beginning to see why people home school

by renegademama

What part of this am I missing?

Somebody explain to me how competition is useful in grammar school. I don’t get it. Or maybe I’m just too emotional or protective. I don’t know.

We went to my daughter’s “science fair” last night. All the kids had displays of their science projects, which they had worked on for weeks. They were all very proud, parading their parents around to all the boards, showing them whose was whose, especially highlighting their own, of course. My daughter was proud of her work and loving that we were at her school. It was fun. Well it was fun until the principal informed us that they would be “announcing the science fair winners” in a few minutes.

Wait. What? Why?

Why do we need ‘winners?’ Why does it have to be a competition? How do you judge the independent efforts of a 3rd grader? How do you judge learning and exploration? And more importantly, why would you place them in a competition they are not emotionally ready to handle? Are these competitions for the child or are they for the over-engaged parents?

And if you must have a competition in 3rd grade, at least give the kid a CHOICE of whether or not she participates. This was a mandatory school project –that’s getting judged? So wrong on so many damn levels.

After seeing the other science projects, with their super complex presentations and perfectly aligned poster boards and color-coordinated everything and other obvious contributions by parents, I felt like saying to Ava “check it out. You aren’t going to win, little one. You aren’t going to win because daddy and I have the strange and radical opinion that kids should do their own work, without help or input of parents beyond subtle suggestions and hints, when the kid is stuck and explicitly asks for it. Consequently, your project looks like it was done by a 9-year-old.”

So the principal walks to the front of the room and all the kids with their hopeful, bright eyes and the parents – some looking intent and serious, others, like us, looking like we’re about to vomit – and she announces “first, second and third place” winners. I glance at Ava.

Her eyes burn red. She’s trying not to cry.

Half the room is trying not to cry.

And I run to her, torn as usual: wanting to cradle her but wanting her to learn that the world is a rough messed up place. Wanting her to fight her own battles, wanting to beat the principal and the fucktard PTA mom judges to listless, bloody pulps. So I say “Ah, baby. Let’s talk about it in the car,” hoping the walk across the parking lot will shed some light on it…give me the right words to say…give me just the thing to make her feel okay, to teach her the perfect lesson for this particular experience and make it all okay.

But I got nothin’.

As usual I flounder and struggle and try to explain that it doesn’t mean her project wasn’t great. It only means that a few people thought it wasn’t as great as the others…and it doesn’t matter what they think and who the hell are they to judge and they have their own motives, etc. etc. But she’s not an idiot. What’s the take away for her? What’s the ultimate message? Mine was not as good as the others. Mine didn’t win.

Period. End of story.

My project was not as good.

I am not as good.

And the pride she felt a few moments earlier vanished. And suddenly hers was second-rate and she was silly to hold our hands and parade us around. Because it wasn’t very good. It wasn’t a winner. The important people said so. There’s no ribbon on mine. Therefore, I lose.

Please somebody tell me how that’s helpful?

Because even if she were to win, what would she have then? An over-inflated sense of ego and superiority derived from an arbitrary judgment of irrelevant individuals. A feeling of success because other people approved of her work. Why not value the process? The journey. The fact that she did this work by herself and she did a good job. And that is enough in itself.

There is a place for competition. When a person is ready to compete. When a person is emotionally prepared to handle the loss. When a person can separate herself from the outcome, knowing a competition doesn’t define her value as a person.

But not now. Not in 3rd grade. Not when it’s all wrapped up in one.

What did I ultimately say?

“Ava, remember that Townes Van Zandt song… ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down?’ Well, this is exactly what he was talking about.”

Then I called my mom and told her about the bastards, and tried not to let them get me down either.

when in doubt, ask yourself...

this is my serious face

by renegademama

Some of you may recall this post, in which I suggested that we “not worry about” brushing toddler teeth because “they’re going to fall out anyway.” Newsflash: I WAS JOKING. If I weren’t joking, that would mean I thought it was okay not to brush a child’s teeth until they were 7-8 years old…because they were going to “fall out anyway.” Yeah, so…I may be a bad mother, but I’m not crackhead bad. My kids get fed and bathed and clothed, pretty much daily, and they even, on occasion, get dental care!

I thought my overall tone in that post, dripping as it was with sarcasm, was pretty obviously “full of it”, but I recently discovered, much to my dismay, that some people read that whole toothbrush thing seriously. I was shocked and confused, until a well-seasoned blogger (who you may read at this awesome blog) filled me in on a critical piece of information: some people don’t pick up on sarcasm. Huh. I wonder if that’s why my emails at work keep almost getting me fired. Food for thought.

