Cheerleaders

This week for my biotechnology course I had to build a bioreactor and its subsystems that would allow me to capture and measure the carbon dioxide gas produced in order to determine the volume of ethanol in my dextrose and yeast solution.

Translation:  I had to use yeast and sugar water to make alcohol and tell how much I had made by capturing the CO2.

Needless to say, with more than a decade between me and my last biology and chemistry courses, this was a challenge.  (And that was an understatement.)

I’ve been working on this project for about three weeks now.  Here is a rundown of the steps:

  1. Attempted to not freak out by assuring myself that all other elementary teachers in the class are in the same boat.  “He won’t let us fail,” was my frequent self-talk.
  2. Started a list of, “What I Know.”  For many minutes that list consisted of one statement:  Yeast is a fungus.  This is all I could remember from teaching fifth grade science.
  3. Began research.  I alternated between YouTube home brew videos, that were probably not credible sources, and scholarly articles that I could not understand.
  4. Drew first plan.  It was a joke.
  5. Met with my 5 person planning team via video conference.  One I couldn’t see, one I couldn’t hear, and the other two were nearly as clueless as I was.
  6. Spent a week revising plan after plan, muddling my way through mole calculations and projected volume.
  7. Found a God-send in Cheryl, a like-minded fourth grade teacher who doesn’t make me feel dumb.  We have sent countless Facebook messages and emails, shared chicken scratch calculations, and used Google Hangouts at all sorts of odd hours of the day.
  8. Consulted two other people who don’t usually make me feel dumb:  Jay and Papa.  One night I even made them both talk to Cheryl over Hangouts after dinner.
  9. Submitted a plan and received very vague feedback.
  10. Gathered all of the materials.  This consisted of very grouchy trips to Walmart, the pet store, and Michael’s with my two little people.  After dinner I made Jay continue the shopping, with them, while I wrote a paper for another class.  No rest for the weary….him or me!
  11. Felt pretty ready when class started.  We were supposed to build it in class, and I had about 95% of what I needed.  Except my ideas were all wrong.  My containers were too huge, and I spent most of our building time trying to find new materials in the lab while editing my design.  I shed the first of many tears over this thing that night.
  12. Forgot about it for almost a week while I Love Math Day happened.
  13. Day 2 of in-class building went so much better.  Something said in class made me think of a way to stir the solution:  LittleBits.

So the listing the steps idea sounded like a great plan when I started this post, but now I realize if I keep going, probably only my mom (and maybe Cheryl) will keep reading.  So let me just skip straight to the point:

I had a decent trial run, but my first and second, “Ok….let’s do this for real!” were complete flops.  I came home in tears last night, puddled on the sofa while Jay tried to talk me back to life.  I was doing every last thing that I don’t want to see my students or own kids do when they face a challenge.

But this morning I was at it again.  Fueled by enough hours of sleep and the promise of an entire free day ahead of me, I started in on the research again, determined to figure out the trick of immobilization.

And it worked. Tiny, glorious CO2 bubbles floating up a clear tube into my graduated cylinder brought me some ridiculous joy.

So this afternoon as I was prancing downtown to meet my family during my one hour break from data collection, I couldn’t help but consider those truly crappy moments of this challenge and what had gotten me through:

The cheerleaders.

*Jay with his calm spirit, reassuring words, and frequent reminders of, “I’m proud of you.”
*Cheryl who understood what I was going through and said, “I feel like I’m in the waiting room at labor an delivery,” while waiting to hear if my design was working.
*Chica who asked me fantastic questions about what I was doing this morning on the phone.  “What did you do differently?” and “Can you make it thinner?” she asked. Her sweet questions helped to slowly bring me out of the dizziness and back into the problem solving mode.
*Alissa and Rachel, my running amigas who are also both in grad school.  They text me about translation theory and Sherlock, I send them pictures of my moonshine creator, and we all laugh at how different but the same our lives really are.
*My students who seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing, and the sweet little guy who told me I had inspired him to build something one day.
*My mom and mother-in-law who are relentless in their support.

