Friday, February 27, 2009

He's Not My Dad

I've been giving a lot of thought to relationships lately. As I creep up on the anniversary date that officially makes me divorced long than I was married, I am giving a lot of thought to the relationships I've had in my life.

I never thought I'd be single. Obviously not when I said my vows, but even when I got divorced, I believed within the next five years I would meet someone and get remarried. But here it is, eight years later and I'm still single.

There could be any number of reasons for that, and I don't mean to imply for a second that I don't love the life I have. I do, I really do. But I've begun to really seek God's answers on the topic. Should I look for a new relationship? Is that God's plan for my life? Does He have another intention for my future?

If I think about the idea of a relationship, I begin to wonder how it is that having dated at least a few men with some seriousness since my divorce, I have yet to have dated anyone that I thought was marriage material for me.

I put my analytical mind to it the last couple of weeks and I've realized something of interest.

None of the men that I have ever dated have been anything like my father.

Now, I know, it's perhaps just a cliche that daughters will look for a mate that has qualities like her dad. But I have a great dad. And I do, as I have now come to realize it, want a mate that is much like my father.

He's responsible, respectable. He is grounded in faith with deep-rooted morals. He understands his role as a provider, a leader of the household, the source of strength for his family. He's dependable. He's mature in all things. He handles his finances, his career, his projects, his home, his relationships with a well-thought out plan.

Things weren't always easy, I don't mean to imply that. But in the face of difficult challenges, my dad was strong. He thinks things through carefully. He chooses his words deliberately. You would never call my father 'rash'.

But none of the men that I have dated (nor the one that I married) are anything like this. When I realized this a bit ago, I was struck for the moment with such intensity of thought that I stood in the parking lot for a moment while the thought rolled over me.

Why would this be?

I'll save you the long version of it. It took me several days to really get a handle on why I think it has happened this way. I think, originally, I did think my ex-husband was all that my dad ever was. I did. With some differences, of course, but I did think there was more in common between the two than there were differences. But they are nothing at all alike. In every way I might list, they are two very good men, but two very different men.

But since my divorce, I have clearly not attracted the sort of man that I really do think is a good match for me. It's not that I think the sort of man my father is would necessarily please any wife. I'm sure there are some out there who want something different. But not me. The qualities I would list for a great mate, would be qualities you might use to describe Dad.

So back to the why.

I have come to realize I don't present myself the way I truly am.

That sounds bad, perhaps. I don't mean it that way. What I mean is, I'm quite emotional. I'm moody, tempermental. I'm more impulsive and spontaneous than I am responsible and well thought out. I'm responsible, yes, and I have a good work ethic, sure, but I tend to think about things with my heart far more than my head. I would give away more than I could afford to spend to charity for example if I wasn't careful.

But for the past 8 years or more, I've been a single mom. I became a working parent. I have had to pay all the bills, take care of the household, make parenting decisions alone. I have had to be responsible. I have to keep my finances in line. I have to think about my son's future, his college, his braces. I have to think about my career and give it thought and purpose. I can't just travel on a whim, or spend money as I would like to. And certainly just being in my late 30's means I need to be a bit more responsible than I might have been 10 years ago.

And I don't begrudge that part of my life at all.

But it changes how I come off to people. I come off as someone who is a planner, when in fact, I absolutely love last minute plans and get-aways. I used to love deciding at the last minute to go home for the weekend in college just to see my mom. Or driving 10 hours to Michigan without telling my sister I was coming. I would probably never have a retirement fund, a college fund and a savings account if I were not a parent. And I would never choose to be the one to pay the bills and balance the checkbook and deal with anything financial if I didn't have to. I would get Chinese take-out more often, I'd be the last one to bed, and I would probably beg to buy new couches even if we couldn't pay cash if I weren't so stuck on being responsible. And I'd probably have two more dogs, another cat and a rabbit even if I had to beg and cry crocodile tears to get my way.

I have dated a handful of men in the past eight years. And they have all been financially a mess. They have all been remarkably immature. Some hadn't been out of mom's reach far enough for long enough. They were bachelors for the most part, with no one else to think of. They were spontaneous. They were only concerned about the here and now. They came into the relationship loving the fact that I was the responsible, grounded one. I was the one who would say, no, let's stay in and make pizza so we can save some money. They seemed to adore the fact that I made them more responsible just by being with me. They were freed up to be the carefree one, knowing I had their back on all things responsible. They liked that I seemed to have all my stuff together, and a good head on my shoulders and my ducks in a row. Which is all good, and yet....

