Friday, August 27, 2010

I Laugh at People

To see more of that I'm
talking about: State Fair Fashion
Did you notice they cleaned up the midway at the Iowa State Fair? They widened the walkways. The rides looked fresh, and the operators appeared to be working a summer job, not career carnies with the toothless look of meth-addiction. It was, by far, the most family-friendly experience I've ever had, circling the midway and putting the girls on the swings. Even that foul-mouthed clown in the dunk tank was gone, along with his crowd of inebriated admirers. I didn't have to brush up against overweight women in skimpy tank tops to get through the tight spots, and my kids didn't ask me on the way home about facial piercings. I didn't even get any fresh ideas for my prison tattoo.

I was so disappointed.

I feel like the color has been sapped out of my life lately. There are things I love about our monochromatic, suburban life: the McDonald's clerk doesn't get lippy when I make a special order, the kids don't come home from school with trucker vocabulary, and there's a park with a pond down the block. It's very pleasant here in Utopia, but, really, what's the fun in that? Every now and then, you need to see the neighbor circling your backyard on his lawn tractor, pulling a dozen kids on a sled, knocking down your landscape, and drinking a beer while he drives. What fun is a good night's sleep when you could be listening right through the walls to the backyard karaoke of ten drunken people blasting their version of "Desperado" on loudspeakers from their patio?

Apparently calls to the police have tempered the neighbors' enthusiasm for parties and lawn equipment, so things have been extremely quiet on our block this summer. Then the fair goes and takes away the human zoo we call the midway. At least my church is in the city – there's always some good, colorful folks around there to spice things up.

During our snarky laughfests, making fun of all the human silliness around us, I do realize that no one leaves the house in the morning thinking, "I hope this outfit makes a fool of me today." Or, "I think I'll go engage in some bizarre and unhealthy behavior tonight, just to give the neighbors a laugh." Truly, when I see those giant, tattooed women pushing strollers full of kids around the fair, I feel sadness for the brokenness of our world. I honestly hope that none of the neighborhood kids ever falls under the wheels of the lawn tractor. But as long as people are going to continue engaging in these absurd behaviors, I invite them to have a good chuckle at my prudishness, and then, by all means, bring on the show.

Wisdom is like having two good eyes; foolishness leaves you in the dark. But wise or foolish, we all end up the same. Ecclesiastes 2:14

Friday, August 20, 2010

We Blew Off Meet-the-Teacher

I thought Meet-the-Teacher was to accommodate weary children who needed the reassurance of seeing their desk and locker ahead of time, in order to go to school the first day without a humiliating attack of separation anxiety in front of the other kids. Obviously, my blog wouldn't be much fun if I got things like that right, now would it?

Turns out Meet-the-Teacher is actually about parent volunteerism. Your child's teacher doesn't want to spend the first ten minutes of the first day of school helping the kids put their school supplies away. Instead, they want you to give up two precious hours of your now-dwindling summer vacation to drag your kids into school and put the supplies away for them. It is not enough that you have to drop $50 every August on glue sticks and markers that they are just going to send back home to you next spring, feeding a marker drawer that most seriously does not need one more marker in it. No, you also need to deliver those supplies and place them around the classroom in the designated locations, as described on the prepared sheet you are presented with at the door (often your only actual interaction with the teacher at Meet-the-Teacher).

Because of my serious misunderstanding about the purpose of this event, I thought little of it when we spent our Monday night doing our usual things, and didn't realize until Tuesday afternoon that we'd missed it. My kids did not seem upset, and were comfortable with our assurance that we would get there early for the first day.

When we arrived at school well ahead of time on Wednesday, we were met at the door with a stern admonishment from the office staff that when I ordered our pre-packaged supplies from the PTO, I had put down the wrong grade for my older daughter. Fortunately, my daughter's scholastic career was salvaged by a kid in the proper grade who had moved out of town, so we could switch the boxes. No mention of a refund for the two bucks I overpaid by ordering wrong.  I guess I could just take it out of the money we'll bring in selling wrapping paper next month.

Oh, hush, they're not nervous, they just didn't like the sun in their eyes.
When we arrived in the classrooms, we were chided that our two were the only children out of the whole school who had failed to come to Meet-the-Teacher and then handed our to-do list. We set to work righting our wrong, assembling their supply boxes, and finding the glue stick bin. We tried to be unobtrusive, working quickly and quietly so the teacher could finish her prep without having to actually meet us.

