This is me...

This is me...
I'm having a mom moment....

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Our Home to Yours

Well, it's Christmas and I have been incredibly busy.  I'm always pretty busy but this year Christmas has kicked my butt.  Creating Christmas magic and keeping it alive for 4 kids is exhausting and I have failed more than once this season.  My daughters wrote letters to Santa and he never answered them, even though our Elf on the Shelf told them that he would.  My oldest wrote a very passive aggressive letter -- she asked for something that we can not afford and then said "...but since I know that it is really expensive, I guess I'll just take some books."  My youngest daughter didn't ask for anything -- she sent Santa a picture of puppies, kitties, rainbows, and unicorns and she enclosed $1.06, presumably to help cover the cost of what she wants for Christmas.

We are not rich -- well, we are by many standards.  We do not lack money for basic living expenses like food, shelter, medical care, etc.  But we drive older cars, rarely splurge on frivolous things like eating out, and budget our money carefully because (as I have mentioned before) we do not do credit.  See, years ago, before the 4 little Caballeros came along, we spent money like we were a couple of Rockafellers.  We weren't.  We did fine, able to make all of our payments every month without much difficulty, but we were still robbing Peter to pay Paul.  When we accepted the job in Texas and moved from Georgia, we thought it was a wonderful opportunity to finally get ahead, but then we couldn't sell our house in Georgia.  We were no longer treading water, we were beginning to sink.  We cancelled all of our credit cards and I spent hours on the phone negotiating lower rates and payments.  We wanted to pay our debts, but we also had to be able to pay for our living expenses.  We were certain that the house in Georgia would sell or rent eventually, and we just needed to manage until we could remove that expense and begin to make real headway on our debts.  It didn't sell or rent, and the end result, after more than 20 months of struggle was bankruptcy.  I was so very ashamed.  Our house in Georgia ultimately sold at auction for about $28K less than what we owed on it and nearly $95K less than the appraised value.  We had whittled down our consumer debt from an all-time high of nearly $40K (the result of using credit cards for over a year to make ends meet on top of the accrued debt and interest from before moving), to less than $18K.  All told, we had owed approximately $45K that the courts had "forgiven" and released us from liability for.  After the bankruptcy was discharged and we got back on our feet, I made payments anyway until the debts were satisfied.

During all of this, my kids were watching.

They learned that being irresponsible with your money has consequences.  They learned that credit is dangerous.  They learned that fixing your mistakes takes hard work and dedication.  And they learned that getting what you need always comes before getting what you want.  There were many lean Christmases and birthdays during all of this -- where gifts were much needed clothes or shoes and not toys.  One might think that after seven or so years of struggle, we might celebrate by going overboard.  And I admit, it is tempting to do just that, but what lesson would that teach my kids?  I want them to enjoy life and have nice things, but I also want them to place value on family, love, charity, and NOT on things.

We started the following tradition a few years ago, and we still try to do this every year:
Something you want, (A big present that is something they asked for)
Something you need, (An item like socks, underwear, or a new backpack)
Something to share, (Probably a game or a movie)
Something to read." (Obviously, a book)
Something to eat (Candy, popcorn, etc.)
And a group activity, (A craft set, a board game, etc.)
Something that's neat (This is literal -- something to help them organize their crap)
And something for charity. (We are giving each child a small amount of money to either donate or buy something to donate.)
It keeps us from going overboard and it impresses on our kids the importance of sharing, family, and charity, as well as covers some of their needs while still letting them have that magic of Christmas.  (And I STILL get to give them awesome presents -- my favorite thing ever.)

The kids still say things like "I wish we were rich so that we could..." or "When we have the money, can we..." but so do I (even if it is only to myself).  I know that they have learned the impact that money can have on your life.  We all have because we have lived through the worst of it.  Despite that, we have come out wiser, more thankful, and generally happier to be free of it.  My oldest girl has learned the joy of giving and being frugal -- she made all of her Christmas gifts herself by spending a bit of her own money to buy the materials.  My oldest son usually points out that the things he wants can be bought second hand and that he's okay with that.  And my 2 youngest often offer me money of their own (even though it is usually loose change) to help pay for things.  And they have also come to appreciate simpler things -- dinner together as a family (even when we are eating Ramen), the rare one on one time that we get to spend with them, and an evening sharing a DVRed television show or movie.  They rarely ask for outlandish things, and even when they do they have learned to justify their requests with how it would benefit not just them, but the family.

The hard lessons that I did not learn until my thirties, my kids have learned before puberty.

It makes me both happy and sad that my kids are conscious about how much things cost.  I want them to be realistic, but I want them to still hope and dream.  I hope that when they rip open their presents this Christmas morning that they will have some dreams fulfilled, and that they appreciate what it took to make it all happen.  And I will be grateful that their dad and I made their Christmas special without going into debt.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Don't Mess With Mama Bear

Sooooo, if you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I'm not big on coddling my kids.  I certainly support them, but I don't believe that putting them in some kind of protective bubble is doing them any favors.  We expect a lot of them -- they know that they are to be respectful of us and other adults and that we place a high value on education.  As a general rule, we side with the teachers when there are issues that arise at school.  But not always...

This is my youngest's first year of public school.  I was excited for him and was pleased to find out that the teacher that he was getting was apparently held in high regard.  Those feelings were short lived.

He has never been the kid that was excited about school -- when he was in preschool, he often tried to get out of going.  He'd rather stay home with me.  So when his attitude about going to school every day sort of sucked, I dismissed it.  Then there were days when he would cry to not go.  There were days he got off of the bus looking defeated.  And there were the papers that he was bringing home.  In the first few weeks of kindergarten, a class where numerical grades are not given, he was bringing home papers marked up with X's and "-3" or "-4" written in big bold red ink at the top.  His handwriting was atrocious because he had not decided if he was left or right handed and the teacher was correcting his spelling.  (HIS SPELLING! He's 5!)  So I emailed the teacher and asked about the handwriting, thinking that I could open a dialogue with her about that and ramp up to the other issues.  The response that I received from her indicated that she was worried about his abilities.  She said that there were other problems beyond his handwriting and that she would like for my husband and I to come in to have a conference with her.  She was vague, but seemed genuinely concerned, and the tone and language of her emails suggested that there were some serious problems and that they needed to be addressed as soon as possible.  This, of course, caused me to be concerned as well.

I was thinking "Did we miss something?  Does he have a learning disability? Are there behavior issues that we have been blind to?"  We'd always believed that he was a very bright child -- he was logical, sarcastic, and funny.  In preschool, when his teacher had tried to get him to write his whole name, he looked at her deadpan and said "Why?  It has a J on it, you know it's mine."  He has understood logical correlations since he was about 4, telling my husband once that he knew his big brother wore a size 12 shirt because he was 11 and he wore a size 5 shirt and he was 4.  But maybe we'd missed something.  Maybe there were problems that we'd missed the signs for.  I was very anxious to have the meeting.

My husband took off of work and we went to the school, preparing for the worst.

Now, let me just say, I had met the teacher before this, at the open house.  She struck me as"efficient."  I asked her that night if she needed all of the items included on the district-wide supply list since I had bought all of the stuff last year and the kids hadn't needed it.  Her response to my question was one of near shock -- well of course she needed them all!  If it is on that list then I need to buy it and send it in!  Okay, 4 packs of 24-count Crayola Crayons AND 3 packs of 8-count Crayola Crayons made no sense to me, but whatever.  And I warned her that night that my kid was rather stoic and sarcastic.  Her reaction to this news made it clear that sarcasm was not a trait that she valued.

So when we go to this meeting, we have to sit at the children's table in these little bitty chairs half the size of my butt and low enough that my knees are up by my chin.  She has a stack of papers and folders to review with us and I prepare for the worst.  She starts out by pulling his pre-kindergarten test scores.  We had not seen these, but this initial evaluation was done prior to the start of school, and is used as an indicator for strengths and weaknesses.  My kid scored just above average on this (like 608/1000).  Then she starts telling us that now that they were 4 weeks in, they re-evaluate the kids to see if progress is being made. I thought, here it is -- he's regressed or just not improved.  But that wasn't the case.  Not that you'd know it by the way that the teacher presented the information.  She said with a ton of sympathy in her voice, "You can see that your son has only gone up to 720/100."  I didn't say a word.  I was thinking "only"??!  It's been 4 weeks, lady!  You need to lighten up!