Wait. Hold up. Can’t read sarcasm? What a sad, miserable life. Almost all good literature is simply fraught with the stuff. Even Jane Austen uses it. (Therefore, it’s valid.) And David Sedaris? Helloooo. The writing of the Gods.

Anyway, I realized that such a person (the person who couldn’t read sarcasm) would be lost and alone and scared in my blog – like a kitten in the Sahara without its mother. So, being an altruistic lover of humankind, on behalf of those people, I’ve crafted a handy little guidebook to serve as a map of sorts, to help them navigate renegade mothering, where seriousness comes to die.

  1. I initially wanted to name my blog “Whiskey Playdates” and I don’t even drink. That’s how full of shit I am.
  2. In this post I compared myself to Ghandi. In this one I said I wanted to beat certain women with blunt objects. And here I stated that I want to bang on my children for “stalling.” And please let’s not forget this post, in which I declared that my kids need to stop attending school because they’re creating too much laundry. If you see statements like these, or any others that could potentially send me to jail or a mental institution, please rest assured that I’m just kidding. Playing. Making fun. Making a little jokey joke. Hahaha. Ha. Ha.
  3. In fact, I’m usually kidding. If I’m not kidding, you’ll know, because the post will look like this one (except for the whole play date in the trailer thing) or this one (Sylvia Plath and ovens and shit) or this one (does Walmart sell Bieber?).
  4. I exaggerate. I’m overly dramatic, emotional and intense. This is a personal blog about mothering. I get to be overly dramatic, emotional and intense.
  5. I don’t give advice on parenting. I don’t give tips. I don’t have handy bits of parenting information. In fact I hate handy bits of parenting information. I shoot it down in mid-air just on principle. If I see distributors of unsolicited parenting advice, I run away. Super fast.
  6. This blog is not intended to show anyone how to be a better parent. If I knew how to be a better parent I’d be off doing that rather than whining about my deficiencies online.
  7. My tongue is almost always planted firmly in my cheek. It’s actually a little exhausting, having it stuck there all the time. (Oh wait. You might not get that. So I’ll translate: I’m sarcastic. Just a little.) Good God I can’t stop! It’s a disease!
  8. I’m a smart-ass with loose verbal ethics and a pretty bad attitude. I play with language. I love language. I love messing with it. I do little mini acrobatics with my words, because I like to. (I also end sentences in prepositions, but that’s because I’m a REBEL). These little word games sometimes result in stretches of the truth, but, as Ms. Dickinson suggests “tell the truth, but tell it slant.”
  9. I like one-liners. The whole toothbrush thing was a one-liner. And it was funny.
  10. Speaking of funny one-liners, I use them for the sake of using them, because they’re funny, even if they are untrue, exaggerating, offensive, rude, politically incorrect, morally corrupt, shocking, ridiculous and/or make me look like a parent unconcerned with my kid’s rotting teeth.
  11. When in doubt, assume I’m joking.
  12. If offended, or if you feel compelled to call Child Protective Services, assume I’m joking and Google “scrap booking mama blog.” Then follow the first link you find. You’ll be happier there.

But if you already know these things, and you’re sticking around any way, welcome, friend. It’s damn good to have you.

And that was not sarcastic.

yay for sarcasm!

you’ve come a long way, baby

by renegademama

So we were driving home from San Francisco today (why were we in San Francisco, you ask? Because we were getting my daughter a passport. And why would a 9-year-old need a passport? Because she’s going to Europe with her grandmother for 2 weeks. And why pray tell is she doing that? Because she has a cooler life than I do. Already. At age 9. Thanks for asking).

And…now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s return to the story.

So we pass this one spot on hwy 80 and I’m feeling nostalgic, so I say “Hey Mac. Look. There’s the spot where I inadvertently lit that futon on fire with my cigarette.” He laughed familiarly, having already known about that futon, since we slept on it for a few months when we first met, affectionately naming it “the flaming futon.”

And how exactly does one light a futon on fire with a cigarette you ask?

Well it’s actually quite simple. I was driving home to Davis in my 1986 BMW (in the year 2000) after picking up a futon in Berkeley at my mom’s house, which was now rigged up in the trunk, sticking out the back, wrapped up in blankets to serve as cushions between it and the trunk hood. I believe there were bungee cords involved. Anyway, after smoking a refreshing cigarette, I chucked it out the window as I always did, without any particular thought as I recall. A few minutes passed and I noticed these idiots driving by waving and freaking out and pointing to the rear of my vehicle. At first I thought they were just smitten by my general coolness (being 21 and all), but when it continued I thought I’d glance in my rear view mirror just in case, at which time I noticed something rising above my trunk, looking oddly similar to smoke and flames. So I pulled over and jumped up and down, looking blond and young and cute until somebody stopped and dealt with it for me. I’m pretty sure they just removed the blanket from the contraption and let it burn out, but I’m not totally sure. The futon had some burn marks but was still usable, so I got back in my car and drove home, smoking another cigarette of course, due to the stress.

