Small Social Skills Theatre


Jog-a-thon water station

It’s Jog-a-thon time again folks!  School jog-a-thons are great! (Run, Forrest! Run!).  Forget about raising money for the schools and building in a life full of healthy exercise habits for the children, because nothing beats these school-wide events for the fabulous experiments in childhood personality testing that they are. They are simply designed to reveal the psychological make up of these future citizens of the world. Today marked my 7th annual jog-a-thon. Since I have six kids that means there are only 26 more to go! (I said run dammit! Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.)

I am happy to report that today’s event had all the usual cast of characters: there’s the kids that totally buy into the process and give it their all, competition etched fierce and intense on their faces as they compete against their own personal best. There’s the one’s who try and game the system cutting around the inside of cones to shave the distance until some authority figure steps in with a lesson in accountability. The are the one’s who treat the whole things as a social event, chatting and waylaying anyone who crosses their path as they check their hair and clothing, and there are the one’s who try to minimize their enforced participation in the whole event by loafing at the water station until they are flushed out by an observant teacher to run another lap.

Some of them live totally in the moment, the Forrest Gumps, god love them. You say “Run!” and they do…backwards, the wrong way, across fields, swarming around teachers, off they go, startled into action, never once asking questions about why they are being made to run in endless circles. And then there are my personal favorites, the ones who pass you on each lap, giving you that look that says they’re going to give up every state secret they know. They’re not sure how it’s happened to them, but they know they have somehow stumbled into some school-sponsored program whose design was first conceived at Guantanamo.

I’m always late to volunteer for these events and that places me at the water station (I guess the thinking here goes, “if you can’t get organized enough to volunteer on time, how will you ever be organized enough to mark laps on the back of their bibs?”). But whatever, I’m just glad to help out. And it’s always the same at the water station. After approximately a lap and a half the entire grade level hits that water station all at once, panting like little Olympians. Kids are great the way they can run a ¼ mile and still look as if they were in the final 100 meters of the New York Marathon. From there on out, they will collectively stop for water on every single lap, and manage to look progressively worse every time you see them until you are finally forced to ask if they’d like the paramedics to be brought onto the field. All this takes place to the high-energy sounds of Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas. The dissonance is thick by the end of it, I can assure you.

And when they’re done they get…a Popsicle. I wouldn’t take that deal any day of the week, so you’ve got to admire their willingness to get behind a call to action, and I’m a big fan of randomly tormenting the children. It gets them ready for life in the rat race glorious world ahead of them. When the music finally dies down and the Popsicle sticks have been collected, they round up these sweaty, sticky, over-stimulated little people and return them to their classes for the rest of the days education. I’ve often wondered what that looks like, but I’ve never had the courage to stay and find out.

Another especially good example of this kind of behavior-revealing activity can be found in the science class. Want to get to know your child and his friends at their deepest level? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Frog Dissection! In our district this year, the 5th graders were broken up into groups of four, given sharp implements and this guy…

Frog Dissection

Let the mayhem begin! Here’s what I saw during that exercise; some kids excused themselves to step outside in discomfort about 38 times, and though many of them just seemed to use it as an excuse to wander aimlessly around, a couple of them stayed out there for the entire class due to a true inability to embrace the spirit of animal autopsy. A few of the kids were very scientific as they went about the business of cataloging frog parts and a small number were unable to complete the dissection due to the gross out factor. And at least one table, made up entirely of girls, never even began the dissection because the group kept breaking down over leadership issues and personality conflicts. And lastly, there were a few boys at work in that house of horrors who did things to those frogs that made me think of a scene from the movie “Con Air” where Steve Buscemi’s character Garland Greene says “One girl… I drove through three states wearing her head as a hat.” Those are the one’s who will probably become doctors one day.

Think back…which one were you? In the mean time, volunteer, you can’t beat it for the opportunity to learn and be horrified. Plus, it helps out the schools.



T.G.I.F? More Like F.U.I.F…on Shared Custody.


That’s right. You read it correctly. Friday, that godsend to the rest of the working world, is my least favorite day of the week. For a long time now.