She said, "Of course I would never reveal how any other specific student scored, but on this scale of scores for this class, you can see that your son falls in the 70th percentile just barely."  I said "So he's above average?"  She sort of scoffed and said "You have to understand -- I have students in here that are reading at a second grade level."  I thought "Well, bully for them.  Send them to second grade so that you can help my kid" but I bit my tongue.

Then she said that my son was having "melt-downs".  I said, "Well, he gets frustrated when he can't do something and he sometimes cries out of frustration."  She pursed her lips and said, "He's the ONLY one of my kids that does this and the other children just look at him like 'What is wrong with this kid?' when it happens."  Seriously?  Out of 18 5 year olds, my kid is the ONLY one who ever cries?!  I am not sure that I believe that.  My husband asked her to give us an example and after we heard it, we knew that the issues between this teacher and our kid probably were not his fault.  Apparently, they go out to the playground right before lunch.  The door in and out of the school to the fenced in playground requires a magnetic key card to open.  When they got to the lunchroom, my son told his teacher that he'd forgotten his lunch outside.  She sent him to get it.  By himself.  He's 5 years old, been in this school for about 2 weeks at this point, and he didn't want to do this alone.  She told him that he'd have to go get it "if he wanted to eat lunch" and that he'd need to hurry.  (At this point, I am clenching my jaw).  Well, inevitably, he got locked out of the building.  When I said to her "But he had no way to get back inside, I imagine that he was pretty scared."  She said dismissively that there are always other teachers outside and I countered with "But he doesn't know them."  She clearly was not understanding my concerns but I was very careful not to explode.  We are only in our second year at this school and we have six more years to go before all 4 kids are out; I don't want to use up all of my crazy now when I might need it later.

My husband, who I could tell was pissed, then asked about any other instances or problems.  She said "He has meltdowns in the computer lab.  Do you not have a computer at home?"  I was becoming increasingly annoyed by her condescending tone so I said "Yes, we have a computer at home, but he is the youngest of 4 kids -- how much time do you think he gets on the computer before his siblings take over?"  She said that he started crying in the computer lab because he couldn't make the mouse do what he wanted it to and that all of the other kids were "very taken aback by his outburst."  My husband then asked, "Where are you when these things happen and how do you respond?"  She said that she was working one on one with other kids who needed special attention and that his outbursts caused her to have to stop and go over to see what was the matter and try to calm him down.  So my husband posed a follow-up question: "You say that you work one on one with students who need extra help.  Do you ever work one on one with our son?"  Her verbatim response "Well, these are kids that tested even lower than your son.  I mean, they really need specialized attention.  And then there are times that the students who are advanced require one on one time to remain challenged."  So, no.  Our kid is only slightly above average according to the testing, so he doesn't rank the one on one attention.

I asked her what she suggested that we do to try to help because I was about ready to punch her and I wanted to get out of there before that happened.  Her suggestion was that we should be reading to him for at least 30 minutes a day, going over the daily homework sheet (which takes about 15-20 minutes), make him practice writing his alphabet and numbers several times, and reviewing the sight words.  In other words, after he is in school for 7 hours, we should make him do a couple more hours of school work when he gets home.  Um, no.  He is 5.  He should go outside and play when he gets home.  The idea that I would make my 5 year old do 2 hours of homework when he is scoring above average (even for his class with the 2nd grade reading level kids) was ridiculous.

She then began to show us around the room at different things that they do in class during the day.  My husband, usually pretty stoic anyway, has grown coldly silent at this point.  I can tell by looking at him that he is done.  She is chattering on about white boards and centers and mentions that they are always in need of dry erase markers if we ever want to send something in, and then she stops and says "Oh, I forgot.  You're the one that doesn't like to buy school supplies."  EXCUSE ME??!  I know that my mouth fell open at this remark, but I think I recovered quickly and said "I don't mind buying the supplies that are needed, but no, I don't like to buy things because some bureaucrat in the central office thinks that kindergartners might need it."

She blathered on a little more and I finally said, "Look, I know that my son is smart.  He is logical and sarcastic and I think that the reason he hasn't excelled in here is because for whatever reason --" (yeah, I think I know the reason and it's you lady) "--he hasn't been motivated or encouraged to do so."  Her response caused my husband to step between me and her to prevent a knee-jerk reaction on my part: "Well, I know you BELIEVE that, but I have to go by what I see here at school."

After that we wrapped up the meeting and got out of there.  In the car, my husband said "We've got to get him away from that woman."  I agreed and called the school to request a meeting with the principle.

At dinner that night, I asked my son "Do you like your teacher?"  He didn't look up but said "No."  When I asked him why not he sounded so sad when he answered "Because she doesn't like me."  It was official.  I hated this woman.

It took a couple of weeks to get in to see the principle, but she was very understanding and listened to us and before we could bring it up, she suggested moving him to a different class.  We asked to meet the new teacher first (no use jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak).  She arranged the meeting for early the following week with the move scheduled to happen the very next day as long as we didn't have any concerns.

When we told my son over that weekend that he was probably moving to a different teacher's classroom, he was very excited and we decided that the new teacher HAD to be better than where he was now, and we could not wait until Tuesday when we would meet the new teacher and Wednesday when our son would be moved.  And we were pleased with the new teacher when we met her -- she is calm, cheerful, and sweet but she is just firm enough for these kids who are getting used to full day school everyday.  The change in my son and his attitudes about school have been incredible.  He wants to learn.  He cares what this teacher thinks and tries hard to do what is asked of him.

The day of the move, his old teacher called me.  She kept saying over and over again that she "was just shocked that he was moving out of her class."  She told me that she had never had a parent request that their child be moved out of her room in all her years of teaching.  I bit holes in my tongue to keep from spewing all of the things that I was thinking.  Finally, the anger bubbling up inside me as she carried on like I must be crazy for depriving my child of her tutelage, burned its way through all of my verbal barriers and I said "We made what we feel was the best choice for our son.  He felt that you did not like him, and frankly, so did we.  You had us thinking that there was something wrong with our child and when we got to your classroom and saw his test scores, we see that he was just too average for you.  He wasn't reading at the 2nd grade level and he didn't score low enough for you to swoop in and play savior to.  My husband and I both wondered "Why are we here?"  And when we heard about how you sent our 5 year old out to the playground unaccompanied to retrieve his lunch on the second week of school and then acted as if his reaction to being locked outside with people he did not know around him and no way to get back inside was somehow unwarranted, we knew that you were not the teacher for him.  It is done.  We moved him to what we hope will be a more suitable environment.  Get over it."  And I hung up.

About a week later, we were at the school for a PTA meeting.  I ran into my daughter's kindergarten teacher from last year.  She asked how our son was doing in his new class.  I was a little surprised that she knew about it.  She said EVERYONE knew about it because the principle had announced it in a staff meeting -- sort of  "Oh, and so-&-so will be moving from your class to your class."  I said "Oh dear.  How'd that go over?"  She told me that the old teacher was flabbergasted.  I thought "good."  She said that she had come up to her after the meeting knowing that she had had one of our other kids and asked about us.  She wanted to know if we were problem parents.  So, my kid's previous teacher told her that she had never had a problem with us and in fact found us to be very attentive, loving, but non-coddling parents.  I gave her a little run-down on the conference that we had had and some of the things our son had said and about the playground incident.  She said, "Listen, I have worked with that woman for 5 years and it has taken every day of it to not take everything that she says personally.  She is very competitive.  We (the other kindergarten teachers) always feel like she gets the cream of the crop and that we get the students that she did not want for one reason or another.  She is a cheerleader always clapping her hands at her kids and saying "Go, go, go!!  Let's get it done!!" and not every kid responds well to that kind of motivation."  No kidding.  My stoic son doesn't respond well to that at all.  I could just see her acting like some sort of infomercial host and my kid staring deadpan back at her not go-go-going at all.  I told her that the old teacher had called me after the move and she just shook her head and said "I told her that was NOT a good idea."  Too bad she didn't listen, don't mess with mama bear.