...it's not who I really am. And I get into these relationships and then I wonder how it is that I'm dating this man who aggrevates me so much. How could I have gotten involved with someone who can't keep money in his account? How could I even consider anything serious with this person who thinks they might just go to Miami for spring break, although they don't know any details and it's two weeks away? How can I plan for a future with someone who spends more money on his hobby than I did for my mortgage payment? Can I really be in love with someone who changes his mind on who he is going to vote for for President as he's walking in to the polling place? Can I ever envision myself with a man who steals decor off the wall of a restaurant because I admired it once?

How could I BE THE MOST RESPONSIBLE ONE IN THIS RELATIONSHIP?!?!

It's crazy if you know me.

Really.

(My dad and sister are nodding their heads right now.)

I want someone like my dad. Because it allows me to be the emotional one. It balances out my impulsiveness. It frees me up to be the good cop parent for a change. It's not that I want to throw all caution to the wind and just let someone else run my retirement fund or plan all our vacations a year in advance, but if I can partner my life up with someone, then I want a blend that allows me to relax and be myself and allows their strengths to be appreciated and enjoyed. We can't both be footloose and fancy free. But I'm getting rather tired of carrying the burden of being responsible alone.

Now, I just have to figure out how to meet a responsible, mature, dependable, moral man who isn't a complete bore. Dad? Could you give lessons?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Am The Only One Who Cries

when the bank says they will happily lend me money for a house.

But that's because I'm the only one whose name will be on the title.



And while I am excited about the idea of a house, and I'm looking forward to not sharing walls anymore, I didn't really think I would do this alone.



Again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why the District Can't Wait to Hire Me

For those of you not employed by an elementary school or a dental office, let me first inform you, it's Dental Health Month. I know, exciting stuff. Especially when you teach technology. (That's sarcastic). But somehow in the plans I received from last year that my immediate supervisor seems reluctant to change or ammend, we have this fantastic plan for incorporating dental health in with a technology lesson. To summarize, it's an 18 minute online video followed by a 12 minute, hurried technology lesson that doesn't teach any new skill and only requires my Kinders to continue clicking and dragging (which they can do in their sleep by this point in the year).

But for now, without many alternatives, I'm teaching the lesson. And I sat and watched the 18 minute video (again) with my Kinders today, remarking at how cheesy we make teeth cleaning sound. But I suppose if it works to teach Kinders to brush, floss and avoid sugary snacks, so be it. Sign me up. Just don't make me pay attention six more times.

It wasn't until after the video and ensuing technology lesson, when the students were lined up at the door that I realized the irony. At the beginning of the year, I added further incentives to the reward program already in place for the non-academic classes like art, music and technology. We hand out special awards to each class when they've had a good lesson in our rooms. When they earn so many, their classroom teachers reward them with a pizza party or something equally fantastic. I added my own little bonus. After every 5 of these rewards a class receives from me, I give a reward to each student. A sticker, a pencil, a bookmark, etc. I only see classes every other week, so it takes several weeks to earn the reward but helps to keep them motivated when they think they only have two more rewards to go before everyone gets a pencil. (And who doesn't want a pencil when you are seven?)

So it was this combination of things that added up to my Award Winning Moment of Teaching. As the Kinders lined up at my door and I reviewed with them the important points from the Dental Video that we just reiterated in our technology lesson, I looked at the chart and realized today was a reward day for this class.

The reward: CANDY.

Yeah, go me.

So, as I say, "Avoid sugary snacks!" "If you must eat something sweet, be sure to brush immediately after!" and the like, I am holding out a bucket full of blow pops, bubble gum, Nerds and sour gumballs.

The classroom teacher and I both laughed and shook our heads. The best I could do to save myself at that moment was to instruct the students to "take the candy home! Be sure to brush after you eat it!"

Yeah, maybe after I've seen the video six more times, the cheesiness will have worked its magic on me and I'll actually be able to APPLY the dental health practices mentioned therein.

Maybe. Let's not hold our sugary breath on that one.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Accomplished

Down the hall into his room - Before.
After.

The mess.


The serenity.

The closet.

The organization.

The fire hazard desk.


The work station.


The floor?

Oh! Carpet!!

Clean.

The Project

It's been months. I quit asking and nagging and requiring because there was schoolwork and gifted work and the SAT and these were all things that seemed bigger, more important, more significant.

But it has been driving me nuts.

Now that the SAT is over, now that all catch up work is done for gifted, now that it has driven me nearly to the edge of insanity I cried uncle. And I gave him one week to remedy the situation. Last Monday I gave him one week to get his room clean.

Or I was going to clean it myself.


