Rock on, Momma

Just drove home from school at 8 am on the return trip from an emergency flute drop off. Tears—none. Band director blow-up the day before the concert—narrowly averted. Points scored with my fifth grader—infinite.

And, as I ease back into the self-satisfied comfort of my minivan, what should come on my Time Life collection of the ’70s CD? My new parenting anthem, that’s what:

“…it’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise—I consider it a challenge before the whole human race, and I ain’t gonna lose!”

Thank you, Queen. Most triumphant…even for a 42-year-old mother of two who hasn’t quite taken a shower yet.

We (parents, that is) truly are the champions, aren’t we?


The Countdown Continues…

Number_4…as in only 4 more days of school!

Next on my list of summer resolutions: fresh air (no matter how muggy it may be) and exercise, every day.

The way I look at it, staying cooped up in the house with the AC on and the shades drawn is a little like going off the medication that your doctor tells you to take every day even if you’re feeling OK. For the sake of endorphin maintenance (as well as better summer sleep and achieving weight goals a la Bridget Jones), I’m going to pump it up somehow–an evening bike ride, afternoon water treading, a friendly game of tennis, a walk with the dog–whether I feel like it or not, because I know I’ll get the blues if I don’t.

And, yes, I’m always looking for exercise buddies. If you’re in the mood, give me a buzz!

Grappling with Girls? Piper Says, “Just Say NO”

illustration-_wrestling_oubw3In the April 11th edition of WORLD magazine (a bi-weekly publication that contains news and commentary written from a Christian point of view), John Piper gives his views on the inclusion of girls in high school wrestling tournaments.

Piper, a Reformed Baptist theologian, preacher, and author of numerous books on missions, Christian world-view, and God’s sovereignty, urges fathers to make a stand, saying to their sons, “Over my dead body are you going to wrestle a girl.” Such a refusal, Piper says, represents a “bigger, noble vision of what it is to be a man. Men don’t fight against women. They fight for women.” He says of high school student Elissa Reinsma‘s participation as the first female to compete in Minnesota’s high-school wrestling tournament, “Some cultures spend a thousand years unlearning the brutality of men toward women. This is an odd way to make history. Relive prehistory maybe.” He alludes to Jesus’ description of women as “the weaker vessel.”

I’m afraid that while I respect Piper, and tend to agree that girls and boys shouldn’t be wrestling each other, I have to say, this argument just doesn’t ring true for me.

Before going any further, I must admit that I’m not a big wrestling fan; I’ve only attended one wrestling match, in which there were no girls involved. My son is not a wrestler (though I’ve seen him wrestle his sister plenty of times). I’m not really “up” on high school wrestling culture (I’m probably more acquainted with WWE/WWF type stuff, mostly from Project Runway’s Ring Divas” episode and the well done steroids documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster, which is something, but not much).

What I am acquainted with are countless movies and TV programs of my childhood, where girls showed no physical prowess whatsoever. More often than not, they’d end up on the ground, rubbing the ankles they’d just twisted. Or they’d complain of breaking a nail. Or they’d be on their knees, groping for their glasses. Or, heaven help us, they’d have no power, control, or say whatsoever in the man-heavy victim scenarios that the writers/producers had dreamed up. I don’t think that participation in wrestling is necessarily the answer to gender equality, but I do think that Piper’s idea of “manly gentleness” can certainly foster the kind of wrong-headed, helpless female caricatures with which we’re all so familiar.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that coed high school wrestling encourages the brutality against women that Piper suggests it does—at least not in a sportsmanlike, supervised environment. And maybe I’m naïve, but last time I looked, there were plenty of men and women competing against each other in business, conducting military exercises side by side, plowing through crisis and tragedy together in government service, civilian roles, and their private lives. There are also boys and girls all over the world smacking tennis balls at each other, engaging in hard-core academic competition, and, yes, working together in constructive, community-enriching service projects. Do these sorts of things do nothing to offset the fears that Piper has articulated?

I don’t think that girls should be in the wrestling ring because, darn it, it’s just sexually inappropriate. Then again, so are non-married actors in a steamy love scene, I suppose. Adults are one thing…but, then again, perhaps they’re not. Food for thought…and a topic for another day.

Yes, boys should be willing to “lay their lives down to protect girls,” as should any Christian to lay down his (or her) life for a friend (or for the cause of the Gospel), but women have been put at a disadvantage for too long in the name of protection (think, among other examples, of the Taliban‘s oppressive, misogynistic rule in Afghanistan). I don’t think that coed wrestling is going to cripple boys’ attitudes toward women, just like it alone probably won’t cripple their attitudes toward other boys. By all means, we should take a stand against girls in the ring, and a stand for boys growing into men—but let’s at least do it for the right reasons.

