Math problem:

3  boys are going back to school. They are 13, 10 and 8 years old. 

2 go to 1 school and 1 goes to another school. 

Each boy holds their own personality, disposition, temperament and gifts. 

They have a mom and a dad, and other family nearby. They have been mostly with their family this summer, and occasionally friends. 

If you add 1 teacher and 24 students to each of the younger two boys, and 7 teachers, 4 coaches, and 150 students to the oldest boy, can you predict what kind of school year each boy will have?

Show your work.

This is what story problems looked like to me when I was in my school years. Once you got to a certain grade, math went from practice pages full of equations and times tests to one page with four “story problems” and a bonus question.

Math has never been even close to easy for me. I would gladly spend hours with books, art supplies, pencils, papers thesauruses and workbooks (yes really). Math left me with an upset stomach, anxiety to spare and the lingering feeling that has followed me into adulthood that I wasn’t smart.

If something comes easy to you, it’s because it is literally natural, you are built to do that thing, whatever it is. We can see that most clearly demonstrated in sports, there are people for whom sprinting or passing or dribbling just makes sense. It is an extension of their very being. You know it when you see it. 

There  are others, too,  who may have the passion for a sport but little to no natural talent. They may work and dream for countless hours hoping to perform at a high skill level, but the accumulative waterfall of time and attention without results can quickly douse any flame.

Brain research has surged in recent years, be we aren’t quite yet able to take a look into someones brain to see where it lights up, how fluidly the neurons travel, what synapses are strongest and diagnose, treat, prescribe quick answers.

Add the complexity of thoughts, feelings, behavior, nutrition, living situation,well, if you are looking to unlock any one individual’s potential, you have a very long night of homework ahead of you.

It is all of these things I think about in the beginning of the year. I pray for and deeply desire my boys to have years that build them and do not ruin them. So every fall, I always want the first day of school to be the way I think it needs to be to help them start off on the right foot.

But that would mean that I had spent the past week prepping; cleaning up the halls and stairway and homework desk area; packed up backpacks and organized lunch ideas; purchased the perfect back to school cards for my boys; sarcastic for Haden, cute but slightly inappropriate for Liam and silly/cute/deep for Finn. 

I would have reread all the articles and blog posts and info-graphs I pinned about Meyers-Briggs and kids and birth order and love languages and not to mention first day of school signs to hold up for Instagram perfect pictures. 

I would have made a detailed list and shopped for ingredients for their after-school snacks and a first day of school healthy dinner that everyone would devour while they traded first day of school stories.

There would be nerves, and I would have already done the self-care preparation I needed to do so that I could be truly present for my boys, and I would say exactly what they needed to hear in the best tone of voice for each of them. 

I would glide into school with them, calmly settle them with their respective teachers, deliver a punny teacher gift, and have a sweet hug goodbye and then end up at Starbucks with a crowd of other like-minded moms from the school for a short treat for myself before heading back home to finish up the last few household chores I had left before prepping for their triumphant return.

So when I say that isn’t exactly how it always goes, or how it ended up this year, you are not surprised. 

Even I’m not surprised at the result, only surprised that I expect things and myself to be somehow so idealized. 

I want to be that me I dreamed up I would be, but reality is, that no matter how much I want it, the proof is in my already completed work.

There is this “new math”, as we like to call it in my state, which I can describe to you quite simply:  It attempts to build a solid foundation in the how math works, so that any higher math will make sense.

Also most parents can’t help with their kids math homework; not because of a fault of the schools, just a pendulum swing in teaching theory that means how I learned math growing up is on the entire opposite end of what my children are learning. I can’t think of what angle I would be using to illustrate this.

Lucky for me, my husband is infinitely better at the matics of math than me, teaches high school math, and through generous genetic gifting my boys grasp math without much extra effort. In fact, they claim math as one of their favorite subjects (that is, if forced to give an answer beyond A. Lunch, B. Recess, C. PE.)

