Tooth Fairy Helps First Grader in Common Core Math

Declan had a wiggly tooth. “You don’t have to pull it out if it hurts,” I said. “The Tooth Fairy can come any night. No rush.”

He knew, though, that the Tooth Fairy brings money. He likes money.

With the force of and courage of a superhero, he reached in. Plink. One little tooth in his hand. He jumped for joy. He’s been waiting for this. His friends have lost teeth. It’s a rite of passage. He’s an Official Big Boy. One tooth down. A lot to go.

Two seconds later, negotiations began. “What do you think the Tooth Fairy will give me?”

“She gave me money,” I said. “I got a dollar for my first tooth and twenty-five cents for every tooth after.” She won’t get off cheap with Declan.

“I don’t want money. I want a whistle.” There is no way the Tooth Fairy’s bringing a whistle. We have a machine program at school. Whistles are one project. I’d like to tell my freshmen what they can do with their whistles.

“She brings money.”

“How about a toy?”

“Toys don’t fit under pillows. She doesn’t have a sleigh like Santa. What are you most excited about now that you’ve lost a tooth? That you’re such a big boy?”

“Now I can barf without opening my mouth! And stick a straw through the hole!”

He took the tooth. He inspected and brushed it “…so it can be nice. I can get more money.” The Tooth Fairy doesn’t pay for cavities.

He smiled. The first gap. The big boy smile. A parent Kodak moment, but I wanted more…something…good to come out of this. Not just an exchange of calcium and cash.

“You know,” I said. “Big boy teeth have power.” Declan’s having trouble listening in school. He struggles to sit when he’s told and following directions isn’t his thing.

That Tooth Fairy snuck right by me.

That Tooth Fairy snuck right by me.

“I don’t have to write my whole name,” he’ll say. “There’s only one Declan.” Makes sense. Worse yet is the math. “Mommy, I don’t need to do all those things and write the circles. I already know the answer. It’s 17.” He’s right. But I can’t have a kid challenging the system and disobeying Common Core math at age six. Pretty soon, he’ll be thinking for himself and starting a company with his Tooth Fairy money. I already have enough tax liability.

“Power?” he said. “Teeth have power?”

“Power.” I said. I leaned in and dropped my voice. “Remember when you asked how you could behave and be a good boy like your friend? When you told me you were bad and you didn’t want to be bad.” That conversation broke my heart, I never told him. I told him he wasn’t bad. He was a good boy. Mommy, how come I’m a bad boy? I want to be good, but I just can’t listen all the time. I’m bad. I want to be very good like my friend.

“Uh huh.”

“Well, big boy teeth have special powers. They give you super big boy listening skills. And make you faster and stronger. If you need to be good, think of the power of The Tooth.” He gave me the look. The questioning look. “It’s true. It’s how I started to listen.” I hope no one tells him I don’t listen very well. Maybe my braces interrupted the power. I hope he doesn’t need braces.

“Wow.” We’ll see if the power of The Tooth helps him do his math, spelling sentences, and listen. Meanwhile, he slept on his dino pillow with his tooth tucked neatly below. The Tooth Fairy must’ve snuck by me, because there’s a nice note instructing him to eat more veggies.

And a five-dollar bill. I was right. Prices have gone up.

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Only Bullies Give Wedgies

Declan is fighting me. I’m supposed to be the bad guy from a show he loves. He has it choreographed to the last detail.

“Side kick me, Mommy.” That’s something you don’t hear a six-year old say often. I aim for the stomach.

“Woosh,” he says. He angles. Pretty impressive.

“Kick me again.” I try. He angles. I’m getting real-person impressed, having flashbacks to learning to angle and evade in my martial arts studies, back when I discovered martial arts wasn’t really about kicking and breaking stuff, it was about avoiding the fight completely. And doing peaceful things, like meditating and arranging flowers.

Eventually, he breaks through, and starts punching me for real, because that’s what good guys do. I throw a knee. He punches it. He punches my arm. That little kid hurts. I explain, “We’re playing. Mommy doesn’t want to hurt you. We’re not really punching.”

“Throw me across the room, Mommy.” I pick him up a little and put him straight down. He throws himself ten feet–a Hollywood stunt man.

He gets up, “You can’t defeat me that easy!” Who’s trying to defeat anyone? I’m just trying to drink my tea. In a superhero flurry, he races over and punches me again.

