I wanted to let them know that he'd be up late--because I want to know if this is affecting his behavior and work at school.  But they thought I had something else up my sleeve.

"I can change the deadlines for some of his assignments," one teacher offered.  She seemed surprised when I turned that down.  I told her that we'd make sure the homework was done before we headed out for rehearsals.

He's been handling 3 rehearsals a week (some of them running until after 10 PM) for more than a month now.  But this week it's going to be every night, and I didn't know how that would play out in the classroom.

Apparently I am in the minority here.  These teachers seem to be accustomed to parents who expect that academic requirements be adjusted when extracurriculars get extra demanding.  Around here, it's homework first.  Sports, Scouts, or other non-academic pursuits, worthy though they may be, do not excuse any of the kids from their school obligations.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tales from Substitute Land

I spent yesterday filling in for the librarian/computer teacher at Little Brother's school.  Overall, it was a good day.  Only one child cried.

The really cute story I read with the first-graders
Here are some of the highlights:

The day began with a 20-minute stint in Morning Car Line, or as a friend of mine calls it, "Coddling Line."  Somebody's got to help the 3-year-olds climb out of the Hummers.  Seriously.  Those things are so high off the ground that a 3-year-old can see right under the car without bending over.  It was cold, but not raining, so that's as good as it gets in January.

It's an Eighth-Grade Privilege to lead the morning prayers over the PA system.  I'm guessing that yesterday's prayer leader has been cramming for a science test, because I swear she began with the words, "O Jesus, through the Molecular Heart of Mary..."

My first class was one of the 4-year-old pre-kindergarten groups.  I was nervous, because they were going to spend the time in the computer room, and I'm not as Mac-friendly as the librarian.  Also, I'd never seen the program they were going to be using.  She did show me how to log in to the web-based activity, and that mini-lesson turned out to be a very useful thing.  One child somehow logged herself out of the program no fewer than five times in a 25-minute class period.  Each time, I had to enter a username and password and click through a few things to restart the activity.

When that group came up the stairs to the library and struggled out of their winter coats (the pre-K is in a small schoolhouse across the parking lot) the kids proudly showed me their name tags.  "Are those for me?" I asked them.  "That's a really big help, because I never met you before!"  Then I told them my name, and the aide said, "They can just call you Mrs. S."  Upon hearing that, one little girl repeated my name.  I turned to the aide and told her, "Kids usually get it just fine."  Deal with it, lady.  I do.  Every day.  It's not THAT hard.

One of the perks of teaching the 4-year-old class is the Reception Line.  As the kids lined up to leave the library, a whole bunch of them stopped to give me hugs.

Without fail, there were quite a few kids in each of the 6 classes I taught yesterday who were worried about the librarian.  How sweet is that?  I made sure to let them know that she was actually there in the building that day working on some technical stuff with the principal.

Some weirdnesses:  I had back-to-back first-grade classes, and while I was deep into reading a great story with the first group, the second class walked into the library 5 minutes early.  HUH?  Now I have to figure out what to do with 40 kids?  I made the teacher wait while I finished the story with the first bunch, then sent them back to their tables for their library books.  Then I guess she had a change of heart because she offered to deliver the other class back to their teacher.  She still wound up with a few free bonus minutes, and I'm guessing her colleague lost a few (not to mention MY moment of panic there.  Substitute Teacher's motto:  never let 'em see you sweat.)

My first afternoon class came in noisily, followed by the music teacher whose class they'd just left.  Apparently they'd misbehaved in there, and he wanted to let me know that they stood ready to lose a privilege next week if they didn't shape up and behave in the library.  But they were good.  It took a little to settle them down, but once they all had books in their hands, they were busy reading when the librarian walked in and heard nothing but pages turning.  "They're so QUIET!"  (Substitute Teacher's motto:  don't put up with much.  A few well-directed glares work too.)

In the last class of the day, I had one child crying because of some misunderstanding the day before about a book to be reserved.  It took a little bit to get that worked out, especially since some other student had checked out the book in question earlier in the day.  Maybe it's uncharitable to say this, but there are some kids whose tears just don't affect me.  This kid is one of them.  I talked another one out of tattling, which is something that I just do not deal with.  That's really difficult when I've got the second graders, who are tattling pros by now. (Substitute Teacher's motto:  be immune to tears, tattling and puppy-dog eyes.)

All in all, though, it was a good day.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Twenty Years Ago Today older son was born.  As with all new parents, there was a learning curve.  We had to figure out that he wouldn't break when we dressed him, that the 5-second rule applies, that you need to wait that extra second after a toddler falls to see if he's really hurt or if he'll just pick himself up and keep going, that not every sore throat is strep, and that if you intend to keep your sanity, you're going to have to hide The Little Engine That Could.

image credit
We learned that we didn't doom his academic career by waiting until he was 4 to send him to pre-K (3 afternoons a week), that the policy of "if you don't like the sport you don't have to sign up again after this season is over" is a good one, that Boy Scouting is well worth the time and effort, and that despite his nearly-nocturnal lifestyle, he can still manage to make the Dean's List.