May this project be a reminder to me of what my kids need next time it seems impossible.  Most of the time they don’t need a, “Suck it up,” or a lecture on how failure is just an opportunity to learn something.

They need a cheerleader, and hopefully I can be that for them.

(Ok….back to tending my graduated cylinders and watching bubbles trickle up.  1060 mL of CO2 and counting.)

Currently Us

Eating
Chica:  Her new-found love is shrimp.  I think the kid could exist on shrimp and mac and cheese alone.  Since school only serves these most favorite foods about once a month, she mostly packs lunch.  Emphasis on she.  Yay for eight.
Bubba:  School lunch.  Thank the Lord for one less thing to do in the morning.
Me:  Also school lunch.  Again…one less thing.

Reading
Chica:  Upside-Down Magic, a book she got at the book fair.  This is slightly better than the Pokemon library book she’s been attached to lately.
Bubba:  Pup & Pop.  It has been so interesting to observe the differences in how the two of them learned to read.  Chica was a whole language girl, guessing most of the words by context and the beginning letter sound.  Bubba wants to sound out ev-er-y-th-ing.
Me:  Teachers’ Knowledge and Its Impact, an article for my VT class.  I’ve wanted to write a blog post all day, but I told myself I had to finish my reflection on this article first.  It hasn’t happened yet, but here I am.  Oh well.

Listening
Chica:  Hamilton.  Right Hand Man is her most frequent request.
Bubba:  Hamilton.  While waiting for the bus, he was singing, “I’ll kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.  Dadadadadaaaaaa….”  Jay sent him off with reminders that this was a line that he could not sing at school.  Fingers crossed.
Me:  Hamilton.  Today may favorite song is Dear Theodosia.  “You will come of age with our young nation…”

Watching
Chica:  Pokemon.  I admit I’ve never watched it.
Bubba:  Pokemon.  Tonight while Jay and Chica made dinner, I asked him to explain it to me.  I heard about gyms and battles and the league and…well….that’s pretty much all I got.
Me:  Jimmy Fallon clips on YouTube.

Saying
Chica:  She’s going to make her Halloween costume.  We’ve got one more day to figure that out.  Ugh.
Bubba:  Yes to more things.  Like this week he said yes to helping me sort recycled materials at school.  We spent an entire hour working together happily.  Who is this new kid?
Me:  I’m going to run the RNUTS.  Yes, I’m pretty sure I AMNUTS.

Playing
Chica:  The violin.  When I remind her.
Bubba:  Anything his buddy Westin is playing.  I love our sweet neighbors.
Me:  The how-long-can-I-keep-my-house-picked-up game.  I’m going on one week.  Chica asked me if this was a record.

Hoping
Chica:  She will finish her Girls on the Run 5K next month.  I am amazed at the confidence she has gained by participating in this.
Bubba:  We will go anywhere but home every day after school.
Me:  I can make it through another week without dropping one of the too many balls I’m juggling.  Last week I turned in my homework late.  I don’t like that feeling, but, realistically I’m on the other side saying, “So what?”  The world keeps turning.  I’ll still pass the class.  Life happens.

Learning
Chica:  Focus and responsibility.  I’m thankful for her teacher who is incredibly patient and understanding.
Bubba:   Ants.  We had an oh-so-engaging dinner conversation this week about how many body sections ants have.  His teacher is always doing something to get that guy thinking!
Me:  How to use tools.  Last week it was a band saw.  Today I watched Jay use a miter saw, and I’m pretty sure I could do it by myself.  Tomorrow I’m going to use a dremel.  Sharon Bulson would be proud.

In case you enjoy looking back as much as I do…
Currently Me 2014
Currently Bubba 2014  (I guess Chica got missed….sorry kid.)
Currently Me 2013
Currently Chica 2013
Currently Bubba 2013

I Hate You

There are lots of good things about four.

