beginning to see why people home school

by Janelle Hanchett

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…

sorry, but I think you have me confused with a grown-up

by Janelle Hanchett

It was just another day – just another trip to the grocery store, just another check-out line…until, after answering the monumental bagging choice question (which really isn’t monumental at all, unless you’re within a certain radius of San Francisco, where plastic bags have been outlawed or some such nonsense), I was slammed suddenly by a large boulder, which flew in from the left, unannounced, smacking me squarely in the head and leaving me confused, lost, and shaken.

Well actually there was no boulder. But it might as well have been a granite crater, the way it stung and burned and hit me, hard…that teenaged checkout kid and his quiet inquisition… “Would you like help out with this, M’am?”

Dude whah?

Did he just call me m’am? My grandmother is a m’am. My mom is even a m’am (albeit a young, very pretty one). But me? I’m not a m’am (you worthless little shithead juvenile). Not nice, Janelle – stop that~!.

Well, yes, evidently I am a m’am. I know this because everybody keeps calling me it. Using my vast deductive reasoning skills, I have concluded that somehow, unbeknownst to me, I’ve wandered into m’am territory and, as we all know, there ain’t no gettin’ outta here. In fact, I’m so entrenched in m’am–hood that when people call me “miss” I look at them gratefully but knowingly, because while it strokes my ego for a moment, I know they’re just being kind. And in a way, it almost stings more.

I mean goodness, I’m only 31. Well, 32. At the end of this month.

And I know I lead a ‘m’am’ sort of life with the husband and multiple offspring and house and family vehicle and lack of stilettos, etc., but it’s just that I don’t feel like a m’am yet. I don’t feel grown up. I look it, and occasionally I act it, but I’m not really there yet. A friend of mine recently joked that she and her husband often wonder what their kids would have been like “had they been born to grown-ups rather than them.” For obvious reasons I adore this woman.

And she’s right. I mean it appears that there are people out there who feel prepared and sufficiently matured and ready for this parenting gig…or maybe they just pull off the façade better than I do. But at this rate, I’ll be grown up and settled into myself and wise enough to raise kids around the age of fifty, when I’m too old to reproduce. What a jip.

Seriously, sometimes I try to be stern and adult-like at dinner when my kids are misbehaving and I get those damn giggles right along with them and I can’t keep a straight face as hard as I try. And sometimes I make strange, random unsolicited noises solely to be loud and annoy people, just like my 5-year old. I sing 80s ditties in a horribly offensive operatic manner, driving people nuts intentionally, because it’s fun…and I think I’m funny pretty much all the time and when I get overtired I cry and lash out and complain like a 2-year old nearing the breakdown point. But yet, I’m 32…the prime child-bearing age. The ‘right time’ to be a mother, the right time to settle down and take care of other humans and guide and lead and love…to be wise and grounded and a ‘m’am.’

So, grocery store check-out guy, I just want you to know that I die a little death every time you call me that awful name and you think you’re just being polite but really you’re launching me into a new level of existential angst. Thanks for that.

And by the way, yes, of course I want help out to my car. Can’t you see how tired I am?

Pardon Me, but there’s vomit on your Chanel

by Janelle Hanchett

A few weeks ago I joined Twitter. I know. I know. But if I’m going to make the effort to write the damn blog, I need people to actually read it. Therefore, I’m like totally into social media (hair flip, valley girl accent). Anyway I have been seriously amused by the Twitter bios. If you’re not familiar, I’ll explain: you have 140 characters or some other nonsense to write a little bio, and it shows up next to your ‘avatar’ (profile picture), all of which is intended to catch people’s interest so they’ll ‘follow’ you. Whatever. I didn’t make it up.

So you scroll down the list of prospects and click on people who seem interesting or like-minded or whatever you’re into and it kills me the stuff people put up there. There are of course the born-agains, the sober people, the shock-factor people (“anarchist mother of two who yearns to piss you off and eat your young”), the granola moms with their damn acronyms ( SAHM, BF, CD-ing, AP, NoVax), and the ones who are ooooo sooooo baddddd (“I drink whiskey, have tattooed arms and say fuck a lot.'”). But lately my favorites are the fancy and [evidently] well-dressed women who write things like “fashion savvy mother of two” or “hip mama in stilettos” or “fashion-conscious San Diego mother of four. You’ll find me drinking cabernet in my Chanel.”

Now I have nothing against these women. I just can’t for the life of me understand how they do it. I mean, the sheer logistics of my life negate any possibility of my wearing $600 sweaters. Or stilettos.