We've been letting him go a little at a time ever since his first day of kindergarten when he was the kid tossing "gotta go!" over his shoulder as he ran to line up at the door.  But he'll always be a part of us.

Happy 20th birthday, Big Brother!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What a difference a day makes

Teenagers.  They're frustrating one minute, but inspire your awe and pride the next.  Since I vented yesterday about that little attitude problem I had with my daughter, it's only right that I commend the heart and friendship she exhibited today.

Even more amazing is that all of this happened while she was very far from feeling her best.  She was feeling pretty punky this morning, but in the absence of a fever or migraine or stomach-flu symptoms, I sent her off to school.  Just after 8:30 (less than 45 minutes after her arrival) she texted me to come pick her up, that she was in the nurse's office.  Yup, stomach flu.

True to form, she opened up during the short drive home.  (Kids always open up in the car!)  Apparently a good friend of hers is very upset with her mom.  The friend is an only child; Mom's a single parent; Dad is remarried and lives in a nearby city with his new wife and 2 small children from that marriage.  And Mom doesn't drive, but she works long hours, until late at night sometimes.  My daughter's friend feels like she gets no attention from her mom, that her mom doesn't care about her, that she should move in with her dad.  She is either alone from just after school until late in the evening or with an aunt, uncle and young cousin with whom she doesn't get along well.

I observed to Middle Sister that her friend probably wasn't complaining to her all the time in order to get Middle Sister to solve the problem; that she probably just wanted someone to listen.  And I commiserated with her friend that it must be tough to be all alone all evening with no way to get anywhere, and all of that.

A few minutes after we arrived home, my daughter was set up with her ginger ale and crackers and cell phone.  And then she asked if we could do something for her friend, if her friend could come here after school a couple of times a week and have dinner with our family so she wouldn't be alone so much.

I told her that would be fine, as long as I knew in advance when we'd have a dinner guest and if it wasn't on the nights when Little Brother has rehearsal, because we'd have to drive this girl home after dinner and that won't work on rehearsal nights.

And this is why I do what I do.  She may be 16, but as her friend's situation clearly demonstrates, 16-year-olds need parents around too.  Families with a stay-at-home parent make sacrifices so that can happen.  I know that not every family is able to do this, but I am very grateful that my family can and does, and that, in her own way, my daughter knows that it's a good thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A P.T. Barnum Kind of Morning

P. T. Barnum reportedly observed, "There is a sucker born every minute."

Today, that would be me.

This is the part where I get to eat those words I dished out last night when I wrote about how I'm happy to be able to do something for my daughter.  Because this morning, she made it onto the school bus on time, but her laptop didn't.  A few minutes after she left, I got a text message:


"For real?" I responded.  Then, locating the laptop near the top of the stairs, I texted her, "I see it.  Where to met?"

"? Where do you think" is what I got back.

Really?  You want to smart off at me when I'm doing you a favor?  The laptop is a school-issued, required piece of equipment that serves as both textbook and notebook in most of her classes.  So unlike the consequences she might suffer if she left her literature textbook home, she's basically unprepared for every single class if she doesn't have the laptop.

So I rescued her.  Again.  She forgets the laptop fairly often.

And after the smart answers in today's text message, plus the generous dose of attitude she showed me when I expressed some frustration at having to wait for her so I could deliver the computer, this might be the last time I bring it over there.  Yes, school is only a mile away.  Yes, I was home at the time.  But, oh well--maybe this kind of a favor, unlike a hot, nutritious dinner for a student involved in several after-school activities, isn't the kind of favor that does anyone any favors.

My sister calls me a sucker for dropping everything to deliver forgotten computers, textbooks, lunches, and track shoes to my daughter at school.  Maybe I am.  And maybe I'd be a better parent if I were less of a sucker.  I'd rather she misses the bus and  is sure to have all her stuff than making the bus and expecting a speedy delivery.

Next time she can just face the consequences, and then maybe, just maybe, there won't be too many next times after that.

The sucker has left the building.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Signs of the Times

Between 9 PM yesterday and 5 AM today, 2 different signs popped up in my house.

Here's the first.  Middle Sister tends to get a little territorial about "her" green tea.  She's not happy that someone else has been drinking it.  So to protect it from poachers, she decorated the jug.

Then I woke up to find the powder-room curtains draped over a chair in the family room and this sign on the bathroom door.
Here's the reason for the sign.

Friday, January 06, 2012

What do the cool kids think?

Apparently I am once again the butt of teenage jokes.  Just like when I was a teenager. I wasn't a cool kid then, and I'm far from being a cool mom now.

All this came up because I got an iPhone for Christmas. Little Brother immediately begged for my iPod touch, and I am sharing that with him (though the iTunes account is mine alone, so I am in control of any downloads.) The kids are passing the iPod around to play doodle jump. 

Big Brother said, "Mom, you have 2 full folders of Catholic apps on here!"

Middle Sister chimed in that when she told her friend that I had an iPhone, that friend said something about how I had probably filled it with Catholic apps.

At least I'm predictable...

You'd think that at my age I wouldn't let this bother me. But you'd be wrong.