When I was in middle school, my room was a disaster. I can remember my dad finally sitting down with me for what seemed like an entire Saturday and cleaning every.single.part.of.my.room. Every desk drawer, every nook in my closet, every single space imaginable. And he was not a keeper. He was a tosser. One who believed the ability to de-clutter was a godly attribute.

So I've been there. But now I'm the parent and I can't take it any longer. Perhaps it's because we live in this tiny little stupid apartment and it's not so easy to just shut the door and ignore the mess. Maybe it's because I remember how frustrated my dad used to get and it makes me now feel like that's my responsibility as a parent.

But I think it's mostly because I refuse to raise a lazy child. I gave slack on chores while he tried to sort out his time managment skills for homework. He's had months. And now I'm done giving so much slack.

So, today, my day off, I allowed myself to go back to bed after putting him on the bus. I've just finished breakfast and I am now going to put on some music and grab the trash bags and conquer his room.

I already have friends lined up who are interested in some of Flash's Star Wars toys that he has outgrown. I am prepared to donate the books he no longer reads to the library. I will not toss that which is precious to the boy. But I will not allow this disaster to continue.

Wish me luck.

(And come find me if you don't hear back by dinner.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Morning Ritual

I can remember it clearly. The box in the wash stand. How he sorted everything out on the kitchen table. The empty lid from the box of checks holding various bills and necessary items for the cause.

Every Saturday morning, my dad paid the bills. It was quite a process. There was balancing against the bank statement. There was usually some yelling as to why this or that check had not been written down by my mother and then some amount of agony as he waited for my mother to even remember what the check was used for or what the amount of it might have been.

And then he went through the bills one by one and paid each one, writing on the bill the check number and amount before putting it aside to be filed in its proper place.

All things had a proper place and all things having to do with bills or money were handled with care and precision. Paying bills was a meticulous, lengthy process.

I can remember going to the bank with him sometimes when he had to transfer money or get cash for the week. I remember going with my mom from location to location while she paid bills to the electric company, the phone company and the like IN PERSON to save the stamp.

I'll admit, I didn't keep the Saturday morning tradition, sometimes the task falls on a Tuesday night or before school on Thursday, but I have had a printed budget for years that shows the amounts I've paid for various bills every month. I've always balanced my checkbook and have had a filing cabinet full of old paperwork proving I paid my electric bill for every month that I've had one.

With my new laptop at the holidays, I promised I would enroll in online bill pay and banking and I kept my promise. I revised my budget, leaving off enough space for the amounts and leaving room for just a check mark to indicate it has been paid.

But this morning was when I truly noticed the difference. I balanced my checkbook. I paid bills. I transferred money. I checked things off my budget sheet and calculated ahead to make sure I was on target for the month.

And that all took about a half hour.


So now it's 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon and while I have, perhaps, accomplished all that my father might have years ago on his Saturday morning, I have done it in a fraction of the time and without a tremendous amount of the hassle.

I don't like technology so much when all it does is free up our time to do other housework and errands!


As a side note, I will say this: for anyone out there struggling with balancing the checkbook or getting all the bills together, it's really quite a simple process. Just be single. There's no wondering what these five debits are that were never recorded. There's never a wonder how 5 movies were purchased on demand this month that you knew nothing about. There's no question of who spent $75 at the grocery store on Sunday and another $15 on Monday. Personal ownership eliminates all of those hassles!! No one to blame. No one else to figure it out. Of course, the flip side is when you FINALLY get money in your savings with the full intention of LEAVING IT THERE after 18 months of being paycheck to paycheck, you have no one to rejoice with you. (But it still feels good!)

The Tremors

Flash had an overnight Lock-In at church last night. Otherwise banished from All Things Great and Wonderful, I allowed him to go because it's an outreach effort by the church and he had at least three friends from school that were going by his invitation.

When I dropped him off at 8 last night we could barely get in the doors. Kids with duffels, sleeping bags (that they would never use), sleds and more were standing at the registration desks ready to sign in. I had barely handed over his permission slip when I heard a brief "See ya!" and Flash was gone.

I returned home to a glorious evening spent with the pets, a movie and the solitude of the house. Ahhhh....peace.

This morning I returned to church to pick him up. I arrived about 10 minutes early and was prepared to wait in the car thinking the kids would be embarrassed to be the first one picked up and surely would be savoring every last minute of the rock wall, the obstacle course, the game room, the snacks, the Wii's, the...yeah, you get it.

But as I pulled into the parking lot I saw many vehicles already there and leaving. There were students coming out of the church with their parents so I figured it was safe to go in and retrieve my child.

