Tuesday, January 31, 2012

No Buses for Ben?


When Ben started his new routine of two schools a day, we were offered the option of busing between the locations.

I knew that the combination of a new school and riding on a bus with a bunch of new kids and no teacher/parent would be too much change all at once for Ben, but I thought that maybe after he got settled into the new routine he would want to ride the bus with the other kids in his class.

Despite being asked about it almost every day (first by me and then by his teacher), Ben has had no such desire.


But an unexpected development between the bus driver and me might have taken away the bus option entirely.

It all started a few weeks ago, when I was still new at the mid-day pick up/drop off. I was not 100 percent sure where I should park when dropping Ben off at his regular school, since he had to check in at the office and then run out to his classroom, which is in a portable on the other side of the school.

(Left to his own devices, Ben would not make his way into either of these places, at least not directly.)

I thought it would make sense to park in the middle--where there is a "pick up/drop off only" zone.


Technically, drivers are not supposed to leave their cars in this area. However, when Ben was in half-day kindergarten, many of the parents parked in the drop-off zone, then walked their children to the kindergarten door and waited with them for their teacher.

Of course, this would not be possible at busy times, like first thing in the morning or after school, but in the middle of the day, when nobody else is lining up to pick up or drop off children, it seemed harmless.

On the day of kindergarten registration, I took Janae and Alaina into the school with me for a bit longer than usual, since I had to fill out some forms and show proof that Janae was my daughter (not as easy as I had assumed this would be!).


By the time I got back to the van and was buckling Alaina into her car seat, the bus had pulled up behind me. Seeing that I had obviously left my vehicle parked and unattended, the bus driver held up her hands in a perplexed gesture, shook her head with disgust, and mouthed the words, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

I felt a little embarrassed, guilty, ridiculous, and . . . defensive.

After all, I had to park somewhere . . . it was only for a few minutes . . . no-one else (besides the bus) was stuck behind me (and even the bus had room to drive past where I had parked).


I think I also felt a little defensive about driving Ben myself instead of putting him on the bus. It is nice to see Ben halfway through the day, and I have to admit I always feel a little sorry for the nine other kids who don't have their moms picking them up. These kids (from several schools in the district) who need extra help in math and reading also look like they just need a hug--they look so ragged and forsaken as they make their way to the school bus every day.

Anyway, from the day of the "parking incident" on--without any conscious intention on my part--my daily drive has turned into an exercise of ME against the BUS.

If I arrive at Ben's school before the bus (which I usually do), I feel a sense of triumph--I've beaten the bus! (I can't help but think about that famous race between Thomas the Tank Engine and Bertie the Bus . . . and feel like a "really useful" parent.)

If I arrive after the bus, I feel a little negligent--and think the bus driver must be saying, "If only that incompetent woman would let her son ride the bus, he would miss less instructional time!"


Either way, though, I never park in the loading zone--I have found a very nice spot right in front of the school that is always free (I don't exactly have the required mirror tag to park there, but it seems to work okay).

I try to avoid having the bus driver see me parked there, though, as I imagine she would once again be shaking her head and wondering what I was doing.

You might think I am blowing this entire situation completely out of proportion--and you are probably right--but Benjamin did tell me the other day that one of the kids in his class was talking about how the bus driver "always yells at [Ben's] mom" and says things like, "some people just don't think."

So . . . it really is me against the bus.

And after all that's been said and done, I don't think Ben will be taking advantage of the between-school bus system any time soon.


Although, there is the small issue of school swimming lessons coming up in a few weeks, but that will be a different bus, a different driver, a different set of kids, and a different destination.

I think it will be okay :)


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nothing Lost That Can't Be Found

There are few things more frustrating than looking for something you have lost. This frustration can become much more intense when the lost thing is something of great value or importance, and when the person who gave the lost thing to you is glaring at you as you look for it.

I, of course, speak from experience.

Yesterday, as I was making dough for pizza crusts, I took off my wedding ring and placed it on the very secure kitchen counter.

I do this every time I work with dough, since I strongly dislike picking clumps of flour and other goo from the little spokes that hold the diamonds in place. I think most married women do the same.

Normally I put my ring on top of our microwave, pasta holder, or some other "higher" surface, but yesterday I was cooking with Janae, helping Alaina with the potty at regular intervals, and breaking up fights between Janae and Alaina, Janae and Ben, Ben and Alaina . . . okay--the usual. Somehow, though, I ended up taking off my ring in a quick and disorderly fashion, and placing it on the counter with the rest of the clutter (or . . . essential cooking items that I had neatly lined up beside me).

