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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Young Love

Ahhhh...young love.  I've been thinking a lot about young love lately and not because I'm looking back and pining for a lost love.  I have the love of my life so there is no pining for me.  I've been thinking a lot about young love because I am seeing in first hand, in full bloom in my house.  And it's precious.

Zach has a girlfriend. I always thought I would dread saying those words but I don't.  Not in the least and it's surprised me.  I love watching Zach with Libby.  They are sweet together.   They are kind and respectful to one another.  They care about the other.  They are friends with one another.  I see Zach becoming a stellar young man right before my very eyes as I watch young love blossom.

Zach asked me the other day if I thought his attitude has changed since he a Libby became a couple.  And I had to answer yes to his question.  Libby is leading him well, as he navigates the softer side of his feelings, not only for her, but for his family as well.  Libby doesn't let him treat his brother or his sister poorly.  Libby has brought out the softer side of Zach as he relates to his younger siblings and I couldn't be happier as Zach becomes more comfortable showing his affection.  Don't get me wrong, it's not all sunshine and roses when it comes to inter-sibling  relations...I can hear the thudding through the house now as the boys show each other their "affection" but Zach is definitely warmer with both Lucas and Claire.  And I'm pretty sure his attitude has shifted a little because he is more comfortable with his sweeter side.

You might be wondering why I thought I would dread saying "Zach has a girlfriend."  If you've been reading my blog for a while you can probably almost answer that on your own and you can guess it's because I don't like thinking about my kiddos growing up.  There is another part of the equation, though, which is I am selfish.  I jealously guarded my time with these munchkins of mine.  But over the past two years I've realized something.  I've realized that in bringing more and more kids into the fold of our family life, the richer our lives have become.  Our house is now blessed with not three kiddos at any given time but now I have a revolving door of many kids who enriched this family in so many ways.  Libby, and young love, has added another wonderful layer to the dimension of our family.

In the two years I have worked on this blog I have changed, morphed and grown more than I ever thought possible.  I have watched my oldest go from being a young, gawky teenager to a responsible young man and I have not only lived through it all, I think I've come out stronger.  In the beginning of this blog I was worried I might implode as I thought about Zach getting his learner's permit and his driver's license.  As I wrote my way through the past two years I have come to realize I'm not going to implode.  Milestones are still a killer and tears come unbidden sometimes when I think how quickly time has gone.  But what I think I've learned as I've gone through this blog is as long as I'm willing to grow with my kids in each of their stages I'll be OK, and so will they.

So, yes, Zach has a girlfriend.  I'm glad Zach has Libby.  They both deserve to experience young love in such a perfectly sweet way.

Oh, for the love of my children...

Saturday, December 15, 2012


In our lives we have all seen tragedies...each one seeming to over shadow the last.  The first I remember was the bombing of the Murrah Federal Buildings in Oklahoma.  I don't think any of us will ever erase the image of the firefighter carrying the wounded child out of the smokey building.  It's the first time I remember being aware of a real living creature containing only pure evil inside.  We have gone on to see countless tragedies since then..., the embassy attacks in Africa, Columbine, The Twin Towers and Virginia Tech.  These are all interspersed with our own personal tragedies and unfortunately there are so many tragedies and disasters that could be listed.  But now, and most horrendously,  our country grieves for Newtown, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary school and the families left to deal with losing their children in what we all believe should be an environment where our children are their school.  This is one more tragedy to add to a list none of us want to see grow.

Somehow, this one seems the most cruel.  A man shooting babies is beyond what we can begin comprehend.  That evil should touch our littlest ones is not something, we as parents, ever envision for our precious children.  The cruelty that entered Sandy Hook Elementary school is the work of an evil, vile, disgusting piece of "humanity."

Stan sat glued to the ever looping images of the children being lead from the school and into safety.  Zach came home with his head hanging down and his shoulders slumped, telling me how the kids at school couldn't tear themselves away from what happened to the youngest students.  He said his entire school was following the news closely and most kids went on to google other instances of the most vile parts of humanity capturing the attention of the entire nation.  For Zach, this is the first time he's been aware of the evil that lurks within our world.  Lucas and Claire both heard about what happened but they had no idea the children who were killed were babies.

At some point in the evening, Stan and I counted our blessings and realized how very fortunate we are.  We tried to change the subject several times but our conversation always turned back to Connecticut.  The sadness of the day pervaded our entirety.

While Stan and I kept trying to change the subject, I decided it was time to send out some messages of love.  I texted my mom and dad with virtual hugs and kisses.  I texted several friends to let them know they meant the world to me.  And that's when Stan said "it's out of tragedies like this that some good things shine through.  People start reaching out to one another in ways we normally don't."

When Stan said that I decided I needed a message of hope.  I needed to watch "The Polar Express" with its message of  hope, love and belief.   I needed to believe in the power of love over evil.

I watched the end of the movie with a tightness in my chest and tears streaming down my cheeks, knowing there are families in Connecticut whose belief has been altered.  But I also watched with a glimmer of hope in my heart.  Hoping that by all of us choosing to believe in the purity of love we can overcome the evil living amongst us.

"Believe" it's the one word punched into the little boy's ticket at the end of the "The Polar Express."  It may be the most difficult word to comprehend at a time like this but it's the one word we need to all grasp with all of our might.  We need to believe in each other.  We need to believe in love overcoming evil.  We need to believe that rights will be wronged.  And we need to believe in the power of faith to heal broken hearts.

Before the children in "The Polar Express" get back on the train the little boy asks Santa for a bell from Santa's sleigh.  He wants to remember and believe.  I think it is time for all of us to take out our bells and make them ring in honor of the children whose lives were lost to evil yesterday.  I think we need to make them ring with a mighty peal so that we can always believe.

"At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it felt silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."

I can hear the bell ringing.  Please say you can too...for the love of all of our children...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What Part of "Don't Drink Out of the Toilet" Don't You Understand?

Ah, Bella.  Why must you disobey me every day and drink out of the toilet?  Really?  The toilet?  And then you expect to give me wet, slobbery kisses with the mouth that drank out of the toilet?  I tell you time and time and time again "Don't drink out of the toilet" and yet you fail to obey me!  What am I going to do with you?

I have two things to say to you.  1.  You are reminding me so much of Lucas right now.
2. You are lucky you're cute.

I mean ~ look at that face!  Really, who could stay mad at that face?  It's exactly how I felt about Lucas when he turned two.  

Last night as Bella was rampaging through the house, chewing, gnawing, digging and pawing everything she could I said to Lucas "Bella has turned into you."  I got shot a quizzical look followed by a "Huh?"  So I had to tell Lucas the story of his babyhood turned to toddlerhood and the story goes something like this...

When Lucas was a baby he was the most mellow, sweet infant.  He was easily soothed, didn't fuss much and slept like a dream.  I remember being on the phone with my girlfriend maybe a month after he was born.  I was telling her how much I was getting done ~ I had worked out.  I had the house clean.  I played a game with Zach and at that point I was having a nice chat with her on the phone.  She said "how the heck are you getting all of this done with a newborn???"  I told her I put Lucas in the swing three hours before and there he stayed, snoozing some and looking around some.  He was content and happy there.  He was content and happy wherever he was.  I was able to travel with him in ways I never would have dreamed.  Lucas and I drove to Poland twice before he turned eight months old.  I either had him in the Baby Bjorn carrier or in a back pack and he was happy as a clam.  Until he turned two...

And he became Lucas squared.  He was all over the place.  He got into everything.  He tested limits and tested them some more.  He figured out how to get out of the house and get into cars parked on our cul-de-sac.  Anything I said "no" to he would walk away from it only to go back to it when I wasn't looking.  When Lucas turned two it was like have double duty Lucas and it was tough to handle his Lucas-ness somedays.  I always told him he was lucky he was cute...

Just like I say to Bella.  

