because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

To Get Up or to Zzzzzzzz

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alarm clock, bought from IKEA
Image via Wikipedia

Monkey started 7th grade this year. When I think back to 7th grade, I recall I awoke each morning at 6:30 AM with the help of my digital alarm clock which I had carefully set to 62 WHEN the night before.

Once showered, I made myself breakfast — either a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal or a bagel with cream cheese — and by 7:15 AM, I quietly walked into my parents’ bedroom, took four quarters from my father’s dresser (with his permission), so I could buy lunch. I then kissed my mother and my father who were sprawled in their king-sized bed beneath a giant comforter. I was generally met by sleepy sounds, sometimes a little muttering, and bad breath; it was a daily routine, and it worked. They got a good night’s rest, and I got to watch The New Zoo Revue on our 7” black and white television, uninterrupted, for about a half an hour.

Eventually, depending on the weather, I put on the most appropriate outdoor coat — if it was cold, I popped on mittens and a hat. Since UGGS had not yet been invented and boots were totally uncool in 1978, I always wore my clogs. From there, I made opened the front door carrying whatever I might have brought home for homework (read: nothing) and walked about 1/4 mile from my parents’ little house to the closest bus stop and waited with a cluster of other neighborhood kids.

Fast-forward 30 years. Monkey completes a similar ritual where he wakes, dresses, makes his breakfast, gathers his stuff — paper stars, drawings of dragons, pencils, books, two huge binders filled with worksheets and completed homework — and crams it all into his backpack.

I hear Monkey moving around starting at 6:20 AM, and I stick my pillow over my head. Unlike my parents who stayed in bed, confident in my organizational abilities — or never really even thought about if I had everything I needed or not — I feel totally guilty for staying in bed. I mean I suppose I could drag myself downstairs at that unseemly hour, but I am just so dang tired.

And warm.

I don’t know why I feel I should go downstairs and smooch Monkey before he leaves the house. Maybe I feel like I should make sure his clothes match – because he’s not very good at that. Or maybe I feel I should check to make sure that his hair is brushed – because, to be honest, he is pretty lax in that area, too. Maybe it’s his teeth I’m worried about. You know, I just like to make sure that he in minty-fresh before he heads out the door because, again, the whole hygiene thing is currently not his forte.

I don’t do this though.

So typically Monkey does just what I used to do. He comes upstairs to announce he is leaving.

Except some days, he doesn’t.

Some days, the kids he walks with show up at our sliding glass doors and I hear the glass doors roll across the floor followed by a slam. I lie there, imagining him walking down the back steps, towards the enormous school that looms in our backyard. (I know it was designed to look like a dairy farm; still, it looms.)

On those days, I miss him.

My husband wonders what is wrong with me.

He says I should be thrilled that we have raised an independent person who can make cereal and bagels and waffles and eggs and (sometimes) remembers to brush his teeth and hair.

And I am.

But it doesn’t mean I’m not working against some weird maternal energy that wants to “just check” on him.

My parents never sweated over this stuff.

At what age did your parents step out of the picture so you could start doing things independently? How are you about completely stepping out of the picture? And more importantly, what morning TV shows did you watch while your parents were sleeping?
© Renée Schuls-Jacobson 2011. All rights reserved.

The Power of a Swift Kick #twits

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Piper Bayard

I am fortunate to have Piper Bayard as a guest blogger today. I met Piper when I was learning how to tweet. She was the first person to actually recognize my flailing say hello to me in a civilized manner, and kind of introduce me to her friends in the Twitterverse. I so appreciated that. Since then, I have read Piper’s words voraciously. She is a real researcher and she knows how to weave some great fiction in with some real-life facts. I guess that means I’m trying to tell you that Piper is a fabulous writer.  So enjoy and comment on Piper’s tale today and, and then head over to her place “The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse” HERE. You can also Twitter stalk her at @PiperBayard.

• • •

The Power of a Swift Kick

I took my daughter to school one morning last spring. Like most middle school girls, she’s convinced my mission in life is to embarrass her, and I take my work seriously. It’s not enough that I walked through the school doors pronouncing that Miley Cyrus looks like a two-bit hooker on Discount Day in one of her videos. No. I even talked to my daughter’s classmates. . . .