Four means he can buckle and unbuckle himself from the backseat, and it doesn’t take an eternity.  Four means I can trust him, sometimes, to go into the men’s bathroom and come out with his hands actually washed with soap.  At four he can reach the faucet to get his own cup of water and unlock the front door when my hands are full.

But four also brings heavy new words.

I hate you.

……………

At two or three, there was screaming.  High pitched, ear-piercing, scream-bloody-murder-until-you-pull-the-car-over-and-make-me-stop screaming.

Most of the time with the screaming I kept my cool, trying to remember Jay’s words: It’s only a phase, it’s only a phase.  But on desperate days I screamed right back at him, threatened the wrath of Daddy, or just tried to whip it out of him.  That was not pretty.

But the screaming taught me something.  While it feels oh-so-good in the instant to throw my own ugly mommy tantrum right back at them, it’s never good afterwards.  Minutes or even seconds later, there’s that sick to my stomach feeling that serves as a reminder that I just demonstrated the exact kind of behavior I am trying to get rid of in my kids.  So I would stew a little longer, finally resolve to let go of my pride, apologize, and then try to have the conversation I should have had the first go round.

So now I try hard to skip my own tantrum and go straight to the calm convo.  For my teacher friends, I’m all about the reteaching part of PBIS.  Hear me – I still screw up plenty.  Last night at bedtime, for example, Ugly Mommy put the kids to bed via shouts from the basement.  Ugh.  Still not pretty.  But I’m trying to do things differently.

I think today in the doorway of my classroom he was expecting, hoping perhaps, that he’d push me to that ugly point with those three tiny words.  Eight letters.  Ihateyou.

But I took a deep breath and reminded myself that he doesn’t actually hate me.  Instead of the swift smack to that chubby spot on the back of his leg that I wanted to give him, he got an earful instead.  It went something like…

I love you, Bubba.  I know you don’t hate me.  I know those are words that you say because you are angry.  You are angry because we have to leave right now which means you have to stop playing the iPad.  Next time when this happens, you can say, “I don’t like it when I have to stop.  I wish I could play longer.”  But you don’t need to say those ugly words.  Those words hurt my feelings, and you don’t really mean what you are saying.

I hope he heard the most important part:  I love you, Bubba.

Maybe he even heard: I love you, Bubba, even when you’re begin a jerk.  I love you enough to keep reteaching you, to keep reminding you to not sin in your anger.  Say what you mean, but leave out the extra.  I know there will be even bigger screw ups than Ihateyou in the doorway, and I will keep loving you.

Iloveyou.  Eight letters.

…………..

Yesterday I heard a teacher friend say something that I just have to add.  She explained that whenever there’s a problem in her classroom, she looks at herself first.  Instead of, what’s that kid’s problem, it’s, what can I change?  

This.

While I certainly can’t bear the total responsibility of my four year old’s words, I have to admit that I contributed to it.  I dragged them to school for yet another day of hanging out while Mommy works on projects.  I worked right up until the time we needed to go, so we had to hurry.  I probably hadn’t given enough of a warning that go-time was coming.

Yes, the four year old has room to grow, but so does this (almost) thirty-four year old.

When It Rains…

…we make pancakes.  Today was my first day of sleeping in for many, many weeks.  And by sleeping in, I mean staying in the bed (not necessarily sleeping) until sometime after 6:00.  I was still wavering over going for a morning run, but the steady rain outside quickly helped me reach the conclusion that the run was a no-go.  I attempted to get a head start on schoolwork, but Bubba had other ideas.  Eventually I decided, if you can’t beat him, join him.  So together we made pancakes while Daddy and Chica snoozed. IMG_0025

I sent Bubba in to tell them about the surprise once our stack was hot and ready.  I overheard from the other room, “Guess what we made!?  It’s S-T-O-Y.  That spells pan-a-cakes!!!”  The pan-a-cakes of course got both of them out of bed in a second.  Good work, Bub.