Anyway, later when I was cleaning up, I realized that I still wasn't wearing my ring. My search became more and more frantic with each passing minute, until I finally announced that the ring was lost.

Jason was annoyed and started helping me look through drawers and cupboards, on the floor, in the garbage--anywhere it could have dropped or been taken.

"Why didn't you put it up high?" he asked.


Now, I have to admit that this wasn't the first time I'd lost my ring. The other instance occurred in 2005 when I'd let my then one-year-old Benjamin play with it and he'd dropped it down his undershirt--not that we'd discovered this until after Jason (who was not only very mad on that occasion, too, but had also had the flu at the time) had taken apart our bed, dresser, and most of the upstairs of our old house (the story has become a family legend).

Anyway, I know that taking care of my ring is important, and I always try to do it, but . . . everyone makes mistakes sometimes, right?

So, we looked for the ring (on and off) for several hours. I knew it couldn't have disappeared, but telling Jason this didn't do anything to alleviate the glare that had taken over his face.

Finally, after many a silent prayer that my ring would be found (and my marriage saved), I went into the kitchen and once again stood at the counter where I'd made the cursed dough. As I re-envisioned the scene, the thought crossed my mind that I might have closed the ring up in with my cookbook.

I took the book out of the cupboard, let it fall open to my pizza recipe, and . . . found the ring!




Jason and I put the kids to bed, read a little bit, then went to sleep.

In the night, Janae woke up from a bad dream and called for Daddy. Jason got up, reached for his glasses, and--not being able to find them--staggered into the kids' room.

A few minutes later he came back to look again for the glasses. They were nowhere to be found. He turned on the light (waking up Alaina!), and did a more thorough search. By this time, I was involved, too (even though it was the middle of the night, you can be sure I somehow managed to maintain a cheerful and helpful disposition!). We looked on and in Jason's nightstand, beside and under the bed, in the blankets--even on the dressers. Like my wedding ring, the glasses seemed to simply be gone.

It was not until this morning, after another complete search of the room, that I spotted the glasses in the middle of the bed under Alaina's blanket.


We were relieved Jason would be able to take Ben to school, go to work, and walk across the room without bumping into anything.

So . . . after all this losing and finding, we have learned a few lessons:

1. Anyone can lose something; losing something is not a sign of not caring for things.
2. We should not treat people who lose things unkindly (they have feelings, too!)
3. It is less likely that someone without glasses can find their glasses than someone without a ring can find their ring.

and, my new favorite,

4. If we are ever looking for the KitchenAid attachments, keep this in mind:


Note: Please be assured that all photos used in this post were re-created for artistic purposes. When I found my ring I did not stop and take a picture before putting it safely back on my finger!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Benjamin and Janae's Day Off


In our part of the country, it is not unusual to have a rainy December, a green Christmas, and even an only slightly chilly New Year's.

It's always exciting when we see a little snow, even if it is not until the middle of January.


We will often get just enough to justify pulling out the gloves and hats to make a snowman, even if we can still see the grass poking through.


But once in a while we get a REAL snowfall. One that fills up the yard, makes the roads icy, gets Grandpa reminiscing about Finland, and--best of all--keeps the school buses from running.


This is what happened Monday night . . . which led to a day off of school!


Ben was happy.


Janae was happy.


And a day off of school for Ben and Janae means a day off of riding in the car for Alaina.

She was pretty happy, too :)


After playing for a while in our backyard, we decided to take a walk down the road to Grandma and Grandpa's (Jason has a few days off, too, since not much landscaping can be done under this many inches of snow!)


(watching the big TV seemed to be an essential part of Ben and Janae's day-off festivities!),


then we did what everyone else was doing--we found a hill to slide down and kept sliding until we could no longer feel our faces.


(This was not before Ben had discovered his hidden talent for "belly whopping," though!)


Grandma even sent us home with a packet of left-over Christmas dinner that she had skillfully frozen in such a way that it tasted as good as the original.

I was tempted to put the tree back up--and probably would have, too, if it wasn't so much work.

It really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

and it is so nice to have a day off :)

(Just ask Ben and Janae!)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Another Sticker Chart Success for Janae

The last several weeks before Christmas--and the first few days back after--Janae had a lot of separation anxiety every time I took her to preschool.