So this year, as in years past, my three will almost assuredly fly through the equations that are written for them to decipher, and given they need help, I can call in Mr. Math to assist. Because I really am interested in what my kids are learning, undoubtedly I’ll continue to learn more about numbers the way that might have made math easier for me to keep, instead of throw away.

But what about them, the three boys, 13, 10 and 8 years of age? 

All unique arrangements of DNA, learning with other children who carry their own array of genetics, together with teachers and other adults, most of who really care about teaching kids, for nine months?

It’s always the question on the back of the math problems worksheet that stumps me, the bonus question. I can look at it and think on it, but there never appears to be a definitive answer. 

It stumps me because mostly, it scares me. 

To take my three pieces of my heart and let go of their hands (or wave to the back of the oldest), takes a large whithdrawl on my lifetime courage savings account. 

But I do it. Knowing that teachers are human, other children come from better or harder home environs, and school climate, while not perhaps the perfect incubator for growing minds, can become a community where kids learn how to function in a society of differences.

And really, this problem has some holes, it’s a bit of a trick question. It’s way beyond numbers and isn’t something that can be worked down to a single answer. It’s my worst math nightmare. The one that you scribble an answer that you hope is close to what it really is, and wait anxiously for your grade.

What I didn’t know when I was working endlessly frustrating math worksheets was that there would be somethings in adult life (which looked so appealing) that would challenge me, defeat me, surprise me, grow me (but all grown-ups have it together, right?) and flat out wreck me.

Life in the past month has provided more than enough material for me. It has subtracted where I though I was going to have addition. It has multiplied issues that I had expected to be divided and conquered. And then taken some situations down to a fraction of what I had estimated. 

I didn’t like math. Not even a little. I find it difficult, frustrating and a drag on my soul and time now. 

But part of what parenting has driven me to see is that, I can’t avoid the hard things. 

If I truly want to show my boys love, and even more, how to live love, then I have to let them see me dislike things, make mistakes, (even confess some of the huge ones), and still do them as best I can, and when I fail, to do what must be done (and it’s usually really uncomfortable) to walk through the mess to find another way, a better way.

So, enough procrastinating, I have to finish this homework and get back to my home-work (bleh). The only real way I know how to answer what I can do to ensure a healthy year for my boys is this:

1. Keep re-reading the question for understanding. 

2.Call on help and ask for answers when zero things make sense. 

3.Don’t get stuck trying to graph invisible, what-if problems on a chart. 

4. When tangents and undefined slopes appear,  do not ever think you don’t have what it takes to conquer them.

All of this plus a necessary sense of humor, and the sum is found simply in the circumference of your heart.

Coffee Makes Me A Better Parent

I find myself finally feeling a little bit mainstream.  More hip, progressive even.  Like maybe, if I share my parenting (or lack of parenting) tips with a group of moms, maybe now one or two others will nod their heads in solidarity.

What I’ve always believed about parenting is not radical.  And it’s not even super smart.  I haven’t written any published pieces or books about how-to.  I’ve read enough though. Enough to tell me that you can listen and learn from other parents stories and beliefs.  And then you do what works.  For you.  For your kids.  For your family.

When our first boy was born, my husband and I knew nothing.  We were college educated, caring people who both had worked with kids for a living.  But when you hold a seemingly fragile and tiny (well, he was 9’6 birth weight so,) being in your arms, you kind of lose your mind. The extreme sleep deprivation and chaos a newborn throws your world into is not for the timid.  Still, we pressed onward.

There have been two other boys added to our increasingly crazy group since that time almost twelve years ago.  We’ve read (well I read, Mark listens) all the books, articles, toy recall notices; and listened to friends’ and strangers’ advice.  I am thorough, if nothing. What we learn are all tools we use to add to the structure we are building called family. Little steps in a how-to manual that we are writing as we go, some a breeze, some earthquake intensity, about raising individual human beings.  And ourselves.

