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]

 

Why This Teacher Hates Gum

Gum is evil.

It’s something I didn’t understand in my younger days. Now I do. I used to think gum was good. When kids’ mouths are closed, I teach, kids listen. I used to use Jolly Ranchers for this. I’d give loud kids two Jolly Ranchers each. I wasn’t rewarding students for misbehavior. I was punishing them.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 6.15.05 AMIt’s science. When a person chews a Jolly Rancher, the mouth fuses shut. There are two choices–fight it and lose teeth, or go with it, enjoy. Then wait twenty minutes or so until it releases its death hold. It’s almost like meditation training. Forced quiet. I was a new teacher. When you’re new, you use what you got. It was a good strategy–using the principles of adhesion to get kids to listen. Does that count as integrating curricula?

Fast forward to present time.

One student offered me gum. I politely refused, telling her I don’t chew gum.

“I don’t see the point in it,” I said. She looked mystified.

“Candy, yes. Good chocolate, absolutely. But gum gets chewed twice and tastes like an eraser. Why do all that work for nothing?” I recently saw an article correlating teen gum chewing with migraines, too.

In principle, gum’s cool. In reality, it’s nefarious. Why do kids put it under desks? They’re only going to stick to it later. They can’t remember to pull up their pants or bring their homework–how will they remember where they stuck their gum? Maybe there’s someone from Wrigley’s out there who can invent gum that doesn’t stick? A gum version of a Post-It note.

Once I had a vandal scrape gum. She flicked dirt near her eye. Then everyone was scared about kids poking eyes out cleaning messes they made on purpose, so now we have to make them say sorry instead. The gum remains.

It’s the middle of class. I’m explaining something. A kid stands up.

“May I help you? I’m about to impart the meaning of life here.” I’ve lost my thoughts.

“Just throwing out gum.” He saunters in front of me to the can farthest away. This gum, which has been flavorless for two class periods, cannot wait another moment.

It’s a teachable moment.

“Picture a business meeting.” I say, waving my hand across the imaginary board room. “My boss is giving a presentation. I stand up. I walk in front of him, sagging my pants. I nod. The Board of Directors look on…”

You sagging, Miss?” someone says. It’s an image that once imagined cannot be unseen.

I explain etiquette. Walk on the outside, don’t disturb, when eating or gum chewing at a meeting, be polite. Don’t crunch, munch and chew. If you have trash to toss, do it at a break in the activity, not while The Boss is speaking. Etiquette’s important. Conference etiquette. Meeting etiquette. Arriving late etiquette–there’s a finesse. We don’t teach it enough in schools. Maybe I should be grateful to gum for the opportunity to teach higher-level skills.

Classes ban food, drinks, and gum rather than teaching what to do with them in high society. I want my students to behave properly at fancy functions. “Gum” and “food” aren’t in the curriculum but food is a central focus of business. Employees are hired over lunch, companies built over coffee, investments solidified over cocktails or tapas. No one sticks gum under the table while talking with an investor.

But that’s not really why I hate gum. I hate gum is because Declan discovered it.

“Mommy, can I have gum?” At first, it was cute. A six-year old walking around chomping like a cow. Every once in a while, he’d spit a piece across the room like he was shooting a cannon. “I’m blowing bubbles.”

Next, he’d play with the gum, taking it out of his mouth, looking at it, wrapping it around his finger. What followed, naturally, was gum on things. Gum on shirts, furniture, toys. Gum strings, gum residue. Gum slime trails that looked like little slugs walked across my counter. Gum sculptures. “I made a dinosaur.” The germy “I’m saving this gum for tomorrow. I’m going to chew a world record of gum.” He chewed that piece for days, placing sticking it on stuff while he ate, drank, and slept.

The last straw was gum on my computer. Understandable. With iPads, phones, and tablets around, who’d know the iMac wasn’t touch screen? It’s the digital generation. I explained.

“Oh, I know that, Mommy.” What six-year old can’t program a computer these days?  I was talking down to him. “I wasn’t touching it. I put gum on it. I made a picture. It’s nice.”

There will be no more gum. I’ll ban it like Singapore.

I banished him from my computer for willful destruction of parental property.

“No more computer? Don’t you want me to learn?”

“Yes. I want you to learn. That’s why I’m giving you this paper. It’s what Mommy had when she was little.” Meanwhile, I used the computer to learn “How to remove gum from computers.”

Gum–a tool for learning. An instrument of utter destruction. It’s here to stay. The best I can do today is hope not to step in it.

The gum, I mean.

 

[images: jamiewasserman.blogspot.com]

Stop Teaching Reading!

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.17.24 AMWhoever’s teaching these kids to read–stop. I know, you’re amazing. You have a magic about you. One day, I put Declan on the bus. Seven hours later, he got off spelling. Mysterious!