In the end, our kid is where he needs to be.  At his classroom Christmas party (which I did not get to attend since I had pink-eye) his new teacher told my husband how thrilled she was to have our son in her class.  She said that he was a great kid and that she wished that she had had him all year long.  My husband told her "We do too."   His new teacher is amazing and he is learning -- which is what kindergarten should be about.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Welcome To The Club

I have been neglecting my blog.  My last post, like all of my political or religious posts, cost me a few followers.  I gained new ones in the exchange, but I try real hard not to purposely offend people so it always bugs me when I get a few responses of "I had no idea you were a conservative, so I can't follow you anymore." I had one reader who sent me an email with just 2 words: "Bigot.  Unfollowing."  Part of me wants to write these people back and try to open a dialogue, but the cynic in me says what's the point?  The cynic in me almost always wins.  Truth is, the stuff that has been going on with our nation's government has been on my mind.  A lot.  So it has been hard to write about much of anything without those concerns somehow creeping in. As you may or may not remember, I have been attempting to write a novel.  I had to delete about 6,000 words last week because I got off on a tangent that reeked of my political views.  So, if THIS post gets a little political, (although it would be pretty hard considering what it is about), I apologize.

Almost 2 weeks ago, my family joined a club.  The "We Had Lice" club.  We were recruited, unwillingly, by some other club members at my kids' school. We have received "Lice Letters" from the school 5 different times since school started at the end of August, and we got a new one the Monday of that week.  As always, I took an hour or so to thoroughly check all 4 heads the night the letter came home, and found nothing.  That Saturday, we were getting pictures made and I wanted to straighten the girls' hair, so I was blow drying the oldest when I saw something.  I wasn't sure I had seen it...I wanted to believe that I hadn't seen it...I tried to dismiss it....but there it was.  A bug.  In my kid's hair.  It looked like an alien.  As I picked through her hair, repeating "No, no, no" over and over again under my breath and then screaming for my husband to come and provide back-up, I saw a teeny-tiny white thing on the hair shaft, near her scalp, and I was convinced that it was an egg.  My kid had lice.  My husband wasn't convinced.  He didn't see anything.  He said "I really think that you are 'nit-picking.' I don't see anything."  I stared blankly at him for a moment and replied "Do you know where that phrase 'nit-picking' comes from?!"  I explained that we had received another lice letter earlier that week.  I called the other kids into the bathroom and began meticulously looking through their heads.  My OCD kicked in.  My mind was racing.  "Is that an egg?" "Is that?!" "What about THAT??!!"  I was a little frantic...

Luckily, (for me at least), one of my dearest friends had just been through this with her own kids.  I, on her behalf, had called another of my best friends who is a hair dresser and had asked her what she needed to do.  My hairdresser friend used to go to people's houses to delouse their kids (at a hefty price) and I knew that she was an expert.  After a few frantic moments of just straight up freaking out, I took a deep breath and began organizing in my head what needed to be done.

First things first: I called the photographer and let her know what I had discovered.  She said the pictures are outside.  You are my last appointment.  I am booked until April.  In short, don't cancel.  So I didn't.  (And the pictures turned out great).  Then I called my kids' friends' parents to let them know what was up so that they could be on the look out on their own kids. (I would call the school on Monday.)  Finally, I called our pediatrician's office to let them know and to verify my plan of attack, which was unconventional (and which I will explain in a second).  Here is what the doctor told me when she called me back:
1)  She does not recommend the over the counter treatments.  Nix and Rid are EXTREMELY harsh.  I would have to wear gloves to apply it to my kids' heads and then wash their hair in the sink to prevent the chemicals from touching any other part of their bodies.  It would most likely dry their hair and scalp out to the point that they will scratch uncontrollably -- possibly until they drew blood, thereby making further application impossible until the wounds heal.  
2)  Nix and Rid are often INEFFECTIVE.  That's right, lice in North America are developing resistance to these treatments.  Even before resistance began to occur, these products NEVER killed the eggs -- nothing but heat or cold will kill the eggs.  That is why these products come with a "Nit Comb."  Regardless of what treatment you use, you HAVE TO pick the eggs out manually.  It takes forever, they are sticky and hard to see, but if you do not remove every last egg, you will not get rid of the lice.
3)  The level of infestation that I described to her indicated that they had gotten it in the last 2-3 days.  She said that one of the worst times of year was NOW and one of the easiest places to get them was the bus.  (My kids are no longer bus riders).  
4)  Done correctly, the method that I planned would work perfectly well and I would need to continue to check them daily for the next few weeks to prevent them from re-infesting.  
So as soon as we got home, I got to work.  I am going to outline here exactly what I did in case you ever find your own family recruited into this club.  Here is what you will need to do unless you think that everyone in your family would look good with a buzz-cut:
1) Gather all of the bed linens, blankets, stuffed animals, etc.  You have 3 choices of how to treat these -- dry in a hot dryer for NO LESS THAN 30 minutes (sustained heat for 5-7 minutes should be sufficient, but it takes a bit to get consistent heat through everything in the dryer, freeze in a deep freezer for at least 10 hours, or seal them up in plastic garbage bags (use duct tape to seal the tops) for 1 week.  Lice cannot live off of a human host for more than 36 hours, but hey, you can eliminate the clutter for a whole week!  We sealed up the majority of the stuffed animals and washed all of the linens in hot water and dried them in a hot dryer and we dried the pillows for 30 minutes.  Any recently worn clothes, hats, jackets, sweaters, and coats too.  Because we know that our kids got this at school, I did the same with their backpacks.  You think you have a lot of laundry now, wait until you get lice.  
2)  Brush every tangle, knot and rat's nest out of your kids' hair and your own and then gather every brush and comb that you own.  Even if you think the infected kid hasn't touched them, treat them anyway.  Clean all the loose hair out, stop up the sink and put them in.   Put some water on to boil and once it boils, turn it off and wait for it to stop boiling.  Now pour the extremely hot water over the brushes and combs until covered, add a little shampoo, and let them soak until the water cools enough to put your hands in it. Hand wash them all, rinse them well, and let them air dry.
3) Vacuum everything.  We vacuumed carpets, drapes, mattresses, pillows -- all of it.  Because we had been out, we also vacuumed the car and wiped down the interior just to be safe.  Then empty the vacuum into a plastic bag, seal it up, and put it in the outside trash can. (Again, this is hyper-vigilance since lice cannot survive off of a human host very long).
4)  Go buy 4 things -- a large bottle of cheap olive oil, tea tree oil, disposable shower caps, and a nit comb.  We got a gallon of olive oil from Target for $20 and a small bottle of pure tea tree oil for about $5.  The shower caps and nit comb came from a beauty supply store and cost about $10.  (Nix and Rid are $20 a box and require 2 boxes per head -- in my family, that route would have cost us at least $240 plus tax.  This method let me treat my entire family for around $40 and we have enough olive oil left over to do it at least 2 more times.)
5)   Cancel all of your plans for at least the next 48 hours.  You are not going anywhere.  You are about to embark on a nit-picking adventure and you have a ton of laundry to do.
6)  Take the tea tree oil and add 3-5 drops per ounce to everyone's shampoo and conditioner.  This will not "prevent" re-infestation, but it will discourage it.  I also mixed 5 drops per ounce of water in a spray bottle and I spray the kids backpacks and jackets every day before they go to school, as well as using the tea tree water to spray in their hair as I fix it every morning.  (I also throw their backpacks and jackets into the dryer for 30 minutes when they get home every day.)
7)  You are going to take the olive oil and SATURATE the tangle free hair.  Be certain that you rub it into the scalp as well (the scalp is key since this is where they live and feed).  I also combed it through with a wide tooth comb and then a fine tooth comb just to be sure that every strand was covered.  If you see any eggs, go ahead and pull them out.  You will be pulling them out anyway when this first phase is done, so if you see any now you might as well get a jump on it.  Once the hair AND SCALP are completely covered, put the shower cap on and wait no less than 2 hours (lice can hold their breath for up to 2 hours, so make sure that you pass that mark). Treat EVERYONE in the house -- even if you do not think that they have any lice because you want to be absolutely certain that you eradicate them all. Start with the youngest kid.  It will make your life infinitely easier, trust me.  We put on Netflix for the kids to keep them distracted because this is not a pleasant experience -- it is hot and as the oil warms up it runs and that tickles.  Of course, I spent this 2 hours running the washer and dryer and researching lice on the internet...more on that later).
8) After the 2 hours is up, the fun part starts (not really).  Now you have to go through the hair, practically strand by strand.  You are looking for eggs.  The viable eggs (those that could hatch out brand new lice in the next 7 days or so) will be within 1/4 inch of the scalp. They are darn near impossible to see, especially if your kids have light colored hair, but you can feel them.  They feel like little grains of sugar or sand.  If you touch what you think is an egg and it falls, then it is not an egg.  Eggs are cemented to the hair shaft and have to be slid out. The olive oil will make them a lot easier to remove. You can use the nit comb on shorter hair and to help you separate a section of longer hair to go through, but on longer hair, do not trust the nit comb to get the eggs out.  You will have to use your thumb nail and then wipe them off onto a tissue or paper towel.  In my experience, at best the nit comb slid the eggs down the hair shaft but it did not remove them.  (Just for a little indication of what you are in for, my oldest daughter's hair took me nearly 4 hours to go through -- her hair is almost to her waist and very thick).  
9)  Now that you have done all of that, wash the hair in water that is as hot as you can stand without it being painful.  You will most likely have to wash it at least twice to remove all of the oil.  Apply conditioner, rinse, and blow it dry until it is completely dry (look through it while you are blow drying and remove any other eggs that you see).  
10)  Now do it again.  All of it.  The olive oil, the shower cap, the nit-picking, washing and blow drying.  If your kids are older, like mine, I put the oil in their hair, put the shower cap on, laid down a towel over their newly dried pillows and had them sleep in it.  I DO NOT recommend doing this on younger kids.  I did not do this on the 5 year old, just the older kids.  
11)  Check them again.  Every. Single. Day.  I go through my kids' hair thoroughly when their hair is wet because it is easier, but I look all the time.  I use a flashlight to make it easier on my eyes.
12)  Repeat the oil treatment 2 more times in one week intervals. (It made my kids' hair look amazing, so we will probably do this every week for awhile).  Newly hatched lice nymphs are translucent.  It takes 7 days for them to develop into egg-laying adults.  So if, by chance, an egg was missed and hatched, in 2 treatments you could eliminate them before more eggs were laid.
13)  Blow dry the hair every single time you wash it.  The heat will kill any lice or eggs that you may have missed (although much more effective on the eggs than the lice since the hatched lice can run away).  Just 105 degrees of sustained heat for a minimum of 5-7 minutes on the head can kill them.  If you have the old fashioned dryer that you sit under, even better.
14) You may find eggs or egg casings farther away from the scalp -- we found 2-3 close to the ends of the girls' hair the second go-round.  Most likely, you dislodged these while you were nit-combing, but didn't get them all the way out of the hair.  They are no longer viable (according to the internet, my hairdresser, and my pediatrician), but remove them anyway.  I didn't want to take any chances.
15) Notify the school, your friends, your kids' friends' parents, anyone that you or your kids have been around since you believe that your kids were infested. 
Here is what I learned:  You do not have to use dangerous chemicals to get rid of these pests, but you do have to be thorough and persistent.  I go through my kids hair every day now.  They hate it, but I haven't found ANY lice or eggs and Saturday will be 2 weeks.  I did all of this on a Saturday and Sunday.  Sunday night, my hair dresser friend came over to "double-check" my work.  She declared them all clean.  She was so convinced that they were lice-free that she used her own brushes, combs, clippers, and scissors to cut their hair.  When they went back to school, the school nurse also checked them and declared them clean.  A second set of eyes REALLY helps -- you will feel like you are going cross-eyed after a couple of heads.