My husband was quite chagrined by the whole experience. He worries about the pressure our kids must be under, going to a school that takes itself so seriously. I used to feel that way too, back when I cared what the teachers thought of us. I learned that they get to know us through our kids. And we have two sweet, smart, attentive kids, who follow the rules and are good leaders in their classes. They may think we're schlumps today, but by conference time, they will be eating out of our hands.

I won't teach my kids to blow off the school's expectations with complete disregard, but I will try to give them enough self-assurance not to obey just anyone who claims authority over them, or stress out, feeling like everything they do is always wrong, because there's someone with a wagging finger around every corner. We aren't going to raise lemmings just to make things convenient for their teachers.

And, although it was an accident this year, I might just skip Meet-the-Teacher next year. I'd rather give up an extra half hour the first day of school than battle the crowds for two hours on a nice summer night. Eventually the teachers will start warning each other ahead of time about us, and they won't seem so surprised.

Don't you know that you are slaves of anyone you obey? You can be slaves of sin and die, or you can be obedient slaves of God and be acceptable to him. Romans 6:16

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Don't Do My Best

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of my energy attempting to do everything to the best of my ability. And that is what I tell my own children: do your best. Your best is always good enough. So I guess I'm a bit of a hypocrite, in that, I slack. Not only do I slack, but lately, I've been coaching others in the art of slacking. It is a brilliant antidote to high blood pressure.

It started in college. Every semester, I'd take the B-path in the class that demanded the most. By underachieving in that class, it would free up hours of study each week, leaving me ample free time to hit the parties, join a club, or lay around my dorm room watching Quantum Leap. Don't tell my kids this, but straight A's are overrated. If that's all you get out of college, you miss out.

If I devoted myself to it, I'm sure I could have a lovely, immaculate home that would be the envy of all my friends. But I don't. Instead I figure that as long as you're drinking my wine, and playing my RockBand, you aren't going to complain about the pile of old mail on the kitchen counter or the toothpaste splatters on the bathroom mirror. So far, most guests are willing to return, and good riddance to the ones that weren't. I hope I'm contributing to my friends' housekeeping satisfaction; when they get back to their dust and cobweb-free homes, they probably feel like Martha Stewart.

I don't subscribe to the do-more, be-more, have-more lifestyle that Oprah and Self offer. I think fun, love, and contentment dwell in cutting loose those pressures and savoring "enough." I don't need to win Mother of the Year, gain public recognition in my profession; I don't need to be the prettiest, smartest, or even the nicest. I accomplished enough of that crap before the age of 18 to know it doesn't matter in the long run, or make you a better person. Now I prefer the lower-stress strategy of "do enough, well enough, to be able to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day." As long as my husband, my kids, and my Lord are content with me, I am, too.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun .Ecclesiastes 2:11

Friday, August 6, 2010

I Suffer from Canine Gingivitis

The vet would tell you my dog suffers from canine gingivitis. It doesn't really seem to be bothering her, though, so I think I'm the only one who is suffering. Every year when we take her in for her checkup, I have to brace myself for the finger-wagging, get my story straight for what bold steps we are taking to rectify the problem, and keep in mind that my two daughters have been brainwashed into uncompromising truth-telling. They out me every time.

Last year, I gave the dog Denta-sticks. Until they ran out, that is. When the vet complained about her back teeth needing more attention, my daughters cheerfully volunteered the enormity of the lapse since the last Denta-stick and I pledged to purchase a doggie tooth brush.

Turns out, that big doggie toothbrush doesn't fit very well into the back corners of my 10 lb dog's mouth. So after a couple pathetic attempts that bathed me in gravy-flavored dog-toothpaste, I wasn't very motivated to take it on again – which my girls cheerfully reported to the vet at his first hint of dental displeasure this summer. The vet pulled up her lip and showed me the dog's worst offending teeth and I acknowledged that her teeth looked like she'd been living hard in a camper-trailer, drinking her coffee black, and swallowing her chew.

The vet said they'd give me an estimate for a tooth cleaning on our way out. When I saw it, I knew why he makes the staff give the estimates. It costs $250 to put her to sleep and grind off the plaque. I swallowed my impulse to ask if they could just pin her down awake. Really - say her teeth all fall out and she dies of starvation – it still only costs $106 to adopt another orphan at the Animal Rescue League.

But I want to be a good dog-mom. I don't want the vet to give me that condescending look next summer. And I definitely don't want to have to pay the extra cost of feeding her canned dog food when she's toothless. Plus, she really is a sweet and lovable dog-friend. So I tell myself, "Self, it's time we got out the toothpaste and had another go at it." Maybe tomorrow?

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Proverbs 3:27