I like that he’s lying on the floor reading books about bugs and dinosaurs. I have to pull out “Hooked on Phonics” to help.  Understand, though, having kids who read makes parenting a whole new game.

I can’t spell to get around him anymore. “Want to go to the z-o-o with us if we have time?”

“THE ZOO!” Now we have to go.

“Hey Mom? How do you spell ‘ass’?” Who around here was talking about Biblical donkeys?

We always read a story before bed. “Before bed” can be any time up to, or including, my own bedtime. I get no rest. He pops out for a variety of reasons. “I need water.” “My leg is itchy.” “The Red Sox should’ve lost.” “How ’bout that global warming?”

But still, I have to read to him. Reading together is good. They tell me to log the stories we read. This, I don’t like. First off, who believes a kid who read Dr. Seuss for six weeks in a row? Does it count for “twenty-five books?” And if he reads “The Hobbit,” do we need twenty-four more? I can’t help it if he fixates. Second, it’s my job to give homework not do it. I forget and fall asleep.

I tell him we’ll read a short story, since it’s late and he hasn’t gone to bed. He hands me a long one. “READ!” This wasn’t a problem in the past. I skipped pages and said “The end.” Now, he knows. He waves his little finger and says, “HEY! You missed a page!” He knows when I shorten pages, too. “It says, ‘he said,’ Mommy. You forgot to read that part. Do it again.” 

He can read captions on advertisements, like the number to call to order As Seen on TV toys. He keeps a logbook of words he needs to spell into Netflix search to get his favorite shows, sounding out the ones of which I do not approve, asking me word by word when I least suspect it. He writes them secretly on pieces of paper hidden throughout the house.

I check his shelf. No “Steal this Book.” No “Anarchists Cookbook.” Just a bunch of dinosaurs whose names I can’t read properly. I think we’re safe for now.

But it got me to thinking about this moment–the moment where a child learns and becomes more independent, less simple to control.

I’ve been teaching skills I call “Big Money Skills.” Things students can use in the real world–data analysis, public speaking, writing, a touch of entrepreneurial spirit. These are dangerous things. Public speaking may give them the confidence to mouth off, learning about the world could teach them to use a GPS and be out after curfew. Writing might make them use big words, then we’d all have to pull out our dictionaries while they run haywire doing whatever they want. The entrepreneurial spirit could give them big ideas. Soon they’ll be filling out tax forms at the Sunday dinner table.

Watching Declan learn to read made me realize I owe all my parents a big apology. I hope I haven’t given you too much homework or taught your kids things that annoy you. From now on, I’ll focus on skills that will get them to be independent and move out of the house, that’s all. Standards be damned. Then, you’ll have a moment of peace that I crave, and you’ll like me once again.

 

[image: echouser.com]

Even the Devil Gives a Moment of Peace

Screen Shot 2013-12-28 at 7.01.57 AMHe puts his little arm around me. I snuggle in. He sighs. He smiles. Then…laughs. A manic laugh that only a little boy dreaming about whatever little boys dream about can laugh. He recites his favorite TV show. He laughs again–staccato. Loud. My heart skips a bit in that moment where I was about to resume a good dream. My mind returns to the darkness and checks. All is well. Relax.

Every night since we’ve been in this house–precisely fifteen months–I feel it coming. Step, step, step, door opening. Silence as he ninjas on the rug. Then, boing, boing, hop. Like a gymnast on the vault. Perfect ten in the middle of the bed. I get whacked in the face with Fluffy–the grey-once-white-sheep with the pink bow that is “definitely a boy.” Contradict and risk the wrath of God. Next…silence. Until the laughter and sleep talk begin.

I never allowed such things in the old house. Kids have their own beds. I read parenting books. I took advice. I got up every time and put him back into his bed from the beginning when I’d pick him up to feed him and tuck him back in with all his “buddies” in the days before Fluffy emerged as The One Not to Lose.

“You cannot sleep in Mommy’s bed,” I’d say, “Sleep in Declan’s big boy bed.” He stayed. I told him it was magic. It had special jumping powers.

I’m the best parent in the world. Couldn’t help but high-five myself. We escaped the pacifier and co-sleeping. My kid was going to be amazing.

Amazing–it’s not quite the word. He sneaks dog biscuits and licks the dog’s face. He does “science” experiments while we dare to rest for a moment. Yesterday, he mixed chemistry kit chemicals in a corner of the farthest room. Fake snow and giant silicone balls poured from beakers and vials. I saved my computer. To hell with the ski slope in the house–maybe we can market it and make some cash.