As annoying as all of this was, the REALLY annoying part came when I called the school on Monday.  I love our school nurse.  She is good at her job and having 4 kids in the school means that I know her pretty well.  BUT -- she is restricted by the bureaucracy and rules that the school has to comply with.  The school district does not send kids home or require them to stay home unless the school nurse has personally observed live bugs in their hair.  Head full of eggs?  Sure!  Come on to class!  And she isn't allowed to check heads without parental permission unless the teacher has reason to believe that the kid may have lice.  Even if a kid in the class has lice, she can't check the rest of the class without permission from the parents.  And those lice letters?  They do not go out per grade -- they go out per CLASS.  Each grade has 6+ classes and they are not restricted to interacting with just their class (or even just their grade).  Lice usually die within 18 hours of being removed from their host, but can live off of a human head for up to 36 hours (according to my doctor, my hairdresser, the internet, and every other source that I could find).  They cannot jump or fly, but they crawl extremely fast.  Direct contact with an infected head or surface is required to share this pest, but in an elementary school, that happens a lot more than you might think.  3rd and 4th grade students are "reading buddies" with kindergarten students, 5th and 6th graders do the same with 1st graders as well as volunteer all over the school -- during PE, in the library, in the lunchroom, etc.  But when a kid in Ms. Smith's 6th grade class gets lice (if the parents even tell the school, because there is no rule requiring them to do so), the "Lice Letter" only goes out to Ms. Smith's class.  Not the whole 6th grade, and not the whole school as it should.  Our school nurse said that the reason was to save the kids any embarrassment.  When I asked why they allowed kids with nits to come to school, she said because the powers that be determined that kids were missing too much school as a result of the "no nit" policy, so they changed it.  Through talking with her, I could tell that she was not happy about it, but her hands were tied.  Learning all of this made me determined to ensure that my kids were not re-infested (hence, the dryer and the tea tree oil and the daily checks).

As for my chosen method, if you research on the internet and go to Web MD and The CDC site, you will find that it states that the olive oil method has been "disproved."  When I asked my pediatrician about that she said that no actual study had been done and that the reason that they say that is because people do not do it right.  They put oil on the hair for a half hour or so, don't use a shower cap, don't nit-pick, don't blow dry, etc. and when they still have lice, they claim the method doesn't work.  Both my pediatrician and my hairdresser said that the process only works if you are thorough and follow all of the steps.  I am here to tell you that it DOES work.  I got rid of lice in my house in less than 2 days.  My friend who went through this before me, started with the chemical route.  She did not try the oil until she had been battling them for nearly 2 weeks.  As soon as she did the oil, BOOM, no more lice.

There are a lot of myths about lice that just aren't true, so I am going to close with a few things I learned from my research.  I research all the time -- it is part of my freelance work -- and I go way beyond page one Google results.  Here are some of the things that I learned:
1) Lice prefer CLEAN hair.  Having lice does not mean that you are dirty.
2)  Nits take 5-7 days to hatch, 5-7 days to become adults capable of laying eggs, and the adults can live up to 25 days.  This life cycle is based upon the bugs being left alone, of course. There have been reports of eggs hatching after 9 days and adults living as long as 30 days, but from the egg to death is no more than 5 weeks according to nearly every single site I visited on the internet.  My doctor told me that if I missed an egg, it would hatch within the week, and treating with the oil in one week would kill the nymphs before they had a chance to reach adulthood.  The treatment 2 weeks out is considered optional by most everyone (except me.  I hate bugs.)
3) Only female lice can lay eggs, but once they have been fertilized just once, they can lay up to 100 eggs in their lifespan. Yep, fertilized.  Lice reproduce sexually.  So if you have eggs, chances are there have been bugs having sex on your head.  (Females only have to mate once to be fertilized.  Then they can lay eggs until they die.)
4)  The eggs are laid close to the scalp because newly hatched nymphs must have their first blood meal within seconds of hatching.  Eggs farther than 2 inches from the scalp are not considered viable because the newly hatched nymph would be too weak to crawl that far to reach the scalp to feed.   
5)   Lice do not transmit any disease, they do not burrow into the skin, and they cannot jump, hop, or fly.  Although possible, it is unlikely that a louse would survive off of it's host long enough to be transmitted via hats, carpets, or jackets.  Infestation generally occurs through head to head or hair to hair contact.
6)  Head lice CANNOT live on household pets -- they only live on humans.
7)  Scratching does not mean lice.  In fact, many kids with lice exhibit NO SYMPTOMS at all.  Mine didn't.  Had I not been blow drying my daughter's hair, my family could have been completely infested before I ever knew.  
8)  There are prescription treatments available for full-blown lice infestations that there has not been any evidence of resistance of, but they are still harsh.  
9)  Girls are 2-4 times more likely to get lice than boys, and kids ages 4-14 (where all 4 of mine fall) are the most commonly infected group.   
 10)  Braiding longer hair can help to prevent re-infestation.
11)  Lice will run from light, preferring to stay in the dark shadows of the hair.
12)  The blow drying will dehydrate the eggs, but live lice will simply run around on the head to avoid the hot air, so blow drying should be done in conjunction with other treatments.
13)  Lice prefer to congregate on the warmest, darkest areas of the head -- behind the ears and the nape of the neck.  However, that does not mean that is the only place that you will find them or their eggs.  I found most of the eggs on my kids on their crown.
14)   If you or your kid get lice, you have to take care of it at home.  Either yourself or hiring someone to come to you.  You cannot go to a salon with lice.  Professional nit-pickers charge up to $200 per hour.  
15)  Hair color, perm solutions, and other common chemical treatments will NOT kill lice.   
There is more, but these things seemed to be the most informative and dispel the most myths out there about lice.  I opted not to include pictures because, well, ewww.  Lice are gross.  They look like alien creatures.  I figure if you want to see one you can Google it.  As for now, me and my kids are lice free and regardless of school bureaucracy, we will stay that way, because I don't do bugs.  Period.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