We knew there could be several explanations for this . . . but since it seemed to be getting worse instead of better (and lasted even when I stayed), I thought I'd better take some action.

Janae had had a similar experience with swimming lessons last spring: she had loved her class, then suddenly refused to go. At the time she'd had her eye on a princess Barbie . . . so I bought the doll, then set up a sticker chart. Every time she went to swimming, she got a sticker until--finally--the Barbie was hers.

I was a little surprised, since I'd never had any luck using sticker charts with the kids for potty training or chores, but--obviously-- I was glad things had worked out so well.

With this parenting success behind me, I thought I'd pull the sticker chart card once again.

And once again it worked like a charm :)

For quite some time, Janae had been commenting on her desire for a "ladybug" umbrella. Not just an umbrella with ladybugs on it, but a particular style that has eyes raised above the top of the umbrella. Janae had seen a similarly styled "frog" umbrella, and had said that even that would do.

Of course, we have a pile of various other types of umbrella in our closet, so I'd resisted Janae's pleas.

But . . . luckily I knew how to speak Janae's language.

I drew a picture of an umbrella, had Janae color it, then day by day the stickers came.

Since the mere mention of the chart, Janae has happily waved goodbye when we've arrived at preschool.


When things started to seem promising, we looked for a ladybug umbrella online (I couldn't find any at our local stores). It was then that Janae spotted a kitty cat one that she liked even better.

The much-anticipated packaged arrived on Wednesday . . . and stayed in a very safe place until this afternoon.


So what happened to the tears, pleas for another hug, mad dashes after me as I walked out the door? Thanks to the sticker chart, they are all just a memory now.


A memory that will hopefully be clouded out by an upcoming rainstorm so Janae will be able to put this little item to good use :)


Monday, January 9, 2012

This Is Why I Read

Over the weekend I finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and as I closed the book the thought came to me that this novel represented the reason I love to read fiction.

The novel tells the story of a girl named Francie Nolan who grew up—very poor—in Brooklyn, New York, just prior to the first world war. It lets us into not only Francie’s thoughts but also those of her mother, showing us how they ended up where they were, as well as what they hoped, feared, and just generally felt during their many experiences.

The world they lived in seemed so real as I read—I have repeatedly told Ben and Janae parts of the story: of the children collecting and selling “junk” then using the pennies to buy candy, as well as saving for something better for their family; of the children “winning” a Christmas tree that was being thrown away on Christmas Eve.; and of Francie receiving her first and only doll.

There were many other parts that I couldn’t retell to Ben and Janae but that reminded me of thoughts or concerns I have had for myself and for my children. Some passages could have been my very own thoughts written down on paper—it is amazing when someone else puts into words concerns that you have never even verbalized. In books like this I feel such a strong connection to the author and story.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of those books that really affected the way I think about things—and made me want to go back and re-read the story.

And--in case you haven’t read between the lines--I highly recommend it :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Frisco Is . . . Married?!

Yesterday I was working on something in the kitchen when I heard Alaina exclaim in an astonished voice, "FRISCO is MARRIED??!!"

Being busy making dinner and washing dishes, I didn't think much of it.

We all know that Frisco gets lots of love, especially from this girl,


but I don't think any of us really thought he would ever get married.

Then this morning I noticed a Christmas card Jason had opened and that I hadn't seen yet (we'd just got it forwarded from our old address).


It does kind of look like Frisco . . . getting married.


So funny that Alaina was the first to notice :)

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Year, New Schedule


When we moved across town a few months ago, one of the things we were looking forward to the most was having less stress in the mornings, since Ben's elementary school would only be 5 minutes away (as opposed to 15-20, when we had to drive across town and over the freeway).

I hadn't really thought much about Janae's preschool being practically next door to our old place, since her school is only three times a week, and in the afternoons when there is less traffic.


Just before Christmas, though, we found out that Ben had been accepted into a math and reading program at another school--just around the corner from Janae's preschool.

The program provides a great opportunity for Ben to learn reading and math in a class of only 8 students (with two teachers!). It starts a little earlier, though, and meets Monday through Thursday. At 11:00 I pick Ben up and take him to his regular school.


