Fear. A four-letter word.

Fear is a funny thing. It protects us from doing stupid things, like jumping from rooftops into tiny backyard pools. It makes overcoming an obstacle, like delivering a speech in front of a class, so much more of an accomplishment. But it also prevents us from doing things that might grow us, might teach us something, might make us feel brilliantly happy and alive. I hate fear, and unfortunately, I spend a lot of time avoiding the sensation. I guess it’s not a bad thing that I fear heights, because that’ll keep me from jumping off rooftops, but some of my other fears have held me back. And my fears seem to be rubbing off on Cari.

Yearly, the local Catholic church and school puts on a massive carnival, complete with colorful, cheerful rides, ridiculously unhealthy food, and the prerequisite carnival games in which winners can take home a sad little goldfish, at least for one night anyways.  The carnival always looks way more fun than it actually is; the spiraling lights tempt, even me, to come and spend more money than I should, and I always come home feeling a little dirty; physically, because I always wear flip flops and the carnival grounds are all sand, and emotionally, because the carnival is like one big glut of food, rides, and games.

This year, Cari caught a glimpse of the carnival one day on our drive home from school and must have read the sign declaring the dates of when the carnival would be open, because on Saturday night, when Stu, Cari, and I drove home from a late dinner, she perked up at the pretty lights and declared that she wanted to go.  She was certain that Sunday would be the last night.  Stu, of course, said that he was interested in taking her.  True to form, I said I didn’t want to go, but an interest in photographing the spectacle encouraged enough enthusiasm for me to agree to go for an hour and a half.

A word about Cari: we don’t often like to share with her what our plans are.  She is very much her mother’s daughter, because once she knows that some event is tentatively planned, she will insist upon knowing all of the details.

“What are we doing this weekend?” she’ll ask.

“Well, on Saturday, I thought we could go to the Spring Fling at Mrs. Lynn’s church.  Then on Sunday, we’ll go to church.”

“What are we doing after Spring Fling?”

“Well, I’m not sure.  We should probably clean the house and do some laundry.”

“Are you working at church this week?”

“No, baby, not this week.”

“Who are we having lunch with after church?”

“I don’t know, Cari, we haven’t made plans yet.”

“What about after lunch?  What are we doing then?”

It’s hard to deal with a child who insists upon knowing details when I don’t always have the details.  On the weekends, I relish my peace.  I recharge all the energy I’ve spent during the week dealing with my high maintenance students and don’t always have the brain space to deal with my own high maintenance child.  So Stu and I are VERY vague about our plans, often hiding plans from her until we’re literally on our way.

So when we let it be known on Saturday night that we would consider going to the carnival, that’s all she wanted to talk about.

“I can’t wait to go on the Ferris wheel, Mommy!”

Well, the carnival didn’t turn out quite as we expected. After making a deliberate pass through, to get an idea of what was available, we bought Cari a $20 armband so she could ride all the rides she wanted. But my baby–my eight year-old, nearly as tall as some grown-ups baby–only wanted to ride baby rides. And she wasn’t allowed… She was too tall. What rides were left were big kid rides, rides like the Hurricane, a super fast, dizzying Dumbo-style ride that had Stu calling out for it to be over, bumper cars, the classic favorite, and of course, the Ferris wheel.

After riding a few rides and eating a slice of pizza in the shadow of the Ferris wheel, Cari decided that she was too scared to ride the Ferris wheel

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Ugh. The science fair.

Earlier this year, Cari came home with a packet from school and a note that explained that since she’s in third grade, she would need to complete a required science fair project.  At first, I was really excited.  Cari showed early interest in magnets, so I jumped on the chance to help her with something she was actually into.  But in the months that followed, I (as mom) went through a ridiculous range of emotions.  Thankfully, this story ends well, because if it didn’t… well, I might not be sharing it here.


 

Blogging is eminently more satisfying than what I should be doing… that is, helping my daughter with her first ever Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fair project.  For real.  I have so many feelings.  First, I have all of these uncomfortable flashbacks to elementary school, sitting at this very table, finishing some project or another while my mom gripes at me because I procrastinated.  Ugh.  That might be the worst part… the feelings that this project is bringing up in me.  Dread.  Angst.  Anxiety.  Reluctance.  Laziness.

Then there are the feelings of frustration with myself and with Cari.  I should have started this sooner.  I should have found a better way to get my kid engaged.  I should be kinder to my daughter when she gets bored and frustrated to keep her from shutting down.  I should be tougher on my kid when she gets bored and frustrated to build her stamina.  How will she ever become some important innovator without these skills?  How will she ever be successful in school if I don’t instill the desire to discover, to learn in her?

Finally, there are the feelings I have as a teacher.  I know that Cari should be doing this work by herself.  She should be learning the scientific process.  She should be engaged in inquiry.  She should be doing this work.  She should WANT to do this work.   But she’s in third grade, and much of the content we’re working through together, the nature of magnets, how they work–that in itself is pretty complicated, involving atomic level activity that I don’t really understand myself–and questions of scientific inquiry that I don’t know how to answer.  For example, the project requires that students construct a hypothesis:

The purpose of creating your hypothesis is to identify what you think will happen based on research that was collected.  The hypothesis needs to be worded as an “if… then… because…” statement explaining the cause and effect relationship that is being investigated.  Evidence from your research needs to be used to support and justify your thinking.

Cari wrote the following:

“If a magnet is heated, then it will be stronger because they will become warmer.”