Up until about two weeks ago she was the most mellow, easy going puppy.  And then it all changed.  Bella is all over the place, testing limits and finding the most trouble to get into.  It's like a trip back in time to Lucas Memory Lane but instead of a cute blond boy in the staring role I now have a pretty blond puppy as the star of trouble.    

Today she has tried to eat a pair of Reef flip flops.  After I took the flip flops away, she went back to chewing off the wood trim on a table in our TV room.  I reprimanded her for that and she snuck up stairs and raided trash cans.  She then went on to continue her work on the rug in our TV room, pulling the loosely woven threads out one by one.  To top off all of her other antics she has returned again and again and again to the toilet.  Let me defend myself by saying....she's not left unattended, she does all of this while I sit here.  As soon as I say "Bella, NO." She puts her head down between her paws and pretends she wasn't really doing anything..."Nope," I can see her saying in her little puppy brain "I wasn't doing a thing."  

I saw her little pea brain working this morning when I caught her at the top of the stairs after her exploration of the trash can.  I called her to come back down stairs.  She saw me standing at the bottom of the stairs but instead of coming down to me with her trash can "treasure" in her mouth she put her head down just slightly so I couldn't see her eyes.  She thought the thought, with a two year old's thinking "if I can't see her, she can't see me."  

She is like a two year old Lucas.  So I keep saying to her what I've said to Lucas a hundred times "You are lucky you're cute."  I'll go on to say she's lucky I love the workings of a two year old's brain.  Her behavior and her cuteness are what Lucas would have been like as a puppy.  But luckily for Lucas I never had to say "don't drink out of the toilet."

Oh, for the love of my children....

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I've Been Watching You

Dear Zach,

The other day you and I were sitting at the kitchen counter chatting, eating a snack and listening to one of our favorite Pandora stations, Zac Brown Band Radio, when Rodney Atkins song "Watching You" came on.  You quietly started singing along, going on to say how much you really liked that song.  I thought it was more than cute that you would admit to liking such a sweet song about a dad and his son.  A few days later the song came on again when I was alone in the car.  I focused in on the lyrics and founder it even sweeter that you would like that song so much.

(Please know, I do not pretend to own any part of this song.  I'm just paying tribute to a great song, from a great singer who touched the heart of not only me but my oldest son as well.)

As I listened to the lyrics images of you as a small boy came bounding into my head.  Couple the song with the stack of letters I found from when Dad was in Bosnia where you were the focus of my life and nostalgia washed over me like a tsunami.  Scenes from days long gone played in my mind as I headed home...

Images of you as a little boy, wanting to grow up to be big and strong just like Dad floated through my head.  Images of you needing us to hold you up and hold your hand tugged at my heart.  Hearing the chorus of the song brought images of long ago you to the forefront of my brain.  As Rodney sang these words I began running through pictures that fit along with the lyrics...

"He said 'I"ve been watching you dad, ain't that cool?
I'm your buckaroo, I wanna be like you
And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are
We like fixing things and holding mama's hand
Yeah we're just alike, hey ain't we dad?
I wanna do everything you do
So I've been watching you'"

When you were little you wanted to grow up to be just like Dad.  Watching you sing the words along with Rodney I remember when Dad dressed you up in his BDU top and his cap, you were over the moon excited to show me how you wanted to be just like Dad.

Thinking about all of these pictures brought many more snapshots of you as a little boy, who wanted to be just like his dad, floating into my memories and so today, I went in search of those memories which seem to be accumulating faster and faster as the years fly by.

I took my time strolling down memory lane, reliving some of my fondest memories of a little boy with curly blond hair and honey brown eyes. During my trip down memory lane, I came up some of my favorite pictures of you loving every minute of time with your dad and striving so hard to be like your dad...

Our time with you has flown by.  I can't believe you are nearly half way through your junior year of high school.  My throat constricts and tears rim my eyes when I think of how short my time with you is.  You are one in a million, my sweet man child.  And if there is anyone on earth I would want you to strive to you like it would be your dad.  So, my love, keep watching him, because it's pretty cool.  You'll always be his little buckaroo, in my mind at least.  You now stand nearly eye to eye with your dad...that must have been because you ate all your food so you could grow as tall as he is. You still like fixing things but now holding my hand has given way to enveloping me in giant bear hugs.  You are so much like your dad.  I couldn't be more proud of the kind of young adult you are becoming.  

He said 'I"ve been watching you dad, ain't that cool?  
I'm your buckaroo, I wanna be like you
And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are
We like fixing things and holding mama's hand
Yeah we're just alike, hey ain't we dad?
I wanna do everything you do
So I've been watching you'"

You are growing far too quickly, Zach, and I'm powerless to stop it but know...I will cherish every single minute I've been blessed with being your mom.

With love, now and always...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Want The Fairy Tale

19 years ago today I married the love of my life.  

I can safely say, 19 years ago today was a day very different than present day life.19 years ago we were 25 and looking forward to our new and exciting adventure as husband and wife.  19 years ago we were focused on ourselves and our big day.

The day dawned bright and cold in Manhattan, Kansas. Saturday, November 27 was the culmination of a special kind of Thanksgiving weekend.  We spent the week with family and friends, celebrating the upcoming union of our two families. Stan and I were married with the blessings of our families and my uncle as our officiant.   

19 years ago we exchanged these wedding vows...

Deacon Ed Macauley (better known to us as Uncle Ed): Stan, do you take Jennifer for your lawful wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?

Stan: I do.

Uncle Ed: Jennifer, do you take Stan for your lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?

Me: I do.

Our rings were blessed and as we exchanged rings we said these words...

Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I was told over and over again that our wedding day was picture perfect.  So, to me, November 27, 1993 was the picture perfect beginning for the two of us in our fairy tale world.  

Spring forward to the present....

Last night Stan told me to sleep in.  He told me he would take care of getting the kids out the door.  I thought it was a little unfair to him that I got to sleep in, after all it is our anniversary, not just mine, but someone had to be responsible for helping get the kids out the door and on their way to school.  Stan volunteered to be the responsible parent for the morning and I easily acquiesced to be the one who stayed snuggled in bed.

Claire came in at 7:15 to wish me a happy anniversary and say good bye for the day.  I easily fell back into a blissful sleep wrapped in the warmth of the downy-ness surrounding me. At 7:45 I heard the thundering sound of puppy paws bounding into our room.  I opened a sleepy eye to see Bella staring up at me.  I wished her a "good morning" and that was all the invitation she needed to decide our bed is where she deserved to be.  All 40 pounds of pure puppy energy came bounding into our bed. I rubbed her furry ears as she plopped down beside me, snuggling in...happy for a warm and comfy place to sleep.  It was after she snuggled in I realized she smelled like shampoo and as I was stroking her fur I noticed she was damp.  Hmmmmmmm....  Lucas popped his head in as I was drifting back off to sleep with clean, damp puppy beside me and he escaped before I could ask what happened with Bella and why she was wet.  I was now slightly awake so I swung my legs out of bed, slipped into my robe and slippers and went to find the answer to why Bella was wet.  I stepped out into the hallway and was greeted with a cheery "Good morning!" from Stan and a kiss from Lucas with Stan quickly asking me to go back to bed.  I did as I was asked, gladly hopping back into my warm bed with a sweet puppy by my side.  I was rewarded for my "obedience" with breakfast in bed...all of my favorites delivered to me from Stan.  It was then I got the story about Bella and her latest, and not so greatest, shizzard.  Welcome to 19 years of  wedded bliss and our new fairy tale world!

But I wouldn't change a bit of it.  

19 years have passed since we exchanged vows, becoming husband and wife.  Not all of our years have been the fairy tale of our wedding day.  We have experienced nearly every part of our vows.  We have experienced the better, the worse, the richer, the poorer, the sickness and health.  Some years have been years that truly tried our souls.  And then there have been years we been abundantly blessed.  Every year is part of the story of our lives as husband and wife and now mom and dad.  