…we remember who doesn’t own a raincoat.  Against Daddy’s better judgment, we decided to follow through with our plan to peruse Day in the Park.   It wasn’t raining that hard.  So I put on my raincoat, a green classic (read: dated) L.L. Bean coat I likely got in high school in preparation for my summer as a camp counselor.  Chica has an equally classic (but much less dated) Lands End hand-me-down from a sweet friend.  No worries that it’s probably 2 sizes too big.  This just means 2 more years I won’t have to buy her one.  Jay reluctantly donned his red one.  (He’s the only member of this house with 3+ raincoats, none of which are ever quite right.  I do love that guy.)  And then there’s poor Bubba with just his everyday hoodie sweatshirt.  How many times have I reminded myself I need to get that kid a raincoat?!  Thankfully Chica’s raincoat is green.  If he can wait two or three years, he’ll eventually have one that fits.

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…I get lots of compliments on my footwear.  What else would you expect with these hand-me-down beauties from Nana?

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…there are no lines at Day in the Park.  Our kids hardly ever ride rides because they either cost too much or the lines are too long.  Well, today we had neither excuse to deny them because the rides were free and only crazy people take their kids to play in the park in the rain.  So Bubba rode the train two times in a row, they both tried out the ponies, and all three of us rode the spinning ride until I was afraid I would get sick.  I hope to never forget the sound of all three of us giggling as we whirled round and around.

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…you still run into lots of friends.  Apparently many of our friends happen to be crazy people as well because we still ended up seeing lots of them there.  Perhaps my favorite was seeing our friends together as a family of four instead of their usual weekend family of three. Yay for new a new job as a student that means dad gets to do fun things on the weekend!

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…it doesn’t always pour.  Sometimes rain means just as much fun, or more!

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What I Should Have Said to My Friend Who Doesn’t Want Kids

The threat of the coming snow on Wednesday meant a welcomed lunchtime early dismissal for teachers this week. While I was busy planning out a location in which I could woof down my leftovers and keep working in the few hours before daycare closed, my coworkers were making plans to enjoy lunch out together like normal adults. It took some major convincing on their part to get me to agree to go. My mind was stuck on the fact that I hadn’t accomplished one-fourth of the things I had hoped to get done during the work day AND I was about to get stuck in my house with my crazy little people for at least five days. In a row. “I HAVE TO GET MY WORK DONE!!!!!” my task-oriented brain was screaming.

But they were offering to go to my favorite new restaurant, and they did say we were going to talk about work stuff we need to get done anyway. AND the pork stew in my lunchbox was only so appetizing for the third straight day in a row. Oh, and that still, small voice that often tries to remind me that it’s completely possible that relationships can be more important than work. Oh, yeah, that. So I went.

I’m glad I did.

We talked about work, the drinks were free, the food was good, and the company was even better. As our conversation wrapped up, I attempted to make my exit and eek out a few more minutes of work time before the 3 p.m. daycare closing. Again I said, “I have to go get some work done BEFORE I’M TRAPPED IN MY HOUSE WITH MY KIDS FOR FIVE WHOLE DAYS. AHHHH!”

As everyone laughed a polite laugh, my honest, child-less friend observed, “Wow. Everybody makes having kids sound so bad. I’m just dying to have kids,” she said sarcastically.

Boom.

I don’t really know what I said at that point. Nothing, I guess. But I’ve been thinking about her….and me, and them….often as I’ve been stuck here in our snowy fort: Is it really that bad? And if having kids isn’t that bad, then why do I always talk about the bad parts?