Now, I realize there is some circular reasoning present here.  I’ve worked on that with Cari.  But to explain why she thinks a magnet will be stronger when it is heated requires some very complex research.  In fact, the research doesn’t support that conclusion.  There is no reason why a heated magnet should be stronger than a cooled magnet.  But this is what my daughter wanted to study.  So we studied it.  

I’m not opposed to this project.  Lord, I hope it helps Cari get interested in STEM, because as it stands, she’s very much her mother’s daughter, loving stories and the arts.  At least she’ll have a job if she loves and excels in STEM.  I’m not opposed to the time it has taken.  I am opposed to the implication that my third grader could independently complete a STEM project like the one she’s been assigned with any real scientific accuracy.  She doesn’t know how to effectively research scientific concepts, nor does she know how to construct a research plan.  She doesn’t know how to write a hypothesis or an abstract.  And I don’t know how to teach her.


 

We finished Cari’s project two days before it was due.  I’m ashamed to admit that there were tears, not only from Cari but from me.  I can only hope that Cari doesn’t remember her mother’s freak out, but the joy and pride she felt when she went to the school science fair.  Because that was all her.  For as much drama as the backboard caused, Cari was the one to present the information, explain the experiment to the judges, and communicate all she learned.  We must have done something right.

I love a parade

I have been in a funk for the past few days, so of course my husband insisted that we get out of the house to head down to the Chasco Fiesta Street Parade in downtown New Port Richey.  When I get in that kind of mood, I certainly do NOT want to go out, but my husband knows me better than I know myself.  I love a parade.  I took the big camera because I’ve been trying to get better at digital photography, so this was a great chance to practice…  there was certainly a lot to see.

Sometimes motherhood is messy

This post might be a little gross.  I’m warning you now.

I think mothers have some uncanny awareness of the overall wellbeing of our kids.  We can tell when our kids are complaining of tummy aches to avoid finishing their dinners and we can tell when a tummy ache is about to become a big mess.  Imminently.  I surprised myself this week reading this sickness in my daughter.  The whole family had spent much of our Sunday watching UVA win the ACC tournament (spoiler alert: I’m loading some blogs into the hopper ahead of my launch… sorry if that seems disingenuous) and my girl tells me she isn’t feeling well.  Complains of a tummy ache but not in the way of a whiny eight year old hoping to get out of eating salad.  She seems genuinely uncomfortable, so I warn her to go run into the bathroom if she feels like she needs to be sick.  Don’t think I’m cruel, but cleaning up vomit is one of my least favorite jobs of motherhood.  Well, within the hour, I find Cari curled over the toilet, losing everything she’s had to eat all day.  My poor baby.  Over the next six hours, I’m putting her into the shower to clean her up after multiple episodes, cleaning the floors and sterilizing the toilet, washing clothes, and in general comforting my sweet, sweet girl, who, despite her sickness, apologized to ME for making a mess.  I could have wept.

I said that I surprised myself.  It wasn’t the fact that I had gotten it right, that I had guessed my kid was really sick, that had me surprised.  What had me surprised was the selflessness I managed in the hours that followed.  Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to say that I deserve some mother-of-the-year award because I took care of my baby in her sickness.  In fact, my mothering is one of my greatest vulnerabilities, one of the areas in my life where I am most self-conscious.  I see awesome moms everywhere and I resent how “together” they have it: I’ve never been the kind of mom to make handmade valentines, to pack cute individual snacks for soccer, to write cute notes for Secret Santa gifts at dance.  In fact, I’m pretty selfish: I value my time reading, writing, working, and as a result I experience pretty epic mom guilt at not being the kind of moms I see at work or at church.  But when it came down to it, on this particular Sunday night, my baby had my undivided attention.  She had my every thought.  I found myself laying on the couch at 1:45 AM watching Veronica Mars so I could be awake and be available to her.  When I finally decided Cari had gotten through the worst of her bug, I moved into the bed with Stu where I tossed and turned until 3, waiting to hear if she needed me again.  I’ve spent much of today with her, mostly cuddling, because a fever has her pretty listless.  But I haven’t wanted to do anything else but be with her.

There is some pretty dangerous mom dialogue out there.  On the one hand, TV depicts all kinds of moms…  moms who scream at one another over leaked gossip, moms who manage to make three spectacular meals a day and blog about them, moms who drink so heavily they need their kids to look after them, moms who give up themselves in the interest of their children.  On the other hand, real life shows us all kinds of moms, too…  moms on Facebook who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with green pancakes and green smoothies (organic, of course) or moms at work who schedule play dates at the park complete with picnic lunches.  I’m guilty, too, of boasting on Facebook of how proud I am of Cari and her accomplishments.  And I am proud!  So very proud of my beautiful, sweet, smart, silly girl.  But I wish there was more realness in the world of motherhood: I wish I heard more of the struggles other mothers face, not because I would revel in anyone’s struggle, but because I see that I’m not alone.  Maybe then I could be more honest with my own issues.

At the end of the day, I’m snuggled in the bed with my little girl snuggled beside me, and she knows she’s loved and cared for.  I know that I’ve given her every bit of love and care I have inside me.  She has had a bad day, and even though it has been messy, we’re both content.  And I didn’t need any special show of motherhood to reveal how much I love my kid.

A few months ago, my church did a sermon series on this issue.  I’ve got this podcast loaded into my iPad for another listen, because I obviously need to hear it again.  Have a listen if you need the same encouragement I needed today.