Drinking my cup of (so-so) coffee, I stumbled upon this article while flipping through sites in my Saturday morning brain fog, looking for something to catch my attention.  (Did you know there is another social media site called “stumbleupon”? I think I signed up on it, but left in confusion. Which I don’t need to stumble upon.) The article?  Let Your Kids Ride the Bus Alone .

Okay, so you’ve got my attention Lenore. The further I read, the more excited I became.  I knew about this from another article. It then dawned on me (that’s the coffee working) that I had discovered a similar article this spring. And then, there it was. I happily clicked and went on to scan the original. And then after I finished reading her follow-up article, I found a special bonus link to a blog with a quirky cool name!

I remember the first time I read the initial article printed in the New York Sun.  It stirred something in my parenting heart, something scary and exciting, not like fear.  More like, bravery.  You see the thing is, if you are right now a parent, and you’ve had a child within lets say the last decade and a half or so, most of you are probably scared out of your mind. Each and every day.

We have articles, blog posts, adverts, magazines, the friend in your (whatever) group; all informing us to BE AWARE!!  There is DANGER around every corner. Your children are AT RISK every time they leave your home. And don’t forget the TEN THINGS LURKING IN YOUR HOME THAT….”

Is some of this necessary? Of course.  We crave direction and guidance, appreciate a heads-up.  And in a society where we often live separated by miles, if not time zones, from our families (the traditional source of parenting dot com) we turn to friends, the internet, and printed word to find out how ‘everybody else is doing it’.  And how effortlessly, stylishly, patiently, don’t forget happily, they are doing this parenting thing.

My generation (X~holla!) comes by all of this guarded uncertainty honestly.  We may not really know how to do life, but we are smart enough to look for help.  While we hope the future will be better than we can imagine, we’ve seen too much and are prepared for the worst.

We grew up with our own reality stories. They were just packaged differently.  I remember all the stories of kids being abducted, and I watched every After School Special! (You know you did too).  The 1980’s and ’90’s hatched the generation of the latch key kid.  Kids with two parent or single parent homes who had to work, or had the choice to work.  Kids who were coming home from school with keys in hand, or breaking in through windows when they forgot. Maybe that was just me and my two sisters.

We had plenty of live kooky TV to watch, even if it was re-runs, and endless “NEW!” easy to open and consume snack foods. If you were extra lucky you had Atari, or Nintendo, or friends in your neighborhood to whittle the hours away, until mom or dad came home. We are the ones you hear talking longingly about how we played outside for hours and our parents didn’t know where we where!  We rode without seatbelts! (to be fair, it wasn’t a law).  We could actually feel the wind blow through our helmet-free hair riding our bikes!

Most of us have been described as “helicopter parents”, usually in derision.  But think about this: our childhoods molded us to be independent, strong, responsible.  And to be very wary.  Couple that with today’s massively accelerating technology changing the very ways we live and interact, well, maybe you can understand why we are so protective of our children.

We want to let our children do as we did, to experience the great parts of our childhoods, but we have to make every day choices that seem impossible.  Send my son to the park on his own to meet a friend?  Or send him with his brother so there are two of them?  Let my son ride his bike on the super busy street up to the quik stop on his own?  Or trail him? Not check on my three boys when they have been outside forever and the sun has gone down?  Or just wait, a little bit longer?

I cannot emphasize how hard it can be to do what I want to let my boys do, to be free, to be little boys, but in the smartest, safest way I can think of. While I respect the vast majority of parenting styles, all the constant patrolling of our kids schedules, schooling, choices and even ‘free’ play time is unappealing, at best.  So, where does this leave me?

A few weeks after the start of school, the front door opened sooner than I anticipated, my third and sixth grader were home.  “Wow, your bus was early today!” I said, really thinking, I’m not ready for you guys to be here yet!!

“Oh, we walked home!”  my two triumphant boys explained, sweaty, hot and eyes shining.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down here, why? And the other thing is, you didn’t ask permission.” I thought this was a very calm authoritative response.  I learned that.