So Here Is What Is Happening In Washington

There is a whole lot of political crap going on right now and y'all know I wasn't gonna be quiet about it.  I hate, loathe, and detest politics.  Politics -- not government.  I find government (not THE government) incredibly interesting.  The system that our forefathers put in place more than 200 years ago is amazing...when politics aren't screwing it up.  Right now politics, or more specifically, politicians are screwing it up.  But before we can get into how, we need a little lesson in what our government is and what that means.

There are lots of different government structures, but most can be boiled down into:

  • Monarchy or dictatorship: Rule by one (a king, dictator, or emperor)
  • Oligarchy: Rule by a few
  • Democracy: Rule by a majority
  • Republic: Rule by law

  • Many Americans falsely believe that we, here in America live in a democracy.  We don't.  We live in a REPUBLIC and very few people know the difference.  After the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were concluded and Ben Franklin was exiting Independence Hall, a woman named Mrs. Powel from Philadelphia approached him and asked "Well, Doctor, what have you given us, a republic or a monarchy?"  Without any hesitation, Franklin responded "A republic, if you can keep it."

    Check out this handy-dandy chart that I found HERE that explains the differences.

    The problem in the here and now is that our elected representatives want to act like we live in an Oligarchy and that they are our LEADERS.  They are not supposed to be our leaders, they are supposed to represent   us in Washington within the constraints of the law -- the Constitution.  They are supposed to operate within the constraints of the law to best represent the interests of the people.  When they start imposing laws that the people are opposed to, then they have overstepped their position.  When they exempt themselves and other special interest groups from certain laws, then they have overstepped their position.  And when they refuse to work together to further the interests of the people due to their own pride, their own agendas, or their own personality flaws, then they have abandoned their duty to the people that they represent.

    Which brings us to the mess that we currently have in Washington.

    Now, I am not sure if you are aware or not, but I am not a democrat or a republican.  I am a constitutional conservative.  That means, basically, that I am for less government and that the government that I DO support adheres strictly to the constitution.  (FYI, the united states constitution is the oldest and shortest constitution in the world, and every bit as relevant today as when it was written.)  There are some constitutional conservatives in the republican party, but not many -- most people wrongly lump us all together.  I personally take offense at being called a republican or a democrat because I am neither.  My values and what is important to me as an American do not line up with either party.  In fact, I would love to abolish the 2 party system.  I do not believe that any candidate ought to be allowed to say what party they are from -- they ought to have to convince the American public to vote for them on their own merit and not because they are "red" or "blue".  

    I also believe in personal responsibility.  I do not oppose helping those in need.   In fact, I relish the opportunity to help people in need within my own community and I admire those who do the same.  On a national level, I have no problem with welfare and other programs as long as they are used to give people a way out and do not keep them trapped in a never ending cycle of entitlement.  our welfare programs no longer give people a way out.  On the contrary, they are trapping people by convincing them that this is the best that they can do and that the only way that they will get more is if they elect people who will give them more.  I know people who have had to take government assistance during hard times in their lives.  They used it to do what it was meant to do -- to get out of their situation.  That is what it should be -- a way out not a way of life.

    Contrary to popular belief, conservatives would like to make it possible for all Americans to be insured.  However, we do not think that some 2,200 page pork-filled bill that doesn't apply to the entire country is the answer.  I personally read one version of the Affordable Health Care Act -- granted, the version I read was only about 1,800 pages, but the gist I got is that very little of it actually dealt with health care or providing it to anyone.  "Obamacare" as it was dubbed by the media, purports to be modeled after "Romneycare" and that may have been true in the beginning, but it has been added to, detracted from, twisted and turned into something that doesn't resemble much of anything.  And the democratic party loves it.  It makes then feel really good about themselves.  And the republican party hates it.  Not unjustifiably either, but I personally believe that the majority of the GOP hates it because the democrats love it.  See, I can say that because they haven't read it.  I can't really blame them, I mean it's 2,200 pages long and they kept changing it.  So the republicans came up with several of their own versions of a health care act, but they don't ALL agree on them either.  So the democrats, who controlled Congress at the time, passed the ACA without one single republican vote.  Let that sink in for a second. Not. One. Bipartisan. Vote. They bullied it through because they had the majority and because they could -- not because it was what was best for the American people. They could not have known even IF it was a good thing because they didn't read it either.

    The big stink right now is Obamacare.  And while I agree it is a terrible idea as a whole (2,200 pages? Seriously?), there are parts of it that are great -- no caps on coverage, no denial for pre-existing conditions, special needs kids cannot be removed from their parents policies, etc.  (Incidentally, I penned my own reform on health care.  It's about 225 words. Maybe I should publish it here and then send the link to the House and Senate.)  The republicans want to throw the baby out with the bath water while the democrats are treating the bath water like its the good part.

    So now, there is so much disdain between the 2 parties and between the House and the Senate that they won't even sit down together to talk about the Continuing Resolution.  (Because the reference to this vote as "the budget" is crap -- this administration has not passed a budget since they took office.)  The CR is meant to continue to fund the government beyond the spending limits until they can meet and argue over raising the debt ceiling so that they can spend more money (money that they don't really have, by the way since we are already $16 TRILLION in debt).  The House, which is controlled by the republicans, saw the CR as an opportunity to give the people an exemption from the health care mandate.  It doesn't do away with Obamacare.  What it does is gives the individual the same exemptions that the administrations have already granted to companies and corporations all over the country -- a one year delay.  In light of the complete failure of the Obamacare roll out on October 1st, I don't see the problem with delaying the mandate for a year.  They also want to do away with the excise tax on medical equipment because it will cause jobs to be shipped overseas, slow medical innovations, and cost Americans jobs. (Backup to these claims can be found in this 2012 article from the industry itself HERE).  Again, I don't have a problem with this either.  Then, they wanted to eliminate the exemptions for the Congress and the rest of the administration.  If this is so great, I do not see the problem.  But the Senate is so pissed that they have questioned anything that they won't budge.  To date, the republican house has sent four CR drafts to the Senate that fully funded the government through the end of the year except for funding Obamacare.  All 4 were rejected with little or no consideration.  So the government shut down.  800,000 people will not go to work, will not get paid, cannot support themselves or their families.  THAT I have a problem with.

    Who do I blame?    ALL of them.  Obama too, because a leader would get in there and force them to talk to each other.  

    So what is the answer?  I don't know.  What I do know, is that they need to get their acts together and do their jobs and quit posturing and pouting and trying to get their way.  Because THEIR way doesn't matter -- they work for us.