“Punch me, Mommy! In the stomach. Like this!” It’s a good punch. I lose a little bit of breath.

“You don’t have to show me. I told you, we’re not really punching people.”

“It’s what the bad guy does!” I can take no more.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 5.32.30 AM“Does the bad guy do THIS?” I pick him up and give him a very big wedgie.

He laughs. Then he stops.

He looks at me. Deeply. Like I’ve made a mama joke or insulted his dog.

“Mommy. You can’t do that. You can’t give wedgies. That…is bullying.”

I kneel down. “What do you mean?”

“Bullies give wedgies. You can’t do that. Bullying is mean. You shouldn’t be a bully.”

“Where did you learn that?” I ask.

“School. Bullies are bad.” He holds my gaze. He is teaching me.

I want to explain bullies don’t usually give wedgies. To tell him bullies sometimes punch and hit, but more often they’re subtle, insidious, hard to recognize until they’ve already infiltrated the soul, done their psychological damage. Made us feel we have little value. And because of that, we need to be strong. To know our own self-worth, and to refuse to let the outside world hit us with the resistance that makes us believe what they say–makes us stop short of being great.

I want to teach him that bullies can be people we don’t know on the schoolyard, but more often they’re people in our inner circles. People we thought were on our side. And most of all, they can be ourselves. We hit ourselves the hardest. That’s the truth.

But I don’t teach that lesson, because he breaks the gaze. With a flurry of activity, he’s a superhero again. I don’t give any more wedgies. I throw him across the room, as he requests, and to drink my tea. That’s what bad guys do when they lose.

[image: simsonswiki.com]

 

The Smudged Star

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 5.52.06 AMNew Year’s is time to pack up the tree. I remove each ornament and ponder its significance as I gently wrap it and put it in its special box. Except for the generic balls and fillers, each has a very special meaning–the power to make me travel to a time and place in my life represented by that little piece of wood, plastic, or glass. Twice a year–when I put them up, and when I take them down, I hold these little time machines in my hand.

Every year I get a special ornament for everyone. Mom began this tradition. Her thought was that everyone would have 20 or 30 of their own special ornaments when they struck out to start their own tree.

This year I bought three ceramic shapes on which to paint–one for Rusty, Brittany, and Declan. I made dinosaurs on Declan’s. He found and broke the snowflake that would have been Brittany’s. The star that would have been Rusty’s went missing. I cleaned. I searched. Gone. Too late to get another.

I gave Declan his ornament, since he’d already seen it. It’s usually part of a Christmas Eve pre-bed ceremony which includes putting out carrots for reindeer, a cookie for Santa, and tossing the boy into bed so I can sleep, too. “Mommy made this special for you this year.”
He looked at both sides. “I LOVE it!” There were two dinos. He examined each carefully reading the text. “I have something special for you,” he said. He went to his room into his “special box.” It’s a glass-topped wooden box with an etched compass–looks like it came out of a Kipling novel. He keeps his treasures inside, including his already been chewed “world record” gum, some pom poms, an elastic, and a plastic dinosaur. He pulled out a small crinkly-wrapped package and handed it to me.
“Open it, Mommy!” I did. It was the star ornament. “I hope it didn’t get smudged.” It did. Clearly, he’d used the wrong markers. “It says ‘To Mommy, Love Declan.” On the other side was a picture of stars. Smudged stars, but stars, nonetheless.
I can’t help but think that’s the best present of all. That’s what I told him, “I will never get another present better than this. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mommy. I love this ornament. Even though you put PLANT EATERS instead of CARNIVORES on it…I really love it, though.” I got the biggest Christmas hug.
==
When I was about 4 or 5, my grandmother was visiting. I found a pile of Hallmark cards she’d amassed for birthdays and such so she wouldn’t have to go to the store. I took each. I wrote, “I love you, Grandma, Love, Dawn.” I wrote happy birthday on the birthday cards, but I didn’t know what an anniversary was–I could read, but I didn’t know the word… I just put “I love you” on those.
There were about ten cards.
Mom found me. I’d ruined all of Grandma’s cards. Mom was really mad.
Grandma wasn’t.
Packing up the stolen star reminded me of that story from a generation ago, which I remember clear as if it were this morning.  Interesting how timeless the innocence of a child really is.
[image: marthastewart.com]

All’s Fair in War and Christmas: Weapons Make Great Gifts

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

In my family we don’t give gifts. We give aggravation. No one likes a Yankee Swap where people regift candles to an unsuspecting aunt. That’s small time. We’re far more clever than that.