“Mom, I tried to call you like three times on his cell phone, but you wouldn’t pick up! Our bus was super late, and our (neighborhood) friend asked us if we wanted to walk home, so I got Liam and we did it!” Haden declared.

“Oh.  That’s what those hang ups on the phone were.  You’re right, you did what we ask you to do when you’ll be beyond our yard.”  I was stumped.

As I let the story sink in, what really hit me was the boys faces, their newfound confidence, their swagger if you will.  That is not something we can teach through coloring inside the lines of a map designed to control and contain.  And it was then that I kindly set aside everything I had learned about parenting.

Something’s got to give.

I believe in freedom, in learning by doing.  In creativity and curiosity.  And that in knowing who we are, and who’s we are gives us access to all of that and more.

I believe we are each created with our own remarkable DNA designed gifts for us alone, that we are made to share.  My boys need to know this.

I believe that love combined with grace; in words, actions, consequences, and living produces the best soil for those gifts to grow.

I believe that I do not know best all the time, even most of the time, and that I am still learning how to do this growing thing.  Why would I treat my children as if they are less, for not knowing how to do this?

I believe that sharing my mistakes and victories, and being vulnerable, instead of masquerading an amazing invincibility, gives others courage.

So, thank you Lenore, for sharing, and for reminding me that I am brave too.

My cup of coffee is cold now, and all this thinking has depleted my caffeine reserves. Think I’ll head to the kitchen for a refill.  And then maybe I’ll look for my boys.  It’s Saturday, and I have no idea where they are.

And then again, maybe I won’t.

World’s Worst Mom: Lenore Skenazy   and….

While we’re on the subject, “The OverProtected Kid”

Fantasy Football?!

It all started out so innocently.  We made our accounts at NFL.com.  Me, my husband and our 11 year old, Haden.  We did this way back in June or some month like that.

Fast forward (because sometimes I wish I could do that in real life) to two weeks ago.  The ‘real’ NFL season was about to start (featuring the Best Team Ever and some team from Wisconsin) in beautiful Seattle, WA.  My son and his best friend, who lives two doors down, had been planning their fantasy football league for months.  They had people to be in the league, they needed eight.  Or so Haden thought.

The days leading up to the ‘official start of the football season’ were a bit nerve-wracking for my guy.  He said he kept telling his friend to make sure he and his dad were all signed into the league.  Then he said that one of the kids on the block said that he couldn’t be in because his parents didn’t want him to, for whatever reason.  It was only and hour before the big game when Haden checked again and realized his friend’s family weren’t signed into our league.

I could barely stand to see the disappointment in his eyes.  Worse, I came down to the kitchen later to find his Fantasy Football draft paper ripped into pieces and lying on the floor.  And this is the moment I became the biggest proponent of fantasy football in the history of well, fantasy football.

I convinced him that I could easily find five more people to make the league happen. I was able to get my mom (I signed her up without her knowing), my dad, my brother-in-law, and my sweet sister who said she would do it too if we needed her.  We did.  We just needed one more.

Haden was ready to give up.  I was not.  There are times in parenting when you know it’s ok for your kids to experience disappointment, and even sometimes, pain.  This was not one of those moments.  A.  He’s 11 and a boy and he loves football with his whole being.  B. I was mad.  C.  I couldn’t imagine waiting an entire year to start this whole agonizing process again.  So, as I often do, I jumped in.

I wasn’t able to make the first or second week of the Fantasy Football season.  This last week, I knew there had to be someone who could be our last team.  How hard is this people?  So I sent out my plea on Facebook. And waited.

And then in the proverbial 11th hour, one of my friends said she would sign up and her husband could help her pick her team.  If I could have hugged her I would have.  Maria, you are so awesome!!!!!  And then I thought, I’m done.  I’ve saved the day, I’ve patched Haden’s little boy heart back together.  Now he and his dad could take over.

