A Difference of a Year

Last year was one of the worst birthdays I ever had. It cracked the top three. It was the second day on the job, and my room was far, so very far, from being ready, especially as I had freshman orientation the next day. My new key from the district didn’t work, but someone saw my distress and let me into my room to put my stuff in. So I was nearly late for the group picture. After pictures, I ran around the campus trying to find someone to help me with the key. Oh, I can’t help; go ask Mr. So-and-so. Oh, I can’t help, go ask So-and-So. Finally I got a sub key to get in my room to grab my stuff for my meeting. Which I was now late too. They were talking about teen depression and suicide. And I got triggered. Tears streamed down my face as I stood in the back until I finally had to ran as professionally as I could to the hall before collapsing in sobs. What the hell? After that meeting ended, I was able to compose myself for the next meeting, which ran long. Then I had to run to the district office to get a new key and race back to my school and my unfinished room. I nearly started crying again at all the work still left to do as my room had been completely thrashed by summer school and was a left over room from someone who had retired. Why clean up if no one is ever going to see you again? I worked as long as I could but was not nearly done. I got home just before we had to race to dinner and then to karate and then I had to drop my boys off at their dad’s. Yeah, last year really did suck.

But this year. My room was pretty much intact, and my parents and the boys came in with me on Saturday to help me. I was done with everything I could do yesterday at 1:30 but stayed until 2:30 because I had a meeting at that time. (That’s when I learned I’ll have 38 students in one period. Holy cow! I don’t even have enough desks!) Today I still had issues like no speakers, no remotes, no AC, and a leaky room. But the AC was fixed, and the remotes were found.

So imagine my delight when my phone rang during my planning time during freshman orientation. It was my mom, and I had to answer it just in case one of the boys was hurt.

Me: Hello?

Tornado A: Happy birthday to you! You live in a zoo! You look like a monkey! And you smell like one too! Happy birthday, Mama!

Me: Thanks, Baby.

Oh no, Mama!

As I do on a work day, I got up a little before 6. I talked with Tornado A. I did my gratitude list and worked on the manuscript. I got in the shower, and then I got dressed in a skirt, shirt, and boots. I gave the boys morning hugs and kisses before I packed my lunch and ate breakfast. I settled a squabble and sent the boys to pick up a few toys. I went to brush my teeth.

Tornado S: Mama- (He looked me up and down. His eyes got big. His lips quivered.) MAMA! You’re going to work!

He crushed me in a hug, burying his face in my chest, trying not to cry.

Me: Oh, sweetheart! It’ll be ok. I’ll be home early. I promise.

So began my first day back from summer break.

Fandom

Wally: You know I’ll never have a mom like the country songs. The ones where my mom is my biggest fan. I’ll never know what that means.

Me: I know.

During the hellish year of being a temporary sub, I had all sorts of people from the school and district come and observe me and then offer me advice, starting with “if you don’t mind, I have a few critiques…”

And I would say, “I’m great at handling criticism. I have a overly critical mother.”

In fact, I’m wondering if I should make her a reader. She would really shred my manuscript apart.

So, yeah, my mom is not my biggest fan. Will never be. And that’s ok.

Yesterday I was at Panda Express with the boys, enjoying their company as we chowed down. We got to the fortunes, and we naturally became the Star fanboys and fangirl that we are.

Tornado E: (pretending to read his fortune) A great evil has been released.

Me: (pretending to read my fortune) Love is always the answer.

Tornado S: Love is never the answer.

Me: Hey. I wanted to say that!

And then we all read our fortunes for real, and I went last.

Me: “The world is ready for your talents. Don’t hold back.” Huh.

Tornado E: You have lots of talents, Mama! You should show the world!

Me: Thanks, Baby. (Then forgetting I was in public, in front of the boys, I said to myself {I totally talk out loud to myself, a horrible habit picked up when I was a lonely kid who had no one to talk to and still as an adult when I have no one to talk to; a cruel joke, an introvert with a need to talk.}) I wonder if my boys would be my biggest fans. Huh. Weird to create your own fandom.

Tornado E: We are your biggest fans, Mama! You’re awesome!

With that, I realized that my tornadoes, my herd of dragons, my entourage was really my fandom. I’m kind of lucky that way.

Movie Critic

I took one for the team. The Ex should thank me. The boys watched Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom.

The movie is ok. The Ex hates the movie. It soiled the Indiana Jones name, but he already watched Raiders of the Lost Ark with the boys. And I. I love anything with Indiana Jones. When I was a child, I wanted to be Indiana Jones.

(Guy Friend: Oh come on, you can’t be Indiana Jones; you’re a  {Looks over at me and realizes his next words should be chosen wisely.}. Look, there are lots of great girls in Indiana Jones.

Me: Like the Nazi? Or the screaming wuss? I don’t to date Indiana Jones. I want to be him.

Guy Friend: Mariam! You can be Mariam! She’s cool.

Me: You can be Mariam. I’ll be Indy.

Guy Friend: But she’s-

Me: Not as cool as Indiana Jones. Exactly.)

So the boys watched Temple of Doom as I drove us home from the karate tournament in Phoenix. And I hear:

Tornado E: Why would you drink anything from a Chinese gangster?

Tornado E: How is that believable?

Tornado E: That would never work!

Tornado E: That’s not Indian food! I thought they were in India. Did no one research this?

Tornado E: I wonder how chilled monkey brains would taste. I would eat that. (No, he wouldn’t. He won’t even eat fruit pie.)

Tornado E: I don’t believe that.

Tornado E: Mama! Did you see that? (Driving!)

Tornado E: Why is she screaming?

Tornado E: That could never happen!

Tornado E: Does no one understand the Hindu religion?

Tornado E: Why? Why would you do that?

Tornado E: You can’t do that! You can’t pull out someone’s heart! Why is he alive?

Tornado E: *snort*

Tornado E: Voodoo dolls are not in India! Did no one do any research?

Tornado E: Mama, don’t they have to research movies?

Tornado E: No one researched this movie.

Tornado E: This is so stupid.

Tornado E: There is a bone to keep you from taking out his heart!

Tornado E: What?!

Tornado E: She’s always screaming!

Tornado E: FAKE!

Tornado E: This is so fake!

Tornado E: Why does she keep screaming?!

Tornado E: Mama, you never scream.

Tornado E: Oh, sure, there are some random crocodiles.

Tornado E: That’s believable.

Tornado E: Why are there only old people in that village? It’s only old people and kids. Where are there parents?

Tornado E: She’s so annoying!

Tornado E: Is she in the next movie, Mama?

Me: No.

Tornado E: Thank goodness.

Yeah, my kid is hilarious.

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.)