“Jordan,* stand up straight. You’re far too pretty to have poor posture. . . . Kyle, do not spit in the presence of ladies. That is most ungentlemanly behavior, and you’re better than that. . . . Young lady, you seem like a nice girl, but are those shorts legal? How do you expect the boys to learn anything in math with you looking like that? . . .”

Now, you’d think these kids would have told me to %*!# off, but, for whatever reason, they didn’t. Jordan grinned and stood up straighter, Kyle blushed and muttered a shy, “Yes, Ma’am,” and the young lady in short shorts laughed and rolled the legs back down to where they were when she left the house that morning. That’s when I realized that it had happened. I had grown up to be my mother.

I don’t mean my biological mother, Big It rest her soul. I mean the woman who saved me from being the queen of a double-wide trailer with five kids and four baby-daddies going to court every week for child support. That would be my middle school music teacher/mentor/friend/other mother, Elmarine.

Piper's Elmarine

Elmarine knew all about surviving life’s apocalyptic events. Born in 1917, she had polio as a child. She spent a third of her childhood away from her family at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Shreveport, Louisiana, undergoing nine operations to help her walk. Let’s face it, those guys may wear funny hats, but they do amazing things for kids.  . . . Without tv’s or computers, Elmarine entertained herself and the other kids by riding around in her wheelchair, playing her ukulele. . . . I threw that in to let you know there really are ukulele players out there. Who’d have thought?

She married an engineer who developed the welding process used on ships during WWII. He died suddenly, leaving her in poverty with two daughters to support. Lucky for me, she went back to school and got her teaching degree in music.  At that point, she wore a brace and sometimes used crutches, and back in that day and time, employers actually said outright that they wouldn’t hire her because she was ”crippled.” She kept at it anyway. . . . What else could she do? . . . And finally she found a school district two states away to give her a chance.

During her many years at my school, she was anything but crippled. She taught us stray cats proper posture, proper social interaction, and, more importantly, self-respect and perseverance. There wasn’t a sob story we could tell her that she couldn’t relate to, and she always had the same answer. “That’s tough, Kid. Now, what are you going to do about it?”

Over the years, I’ve found her singular reply to be the answer to all apocalypse in a nutshell. “That’s tough.” Acknowledge the problem. “Now what are you going to do about it?” Meet it with action. Sometimes, the action is to face myself and/or others. Sometimes, it’s to change my ways. Sometimes, the only action possible is to endure one more day. But she did all of that and tolerated nothing less from me.

Elmarine dished out loving ass-kickings. I think those kids at my daughter’s school can tell that’s what they are getting from me, and that’s why they always smile and say hello when they see me. I’ll bet you Jordan stands a little straighter next time, too, and Kyle will at least only spit behind my back.

I dedicate this blog to all of the teachers whose loving ass-kickings keep stray cats from having four baby-daddies.

Who gave you your “loving ass-kicking”? What were the tools they gave you?

*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Last week: “Read the Books”

• • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece of writing for #TWITS: Teachers Who I Think Scored / Teachers Who I Think Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction.

Essays should be around 700-800 words.

Interested but have questions? Email me!

My information is under the Contact Me tab.

What to Do If Your Kid Says "I'm Bored"

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Toilet in german theater munich
Image via Wikipedia

It only takes once.

If your child says, “I’m bored,” this summer, here’s what you do.

First get all worked up into a thrilled frenzy. Then, in the most madly excited voice you can muster say:

“You are! Because I have the best thing for you to do, and I was just waiting for you to say you wanted to do something new.”

Take your bored child gently by the hand and guide him to the bathroom.

(Ed. note: *The brush needs to be there already or else he will try to escape.*)

Have your child stand before the toilet and hand him the brush.

(Ed. Note: *You must gush here. Very important to ooze gush.*)

Start swirling.

At first, your child might like this activity, especially after you add all the bubbly cleaning supplies and let him swish them around – but after a short while, as we all know, this task loses its magic.

He will want to stop.

When he moans or complains or asks to stop, look positively bewildered.

(*Seriously, you must appear profoundly confused. Furrow your brow, but only briefly. We don’t want to leave wrinkles.*)

“But you said you were bored…”

Don’t forget to remind your child that you have X more toilets to clean if you hear him say he is bored again.

