Laughing Mama's Blog

My inner monologue with myself inside my head put in this blog out in the open for everybody to read.

Blue Hydrangeas (AKA: “Boys poop in trash cans”) March 7, 2018

Filed under: kids,Life,parenting — laughingmama @ 2:23 am

My children are now 17 and 15. A lot of years have passed but not much time. They’re two different things you know. One a line of hours, days and months. The other, the slow steady beat of one’s heart. That difference was illustrated to me today in a beautiful blue brush stroke. Both of my “babies” (and I still call them babies) are involved in theater in their high school. After rehearsal today, into my car piled not only two of my own but two of my friend’s and a new face. “Can we give my friend, Ciara, a ride home?” shouted Drew among the talking and laughing and slinging of backpacks into the “way back” and clicks of levers to release and slide seats to accommodate the masses. This new friend happened to live in our old neighborhood. “Of course!” I said as I made our way to first drop off our friend’s children and then head down the familiar roads we’ve traveled a thousand times.

“Can we show Ciara where we used to live?” begged Drew. An easy request since there is hardly ever a time when I’m in that neighborhood that I don’t drive by the “old house” even though it rarely ever changes. “Sure” I replied and steered my car down our old street into the cul-de-sac. “There it is, on the left, with the American flag on the porch” said my kids. And at first glance it was as it always is.  White with a front porch that extends the length of the house, fence and arbor on the side, a curved pathway to the front door. But as I rounded the cul-de-sac I noticed something on the front porch. A blue hydrangea bush with a blue balloon tied to it. And not just any blue balloon- it was a congratulatory type balloon. One you might get in the hospital. One you might get in the hospital after having a baby. The new owners are new parents. There’s a new baby boy living at 721. And it made me SO happy.

We had met the new owners at the time of our closing. A sweet young couple. She liked to bake and took my Kitchen-Aid mixer on the counter at the time of the home showing as a sign that a fellow baker lived there and loved that kitchen. Since we only moved around the corner, we have seen them from time to time in the grocery store, at local (beer) festivals. I had always hoped they were filling that house with as much love as we put into it and it appears that they were. Almost 4 years later and they welcomed their new baby into the same house we brought our daughter and son home.

“I wonder if he’s sleeping in my room!” our daughter said. And then it struck me. The bones of the house are the same I’m sure unless they’ve undertaken some drastic “Fixer Upper” type home remodel. The kitchen table is different but it’s in the same place I assume. There are only two rooms in which to put the nursery and I bet they chose the room in the back of the house just like we did because the daytime sun wouldn’t filter in through the window and wake a napping baby. Their master bedroom, though decorated differently, is just 6 steps away from that bedroom. I remember being pregnant, having terrible morning sickness and realizing that if I ate first thing- even before I put my feet on the ground- that I would feel better. And I remember the morning I woke up, reached for the box of graham crackers I kept by my bedside and found ants crawling inside. I wonder if the new mom of 721 chucked crackers across her bedroom the way I had.

The thought of a new baby in that house made me smile. There had been so many fun times there raising our children. Interesting ones too.  I wondered if they would sleep on the floor next to the crib to keep their child from crying until they were sure they were asleep and then spend the next hour slowly rolling to the door to make their great escape as to not wake the baby. Or if they would treasure as much as I did walking into their room in the morning to sleepy grins, bed head and outstretched arms that melted into the warmest hugs ever. I wondered if their boy would poop in his trash can the way mine did when we were potty training him. Regardless, the thought of someone else starting the cycle all over seemed right. But the fact that the house was old enough to have a second life meant that WE were older. That our KIDS were older. In fact our oldest is going to be a senior and gets no less than two brochures from colleges in the mail a day. Her new prom dress is hanging in the spare room just off the front hallway. The fact that they are rapidly approaching “adulthood” smacks me in the face daily. But tonight I indulged myself and took a walk down memory lane.

I remembered first steps and countless highchair meals and play dates. Christmas mornings and birthday parties. And so did my kids. Hours, days, months of mundane occurrences and special events.  After we dropped their friend off Drew said, “I miss that house”. After asking what he missed he said the kitchen. “Why?” I prodded. “Because the last time I heard Papa’s voice was in the kitchen.” And then my Mary said the perfect thing, “Memories don’t stay in the house. You take them with you.” The slow, steady beat of your heart keeping them close and feeling like no time has passed. Just like it all happened yesterday.

Leaving that house on the day before we closed was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. We were all crying and I asked my very tired, very stressed out husband if we could take it all back. But it was the right thing to do. It was time to go and leave it to a new family to make new memories and welcome new babies. New life stages are happening here and they’re happening there. We’re all sleep deprived for different reasons. But thinking about the new life in that old house makes me glad I’m part of the circle. And very glad that the upstairs of 721 is used to puke. It’s going to happen.


My kids, my life (AKA: “By the time I’m 16 she’ll be 32 and have 4 kids.”) May 29, 2013

Filed under: Humor,kids,Life,Marriage,parenting — laughingmama @ 11:59 pm

Several people lately have said that they miss my blog. I miss it too. I miss having that voice inside my head saying crazy shit that I have to share with you. It’s not that my life has become any more calm. I had a Brazilian wax several months ago that I never told y’all about. It’s a long story (Surprised? I didn’t think so.) but I couldn’t go full Brazilian (don’t ask why… you don’t wanna know) and the woman who gave me the french bikini lives in my small town (of course she does) EVEN THOUGH we (yes, I went in a group) went to the “big city” to get it done. Humiliations galore and I will never do it again because the results lasted all of about 2 days. That’s all you need to know. It was horrible and embarrassing and expensive and fuck that! I really wanted to act all like “I’m a porn star and yes, you can touch me there stranger and I won’t care, and isn’t this awesome because all my hair is being ripped out and won’t grow back for weeks so who gives a crap!” but really I’m not a blonde, anglo saxon. I’m Irish Italian which means I have shit loads of hair on top of uber sensitive skin so I could really just scrape a razor over my lady bits for an hour on a Friday night, save myself the $60, have the same results and call it a freaking day.