This is why I am so reluctant to share my technology with my kids. I don't like to be teased. And apparently, in their world, having Catholic apps is tease-worthy.

Sure, in the scheme of things this is not very major. It makes me wonder, though, if who I am, if how I live, does justice to what I believe. Do I draw strength from my faith to live my day-to-day life in a different way, a better way, than I would without that faith?

Because if all those kids see are the apps, and not what's really behind them, then I have a lot of work to do.

Thursday, January 05, 2012


The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord will be celebrated on Sunday, January 8 this year.

That means you've got time to plan ahead; get some holy water and some blessed chalk (your priest or deacon can bless it for you) and prepare to bless your home this weekend.

A time-honored Catholic tradition is the blessing of the home at Epiphany.  We remember the visit of the Magi to the home of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
LEADER:  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
LEADER:  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us.  It is Jesus who enlightens our hearts and homes with his love.  It is Jesus who is our source of hope, joy and comfort.  May all who enter this home find the light and love of Jesus Christ.  Let us listen to the word of God:
                In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of an only Son coming from the Father, filled with enduring love.
ALL:  Our Father, who art in Heaven…
LEADER:  Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only son to every nation by the guidance of a star.  Bless this house and all who live here.  May the light of Jesus shine from this house so that others may find their way to your light and your love.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
We sprinkle holy water in each room of the home.
We conclude by using the blessed chalk to mark, above the doorway, the initials of the three Magi, surrounded by the numbers of the current year and separated by small crosses:  20+K+M+B+12
The above blessing service is the one that is used by members of our parish.  This year the Secular Franciscans prepared 450 blessing kits that included this prayer, a container of holy water and a piece of blessed chalk.  It looks like we'll need to prepare even more for next year--these went quickly!

Here is another very simple prayer that you can use to bless your home.  A friend shared it on Facebook:

Heavenly Father, walk through my house, and take away all worries and illness, and please watch over and heal my family and friends. Bring quiet where there is chaos, bring light where there is darkness and put love in our hearts. Amen.
Finally, Esther shares a beautiful home blessing service.

Take your pick--and make it a family tradition to bless your home this (and every) Epiphany!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Catching On

I'm a sucker for those "spend a year doing a certain thing" kind of books.  In recent years, I've read Julie & Julia, one where a woman decides to take every shred of advice dished out by Oprah Winfrey for an entire year, and two cookbooks written by someone who used her slow cooker every day for a year--among others.

Kind of makes me wish that I had something I was willing to do for a whole year that was interesting enough to get a book deal out of it.

Heather King's book Shirt of Flame describes a year spent reading and discovering the life of St. Therese of Lisieux.

I'm only halfway through this book, and I am SO hooked.  And this is a saint to whom I don't take easily.  A priest once described her in a homily as "immature, fussy, and a bit of a drama queen" and I'm inclined to agree.  I read her autobiography as a teenager, and I think it appealed to me more then than it does now that I'm fortymumble years old and most of my idealism has melted away amid the cares and worries and chores of taking care of my husband and family.

I don't ordinarily recommend a book I haven't even finished, but King's chronicle of her own spiritual journey as well as Therese's is an absolutely compelling read.  Each chapter ends with a prayer, and so far I've wanted to bookmark almost all of them.

Unfortunately, I can't remember where I first heard about this book, so I can't properly thank the person who told me about it.  I figured, instead, that I'd pay it forward by recommending it here.  Don't miss this book.  It's not big, it's not complicated, and it really is worth it.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Peaceful Start

We rang in the year as we usually do, with 4 out of 5 of us visiting Middle Sister's BFF's family.  In this case, BFF really does mean forever; the girls are 16 and have known each other since they were 2 1/2!  It was a low-key time, just hanging around, laughing, watching the Twilight Zone marathon, eating, and heading out the door at 12:01 for a really impressive fireworks display.

I think it's been a whole year since I've stayed up until 1 AM.  And the Hot Flash Express rolled through at 6:30, mercifully an hour or so late, though still earlier than I'd like.

I enjoyed a quiet start to the day; the Big Kids both stayed at their friends' houses (Big Brother rings in the New Year with a friend he's known since kindergarten) and Little Brother is still asleep.  Cup of tea in hand, I had some uninterrupted time for morning prayer and the newspaper.

Then the sun came up and I moved over to the chair by the window to watch the cardinals, mourning doves and sparrows.  I got a new bird feeder for Christmas--it looks a lot like this:

Basically, it's a basketball-sized cage around the bird feeder tube.  It's taken them a few days, but the birds are finally getting the hang of it.  And having my desk near the window lets me get a good view.  I like that the big bully birds (starlings and blue jays) can't get in, but the sparrows and other small birds can.  Haven't seen any snowbirds this winter, but then again, we haven't seen any snow--and that's not necessarily a problem.

Christmas vacation is almost over; today, there's noon Mass; tomorrow our little family business will hold its annual meeting and review, and then on Tuesday, it's back to work and school for everyone!

For right now, I'll enjoy my perch at the desk where I can watch my bird feeder.  7 sparrows, no waiting--and the starling has been foiled again!

Happy New Year!  Peace and all good!