Ever.

Monkey has not said “I’m bored” since he was 4-years old.

On a down note, for the last 7 years, I have been the Chief Cleaner of all Things Porcelain.

What tactics do you employ when your child complains that he or she is bored in the summer?

• • •

Today marks my 200th post. To show how much I love the folks who comment and to make sure you are not bored, I have a fun little exercise: If you leave a comment on today’s post, I will create a fabulously fun post which will share how we met. Of course, all the content will be a lie. That’s right, I will create a piece of fabulous fiction to include each one of you. If you have a blog, I will even show you some linky-love. So let’s have a little fun! If you’ve never left a comment before, this is the day to do it!

Dirty Movies For Tweens

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Dude, Where's My Car?
Image via Wikipedia

It’s summer. We’ve had a lot of 11 to 12-year-old boys hanging around the house. When it’s raining, they become basement dwellers playing ping-pong or Legos and K’Nex or Wii. I hear their mutterings.

Not long ago, one of Monkey’s friends was over. Let’s call him Steve-o. (Note, Monkey’s friend’s name is not Steve-o, but he was trying really hard to be cool, and I find that when you add an “o” to anyone’s name, it sometimes achieves that affect. Not always, but sometimes. Try it.)

So Steve-o’s talking about movies he’d recently seen. He announces that he’d just seen Dude, Where’s My Car?

Monkey had never heard of it.

Dude, Where’s My Car? is about two dudes who get totally wasted and forget where they parked their car.

That’s pretty much it. That’s the basic premise.

How do I know this? Because hubby and I once rented it.

(Let the judgment begin. I can take it.)

I feel compelled to tell you a little more about this flick, so if you had big plans to rent it, this is your chance to skip the rest of this post and just answer the question in blue at the bottom.

Monkey’s friend forgot to mention that during the course of the movie, things get a little sci-fi. Not my favorite genre. So, it’s kind of hard for me to recall all the details of the movie because I got up a few times to wash dishes and organize the condiments in the refrigerator, but the stoners meet these gorgeous, large-breasted, female aliens. And honestly, I have no problem with that. Especially when they are wearing really tight, black jumpsuits. Because seriously, that’s hot and what else would gorgeous aliens wear?

That said, I’d imagine this part of the film is probably a lot steamier if one has experienced puberty.

Anyway, the stoners also run into these weirdos who have some kind of Continuum Transfiguration machine cleverly disguised as a Rubik’s cube that accidentally gets activated and, of course, can potentially destroy the universe.

Ninety-six percent of women reading this are rolling their eyes.

This is when I started folding laundry.

Hubby was digging the flick.

At the end the movie, the stoners (of course) save the universe, and they even find their car. Oh, and the aliens erase everyone’s memories (of course) but leave gifts for the stoners’  girlfriends which are actually for our young slackers’ enjoyment: breast enhancement necklaces.

Okay, fine. Whatever.

As we ate our respective salads, I asked Monkey’s pal, “So Steve-o, do you think that movie is appropriate for people your age?”

Steve-o hesitated. “I’m not really sure. I mean my parents didn’t know my little brother and I were watching it. We just downloaded it from Netflix to the Wii.”

I didn’t even know that was possible.

(Note to self: Figure out how to not make that happen.)

Steve-o continued, “It did have a transsexual stripper in it so maybe it’s not for really little kids. But it sure was funny.” He smiled to himself. Then he looked up at me in all earnestness and said, “At least it was funny until my dad caught us. I’ll probably never know how that movie ends.”

Realizing he’d never know the planet was saved, I felt kinda bad for Steve-o.

I wondered should I tell him about the Breast Enhancement Necklaces.

Instead, I stuck a big forkful of salad in my mouth. You know, to silence myself.

What is the most inappropriate movie you have ever caught your children watching? Or you watched (or tried to watch) as a kid?

I'm in Manitoba Visiting Ironic Mom, Eh!

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I’m guest-posting at Ironic Mom today!

Back in June, Ironic Mom (aka: Leanne Shirtliffe) held a big, exciting contest called “What’s in a Name?” in honor of her 200th post where she discussed how people have butchered, screwed around with, and twisted her name which has kept her entertained for decades.

I could totally relate.

I told her my story here.

And then she told me I won here!