As I recalled this story I realized that this whole futon-on-fire scenario is really something that only happens to a person when they’re 21. I mean at this age, while I may not be able to envision the exact threat, I would at least suspect vaguely that chucking a lit cigarette out the window while driving with blankets hanging out your trunk is a bad plan. I actually know now that chucking anything out of the car whilst driving (whether lit or not) is a bad plan, but I’ve come a long way so it’s not really fair to compare.

And as I kept thinking about it and we talked about the ‘old days’ it struck me that while I absolutely totally and wholly miss the pert little bottom and flat belly I had at 21, I really do not miss being a complete dipshit. Yeah, I know. Not all 21-year-olds are dipshits. But I WAS a dipshit in every sense of the word and I don’t fully miss it. Now please don’t misunderstand me. I continue to reach new pinnacles of idiocy and erroneous decision-making, but there’s a certain type of ignorance, of naivete, of pure unbridled jackass-ness mixed with childish conceit that thrived when I was 21 or so, walking around all hot (as kids that age do) but accidentally lighting bed frames on fire with cigarettes (ha! nice pun)…then thinking it was all very cute, making up cute names for the cute burned futon with my cute new boyfriend. I don’t miss that.

You know what isn’t cute? Turning 32, which I’Il be doing next week. And since I’m slightly devastated about the whole thing (not turning 32. I’m still weeping about turning 30), I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some of the reasons I am delighted I am no longer 21, in attempt to make myself feel better. So here you go.

Things I don’t miss about being 21.

1. First dates. Awkward silences that accompany them.

2.Second dates and the uncomfortable realization that this guy bites the big one but will probably try to get some any way and I’ll have to weasel out and avoid, which will require at least 6 more drinks (to grow the pair necessary to tell him to kick rocks) and the subsequent hangover.

3.Third dates. Oh wait, no. I never got that far.

4. Hangovers. I’m not sure, but I think I spent approximately 349 days of my 21st year with an outrageous unforgiving hangover. It was like the year of vomit and headaches and dehydration. As soon as I’d recover I was on my way to the next one. It was a giant conspiracy I tell you.

3. The walk of shame. If you don’t know what that is I’m not telling you.

4. The walk of shame again. Because it sucked that bad.

5. The inability to pass as a grown up even when I really wanted to and I was sure I was being mature and profound and real but those damn aunts and parents and professors and other such old people (30 years and over) would just laugh at me, seeing something in me that I didn’t see but really see now, which is, of course, unspecified dipshit syndrome.

6. Frequent interactions with 21-year-old males. Always a let down.

7. House parties. Kegs, slutty outfits, avoiding frat boys with their tribal arm band tattoos, looking cool smoking cigarettes, trying to ignore the little voice in my head, whispering the truth, confirming my suspicion that we really are just a bunch of silly drunk kids trying to pass as adults, not really cool at all, playing out numbers 1-6 over and over and over again until, well, we move on and look back at it all nostalgically but so freaking glad it’s over (mainly because of the walk of shame. Okay, FINE. If you don’t know what this is I’ll tell you. It’s waking up somewhere still in your going out clothes (and usually hungover), having to walk the humiliating morning journey past strangers or peers (who obviously know what you’ve been up to) back to your home/car/friend’s house. And if you haven’t done this you’re a bigger person than I but I tell you it will drive you straight to sobriety. Unless you’re me. Oops. Different blog post.).

8. Caring about being cool. Never being cool enough. Wondering whether I’d ever be cool. Or ever feel okay at all, in my skin, about me being me and just me with all my uncoolness, which I disguise and run from with my slutty outfits and conceit and overall cuteness.

9. No money, bad checks and making that call to Dad: “just cover this one bill, please? just this month and I SWEAR I’ll pay you back.” Oh shit. I may still do that.

10. Waiting for life to start. Waiting for my soul mate to arrive. Waiting waiting waiting for that thing to happen. That thing that’s going to make me whole and complete and grown up and that woman I was meant to be – the one those old people see and are patiently waiting for. Wondering when she’ll come.