No, that’s not what I’m here to tell you. I’m here to talk about my kids. *SCRATCH… the needle on the record.* I know! I start off a post like that and then want to talk about my kids. It’s kind of all related. Sort of. My life is weird these days and I don’t quite know what to do with myself. I remember when we first had kids. I had a job, not really a career because I never wanted that so I refused to get one. Although, the job I had could have been a kick ass career. I was a website developer. But I always saw that as a (to quote Carrie Underwood) temporary home. I wanted to be a mom more than anything. Always. Since I was a teenager. And I don’t mean I wanted to be a teen mom. I wanted it all. A grown up life with a house and a grown up husband with a job and when the time was right, babies. And thankfully God saw to it that I got all of that. And my days as stay-at-home mom began. And I was happy. I had a purpose bigger than me. I reveled in it. And then something happened. My babies grew up. It was inevitable. I knew it would happen eventually, but you always hear about high school and when they’re 18 and ready to fly the coup. The tween years are rarely covered and can be just as difficult.

My daughter started middle school this year. I always thought I was smart, but I never even considered her kind of smart. I’m ashamed to say she has almost always outwitted me. And I’m SMART dammit!!! But ever since she was 5 years old, I would be perplexed by a problem and she’d saunter into the room with the easiest fucking solution. Like it was absolutely nothing. How do you maintain control when faced with THAT?? Short answer… you don’t. Thank God she also has a good and obedient heart.

And then there’s Drew. He’s incredibly intelligent too, probably not as smart as his sister, but he has something even scarier. He can read people and he knows how to cut to the heart of a situation with innocence and truth and there is just no fucking denying him. It’s aggravating. And liberating all the same time. You can tell him that him talking for 18 minutes straight without a breath is hard to take and he’ll understand because of a self-awareness taught to him by his therapeutic preschool. As long as you are coming from a place of emotional truth and don’t use sarcasm. It’s lost on him and does more damage than it makes you feel good.

I said all this to say, that I miss baby pools. I was at Walmart the other day. It was May and was the first really warm day we were going to have here in NC. I saw a mom with 2 kids putting a plastic baby pool in her car. And I remembered the days when I would do the same thing. I loved the first really warm day of spring. I would venture to Walmart in the morning and get a round, plastic tub myself and put it on the deck. While they were taking their naps I would fill it with water from the hose and let it sit in the sun soaking the warmth from the rays. When they woke up, I would change them into their swim diapers, feed them lunch and then we’d go to the back deck and I’d dunk them in the still tepid water. They would giggle and reach for me and we’d all laugh. I cherished their baby skin in the sun. How they felt wrapped up in freshly washed and dried towels. I could kiss their necks which would bring squeals of delight. Not so anymore.

They’re well past that now. Life happens and changes before you know it. Drew and Mary went to the pool today with a neighbor because I was busy with my new business. When he came home, Drew told me that he had seen a teenage girl there in a bikini. He lamented the fact that he was only 10 and couldn’t flirt with her. He told me that by the time it would be appropriate she would be 32 and have 4 kids already, I’m sure that’s how it seems to him. That’s how it seems to me.

They are so grown. Still young and in need of our guidance, but so grown. I don’t even remember the last time I carried them. When was the last time I held them like a baby? The last time I picked them up and hugged them with their arms around my neck and legs around my waist? It happens too fast and before we know it, it’s gone.

I do appreciate where we are now. I lay down in Mary’s bed sometimes and talk to her before she falls asleep about things that weigh heavy on her mind. But these are big things, not princess things. I don’t have all the answers and it breaks my heart. I miss the days when we would splash in the kiddie pool and I’d give them dinner and kiss them goodnight and be satisfied in the knowledge that they were loved and cared for and wake up the next morning with a bright outlook, ready to take on the day.

It’s different now. It takes more work. Kids are the Brazilians of life- they seem like a good idea, when you’re going though it you’re not sure, and when it’s over you miss what you lost. I wish I could tell you that exfoliating cream could do the trick, but it’s inevitable that you get scars.



The End of A Chapter (AKA: “Canadians didn’t like Americans in 1877 either.”) September 18, 2012

Filed under: kids,parenting,Psychotherapy — laughingmama @ 3:59 pm
Tags: , ,

We’ve all heard the term “mama bear”. It’s a phrase meant to conjure up the image of a snarling mother fiercely protecting her young at any cost, striking fear into the heart of the one who DARES to threaten the cub on any level. I’ve definitely had my own “mama bear” moments where my children are concerned. Although, to be honest, I look less like a bear and more like a chicken with my disjointed head swivel going on, a finger waving in the air and a pointed “Mmmm hmmm!” at the end of the tirade. I’m sure I’m not very threatening. But, I do my best at fiercely protecting my babies. Which is why every time I’ve found myself in a meeting with our local county school system regarding my son, Drew, I’ve felt like I’ve had to have my guard up and fight for him. (If you don’t know Drew’s back story and have a couple of hours, start
here: “My Drew- Part One… (AKA: “With a mother like me, he’s GOT to be special.).) He’s had an IEP since he was 3 and with the help of some angels on Earth, he’s been doing better and better and is to the point now where he can handle himself in almost any situation and his IEP reflected that. There were no more modifications and the one remaining thing left to work on was his speech. I never thought his IEP would be so minimal.

And then the time for the annual review came yesterday. These used to be scary meetings with vice-principals, counselors, teachers and many, many forms to fill out and sign. I would go into them with my jaw set, a list of demands at the ready in my head. When I walked in yesterday, it was a smaller group, a smaller stack of papers and the first thing the speech therapist said was that she was recommending that Drew be exited out of speech. He had reached all of his goals, he’s speaking without mistakes 95% of the time, and there is no need to pull him out of class anymore. Part of me expected this and I agreed. There were other kids who needed her help much more than Drew. I signed the paperwork and the shortest IEP meeting ever was over in about 10 minutes. Drew’s IEP was closed. The end.