So today we won't be spending the day preparing for and getting pampered for the biggest day of our lives.  Today we will spend the day shuttling kids around, baking a gingerbread house for Zach and his girlfriend to decorate.  Today we will spend the day waiting for the Comcast guy to show up, feeding all of our animals and cleaning up shizzards.  Today we will spend the day taking care of all of our kiddos and living the life of our new fairy tale.  

So, here's the truth about fairy tales...they change, they morph and they can shift to fit whatever stage of life we're living.  Our fairy tale has changed.  It's not just the two of us anymore and I wouldn't have it any other way.  Life now is the new and improved fairy tale story...Fairy Tale 2.0. and it's sometimes messy,  sometimes painful, sometimes chaotic and sometimes out of control but it's a life that I wouldn't trade for anything because it's my fairy's real life ~ one where faults are accepted and expected and where we come together as a family and just enjoy our very own fairy tale.

Oh, for the love of my children...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Essay

OK, so maybe I'm a little crazy.  I have assigned both boys essays as part of their punishments when they have veered wildly off course with bad behavior and even worse decisions (Claire hasn't had to opportunity to veer wildly off course yet so there hasn't been a need to assign her an essay...yet).  The essays need to be typed, double spaced, grammatically correct, well thought out and well written.  The papers have to be able to get achieve the grade of A, as reviewed by me.

Lucas has had a six page essay looming over his head since his misdeeds at school last May.  It started out as five pages but because he erased it off the chalkboard station in our kitchen (where I try to maintain lists of what needs to be accomplished) and then told friends that he didn't have to write it anymore I increased the page total to six.  All of his privileges have not yet been restored because I didn't have the essay in my hand.  His iPod and Facebook remain off limits until the essay is in my hand.  Stan thinks I should just give up but Lucas and I are both stubborn Scorpios so this is a test in mental mettle.  I think I've almost won.  Lucas is finally ready to get his privileges back so the essay was given to me last night.

Today, I became the editor in chief wielding my red pen with great relish.  I gave Lucas six different, yet similar topics, to "discuss" in his paper.  I wanted a little cohesion between the topics but I wasn't looking for a regurgitation of the different topics from page to page.  As I read through his paper, I see more regurgitation and less cohesion.  But in Lucas' defense...he has never written any kind of paper before.  In his eight years of schooling his teachers have never once assigned a paper or a book report to him.  He has no idea how to write, what to write or how to engage his "audience"  So the editor has to become the teacher...he and I have some work to do.

I did ask him if I could post his essay on my blog once it is perfectly polished.  He said yes, reluctantly, but maybe once it has "hooks" to draw you in at the beginning of the topic and flows within the body of the paper he will look at it with pride and want you to see what he has written.  We will see how it goes.  I know I'm going to get some push-back today when he gets home from school and he sees the river of red on his paper, but for me, for now, the essay is no longer about fulfilling part of a punishment.  The essay has become a way for me to help Lucas become a proficient writer ~ a writer who can crank out term papers and book reports in high school and college.  This essay is the perfect way to work on those skills.

So, maybe I'm not as crazy as I think I am for assigning essays as part of a punishment.  Knowing how to write a paper is a necessary I guess I should switch my role from being a little crazy for assigning essays to being the necessary part of the evil.  And for my next trick I will teach Lucas how to read and write in cursive (somehow he missed that lesson too!)...yet another necessary evil.  I'll let you know how that one  goes.  As for the essay, I hope you can see parts, if not all, of it someday soon.

Oh, for the love of my children....

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Day I Hiked a Mountain

14 years ago today I gave birth to my sweet little Lucas.

14 years ago yesterday, I hiked a mountain.

Here is the story surrounding Lucas' birth...

Dear Lucas,

I was SO done being pregnant.  I was a week overdue and I was completely and totally over being pregnant with you.  I was desperate to meet you.  AND  I had never been pregnant that long stayed cooking for six weeks longer than when I was pregnant with Zach who came five weeks early.  I just assumed, wrongly, that you would come early too which added to my frustration, exponentially.  You seemed content to stay put exactly where you were.  You didn't seem so inclined to come meet your family.  So you just keep cooking in my internal incubator.  The obstetrician finally had pity on me and decided that November 6th would be the day you were going to be born.

My induction was set for 7 a.m.  The only problem  was I didn't want to be induced.  I wanted to reclaim my body and meet you but I wanted this on my own terms, not the doctors.   I wanted you, you little bugger, to vacate my incubator but I didn't want drugs.

On November 5th, Dad, Zach, Charlie (our first golden retriever) and I hiked the mountain behind our house in Bad Kissengen, Germany.  Dad pushed Zach in the jogger stroller we had, as Charlie, you and I blazed the path in front of them.  This had to work...this had to be the catalyst to get you moving out of the cozy comfort of the womb and out into the loving arms of our family.  We finished our hike, prepared dinner, put Zach to bed and settled in ourselves with the alarm clock set so we could get to the hospital on time.

No need to worry about a six a.m. alarm.  The hike worked.  At around 3 a.m. the contractions started.  The phone call was made to our neighbor to come stay with Zach so Dad, you and I could get ourselves to St. Elisabeth's Krankehaus (known here in the U.S. as a hospital). We loaded ourselves into the car and headed to the hospital at 4 a.m.

It was as we pulled up to the hospital that I  found our how German hospitals are just a little different than American hospitals....

Dad parked the car with me in it...there was no place to pull up in front of a well lit "Emergency" sign.  The hospital was dark.  And I mean dark...dimly lit ~ no looked closed.  I waddled ahead of Dad, and yes, I said "waddled."  I was overdue with you...meaning you overstayed your welcome and I was hugely pregnant with you which caused me to waddle like a duck.  Dad and I were looking for a way to get into the Krankenhaus.  As we approached the entrance we saw the button ~ the doorbell to the hospital.  Yep, a doorbell on the front of a hospital.  Dad pushed the button and a voice came over the intercom "Wie kann ich ihnen helfen?" ~ "How can I help you?"  Dad explained, in German, that we were having a baby ~ you.  The door buzzed open and we were in.

As we walked into the lobby there is not one nurse waiting for me.  American hospitals are swarming with nurses waiting to take the pregnant lady to the maternity ward when she walks in the front door.  There was no wheelchair waiting to take me upstairs to the place where babies are delivered.  American hospitals won't let a pregnant mama walk once she steps foot in the hospital.  There was no elevator beckoning me to its doors and ready to whisk me up.  I had to walk...on my own two feet ~ clutching dad's arm every two to three minutes.   Again, American hospitals don't let pregnant mamas walk much.

We finally made our way up to the maternity was closed.  There were no nurses manning the nurses' station...there was no one.  Dad went in search of someone to help us and he finally hunted down a nurse in the nursery.  She found our midwife who was sleeping her shift away in the delivery room.

Nurse Helga came into the hallway rubbing the sleep from her eyes but ready to do her job.  She hooked me up to the monitor to make sure my contractions were good and strong.  And then she let me do something no American hospital really lets you do.  She unplugged me from the monitor and let me walk.  I walked and walked and walked, up and down the halls.  It was heaven.  I wasn't strapped down, watching the monitor read every single contraction.  I was barely aware of contractions as Dad and Beth (my friend who came to support me) and I walked the halls of St. Elisabeth's.

Around 6 in the morning, nurse Helga decided it was time to get things moving so she ran a bath for me...a bath!!  She lit lavender candles and sprinkled lavender bath salts into the water.  The lights were dim in the bathroom and I kicked back, lounging in the biggest tub I had ever seen.  I was relaxed, happy and more than ready to have a baby.  Let's get this show on the we did.  You, Lucas Ford Pokrywka, were born at 7:04 weighing in at 7 pounds 2 oz.  Your picture was taken and put on a pass for me so I could "check you out" of the nursery when I wanted to.  You were cleaned up, fully dressed and taken to the nursery so I could rest.

