The Beginning of the End of Summer

Here in Tucson, the school year is about to begin. We go back at the beginning of August. Extremely early. But we have a week of fall break and a week of spring break, and we get out in May. But still. I’m not ready!

The boys are. They can’t stop messing with each other.

I am having nightmares about being unprepared for the start of school. You know how I can fix that? Preparing for school. I’m reading articles, sure, but I need to check my email, fix a few lesson plans, write a few lesson plans, select my first reading material. But I’m avoiding it. I should do it tonight, but I won’t. I have this book and 13 Reasons to watch.

Today I registered the boys at school. I’m realizing what a reputation I’m building. I’m the mom of three energetic boys, who is a teacher. People are impressed as I settle the boys down so I can talk to a teacher. They’re impressed as I scoop Tornado A off a stack of chairs before he can crack his head open. They’re impressed that the boys answer them with thoughtful answers.

The boys got to socialize with friends they hadn’t seen all summer. I commiserated with teachers over the end of summer, sharing ideas for lesson plans. I talked to a few Cub Scout parents about plans for the next year. Tornado A practiced his locker combination until he had it memorized. (I’m hoping for no tears this next year over first day locker jitters.) The music teacher asked Tornado A again if he would join any band. The fifth grade teachers assessed Tornado S, who beamed to be in the next school level. Tornado A was a tornado.

It’s good to have a community. Also I can’t believe the summer is ending for us already!

Grace

We don’t go to Mass as much as we used to. With the 50% custody and the illnesses and homework and trips. Life. When we show up after a break, people greet us as though they were worried that we wouldn’t show up again. Who would miss three rowdy boys and their beleaguered mother?

Today, thanks to Tornado A’s inability to leave the car in a timely manner, we arrived right before the procession. Like right before. I scanned the church and was defeated.

Nearly two years ago I learned the boys did not know the parts of the mass, did not understand the mass, did not know the prayers, the chants, the responses. Why was I killing myself to take them to religious classes every week? What were they learning? I bought a couple of children’s Mass books. I sat us in the middle of empty rows. Like I was explaining baseball or football, I whispered the parts of the Mass, explaining what they meant. I had the boys follow along with their books. I pulled up the daily readings on my phone and handed them to follow. Six months ago, I learned that the older boys were sorely behind in their prayers. We know spend the time after communion reciting prayers as I whisper the prayer line by line so they could repeat them. About a month ago, I started bringing rosaries, letting the boys hold them and ask questions.

Today there were no safe places. So we sat in a pew in front of an older woman. I stood straight, squared my shoulders, and refused to show any shame as I whispered things to the boys. I did as we normally do, even though giving peace became a full-contact sport of wrestling and crushing under the guise of hugging.

The boys were on rather good behavior. I didn’t have to threaten the loss of doughnuts. Doughnuts are the consequence for behaving well at church. Consequence, not bribe. If the boys can tell me what the homily was about, I buy them a candy bar. Tornado A takes notes. Tornado E is getting better on grasping the main idea, not just a few interesting details. Tornado S always gives me the first few details.

Today Tornado A was too busy drawing to take notes.

At the end of the services, the woman behind me said, “My youngest is 28. I had boys too. I miss those days. But a friend once said to me that God gives mothers of children special grace for taking their children to church. I hope you received your grace.” And she left.

And I wondered. Had she noticed that once the congregation sat after communion’s prayer, after I recited prayers with the boys and asked them to sit, that I remained kneeling, grasping for a few moments to pray honestly, earnestly, passionately? Did she noticed the tears in my eyes when I opened them as she returned to her seat? Did I reach up and wipe away a tear or two?

I smiled at the boys. Yes, we can leave. Yes, we can go do the labyrinth. Yes, we can go get doughnuts. Yes, we can go to the Children’s Museum.

Being the smallest

It must be tough being the youngest, watching your big brothers have a chance to go on rides that they don’t want to go on. It must be tough to be the smallest and know you can’t even be in line with your brothers until they freak out and beg to get out of line. It must be tough being the little guy, hanging out with your beloved Papi, doing other rides, eating secret snacks, visiting stores, instead of waiting in line with everyone else.