When I got to my car in the parking lot I called my husband who had unfortunately not been able to attend the meeting. When I told him the result, he asked me how I felt about it and I burst into tears. Some mama bear I am! But this has been such a long road. And although it’s by no means done (we still have Drew seeing a private therapist once a week- and I don’t mean for speech. See the explanation here: I See Fat People (AKA: “Shit OCD makes you say.”).) I felt a strange sense of sadness at the closure of this part of our journey. I exhaled with the sort of weariness of someone at the end of an extended battle. And suddenly, a part of me was scared that since we no longer had an IEP, we no longer had any recourse to get Drew any help in case he needed it. I forgot (temporarily) that I had been fighting for over 7 years for him and could again if necessary. I dried my tears and remembered something I had read a few days ago…

For Labor Day, we went to visit my in-laws in the NC mountains. While there we got on the subject of family history and tracing my husband’s family’s lineage. My father-in-law let us know there were boxes full of research his father had done and all kinds of papers and pictures going back more than 100 years. It was a treasure trove of familial goodness. He offered all of it to us since he had no interest in pursing it or storing it any longer, so into the car it all went and in my living room it sits. We’ve taken a few days here and there to look through some of it and it is fascinating. This past weekend we came across a letter written by one of his relatives in 1877. The cursive is beautiful and the script flows gorgeously, but it is a bit hard to read. Here is what I could decipher of its awesomeness:

“Charles says you call our boy a “runt“. He was born in Missouri but he is no “runt“. (My note: I surmised this slam on Missourians is because this side of the family originated in Canada and to them, someone born into American citizenship was a blemish on the family tree. Read further for proof of their clear superiority despite being from Missouri…) Our boy is a fine specimen of the sex- Canada today holds not his equal. Cast in the mold of beauty, he is perfection of form and personification of grace. He is energy incarnate, spunk typified and his ordinary howl makes the scream of a locomotive engine seem like silence. He weighs twenty pounds, stands flat-footed and alone, four months and three days old and he is no “runt”. Mark that down where you won’t forget it. (My note: That right there is what we nowadays call a bitch slap.) Hoping you may in future find it not inconvenient to be elegant as well as terse in your use of the mother tongue in speaking of our “King Ben”.”

That is the best letter from 1877 I’ve ever read! We parents have a way of defending our children. That is for sure. And any time I doubt that, I will think about this spirited correspondence. In the meantime, I will appreciate and celebrate where Drew is today – a mainstreamed student with good grades, lots of friends, the affection of his teachers and an IEP that has been rightly closed. Maybe mama bear can hibernate for a while. But rest assured that if need be, she will wake and she will be fierce! Mark THAT down where you won’t forget it, universe!


I See Fat People (AKA: “Shit OCD makes you say.”) January 27, 2012

So, if you’re a regular reader (like I’m some Erma Bombeck or something) you know by now that I have a son, Drew, and we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs in his young life. If, on the other hand, you are blissfully unaware and want to educate yourself, here’s the story in black and white: “My Drew”. But be warned – there are a lot of words. After a period of relative quiet over the past couple of years, Drew’s difficulty processing the outside world decided to rear its ugly head again this past fall. After mulling over whether or not I should write about it, I remembered that the advice you hear most about writing is to “write what you know”. I also rationalized in this way: Drew isn’t aware that this blog exists yet and hopefully he won’t know that I’ve been writing about him until I’m long gone. Then he can’t be mad because being angry at dead people is against the Ten Commandments. Or something like that. If you are mad, adult Drew, I’m very, very sorry. But, you shouldn’t feel too bad because look at you! All handsome and winning at life. Damn, you must have had great parents!

And as your parent, I’m taking it upon myself to share our struggles so that others may be helped. Or at least get a chuckle because even though childhood mental illness sucks huge donkey balls, it can lead to funny situations. Take for example the manifestation of Drew’s “disorder” last October. For about a month prior he had started exhibiting obsessive compulsive behavior. Not the hand washing or checking door locks 100 times type. More like the feeling compelled to say things (in this case, “bad words”) and not being able to stop yourself or getting stuck on one train of thought kind of OCD. The day it came to a head and I realized he needed help was scary for all of us and decidedly not funny. I won’t go into that, but what grew out of that day was a move away from obsessing over “bad words”and towards obsessive thoughts about fat people. I wish OCD and anxiety disorder made sense because it would make things a lot easier to handle and explain, but it just doesn’t. So, we blamed it on his penis. More specifically, the beginning stirrings of puberty, the fact that his crush at school was slightly “round” in a totally cherubic way and the misunderstanding that somehow these feelings he was having about her were wrong and bad.

He began to notice (and comment on aloud) the fact that an overweight person looks like they’re about to have a baby but they’re not pregnant. And he began to wonder (again, aloud) what enormous amounts of food they must have consumed to get that big- possibly even, he thought (aloud), the Hindenburg. Let me interject here that the people he was talking about while not thin by any means were not “Guinness Book of World Records” fat. (Yes, he used that description too.) And when I say “people” I not only mean the people he saw in public, I mean me. I can’t tell you how fucking fantastic it is to have the fruit of your loins- loins which haven’t looked or behaved the same since he sprang from them I might add- point out your every outward flaw and exaggerate them 100 times over. Add to that the mental anguish he was so obviously feeling (as evidenced by the compulsive act of scratching his scalp that had also emerged and which he couldn’t control) because he knew the things he was saying were wrong and hurtful and he didn’t want to say them, but he was literally compelled to and absolutely couldn’t stop and… well, you’ve got yourself a one way ticket to hell.

And then the State Fair came to town. (I told you you’d chuckle.) Promises of rides and bright lights and cotton candy proved too tempting for Drew and he begged and pleaded with me to be able to go. I did not think the fair was the ideal place to be for a child obsessing about people’s weight. Not judging or making a statement about fair goers in my state or any other state for that matter, but I was being over protective and thought the possibility of a high concentration of slightly larger than average people might put Drew over the edge. I explained this to him but he insisted he could handle it. I had a world of doubts, but my sister was in town and my daughter also joined the chorus of those in favor of the fair. So, being outvoted, away we went.

You know how in movies they can convey the feeling of something being amplified in someone’s mind by editing frantic shots of the person looking here and there while sweat pours from their head next to close-ups of the thing they’re obsessing about which is seemingly EVERYWHERE all at once? Yeah, that’s how the first 30 minutes of the fair went. One of the first booths we came across was the “Giant Turkey Leg” vendor. Every single person stepping away from the food cart was grasping this club-like hunk of meat and gnawing on it cave-man style while grease dripped from their chin and down their arm as they made their way to the roasted corn on the cob vendor to fill their empty food shovel on the end of their other arm. I know, I know, smoked turkey legs are delicious (Mary had one) and so is the corn on the cob (my sister had one of those). But when your child is staring wide-eyed and begins to scratch his scalp, you see things in a new light.