I felt so special!

Then I learned she had used a Random Number Generator to determine the winner.

But privately, she told me she was really psyched I had won.

So that was cool.

As the recipient of the Grand Prize, I got to post on Leanne’s blog.

(Um, Leanne has like 10,237 followers, so I’m hoping some of her people fall in love with me.)

So, my shizz is in Canada today.

Ironic Mom's Place: Home of Thing 1 & Thing 2

Seriously, I’m at Ironic Mom’s today, where she is vacationing in Manitoba.

Click on the picture, and you’ll be there in like one second.

I hope you’ll read my piece and comment over there.

Or here.

Or both.

Either way.

It’s all good.

For those of you who do not reside in Canada, you do not even have to have a valid Passport or go through Customs or anything.

So hooray for hockey and Queen Elizabeth, beavers and Biebers, maple leaves and Mounties.

And all things Canadian.

Especially Ironic Mom.

On Selective Remembering

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Hand Hearts

Last month, a friend was talking about how she feels like she is losing control of so many things in her children’s lives. Her eldest son will be heading for high school in September, and she had just learned he had watched The Hangover and Wedding Crashers while at a friend’s house: two movies she didn’t think were appropriate for someone his age.

“But what can I do?” she asked, shrugging her shoulders. “He was at someone else’s house? I can’t control everything all the time, can I?”

Then she began to fret over how her younger son’s bus driver allowed his middle school-aged riders to listen to all kinds of music, much of which she considered to have inappropriate lyrics.

“Did your son’s bus driver let the kids listen to music?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, honestly. I mean, the topic had never come up. “Let’s ask him.”

We called Monkey over from where he was doing something Monkey-ish to ask him our mommy-questions.

“Were you allowed to listen to music on the bus this year?” I asked.

Monkey thought for about .3 seconds and then answered with absolute certainty.

“No.”

And then something happened inside my brain: a little click: that proverbial light-bulb warming to slow glow.

“Dude,” I smiled, “You don’t know what happens on the bus…” I paused for effect.

Monkey looked confused.

“You’re a walker!” I laughed.

Monkey smacked his forehead with his hand and wandered away laughing.

Our house is located about 200 feet from the back of my son’s school. Each morning at 7:13 AM, Monkey put his dishes in the sink, opened the sliding glass doors, and slid out back where he disappeared behind a bunch of pine trees and evergreens. We both know this. It was his routine for 180 days.

Google Images

Our simultaneous forgetting was a peculiar mother-and-son moment.

We used to do so much together. Everything. For years, he was like an extra appendage, wrapped around my leg or lying across my lap. Many times, I have answered a question that he had not yet even asked.

“Yes,” I would say.

“I didn’t even ask you anything yet?” Monkey would say.

“Yes, you can have dessert. Go ahead.” And then we would cozy up on separate ends of the couch with only our toes touching, eating small bowls filled with vanilla ice cream and rainbow sprinkles.

Back then, he thought I was magic.

For a period there, I was sure I would remember everything, each detail. The curve of his pinky as it curled around his blue blanket while he napped.

But you don’t; you forget things.

And it’s okay, I guess.

I love that he is growing older, growing into the person he will one day become more fully.

But there are some things I miss: like those Vulcan mind-meld moments.

So I guess I’m mourning something, too.

Who knew?

What things have you forgotten lately that you know you should absolutely know?

A Commencement Speech by Alec Jacobson

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Recently, my super cool, crazy smart nephew was selected by his peers to deliver the commencement speech at his high school graduation which took place this past Sunday, June 25, 2011.

Our entire family was beyond overjoyed, and we joked that we would all need to wear Depends because, in real life, Alec is pee-in-your-pants funny! It is my understanding that during his last week of school, Alec wore some crazy stuff: weird retro sneakers; a hat with a pocket on it; a sleeveless, neon green pinny with the word “RUN” on it printed in hot pink. He was also spotted carrying a teenie-tiny, little Buzz Lightyear backpack, the kind of bag a little boy might tote to school on his first day of kindergarten. (It is also my understanding that everyone thought that his outfits and accessories were “off the chain.”)

I couldn’t wait to hear what Alec would say when he addressed the Class of 2011!

Here is what Alec said.