Anyone who’s come near our family has suffered the wrath of the gift. There was once a plastic silverware sorter that got regifted for years indicating the fact that the recipient had been tagged with shame and would have to wait gift it to the next unsuspecting victim.

We gifted twelve packs of socks, individually wrapped because everyone took one turn before the next person went–this meant you knew you had twelve turns of socks to find and all the disappointment, discovering boxes you thought had something cool had…another sock wrapped so cleverly that a customs agent wouldn’t pick up on the contents if it were a sock filled with drugs.

I’m not sure how Christmas became a time for pranks rather than generosity, but that’s the way things are. We had good stuff below the tree, too, but it was always bulked up by things that people needed that were saved and wrapped for Christmas, like food items. Most families just grocery shop for food and eat it. Our family wrapped it and put it under the tree. Pepperoni, olives, candy bars, treats, ramen noodles…it’s all been there.

This isn’t normal behavior I’ve discovered. It’s why my husband was mystified to unwrap barley this year–he likes my mushroom barley soup so I wrapped barley. My son, however, loved that I wrapped marshmallows and chocolate Goldfish crackers. He’s going to fit into the gift spirit just fine.

This whole gift thing got particularly nasty when everyone had kids. Instead of individually wrapping socks, we tried to give gifts kids would love but would secretly torture parents. Mess, noise, disaster, global conflict and warm–all’s fair in war and Christmas. The more parts, mess and batteries the better. Directions in Japanese–a plus. I started studying Japanese. Mostly I can order beer and talk about the day, but soon I’ll be able to build a hybrid from a manual and defeat any toy.

This year, I tried to win by sending the boys science stuff and socks. They cringed at the thought of getting clothes for Christmas but everyone needs socks. I was tired. Socks are beginner strategy. So two decades ago. I set myself up for a big loss.

Uncle Dan and Aunt Ali (names not disguised to protect the guilty) sent us the mother of all gifts…the trebuchet. Or as Declan calls it, “The Cannonpult.” It’s not just a trebuchet The Cannonpultcapable of launching rocks and things a full 30 feet through car and house windows, it’s a build your own trebuchet, complete with wood glue and about a million parts with multistep directions. That makes them the clear winner in this year’s gift category. Although the cannonpult came with a harmless rubber ball, everyone with a brain knows that it’ll never be used to launch that ball. The ball has exactly one flight before it’s lost in the woods forever. After that, we switch to rocks.

“Mom, is it hunting season?” Declan asked.

“It’s over in a week.” Surprised I know that. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, if my cannonpult ball goes into the woods, I don’t want to get shot. What happens if I get shot?” he asked. Fair question.

“It’ll hurt. Try not to get shot. And don’t shoot your cannonpult into the woods.” Good solution. He scrunched up his face. “If you lose your ball, I will get it,” I said.

“But then you’ll get shot.” I’d thought he’d realize I could go Matrix and avoid the bullets.

“Don’t worry about it. I have life insurance. If I get shot, you’ll be fine.”

“Too bad you don’t have State Farm. Like a good neighbor…” He began to sing and lecture about my choice of insurance companies. I have USAA. Somehow being paid out by a good neighbor would make things better than a random lump sum by a company which doesn’t have a song?

So, we–no, I–set about building the trebuchet that will get me shot and give someone other than State Farm something to do. Declan sanded pieces of wood he could not destroy and I carefully read directions in seven languages and glued parts together, bonding with the boy by saying, “Don’t touch,” and “NO!” while being filled with gratitude for things like pre-drilled holes for hardware.

I discovered this project was going to take a couple days. That’s a fantastic learning experience for a six-year old, although the cannonpult box clearly said “Twelve and up.” That really means (translated into Japanese and back) “Even someone as old as dirt can’t possibly put this together. We’re laughing at you for trying.”

We had to let the parts dry. When he slept, I glued the second stage together. I told him it was an elf so he wouldn’t get mad that I did stuff without him.

Today, we’ll go out and toss rocks into the woods and break a car window or two. He’ll have fun with his cannonpult. I’ll smile. Not because I’m happy about getting shot and breaking windows, but because I’m already planning my revenge for next year.

