Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Feeding Kids to the Wolves

The kids all started their new schools yesterday.  I had done my due diligence - prepared for every possible contingency.  I filled out forms, took kids to get shots, attended Meet the Teacher Nights and Orientations, asked scores of questions, bought school supplies, made sure they knew how to get to their classrooms.  I even outfitted each kid with exactly one pair of jeans that didn’t have huge holes in the knees.

We prayed.  I cooked them a healthy breakfast, gave them numerous hugs, took their pictures, told them how excited I was for them, that I loved them.
Then I proceeded to feed them to the wolves.
Contingencies are so dang difficult to predict.
I should have told Emma (2nd grade) that in her P.E. class, SALT means stand up, PEPPER means sit down, and GRAPES means gather round.  But I didn’t tell her.  Because I didn’t know that the P.E. teacher uses a food-based vocabulary to give commands.
I should have gone over a host of Spanish words with Seth (4th grade), because Spanish was his rotation on the first day and all the other kids had taken Spanish before and knew how to respond in Spanish when the teacher addressed them in Spanish.  But I didn’t tell him.  Because I don’t know Spanish, or even that he was going to Spanish on his first day.
 I should have had Rob (7th grade) disassemble his huge shrink-wrapped pack of school supplies and stuff as many as possible in his backpack, thereby avoiding the terribly embarrassing scenario of the shrink wrap finally giving way on his way to 5th period and the school supplies spilling all over the hallway.  But I didn’t tell him.  Because I figured that a teacher, at least, would see that he hadn’t been told what to do with his supplies, that he was in a bit of a pickle, and somehow come to his rescue.
 I should have told Kirsten (9th grade) one hundred additional times that she is talented and smart and beautiful and that she will make tons of friends in high school.   And reiterated that the friend-making wouldn’t happen overnight, so she would possibly have been more prepared when she had no one to sit with at lunch and no one to talk to in any of her classes, and she wouldn’t have climbed into the car at the end of the day with tears in her eyes.   But I didn’t tell her.  Because I thought maybe someone would say hi, smile, comment on her cute outfit.
That night, in tears, I beat myself up thinking about all the questions I should have asked, all the people I should have talked to.   But the painful truth is that sending my kids outside of the house will always be difficult, because I will never be able to prepare them for every possible contingency. 
But I can do a few things:  pray for them, cook them a healthy breakfast, hug them, be excited for them, love them.
So when they’re out there amongst the wolves, my kids will know for absolute certain that there is at least one person in this big sometimes scary world who will always be on their side, praying and cheering.   And that they can get through the day until it’s time to come home.
To where someone loves them best of all, no matter what, forever and ever.

P.S. From a smile perspective, it's a  good thing I took the pictures before school, not afterwards.
P.S.S. Today was the second day of school.  It’s already getting the tiniest bit better.

P.S.S.S. I can't forget, Caleb, who sill be starting PreK after Labor Day.  I'll make sure to ask a gazillion questions at Meet the Teacher, but I have a feeling that his first day won't be quite so complicated.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Wish He Were Mostly Dead

Published in The Stillwater News Press, November 2010
Published in The News Connection, April 2011

"He is so immature!  He is the most annoying brother on the planet, and doesn't even try to be nice to me."

"Give him time, sweetheart.  It may take a few more years.  I know this sounds crazy, but someday he'll be one of your best friends."

After making this statement, I try and throw in a few stories, attempting to back up my ridiculous claim that my teenage daughter and her younger brother might one day be friends.

I would fling myself onto my parents' bed, sobbing, "I hate him!  He's so mean to me!  Why did I have to get him for a brother?" I vacillated between wishing him mostly dead and wishing him entirely dead.

For good reason.

Dave (18 months older), my sister Debbie (21 months younger) and I once stayed up late watching the watered-down TV version of "Psycho," where the hotel proprietor dresses up as his mom - whom he has previously murdered - and slaughters hotel guests with a huge kitchen knife.  The uplifting content of the movie petrified us beyond words, so my sister and I decided to sleep right there in the living room when it was over.  Dave laughed, chanting "bawk! bawk!" as he left for bed.  Taunting had no effect.  Nothing on the planet would have compelled us to move a single solitary inch.

Minutes later, we heard a scream.  My mom had gotten out of bed, walked into the hallway, and come face-to-face with a middle-aged woman wearing a wig, nightgown, and carrying a huge kitchen knife.  She was lurking in the shadows near the living room, watching us huddled together, shaking, in the middle of the living room floor.  Instead of scaring the pee out of his fraidy-cat sisters, Dave nearly gave his poor mom a heart attack.