(NOTE: I edited Alec’s speech a bit for the sake of brevity. Please know Alec did all the niceties. He thanked the student officers, his teachers from kindergarten through twelfth grade, his parents, his siblings, and all the people who voted for him to speak. He also named specific individuals and rather than run around town getting written consent forms from everyone he mentioned, I simply omitted these specific references and kept things general.)

Alec post graduation, 2011

Good afternoon everyone.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Alec Jacobson.

When I found out that I was going to be speaking at graduation, it was actually quite anti-climactic.

I was sitting by myself in The Commons during homeroom, waiting for first period Gym to start, when I heard Mr. W. come on the announcements and say: “And congratulations to Alex Jacobson for being elected to speak at graduation.”

You can imagine that after I heard that I was pretty befuddled because:

a) I was trying to play the word “SPEAKER” on “Words with Friends”;

b) I never in a million years thought I would have enough friends to vote for me to speak; and

c) there was literally nobody in The Commons to whom I could turn and share my excitement.

So it was just me, my contained bliss, and a tad bit of rage due to W’s mispronunciation of my name.

But I got over it.

I alerted my mother of the news via text only to have her respond in all caps with: “OMG! OMG! Who are you?! Probably not my son.”

And then my sister texted me, “Congrats! You’re amazing.”

Never in my life would I have expected to be here.

Just a few weeks ago, I sat at the Senior Banquet when it hit me that we’re actually finished with high school. I remember looking around, and taking everything in, and I realized that we LOOK all grown up. Four years ago, all of us looked feeble, immature and — to be honest — awkward. I mean, I was just a short little red-head, a “ginger,” with very few friends. But now, we are adults.

We are old.

I may or may not still have red hair, but wow, we are a good-looking class.

More importantly, look at how far we have come.

For us, the future is bright.

The reality is that most of our high school years will be a blur. Sure, we’ll remember our good friends, our favorite teachers. We’ll remember our prom dates and those countless sectional titles that the boys’ and girls’ teams brought home. But the reality is that these events did not define us as a class. It is the people who have made this class truly one of a kind.

When looking at our class, many people define us by our intelligence. Sure, it is pretty incredible having students attending Harvard and Princeton and Yale. And nine going to Cornell. And while that is super impressive, the more defining aspect of our class is our diversity. We have people going to music school, business school, art school. Pre med majors, pre-law majors, and math majors. Future doctors, lawyers and CEOs right in this room seated before us. Because the truth is that this class is not only one of the most intelligent in our school’s history, but also one of the most unique.

For us, however, high school is just the beginning. It may seem like the end and, sure, it is the end of a remarkable four years. More importantly, this graduation marks a new beginning to our young lives. After all, I am giving a commencement speech, and the word “commence” means to begin.

I know it is sad, looking around right now and realizing that this may be the last time we are all together as a single, unified group. Tomorrow morning, I personally, will be going to camp for the entire summer, so to many of you, this is my goodbye. But I hate leaving things on a somber note, so I want you all to know that not only will I be back, but we’ll all be back: to make sure that our four years of high school aren’t just that blur. So I guess this isn’t truly goodbye, but an “until we meet again.”

In the meantime, go out and do something fun. Do something great with your summer and whatever lies ahead. For those of you who haven’t already seen it, watch the movie Into the Wild and tell me with a straight face that you don’t immediately want to immerse yourself in nature and discover your true self.

And like Mark Twain said: “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” Don’t rely on others to teach you things. Discover them yourselves because now we are on our own and the future lies in nobody’s hands but ours. Right now, we may think  “these are the best days ever,” but they won’t be. We have so much more to do.

So go on out, Class of 2011, and live large.

Because as my friend penned in my yearbook: “Doesn’t everybody deserve to live large?

Alec’s friend touched on the elusive American Dream when he asked: “Doesn’t everybody deserve to live large?”

It’s a great question.

An affluent district that has been relatively untouched by the recession, I saw students fortunate to have such amazingly strong foundations. They have been able to concentrate on academic excellence. They have been able to focus on homework rather than having to work to help their parents make ends meet. They have lived in homes –  nice ones with green lawns. They have had pets to cuddle and closets filled with the right clothes. Many have taken expensive vacations abroad. They have not gone to bed hungry. They have gone to bed in their own beds.  As I looked around, I was strangely struck by how wealthy the school district in which I reside truly is. Not only in terms of fiscal resources, but in the fact that students are, for the most part, emotionally well supported.