We decided to take a break from the midway and go look at some of the animals. My sister and daughter decided to make a potty stop. The minute Drew and I walked into the barn we heard some people saying things like, “Man, I ain’t never seen a pig THAT big!” and “Shoooey! I wonder how much that fat pig eats?!” and “Mmmmmm, all that flab makes for some goooooood bacon!”. Drew looked up at me, pleading with his eyes and I took him by the shoulders guiding him through the crowd saying, “I know, I know. We’ll be out soon. It’s okay.”. We both breathed easier once we got outside, but only for a brief second. We were leaning against a fence waiting for the girls, when a new mother trying to fit into her pre-baby clothes pulled her stroller up next to us. Drew glanced her way just in time to see her bend down to get something from the bottom of her stroller and get an eye-full of everything her pre-baby tank top couldn’t contain. Which was a lot. I heard him suck in all the air around us and his hand immediately flew up to his scalp and started scratching. I directed him to look the other way. But soon that view was filled to the brim with someone who had come over to rest their substantial bones. More deep breathing from Drew and furious scratching. I feared he would leave the fair bald, so I directed his attention to the ferris wheel across the midway and suggested that he count how many times it goes around until his aunt and sister get back.

That seemed to do the trick. All was well and we were back on track until we continued up the path and came to the “Guess Your Age” game. We had stopped because my daughter LOVES flamingos and one of the prizes was a huge, cute, stuffed one. In that brief second we stood there admiring it and debating if she could try to win it or not, my brain suddenly kicked in and remembered that the second choice in this game is “Guess Your Weight”. That, of course was the strategy the next person in line (a very cute 10-year-old boy) opted for and before I could distract Drew again or at the very least cover his ears, the carnie began his very loud schtick into the microphone. “You want me to guess your weight? Well, let me look at you. Geez, you’re a really FAT KID. What’s your mama feedin’ you? You must be 200 pounds, you’re so fat!” I turned to my sister who had just realized what was happening and I said “I’ve gotta get him the hell outta here.” We quickly ushered the kids somewhere else. (As an aside I just have to give my sister props for being the most understanding and supportive sister and aunt. She later took Mary to another “Guess Your Age/Weight” booth by herself and paid for her niece to win a flamingo. That was the very least of what she did that weekend and she was just generally awesome in every way.)

We eventually made our way to the kids section to ride some tame rides and play some outrageously expensive games. As long as Drew was occupied and having fun, he was fine. I hadn’t seen him scratch his head for an hour or two. I kept the tickets (and ATM receipts) flowing because we all were in desperate need of this good time. And I steered clear of the exhibit containing the “world’s largest woman”. With my guard down, I watched the kids get in line for another ride. But then something caught my eye. It was a girl 4 or 5 kids in front of my children. I recognized that sweet, round face. It was the girl Drew had a crush on. You have GOT to be fucking kidding me, right???! I thought. Almost 128,000 people attended the fair that day and THIS is the girl we run into? The girl who my son was obsessing over and who might have contributed to this latest incarnation of his OCD (obviously through no fault of her own)?? Really? Thanks, God. I didn’t say a damn word but watched Drew to see if he would notice. Of course he did. And instead of the sight of her launching him into a shame spiral, it was totally adorable. At first he did a double take and I could see the wheels turning. Then his hand went to his head and began scratching. (Uh-oh.) Then he asked his sister if that was who he thought it was. She was very supportive and said, “What?? I don’t know.” He stepped slightly out of line and called her name. She turned around and smiled and waved and he did the same. His hand came down from his head and into his pocket. (Phew!) He talked to her for a minute until it was her turn and he told her to have fun. She waited for his turn to be over and when he got back on the ground she waved bye to him and told him to enjoy the rest of his fall break. He looked at me and sounding just like Opie Taylor said, “Gee, it was good to see her.” Some of the tension I had been holding in my body started to relax.

We played two more games before we left. At the first one the prize he chose was a light-up ninja sword. At the second his choice was a GIGANTIC inflatable banana. If that wasn’t a sign that this boy was having issues with his penis, then Sigmund Freud was a woman. I laughed… until he gave it to me to carry through the crowd. As we left, we stopped at a booth near the exit which had every fried food they had to offer at the fair all in one place. Fried candy bars, fried pieces of cheesecake, and even fried kool-aid. I handed Drew his prizes so I could help carry our fat-filled goodies. I looked down at my son, who didn’t have a free hand available to scratch his scalp even if he wanted to. Standing there holding his enormous phallic symbol, I knew he was going to be okay. Anxiety disorder and OCD is no fun, but it’s nothing lots of love, a therapist, a giant banana and a fried Reece’s cup can’t make better.


Tramp Stamps Are Fun For Everyone! (AKA: “We’ve Gone Off the Deep End and There Is No Lifeguard.”) June 6, 2011

DISCLAIMER: I in no way mean any disrespect to any readers who may have lower back tattoos in referring to the tattoos as “tramp stamps”. I assume you got them when you were of legal age to do so and respect your choice to express yourself however you choose. “Tramp stamp” is an inflammatory term I’m using purposefully to make a point. Also, it’s fun because it rhymes.


Recently my family and I and some of our friends went camping to a local State Park and recreational lake for the weekend. The weather was gorgeous and we were all enjoying sitting on the public beach watching our kids frolic in the water and soaking up the (soon to be) summer sun. People watching is fun, and I especially look forward to seeing some of the swimsuit choices of the locals around here. Not that I’m a skinny beach bunny and beyond reproach by any means! I’m well aware and perfectly okay with the fact that I’m putting myself out there too and am probably fodder for the 20 people or so who are sitting behind me. We all do it. So I was not surprised when my friend got my attention and said, “You see the little girl in the white and black bikini? WHAT is that? Is that a…” I wish real life had a soundtrack like the movies. Maybe then, as the pounding drums and rhythmic strings of the suspenseful “Jaws” theme alerted me to the horror I was about to witness, I would have been prepared for what I was about to see. But alas, there was no tell tale “Da nuh… Da nuh… Dun dun, Dun dun, Dun dun, Dun dun, Duh na na!!!!” I scanned the crowd at the water’s edge for something obvious. A ridiculous flotation device? A hideous swimsuit? And then my friend finished her sentence, “… a back tattoo? Is that what that is?!” Suddenly the term she had used, “little girl”, took on a new meaning and I began searching the teens and young ladies in the crowd. You know, someone older. Because when I think lower back tattoo, toddlers certainly aren’t the first thing that spring to my mind. But when I pressed my friend to clarify her description and she pointed out who she meant, that’s exactly what she was talking about- a toddler. There jumping around on the shore was an adorable 4 or 5 year old girl with a cute ruffly two piece on and then I saw it, as she twirled around, the unmistakable mark on her lower back. “No!” was my reaction. “Are you kidding me?”

