Mustard

Tornado E: (From outside, moving closer) MOOOOOOOMMMMYYYYYY!

I had been grading for an afternoon and a day. But I was finished. I wasn’t in a normal head space. But I was finished. It was not how I wanted to spend the weekend. But I was finished. So what fresh hell was this?

Tornado E got to the sliding glass door and ripped it open.

Tornado E: Mommy! Tornado S squirted mustard at me!

Me: What?!

Tornado E: Tornado S squirted mustard at me!

Me: Where?

Tornado E: On the trampoline!

Me: He squirted what?

Tornado E: Mustard! He squirted mustard! At Me!

Me: Where did he- nevermind,

I got up and followed Tornado E outside. No one was on the trampoline. No one was in the backyard. Right.

Me: BOYS! NOW!

I stormed across the yard to the trampoline.

Tornado A: (From behind the shed, in what he must think was a whisper) You’re going to get in trouble.

On the trampoline was a small mustard stain. From a mustard packet.

Me: Tornado S! Where did you get- nevermind.

Tornado S smuggled about half a dozen mustard packets out of a restaurant about two months ago to put in his backpack in case he didn’t have lunch one day. I caught him and placed emergency snacks in an outside pocket of his backpack. I thought I had confiscated all the packets. Apparently not.

Me: Tornado S. Now.

Tornado S and Tornado A walked out from behind the shed. I looked over my shoulder to see Tornado E dragging the hose across the yard to spray off the trampoline.

Me: Tornado S, explain what happened.

Tornado S: I thought it would be funny to squirt Tornado E with mustard. (I gave him a look.) It wasn’t. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.

Me: Where did you get the mustard packet?

Tornado S: In the living room.

Me: In the-

In the living room. With the good furniture. With the antique furniture. With the new carpet. With my kid’s library! Wait. My mom would kill me. You know because of her nice things. The living room was for reading only. Though we couldn’t keep the kids out of there. The forbidden and all.

Me: (sigh) Kid. No more taking mustard packets. No more taking mustard into the living room. No more squirting mustard at people.

Tornado S: Ok, Mama.

I climbed onto the trampoline and grabbed the mustard packet. Once I got back on solid ground, I took the hose from Tornado E and sprayed down the trampoline. Then I looked over at my boys. And sprayed them too. Tornado S and Tornado A still had their swimsuits on. Tornado E was dressed. But clothes dry.

I sprayed them until Tornado E jumped into the pool. His brothers followed. And I watched my kids enjoy the last Sunday of the school year.

Rituals

Rituals are important. They say that rituals hold societies together. From Thanksgiving dinner to watching the Superbowl to church on Sundays to fireworks on the 4th of July. Ask any Catholic in the English-speaking world, and he or she will tell you we all say the same prayer before dinner. The same damn prayer.

Like all families, we have our own rituals. Like that same damn Catholic prayer. Or like kisses before I leave for work, kisses before bedtime, notes in lunch boxes. That sort of thing. Only the boys are making them complicated.

Tornado S has to be the first to great me with a hug and kiss or all is lost for the known world. All. Is. Lost.

Tornado S and Tornado A have to wave me goodbye in the morning. They get their kisses and then follow me outside, where I remind them to stay in the front yard, not the driveway. Then I pull out, with windows down, saying “Goodbye. I love you; do your best; I’ll see you later.” Then I make my left turn, and because we live in a corner house, the boys stand in the front yard until I make my next turn. They wave until they can’t see me any more. I wave until I can’t see them any more. Like the end credits to “The Beverly Hill-Billies.” It’s only annoying in the winter.

Bedtime has also become overly complicated. At least, the bedtime kiss has become overly complicated. I kiss each boy goodnight and tuck them into bed. Then we say our goodnight prayer about guardian angels because I hate that creepy Protestant bedtime prayer. Then I turn out the lights before turning on the nightlight. Then Tornado A has to kiss me goodnight.

He kisses me on the lips. Then the forehead. Then each cheek. Then my chin. (?) Then my nose. (I hate that; I wipe it off, but I’ve been doing that since I was little.) Then he has to rub noses. Then he has to give me butterfly kisses on each cheek. He does this, holding my head firmly so I can’t get away. I’m caught between thinking it’s cute and creepy. Halfway through the ritual, I get annoyed because it takes so long. I mean, dude, can’t you procrastinate by asking for water like a normal kid.

I worry about the next ritual.

A Moment with a Teacher

We sat where a tribe sat a thousand years before us, listening to a tour guide, instead of tribal leaders. Sitting in an amphitheater, sheltered from the wind, we could here the tour guide perfectly as she whispered. I was content to bask in the sunlight on sun-warmed stones. Tornado S’s teacher was equally content as she sat by me.

Me: (after the tour guide finished speaking and we began to move along.) Tornado E would love this.

The teacher: Why?

Me: The kid sun basks more than any kid I know. I call him the Lizard King. (She laughed. I nodded to Tornado S as he made his way along with the group.) We named Tornado S The Absent-minded professor. Professor for short.