Debbie and I spent an entire month plotting revenge but gave up.  Some things simply can't be outdone.

To be fair, Dave could be nice.  He had it in him.  Once as he was dropping me off at my class in elementary school, I remembered too late and with great anxiety that I had forgotten to bring a clipping from a redbud, Oklahoma’s state tree.  Fifteen minutes later, Dave showed up in the doorway of my classroom, redbud branch in hand.  He had scoured the neighborhood until finding one.  Only after delivering his gift did he go to his own classroom, a full twenty minutes late.

The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were our favorite TV shows - Debbie and I waited all week for Saturday night.  Dave did not share our same viewpoint.  If he walked into the room during one of those shows, we would scramble to our positions in front of the TV, arms out, risking life and several limbs to prevent him from changing the channel.  Dave's advantage was momentum, which he was able to gather while sprinting the full length of the room.  Being robbed of so many sappy endings was unjust, inhumane, just plain wrong.

Dave figured he was doing us a favor.  Which he probably was but still.

Big Jerk and Huge Retard were the meanest names I could think of, and I reserved them for Dave. I rarely verbalized them, but I sure as heck thought about it.  Especially when he did things like read my journal and unplug the phone while I was in the middle of a terribly important discussion about boys with my best friend.  But then he would do something that made me feel slightly guilty for the name-calling.  Like at the beginning of high school, when I hadn't yet figured out how to socially navigate the lunch hour, and Dave invited me to join him and some friends.

Thanks to Dave, the guilt never lasted long.  Bless his sweet little heart.

I was at Dave's complete mercy when it came to getting a ride to school, was always ready to leave before he was, and would watch in utter frustration as he put his shoes on very slowly just because. 

Until one morning.  For the first and only time in history, Dave was ready before me.   He pulled the car into the street and leaned on the horn.  Worried about annoying the neighbors, which Dave clearly wasn't, I ran to the car without shoes on and yanked the door open - just in time for Dave to drive forward a few yards.  Feet flapping on the concrete, I tried unsuccessfully to jump into the moving car.

He stopped briefly, but drove forward again, erasing any doubt as to whether the driving and stopping had been due to driver error.

Dave then stepped on the gas for the third time, making the unfortunate mistake of pushing his luck.  The right front tire, which had been creeping perilously close to me, rolled right over the top of my left foot.  Not my toes, not the edge of my foot - smack dab over the top.  Lucky for both of us - for entirely different reasons - no bones were broken, the scratches and bruises weren't even too bad.   But bones could have been broken, the scratches and bruises could have been very bad.  And Dave knew it. 

I was treated with caution and deference after the foot incident.  For several weeks in fact.  Dave even bought me donuts on the way to school.  Honestly, the caution and deference started to get on my nerves.  But never the donuts.

High school social life got a bit tricky.  Lots of girls were crazy about Dave.  I had suspected as much for a few years, and the phrase "Dave Boyce Is IT!" written in swirly letters on a bathroom stall at the high school confirmed my suspicions. There was no evidence of similar sentiments towards me amongst the boys, so that left me in the dubious social position of the girl whose brother was IT.

But we managed. Gradually, over time, things began to change.  We started talking.  We dated each others’ friends.  He helped me with math, even though I couldn't reciprocate.  I asked for his thumbs up or down on outfits - the oversized sweater with leg warmers or skinny jeans?   If he was being a jerk, I called him on it.  We went on a group date to prom.  I cried and he did what he could to make it better.

At some point, I no longer wished him entirely dead.  Mostly dead on occasion, but never entirely anymore.

Immediately after Dave graduated from high school, he left for an out-of-state summer job.  I still had a few days of school left.  A friend (Jeff Berry) saw me in the hall and asked, "So, do you miss Dave?"

I surprised myself by bursting into tears.  It occurred to me – probably for the first time - that it wasn't just my brother who had moved away.  It was one of my best friends.

And I really missed him.

My daughter always listens to my stories politely.  But then she sighs, occasionally rolls her eyes, and says, "Whatever, Mom.  That's never going to happen with us."

I guess I'll have to give her some time.

It may take a few more years.
Dave & I at a dance w/ friends - 1985
Prom - Senior for Dave, Junior for me - 1986
2010 - Mostly Grown Up
2010 - Rob (left), Kirsten (second from right) - They'll get there