    So here is what I wish our representatives would do -- both democrats and republicans -- go home.  Go back to your states and talk to your constituency and find out what THEY want.  Then tuck your pride and your ego away and go back to Washington and talk to each other.   I WANT THEM TO DO THEIR JOBS.

    And people wonder why I am so in favor of LESS government.  

    Two years ago, I wrote THIS about some of the things that I would do if I was in charge.  Most of it is still an issue in government today.  I think that the government is completely out of touch with the people that they represent.  

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    I Am the Meanest Mom in the Whole World

    I have a cold.  I am positive that it is due to the amount of stress that my oldest has caused me over the past 2 weeks.  Are all eleven year old boys habitually forgetful and infuriatingly unconcerned about schoolwork, or is it just my kid?

    Two weeks ago, I received an email from the school reminding me that I should sign up for the parent portal on iNOW -- a handy little tool where the teachers enter grades and you can see how your kid is doing without waiting for report cards or progress reports.  Now, since I was procrastinating on doing housework and freelance stuff (shocking, I know), I decided to go ahead and set up my account. We were 4 weeks into school and I thought, "Hey, I am sure that there is nothing to worry about but for future references, lets do this."  So I did.  Kid one and kid two, the 2 youngest are in kindergarten and first grade and had no grades recorded. That makes sense because they do not start receiving letter grades until 2nd or 3rd grade.  Kid 3, the gifted one, had all A's.  In fact, her lowest average was a 96.  Again, no real surprises there.

    Then I logged onto the oldest's account.  HOLY CRAP.  Four C's and an F.  How does he have 4 C's and an F??!  It's the 4th week of school!

    As I perused the different classes and the entered grades, I noticed a trend.  Lots of 0/100 and 0/50 grades. All of them had the same notation beside them -- "NTN".  I immediately began emailing his teachers.  I quickly learned that NTN means "Not Turned In" (which should be NTI, but no one asked me).  I discovered through many, many emails that he has not been turning in his assignments and that he has not kept up things like his journal for English, his science folder, his math notebook, etc.  All of his teachers said that he was a great kid, but had no follow through.  I assured them that THAT was about to change.

    When he came home from school, we had, what you might call "A Come to Jesus Meeting."  I told him that the only thing saving him from military school was the lack of funds.

    I showed him all of the zeros on the computer.  His response was that those were "just participation grades." WHAT??  I pointed out that if you get a 100 for turning something in, and you get a 0 if you don't, then YOU TURN IT IN.

    It was like I was speaking a foreign language.

    He was placed on restriction.  From everything.  And he had to apologize to all of his teachers,  ask what he could do about the missing assignments, and promise to make more of an effort.  You would have thought I had said that he had to wear a diaper to school. I was the meanest mom ever.

    We began going over every single part of his homework in every subject, every night.  He has a few things working against him, but he is smart.  He is at a disadvantage particularly in math thanks to his stellar Texas education.  If you remember, I went rounds with his 3rd grade teacher over him learning the times tables.  She advised me that "rote memorization was not an effective method for learning" and basically ordered me not to have him memorize them.  Well, I ignored her and tried to teach them at home anyway, but I had 3 other kids and he was making A's so I honestly dropped it after a while.  Now, he is struggling in math because he doesn't know them.  His teacher here agrees with me.  Her exact quote was "Rote memorization of the multiplication facts through at least the 12's is essential and in fact crucial to moving forward."  And he should have learned them 3 years ago.

    Another thing that they never taught him was how to write.  I do not mean the alphabet -- I am referring to the ability to form thoughts, express ideas, and write in complete sentences.  In Texas, all he had to know how to do was fill in the correct bubble next to A, B, or C, and write "T" or "F".  They taught exactly what he needed to know how to do for the standardized tests and no more.  (FYI, if that doesn't make you throw out all of those state rankings on education, then maybe you need to go back to school yourself.)  Well now he is required to take short answer and essay tests.  He is having a very hard time with these.  I have pulled my hair out trying to help him to understand, and I am not sure if I am making any progress or not.  For example:  His science teacher allows them to correct any test that they score less than an 80 on to raise their grade up to an 80.  The test covered 3 specific hurricanes (Galveston in 1900, Camille in 1969, and Andrew in 1992).  The essay question was about early warning systems for storms and asked the students to write a response that used examples from each of the 3 storms to explain why early warning systems were important.  They were to have a strong topic sentence, 3 examples, and a strong conclusion.  He wrote a bunch of crap about NOAA, Hurricane planes, and radar systems without mentioning ANY of the storms or the IMPORTANCE of early warning systems.  I told him that it was all wrong and that he would have to redo it and he lost it.  He told me that what he wrote came straight out of the book and that it was correct.  I tried to explain that while it may have been FACTUAL, it did not address the question.  2 + 2 will always be 4, but if the question was what is 6 X 8, then 4 will never be the right answer.  We are working on it still, but I may need therapy before we are done.

    His dad and I have been working hard with him over the last 2 weeks and he has improved -- 3 B's and 2 C'c at this point.  However, we are still struggling with getting him to turn all of his work in.  We can make him do it, we can check it for errors, but we cannot turn it in for him.  And I have told him that I will go to bat for him if he does the work and gets an answer right that the teacher marks wrong, or if he is somehow cheated on a grade, but that where he is now is entirely his fault and he is on lockdown until the grades come up.  I will check his grades DAILY and I had better continue to see improvement or he will find himself in more serious trouble.

    Friday, September 13, 2013

    Tonight, on Dateline....In My Head

    I love Dateline.  I almost always have at least one episode on my DVR.  I think that its because it's full of drama, mystery, and intrigue and my life is pretty ordinary.  It's exciting to watch these stories about what has happened in other people's lives.  And I learn a lot about what to watch for to keep from getting scammed or kidnapped or killed, and I learn things to keep my family safe.  However, it also makes my writer's imagination run wild.

    I often hear Lester Holt and Keith Morrison in my head, narrating my untimely end when I am walking alone through a parking lot in the dark, or sitting at home alone at night while the husband is at work and the kids are at Grandma's.  This may sound rather macabre, but I don't see it that way.  I see it as more of a part of my creative process.  People like me who write for a living, or for therapy, or as a creative outlet, or as an uncontrollable urge, typically have very vivid imaginations.  This can lead to a sort of "Secret Life of Walter Mitty" existence if you are not careful.
    If you are not familiar with this James Thurber story, go read it (or watch the  Danny Kaye movie.)
    Imagining the narrative that Keith Morrison might spin in his plangent, disembodied voice about something that I can imagine happening in my current situation is a creative exercise that gets me writing, or at least thinking about writing.

    I have fed this darker side of my imagination with decades of crime dramas like Law & Order, Criminal Minds, and many other shows that have come and gone over the years.  And I read.  A LOT.  I read Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, and Stephen King among others.  So when I find myself in potentially dicey situations, I can quickly recall literally dozens of story lines that fit.  It can really be a great tool in getting my creative juices flowing.  Unless...

    Unless I am nowhere near my laptop and walking alone through a dark alley.

    Then I loathe and detest my imagination.

    I found myself in a situation like that last Saturday night.

    I wasn't alone, but it was about 11:00, in the downtown club district of my hometown.  (VERY unfamiliar territory for me, BTW.)  I am nearly 40.  I am married, with 4 kids.  I do not go to clubs.  Even when I was younger and "went out", clubs were never my scene -- I preferred what you might affectionately call "dive bars."  I never went for thumping music and flashing lights; I opted for pool tables and James Taylor or Tom Petty played low enough to have a conversation with the person at a cue stick's length away.  But I was at a friend's bachelorette party, in a karaoke room of a local club, and another couple of friends and I were leaving earlier than the main party.  I have no doubt that we were perfectly safe, but still, this is what I heard in my head:

    "It had been a fun 'girl's night out,' a rarity in the life of a suburban wife with four young children.  Admittedly, it was not her scene -- the pulsating lights and deep thumping music that could be felt in the soles of her shoes as she and her friends made her way to the side street where she'd parked her minivan.  She was dressed comfortably in jeans and sandals; not like the flashy 20-something's that balanced precariously on heels longer than the skirts that they wore.  She and her friends were laughing and talking as they approached the Chrysler with the PTA sticker proudly displayed on the back.  They were not aware of the danger awaiting them there.  They didn't know -- couldn't have known -- the horrors that were about unfold...."