The nurses wheeled me to the recovery room, handed me a lunch menu so I could get some lunch and then they left me to relax.  After lunch was chosen, Dad left to go home, get cleaned up and get Zach.  I tried to do what I needed to do...sleep.  All I could think about as I tried to sleep was that I was famished but there was nothing I could do.  The German hospital didn't have a phone and cell phones were still not quite the norm so I had no way of contacting Dad.  There was no nurses "call button" for me to use and request lunch earlier or to request a phone call to Dad.  There was  no TV in my recovery room so all I could do was try not to gnaw my arm off in my state of extreme hunger.  Finally, lunch arrives and I find I'm eating sea eel...that's a great post delivery lunch ~ sea eel and rice...YUM!

Part of what I'm telling you now is a story for when you get a little older, my love, but I had to include it so I didn't forget it...hopefully, you find humor in it someday...

My stay in the hospital with you was just a tad different than my stay in the American hospital when I had Zach.  I shared a room with a German lady whose breast milk shot out of her like a gushed and spurted everywhere.  I was mortified.  I had a private room with Zach so I never saw milk erupting from breasts like lava from Mount Vesuvius.   Like I said above, there were no TVs in any of the maternity rooms, recovery or otherwise.  I actually had to try and make conversation with my room mate, whose breast milk ran down her front in a near constant stream.  I had no phone, still.  So I had no way to contact Dad and ask him to bring me things or just chat with him so I could be distracted from the river of breast milk on the bed next to me.  I was at the mercy of Zach's nap schedule for any kind of entertainment or diversion from Dad.  (Luckily all of our Army friends flooded the room to visit with me, and bring me treats (like coconut macaroons), so I didn't completely lose my mind.)  By day two I was more than ready to leave the hospital and head back home...taking you with me.  My room mate thought I was insane.  German women stay in the hospital for seven to 10 days so they could properly recover.  I was not so much into recovery as I was into escaping what I considered to be a painful environment, flooded (literally) with an overflowing milk supply courtesy of my room mate.

Life couldn't have been sweeter the day I forced you to come into this world by hiking a mountain and yes,  I did force you out in the big wide world but I'm glad I did.  It's adds just a little bit of fun to the story of your actual birthday.  You are quite a kid and you need an interesting story surrounding the day we celebrated you finally meeting our family...

Happy 14th Birthday, to my favorite "little" blond boy!  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

What Gives Me The Right?

Every week my friend and blogging partner-in-crime, Julie, and I get together to challenge each other, prop each other up and talk all things writing (not dorky, over-intellectualized stuff but the nitty gritty of what makes writing fun for us, what our goals are, how we're gonna get there and how nerve wracking it sometimes is to put this stuff out there for you all to read.)  Anyway, I digress...a couple of weeks ago Julie gave us a writing prompt to fill in with a story.

"What gives you the right?" was the prompt.  Julie went on to explain that she got the idea from another writing prompt site and thought it could easily be applied to us.  Here on our blogs, she and I have both taken our kiddos' lives and turned them out there for all of you to see, inspect and sometimes, possibly, judge.  So what gives us the right to do that?

So I'll tell you what gives me the right...but first, I'm going to have to turn that prompt just a little and say it's not a's my privilege to write down these stories for the kids.  You see, I suck at pretty much every other way of documenting their lives.  Those cute little "My first year" calendars that we all get as baby shower gifts sit, probably still in their wrappers, covered with dust on a high shelf in the back of a closet some where.  I have tubs and tubs of pictures stashed here there and everywhere.  Stan has tried, to no avail, to help me mend my wicked non-scrap-booking ways by buying me pretty...oh, what are they called???....OH YEAH, photo albums.  He has tried to guilt me into putting pictures in the photo albums by saying things like "You know, most people have these books where all of the pictures are contained.  You can just flip to the page and 'voila' there is the picture."  Yeah, I suck at all of that.

Writing these stories down seems to be the only way I'll have to preserve my kiddos' history.

I don't have much of a history myself.  All of my baby pictures are stored on those so very convenient things called "slides."  You know what I'm talking need a slide projector and screen to flip through them.  The slides have never been transferred over to film so there the sit in boxes, stashed away in the back of my parents' attic. Stories of my youth aren't really ever told or re-told so there is not much there for me either...those stories are long gone.

I don't want my kids to lose their histories so I am taking this "right" I have (because I'm the parent and I say so) and turning it into a privilege so my kids' stories are preserved and someday, maybe, their kids will want to read stories of their parents' long ago lives.  So until that time...this is not only my right but my privilege as well ~ for the love of my children...

Friday, November 2, 2012

That Last Look Back

When the kids were little and I'd drop them off at preschool I knew I'd always get that one last look back from them as they went off to play, socialize and learn how to be a student ~ the one last hug, as they ran over to give me "one more kiss."  As they all got a little older I guess I kind of stopped expecting the last little wave goodbye.  I know they are all growing up and refocusing so I learned not to expect it.

But today I got it.  Today as I dropped Claire off I got one last look...the last little wave goodbye as she and her friend walked toward their bus.  My heart sang a happy tune as I pulled away from the curb with the image of Claire turning around to give me that one little last piece of love...her wave.

How many more years will I have the honor of the last look goodbye?  Will it go away and resurface later?  Will it go away altogether?  I hope, even though I know I shouldn't expect it, that I'll always get the last little look backwards...always.

For the love of my children...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

It's Time to Rock and Roll...

Alright is done.  My donation to NaNoWriMo is complete and I'm ready to drop (or re-drop) my first chapter into NaNoWriMo's database to see the ever important "number count."  I'm as excited this year for the entire month of November as I was last year ~ except this year the end will be even sweeter.  But I'm  also more nervous this year.  I know we aren't using NaNoWriMo for its true purposes this year and we've talked about that.  We are instead using this month of literary abandon to edit, polish, grow and finish those novels we wrote this time last know the ones which have been hanging over our heads for the past 12 months ~ neither of us ready to read and re-read those 50,000 words we poured so much of ourselves into.  So now, this month, is the time and somehow the stakes seem higher.

In keeping with our promise to encourage each other to keep moving forward I am posting an excerpt of the first chapter of my unnamed book that, right now, has 50,000 words ~ I'm hoping I can grow to at least 100,000 words this month.  Before I post my except, I'll give you a little background on my characters (Stan was finally privy to the plot just the other day....I kept it a under wraps from him for the past year)...the book is based on a set of secret diaries kept by a woman named Cece, who is based very loosely on me (we are told write what we know so I went that route with my first book).  They are her thoughts and feelings about her life with her husband and children (I have used some of my letters to my kiddos and writings about them) but these diaries also contain a secret which only Cece knows, or suspects.  Cece passed away many years ago and her secrets remain hidden until her daughter, Maggie, is, in a sense, challenged to find out the hidden truth behind her mother. Maggie is drawn into the quest to learn about life before she was born and when she was young.  Maggie is leading herself on a search to find the truth about her mom and the secret her mother has uncovered.


I was just told that my mom was a fucking bitch.  I sit here in stunned silence, knowing my mom is not here to defend herself.  She died when I was 10…nearly 20 years have gone by without me hearing her voice, having her hand brush against my cheek as she leans over to kiss me goodnight.  20 long years have passed and my heart still aches at my loss.  My thoughts are in turmoil.  My heart rebels at what I am hearing.  What the hell am I supposed to do with information I can neither validate nor dispute?  What is the point of telling me this story now when my mom can do nothing to defend herself ?  I want to leave, to walk away but I can't.  I am held spellbound by the story I am being told.  It is a side of my mother I have never seen or heard and one I that is begging me to find answers.

My name is Maggie Walker.  I am the youngest of four children.  I guess you could say I was a baby "oops."   My two older brothers are 15 and 12 years older than I am and my sister is 10 years older.  So, really, I am a youngest, an oldest and an only child.  My brothers and sister were well on their way to being grown up by the time I started kindergarten. 