I think sometimes we talk about those hard parts because if we don’t attempt to find the humor in it, then the only other choice is anger. Like the pencil drawings on the wall, the blue paint stains on the floor, and the orange permanent marker to the carpet. I’ve just chosen to find it amusing now that my two year old can find the most destructive item in any given room, in spite of my best efforts to hide all of those things out of reach. He has special ninja powers that help him seek out, find, and acquire the contraband, all while being so silent, you’d never suspect him. It’s either laugh or stay mad. I’m choosing laughter….and those stories are fun to tell.

Maybe we talk about the bad parts because we need to know we’re not alone. I’m not the only one in the world (or likely even my circle of friends) who has been woken up on a snow day by grubby fingers exploring every interesting hole on my face. I’m not the only one who has to check for peanut butter and snot stains on my shirt before leaving for work. I’m not the only one who loathes bath time and pushes the limit each week on the acceptable amount of days between torture sessions. Do you know just how much relief and freedom I felt when I shared this with a friend who then proceeded to tell me she has been known to go two weeks between baths before?? (Don’t worry friend, I won’t blow your cover.) We need to know we’re normal. Our kids are normal. Talking about the crazy parts usually leads to confirmation that everyone else is just as crazy.

I’ve been wondering, though, if we don’t talk about the good stuff because we’re afraid we’ll sound like we’re bragging. Or maybe because we don’t want to give an unrealistic view of what this parenting thing is all about. Even more likely, for me, I just don’t stop dwelling on the icky, mundane, tough, exhausting, painful, confusing, whatthehellhaveigottenmyselfinto moments long enough to recognize and be thankful for the good parts.

So that’s where I am today on snow day number 2.5. I’m busy counting up the good things, trying to articulate what I should have said to my friend who us grouchy mommies have scared kid-less.

This:
You’re right. It’s hard, and I make it sound no fun, but there are so many good parts. Go get another glass of green tea and bag of pita chips, and I’ll tell you about those parts that make it fun too…

Watching your big kid happily play outside in the snow by herself from your warm, sunny window, singing made-up words to a tune from Frozen at the top of her lungs.

Figuring out that the same big kid is now big enough to help with housework. Don’t underestimate the gift of one more person in your family who can unload the dishwasher or push the vacuum.

Seeing your little kid napping snugly on Daddy’s warm lap, both snoring like it’s going out of style.

Hearing either one of them say, “Thank you,” without having to be reminded, reassuring yourself that you are doing at least one thing right.

Being comforted by a little person when you’re the one with the tears and the pain.

Witnessing your kid learning to read. It’s magical.

Catching them playing and sharing with each other without any help from you.

That amazed, fantastic look when they accomplish something they didn’t know they could do. It doesn’t matter if it’s reading a whole book on their own or just stepping off of the porch into the snow unassisted….when they squeal, “I DID IT!” you’re still amazed right along with them.

Overhearing your kid say funny things like, “That’s my fravrite!” when he gets ketchup (with a side of pickles and grilled cheese) for dinner. Right now that same funny kid is saying, “Really? Really??” to the vacuum like it’s telling him a story he doesn’t believe. Last night, as we all watched a movie together, he said, “What the…?” and “Oh my word!” at all the right times. They make you laugh all. the. time.

Your kid (finally) successfully getting a haircut without a need for excessive tears or force.

Oh, and snow days stuck in the house to slow down and remember why you really do like them after all.

But here’s the real thing, friend….aren’t all the things that are really worth doing both really hard and really good at the same time? Wouldn’t you say that about marriage? And teaching? Having a house? Being a friend? Knowing Jesus? Aren’t each of those things messy and frustrating and time consuming and tiring and overwhelming right along with rewarding and stretching and amazing and life-giving?

So it’s worth it friend, and it isn’t all bad. Thanks for reminding me of that. Thanks for reminding me to see and talk about the good parts too.

Ok….off to bathe that kid who just had a haircut. Don’t ask me how long it’s been.

Hey, mommy friends:  Leave me a comment.  Remind me (and those friends we’ve scared kid-less) of the good parts I didn’t mention.