    This is who was speaking in my head....

    I chose not to share my internal narrative with my 2 friends who walked with me.  I'm pretty sure they never would've invited me to go out in public again.  I was relieved to make it home safely...and I promptly found a Dateline episode on my DVR to watch as I fell asleep.  I know....I'm a little nuts.

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

    Awwww, NUTS!

    School started this week which means that I am back to forcing myself into bed before midnight so that I can get up before dawn to get the kids to the bus by 7.  I am also back to making 20 lunches and 20 snacks a week for the minions.  This is always a bit of a challenge since this one doesn't eat this kind of chips, and that one won't eat apple sauce, while this one ONLY eats get the idea.  However, we now have a new wrinkle in the lunch prep -- food allergies.

    Now, before you get the wrong idea, my kids do not have any food allergies.  I DO sympathize with those kids and their parents who deal with the dangers of food allergies, I could not imagine having a minor heart attack every time my kid put food in his or her mouth.  I know that I am lucky to not have to worry about food that could kill my kids.  I don't understand why these allergies are becoming more and more common.  When I was a kid, I did not know anyone who could not eat peanuts, or eggs, or gluten, or milk, etc.  But now, every single one of my kids has several kids in their class with food allergies and some of them are life threatening.  Three out of four kids have at least one kid in their class with a peanut/tree nut allergy.  This causes a problem for us because 2 of my kids ONLY eat sandwiches that are, you guessed it, peanut butter and jelly.

    Now, usually, the restrictions on the food of the other students doesn't include lunch, but is limited to food consumed in the classroom.  This makes perfect sense because if your 6 year old was eating peanut butter crackers for snack at his or her desk and then got up to sharpen their pencil, hand in an assignment, or stuck their peanut butter covered fingers into the crayons and then the kid who is deathly allergic ALSO touched something with peanut butter on it, the result could be deadly.  And, as is the rule, the kids stop at the bathroom to wash their hands both before and after leaving the lunchroom.  While it may be a slight inconvenience to me to not be able to give my kids anything that has nuts in it for snack, it really isn't a big deal.  I could still send PB&J for lunch which was where it mattered.  However, my daughter, the younger one that may be on the spectrum, brought her sandwich home untouched 2 days in a row.

    This morning, when I discovered the uneaten sandwich in her lunchbox as I was busy making today's lunches, we had the following conversation:

    "Baby, why didn't you eat your sandwich?"
    "I didn't want it."
    "Why not?  You need to eat your lunch or you'll get hungry before you get home."
    "I can't."
    "What?  Why not?"
    "I just can't."
    "Sure you can.  Did you run out of time to eat?  You should start with your sandwich first."
    "No!  I can't eat it because one of the kids in my class who is allergic to peanuts sits right next to me and I don't want to kill him!"

    So, today she got a jelly sandwich for lunch -- no peanut butter -- and a pep talk about how she was very thoughtful to not want to kill her classmate.

    I tried not to show her how this annoyed me.  It really shouldn't.  I am blessed in that my kids do not have any food allergies.  I know that.  But MY kids are still my priority and MY kid ONLY eats PB&J for lunch. Any other kid, I might could talk into a turkey, ham, or cheese sandwich.  The older girl would even eat a salad if I fixed it every day.  But not my younger girl.  She has quirks and one of them is that she only eats PB&J.  And now she can't.  And because she is now also fixated on how she could kill her friend, she has chosen to go hungry rather than introduce the possibility.

    I don't want my 6 year old thinking about death when she opens her lunch.  I emailed her teacher about it since they have assigned seats at the lunch table, thinking that perhaps she could sit next to one of her other friends during lunch -- one that she didn't have to worry about exposing to her deadly sandwich.  I was told that "everyone has to be willing to make sacrifices for the safety of our class" and that it would be "unfair to change assigned seats to accommodate one kid over another."  I dropped it, but I wanted to point out that yes, it IS unfair.  It is completely unfair to take a kid who ONLY eats PB&J and sit them next to someone who could die from being exposed to peanut butter.  Surely there are other kids in the class who eat in the lunchroom or who bring something other than PB&J for lunch -- sit them next to the kid who is allergic.  How is that unfair?  What about what is fair for MY kid?

    I will no doubt be bombarded with comments and emails about how this is inconsiderate, that it is a life and death situation for these kids and their parents, and how I and my kid should get over it.  But it isn't that easy.  If you have kids on the spectrum, you know its not that easy.  So for now, I will feed my daughter a jelly sandwich just so she will eat something for lunch and brace myself for the criticism I will receive.

    The email that I received back was NOT from her teacher -- it was from someone in the main office.  I got the address wrong (it went to a different teacher with the same last name, who forwarded it to the office, where whoever go it decided to just handle it instead of passing it along).  I called the school to talk to the office, thinking that I would just go over the teacher's head and that is how I found out.  I got the CORRECT email address before hanging up and now I am waiting for the teacher's response.

    SHE CAN HAVE PEANUT BUTTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    The teacher called, she was super awesome and determined that my daughter was being hyper vigilant because she was concerned about her friend.  She sits at the same table in the classroom, but not close enough at lunch for it to be a concern.  Whew.  (And yay for having a nice, normal, understanding teacher!!)

    Friday, August 16, 2013

    School Days, School Days

    I have been distracted all Summer.  I've had friends in need, family vacations, and 4 kids who fluctuate between "I'm bored" when I limit their TV, phone, or video game time and "I'm too tired" when I tell them to clean something.  I have attempted to write several blogs during all that, but I thought that they sucked so I either never finished them or just never published them.  I would read what other bloggers wrote and think "This is good.  This is really good.  This is much better than the crap I am writing." And then I would delete what I had written.  Or I would write about something only to find that 2 or 3 other bloggers had already written on it and done a better job.

    Not today.  Today I will tell MY story about back to school crap no matter who else tells it or tells it better because I have spent the past 3 days dealing with back to school for my 4 kids and I have just about had it.  I am broke and I am developing a nervous tick as a result.

    This was me.  Standing in the School Supply section of Walmart at 10 PM last night.

    I was actually pretty excited about back to school (aside from the getting up before dawn every day) because for the first time since 2001, I was going to be kid free from 7-3 every day.  The possibilities were endless.  Maybe I would go get a real job.  Or clean.  Or sleep.  Or work on writing.  Or do WHATEVER I wanted because I don't have to be home until the bus is at 3:00.  It's my youngest's first year of school, so there is all of the excitement of that too.  He couldn't wait to go to "big" school.  It is also the ONLY year that I will have all 4 in the same school since the oldest will go to middle school next year.  Lots of excitement, hope, and new things to look forward to -- Yay!

    And then I got the school supply list and all of that hope turned to dread and I began to get a headache.

    Now last year, with 3 kids in school, I spent over $200 on school supplies (not including backpacks and lunch boxes and clothes) by buying everything on the district supply list.  Because they apparently exaggerate, we still have some of it.  In fact, on my son's list last year was "compass and protractor" and so I bought one and sent it.  It got sent home along with a note informing me that he was not allowed to have a compass at school because it could be used as a weapon.  (THEN WHY WAS IT ON THE STINKING LIST??!!)  And they asked for 20 pronged folders, but they only used 6, 8 packs of notebook filer paper, but they only used 3, and 15 glue sticks, but they only used 4.  So this year, I decided that I wouldn't buy supplies until I spoke to the teachers at open house.  Unfortunately, their teachers this year said basically to get it all.  Sigh.  So last night, I went to Walmart to get supplies.  It was ridiculous.  And I ended up at 3 other stores before finally stumbling home at 11:30 pm, without everything I needed.

    The sheer volume of supplies needed for each kid is disturbing. 8 packs of 350 sheets of notebook paper? and 96 pencils?  15 glue sticks?  3 identical boxes of crayons?  WHAT FOR???!  Or is it because us responsible parents have to buy enough supplies for the entire class?