But I couldn't get in the doors. The kids were so packed into the entry way, waiting for any sign of their parents that you couldn't actually get IN the doors to get the child you came for. I began to wonder if it was a first-come, first-served and you just went home with whichever child was next in line.

I must have said excuse me a thousand times as I tried to make my way through the pre-teen crowd until I finally saw Flash coming down the hallway to the doors of the church. We thanked his youth pastor and made our way through the crowd once more to get back to the parking lot and the car.

I had to laugh at the sight and mentioned to Flash how funny it was to see them all clamoring for the doors, just wanting to go home. Flash was pretty certain, after pulling his first official all-nighter and lasting 27 hours, that they all just wanted a bed.

I'm not so sure myself.

As we walked out of the doors, I saw the sign at the registration tables that had posted the night before. "No Cell Phones". All the parents had left with their child's cell phone in their pocket. I think these kids were just in text-withdrawal and were not anxiously awaiting the arrival of their parents, but were starting to twitch and shake after not having been near their phone for the past 12 hours.

In either case, Flash was reunited with his phone AND his bed around 8:30. All seems well with the world for now.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Not Sure What to Hope For

We went back and checked the blog. Our "Keeper of All Things Important" it would seem. It was exactly 30 days that we waited last year for the SAT results. It has been 26 so far.

I'll be honest, I don't know what I'm hoping for. Of course I hope Flash did well. But am I hoping he scored high enough to now qualify for gifted math on top of the English? I'm not sure.

We're in week 23 of gifted English and ooooh, I'd say about 35 of those 23 weeks have been miserable. Does he want out? No. Does his teacher think he can do it? Without question. But we're still struggling to develop the maturity to work on projects with little guidance; to work hard on essays we have no interest in writing at all, and to revisit, edit and in some cases completely start over when our attempts are unsuccessful. It's been a challenge.

But there is little alternative if I'm honest. The English program is high school level courses. Which means if he fails or drops out (or opts out next year) as an 8th grader, he has no course options for THREE more years. So he'll get a study hall. Same with the math. Flash is in 8th grade math as a 7th grader this year. If he doesn't get the scores necessary to qualify, or if I decided enough is enough and don't put him in the classes, he will have another study hall instead of math next year. The one thing my child does NOT need is more time on his own and LESS time being challenged.

But this challenge? Has really taken its toll on us as a family. Our evenings and weekends are consumed with assignments, arguments, learning how to outline, manage time, edit.... Ugh.

As we near the scores' arrival I am nervous. I am unsure of the path we need to be taking. I am unsure of when to push and when to say he's just not mature enough to handle the load yet. He is, afterall, not even 13 yet.

It's times like these when I'll gladly take the sleepless nights of a baby over the mental anguish of a preteen. Anyone want to trade?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Urban Edition

I am redoing the bulletin boards in my classroom. Many have been leftover from last year; I didn't sense the need to get too creative in the technology classroom, but by mid-year, I've decided I need my own look.

I decided to highlight each of the software programs we utilize in the lab. A board for KidPix and the creations we have made this year. One for Kidspiration and the templates we've utililzed. And most recently, I've started teaching the Kinders, Firsts and Seconds about Microsoft Word.

In an effort to produce a non-pixilated version of the Microsoft Word icon (what I get when I try to save the icon and then enlarge it) I googled the image.

Be careful what you google.



While I don't think this "version" is appropriate for the small school district where I teach, I wondered if maybe Flash's urban school might use this version.

He laughed as hard as I did when I showed it to him.

Word up, Yo.

(The image is titled, "Microsoft Word Gangsta Edition". Google it. It's just too funny for Word. Pun intended.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Dance

I used to go regularly when I lived in PA. I discovered it shortly after my divorce and I would go nearly as often as Flash went to his dad's. What I loved most was the variety of people that were there. Young singles, older couples. It didn't matter your walk in life. It didn't matter if you came alone or attached. You were not just welcome, you were a part of it all.

I rarely had a date. Not every guy appreciates the environment, but a couple indulged me. But even single, I was never in want of a partner. Someone will always ask you to dance. That's part of the country community, I suppose. It doesn't matter much who you are, we all just know how much fun it is to dance.

I haven't been now in years. I started looking several months ago but couldn't find a place that really understood. It's a combination of things that make the environment great. Sure, great music is a part of that, but the real focus is on the dance floor. It needs to be huge. Country dancers like options. We want to line dance, but we also love to couples dance. Which means we need space for both.

I went last night to a new place I had heard of. From the parking lot I could hear the music and even as early as 8:15, the lot was full of cars. The minute I walked in the door, it was like coming home. The dance floor was huge. And I saw people not only line dancing, but doing my favorite couples' dances around the outside. It might sound silly, but my heart skipped a beat.