So now I’m 32 and that thing hasn’t happened yet and maybe it will never happen but I love that woman who has come and is coming still – though she’s uncool and silly and lost and not exactly what I envisioned at 21 – because she’s whole and just right, right now, and lucky as hell to come through it all with nothing worse than a burned futon and a battered memory of former dipshit status. Damn it. I’m even kinda proud of her.

So bring it, universe. I’m ready.

here we are, mac, ava, rocket & georgia, and my maternal grandparents

what I learned this week: rain, sundays, and why Mac doesn’t suck

by renegademama
  1. I have a ridiculous and overly dramatic aversion to rain. I hate it. I look at it as some sort of universal deal-breaker: if it exists, I’m not participating. In my life.
  2. Yes, I know rain equals water equals survival of human race, etc., but, like most unpleasant things, I just wish somebody else could handle the annoying parts and I could benefit from their efforts. In other words, can’t it just rain in the foothills?
  3. The Ergo baby carrier has a critical design flaw that I may or may not bring up to the manufacturer: it’s often more convenient to wear my baby on my back, but if I do so, the front belt cuts into my belly, making me look fatter by creating a roll of tummy over the belt. This is no joke. Something should be done.
  4. A few weeks ago Mac and I decided that we were going back to the old days when Sundays were sacred and therefore the only things that happened were church and family time at home. This was a good plan and I love it and I look forward to Sundays now all week, when we all hang out and sew and garden and cook and play games and don’t do chores or shop or have people over. It isn’t just another day any more, it’s a day for us to be a family, unobstructed. And it’s freaking great.
  5. There are many reasons my husband doesn’t suck, but one of them is that he doesn’t want an “open marriage”. Not that I asked him for one. I just happen to have heard about this a lot lately (it’s kinda creepy actually) so I asked him what he thought of such a thing. He was revolted. We actually had to stop talking about it because it was pissing him off just thinking about it. Maybe I’m just unenlightened (and you know I am) but I wouldn’t dig that sort of arrangement. I hear it works for some people, but I believe I would throw myself into a fiery cauldron of sorrow, misery and self-pity if my husband suddenly informed me that he wanted an “open marriage.” Then, when I snapped out it, I’d hunt the bitch down who he was “open-marriaging” with and beat her senseless (well no, I wouldn’t, cause I’m too wimpy for that sort of thing, but I may hire one of those burly chicks from Jerry Springer as a sort of white trash hit woman). Then, when I was done with that, I’d get a divorce. I believe Mac would do about the same, only he wouldn’t hire anybody. For sure the whole thing would be wildly unpleasant for all parties.
  6. My new favorite pastime is to find a recipe, go to the store and buy all the ingredients, return home and put the groceries away. Yes. Correct. That’s it.
  7. It’d be great if my baby would go back to pooping only once a day.
  8. It’d be great if I didn’t talk about pooping so much.
  9. Apparently it takes a really long time to recover from continued sleep deprivation. I’ve been having 7-8 hours of virtually uninterrupted sleep for the last few days (due to Mac’s brilliant middle-of-the-night solution which involves…shhhhh, lean in closely, promise not to tell my attachment parenting friends…him and a bottle of formula). Anyway I thought after 2 nights of that kind of godly sleep I’d spring back to life like a 3-year-old at 5am. But instead I am still exhausted and sleeping more deeply than I ever have in my life. It’s almost like my body is hoarding sleep like a starved person would hoard food, worried that it may go away again. However, the blurring eyes and weird hallucinations have ceased, so things are improving. I’m not fully kidding about the hallucinations.
  10. I got to the bottom of the laundry pile in the hallway and I gotta admit, I kinda miss it.
  11. I should be in church right now, but because it’s raining, I’m not going. I shall spend the day finding recipes I’ll never cook, starting sewing projects I’ll never complete, and inventing ways to get my husband to do more housework. But not today. Because it’s Sunday. Today we play.

the husband who doesn't suck

9 Comments | Posted in weeks of mayhem | March 20, 2011

“what mess?”

by renegademama

You knew this one was coming. This is the post where I complain about my husband’s cleaning habits. Or lack thereof. Allow me to clarify for a moment that I know men exist on this planet who are neat and tidy and generally interested in hygeine and order, but, as I said this post (but in reference to my son), I don’t have one of those. I have a husband who, wonderful as he is (and he is), falls more in line with the stereotypical dude who “cleans” a room for 30 minutes yet somehow manages to leave it looking oddly similar to the way it looked before.

This used to bother me.