Night falls. Just when I think it’s safe, boing boing boing, hop. He’s in my bed again. His room isn’t close for the quick toss-and-return. And I’m sleeping sounder these days for the twenty minutes anyone lets a mother sleep. He can stay. For now. At least that way, for an hour or two of my life, I know that no one is lighting the house on fire or using all the soap products in the house to make bubbles or “clean the dog.” And I can rest. Until the giggling turns to maniacal laughing again. He quotes Dickens. He argues with Alvin and the Chipmunks. Then, all’s quiet. Briefly.

I’m awake. I smile. I pick up his little hand. I hold it.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, buddy…go to sleep. It’s the middle of the night.”

“I snuck in your bed.”

“I know.”

“Mommy…” He takes his hand back and puts his whole arm around me. “I love you.” In the dark I can see that he’s smiling. The world stops…for a minute.

“Enjoy these moments. They’ll be gone before you know it,” say all the empty nesters. They’re right. It’s hard to appreciate when I’m getting shot with a homemade dart gun constructed from pom poms and wrapping paper tubes. Can’t I spread the “enjoy” over a longer period instead of cramming it into one?

Hahahahahaha, I GOTTCHA, Mommy!” I’m trying to write for a moment. Must I be ready to defend myself at all times? The answer–an unequivocal “yes.”

But now it’s dark. Silent. Peaceful.

“I love you, Mommy.” The kind of I love you that has no agenda, wants no candy, isn’t asking to stay up later. It just is. I give him a kiss on the nose–it’s what I find in the dark.

“I love you, too, Declan. Be a good boy. Get some sleep.”

He rustles. He sighs. In two more breaths, he’s fast asleep.

I look at the clock. I get up to write while the world is still quiet…because even the little devil gives a moment of peace sometimes. Coffee on my desk, sun rising–I take advantage of every second I can.

That’s what moms do.

Bad Mom Ruins Elementary Christmas

I’m an urban secondary educator who’s moved out to the sticks. Although I grew up in a small town, Christmas changes from location to location. Things definitely aren’t the same in the city.

I got Christmas all wrong.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.42.05 PM

What I wanted to give as gifts…What they deserved…

I knew I must get something for Declan’s teacher, the saint who calligraphies two-paged notes prolifically, ending each with, “But I know tomorrow will be a better day.” I negligently missed the collection the parents organized, but no mere collection could equal the amount of hell Declan’s put that teacher through, so we made something with love and loaded as much caffeine as possible onto a nice coffee card. Everyone in Rhode Island has stock in a Dunkin Donuts, so I figured that’d raise the local economy.  This teacher really deserved a fifth of vodka, but I don’t know if you can get elementary teachers such things–high school teachers perhaps, and college professors, yes, but first grade’s a little early to start drinking. Even for a teacher.

I swung by the local Dunk again because it occurred to me that the bus monitors deserved something, too. From Day One, they had been “working with” Declan on bus manners–Day One being the day they advised him not to be inappropriate, through weeks later when he finally earned his way into Bus Jail, aka “the front seat,” with the monitor.  Since I didn’t think a monogrammed flask would be appropriate for a lady who drives and her partner who’s required to hold up traffic looking for children doing chin-ups on axles while my son Supermans on the top step threatening to fly–they got as much caffeine as is ethical too.

My colleague, who lives in the same town, said, “Did you get something for the reading specialist and the aids?”

No! Nobody told me that. I don’t know these things. We don’t do gifts at the high school. A friend suggested this morning, “We’re lucky not to get the middle finger on the way out!”

Most of my kids are happy customers. If everyone is, they say, I’m doing something wrong. We had a good day, surprise guest in my class, pizza in the cafeteria, and I found a bunch of thank you cards from students in my box on the way out. Made me smile–exactly what I would’ve asked for.

I rushed home to give the monitors their “I-wish-it-were-a-flask” gifts. Declan got off the bus, held up traffic one last time before vacation, and waddled to the door, backpack stuffed with…stuff.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.44.40 PMWhat my colleague didn’t tell me about Christmas in the Sticks is that EVERYONE does something for EVERYONE. Declan had gifts, cards, candy, and notes. And I had to go and mess this system up–I didn’t give a crumb too small for a mouse to even a single classmate.

There were a million candy canes each with a bite out of them then he struck gold. “Oh, look, Mom! A RING POP! How did she KNOW I love RING POPS?”

Um, because they’re sticky and make a mess? That equals awesome!

“That was very nice of her.” I wished I’d thought of Ring Pops. Next time.

For now, I’m letting him eat all the candy since I was a bad mom and didn’t send gifts. This way, he’ll only have to brush his teeth once. Later, I’ll plan my strategy so I can absolutely rock Valentine’s Day and really make the bus team earn that caffeine.

 

[images: homewetbar.com and loveitsomuch.com]

(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.