The first year I went to the country bar I never danced. I didn't know the dances and I felt intimidated to go out on the floor and learn them. But eventually I let a boy persuade me and he took my hand and he led me around the dance floor. My boots were on his feet more than the hardwood floor, but I never laughed so hard or smiled so much. In one dance, I was hooked. He taught me a lot of the dances I know. He would come find me throughout the night and I would say, "Do I know this one?" and he'd assure me I did only to get me out on the floor so he could teach me another new dance.

But even when he wasn't there, or on the nights when I just wanted to watch, what I loved most was seeing couples dance in such a way that you knew they had been dancing together for years. After watching them night after night, I realized how wonderful it must be to dance together regularly. It's not just touch, it's fun. It's not just a night out, it's a night spent in intimate contact. Women smiled, men led confidently. You just can't be that close and NOT feel the love.

Last night I got to be a part of it again. It's been too long and I was thrilled to be back. The dance steps came back to me faster than I might have imagined. Some dances that I knew back home, I found to be slightly different here. I was found by a man that was often looking for a partner and he led me around the dance floor several times for the ones I knew.

But it was when he asked me to slow dance that I remembered just exactly how much I love dancing. The gentle hand on my back guiding me. The other holding my hand. Guiding, moving, gently leading me around the dance floor. Not just in circles, but in a beautiful, sweet, rhythym. I loved it, without having any interest in the man himself, and likewise for him.

Dancing does my soul a world of good. I know it's not for everyone, but I wonder how marriages might change if couples danced together regularly. I hope to find someone to lead me around the dance floor and through life holding my hand and guiding me with a gentle touch to my back.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

When It's Been Too Long Since I've Seen the Sun

I spent the morning paying bills, filing taxes and otherwise trying to savor the moments of sunshine through the windows and melting snow in the yard.

By this afternoon the twitch started and before long I had recruited the boy and the eager dog to join me for a walk. I'm all about deftly handling two birds with one stone so I suggested the short walk to the store for some much-needed groceries.

Flash and Eli waited on the melting snow mounds at Lowe's while I walked over to our favorite market in the strip mall next door. We had come prepared, knowing we needed heavy things. Milk and cat food alone would notch up the cardio benefits on the way home but I had assured Flash I wouldn't try to get everything on the list. I'd be reasonable, I assured him, knowing we had to carry it all home. But once inside the market I found it hard not to complete the task at hand. Sure juice is heavy, but did I really want to make another trip out tomorrow? Of course I could get the produce another time, but I'm right here and Flash will help carry home. Cereal is bulky but I can't pass up a 2 for $7 deal!

I left the store and headed for the snow mound with two fuzzy heads protruding. Flash saw me coming with a bag on my shoulder (a big one), and a heavy bag on each arm and knew we were in trouble. I knew we were in further trouble when I realized Flash was now holding a bag of doggie-doo in his hand. I knew I didn't want him carrying groceries now!! So I took two bags of groceries and the dog and he took one bag of groceries and the other of, well, .... and kept them very far apart from each other during the walk.

The entire walk home we cracked jokes about my over-eagerness. "Flash, if I get hit by this bus coming at us..."

"Mom, I'll get hit, too"

"No, Flash, between the dog, myself and the 400 pounds of groceries I'm carrying, we'll slow the bus down enough you can get out of the way. Just make sure you go home and finish your gifted homework. It's my dying wish afterall."

A block later....

"Flash? When you're older be sure you tell your children about the Great Milk Incident of 2009."

"What Great Milk Incident, Mom?"

"The one that's about to happen when that Jeep gets up the hill."


Closer to home...

"Flash? What is it about sunshine that makes me do these stupid things?"

"Do you think it's just the sunshine that's to blame, Mom?"


Of course we made it home just fine. And only one box of Rice Krispies took any damage at all. And we laughed and joked and enjoyed 52 degrees of sunshine in early February in Michigan.

It is a great day afterall.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Even Though He Didn't Cook

He's across from me at the coffee table.  Crab cakes, wild rice and spinach salad between us.  

He's laughing.  He's telling me his high of the day.  He's telling me about his dear friend and the funny thing he said today.  He's smiling and asking me what we're going to do in my classroom on Friday when he is off of school but I'm not.  He's funny.  He's witty.  He's clever.


My boy returned tonight.


I'm not sure where he's been, but it's been a long time since we had moments like these.


I'm going to treasure tonight.  It's been a hard road these last many days.  So hard between us that I'm crying just sitting here, enjoying his smile.  

And to think, he's only a PRE-teen.