First of all, my day almost always involves some sort of bodily related emission ranging from drool to breast-milk to things I’d rather not discuss. And I think I’d be really disturbed if indeed there was vomit on my Chanel. Or maybe part of wearing Chanel is the ability to afford Chanel, which brings me to another reason I wear Old Navy…finances. No need to expand that topic. Speaking of expanding, let’s be honest, I’m too fat for designer clothes. Yeah. Some of us missed the memo about exercising after childbirth. [I do, however, breastfeed a lot, which I hear burns about 12,000 calories a day, so I should be covered.] But even if I had money and a life without random excretions and they made fat people Gucci, who the hell has time for that kind of effort?

Now don’t get me wrong. I have standards. I shower. I wear clean clothes. Mostly. And if I don’t have any, I very carefully sift through the hamper, thoughtfully contemplating my choices until I locate something without visible stains or an overtly unpleasant aroma. I mean that can take a while. And I absolutely draw the line at wearing maternity clothing past 7 months post-partum. I only wear flip-flops in light rainstorms and I’m perfectly willing to iron a piece of clothing for a special event. Like a wedding. Or a funeral. Of somebody I really care about.

Perhaps they are experiencing some other version of motherhood.

Or maybe they aren’t. In that case, I kind of admire them. Though I think it’s a little obnoxious to walk around flaunting one’s thinness and general health etc. by looking all hot with a 2-month old, I think it’s pretty cool when women take care of themselves for real after having a baby. Most of us generally feel like we’ve been hit by a Mack truck after giving birth and this feeling sort of continues for, oh, I don’t know, forever. And our appearances may reflect this feeling.

Plus, if you’re like me, you look back on your “pre-baby” days as your “hot days” – and, since that ship has sailed (far far FAR away, replaced by, well, not hotness), you figure you might as well stop trying. And since most of us don’t have a nanny, cook, housekeeper (or three), rich-ass husband or even the inclination to drop thousands of dollars on fancy labeled clothing, the statement “Pardon me, but there’s vomit on your Chanel” probably won’t be sent our direction anytime soon. However, most of us are able to put a little thought and time into ourselves, in whatever way we like to put time and thought into ourselves, and I think there is real value in this, in taking care of oneself before being expected to take care of others.

Because if my well is dry, I’ll have nothing to give.  And if I have nothing to give, but am forced to give any way, things go poorly. Understatement.

So here’s to my version of Chanel and stilettos, and yours, whatever that looks like.

Because I’m good enough and smart enough and gosh darn it, people like me.

BuahHAHAHAHAHAHA! (sorry. the Stuart Smalley thing was funny.)

plotting ways to stain my clothes

14 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | March 10, 2011

my 9-year-old has lost her mind

by Janelle Hanchett

My daughter, Ava, turned nine last November. I think the cake was laced.

Or she’s been possessed. Jury’s still out.

I read at some point about the “9 year change” – basically it’s a second major separation from the parents (following the one occurring at around 2 years), but it’s a sort of existential separation, where the child realizes she is not only physically separate from her parents (mother mainly), but also mentally and emotionally distinct. It is an awkward, precarious, questioning time resulting in mood swings and a lot of boundary-pushing. Some nine-year olds begin to contemplate death – including their own (which seems weird. I didn’t realize I was going to die eventually until I was about nineteen, while sitting under a tree in the quad in college, but by then I had discovered Captain Morgan and Hemingway, so it all seemed rather irrelevant).

Anyway, whatever the psycho-babble explanations, my kid has turned into a complete whack-job. One moment she is calm, collected and really quite grown-up, discussing relatively mature topics in an engaged, humanlike way. Five minutes later she’s giggling, flailing about and uttering strange sounds in a manner so goofy I can’t decide if she’s cute or has some sort of formerly unrecognized handicap.

My aunts, who’ve each had a small army of children, assure me this is normal.

And I’m sure it is. The aunts also muttered something about prepubescent hormones and I’m sure they’re right about that too. But I don’t want to talk about the fact that my baby girl who isn’t a baby girl at all could potentially in a couple years be faced with her biological make-up in a very real way and I may actually implode upon myself in grief, denial and fear.

I think this is an exaggeration, but one can never be sure.

What I want to talk about is the fact that my daughter sometimes irritates the living hell out of me and no, there is no gentler way to put this. And I don’t mean irritated like “wow, that’s kind of annoying. Wish it would end.” I mean irritated like a tag tickling the back of your neck, like an itch on the bottom of your foot, like I don’t really want to be near you irritated. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it comes, whoa. Look out.

It makes me sad to feel this way.

I don’t know what’s happening here and I don’t like it and I’m pretty ashamed. Do good mothers feel this? Probably not. Good mothers probably have the maturity to recognize the brevity of the whole situation. They are probably less selfish and ego-centric, which enables them to be patient, forgiving and understanding with the kid, rather than short-tempered, visibly annoyed and retaliatory.

I ask her nicely. She ignores me. I get mad. I yell. She responds or doesn’t. Or she screams and storms off or she cries or gets hysterical. And my heart breaks.  Sometimes I’m a bully. I use my power as mother, use my strong voice and body to control and make things change and get what I want. Then I apologize, having acted poorly.