So . . . our new schedule looks like this:

Wake up extra early.
Take Ben across town to the new school.
Come home for 30-60 minutes.
Take Janae to ballet or both girls to story time (if it's Tuesday or Thursday).
Pick Ben up from the new school and take him back to the old school.
Come home for an hour.
Take Janae to preschool (try to get her to stay).
Come home for an hour.
Pick Ben up at the old school.
Pick up Janae at preschool (if she stayed).
Come home.

And that's without mentioning all of the buckling and unbuckling of the girls, or the grocery shopping, etc. that is just part of life.


I know there are many other moms who keep up much more demanding schedules, but I seem to have reached the limit of what I am capable of . . . or gone just beyond.

After half a week, I have to admit I am getting a bit mixed up. For example, yesterday--as I was driving back to our old neighborhood yet again for story time at the library--I passed an elementary school and thought about Ben being out for recess at about that time.

But when I pictured my son, there was a confused moment when I couldn't remember which school he was at. Was he playing outside at the new school . . . or the old school? It was a bit unsettling.

Today is Friday, which means I just take each child to one school--with no story time, lessons, or other appointments in between. It kind of feels like a day off (or would if I didn't have so much housework to catch up on . . . ).

It is really nice, though, to see Ben halfway through the day--something I will miss today.

I just have a bit of a paranoid fear that I am going to miss a class, or misplace one of my children, in all of this.


Since my good memory used to be one of my most impressive traits, I can't help but feel that this lack of mental functioning is a sign of my quickly approaching entry into much-older age.

I guess I should have done more crossword puzzles over the years . . . or maybe had more sleep.

Since it's too late for any of that, I will just have to--once again--ask that you wish us luck :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

(No) Life without Cheese?

A week or so before Christmas, I got a call from my Uncle Melvin. He phoned to thank us for our Christmas card, and then somehow got onto the topic of diet and nutrition.

It turns out that over the past year my uncle has become a vegetarian, mostly because of a book he had read called The China Study--a book that he highly recommended to me.

He told me that since he had stopped eating meat and dairy products he had been much healthier--to the degree that he hadn't been sick with a cold or flu all year.

Well, anyone who knows me can guess what I did next. I logged onto our library website and requested the book.

The China Study became available to me just before Christmas Eve, and I picked it up. With every page I turned, I became convinced that I needed to make some dietary changes.


The author--who is a leading cancer researcher and fully credentialed nutrition expert--promotes a plant-based (vegan) diet. He claims, very convincingly, that animal products--including meat, milk, eggs, and cheese--can cause a range of serious health problems.


Meet Veganism
I knew I couldn't start right away--what with two turkey dinners coming up over the next few days--but I decided that after Christmas I would give up meat and dairy products. I thought I'd hold off on serving a vegan diet to my children until I had researched their nutritional requirements a little further, but I made a personal goal to resist these foods.


I checked a vegetarian cookbook out of the library, marked a few recipes that looked promising, and started to prepare plant-based meals: spinach and mushroom lasagna (kind of yucky), all-vegetable spaghetti sauce with multigrain pasta (not quite as yucky but still a little gross), and--tonight's dinner--Greek Bean Soup.


Tonight's Dinner
As I put together a dinner of white kidney beans, carrots, celery, and tomatoes, I couldn't help but think, "There is no way my kids are going to eat this." Even though they had had ham sandwiches for lunch, I felt as though I should give them a little more than the tasteless broth I had boiled all afternoon.


I decided to whip up a couple of cheese pizzas.

As I looked at the plate of homemade pizza in the middle of the table, and tasted my Greek Bean Soup, I had to admit . . . there was a problem.


The Problem


I took this question to my husband of 9 years, who asked, "You're still going to make cookies, though, right?"

I followed up with, "You aren't saying that you married me just for my cookie baking skills . . . ?"


Jason had to admit that he had.

This certainly may be a barrier to my success as a vegan.

I must say, I am not sure how this is going to work.

Even my first week as a vegan has been compromised by the overabundance of chocolate and specialty cheeses in the house--the ratio has been something like 50 percent vegetables/whole grains, 40 percent peppermint bark, Toblerone, and Ferrero Rocher (Jason is a little enthusiastic with the chocolate stocking stuffers) and 10 percent Swiss cheese.

I'm sure it's not exactly what the China Study author had in mind (chocolate is not really a "whole food," is it?). And the prospects for future success don't look good.


BUT it is still my goal to become at least somewhat of a vegetarian--if not a full-out vegan--over the coming year.

I guess we're about to find out if I really can live without cheese . . . or chocolate. . . .