I didn't know my mom nearly as well as my siblings did.  My mom died of cancer when I was 10.  She will never know my children like she knew my brothers' and sister's kids.  There are so many times I feel lost and disconnected when it comes to losing my mom which is why I have no earthly idea how to stop the barrage of horrible, spiteful words coming out of the mouth of my aunt.  My dad's sister-in-law is spewing venom about a woman I adore and I can't defend her.  I don't know enough about her and the story behind my aunt’s venom to say a word.

As I sit here listening, I know there is so much more to the story.  The burning desire to get to the facts starts churning in the pit of my stomach.  It's what I do.  I am a private investigator, so digging for the facts is second nature to me.  Some call it nosy, I call it fact finding.  I need to get away and get my head together but my aunt's tale holds me in a tight grip. 

I don't know my aunt very well.   She has not had much contact with my family.  Nobody really talks about her or what happened in the time she and her my uncle lived not far from where I was born and raised.  I am not sure she and my uncle are even married anymore.  I have no idea.  Their life seems like a deep, dark, secret buried in the proverbial family closet.

I sit across the table from this woman and take in her appearance.  She is impeccably dressed.  Her tall, slim physique is clothed in what appears to be a Chanel suit.  She looks to be in her mid-forties, maybe fifty.  Her face has remained largely unlined but her neck gives away her age.  She has incredibly beautiful dark blue eyes and her hair is almost black.  My gut tells me it's dyed but there are no roots to prove it.  I shift my focus from her to the things she is using to define herself. Two carat diamonds glitter in her ears.  Her watch looks to be a Patek Phillipe and she is carrying a Chanel bag.  I am not sure what brand of shoe she is wearing but they look as expensive as the rest of her.  I have to say I am vaguely repulsed by this woman.  I don't know if it's because of the story she's telling or if it's because things just seem a bit "off" with her....

I shake my head, trying to bring myself back to the present ~ to focus on what she is saying and not her appearance but it's hard.  Her appearance draws me in.  We are sitting at Becco's in New York City having lunch together.  I'm here on business and somehow my aunt found me.  I'm not sure how or why she decided to contact me but here we are.  The longer I sit here the more I realize this here and now is not where I want to be.  

So, here it is...the beginning of my first novel.  It's now my time to rock and roll.  So many of you, along with Stan and my kiddos, have asked me lately about by novel and it's time to make it into something I'm proud of.  And this one is for the love of me actually...oh OK, and my children too!

The excerpt above is protected by Copyright

Jennifer Combs-Pokrywka
Writing the Devil's Diaries

© 2012, Jennifer Combs-Pokrywka
Self publishing

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sometimes I Miss The Days of Diapers and Cribs

Yep.  I admit it.  There are days when I miss the simplicity of the days of diapers and cribs.  I knew everything about my kiddos.  I knew where they slept, what they ate, controlled who came to our house for play dates, rocked them when they were sad, scared or hurt and knew when I put them to bed that's where they would be when sleep time was over.  It was a physically exhausting time but it was an easy, if mundane, time.

Now life is all about the mental drain.  Where are the kids?  Are they at Wawa where they said they'd be?  What are they doing?  Just buying sandwiches or trying to talk an adult into buying them cigarettes or alcohol?  Are the doors to bedrooms open with girlfriends here??  And if not...well, SHIT...I know what they're doing!  Time to go a tap-tap-tapping at a chamber door!

During my kiddos' lives I have always said that whatever particular stage the kids are in is my favorite.  I've cried at each and every milestone which has come their way but I've also delighted in each particular stage they were in at the time.  When they were two years old, railing at the big, wide world around them, I was in heaven.  When they were in preschool, learning their abc's I thought that time was the best.  When they started elementary school I thought they were da bomb.  Now they are all in middle and high school and I know I've been more than blessed with these kiddos of mine..

I love being able to relate to the kids on a bit of a more grown up level.  It cracks me up that Lucas understood (and totally cracked up at) the slogan on the front of a breast cancer awareness t-shirt that read "Save Second Base...I haven't gotten there yet."  I love that Zach is comfortable enough with me to listen to me when I talk about contraceptives.
On the way to Homecoming the other night I offered him a piece of gum saying "girls don't like boys with stinky breath."
He responded that he's never kissed the girl he likes.
Knowing that wasn't the truth I went on to say "Just make sure you leave enough room for the Holy Spirit and make sure to use the most effective contraceptives out there...'aspirin.'"
Zach looked at me like I had three heads but said "Does that really work?"
"Yep," I assured him, "it works like a charm and is the most effective type ever.  Just have the girl put the aspirin between her knees and hold it there."  Zach cracked up laughing going on to tell me he couldn't wait to share that little anecdote with his friends at dinner.  These conversations were not possible when the kids were in cribs and diapers and I admit, it's kind of fun to have adult-ish conversations with them.   

So, I admit. ..this stage is a blast ~ it's just harder than hell.  But even so I wouldn't wish the kids, or myself, back into diapers and cribs, sometimes I just miss those days...

Oh, for the love of my children....

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Ah, FREEDOM, sweet Freedom!  It's what teenagers crave most and what we, as parents, are most reluctant to give...mostly for their own good, right?  Zach, God love him, is starting to beat the war drum to gain more freedom.  Sunday evening was a testament to that and I have it documented.

Sunday evening was the beginning of Hurricane Sandy and the end of any pretenses of school on Monday.  The school board called school off at 4 p.m.  The kids were given a rare treat...the knowledge that Monday was all theirs well before it was time for bed.  The celebrations of school kids in the greater Richmond area were felt far and wide by parents just like me.  Zach just wanted to join the celebrations and I can't say I blame him but I can't agree with how he wanted to celebrate his good fortune of a Monday free from school.

Here's my text conversation with Zach....

Zach: "Can I have a sleepover with Grayson and Max?"

Me: "No.  Come home at 11."

Zach: "Why not?  I haven't had a sleepover in ages."

Me: "Yep.  That's by design.  No sleepover.  Unless it's here."

Me:  "I'm more than happy to make pancakes and bacon again tomorrow for you and your friends."

Zach: " And what's the reason for that?  There is no reason for y'all (yep, he wrote 'y'all') to not be able to trust me."

Me: " I am just more comfortable with y'all (yep, I wrote it too.  I figured if he could so could I.) here.  End of story."

Me: "Your friends are MORE than welcome here and I'd love to have them."

Stan sat next to me as I texted with Zach, shaking his head the whole time.  "This is not a texting conversation," he said.  "If Zach wants to talk about it more, tell him to come home," he continued.  With those sage words of advice being spoken, Zach and I continued to text each other...

Zach: "Okay, well you should get more comfortable with me staying out so I actually can.  I don't understand why I can't stay out.  You used to let me stay out."

Me: "That's when your friends' parents were more hands on and involved.  And I knew them better."

Zach: "Okay, well I feel you should be able to trust me."

Me: "I trust you.  But you are a teenager.  And I know about teenagers.  I was of the most trustworthy ones out there but I still did stupid stuff.  So you can either come home now if you want to keep arguing or you (and your friends, if they want) can come home at 11."

Zach: "If you think I'm doing drugs, you're wrong.  And I'm not drinking either."

Me: "I understand all of that and I more than appreciate your honesty but it's my job as your parent to make sure you are as safe as I can.  You and your friends are welcome here.  END OF STORY."

I guess he doesn't get the "end of story" comment because he continues...

Zach: "I will be just as safe here as I would at the house."

Me: "END OF STORY!  I want you at our house."

Zach: "I am 16 almost 17, why am I not allowed to stay out with some friends every once in a while?"

Me: at Stan's urging "Come home now."

Zach: "I'll be home at 11."

Zach: "I'm sorry if I seem snippy, but I am just trying to gain some freedom."