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chaos

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 5.17.48 AMFriday. TGIF. The last day…before Christmas break. The world is rejoicing. We…just…have…to…survive…today.

I brought the gifts I made for my advisory students yesterday. Getting a jump on Christmas, like most of America. I forgot two boys’ things. A “Worst Teacher in the Universe” move. They forgave me. Today, I’ll earn redemption. I have their gifts here.

The kids started Christmas early, too. There were bags, boxes, bangles and bows. Santa hats and shirts. I’ll wear my Santa hat today.

Today, they’ll be wandering the halls with more wrappings, stuffed animals, glitter and ribbons. We, like mini Scrooges, will attempt to keep order.

Chaos will reign supreme. They’ll go to their parties, they’ll hug their friends. Some will rejoice, others will cry. Christmas is not fun for everyone, you know. Homelessness, divorce, difficult family situations, the economy…it wears on kids who know today will be the last day that they see their best friends…on whom they hang for support…for nearly two weeks. Teachers, too.

The halls will jingle, parties will fade. Students, cracked upon candy and pizza, will get on busses that bring them to their lives.

And I hope they will have a Merry Christmas.

 

(You Don’t Have to Guess) What You’re Getting for Christmas

I wanted to simplify Christmas. I’m feeling crafty. I stole my friends art ideas, manufactured things using their concepts and mailed the finished stolen-idea products back as gifts. They’ll never guess I totally plagiarized the ideas because my art is terrible. They won’t recognize it as their own. They’ll think Declan helped, and no one can hate a gift that a six-year-old made from the heart.

He actually did help with one or two. Only he didn’t make all of them from the heart. He made one gift with love–that was the freebie, made out of the Spirit of Christmas. Soon, though, the Spirit of Christmas got drop kicked by the Spirit of Entrepreneurship. After that, he charged for his efforts. As usual.

“I’ll draw these dinosaurs for two dollars and all the change in your jar.”

“It’s for YOUR teacher!”

“I’ll take a handful of dollars instead.” His price is going up.

I give him a handful of pennies and two cookies.  He draws a dinosaur for his teacher.

The boxes of gifts I have to mail are filled and addressed. Only one person, a friend in Wisconsin, will get a late gift. The Boy stole the boxes for a fort. An envelope won’t do.

I venture to the post office and plop the boxes on the counter. It’s the kind of village post office where they’ll soon know my name in the middle of a town that Rockwell painted on the map.

“This one can get there Saturday for nine dollars or Monday for seven.” The postmistress smiles.

“Monday’s fine.”

“This one can go parcel or first class.” Decisions.

“First class would be great.”

“Oh, this one needs a customs form.” Simple enough. I take the form. I read the form. I frown at the form.

What’s your blood type? What are you sending? Did you send anything that could blow up? Did you mail any drugs, plants, exotic animals or your mother-in-law? Does it come from a rated R catalog? Do you like kittens? Are you a terrorist?… List the entire contents of this box and the value of each item.

I write “Christmas gift.”

“Oh, no, you can’t do that. You have to fill it out. ALL the columns.” How can a Christmas gift be a surprise if I’m listing the contents on the front of the box? And if I list the value, my friend will realize I’m a cheap ass who not only stole art concepts but didn’t even spend a lot of money on her gift. 

The post office lady’s tone is serious. Customs people and IRS agents are both hired for their lack of humor. I thought post people were okay…lately. I’m told the job interview for the others consists of watching Monty Python, old Carlin, and the Redneck Comedy Tour. Anyone who considers cracking a smile isn’t hired.

I never mess with customs people at the border. It’s not wise to mess with postal workers during Christmas, either. She interrogates me. I crack.

“It’s a mug I made after stealing my friend’s idea. And some soap made by a twelve-year old entrepreneur who’s awesome. The cup’s value is practically nothing, and the soap could have been expensive but she gave me a volume discount. This gift has no value!” To make myself feel good, I put “$5” on the customs form. I list the two items, forgetting the third. I hope I don’t get caught.

Do we need to be surprised to enjoy the magic of the season? The government says no. Should we lie on the customs forms to make our gifts look more valuable? I’d like to try. I consider putting “Crack, value $6,000.” Wonder if it’d get there faster.  Perhaps, but I’m too afraid of The Man to write that. 

