Yesterday, I had coffee with a friend who has a new baby–he and his husband adopted over the summer, and their son is 7 months old now.
We were talking about the differences that parenting makes in your life, and I mentioned that this was my last year as an elementary school parent–next year, the Potato will be in middle school, and the Bee will be a sophomore.
He asked me, “what does that mean to you?” and I’m not gonna lie, the first thought I had was “freedom.”
It’s not total freedom, of course–but being the parent of two kids in their older school years is very different from being the parent of a kindergartener and a toddler, which is the place I was in when I started this blog.
But it does mean no more worrying about how to cover after-school care every day. It means that he’ll play soccer after school, not in the evenings and on weekends. It means some small measure of freedom, that comes with your kids becoming more independent.
Today, though, was my last elementary school Halloween parade. And that’s kind of sad.
Though of course, when your son wants to dress up as Death for Halloween, it’s not exactly a warm & fuzzy moment…
The Bee, so far, is somewhat anomalous among her friends in that she’s never had a boyfriend. She’s 14 now, and a high school freshman, so I’m pretty sure it’s only a matter of time.
A few weeks ago, she asked me to buy her a dress for homecoming. It’s not till November, so I thought it was a little weird at the time, but she told me she wanted a specific dress online, and wanted to have time to exchange it if it didn’t fit right. So we bought the dress.
A few days later, I noticed one of her friends talking online about how all the girls she knew were getting asked to homecoming, and how all the boys were coming up with creative ways of asking (this, apparently, is a function of Tumblr, according to one of the Bee’s friends, who is a senior). And a lightbulb went off in my head.
So I asked the Bee, “are you going to homecoming with someone?” She said, “not yet. But a boy is going to ask me. I don’t know who it is–but all my friends do, and they won’t tell me.”
I joked to landisdad that we should write an open letter to the boy to let him know that the Bee hates surprises, and doubly hates when other people know things about her life that she doesn’t know. And then we waited for her to tell us more about the boy.
After about a week of not hearing anything else about it, I broke down and asked her, “hey, did you ever find out who the boy was who was going to ask you to homecoming?” She said, “yeah, but he ended up asking the Rabbit (one of her best friends) instead. The Crow (a frenemy) found out he was going to ask me, and she told him to ask the Rabbit instead, because she didn’t have a date. So now I don’t have a date.”
The Bee didn’t seem too overwhelmingly upset by it–she said that the boy was a nice kid, and she would have gone with him, but just as friends.
I told her, “the thing that sucks about dating in high school is that there is a finite pool of acceptable boys, and you tend to be competing for them with your friends. It won’t always be like that.”
Of course, from a single mom perspective–there don’t seem to be too many adult men who are interested in winning Tumblr by being creative daters, so there are trade-offs everywhere, I guess.
The Bee is three days into high school, and I’m already exhausted. Why does the start of the school year have to come right after I’ve spent August relaxing?
Two quick things this morning, but they’re linked, somehow, in my head.
The Bee is continuing to play field hockey, at least for this year. I don’t think she actually loves the game, but a couple of her friends asked her to do it, so they could have a freshman team (in addition to varsity & JV ones). The high school field hockey parents? are insane.
Both of our kids have played team sports. I’ve never experienced a team sport where the parents rotate who is going to make dinner for the kids on game nights. There are 42 girls playing field hockey. I am not running a restaurant kitchen!
Two days ago, one person sent out an email to the parents’ listserv asking for the college addresses of field hockey alumni, so the girls could write to her. (Landisdad, to me, privately–“what, they never heard of facebook? make a group!”)
In related news, I just read this article, from the Atlantic, about parents’ use of online grade systems in public schools.
We’ve had access to the Bee’s grades online since she went into middle school, and I confess, I can probably count on my fingers & toes the number of times I’ve logged into that thing. The Bee, however, is on it all the time.
Two nights ago at dinner, she and the Potato were complaining about various teachers, and he asked her why she didn’t like a particular science teacher that she had been complaining about. “Ms. W. doesn’t even know how to use Genesis! Last year, I was absent one day on a day she was absent too. She left a busy-work assignment with the sub, and she told me, when I came back to school, that I didn’t have to do it. And then she marked it as incomplete in Genesis! I told her 3 times to correct it, but she still didn’t, until I stood over her and made her do it!”