That piqued my husband’s interest. “What? What are you guys talking about?” I shared the disheartening information all the while unable to look away from this sweet little girl. He took a gander himself and said, “It might be a birthmark…” as if it was too incredible to actually be true. There must be a more logical explanation. Yes, a black and white birthmark in the shape of a butterfly with horizontal scrolls WOULD make more sense. I wished it had been true. Once he realized it was indeed a baby “tramp stamp” he quickly tried to make himself and us feel better by stating it was probably one of those temporary ones that come off in a few days. Well Jesus! I certainly HOPE so!! Putting a temporary lower back tattoo on your pre-school daughter comes in second only to actually inking your little one!! We couldn’t believe it and it made me so sad. Why the hell are adults sexualizing little children? Why? WHY??!!!

Coincidentally, last week I stumbled upon a hilarious blog- stark. raving. mad. mommy. Her commentary on the top 10 skankeriffic sandals for girls had my sides hurting. She also has several other thoughts on trashy Halloween costumes for young children and the evil that is the Bratz Dolls. Sadly, there is lots of material for her to work with.

I’ll admit that after all my reading I was already sensitive to the penchant for some in this country to accelerate our daughters’ maturity and lower their self-esteem to the point where they’re getting plastic surgery and injecting themselves with Botox at age 8. Oh wait, that’s already happening. Or is it? I heard that mom changed her story. Shocker! Disturbingly, when I Googled “tramp stamps for children” I learned that a few years ago Toys ‘R Us was actually selling them in a gumball machine type of distribution system as you exit their store. “Mommy! Can I get a gumball? No! I mean a lower back tattoo? Or how bout this fun looking vial of crack that will make me forget all about the dumbing down of society so we’re all eventually a big melting pot of one brain celled slugs who can’t think for ourselves? Pleeeeeeeeezeee?!!” I wonder if Toys ‘R Us was actually testing the marketplace for a new item in the “Bella Dancerella product line… Bella Stripperella might have been popular. Especially after Miley Cyrus showed how much fun dancing on a pole can be at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards. (Did I mention the lower back tattoo machine was located right next to the Hannah Montana sticker machine at Toys ‘R Us? Coincidence? I think not.)

Oh, and speaking of dancing on a pole, I also learned from stark. raving. mad. mommy. that there’s a group of women who are teaching young girls pole dancing disguised as “fitness”. I know there are classes for grown women and that it’s an incredible workout. I get it. I’ve even seen some of the international pole dancing competitions on TV or YouTube or maybe it was just my husband describing a vivid dream, whatever. Those women aren’t strippers, have incredible strength and muscle tone and are mesmerizing to watch. Notice I’ve said “women” twice. The argument for the pole dancing classes for youngin’s is that it’s just a bar like in gymnastics only this one is vertical. That if you don’t dance provocatively on it and take off your clothes there’s nothing wrong with it. True. If you don’t dance provocatively on it and take off your clothes you’re not a stripper. It doesn’t make it right. To me. As Chris Rock once said, being the parent of a daughter means the one job you have in life is keeping her OFF the pole. There’s a connotation there- right or wrong. I’m sure it’s a great workout and there IS nothing wrong with advocating fitness and exercise. But there are other workouts that would be just as beneficial to young girls and not make sane people cringe or sick people search their wallets for dollar bills.

It’s times like these that I embrace the old Carter’s clothing slogan, “If they could just stay little ’till their Carter’s wear out.” Does Carter’s have a junior section? Because I see what’s coming very soon for my own little girl and I’m seriously considering taking up sewing. I’d put her 17 year old ass in a prom dress made by Carter’s so fast she’d get a burn from all that flannel and adorable tiny ribbon roses. When did we stop thinking that way and start wanting our daughters to work the street corner? Is the economy REALLY that bad?

Obviously I’m not saying that lower back tattoos and stripping or prostitution go hand in hand. That’s ridiculous. This is not a judgement on tattoos in general or people who get them at all. I know a lot of beautiful, intelligent women who have them and who are gainfully employed in traditional jobs. I’m not even saying this little girl we saw this weekend will end up walking around permanently in thigh high platform boots. What I’m saying is that I don’t understand why people are increasingly marketing to, buying for and allowing their young children to participate in what once was considered adult only activities. And this goes way beyond the candy cigarette days of old. My daughter is 10 and a friend of hers who is 11 showed up to the pool a few weeks ago with chemically highlighted hair and a black string bikini. What. The. Hell?????!!! I was honestly saddened. Okay, fine. The highlighted hair might have been a fun mommy-daughter day activity or something. I don’t know. But why can’t we have fun with our daughters by taking them to an age appropriate movie and then going for ice cream? At 11 years old your hair is the best it’s ever going to look! It’s healthy and uncontaminated and has natural, gorgeous highlights. Ugh. Don’t even get me started on the string bikini.

And before you say I’m a prude, let me reassure you, I’m not. I enjoy all kinds of adult fun. I do not, however, include my children. I’m not sure when this trend will stop. When will it go too far? To me, we’ve already gone off the deep end. Thank goodness there’s no lifeguard because that 15 year old, oiled up, hormone laced boy with the whistle might just get ideas that these young girls and their parents think are fun to play around with but in reality are completely serious. Grow up, America! Children, go to your rooms until you’re 18 before THIS happens for real. (Seriously, click the link.)