Me: "I understand that Zach.  I'm just trying to be your mom.  I love you enough to be strict and "unreasonable" sometimes.  Your freedom will come soon enough."

Zach: "Why can't it be here now? :-("

Me: "Because I love you too much to let it be now."

Zach: "I'm growing up, Mom.  I think that's what you're having the most trouble with.  I'm not a little kid anymore."

Me: "Sweetheart, I know you're not a little kid.  I wouldn't have conversations with you about 'aspirin contraceptives' if I still thought you were a little kid.  If you would like to talk about this more you can come home now and we can talk about it.  I'm finished texting.  Come home now or come home at 11."

Zach: "I'll be home at 11.  I love you.  See you soon."

Me: "Love you too!"

Yes, I know sometimes I have a hard time thinking about the kids growing up.  But this conversation had nothing to do, in my mind, with growing up.  This conversation had everything to do with making smart choices. I know what I did as a teenager with little to no freedom.  Some dumb things were done.  I know we all learn from mistakes but some huge mistakes can be made if parental supervision is not there.

This whole growing up and letting go thing is harder than hard.  Freedom or no freedom? Helicopter parent or absentee parent?  There's a line somewhere in there, a line that I need to find so that I can walk it...I guess it's more like a tight rope, a true balancing act.  I keep hoping I'm balancing things the right way.  I think I am...Zach did end our texting conversation with an "I love you."

I will keep his freedom in check and my self balanced on my tight rope for the love of all of my children...

Oh, and the "aspirin contraceptives" comment was from the other night and a story I will try to remember to share later....

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Field Trip

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure (and I do mean pleasure) of getting to chaperone Lucas' 8th grade field trip to Washington, D.C.  Stan went with Zach and had planned to go with Lucas as well but that darn work thing of his got in the way of the fun of being a chaperone this time.  So, the honor of accompanying two to three hundred 8th graders, by default, came to me.

I was assigned to look after 4 boys.  No big deal.  I got this.  I do three kids all the time...what's one more?  My four boys were a true delight and I enjoyed every aspect of my day with them.  They were polite, well mannered, at ease around adults and charming ~ all four of them.

Lucas and his three friends in our group decided they wanted to partner up with another group of boys to make it more fun.  Boys from the other group decided they wanted to partner with even more boys from yet another group so when all was said and done my little group of four morphed into a giant group of 19.  In hindsight it may have been a mistake for us but I think it the day was set in stone before I could say "yes" or "no" to partnering with other chaperones.

Our field trip started early, with school arrival time of 6:15.  The kids were quiet and well behaved (actually, I think they were still in sleep mode) on the trip from Richmond to Washington, D.C.  The bus trip mirrored a routine commute in our nation's capital, complete with traffic congestion and minor bus repairs en route but we ultimately arrived safely.

The buses deposited us in front of the U.S. Capital building for our tour.  Our three groups connected and off we went for an in depth look at the inner working of the Capital.  Our tour guide was good as she led us from room to room, giving not only history lessons but also tidbits of present day D.C.  We said goodbye to our guide, grabbed some lunch and headed to Gallery for the House of Representatives.

Did you know the staff taking you to the Gallery expects the kids to be quiet and respectful?  They also expect the kids to walk in a single file line through the halls of the capital.  None of which is easy for the average 8th grade boy on a field trip.  But the staff did explain to the boys that there are people who are actually trying to get work done within the walls of the Capital, necessitating the need for respect and quiet voices.  I was hoping the words of the staffer sunk in to the boys' heads.  Evidently, I was wrong.

The other two chaperones and I were at the front of our single file line.  Don't ask me why or how it happened like that, I'm not sure.  Maybe we got caught up chatting with each other.  Maybe we thought the boys could handle themselves for a little bit being toward the back, unsupervised.  Whatever it was that we thought, we thought wrong.  As we approached the gallery I heard a commotion at the back of the line so I stepped out and circled back to see what the heck was going on.  What I saw at the back of the line made my heart hurt and my stomach clench.

One of the boys was bent over, not able to catch his breath with tears on his cheeks.  One of the other boys in the line pointed to another and said "Bobby did it (not his real name).  Bobby kicked him in the crotch."  I kept the boy who had just been hit back and tried my best to console him.  In between his tears I asked him his name and he told me it was Neil (not his real name).  I kept Neil near me as we approached the House of Representatives Gallery.  I kept a close eye on him as he chose a seat near Bobby.

I don't think I've ever been more angry at a child who was not my own but I kept it hidden from the boy who was the victim and I kept it hidden from the boy who struck the blow.  I knew this would not go undocumented and I knew what I had to do.  I kept a very close eye on Neil, the boy who was victimized at the hands of  big, bully named Bobby.

I saw a strange and awful dance that day of a kid who just wanted a friend and a kid who didn't give a shit about anyone but himself.  I watched as Neil tried hard to be a friend.  And I watched as Bobby became an even bigger bully.  At one point during the day a bird crapped on Bobby's shirt sleeve so he reached over and wiped his shirt off on Neil's shirt.  Neil leaned back over and wiped it back off on Bobby.  Bobby's head whipped around so fast I thought he was a character in the movie "The Exorcist" and as his head spun he spewed out "What the HELL do you think you're doing?"  Neil cowed back a little but his voice was strong as he said "You wiped it on me first."  I was proud of him for finding his voice but I was there as back up if he needed me.  I kept close to Neil that day, hopefully without him even realizing it.

When we got back to the buses I found the administrator and one of the teachers and told them the awful story.  (It was kind of ironic, me telling the administrator about misbehavior of a student since Lucas seemed to find himself in trouble quite a bit last year.  But he never got in trouble for being cruel to another kid, just stupid, goofy, immature behavior.)  I was glad to get that off of my chest and pass it along to someone who could take the information and do something with it, besides make sure nothing escalated or got physical again.  Neither the teacher or the administrator seemed shocked by my story of Bobby.

As Lucas and I were driving home I asked him about Neil and he said he had never seen him before today which, to me, was odd because Lucas knows everyone.  He has never met a stranger so I thought it was strange that Lucas wouldn't have ever seen this kid before.  And then Lucas explained...Neil is new to school.  What a way to welcome the new kid ~ let's kick him in the nuts and make him cry.  That part made the incident seem even worse.  Neil really did need a friend.

Lucas told me the next day that he was called down the administrator's office as a witness this time.  He told me that Bobby got out of school suspension for three days and in school suspension for two.  I guess Lucas' school is taking this incident seriously.  And for that I'm glad.  School should be a safe environment for all kids and field trips should be full of fantastic memories made better in the company of friends.

Oh, for the love of all of our children....

Sunday, October 21, 2012


OK, I'm putting this down in black and white so you all can call me out on it if you ever catch me favoring one of my children (or even disfavoring one of my children) over the others as they grow up.

I try so hard to treat my children as equally as I can.  There are things about each and everyone of them that I truly delight in. They all vie for a spot as my favorite so I'll humor each of them by saying things like "You, my honey brown-eyed boy, are my favorite first born son named Zach."  To Lucas I'll say "You, my sweet, little blond boy, are my favorite second born son and my favorite ever Lucas."  Claire gets "You, my darling daughter, are my favorite youngest child named Claire and my favorite daughter."  That way each of them get to be my favorite...and they each are my favorite in their own special ways.  Like I said, there are things about each of them that I delight in and they know it.  I just need to make sure they always know it and I remember to always show it.

I've seen too many instances lately where favoritism is rearing it's ugly head.  And I don't like it ~ not one little bit.  But I'm powerless to change the circumstances for others, in the here and now ~ all I can do it try never to repeat the failings of showing favoritism.

I talked to my friend Julie, the other day and we made a pact to keep each other on the straight and narrow as we get older and our kids grow up, leave the house, get married and have kiddos of their own so none of our kids have to deal with the sadness that comes from favoring a kid, or kids, above any others.  I know Julie and I will honor that pact because it's too important.