I can’t tell if envisioning the Bee nagging her teacher to change a grade made me more horrified, or more proud.
What I do know is that eventually, the Bee is going to go to college (and god help any professor who makes a mistake on her grades!)–and I’m not going to go with her. I certainly don’t question her competency at standing up for herself.
I’m not sure what’s behind the impulse to continue helicopter parenting into high school. I certainly don’t have it. Maybe it’s that sense that you’re about to lose them forever, and you just want to hang on while you can?
I was driving to work this morning, when my phone rang. It was the school nurse at the middle school, calling to tell me that the Bee was having a nose bleed, and was freaking out all out of proportion to the situation. The nurse said, “she’s screaming and crying, I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s clearly something else going on, but she won’t tell me what it is.”
When a middle school nurse says she’s never seen anything like it, I pay attention.
I explained that the Bee lives with her dad during the week, and that I hadn’t seen her that morning–but that one of us would come get her. I frantically called landisdad while I changed directions to head for what I still sometimes think of as home, but he was getting ready for work himself and didn’t hear the phone.
When I got to school, the Bee was sitting on a chair sobbing with a mass of tissues in her lap, and the nurse said, “I found out what’s wrong–she’ll tell you…”
We walked to the car, and she burst into hysterical sobbing again–and told me, through her tears, that the cast list for the school musical had been posted that morning. And that not only hadn’t she gotten the part she wanted–but she hadn’t gotten any part at all, just a role as a featured dancer.
In addition to that, the teacher who is directing the musical told the kids yesterday, “Now you can’t get upset when I post the cast list. It’s not professional.”
This morning, when the Bee went to look at the cast list with her friends, she cried. And the crying made her have a nosebleed (which happens to her from time to time), and it made her cry harder, because she was afraid that she was looking unprofessional.
When the Bee told me that, my heart broke a little, because I knew that a lot of what was going on with her at that moment was the fact that she was filled with shame about the fact that she was upset, and was therefore letting a teacher down by doing something she had been expressly told not to do.
I took a deep breath, and I said to her, “Bee, I never ever thought I would say this about a teacher, but fuck her. It is not okay for anyone to tell you that you are not allowed to have the feelings that you have. It is okay for you to be upset, and disappointed.”
We drove home, and she sobbed some more. I told her she didn’t have to go back to school today, if she didn’t want to, and she said, “please don’t make me go back.”
We had a long talk about why the “being professional” metaphor sucks when you are talking about middle or high school theater–the first part of which being, of course, that you are not getting paid, and therefore not a professional. How professional actors get to audition for something more than once a year, and therefore can afford to feel disappointment less keenly. How professional actors get to find out they didn’t get a part in the privacy of their own living rooms, not in front of the friends who got the parts they wanted.
And that professional actors get angry, and sad, and they cry when they don’t get roles. But they don’t have to spend the rest of the year working with the director who didn’t cast them, because that person is their teacher.
We walked to the coffee shop in town, and I bought her a chocolate chip muffin, and talked about how this meant that she wouldn’t have to quit field hockey. And she cried. We got home, and I sat down to do some work and she sat on the floor and leaned against my leg, as I stroked her hair.
We’ll see what happens, how her thinking evolves–I am guessing she will stay in the play, because she does love being on stage. But with a director like that, I wouldn’t blame her for quitting.
The Potato has been having some difficulty with his best friend, the Turnip, of late. Last week, he came home and said that the Turnip’s mom told him that he shouldn’t play with the Potato anymore. Landisdad & I talked it over, and decided to leave it alone for a few days—to see if it just blew over. But when he came home for the fourth day in a row, and said they still weren’t playing together, I decided to text the Turnip’s mom, to see what was going on.
There’s a part of me that never wants to be that mother. I don’t want to be that kind of helicopter parent that swoops in whenever there is any tiny problem.
On the other hand, the Potato only has one really close friend. And that friend is the Turnip.
In addition, if the Potato had done something—although he swore up and down that he couldn’t think of anything—I kinda wanted to know about it. And as landisdad and I talked it over, we decided that we’d be justifiably upset with the Turnip’s mom if something HAD happened, and she hadn’t mentioned it to either of us.