Ah, shit. Let’s be honest. It still bothers me. But I’ve found some peace with it, or I’ve resigned myself. Either way, I don’t flip out about it any more as often. My new perspective came in the form of a conversation with my midwife. By the way, undoubtedly one of the finest features of having a homebirth is the visiting that occurs during pregnancy. It’s simply magnificent. A midwife comes to your house and listens to you bitch for at least one hour.  She measures your belly and does the pee-in-a-cup thing and listens to the baby’s heartbeat, etc., but then she just talks with you – not  about more tests or the 75,000 things that could go wrong at this point, or how you’ve gained too much weight or your belly is 1/8 of an inch too small or whatever…but just chats. And if she’s like mine, this woman will be strong and straight-forward, wise and maternal in an earthy, connected way – not frivolous or sappy, not old but not young – grounded and real. She’s a badass who’s seen it all and knows it all without knowing it all (if you know what I mean) . This is obviously another blog post. Forgive me, my mind is like a lost puppy on steroids.

Back on topic.

So Tosi (the midwife) and I were sitting on my couch chatting and as usual I commence whining about how my husband must have some sort of mental defect because he appears incapable of cleaning. What an ass that man…he doesn’t respect my wishes and he obviously doesn’t care about me at all because I come home from work and I’m pregnant and need help but the living room is thrashed and he’s just kickin’ it all happy and calm with the kids. Blahdeeblahblahh. She listened and then said something so profound it floored me: “Yeah, some men are funny that way – they see things differently. You know, Mac isn’t looking at the mess and thinking ‘you know what? I’m not cleaning that. I’m leaving it for Janelle.’ He’s looking at the mess and thinking ‘that looks fine.’”

Unbelievable. She delivers babies and saves marriages.

So I tested it out. One night we were sitting in the aforementioned living room and there was crap everywhere (including, but not limited to: toys, folded laundry, dirty laundry, shoes, books, school papers, shopping bags, blankets, books, socks, dishes, bugs, bark, rocks – when I say ‘crap everywhere’ I actually mean it) and I’m crawling out of my skin and about to FLIP the hell out – yet somehow he’s so calm he looks like he could be sitting in a Zen meditation room. So I ask him: “Honey. Okay. Seriously. Right now, sitting here in this room, does this mess bother you at all?” And he looks around a little confused. Then asks “what mess?”

Sweet Jesus. I couldn’t make this up.

And I realized that Tosi was right. He’s not mean and selfish. He has an inborn vision problem that causes him to see messes as neatness. Poor guys deserves compassion. (Unless there’s a recovery group for that sort of problem – Slobs Anonymous perhaps? – People for the Ethical Treatment of Housing?). Okay. Anyway.  

So now I know that I have to give specific tasks and explain very carefully what needs to be done around the house, making sure I don’t leave anything up for interpretation and, even more importantly, making sure I don’t assume that something is so obvious there’s no reason to mention it…I recall somebody telling me once that she instructed her husband to move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer. So he did. She didn’t say “turn it on.” And my sister-in-law told me recently that she had to explain to her boyfriend that after he takes the trash out, it’s critical that he insert a new bag.

Whoa. Deep stuff.

But now I kind of just laugh at my husband’s creative techniques. Kind of. In between fits of hysteria. Recently I’ve noticed that right outside our bedroom door, in the hallway but still kind of right at the threshold, there’s this pile of clothing that never seems to move. Well, I move it. But then it comes back. Pretty much every day it comes right back, not unlike my children. So I inspect the pile one day and see that they appear to be Mac’s running clothes. (yeah, he decides he’s getting “fat” so he runs for 2 weeks, at which time he ceases, because he’s already lost 18 pounds and an entire waist size. UNCOOL.). So I ask him, actually chuckling, “sweet angel heart love kitten, why do you put your running clothes in our doorway every day?”

And he responds “well, since I run at 5 in the morning and it’s dark, I didn’t want to wake you up by turning on the bedroom light and finding my clothes.”

See what I mean? Wonderful. How do you get mad at that? It’s so damn cute. And thoughtful. He’s always been a much kinder person than I am. I probably would have flipped on the light purposely and crashed around a bit just to wake him up so he can see how hard I’m working.

So I gave him a kiss and suggested that perhaps he keep them in the same drawer, so he can just open it and grab the contents in the morning. No light required.

He seemed impressed by my ingenuity. But now there’s an ironing board in the hallway where the clothes used to be.

Oh well. One thing at a time I guess.

thinking about his clean house. no, definitely thinking about something else.

11 Comments | Posted in cohabitating with a man. | March 18, 2011