Precious few have to tiptoe nervously in a world of instability.

And that is a blessing I am not sure they even realized.

When the Class President spoke, she quipped to parents in the audience that they needn’t fret about losing touch with their children because everyone is simply a text or Skype away.

This implied the ownership of laptops and/or cellphones.

No one batted an eyelash.

Of course these students have laptops and cell phones and unlimited calling plans.

It is implied that these students are going to live large.

For these students, the future is bright.

But I think about other students graduating from other districts, too — where the American Dream appears to have dried up. Where students are starting out in a slump. And as Dr. Seuss noted in Oh, the Places You’ll Go, “Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” I imagine Alec’s optimistic message was perhaps, a little different from other commencement speeches held around the country where the concept of graduation as a new beginning is something being met with less optimism and more uncertainty.

My nephew wrote a great speech which he delivered beautifully — and with a fair bit of self-deprecating humor.

His peers voted him “Most Likely To Become President.”

We know Alec is ready to fly.

My only wish would be for everyone to have that same opportunity to live large.

What wise words would you offer the graduating class of 2011? And do you think everyone deserves to live large?

Lessons From Eight Junes

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Photo from dalesmith @ flickr.com

June is definitely a time for endings and beginnings. Proms. Graduations. Weddings. New jobs. June has got me thinking about all the Junes in my life. My parents started their married life together on June 23, 1963. My son will become a bar-mitzvah next June. One of my grandmothers died in June. And one of my friends, too. I tried to think about some significant Junes in my life, and this is what was born:

• • •

Once upon a time, a November baby learned that she loved June. She played with bubbles and chased butterflies, rode her bicycle, played kick the can, and stayed out until the fireflies guided her home.

One June, the girl snapped her well-packed trunk and clipped her khaki duffel bag ready to spend seven weeks at overnight camp.

One June, the girl went to a prom in a ridiculous dress with ridiculous hair.

Four Junes later, the girl was no longer a girl. She graduated from the college she’d loved and, as she drove west in her beat-up Plymouth Volaré to live with a man she loved – prepared to insert herself into his house and into his life – she was terrified that everything was going to be different. And it was.

One terrible June, the girl sat in a room staring at a casket, and no matter how many people told her that the air conditioning wasn’t on too high, it felt like winter in that place.

One June, the girl found herself in New Orleans. She had finished her first year of teaching in a city that smelled like magnolias and crawfish. It was the hottest summer of her life and it lasted until November.

In a blink, it was June again. This time, she looked in the mirror and saw she was no longer a girl. She was seven months pregnant; her hands and ankles had swelled in the heat. As she fanned herself, she daydreamed about the future. Also, she ate a lot of watermelon.

One June, the November girl moved – along with her husband and her son – into a home nestled in a neighborhood with flowers and trees and children. And as she hung up her summer sundresses, she remembered bubbles and bicycles and butterflies, and she knew she was home.

This June, the woman knows there are wrinkles around her eyes – but she is less focused on herself. She sits at the computer and listens to her son, now almost 12, as he practices for his last piano lesson. The music is familiar. The clothes in the dryer bump around noisily in the background, everyone’s stuff mingled together. Hopefully, for many, many more Junes.

Can you share one particular memory from one particular June?

In Praise of the Pencil

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Google Images

In 5th grade, Mr. Zych lectured all of his students about how to properly sharpen a pencil. He wasn’t messing around. His speech was not short, and he covered everything from how to properly grip the pencil to the cranking motion – how it should be smooth and continuous, not jerky. He even discussed the perils of over-sharpening, which could lead to premature tip-breakage. Mr. Zych turned pencil sharpening into a science.

Personally, I have had a love-hate relationship with pencils. I first learned how to print my alphabet in pencil and then I learned how to write in cursive in pencil. That was Paradise. Finally, a way to write all the stories stored in my head. Later, I preferred to write with pens – preferably ones filled with purple or green ink. But ever since my son started school, he has been forever in need of pencils; they seem to always be around, and so I returned to the yellow pencils of my youth. I had learned to appreciate the feel of a pencil in my hand again. I even started to like the scratchy-scratchy sound of the graphite as it dragged across the page. After I recently stepped on a pencil, I became suspicious of them again and switched back to pens.