A Day Off—for Science!

science_cityjpeg3Please don’t judge me for taking my kid out of school on his birthday.

I mean, isn’t going to school (or work, or the doctor’s office, or prison) on your birthday just plain depressing? On your special day, wouldn’t you rather do your own thing than go to a place where you’re not allowed to wear a hoodie in the cafeteria because 5th grade hood-stashing food thieves have ruined it for everyone?

Right or wrong, my husband and I enthusiastically endorsed a day of hooky playing in honor of my son’s 11th birthday. Considering that the kid also had a party and will be receiving an iPod soon, a friend asked us to put in a call to his mother, just to fill her in on how birthdays really ought to be celebrated.

Yes, back on Monday, when the other kids were slaving over their spiral notebooks, my family spent the day at Philadephia’s Franklin Institute, where we toured the Giant Heart, built amazing machines, took in an IMAX film about caves, and couldn’t stop laughing when we heard the narrator in the Planetarium pompously pronounce the words, “Hi. I’m Robert Redford.”

In order to stave off disparaging judgments that we were blowing off school just to have a good time, we decided to compile a list of science factoids based on information we gleaned from our visit. This list was included with our note to school, to prove that our field trip wasn’t just a break from the dull routine of school, it was actually educational.

Here’s what we learned at The Franklin Institute:

  1. If debris falls from the ceiling while you’re cave diving, then it means that no one had been there before.
  2. Blue water in a river means that there is a large deposit of limestone.
  3. In an ice cave, the further down you go, the softer the ice is.
  4. Our galaxy is larger than it seems.
  5. A canary’s heart beats 800 times per minute.
  6. A human’s heart beats 75 time per minute.
  7. An ostrich’s heart beats 300 times per minute.
  8. The planet Jupiter has the most gravity of any planet in our solar system.
  9. The space suit’s high-tech sounding MAG (Maximum Absorbency Garment) is really a diaper.
  10. It takes 3 hours to put on a space suit and 3 hours to take one off.
  11. A typical space walk takes 15 hours from start to finish.
  12. Scientists theorize that a collision with another plant is what formed Earth’s moon.
  13. The Milky Way has gas in it.
  14. The next closest galaxy to ours is Andromeda.
  15. Octopi have blue blood because it contains copper.
  16. People have red blood because it contains iron.
  17. Some butterflies and caterpillars have green blood because it contains nickel.
  18. Some animals have yellow blood.
  19. Blood looks red when light shines on it, but may appear blue when light is not shining on it (like while it is in you veins.)
  20. Cave explorers take samples of water because the living things in the water can be used to develop new medicines.
  21. Creatures that live in extreme environments are called “extremophiles.”
  22. Diesel engines work when fuel is pushed into a cylinder where an explosion occurs and pushes a piston.
  23. Gold is used on the visor of the space suit helmet to protect the astronauts from radiation.
  24. The Earth is protected from the sun’s “solar wind” by its magnetic field.
  25. Cave diving is considered one of the most dangerous sports in the world.
  26. The heart is a major muscle and pumps blood into the body from the lungs and back again.
  27. The beaked whale has the largest heart of all the ones on display; it is even larger than an elephant’s heart.
  28. It took 60 pounds per square inch of pressure to launch a model rocket about 30 feet into the air.
  29. Hayley used 12 gears to make a fun machine that moved.
  30. Jake made a Mars Rover model that had 5 wheels and bumped down a rocky incline without flipping over.
  31. Mom used to ride the school bus with the actor who played the character “Trumpkin” in the movie “Prince Caspian.” (Not scientific at all, I know, but cool, huh? Shout out to you, Peter Dinklage. You rock!)



How Now, Brown Cow


The other day I had a very grown-up lunch with a very grown-up friend where I ate lovely grown-up food and enjoyed decidedly grown-up conversation, but for some reason I found myself ordering up a decidedly un-grown-up beverage: chocolate milk.

There must be some 30-year-old association that’s burned into my psyche which connects counter stools, fried food, or perhaps even the offer of breakfast at any time of day with this great American classic. When I found the chocolate milk order coming out of my mouth, I immediately qualified, “I always have chocolate milk at diners,” as if somehow it’s a mandatory thing, like mashed potatoes with gravy, the BLT, or the three egg omelet.

That’s right. Adam and Eve on a raft, and wreck ’em. Plus one brown cow for the old broad in the booth.