For starters, it’s traditionally the day of the week when the Golf Pro opens and as a result, he’s long gone by the time the alarm sounds to call us to the morning get ready for school routine. So that means it’s me vs. 6 kids with two school drop-offs to make. It used to be three different schools. And it used to be Hell on earth, but I have to admit, this year it got slightly easier now that we have one less school, the baby can get himself to car with everybody else and the 10 year old’s are better able to assist in the routine. But still, I have no doubt that Friday mornings have shortened my life. If I ever succumb to the family history of aneurysms, mine will have Fridays written on it.

The mornings always start the same, with me hitting the snooze button as many times as I can get away with. And in between five minute intervals, I try and rate myself on a scale of 1 to “irresponsible as hell” how bad it would be to just call everyone in sick that day.  I eventually realize I cannot do that and lurch out of bed (read – Not A Morning Person).  I wake up the 5 school-goers, gently at first, then with threats of violence and tearful pleas for help. When this behavior fails,  I bust out the trump card – I tell them they will walk if they don’t get up and help me. That always works.

The next part of the negotiation is where I stumble to the kitchen and mentally start counting up how much money is in my wallet so I can get out of the monotony of making lunches. At some point in time, while I am making my coffee and still yelling threats of missing the ride up the stairs, I will have talked myself into actually caving in and will have sent my childish, petulant, non-lunch-making self to another room in my head.

The third phase of the negotiations begins during the lunch making, breakfast, serving, traffic-directing time. This is the one where I start figuring whether I’ll be late to just one school or both.  It’s usually around this time, I usually see a glimmer of hope and realize that we are doing better than I think we are and I kick into gear…and mostly, everyone gets breakfast, to school and has a lunch or snack in their backpack. On time. Every Friday. I don’t know why I have to play this psychological game with myself, but I do. Mentally, it’s like some sort of Friday morning airbag deployment.

But all the above isn’t the real reason I hate Fridays ( although I think it’s enough of a reason).  On Fridays, my oldest children go to their fathers house for the weekend. And I hate it.  I will never, ever be used to the fact that my children have another home where they live without me. I will never be happy about the disruption to our family routine or the pressure I feel not to argue with them and end our week on a bad note right before they leave. Or the dreaded “re-entry” period when they change houses, routines and general expectations. But on the whole, they have always handled it fine, because that is what I worked so hard for. For them to feel that all this is exactly the way it is supposed to happen. And they do.

When this arrangement all started, I would breath deeply, smile and deliberately open my hands to release them with exhortations to go and have a wonderful time with their Father. At the time we were engaged in deep hostilities. The kind that involve lawyers and mediators while we negotiated what I call “The Un-Divorce”.  It was one of the lowest points of my life.

Every Friday, without fail, I would suck it up and send them away from me to the place that had been our home. Now it was only theirs and I was not welcome in it at the time.  I never once made them carry my burden of how would I live without them for even 2 days, when they had been every minute of my whole life up to that moment. I made no panicky demands that they call and I placed no such calls myself. I gave them no burdens to carry with them and behaved as if it was all perfectly normal. And to his great credit, so did their father, even though we were not on speaking terms at the time. That they never experienced any of the conflict the adults were experiencing is something I count as one of the most right things I have done.

And then, once they left, I would lay down on the couch with total numbing grief and mute from the pain of having my entire impetus ripped away from me. I would not get up again until they returned and the earth would right itself on it’s axis and begin revolving once more.  They had been the sole focus of my every minute for 3 years. Years riddled with health crises and emergencies that required a watchful eye and hyper-vigilant focus, as well as a total mental record of their rather complicated medical histories. How would I trust anyone else to guard them? When they left, they took my reason for living with them.

In those days, only one thing kept me from sliding completely into the darkness that threatened. If it hadn’t been for the Kid, who, at just 2 years old, still had those pesky needs to be fed and changed and kept from choking on things, I don’t know if I could have coped.  He kept me going until the others returned. He has always been my miracle, and on the weekends, even though we all still miss the older kids and our family is incomplete, we all still get by with each other.

Things got better between their father and I over a period of time. Being able to put their needs above everything else made that possible for both of us, although it’s still a journey. And I catch a break because of the sports.  I go to every game to see them and in that way they are not gone quite so much. But I still don’t like this day of the week any better than I ever did . So from me to you Peggy Sue…Fridays, you can Suck It.