Meanwhile, my son is still on a steady diet of pencils. In middle school, the kids seem to devour them: literally and figuratively. I know my son nibbles on his; I’ve seen the teeth marks. I’ve watched him crunch while he contemplates before committing to writing an answer on paper. But sometimes I wonder if he actually eats them, too. I mean, where do they go? How many pencils does one kid need in a school year?

A few weeks back, Monkey came home in a tizzy.

“I’m out of pencils again,” he announced.

Nonplussed, I told him there were under three weeks of school left and that I was pretty sure he could make-do with his nubs until June 20.

He started at me with contempt.

“Are you serious?” he questioned. “I have exams! I need pencils! Ticonderogas. Now!”

He was not messing around.

The next day while in the grocery store – to my horror – I found plenty of office supplies, but they were only generic pencils. And even I know that those erasers don’t do the job. You need another eraser to get rid of the smears those lame pencils leave behind.

So I made an extra trek, this time to Staples – home of the Ticonderoga pencil – and invested in the Bulk pack. (Because that was all they had.) Let’s be clear. Ticonderoga pencils are like platinum. They cost a fortune. The only way a pencil could be more fabulous would be if you printed your name on pencils. A Ticonderoga is the Hum-V in the wonderful world of pencils. Teachers definitely prefer them. Definitely.

I rationalized that I could spend $15.77 + nearly 9% tax on pencils because they are non-perishable, so it is not like they will ever rot or mold. And I figured whatever is left at the end of the school year, Monkey can use in 7th grade, thus saving me some back-to-school shopping hassle.

A few days later, a good friend of mine called me and reported that her son – also a 6th grader – had run out of pencils. While requesting to buy more, she said my name was invoked. Apparently her son said:

“Can you just be like Mrs. J. and get the Giant Pack of 72 Ticonderoga pencils?”

Apparently Monkey had been bragging about his new stash.

I laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of it. Bragging about pencils?

And then I thought about how I had come full circle. Just one week before, I was cursing pencils as my husband dug around my heel with a needle in an attempt to get the lead out. (I know, I know. Pencils are made of graphite. I was going for the funny.) But now I found myself saying a silent prayer on behalf of all pencil-loving children everywhere. Uncharacteristically, I clasped my hands together and thought to myself:

Lord, may this be the worst thing my child ever desires. May this be his worst addiction. May he never see cocaine. May he never use LSD or heroin. May he avoid cigarettes and alcohol. May he avoid the ‘shrooms, the X, the meth. May he never huff. May he find the strength to avoid the Oxycontin and Adderall.

May he always be addicted to Ticonderoga pencils.

Because, honestly, I’ll happily help Monkey score his Ticonderoga pencils forever. I’ll even help him sharpen them. Mr. Zych schooled me on that a long time ago, and I feel confident I can help my son with his #2 pencil fix without any need for an Intervention.

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Lessons From Splinters

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Splinter removal is serious business in our house

Many Junes ago, after swimming all afternoon with friends in a pool that was nestled behind a tall fence on the grounds of the apartment complex in which my grandparents lived, I decided to pay my grandmother a visit.

My decision to visit was not a completely selfless act. The ice-cream man had come and gone, and I had forgotten to bring money to go to the 7-11 down the street, so I was crazy hungry and figured my grandmother would make me some of her fabulous french fried potatoes.

To get to my grandparents’ apartment, I could have walked on an asphalt road, but I generally opted for the short-cut across a broad expanse of grass that had been allowed to grow tall and wild. The prickly weeds made quite the obstacle course, and I always made a game of zigzagging from one patch of yellow flowers to another.

On that particular day, as I raced across the field barefoot, I stepped on something that made me look around to see if I had landed on a discarded cigarette. Alas, there were no burning embers, just a partially squashed yellow-jacket clinging to me, his stinger nicely embedded into the arch of my foot.

Midway between the pool and my grandparents’ apartment, I alternately limped and hopped across the grass. It was an eternity. The grass grew taller as I walked; the sun burned my shoulders. Eventually, I hobbled up the three flights of stairs to my grandparents’ apartment and knocked on the brown door marked simply with the number “7”.