This is one of the culinary preferences that I kind of can’t stand about myself. I still like cotton candy. I could eat pizza three times a week. Necco wafers still amuse me. Give me a school lunch and a half-pint carton of chocolate milk and I’m a really happy person.

Maybe for me chocolate milk is about more than just taste; maybe it’s about nostalgia. When I was a kid I barely walked 30 feet to the bus stop, and I certainly never led a cow to market, but, let me tell you, to this day I’m astonished that a school cafeteria-sized carton of chocolate milk used to cost 7 cents. White milk was just a penny less—and that was in the ’70’s. What do you think the kids did back in 1950—gnaw a penny in half to pay for their milk? Barter a handful of oats? Turn in a sugar cube every time they forgot to pack?

No, silly, everyone knows that back in the ’50’s kids rolled home for lunch on their handcrafted roller skates, carried their books with makeshift belt straps, stopped to skip rocks on the ponds that inevitably popped up along the route home, and greeted their beaming, beautiful, incredibly well-dressed stay-at-home mothers with a polite, “Hello, mother, are there any chores you’d like me to do before I go back to school?”

I must admit, though, that while I liked chocolate milk, I never really understood strawberry milk. On that rare occasion that our school actually had it, it was the rare kid who actually drank it. But you know what? I kind of wanted to be that kid, darn it, because, in my opinion, that kid really had it going on. He dared to be different. He liked what he liked and, man, he didn’t care who knew it.

I mean, I wasn’t going out on any kind of limb with my chocolate milk pick. For goodness sake, every kid who ever lived (except my kids, of course) is into chocolate milk, so I was just going along with the crowd—me and my proletariat preferences. But that kid? He was on the crest of the post-chocolate wave, like he was a really big man because he was hip enough to know that chocolate milk is so, I don’t know, nursery school.

But look at me now. I’m 39 and still ordering chocolate milk, and now the shoe’s on the other foot, isn’t it? I’ll bet it took that strawberry milk kid about 5 hot seconds to jump on the conformity express when he got out of college. Yeah, he may have had that brief stint in the Progressive Students Alliance (no doubt because of some girl), but sometimes all you’ve got to do is show a person the money, and they’ll leave the strawberry milk in the dust. Strawberry boy’s probably all grown up now, spending most of his time and all of his energy mopping up after his 1990’s day-trading gaffs and feeding a 15 can a day caffeine free Coke Zero habit. Meanwhile I’m drowning my sorrows in a nice tall glass of chocolate milk, enjoying lunch with my friends on a regular basis, and writing for this cushy blogging gig.

Now that I think of it, next time I’m out for lunch I’m going to get me a PB & J—that’s how confident I am in my 39-year-old skin.

But, waitress, cut off the crusts, will you? I’m driving.

Please Read the Directions Silently as I Read Them Aloud


Statewide public school testing began this week in Delaware, and, oh, how it brings me back.

Ah, standardized testing—what memories I have of night-before-the-test panic, time spent scouring the house for number 2 pencils, and out of control anxiety over my 4th grade classmate Steve Roycroft’s warning that you’ll get an automatic zero if you stray outside the bubbles when filling in the letters of your name on the test form’s personal information section.

Considering that I’ve made it this far, I think that Steve might have been wrong. Either that or I’m pretty darn good at bubble-filling, a skill which I’m sure has got to be marketable, even in our declining economic climate.

The Delaware state tests (or DSTP‘s) are benchmarks of curriculum elements that students should have learned already, so I don’t think that there’s much one can do academically to prepare for them. It’s not like in high school when I got busted by my guidance counselor for spending 5 minutes talking to my friends (class time that Mrs. X spent on a phone call) instead of reviewing the SAT vocabulary flashcards that I’d never bothered to make (“Cheryl Osiecki, I’m ashamed of you!”). Not that I’m bitter…I mean, it’s not like I ended up having a fairly respectable combined score of 1400 or anything (which, actually, I did).

Thinking about it now, though, imagine the 1600 I could have gotten—or how frequently I would now use the word ‘obsequious’—if I’d just thrown a little extra brain power at that one.

Around my house, we’ve implemented the no-brainer DSTP prep tips, things like reasonable bedtime, good night’s sleep, and low household stress. And after talking to my son’s teacher about the nutritionally bankrupt daily free breakfast offerings at school (in no way is a doughnut a healthy choice, folks), my husband and I took the kids on a high protein, high fruit, breakfast food run last night, picking up raisin bran, peanut butter, and, yes, bacon. Not sure where the syrup we served on the pancakes this morning scores on the brain food scale, but at least each of my children did receive a glass of milk, even if they did sip it through Cocoa Krispies Cereal Straws.