The teacher: (laughed) Ohmygod. It fits him. Perfectly. What’s Tornado A’s name?

Me: Trouble.

The teacher: (laughed) His teacher says he’s very bright.

Me: That’s the problem. You shouldn’t laugh. You’ll get him in your classroom in a few years.

The teacher: The fifth grade teachers asked Tornado E who was smarter, him or his brother? You know what he said?

Me: Hmmm. I know what most kids would say.

The teacher: He said his brother.

Me: Huh.

The teacher: I know. I thought it was sweet.

Me: Me too.

You know. I think my boys are pretty awesome.

A Field Trip With 4th Graders, Snow, and a Very Big Hole

A week ago I woke up at 5am on a bus filled with 4th graders and parents in Northern Arizona. I was on a bus because every year the boys’ school has a 4th grader trip to the Grand Canyon, and I was one of the lucky parents to go. I was up at 5 am because Tornado S is a morning person, and unlike his peers, he fell asleep minutes after the bus pulled away from the school at 10 pm the night before.

I tried to doze the last half an hour, wishing for my own bench as Tornado S snuggled next me, watching the forest outside our bus.

At 5:30, we arrived at our destination to watch the sunrise at the Canyon. We were asked to wake our charges and that we could only occupy the hotel lobby bathroom briefly, hinting at better accommodations later. After going on several of these trips, I know this for a lie, so I grabbed my toothbrush, toothpaste, and travel facial pads and hide them in my sweatshirt pocket.

Along with a few other parents, I helped carry the cold breakfast to an outdoor viewing area along the Canyon. A father graciously gave me his box because the last thing was so heavy. As though I didn’t regularly carry an eleven year old over my shoulders. But it was 5:30 in the morning, and I assumed that any biting remark in my head was due to the time.

After waiting in line for the bathroom and modeling to fourth grade girls that they really didn’t need to stand over the sink to brush their hair or their teeth, I met my charges outside. This year they trusted me with three. During Tornado E’s trip, they entrusted me with only two kids. To be fair, one of them was Tornado E, but come on, I know how to deal with more kids. Everyone knows my kids.

Within 5 minutes, I had lost Tornado S. Clearly I was not responsible enough to handle three kids. That was a mistake.

New rule. The three boys would stick together. Always. Don’t look for me. Look for each other. I can find a group of three boys.

I sent the boys to the breakfast line. I stayed in the back, wishing I had remembered my jacket, wishing I hadn’t left my wallet in the bus so I could get hot chocolate, trying not to go to the front of the line and organize the process of getting food. As I waited, I noticed kids with plates piled high with danishes, bagels, breakfast bars. As in, there’s no way an adult would eat that much, much less a skinny 4th grader. Stay calm, Fae; you don’t have to organize everything. Then it got worse.

A large, fluffy, white thing floated down from the partial cloudy skies. I was seeing things. Then another. Oh, God, no. Then another. I’m totally making this up. Then another. Then another. Then another. It was snowing.

Now I know that what I experienced was not even a dusting, which would make me the world’s largest wimp to many readers. But I’m a desert girl who puts up with hellish heat; I don’t do snow. And it was snowing at 6am, and I was up at 6 am, outside in the snow, with only a t-shirt, long sleeve SPF shirt, and a sweatshirt. I was unhappy.

But then there was the amazing view. And I had chocolate milk. Then 4th graders are hilarious. We had a hike along the Grand Canyon with funny, interesting guides. My boys were fast runners who wanted to lead, so the next hour was alternated between running to stay up with the boys and turning around and telling Tornado S to hurry up. Poor Tornado S. My little tortoise. On every hike, my chant is “Hurry up, Tornado S. Tornado S, get your hat on.” A chant that is taken up by many of the adults. That day was no exception.

Every time the group stopped for the tour guides to talk, I stood in a patch of sunlight, dreaming of the time it would be warm enough to shed some clothes, just like on Tornado E’s trip.

Except it never happened.

It was cold and windy when we left the rim. It was cold and windy when we got into town to watch an IMAX movie of the Grand Canyon. (Comfy chairs plus dark room means I have never seen the whole movie.) It was cold and windy when we got out of the theater. It was cold and windy when we had lunch at the Watch Tower. It was cold and windy when we went to a trading post. It was cold and windy when we went to the Wupatki Ruins. It was cold and windy when we went to Sunset Creator. It was cold and windy when we went to dinner.

The whole state was under a wind advisory that day. And Arizona is a pretty large state.

But hey, the kids had fun. I got a lot of pictures and got to talk to a lot of cool adults and hang out with a lot of cool kids. And I walked over 18,000 steps. That’s more than the SeaWorld trip.

But the most surreal moment was when I heard:

“You look so much like your mom it’s crazy.”

I looked around and realized the girl, surrounded with her little girl pack, was talking to me.

“Oh, she does.” “She does look like her mom”

“Who’s her mom?”

“Tornado S’s grandma! The one teaching us line dancing.”

“OH! She does!”

Um, thanks?