My Drew- Part Five… (AKA: “If I Only Had A Brain (Like His).”) March 10, 2010

Continued from Part Four

Arnie didn’t agree that Drew’s classroom situation was that dire, even after Drew came home saying he had to flip his card to “yellow” (green= good, yellow= warning, red= big trouble) for talking out of turn…. on the second day. In his new teacher’s classroom there is only negative reinforcement, no treasure box at the end of the week, no warm fuzzies. Arnie’s theory was maybe this is the type of teacher Drew needed- someone who didn’t “take any mess”, someone who would teach Drew the proper way to behave in public school. A relative of Arnie’s had trouble in his youth and before he got kicked out of college, joined the military. It put his life in order and from then on he has been a very responsible, productive member of society. Because of this, Arnie thought maybe, because this teacher was somewhat of a drill sergeant, she was going to be good for Drew. I wasn’t convinced. And after he came home a couple of days later saying he was on yellow again, his teacher made him cry and then subsequently yelled at him to stop, I was livid. We had all worked too long and too hard to get Drew to where he currently was, especially Drew himself. Nobody was going to come along and undo all of that and make us go back to square one. Drew was a confident, happy, dare I say well-adjusted boy, and I’ll be damned if some shrew who was two steps away from retirement was going to hone her Marine-like skill of tearing down elementary kids to bend them to her will on him. These were the thoughts in my head. Of course, as I requested a meeting with her, I was considerably more polite. My mother taught me what hers obviously hadn’t, to treat others the way you want to be treated.

The next day I showed up for my appointment with the woman. Only, instead of meeting in the classroom as we originally agreed to, she told me we’d just talk outside on the playground. I used to work for a woman who played control games. I know them well and if she thought making me stand out in the sweltering July heat with screaming kids running all around was going to make me uncomfortable, she underestimated me. I started out by giving her a bit of background on what we had been through the past two years. Heretofore, she had been unwilling to listen to any of it and even denied Drew’s LD teachers when they offered to e-mail her some strategies that they had found to work. I understand being territorial and on more than one occasion she let me know that “it won’t take long for (her) to figure it out, (she) had done this a time or two”. True, but what’s the harm in taking a few pointers from people who had been there, done that with this particular child? If he had a current IEP all of those strategies would have been there in writing and she would have been legally obligated to follow them. Since we didn’t have that yet, it was up to me to make her listen this time. I kept it short and sweet and basically told her the following: Of course we want Drew to behave in class. By all means, if he isn’t following the rules there should be consequences. But if he feels like you don’t like him, his bad behavior is only going to get worse and would spiral out of control. He’ll be anxious every day about screwing up, about your displeasure and our disappointment and it will become a vicious cycle, a self-fulfilling prophecy. I told her that if she took the time to bond in a positive way with Drew, he would do ANYTHING to please her and would most likely be her best student. I let her know that I had no doubt he would learn how to be a “good school boy” in her classroom, but what we also needed was for him to finish first grade with his self-esteem intact.

As we stood toe to toe in the sand, I was waiting for a random tumbleweed to pass by and the western music to start to swell. What happened was she took the constructive criticism reluctantly and got a jab in there about how I was an overprotective mother and probably just needed to chill. I let her have that. It was most likely true and I could see myself from her perspective. She probably wasn’t used to mothers getting up in her face on the 5th day of school. Before I left I extended an olive branch, an offer to volunteer or do whatever I could to help her in the classroom. The purpose was two fold- the first was that I really wanted to be helpful. I have a lot of friends who are teachers and I know their jobs entail a lot more than standing up in front of the kids explaining addition. If I can make their job easier, that leaves more time for them to focus on teaching my child. The other motive was of course to keep an eye on the classroom and keep my face fresh in her mind. We made arrangements for me to come in the following week. I left our meeting with my head held high. I made my points and felt like we had come to an understanding. I tried to be optimistic.

The next week I was encouraged to hear Drew talk about how funny his teacher was. She apparently also had taken up the habit of patting him on the head when he did something good. She seemed to be making an effort anyway and Drew was responding- he had stayed on “green” all week. I went in at my appointed time to volunteer. When I walked into the classroom, the children were quiet and Drew’s teacher motioned for me to come to her desk. She began showing me some of Drew’s work, openly praising him and his efforts in class. I glanced at Drew. He couldn’t have been more proud. Neither could I, I didn’t think. And then, after I asked about his conduct, she whispered this, “Oh no, his behavior is not a factor in the classroom at all.” I didn’t know what to say. There was a time when I never, EVER thought I would hear a teacher say that about my son. All the parent/teacher conferences from pre-school flashed in my mind, the Wake Co. IEP team telling me they rarely hold kids back for behavior issues, the thought that we might have to medicate Drew or put him in a cross-categorical class with other special needs students because he couldn’t control himself. I had prayed for a moment like this and here it was being delivered by someone I viewed as “Enemy #1”. I thanked the teacher, got my assignment, and went over to give Drew a big hug- just another boy sitting at his desk, doing his work like he was supposed to. But he was happy. And so was I.

However, the IEP issue was still unresolved. Drew’s teacher told me that she was going to have him tested to see if he qualified for specialized reading help. I felt sure that he would. The LD Center didn’t focus much on academics and I knew he was lacking. We had tried our best at home and Drew could read the heck out of a Dick and Jane book but something wasn’t clicking. This was part of the reason we had put him into first grade. Even with a summer birthday, at 7 years-old, he was technically supposed to be in second grade. But we felt like he had really missed out not only on a lot of material, but also the experience of being in a public school with so many rules and things to remember. We didn’t want him to be overwhelmed and figured his best chance as success would come in first grade. Around the time Drew was tested for reading help, word came that he would have to be retested for his IEP. We got the results of his reading test first- he did qualify for help and would be pulled out of the classroom 3 times a week and taught with a small group of children (mostly other boys).

The other testing was completed and our IEP meeting was scheduled. Arnie and I showed up and were escorted into a conference room. In attendance were Drew’s teacher, a special education team member, the school psychologist, the speech therapist, and an assistant vice-principal. We sat around a huge table and looked at Drew’s test results. Compared to two and half years ago, the numbers on the paper didn’t even look like they could have come from the same kid. There were obviously many improvements, but also areas that needed work. In addition to reading help, he qualified for speech therapy- FINALLY! No special education consult was necessary but we demanded to have some classroom modifications included in the plan. Drew had been in school for almost 8 weeks at this point and his teacher had in fact learned pretty quickly what worked for him and what he needed. I wanted it in writing so we didn’t have to go through it all over again with a new teacher the next year. The modifications Drew needed weren’t really all that tough, although his teacher did kind of make it seem like a total inconvenience to her. I know she’s busy and she has 24 children she has to teach. But, sitting him close to her, making sure you repeat instructions for him and redirecting him once or twice during the day to make sure he stays on task warrants a big “SO WHAT?” from me.