I knew my grandmother would be home.

When I told her what had happened, she looked nervous. I showed her where the stinger was lodged and asked her if she could, maybe, get it out. A pre-teen at the time, I could tell from the look on my grandmother’s face that she would not be able to help me. Rather than get upset, I simply asked for some tweezers – which she ran to retrieve. Try as I might, I couldn’t get that pesky stinger out. I asked my grandmother for a needle and some ice, and while she obliged, she turned her head as I drove the needle into my own foot, digging around for the elusive stinger.

Eventually, victory was mine and, the stinger – pinched between the tips of the borrowed tweezers and no bigger than the sliver of hair – was inspected. Sure I bled a little bit, but as I rubbed antibiotic ointment on the area and put on a little Band-Aid, I felt strangely euphoric, crazy proud that I’d been able to take care of business, independent of adult help. As I devoured the french fried potatoes my grandmother set out before me, I remember feeling that I needed to rely more on myself, a simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying realization.

I haven’t needed tweezers or a needle again as I have managed to remain splinter free for nearly 30 years.

Until this past Monday night.

Monday night, I walked around the house doing what mothers do. I was cleaning up, making sure everything was where it was supposed to be, checking that all laundry was in the bin, and taking inventory of what food would need to be purchased during the week. Basically, I was on the prowl for misplaced K’Nex, unplugged gadgets, and dirty underwear. That’s when I felt it.

I screamed out loudly and uncharacteristically enough that Hubby and Monkey called out in unison: “Are you okay?”

“I stepped on something,” I said attempting to balance gracefully on my left foot while trying to check out what was going on with the bottom of my right. Instead of awaking my inner White Swan, I succeeded in recreating a pretty pitiful imitation of an uncoordinated  pink-flamingo with a nerve palsy. Finally, using a chair for balance, I inspected the sole of my foot, where I saw a perfectly black and tiny, round something-or-other lodged in my heel.

Stooopid graphite!

I did what had worked before. I went straight for the needle. I dipped the pointed tip into rubbing alcohol and got to digging, but I couldn’t get anything out. I didn’t know what I might have stepped on, but that same stinging heat had returned. A body remembers things.

I called to my husband. “What is it?” he asked.

I have no idea, I said, “But I can’t get it.”

Hubby put on a headlamp.

“We may have to get you some lidocaine or something,” he said. “I don’t know if I can poke around without hurting you.”

“Just get it,” I said.

So Hubby took the needle and the tweezers and dug around for a good fifteen minutes, peeling away layers of skin and blotting blood, trying to grasp the foreign object which kept crumbling into dark fragments each time he announced he had it.

“Do you think it’s a rock?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Do you think it’s a twig?”

Silence.

“Do you think I’m going to die?”

“You know what I think?” Hubby asked. “I think you stepped on a pencil.”

Great, I thought of my ironic obituary.

Teacher steps on pencil, dies of lead poisoning.

How rich.

“What happens if you have lead in your body?” I asked.

Hubby kept digging, “They don’t use lead in pencils anymore. These days, they use graphite.”

“Even in Ticonderogas?” I asked nervously, “Because those are really good pencils. You’re sure? Graphite?”

Hubby ignored me.

Awwwww, shizzle sticks.

“We have to get it out because you could get an infection. And I can’t get it because it keeps breaking.”

So I did what any woman who does not want to spend the next eight hours at the hospital would do. I gave my husband carte blanche. “Don’t worry about how much I complain. Or scream. Or bleed. Just dig.” (Oh, and be a sport and try not to be bothered by the fact that I am asking you all the questions that I just asked you – again. And that I’m filming you. It’s for my blog.)

Eventually, Hubby was the victorious and removed the slim sliver of graphite from my foot. Seriously, there was no way I was ever going to get that thing out by myself. And you know what, it’s nice to know there is someone you can rely on in times of need. Not like I didn’t know that before, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded.

So anyone think it is hot to have the tattoo of a tiny, black circle on your heel?

‘Cuz, you know, I’ve got one.

Also, if you are looking to find me between now and September, I’m the one wearing flip-flops. Everywhere.

How do you do with splinters? And would you trust your spouse to do the deep probing?


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