So I called her, and left her a message. She called me back when I was at work and couldn’t take the call, and then texted me right after—we had a lengthy text exchange, the upshot of which was that the Turnip had been complaining to her about the fact that the Potato wants to play with him to the exclusion of everyone else in their class—and he occasionally wants to play with other kids. So she had suggested to her son that he play with the Potato every other day.
This of course was misinterpreted by the 8 year-old set. I’m not surprised by the misinterpretation, because it was only like a month ago that I got the Potato to understand that the phrase “every other day” means “alternating days” (it came up in a conversation with his orthodontist, who wanted us to start twisting his expander every other night, instead of every night).
In the end, it’s probably going to be okay. But as of the beginning of spring break, they hadn’t started playing with each other again, even on alternate days. If they end up with that ending their friendship, I’ll be sad for the Potato. It’s hard to lose friends. It’s especially hard if the hardship seems one-sided.
The Bee made dinner tonight.
On Friday, right after we walked into my apartment, she made a snide comment about my apartment not being clean, and I kinda snapped. Those who are my Facebook friends will know that I had no water for a couple of days at my apartment this week—the frustration of dealing with that, coupled with the fact that I had spent several days in the past week nagging the kids to clean up landisdad’s house while we were all there together—made me say to her, “when do I ever have time to clean my place? I’m at your dad’s house or I’m at work. I come home and I go to sleep, and I wake up and I go to work.”
She apologized, and told me that she wanted to make dinner one night this weekend, so I wouldn’t have to. She spent a bunch of time looking at recipes on epicurious, and decided on a menu, including a dessert. She attempted to dragoon her little brother into helping—but he wasn’t interested, and I wouldn’t let her press him into service.
We went out for a while today, and when we came back, I helped her bake her gingerbread cake. (She said, “I told you I was going to cook dinner by myself, but I didn’t say anything about dessert.”) Then she took a break for a little while, and watched Spongebob with the Potato. And then she cooked.
The Bee has really gotten in to cooking over the last year. Landisdad and I set up a ritual, when I first moved out, that we would always have Sunday dinner together (barring work commitments), and she almost always helps to make it. She’s taking a cooking class right now, and she complains a fair amount that the teacher isn’t teaching them enough useful things, in the way a middle schooler can be outraged. (“She taught us how to measure flour! Seriously!”)
So tonight, she made a 4-cheese pasta with broccoli. And it was good. She also made (with the Potato’s help) a kind-of juice spritzer—with hand-squeezed oranges and lemons, tonic & water. I took pictures of all of it to send to her dad—we do that sometimes on the weekend—just send each other pictures of the kids, and what they’re doing when they’re apart from whichever of us isn’t with them.
After we had eaten, she went in to make the frosting for the cake, which was a semi-complicated affair with heavy cream, powdered sugar & lemon curd. Have you ever made anything with lemon curd? It’s like mixing whipped cream with jelly. Weird, but good.
She was frosting the cake, and I carried some plates in to the dining room. And then I heard it. The thud, and the “Oohhhhhhhhhhh noooooooooooooo!”
I went back into the kitchen, and saw it. The cake, on a chair, part of it on the floor. Frosting everywhere. The Bee, sobbing.
I picked it up and put it back on the plate. I put my arms around her and said, “it’s okay.” She sobbed, and said, “now dad’s gonna see the picture and it’s all messed up!” I told her that we didn’t have to take a picture, if she didn’t want me to. I hugged her, and told her that I was proud of her, and that I loved her, and that it could be rescued.
And then it happened. She stood up, and dried her tears, and said, “ok.” And she finished frosting the cake. She carried it into the dining room, and told me to take a picture. She cut it up, and gave it to us, and we ate it. It was delicious.
It wasn’t just the cake that was sweet. It was the maturity.
I started this blog almost seven years ago, when the Bee was in kindergarten. Throughout most of her elementary school career, she did not handle frustration very well. She got angry at herself, she got angry at other people, she got trapped in rage and couldn’t get out of it.
Tonight, none of that happened. And it was a beautiful, beautiful thing.
After dinner was over, I cleaned up the kitchen & washed the dishes. I have never been happier, cleaning up grease & whipped cream, in my life.
The Bee is officially promoted to middle school. Hold me.
…landisdad and I walked into a hospital as a couple of adults, and walked out as parents. (All right, that was actually 10 years from two days from now, but that’s somewhat less poetic.)