It’s a different feeling than the irritation I feel when Rocket is still naked after 25 minutes of coaxing to get dressed, or Georgia decides to nurse the instant I finally get up to take a shower. It’s a separated irritation. It’s a real irritation. She annoys me like other adults annoy me. And this is strange because she isn’t an adult. She’s not even a little adult. But she is. But she’s not.

Oh, Ava, I love you.

What burns child is that you’re walking right away, just as you should. I feel the world and time and biology pulling you down the hall, closer to the door, someday you’ll cross the threshold. But I want you to stay inside, baby girl. With me. Here at home. Right by your mama.

We’re separating, she and I.

I try to enfold her in arms that don’t quite reach any more.

Everything about her demands distance. She occupies more space physically. She has her own interests. Often she prefers being alone in her room. I see her thinking and contemplating things in there, by herself (objects or photos or books but rarely dolls any more), checking in occasionally to see what I think. Or not. She has real smells like real adults (bad breathe and sweat and stinky feet and unwashed hair). She is not uniformly pleasant any more.

Screw you, biology. Give me my baby back.

No, don’t.

Rather, God, give me the strength to love her as she needs me now. And I promise I’ll get used to this.

It’s funny how nature knows how to baby-step a mother and child into separation – knows how to make a kid just big enough and strong enough and smelly enough and annoying enough that separation becomes even slightly palatable to the mother. What a stark contrast to the way I feel about my infant Georgia, who is so luscious and aromatic and infinitely attractive in absolutely every way that I want to eat her sometimes – literally consume her! – because I just can’t get close enough.

So little Ava, I guess the deal is that you will remain forever stitched into the fabric of my soul, though you are no longer hanging on my coattails.

Huh. Guess I did want to talk about it.

the mediocrity maintenance plan

by Janelle Hanchett

At the risk of sounding a little conceited, I have to admit that everyday, I think I get a little closer to reaching the absolute pinnacle of perfect, unparalleled mediocrity. I have a true talent for this. We’re not talking about half-assed mediocrity. We’re talking the real freaking deal. Pure, unhindered, unadulterated average. The gray area is my domain, people. I rule the middle of the road. If my life were junior high classes, I’d be pulling C’s every period.

I know. It’s impressive.

Perfecting this art may seem complicated, especially since most people excel at something simply by default. But really, it isn’t that hard. And, since I tend to place others above myself (not unlike Mother Theresa and Ghandi), I’m willing to share with you the following guidelines in case you’d like to perfect the general mediocrity in your life. By following these simple steps, you’ll find that you absolutely cannot excel in any area of your existence. You will do exactly what you have to do each day simply to survive – nothing more, nothing less – and one day you will wake up, realizing joyfully that you have achieved real, true mediocrity.

  1. Have children. Preferably more than two.
  2. Make sure one of those children is under the age of one and wakes up at least three times a night, ensuring inadequate sleep patterns and unceasing general exhaustion.
  3. Do not stay home with those children, but go to work.
  4. But don’t work full time. Work part time. Working full time may result in actual focus on work, which could produce above-average performance. What we’re going for here is a sort of “one foot in – one foot out” scenario – so you’re not a working mom and you’re not a stay-at-home one either.
  5. On your days home, frantically attempt to make up for the time you were at work and do nothing else. This will ensure that you do not have time for any stellar stay-at-home mom tasks such as engaging with older children, sewing, cooking, communicating without yelling, gardening and/or doing crafts.
  6. Add many, many other activities to these two realms, as a safeguard against potential achievement in either the work or home arena (examples include, but are not limited to, sports and other activities for the children, having friends, staying married, reading, eating, writing a blog, pursing a graduate education, getting your hair done, losing weight, breastfeeding, keeping a pet alive, visiting family, bathing, etc.).

While it may seem too simple, I guarantee that with these steps will lead you to mediocre functioning no matter what. There is no way around it. You will be spread so thin that there will be no room for anything else. You will have friends you really care about but only call occasionally. You will miss appointments with them and not return calls. You will be too tired at work to do anything beyond the minimum, even though you want to, and when you are home, you will be so behind on housework and household tasks (from the days that you were at work) that excellence in mothering or wifedom will be out of the question. With very little effort on your part, you will become a staggering idiot at work – a frantic nut-job at home – treading water in the deep end, every day, pumping your little legs frantically just to keep your mouth a 1/2  inch above the water. You will move furiously and with wild abandon to keep from drowning. Under these conditions, mediocrity invariably reigns.

If you find yourself excelling in an area, no worries. Just add more activities to your list. Or, and this one never fails to produce immediate results: have another baby.

Then repeat steps 1-6. Forever. And call me. We’ll remind each other of the merits of mediocrity, in between spells of weeping and general malaise.