    Between my 4 kids, I needed to get 262 SHARPENED No. 2 pencils. (and the 6th grader also needs 48 blue or black pens).  There are only 176 school days.  So apparently they need a new pencil every 2 days.

    Then on the kindergartner's list, he needs 3 boxes of 24 count Crayola crayons, AND 2 boxes of 8 count Crayola crayons.  Why?  The colors in the 8 count box are all in the 24 count box.  Not to mention that the 8 count boxes are nearly impossible to find (as in I have been to 4 stores so far and no one has them).

    I am beginning to think that the schools are in cahoots with the school supply companies.  

    The 1st grader has to have a certain kind of folder -- plastic with prongs and pockets.  The list states it like this: "10 Plastic pocket folders with brads (solid colors only): 2 red, 2 yellow, 2 blue, 2 green, 2 orange."  The only problem is that no one has yellow ones.  In fact, only one store carries these at all and they are $2.99 each.  And the 6th grader also needs 4.  So 14 folders at basically $3 each, means just the folders for these 2 kids, I had to spend over $45 (including tax).  It also doesn't make sense that the 1st grader needs 10 of them.  They don't have 10 subjects in 1st grade.

    Then there are the glue sticks.  Holy cow at the glue sticks -- between my 4 kids, they need 51 glue sticks (luckily, I still had glue sticks left over from the school supply shopping spree last year, so I only had to buy 36 glue sticks).  I do not know what they plan to do with all of this glue, but I better have some arts and crafts worthy of the Guggenheim.

    And I am expecting some truly inspirational writing as well.  18 composition notebooks, 12 spiral notebooks, and 6 binders along with 6,300 sheets of notebook paper between the 4 of them -- and the 5 year old can barely write his name.  Now don't get me wrong -- I am a writer, so I am all for lots of writing.  I just seriously doubt that there will be 6,300 pages of it.

    School supplies are necessary.  I get that.  But why so much?  Why so specific?  Why can't it be easy?  Why not say "pencils, notebooks, crayons, glue, scissors, and a box to put it all in?"  But ooooooh nooooo, it has to be this brand, this color, this size, from this store, etc.  It is ridiculous.  I am keeping all of our extra supplies at home this year.  If they run low on paper or pencils, they can get more here.  There is no way that I am sending 18 packs of filler paper and 262 pencils to become part of the community property of the classroom so that other kids can use them all up and then in April I have to buy more for my kid.

    This is what I am afraid of...

    When we went to orientation I also had to pay a $20 supply fee for each kid in addition to the supplies that I purchased yesterday.  All told, I have spent approximately $200 on school supplies, and $80 on school fees.  And each kid needs a "spirit shirt" that they wear on field trips and every Friday to earn points for their class -- $48 for those.  Oh, and as a PTA volunteer, I have to have a shirt -- $12 more.  So I have spent about $340 for back to school stuff and I haven't taken anyone clothes or shoe shopping, haven't bought new backpacks or lunch boxes, and haven't bought the stuff I need to make 4 lunches a day yet either.  In case you were wondering, every week I need a minimum of 2 loaves of bread, 20 bags of chips, 40 cookies, and 20 juice boxes JUST for lunches during the school year, and they are all supposed to have a "snack" every day that can be eaten at their desk with a bottle of water.  I would let them eat in the lunchroom, but that would cost about $55 per week, and I am pretty sure making lunches at home is cheaper.

    As I was lamenting these facts, a friend of mine told me that they always just bought the PTA's supply boxes to save themselves all of this hassle.  And I admit, I thought about it.  But the supply boxes ranged in price from $60 to $85 depending on the grade and the contents and everything was all exactly alike inside (so all of my kid's stuff would be indistinguishable from the next kid's stuff).  I came out cheaper buying the stuff myself, and I was able to buy something that reflected my kids' unique personalities for the few items that weren't so strictly regulated.

    In any event, I am done supply shopping until next Fall.  It was hard.  It was frustrating.  But I did it -- I got everything that my kids (and apparently their classmates) will need for the rest of the school year.

    Except for those elusive 8-count Crayola crayons....

    Monday, August 12, 2013

    Just to Catch You Up

    My life has been fluctuating between extremely boring, incredibly dramatic, and very comedic.  Basically, its a Woody Allen movie.

    For the entire month of July, I let a friend in need stay with me.  While at the time that she and her 2 teenagers moved in with us on July 6th, it appeared that her marriage was headed in only one direction -- divorce.  After a month of late night therapy on my front porch and some serious efforts from her estranged husband, she and her kids are back home and they are starting counseling.  I sincerely hope that they can work it out.  I hope that they can both make the necessary changes in themselves to make their marriage work because I never want to see a marriage end. It was more drama than this mama has seen in a long time, and made me thankful that my husband and I have the relationship that we do.  (I mean, he loves me so much that he let my friend and her kids move in with us for a month!  He's a keeper for sure!)

    On the first of August, I went on a vacation with my parents.  It was really nice.  We stayed in a cabin in the woods.  There was only one problem with the cabin -- the water.  It was slimy.  And it smelled.  So we complained to the management office.  We weren't brave enough to drink it, or cook with it. but bathing was another story because we couldn't exactly fill a tub up with Dasani.  We were discussing all of the possibilities when my dad busts out with THIS lovely theory as I stand there towel drying my hair:  "I think its probably a dead animal in their well."  I thought I was going to throw up.  Luckily, that wasn't it.  The maintenance guy came and told us that all of the rain that they had had in recent weeks had flooded the tanks and that the filtering and chemicals that they added to the water had messed up somehow.  Basically, the balance was off.  But we still didn't drink it.  

    The only other problem with the cabin was the inevitable critters in the walls and ceiling -- in my room.  Right over my bed in fact.  And that didn't really bother me until the second night when my room took on the distinct odor of urine.  Yep, rodent urine.  We never saw them, but we smelled them and heard them.  But it was a cabin in the middle of NOWHERE so I really wasn't surprised, and I burned some candles and sprayed some air freshener and dealt with it.  

    And my parents and I got along too -- for the most part.  In fact, most of the problems were with the intelligence (or lack there of) of the various staff that we encountered.  For example, we were in south Georgia, in August, and we attended this circus that the University of Florida students put on every Summer. In a tent.  In the middle of the afternoon.  It was about 90 degrees outside, but in the tent, it was about 4,782 degrees Fahrenheit.  There were these HUGE box fans behind the stands, but they weren't on.  About halfway through the circus (which wasn't nearly as good as advertised, by the way), I got up and asked why the fans weren't on.  I was met with "Are you sure that they aren't on?"  Ummm, yeah.  I'm pretty sure that I would notice if they were.  Then later, I tried to purchase time for my 2 oldest on this huge bouncy thing in the middle of the lake.  It was $10 each, for one hour, and started on the hour.  After I had paid, she said that they couldn't go out there now -- it was 4:10.  They'd have to wait until 5:00.  I told her that I didn't mind, but she said that it would "confuse the guys monitoring it.  So I told her that I needed a refund because we wouldn't be there until 6:00.  I had given her a $10 and a $20 (with tax it was like $21.60).  So when I wanted to get a refund, I thought, hand back the change that she had given me along with the arm bands and she would give me back my $10 and my $20.  Simple.  No.  Not simple.  This is kinda how it went down:

    Me: Yeah, we can't do that, because I am not sure that we will be here until 6:00.  Here, just take this and give me my $30 back.
    Me: Do you see what I'm saying?
    Her: I'll have to put it in the system.
    She then stares in confusion at the computer screen for a few minutes, hands me back my change again, and then proceeds to count out $21.60.  Then asks for the $1 in change and hands me a $1 bill back. I just stared at her as I was now holding a $20, a $5, and 5 $1's.
    Me: I don't understand.  Why couldn't you just give me back the $10 and $20 I gave you?
    Her:  Because I had to see it for it to make sense.  You know?
    At which point, my 9 year old who had witnessed the whole thing said "That doesn't make any sense."

    But other than the water, the rodents, and the idiots, it was a good trip.  

    My kids start school next week.  All of them.  For the first time since 2001, I will be kid free 5 days a week, from 7-3.  I'm kind of giddy.  I expect that there will be a post about it later.