Happy Birthday, darling Bee.
I never thought that you would be almost as tall as I am, by the time you were 10 years old.
I didn’t know that you would be the kind of kid who eats her dessert as slowly as possible, in order to wring every bite of enjoyment out of it.
I knew that you would be a reader (how could you not be? you’re my daughter!), but I never knew how awesome it would be to see you reading at your safety post, every morning.
I never knew you would be such a good singer.
I didn’t know that you would love soccer, even this year when you have to be on a team with boys.
I never knew that I would worry about you every single day of the rest of my life.
I didn’t know that I would be proud of you every single day for the rest of my life.
Thank you for being the best 10-year-old girl in the Western Hemisphere. Have a wonderful birthday, Bee, and may it be followed by a wonderful year.
The Bee achieved a lifetime ambition this week, by being appointed to the school safety patrol. This is her, looking proud, but also irritated that I am publicly demonstrating that we are related, by taking her picture while she’s trying to be cool. Note the bright yellow belt, sign of maturity and imminent promotion into the fifth grade. Not every incoming fifth grader gets to be a safety–but most of them do. I wonder how it feels for the four or five kids who don’t get to do it. Probably, it sucks a lot, though I’m sure the pain is eased by the first bitterly cold, rainy morning in the fall.
When the Bee entered kindergarten, the safeties looked so huge to my eyes. Now that I’ve got an almost-fifth-grader on my hands, it’s a little overwhelming. She’s only got one more year of elementary school, and then she’ll be off to the middle school, where she’ll again be one of the younger kids.
She has to be on her post by 8:05, and for the last couple of days, she’s stood in the kitchen, fully dressed, with her book bag and her lunch box over her shoulder, waiting for the clock to hit 8. I’m not sure what would happen if she left the house at 7:59, but she’s clearly not willing to risk being early.
I’ve had a sort of laid-back week, so the Potato and I have been walking to school. He’s been chattier than usual, since he’s not competing for airspace with his big sister. I’ve heard all about the caterpillars that they have in kindergarten now—which will build cocoons, morph into butterflies, and be released by the kindergarteners—including the one that he named, “Mr. Thousand.”
It’s nice to have the time with the Potato, time that reminds me of when I walked the Bee to school every day, when he was still in daycare. Reminds me how she would tell me things, and make up games, and generally just have private time with mom. I’ve struggled, with both my kids as they’ve grown older, to find one-on-one time to be with them. It’s nice that the Bee’s new independence gives me a little time alone with the Potato in the morning.
This year, the Bee’s class has a real gender imbalance. There are 14 boys and only 4 girls in her fourth grade class. She’s been coming home and complaining about the fact that ‘the boys’ are constantly getting the class in trouble–and knowing the energy of the 10-year-old boy, I don’t find it that hard to believe. For the most part, I think it’s been good for the Bee to be in this kind of environment, although there are some difficulties about it, from her perspective.
She’s gotten a lot jock-ier this year. She played soccer all fall, and she’s quite a good defensive player, very aggressive in her attempts to take the ball away from the other girls. She’s also gotten involved in a bunch of extra-curricular activities, including writing for the elementary school newspaper, and playing the drums in the band. I think it has definitely helped her to have the ‘norm’ in her class be the boy norm, not the girl norm. At least two of the other girls in her class are athletes as well–the Peony plays three sports a year, and the other girl is the daughter of the guy who coached softball last spring.
We’ve also not had a recurrence of the your-socks-don’t-match-your-outfit moment from last year. I’m happy to report that that girl moved away over the summer. The Bee has been wearing sweatpants and t-shirts every day, with the same pair of sneakers, and yes, the same stained sweater, every.single.day. She’s also refused to get a haircut for weeks, and just tonight I had to practically hold her down to cut her bangs, because I couldn’t stand to look at them for another minute.
I know that it’s just a matter of time before she gets all pre-pubescent, and starts preening herself for a half-hour every morning before school. I know that she and the other girls in her class will start to worry more about getting sweaty, than about how far they can kick the ball in the endless game of kickball that her class plays every single day at recess.
I’m pretty comfortable hanging on to my grubby, stained, awesome daughter for right now, though. If it takes a world of boys to keep her from acting like a girl, that’s okay with me.