My heart hurts for those who are subjected to the degradation that comes from favoring one, or more, of your children above the others.  I said above that I have found things in each and every one of my kiddos that I truly delight in but there are also things that irritate the bejeezus outta me.  And when one of those things I don't like rears up, I try so hard to focus on what delights me, rather than focusing on the irritation...sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.  When it doesn't work, well....those are the times I totally screw up in relating to my kids and those are the times my apologies are the biggest.  I hope my kids remember my apologies when they grow up.  I hope, too, that their hearts never have to hurt, for long at least, thinking that I favor one kid over the others.

And I wish nothing more for them, as they grow up and have kids of their own, that they can always find it in their hearts to give and receive forgiveness so favoritism never becomes an issue.  I hope I learn my lesson from watching others I know who are suffering through the sadness of favoritism.  And hopefully, I can pass down to my kids the ability to show their children that they are loved, warts and all, with not a favorite in sight.

Oh, for the love of my children....

Friday, October 19, 2012

Have I Told You I Hate Middle School??

Because I do.  I truly do.  I hate most things associated with middle school...especially PE.

Yesterday, Claire came home with a story about gym class.  And I got pissed off.

Usually, the boys and girls are in class together.  Yesterday, they were separated.  The boys went to work with Claire's male teacher and the girls went to work with the female teacher.  Both the boys and the girls were playing the same game, I guess they just wanted the boys to play against the boys and the girls to play against the girls.

The game was ultimate football.  I'm sure it's a good game.  I'm sure it's a fun game.  I'm sure the girls know the rules to the game because Claire told them to me.  But it's not a good game, a fun game or a game where rules are not followed because the gym teacher leaves 25 middle school girls unattended...yep ~ you read that right!  I said "25 middle school girls were left unattended," for the entire class.  (Now, to be fair, the male gym teacher was technically put in charge of the girls but he had his hands full watching 25 middle school boys, and according to Claire, he rarely looked in on the girls.)

All I could imagine as Claire told me the story was a bitchslap-fest.  Claire told me the girls were pulling each other's hair and pushing each other down.  Claire said she was pushed down three times.  What a cluster-eff that is.  And who the hell thinks it's a good idea to leave 25 11 and 12 year old girls unattended?  That's a hot mess waiting to happen.

Boy, oh boy, if I didn't know Claire would be embarrassed to high heaven I would have marched my pissed off ass right into the school and done...well, I don't know exactly what I would have done but I do know it was an idiotic move to leave those girls without a pair of adult eyes specifically on them.

I did warn Claire if something like ever happens again I will make sure someone is aware of the stupidity behind leaving 25 girls, mostly, unattended.  Mama bear will come roaring out and the school will know that this mama is pissed off.

Middle school is a fine line to walk and I truly hate these middle school years.  I know I need to let Claire navigate the waters a little without my interference but I'm gonna have to interfere if I hear about hair pulling, girls being nasty and pushing each other down.  I will have to step in then, for the love of my children....    

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Julie's Take on "Giftedness"

A perfect world

When I was growing up I was labeled a smart kid.  I was labeled by my teachers and my peers.  Back in the dark ages of the 70s, we didn’t have gifted classes.  When I was in fifth grade, a retired accountant came in to school and took five (I was the only girl!) of us out of our homeroom class to ‘enrich’ us.  The only thing I remember from my enrichment was one of the boys, Bobby, blowing up a computer.  I remember the sparks flying out of the wall and the terror that filled all of our little heads.  Two years later, when my brother was in fifth grade, the school district started an official enrichment program for ‘gifted’ kids.  I think it involved more than hanging out in the computer lab.  I vaguely remember him doing something with a bunch of fruit flies.
As a child, I did not like my label because it became my identity and I had a hard time traversing the worlds of smart kids and popular kids.  But I kept my label throughout school, took all my AP classes and graduated in the top of my class.  I went to Notre Dame with all the other smart kids and quickly lost my label that had become my distinction.  During freshman orientation, they laid out the statistics for us.  They told us how many of us were valedictorians and salutatorians. They told us the average GPA of our class.  Basically, they told us our intelligence was not what made us special.  All of the sudden my identifying trait disappeared and I was forced to re-discover myself.
As a parent, I loathe labels.  I have one child who has been identified or labeled by the system as gifted.  I imagine his student file has a big blue GIFTED stamped across it.  I have one child who took the test and isn’t quite gifted yet but we’re hoping things will turn in her favor this year and she will get the big blue stamp on her folder too.  (She did fake a headache during one of the tests and had to come home so maybe this test wasn’t an accurate portrayal of her intelligence.)  Do you sense a little sarcasm?  There is more than a little.  And I will explain why in a minute.
As an educator (I have my Masters in Elementary Education, taught first and fourth grade and now teach preschool.), I see some value in labels as it helps a teacher and school identify children who may need special services.  But I am beginning to think the gifted label, as used by our schools, is unnecessary and not very helpful to anyone.  I believe when they are designating a child as gifted they are labeling their potential and therefore labeling a lesser amount of potential in others.
In fact, I believe in a perfect world we wouldn’t have any gifted education. We would be individuating our instruction for each child  in order to help them reach their potential.  But in our overcrowded and underfunded classrooms that’s not possible.   The state tests force our teachers to teach to the test instead of to the child.
I believe that every child is ‘gifted.’  Howard Gardner, a Harvard Psychology and Neuroscience professor, defines 9 different intelligences.  Interestingly, when I was getting my Masters, Gardner had  only identified 7 types of intelligence.    It begins to be apparent at a very young age which type of intelligence your child may have.  In a perfect world, teachers would be able to help their students find their area of giftedness and realize IQ is not the only determinant of a gifted child.
I also believe that children learn in different ways.  This also becomes apparent at a very young age.
But our schools only test or look at a child’s IQ and they only use one style to assess that IQ.  I think it would be near impossible to find every child’s area of intelligence.  Notice I have been saying in a perfect world we would be able to do just that.  But in this imperfect world, we need to stop labeling our children as gifted and therefore implying that they may be superior to other students in some way.
I know plenty of people who have their kids tutored for the big gifted test.   Tutoring for the test invalidates the test and the term gifted as used by our schools.  The term gifted is bandied about in my zip code.  Sometimes I feel like it is more of a status symbol for the parents and not an accurate portrayal of the child.
My son’s school has a separate parent organization for the gifted students and teachers.  The gifted teachers receive special support throughout the year with things like snacks during faculty meetings, extra gift cards during the year and of course a group of parents willing to help them at a moments notice.   I think all the teachers in the school – gifted or non gifted – are deserving of the extra rewards and support.  Why not give that to each teacher?  Gifted students take Math and English classes every other day while the rest of the school has Math and English everyday.  I do not see the reason behind this system as I know my son could benefit from having Algebra every single day even if it was for a shorter amount of time.
All that being said, my son’s program is top notch.  I truly believe the majority of students would thrive in the program. He is learning things in an engaging manner.  He is being challenged by teachers who are beyond passionate. I am constantly amazed by the enthusiasm his teachers exhibit.  They go above and beyond what they are required to do but I think they would do that no matter who they taught.  He is not being lectured.  There is a lot of choice involved in his work.  For many of his projects he has the option to create things like a video or a Powerpoint presentation or some sort of diorama or 3 D sculpture.  The choice is most always his.  And because of this, he is always interested in what he is doing.  Since material is being presented in so many different ways students with all different types of learning styles benefit.
I just want what he has for every child.  Although I believe all 4 of my children would thrive in the program, I am not sure they will do well enough on the gifted test to earn a spot.  It saddens me and has made me realize that I will need to help them find their area of giftedness. In some ways it makes me think I have to reduce the importance of school while I help them find other ways to learn, succeed and thrive.
I did my Masters thesis on an educational idea called The Project Approach.  In The Project Approach, the kids create the curriculum with the help of the teacher.  This approach is similar to the inquiry method and expeditionary learning.  All involve a student focused type of education.  With the Project Approach, at the beginning of the school year the teacher and students compile a list of topics the kids would like to study in greater detail.  In my first grade class in Chicago, the kids wanted to learn more about their city.  The teacher’s job is to come up with activities and ways to get the kids involved in the learning.  We took walks around the neighborhood and mapped it out in our classroom.  This taught the kids all about community specifically their community.   Community members and workers came into the class and told us about their jobs and life in the community.   For example, we had a city bus driver come in and talk about what he did.  We looked at pictures of the downtown area and for our final project created our own Chicago.  We used recycled items and built our own city in the room.  Then we acted like museum guides and other classes in the school toured our room.  My 28 inner city first graders were empowered and learned meaningful facts about communities.
That’s what I see my son getting from his ‘gifted’ classes – empowerment while he’s learning.  I’m not saying kids in other classes aren’t getting this.  I sure hope they are.  But I do know that his program is designed to give the kids just that and I think that should be a part of every classroom and will then allow us to get rid of the unnecessary and inaccurate GIFTED label.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Race To Nowhere for the "Gifted" Kids