My daughter helped me to remember a pre-test relaxer and brain booster that we did last year: a before-school mall walk. I guess we could have just walked to school, accomplishing the “exercise gets you thinking” goal while saving a tablespoon of gas, but I think that the novelty of the mall loop really did something for her. She’s a pretty spacially-oriented thinker, and she was particularly grooving on walking on the black tiles that run along the mall’s perimeter. I’m sure there’s some geometry application there, but, in any case, walking at the mall gave me the opportunity to see the maintenance guys changing out the gigantic sign at the tuxedo rental place, which was actually kind of cool.

On the way back from the mall she and I also did some mental calisthenics, using this interesting exercise: Count from 1 to 100. Raise your left hand on every multiple of 3, and stamp your foot on every multiple of 5. That was fun (and just a little confusing—51 and 57 just don’t ever sound right, do they?), but if you’re really ambitious (and just a little bit spazzy), add raising your right hand for every multiple of 4 and clapping for every multiple of 12. Then try stopping for every red light and successfully making every turn between your house and the mall. Then try explaining to the police officer who pulls you over that all you were doing was getting your child mentally ready for the DSTP, and that, no, you haven’t been drinking.

And, oh yeah, don’t tell him it was my idea.

The Backpack Black Hole


Hey, Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman–have you installed a nanny cam in my dining room?

-Scheir M.

20 Ways of Getting to School That Sure Do Beat the Bus

  1. Walking
  2. Biking
  3. Limousine
  4. Tricked-out Pope-mobile
  5. Batmobile
  6. Helicopter
  7. Hang glider
  8. Luge
  9. Canoe
  10. Pogo Stick
  11. Runaway Mine Cart
  12. Time-saving Waterfall
  13. Hot Air Balloon
  14. Cartwheeling
  15. Speed Skating
  16. Surfboard
  17. Skimboard
  18. Swinging Jungle Vines
  19. Punkin Chunkin’ Catapult Contraption
  20.  And runner-up, number 21: dog sled.     

It’s All Downhill From Here


This month’s MetroKids magazine features a neat little piece entitled “Having Fun Improving Your Child’s Memory.” It encourages parents to work on sharpening their children’s recall and visualization skills as a way of augmenting imagination, enhancing creative thinking, and, ultimately, developing the kind of mental discrimination that will help them realize that there is no possible world in which using a rock to scrape the ice off of your windshield is a good idea.

Unfortunately, I can’t really tell right now where my kids are on the memory spectrum because their signals are mixed at best. Sure, I can count on them to remind me (fifty times) about the gum I promised them at the end of a stress-free stop at Target. But when I see that the very important notes that I’ve asked them to courier to their teachers are more likely to be swallowed up by the black holes that are their backpacks than they are to ever see the light of a teacher’s encouraging face, I start to wonder.

The child’s brain: an ever-increasingly complex web of neuro-connections, or a sticky sweet glob of marshmallow fluff? Only time, I suspect, will tell.

To be honest, though, when I saw the memory improvement headline, my first thoughts weren’t about my kids. Lately, I’m afraid, I’ve found that I’m not so sharp on the memory score myself.

For one thing, I’ve realized that my brain has stopped tracking the date. Run a date by me, and what you’re likely to get is, “Is that next week, or the following week?” or “I know I’ve got something going on around the 14th; I’m not sure about the exact date, but whatever that Saturday is,” or best of all “Now I know that the 21st is a Sunday, because my birthday is the 21st and last year it was a Friday, and with Leap Year, it’ll be 2 days later this year. Wait a minute, maybe Leap Year was last year—or is it next year? I always thought that Leap Years coincide with Presidential Elections and the Summer Olympics. I don’t know, you may want to check the calendar to be sure.”

I figure, if nothing else, knowing one date per week will help me mathematically derive the rest. Mom’s birthday was Saturday, and a week from that was the 28th, so March 1st must have been a Sunday, so here we are on Wednesday, which makes it (don’t tell me)…March 4th!

That’s a nice little math exercise too, so see? My bad memory is actually sharpening my mental acuity. That sure was easy!

Thankfully, though, I’ve still got the days of the week under control. Sunday is church, Monday is Boy Scouts, Tuesday is Theatre rehearsal, Wednesday is Kid’s Choir, Thursday is tennis, Friday is Girl Scouts, and Saturday is free, as long as your definition of free includes shuttling kids to one activity after another in two hour increments over an eight to ten hour period.