I fill out the form. She tapes it to the box. I say “Merry Christmas.” I pay much more to mail the gift than it’s worth. On the way out, I make a mental note to apologize to my friend in Wisconsin who’s not getting her gift because the post office is out of little boxes.  I make a note to apologize to friends who got cards this week. If you did, it was last year’s I never sent.  

Boxes gone. One more thing helping me gather momentum for the Spirit of Christmas–which keeps getting crushed by the boy and the Spirit of Entrepreneurship.

Who knows. Maybe both can live copasetically. All year long. 

 

 

 

A Spring in the Rear and the New Couch is Here

Aside

 

Meets all the requirements. Looks nice and isn't made of dead things.

Meets all the requirements. Looks nice and isn’t made of dead things.

We bought each other a couch and chair for Christmas. I never bought a big joint gift like that. My colleague says, “We always do Mexico for Christmas in February.” Christmas is December. February is Valentine’s Day. I like presents below the tree.

But getting a couch seemed totally imperative–not imperative like paying the bills imperative or solving world hunger and the problems in education imperative, but important. It’s important mostly because I am such a cool mom.

It’s not that cool moms need stylish furniture. I don’t. I can be cool on milk crates. As a cool mom, not much bothers me, including the type of furniture in the house. I go with the flow. I fix PlayDoh disasters, clean paint spills, and don’t overstress about glitter.

I was cool, in this case, because I let Declan jump on furniture. Who needs a trampoline and extra insurance? We own things that go boing.

Boing, boing, boing…The boy got his athleticism from Rusty and is ADHD from me. It’s a perfectly olympic combination for sports that don’t make him cry. One of these is couch jumping. Boing, boing, boing… after a while, he gets tired. He only fell off and shattered his arm in three places once, and that was years ago–he was three. In his defense,  I interfered–I thought he was falling. I tried to catch him and ruined his perfect-ten landing.

But he got a cool purple cast and some really big shirts to fit over it. What kid doesn’t want to look gangsta for Christmas? That’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Doghair on said couch an hour post delivery

Dog hair on said couch an hour post delivery

Rusty likes things in order. Living in Germany and having been a staff sergeant does that to a person. I’d probably improve my life if I did even one of those things. Enjoying order, he was getting annoyed at the bouncy couch, which was sporting a couple holes, stains, and a divot that swallowed small people. Who knew bouncing on couches ruined springs? Maybe that’s why all the moms yelled at us about stupid things all the time. I always wished they’d lighten up and have more fun bouncing with us.

I, the cheapest person alive, agreed we needed a couch. Letting forty-pound boys jump on stuff breaks it. Two inches from my spot on the couch, a spring had sprung. It was threatening to serve as a proctology exam sans copay. I can’t put some doctor with a half-million in student loans out of work. Time for a couch.

We went to “look and plan.” That usually means we’ve both considered a purchase and something bad is going to happen. I’ve gotten a couple of cool cars that way.
Buying a couch together isn’t simple. Paying is… everyone will take money, it’s the agreeing part that’s hard. Like choosing a baby name or a restaurant…it’s never simple.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
“Doesn’t matter, what do you want to do?”
And so it goes until both parties make a suggestion, then promptly vote each other’s suggestions off the island. We simultaneously converged on a simple brown couch we’d seen before. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember why we hadn’t bought it. It was so nice. Simple. And not made of dead things.
I picked up the price tag. Then, I remembered. I’d been too cheap, and there hadn’t been a proctology feature, hole, or dog stain on our Swamp Yankee couch to inspire me.
Extra seating for those in need of a low-cost option for proctology

Extra seating for those in need of a low-cost option for proctology

We hesitated. The salesman said, “This is on clearance, and I can give you the Black Friday price.” Black Friday was WEEKS ago. I’d safely avoided American commercial greed for most of the season. “And I can give you this coupon with free delivery.”

The only thing he couldn’t do was take the old couch. But he could have it carried to the curb. It looks nice there. We live in the country. I call that extra seating. Or bus stop comfort for Declan. Or maybe a medical exam station for people who haven’t chosen their Obamacare plan and need a low-cost option for proctology.
The Black Friday sale sold me. Now if I have a bad day and someone says “What’s up your butt?” I can honestly say nothing. I am sitting, writing in style.