No.  That did not happen.  Because I knew everyone I had recruited (willingly or not), I had to make sure they all were signed up with their own accounts and team names and were entered into our league of eight.  Me. Possibly the least technology savvy person in our group. The one voted most likely to be easily frustrated very quickly when technology doesn’t do WHAT IT’S FREAKING SUPPOSED TO DO!!  The one putting on a garage sale that same week.  (These are time-consuming, messy, dirty, exhausting, mentally sapping events.  Don’t do it unless you need the money.)

But I am Haden’s mom.  I’m the one who cried when we learned about his food allergies at nine months, I knew the limitations he was going to face.  I’m the one who held him night after night and read him tons of board books when he couldn’t go to sleep, or sleep through the night. I’m the one who baked him allergy friendly corn bread for his third grade class “thanksgiving”, and I’m the one who talked him through the painful way most of the kids acted about the taste of it.  I’m the one who listens to his anxious thoughts and works to help him build the courage he needs to fight them.

It was up to me.  So I asked my husband on Sunday for the league ID.  He said, it’s somewhere on my computer.  Okay I thought.  So, we’ll just get everyone signed in by Wednesday, our draft day, so that we can officially start on the third week of the season.  It wasn’t until Wednesday that I begged Mark one more time to please look for the ID.  In about four minutes, he re-appeared with a printout containing the secret password.  Seriously, I could have done without the three days of stress while waiting for this.  But regardless, it was a relief.  I sent it off to our teams and now our draft could commence.

Wednesday afternoon, my parents came over to draft their teams with Haden.  While I tried to get some garage sale work done, I sat Haden down at this very laptop and said, here you go! Have fun!  Except that he didn’t know what to do. I also did not know what to do.  So I got to spend some special time googling how to do an offline draft.  NFL.com:  your draft is so un-user friendly.  So un-navigable.  So irritating.  So it took me a half hour to find out that I still didn’t know how.  Haden and my parents hand wrote their picks on a yellow lined pad of paper that my dad brought.  Then I texted Mike and Angela, and my super friend Maria, and asked them to please text back their picks by that evening.

That night, I handed all the picks to my husband and Haden and asked them to get it done.  Now.  And I didn’t care who they picked for my team.  By the way, that was the most fun part for me, picking my team name.  Football Girl.  I know.  So clever.  Maybe this would all be more interesting if I knew some of my players (thanks Mom for taking all of the Seahawks), or if I could design their uniforms and logo.

It was finished.  Haden had his league.  Some teams played Thursday.  I had my garage sale.  Today the Seahawks play Denver in a re-match of the “fake SuperBowl pre-season game”.  Haden, Mark, Mike, my dad and my mom are all flying over to be there.  I was ok with not going months ago.  I’m not now.

I will be watching this real game with far more interest than I’ve viewed this Fantasy Football thing.  But that’s the thing about love.  You do things you don’t like to see the light come back to someones eyes.  You do anything in your power to redeem seemingly hopeless situations. And you enter places you would never go on your own, just to walk through there with this one you love.

Haden’s advice for me about my fantasy team was this, “Mom, remember, it’s not about the team, it’s about the individual.”  I hope someday when he remembers this crazy taped together fantasy league of 2014 that he will see that truth of that for himself.

9/23/14~Postscript:  Ouch. I just revised several parts of this story.  It was brought to my attention that parts of it were not necessarily fact, but just my emotions reacting.  I never intend to use my words to hurt.  And yet, sometimes they do.  I’m thankful that I was called on this, and it gave me a chance to step back and re read this post with Jesus’ eyes.  It hurt to see my mistakes; if there is anything I hate, it’s being on the wrong side of the gospel and the truth.  Not to mention the fact that I didn’t catch this myself.  It’s always my own insecurites and pain that prompt the blame(someone else) and shame(myself) game.  And neither of those is what God wants us to play.  I love words and stories so much, and I really hate when I’m imperfect, so this is a double yuck.  I’ve apologized to the ones I hurt unfairly, and asked God to repair and redeem the damage I’ve done. Now I am again brought to the foot of the cross, humbled by my weakness and His grace, and asking him to tape back together the torn pieces of my paper containing my words.