The date thing’s gotten a little embarrassing, though, so I’m really trying to lick it. For some general brain-flexing, I’m trying to do more crosswords. I try to go listless at the supermarket, and see how much I remember (or more often forget). I read, I write, and I can tell you the names of each and every one of this season’s Top Chef contestants. Not bad, right?

Once in a while I try this brain-boosting tip that I heard a couple of years ago. It’s supposed to be mentally enriching to turn a word around in your mind so that you can see it backwards and forwards. On a related point, I’ll never forget a night almost 12 years ago when I was so jacked up on a late night cup of Earl Grey (that’s ‘Yerg Lrae,’ by the way) that I stayed up ’til 2 am watching Elton John (a.k.a. Nhoj Notle) on MTV’s Unplugged explaining how the timbre not the tone of his voice had changed (whatever, man), and making a non-sequiter, but rather impressive reference to Ebagum Trebor–that’s Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe…spelled backwards.

My memory may fail me in many departments, but one thing I haven’t forgotten over the years is a 2004 New York Times Magazine article entitled, “In Search of Lost Time.” In it, writer Cathryn Jakobson Ramin explains that mental dulling after age 30 may be directly related to the naturally occurring deterioration of a lipid layer that surrounds our brains; once the layer grows to a certain point, our bodies produce a toxic protein designed to chew up that very layer, leaving us desperately solving Sudoku puzzles just to get us back to where we once were.

So, kids, I guess the message is this: start working on your memories now, because by the time you’re 30, it’s all over.

Classroom Confessions, Next Time on “Cheaters”

A new Vatican study identifying the most frequently confessed sins, by gender, shows lust, gluttony and sloth in the win, place, show positions for men and pride, envy, and anger in the top three for women.

No mention of the most commonly confessed sins for children, but I suspect that cheating in school is probably somewhere pretty high on the list (followed closely by ditching your peas under the table and “cleaning up” your room by taking every last thing off the floor and cramming it into your closet).

I haven’t bugged any confessionals to back up my theory, but I know me, and I know my daughter, and that’s all I need to know to make a case for cheating as one of the big ones. I did it, she’s done it, and, her teachers tell me, she and I are not alone.

My cheating career was not long, nor was it glamorous. I’m not proud of it, but there was that time in third grade when I lifted the entire Henry Hudson chapter from an explorers book and passed it off as my own (attention, teachers: when a third grader hands in a 14-page paper, do some digging, will ya?) There was that time in fourth grade when, just to keep from breaking the chain of gold stars on the class spelling test performance chart, I cribbed off another kid’s test paper (my first real-life ends/means dilemma). And there was that time in my senior year of high school, when I faked my way through our class discussion of The Grapes of Wrath, the only book assigned to me for high school English that I hadn’t actually read (still haven’t, incidentally, though I did find Steinbeck‘s East of Eden pretty darn amazing).

Scandalous, yes, but awfully white bread, right?

Well, before Christmas, my daughter came to me boasting an incredibly high AR score—the month’s best in her class, in fact. (For those of you not familiar with it, AR, or Accelerated Reader, is a school program where kids read books, then take computerized reading comprehension quizzes; it’s great for goal-setting and achievement-tracking, and it’s a big educational component in many of the schools in my area). But while I cheered her sudden surge to the top of the charts, her dad was skeptical. Turns out his suspicions were confirmed: the printed AR report showed that she’d scored big for quizzes that she’d taken on several Harry Potter books—several of which she’d not actually read.

Her explanation? She’d read one of the books, and had seen the movies for the others, and just got “carried away” when she took the tests. Oh boy.

Thankfully, I’d learned long ago from a Leave it to Beaver rerun on Nickelodeon’s TV Land that the “I saw the movie, so that’s good enough” approach doesn’t work. Poor Beaver was supposed to have read The Three Musketeers, but on the advice of his dopey friends, he watched a televised movie version instead, which, as it seems, could have starred the Three Stooges in the title roles. Athos, Aramis, and Porthos or Larry, Moe, and Curly—same difference, right?

So, my husband and I set up a conference with the teacher, where my red-handed daughter presented a confessional note, complete with her own suggestions for punishment, which included no recess, lost points, and, of course, actually reading the books and retaking the tests. The teacher, God bless her, went for door number 3, and sent my daughter back to class with a stern “thank you” for her honesty.

Truth is, she said, that my kid is by no means the first of the cheater-pants; the other kids in the “gifted” class (the little rascals) have been gaming the AR system since the day it was installed.

My daughter may be a cheater, I guess, but at least she’s developmentally on par.