And this is where I am right now with “special needs” children and “mainstream” classrooms. Drew is amazingly smart. I would LOVE to know how his mind works. You’ve read the anatomy textbooks that talk about synapses and making connections in your brain but to see it actually happen in real-time before your eyes is an incredible gift. Remember back in part one where I said at three (almost four) years-old Drew couldn’t count to five? For as long as I live I will never forget the day he counted past five. We were in our playroom and Drew had been playing with his train set. The time came to clean up so I got out the bin and we started picking up tracks. I heard Drew mumble something each time he threw a track in the bucket. I listened closely and was startled to realize he was counting- and he was already in the 20s. There were 138 pieces of track and that day he counted every one. He must have wondered why his mommy was sitting there crying and hugging him so tightly!

That’s the way it’s been ever since. You know something is brewing underneath that skull. You can see him trying to work it out. It may not happen right away, or even very soon, but once Drew gets it (whatever “it” happens to be), he gets it better than anybody and takes it further than it’s been explained. Such was the case with the reading help. He started with the literacy coach before our track-out in October and maybe had two or three sessions. The regular schedule resumed in November and at our Christmas break, I was delighted to find the following note in his literacy folder:

Dear Drew’s Parents,
Just wanted to let you know that it has been a pleasure (underlined) working with Drew this year! He has made incredible progress! He is meeting reading benchmarks very successfully- he doesn’t need me anymore! Today will be Drew’s last day in the ALP Literacy program. What a success story!

It’s currently still on my refrigerator and I look at it every day to remind myself how far Drew has come and what he’s capable of. He is doing a wonderful job in school academically and behaviorally. He has yet to bring home anything less than 100% on his weekly spelling tests and sometimes math work gets sent home marked in red- not because it’s incorrect, but because he has provided a more sophisticated answer than they’ve learned in class. His teacher says Drew frequently raises his hand to answer questions that leave the other children scratching their heads. Behaviorally, he’s doing just fine. He stays on “green” most days. The days he does get on “yellow” it’s for infractions like talking too loud in the cafeteria or chasing a ball on the playground and going outside of the designated area. I can live with that.

All of these things are gold coins we can put in the bank, strengths to draw upon. I know we’ll have to fight this fight every year, no matter what his IEP says. I know that as he gets older and expected to be more independent his need to be reassured to calm his anxiety or redirected to stay focused will be less and less acceptable. And then where will that leave him? It seems like there’s a whole population of kids out there who are perfectly able to do the work, could excel even, they just need a little more guidance than most other children. They are misunderstood and mislabeled, prejudged and underestimated. These are the kids who are falling through the cracks. There is a place in schools for special needs and learning disabled. What about special needs and academically gifted? It is possible to be both. Is there not a place in the world for these children?

Why can’t there be a place in school for the child who might need to be reminded every day where his homework goes? Or for the child who has to hum when he takes a test? What about a child, like Drew, who sometimes has to spin when he reads a book? He’s reading the book. He’s learning the material. Does his method make the end result less valid? No, just inconvenient. Well, too bad I say. My child is not a robot. He has never done anything the way it’s “supposed” to be done- EVER. But who are we to say that’s wrong? How his brain works and what he does sometimes doesn’t make sense to us. The other way to look at it is that I’m sure what we do doesn’t make sense to him either. Demanding that he sit still and never fidget while he’s doing his homework is probably like telling Tom that he has to be best friends with Jerry. It just doesn’t work that way. What the public school system as a whole needs to realize (in my opinion, of course) is that these aren’t bad kids. They aren’t misbehaving on purpose. They don’t WANT to get into trouble. They are complicated, smart, sensitive and have many, many gifts they would love to share. It’s a complete disservice to tell them that they are a round peg and don’t fit into a square hole. Adaptability has to be part of the equation for BOTH sides.

I shudder to think of how many van Goghs or Einsteins we’ve missed out on simply because they couldn’t toe the line in an overcrowded classroom and didn’t have anybody in their corner to advocate for them or look past the inappropriate behavior and see the promise waiting there to be nurtured. I don’t know what the future will hold for Drew- what type of person he’ll become or what he’ll do with his life. But I do know it’ll be one hell of a ride and we’ll always feel blessed for the gift that he is.

“Before you go to sleep, say a little prayer. Every day in every way it’s getting better and better. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy.” ~ John Lennon


My Drew- Part Four… (AKA: “Go Forth and Prosper”) March 5, 2010

Continued from Part 3

The thought of leaving the LD Center and going it on our own never failed to send me into a panic attack. The fact that we had come to rely so heavily on these “strangers” for daily support never failed to make me laugh. If I could rent a time machine, I’d go back to me as we were first stepping onto the LD path, pat my past-self (the one with the horrified look on her face) on the back and tell her it’s going to be okay. Who would have ever thought I couldn’t live without these people? Certainly not me. Those people kind of had an inkling though. As with everything else there, they were intuitive and understanding and began preparing Drew and us for our departure six months before it actually happened. We met as a team to discuss the transition, how to best handle it for Drew, and things we should keep in mind as we “mainstream” him.

For example, I didn’t know how to handle our first meeting with his new public school teacher. I wanted her to know about Drew and his challenges but that’s not what I wanted her first impression of him to be. I wanted her to know we were on top of everything and very involved parents without making her feel like we were going to be invasive. More than anything I wanted her to know that I thought of all of us like a “team”. That was one of the best parts about the LD Center- the fact that everyone who had anything to do with Drew was part of a team with one goal in mind- success for him. I wanted his new teacher to know we were on her side and wanted to make her year a success just as much as we wanted it for Drew. Dr. S suggested I say just that. She assured me that my sincerity and love for Drew would shine through and put this woman at ease with us. If it were another woman, maybe Dr. S would have been right.