I hate labels...I despise labeling kids.  I understand it, but to say that I am less than a fan would be a gross understatement.

When our middle son, Lucas, was having some behavioral issues in kindergarten our old elementary school wanted him tested, immediately, for ADHD.  I fought tooth and nail to keep any label away from Lucas.  He was a six year old boy, I thought ~ let him be a six year old boy, for heaven's sake!  I fought against having him tested and when we finally had him tested we did so at a child psychologist's office where he put him through rigorous testing.  It was then that found out he did have off-the-charts ADHD.  I kept silent with his school.  I didn't want them ever knowing his diagnosis.  Lucas, himself, didn't even know that he had/has ADHD until he was in fourth grade. I didn't want that label attached to my child.

Our youngest, Claire, is over-the-top enthusiastic about school.  She loves school.  She loves everything about school.  She thrives on the academic challenges set forth by her teachers.  And she has been fortunate to have teachers who taught to her...not at her.  Her teachers have been second to none, each one building on the successes of the last.  Claire took their academic gifts and ran with them.  And then she was labeled..."gifted."  I couldn't keep that knowledge from her because her label meant she was put in a specialized class.  She excelled in her last two years of elementary school, being in the gifted class.  But I still didn't like the label.  I prefer to think of her as a school enthusiast who was pushed in exactly the right way by educators who knew how to get the most out of every kid in their classes.

For the sake of what I'm trying to say in this blog I need you to know that not all of the kids in Claire's classes would necessarily fit what some may consider the "gifted" mold.  Some of the kids were square pegs, but not once did I see the teachers try to fit them into a round hole.  Sometimes that had to be the most challenging part of their day...not stuffing a square peg into a round hole.  These teachers recognized that not all kids who are identified as "gifted" learn the same way...some needed to be challenged a little differently and they were. Claire had one child in her class whose diagnosis was on the autism spectrum.  That child needed to be taught a little differently.  The child was challenged in a way that worked for them and that child succeeded in the "gifted" class...a perfect example of a square peg not being forced into a round hole.  I don't think Claire's teacher's focused too much on the "gifted" label on the children ~ I think they focused on educating the child.

This "gifted" label on Claire is not one I talk about frequently and it's for a few reasons...

The first reason is what I told you above ~ I dislike labeling kids.

The second reason is because I never want anyone to feel I am bragging or that I think my kid(s) is/are perfect or better than anyone else's.  Labels set everyone up for that.  I know. I've seen how it could have swung the other way with Lucas.  Lucas could have easily been labeled a trouble maker or the kid with ADHD or a slow learner.  A label would have been detrimental  and unfair to Lucas.  Claire could face the same type of repercussions, only in reverse.  The nerd.  The geek.  The brainiac.  Those words are tossed around and are fair game for the middle school-er and the high school-er alike

Reason number three for me disliking the label is because I believe all kids have the ability to be gifted in one area or another...we are all given gifts when we are born, it's how they are brought out in us and nurtured that we all succeed.

One last reason I dislike the label is because sometimes it's not accurate.  Sometimes, the label "gifted" is not because it's the child who has this desire to learn more and more, it's the parents who demand absolute academic perfection from their kids.  Therein lies the's not the kid's label, it's for the parent's ego.

I don't demand perfection from any of our kids.  I want them to strive to be the best they can be, not only in school, but in life as well.  It makes life much easier to just work at being your best rather than to try and live up (or down) to a label.  I don't want Claire, or any of my kiddos, to depend on a label.

I have a reason for telling you all of this...

Things changed this year at Claire's old elementary school ~ not just at her elementary school but at elementary schools across our county.  And to me, they're kind of unnecessary and ineffective changes.  But the directive came from the Superintendent of the School board ~ only teachers who have a specialized certification are allowed to teach the kids who are identified as gifted.  I know these changes don't affect my own kiddos anymore but they affect my friends' kiddos and these changes don't look like the right me at least.

I'm not an educator.  I don't pretend to know how this whole education thing works.  But what I do know is that the teachers who taught these identified kids for years, and did a fabulous job of teaching them to love learning and encouraging them to push themselves a little harder all the while respecting the individual child's learning style, are no longer allowed to push the kids who strive hardest to learn the most.  Now, in this new school year, there is a new crop of gifted teachers at Claire's old elementary school.  From what I'm hearing the changes are not in the best interest of those kids who have an innate desire to learn but who go about it a little differently than others.  From what I'm hearing, there are instances of square peg kids trying to be stuffed into round  holes.  Those differences in a child's individualized learning style don't seem, to me (and I know I'm just a mama and not an educator), to be supported by the new curriculum. One of my friends, whose child is in the new version of the gifted class, said "There is a difference between a gifted kid and one whose parents are obsessed with their 'success' or the idea of success."  My friend's son is a bright, almost too bright of a kid, but he dances to the beat of his own drum.  He doesn't fit any mold.  He's a square peg and his teachers are not too pleased with him.  And that, to me, sums up why labeling kids fails...he's a square peg being forced into a round hole by teachers who just want to work with the "easy" kids.  Not all kids who are super smart and thrive on challenge are easy.  And this bright kid who has a different way of learning is now being asked to leave the gifted program.  I may not be an educator and I may not know how this whole education thing works but to me this situation reeks to high heaven.

So is this the right path ~to weed out kids who truly want to learn and grasp concepts easily?  Is it a good path?  To me, this whole thing stinks of "The Race to Nowhere" where our kids are pushed harder and harder academically by shoving more and more down their throats, rather than helping them to expand on their own desire to learn.  I realize it's a challenge and a balance to teach all kids and probably more so with kids who have labels but I think, in this situation, this child is being served a big plate of disservice.  I think if schools are going to take the time to test and label kids as "gifted" they need to be given the opportunity to prove their smarts and not asked to leave the program after a month.

I'm not sure Claire would have succeeded in a classroom where respecting individuality wasn't the norm.  She's her own little piece of work.  She doesn't like being forced to sit and do worksheets...she's an all hands-on-deck kind of learner.  It seems to me, this new program is doing away with individuality and focusing more on cookie cutter.  Maybe I'm wrong.  I hope I am but I don't  like the thought of our kids racing to nowhere and then have an opportunity taken away from them because they don't conform to a specific ideal of what they think a gifted child is.

I think the "race to nowhere" and labels are detrimental to our kiddos and I think forcing a gifted label on a kid and then taking it away because they don't fit a certain "mold" is even more detrimental to a child.  So, what is it we, as a county, as a state and as a nation, are trying to achieve with the labeling of kids?  Is it right?  Is it good?  I'm not so sure but I do know I'm not excited to see where the race to nowhere takes us and how labeling kids "gifted" or otherwise is a good idea.  And as far as I'm concerned neither of these things are for the love of my children...