Tornado A was finally big enough to ride all the rides in Disneyland, except one. The Indiana Jones ride. Once he learned that, it was the only ride he wanted to go on, insisting he could grow one inch in a month. By Disneyland day, he had not grown that inch, but Wally, the beloved godmother, was determined.

While I stood with the older two, who begged not to be forced to go on the ride, Wally took Tornado A to the line operator and tried reasoning and sweet talking. But alas, Tornado A was a hair too short.

And oh, the wails of inconsolable grief! Barely drowning out the sighs of relief.

Me: I’m sorry, baby. Next year. Or I can take you off roading. It’s the same thing. It’ll be ok. Hey, Tornado A. Do you want to pick out the next ride? We’ll go on any ride you want.

Tornado A slowly lifted his tear-stained face from his hands. He sniffled.

Tornado A: The Haunted Mansion.

The begging continued from the older brothers. Just for a moment, I saw a mischievous glint in Tornado A’s eyes.

(And yes, the older boys were forced on the ride, but it loses its scariness when your mother recites every word during the whole ride.)

A Case of Mistaken Identity

When we went to Disneyland, the first ride we had to go on was Star Tours. The line was ten minutes long, so I handed the boys their brand new fidget spinners, purchased for moments like these. I took the time to work on my Spanish on my language app. (Sure, it looks like I was annoying my kids as I played Candy Crush, but, honest, I was working on learning a second language that will help me as a person, a teacher, and a mom. I’m way on top of it.) And the line moved on. In less than ten minutes, we were on board.

For those who have never been on the ride, right before the ride starts, they snap a picture of a guest. Capacity of the ride is 40 people. During the ride, a picture, in shades of blue, is shown of the guest as the rebel spy. I have friends who have ridden the ride until their kids were the spy. It’s neat.

I was sitting next to Tornado E, who sat next to Tornado A, who sat next to Tornado S. The ride took off, and the rebel spy was revealed.

Those big eyes. That bald head. My family’s traditional cheeks and nose. Oh my god, my little Sith Lord is a rebel spy! Tornado E and I looked over at Tornado S and started laughing.

We laughed through the whole ride. Our Sith Lord was a rebel spy! There was good in him after all. He belonged to us; he belonged to the rebellion. And We. Are Never. Going to let him live it down.

We got off the ride and congratulated Tornado S, teasing him about his new role.

Tornado S: I’m not the spy!

Tornado E: We saw your picture, Tornado S!

Me: Everyone saw it, rebel spy. Would you like a shirt? I’ll buy you a shirt!

Tornado S: I’m not the spy!

Tornado E: Yes, you were!

Me: I’m totally buying a shirt. I always knew you would rejoin the light side.

Tornado S: I’m not the spy! I wore my hat the whole time!

Huh. He was wearing his hat. He was wearing his hat during the ride. So was Tornado E. Tornado E and I turned to the last child.

Tornado S: Tornado A was the rebel spy!

Tornado A: (with a huge smile) Fooled you!

I feel like that should have been a Spaceballs reference. Also my kids look goddamn similar.

Me: (huh. Do I look like a bad mom for not being able to tell my kids apart when they’re pictured in blue scale?) Do you want a shirt, Tornado A?

Tornado A: (shakes head) No. But can I have a light saber?!

Like the other three light sabers that you boys built last time we were at Disneyland. Like the other 5 (Is it 5 or 7) light sabers we already have. Your grandparents are going to yell at me if we bring home any more light sabers.

Me: I don’t want to carry souvenirs all day, so let’s keep looking around. If you want one at the end of the day, you can have one.

Which was interrupted as: Please, start building a light saber right now and act like I never said a word.

They did leave the light saber building area. And we did go back so the boys could build light sabers before we left.

Plans and What Kids Do to Them

The first night of vacation, I had a brilliant plan. Go to Mrs. Knott’s for dinner because they give your ridiculous amounts of food, food that has to be brought home, food perfect for a lunch at the picnic tables outside of Disneyland.