Our foray into Drew’s public education didn’t start out well. To begin with, our neighborhood had just been rezoned so the school Mary had been going to for three years was no longer our school. I had loved that school and hated that we wouldn’t be going there anymore. On the other hand, I thought the change might be a good thing since Drew was going to be joining his sister. This could be a new adventure we would all be starting together instead of Drew being the only new one. Also, there would be fewer expectations as “Mary’s brother” at a place where nobody knew either of them. That being said, I didn’t know anybody either and three years of volunteering at the old school, showing my face around, and making friends in the school office in preparation for the day Drew joined the ranks had just been flushed down the toilet. (Not that the experiences weren’t still valuable but the in-roads I had made with the administration had essentially just been deemed irrelevant.) I began to make my round of phone calls to the new school and the county to figure out the procedure for getting Drew’s IEP reinstated or if, instead, we could have him retested and a new IEP drawn up. Little did I know it would take five months and being bounced around like a pinball for that to happen. In that time, I made multiple phone calls and wrote letters to assure people that 1) Drew was indeed supposed to be going to first grade at the same school as his sister 2) he DID have an IEP but had been in private school for two years and he probably needed to be retested 3) had been registered at our base school two years prior before private school was decided upon and was in the system 4) DID have an IEP on file (even though it was outdated) 5) his last name had a “d” in it instead of a “t” 6) HE HAD AN OLD IEP ALREADY- I SWEAR!!! Even after all that, the county refused to return phone calls from me or the school, actually faxed the wrong child’s file, and finally declared his old IEP “expired” and suggested he be retested and a new IEP drawn up. Government agencies can really make you want to stick a pencil in your eye sometimes.

In the meantime, Drew finished up his days at LD. His phone calls home only occurred maybe once every other week which mostly consisted of him telling us things like “Hey Mama! I made blue gak!” and the sounds in the background were delighted squeals instead of demonic screams. We started practicing Arnie dropping him off at the door and Drew walking down the hall by himself. It was all coming together, just like they promised. And just like I thought, on his last day of school there Drew was, the strong one and I was emotionally fragile. I had bought each of the teachers a combination cork/dry erase board as a gift. To the cork board I had tacked a picture Drew had drawn, a letter I had tearfully written, and tons of gift cards I had hoped they would use to pamper themselves. On the dry erase side I had written “YOU ARE” in big letters and wrote all the adjectives I could think of to describe what wonderful human beings they were even though it fell woefully short of telling the whole story of them in our lives. I hoped it would say what I couldn’t because at the time I was choked up with all the feelings a grateful mother could fit inside and it felt like a huge ball in my throat. I tried to squeak out a “thank you” but nothing but tears, snot and a forced smile through a constrained sob came out. Yes, it was the ugliest of ugly cries. I didn’t think anybody who wasn’t a parent could get the magnitude of thankfulness I felt, but they did and pulled me in for the world’s longest hug. Going down the hall felt like a pep rally, everybody coming out to say their good-byes and Drew high-fiving every one. I lagged behind dabbing at my eyes, thinking with each step of how far we had come in two years, and how I didn’t want to leave this bubble. I came to the end of the line and standing there was the director of the Center. He was the first person we had met so it was a perfect bookend that he was the last one we saw. This older man who hadn’t so much as touched my hand in two years opened his arms wide and enveloped me in a tight embrace. After a minute he patted my back and said “You and Drew will be just fine.” “Thank you… for everything.” I quietly responded and apologized for getting snot on his tweed jacket. Drew and I left triumphantly and went to have ice cream.

It was the middle of July and it turned out that, with the 11 month schedule of the LD Center and our new school’s year round calendar, Drew only had two weeks before he started his public school career. We met his new teacher beforehand. Everything Dr. S had told me to do kind of flew out the window when I laid eyes on her. Arnie and I had an idea about what kind of teacher would be right for Drew. This woman was none of them. She was a classroom veteran, somewhat severe looking and definitely intimidating. Maybe that’s why when it came to be our turn to say hello during the open house I started talking and couldn’t stop. I verbally vomited on this woman who stood there shell-shocked trying to process everything I was throwing at her. I’m pretty sure the only things she heard were “unresolved IEP situation”, “social and emotional delays” and “challenging but lovable”. And then I asked if I could take a picture of her with Drew so he could look at it over the next couple of weeks and be better prepared. (Another one of Dr. S’s suggestions.) Ugh, the look on this poor woman’s face. She looked like she wanted to vomit for real. Still she could have completely ignored me and been warm to Drew but she wasn’t. On the drive home the kids were gushing about their new school. I was glad to hear their excitement but couldn’t hide my anxiety. Arnie glanced at me and patted my knee, “It’ll be okay” he said without ever having to ask why I was upset.

I hoped he was right. I tried to keep in mind what Dr. S had told me, to remember how unsure I felt when we started at LD and that (to quote my mother) “this too shall pass”. I never let Drew see any of my apprehension. In front of him I was enthusiastic, positive and always spoke highly of his new teacher. He had to know that he could trust her as much as his old teachers. I was praying she was trustworthy. The first day of school came. I followed Drew down the hall since he wanted to walk by himself. He looked so adorable with his camouflage backpack and fresh haircut. I walked with him into his classroom, found his cubby, and got him settled at his desk. I took a deep breath, went home and waited for the phone to ring. It never did. Drew came home excitedly telling me about all the new friends he had made. I was the tiniest bit relieved. The next day I walked him to class again. I was the only parent to do so. While talking to the teacher briefly about how Drew had done the day before, more students came in and were meandering around the classroom. Let me remind you this is first grade… and only the second day. All of a sudden the teacher very loudly began yelling at the kids, “Uh, uh, uh, uh UH!!!” she shouted as she shook her head, marched over to the light switch and (somewhat violently) flipped the lights off. The children froze. “We do not come into our classroom like THIS. We are quiet and calm and move to our seats in an orderly manner! YOU! (she pointed to a student who looked terrified) You get to where you need to be.” I was floored. I looked at the sweet faces staring blankly at their new teacher. Over half of them looked like they were going to cry. Hell, I was about to cry. She turned the lights back on, walked back to me and said, “So… anyway, Drew had kind of a rough time containing himself yesterday but he’ll get there.” I tried to smile at her but my ears were burning. I couldn’t believe this is the teacher we ended up with and that THIS was her method for teaching 6-7 year-olds. I went over and hugged Drew tight, waved at the other kids and told them they were doing an awesome job. I left the school, went home and began plotting how I could get my child out of that classroom.

To be continued…