 

 

Battle Cries

Tucson has been flirting with 90 degree weather. (Fahrenheit, for those visiting from outside the States.) But as we are in spring in the high desert, at night, we drop 30 degrees. Which means the pool we have is about 60 some degrees.

But it looks so inviting in the 90 degree heat.

Sunday the boys begged and begged and begged to go swimming. I finally relented, thinking, “What the hell?” I mean, if they’re too cold, they’ll jump out.

So the boys strip to their underwear because looking for their swim trunks from last year was just to difficult.

Tornado A took a running start and jumped into the deep end, screaming, “This Is SPARTA!”

As the nerd I am (nerd for ancient history, nerd for comic books, nerd for comic book action movies), I was quite proud. It fit. A scrawny nearly naked boy jumping into freezing water to test his mettle.

Wait a minute. Where did he learn that?

Nope, Never Ok, Not Ever.

“Nazis. I hate these guys.”

This year Nazis keep coming up, and it annoys the crap out of me.

Earlier in the fall in two separate class, on two separate days, two different boys gave the Nazi salute. It may help to tell you that I work in a high school that is over 90% Hispanic. And yes, both boys were Hispanic. But no matter the race, my reaction would have been the same.

You! Outside NOW!

Me: (in my mother voice) What did you do? Do you think that was respectful? Do you think that was appropriate? For my classroom? For public? Do you even know what that sign means?

Boy: (finally saying something instead of shaking his head, in a whisper voice looking at his feet) It’s just the Nazi salute Miss.

Me: (in my mother voice) “Just the Nazi salute?” Do you know what the Nazis stood for? The one pure race. Which they believed would be white. They believed all others inferior and preferred them dead. They would want you dead. And by doing that sign, you are saying you agree. With. Them.

Boy: (snaps up head to finally look me in the eye) But it was just an old German thing.

Me: No. They are Nazis still very much alive and active and everywhere. (At this point, the boy’s eyes go round.) And you are saying you’re a race traitor.

Boy: I’m… I’m sorry, Miss.

Me: And I (The Voice) Don’t ever want to see THAT sign in my class A. GAIN. (Normal teacher voice) Am I clear?

Boy: Yes, Miss. I’m sorry, Miss. I won’t do it again.

And after the second time, it hasn’t happened since.

While I hesitate to mention my work on my Mommy Blog, it brings me to what has been happening in Tornado E’s grade. With 6th graders. In a school across town with a 70% white majority. With a middle class background.

Tornado E has been coming home with some interesting stories.

Mama, the boys are talking about the Nazis. They think they’re cool. I don’t think they’re cool. I don’t like this, Mama.

So and so thinks Hitler was funny. I told him Hitler was evil, not funny. I don’t think he believed me.

Mama, so and so drew a swastika, and all the boys laughed. No, Mama, he erased it before the teacher saw.

Mama, so and so put a finger under his noise and said he was Hitler. The boys laughed. I keep telling them it’s not funny.

Mama, one of the boys said “Heil, Hitler” to one of the boys. No, Mama, the teacher didn’t hear. I don’t like this, Mama.

So the boys and I have had talks about race and privileged. We’ve talked about what to do when we are in a group of people who are saying bad things. We’ve talked about how to confront our friends.  And I decided this had to stop.

Only I dropped the ball, being a busy mom and teacher. Until I was at a 6th grade field trip, eating alone, recharging my batteries, sitting in a corner, watching the dynamics, listening.

Mumble, mumble, Nazi, mumble, weapons. Laughter. Mumble, Nazis, mumble, mumble. Laughter. Nazis, mumble, mumble. Mumble, mumble, Nazi weapons.

With the first Nazi that reached my ear, I locked on to the group of boys who were sitting far enough away from me that I couldn’t hear every word and further still from every adult, especially the teachers. So I watched them, listening. I watched them laugh and have a good time. The inflection was not what you want boys to be using when speaking of Nazis. I had enough.

So I went to the teachers and told them all about what I heard through the year so far and that Tornado E was being put into a rough spot, having to moniter his peers. I told them how I had handled it and learned that many of the kids had no idea how serious this conversation was and suggested that it be dealt as a class issue. The teachers agreed and thanked me.

Two weeks went by.

Mama, one of the boys dared another boy to do the Nazi salute. So he did. And then a bunch of them did it behind a teacher’s back.

Oh for Christ sake.

I immediately sat down and wrote the teacher about the incident.

I got a reply from the teacher a few hours later apologizing for not talking to the social studies teacher, promising it will be addressed with all the classes.

I haven’t heard of an incident since. But I swear if I do, I will march into that principal’s office first thing and demand that this nonsense end.

Man, I hate Nazis.

As an English teacher and mother…

Tornado S earned another D on a grammar assignment. I was beyond piss. I sat him down and made him redo it. In the midst of my lecture, Tornado E walked in and listened. When I was done, I looked over at Tornado E.

Tornado E: Mama, are you angry at Tornado S for getting a D or are you angry at him for getting a D in grammar?

My child is too smart for his own good.