Mrs. Knott’s is the restaurant that built Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park. The line to get into to the restaurant was so long that Mr. Knott built attractions to occupy people as they waited to get some of that delicious friend chicken. The restaurant today still uses Mrs. Knott’s recipes. An adult dinner, though slightly pricey, gets you a salad, chicken noodle soup, a vegetable, mash potatoes, 4 pieces of fried chicken, and a dessert.

My brilliant plan was to have Tornado E order an adult meal, eat what he could, and then take the rest for lunch at Disneyland. But Tornado E didn’t want to order an adult meal because a few months ago he had been with his dad, ordered the meal, and was berated for not finishing it. (Honestly most adults can’t finish the meal.) I assured Tornado E that he only had to eat what he could. Then he wanted to order chicken-and-dumplings. What? No! That’s what I’m getting, and I want the fried chicken. We’ll share. Then he wanted chicken strips. Stop messing with my plan, child!

Plan B. Everyone orders what they want, and I’ll order chicken from the to-go place.

We arrived at the restaurant a couple of hours from getting into California from our 8 hour drive. Tornado E conceded to my plan with the promise that he only had to eat what he felt like and could have some of my chicken-and-dumplings. Tornado A ordered macaroni and cheese; while, Tornado S ordered chicken legs. I ordered the chicken-and-dumplings. The waitress, bless her heart, told me I could order it without the meal, but I could not pass up an opportunity to have chicken noodle soup.

The kids meals came with a large slice of Jell-O. Tornado S got mash potatoes with his chicken. Along with the meal, we got a huge plate of biscuits. The boys ordered boysenberry punch because Walter Knott bred and produced boysenberries.

Our first courses came, and the two younger boys tried my soup. Then I had to fight them off. Down, boys. It’s a cream based chicken noodle soup, and it’s heavenly. Tornado S contented himself by begging Tornado E for his salad. Eventually Tornado E relented just in time for the rest of the meal to arrive.

Tornado E was too full to eat anything, until Tornado A didn’t want his macaroni and cheese, which was a homemade recipe with cheddar cheese sprinkled on top and broiled. Tornado E ate Tornado A’s macaroni and cheese; while, Tornado A ate Tornado E’s mashed potatoes. Tornado S ate one chicken leg, Tornado E’s salad, and his corn. I relished half my chicken-and-dumplings until I was regrettably too full. While I mourned all that delicious food going to waste, the boys chimed up to try it. In the end, there was only a quarter left. We ended up with 5 pieces of chicken, one for all of us and my best friend, for lunch.

For dessert, the boys had boysenberry sherbet, and I had boysenberry pie. We spent dessert talking about the importance of tipping. I had Tornado E figure out the tip.

We spent the rest of the evening exploring the shops and running back to the restroom where Tornado A would do his business. Because he’s been having potty issues, I rewarded him with candy of his choosing before realizing it was nearly bedtime and we had an early day that next morning.

We raced back to the hotel room where I got everyone in bed, settled, and read them a bed time story. They all went out like lights which was surprising because they all had slept a little on the ride over, but then they had been with their dad for 5 days without a bedtime and allowed to get up before 6am.

As I paced around the room to get my steps in, the time ticked on. Until Tornado A started vomiting. EVERYWHERE. I grabbed a towel to catch some of it. By the fourth hurl, I had enough sense to tell him to go to the bathroom. He tagged the pillows, the sheets, the blankets, the towels. In the bathroom, his messy hands held onto the shower curtain as he hurled. It took another couple towels to clean the mess. I wiped him down with a hand towel. I took all the dirty blankets, except the bottom sheet, off the bed and tried to clean them. I laid down another towel on the bed and put Tornado A back to bed.

I cleaned as best I could.

Tornado A has a touch of motion sickness. With all that food, well, it didn’t sit right.

I got into bed with him later, worrying that he was sick or that he wasn’t done.

He was. He was fine. The next morning he was fine.

Before Disneyland, I warned the front desk and left a large tip on the bed.

 

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.