Party Preparation

I was up early this morning, doing stuff in the kitchen. Brad got up for work about an hour later and wandered sleepily into the kitchen.

“Mommy,” he said, (Mommy?) “I tweaked my shoulder getting out of bed. Can you rub it a little bit?”

Makes me smile when the kids call me “Mommy.” Every once in a while, it slips out and I see a shadow of the former child inside of them. So I gave my 22 year-old burly boy a little shoulder rub and he felt better, then wrapped me up in a big bear hug. That’s another thing that makes me smile – getting a big hug from a kid who’s now much bigger than I am, but still so sweet inside.

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I’m off work this week, preparing for Kacey’s graduation party. I’m a seasoned veteran now, having thrown two of these shindigs for the boys in recent years. I remember my own graduation party, way back in the day. It was a warm, early summer day. There were Sloppy Joes and baked beans, some salads, I’m sure, and a small cake. There were a couple of picnic tables in the back yard and some lawn chairs and the guests consisted of the extended family, neighbors and a few friends from school. The festivities were wrapped up by early evening. It was a much simpler affair than the parties that go on these days.

I’ve started thinking of this month as graduation season. We’ve been invited to 17 parties and Kacey will attend many more than that, being the social butterfly that she is. The kids invite everyone to their graduation celebrations via FaceBook these days, and they tend to travel in bunches going from one friend’s party to the next. Mark and I have attended a few parties already ourselves and it’s fun to see what everyone does with food and decorating. Most everyone puts together some sort of display with photos of the guest of honor spanning from birth to graduation, and showcasing various awards for academic or athletic achievements. But I can’t help but think what a production a graduation party has become! Many people have their parties catered and go all out. Personally, I’m making myself a little nuts wondering if I’ll have enough food. I’m making most of it myself – shredded beef and turkey for sandwiches, potato salad and three-bean hot dish. Several people have offered to make bars for the occasion. I’ll be cutting up lots of fruit, buying cole slaw from Mark’s favorite restaurant and buying a cake from a local bakery.

These parties have become such big events! As I talk with others whose kids are graduating this year, I know that we’re all stressing out trying to put on a great party. Personally, I’ll worry about the house being clean, only to have people coming and going all day long and have it end up looking like a bomb went off inside anyway!

The grad party is a good excuse though to tackle home improvement projects that tend to get put off otherwise. With all the improvements we’ve done inside the house over the last few years, (i.e. kitchen remodel) we’ve really focused on the outside stuff the last couple of months. I’ve been wanting to buy a canopy for our deck and this party was my motivation to finally do it. We get so much sun there, and it gets so hot, that no one spends any time there. The deck ended up being my pet project this spring and I have to say I’m quite proud of how it turned out. It’s got a fresh coat of stain (thanks mostly to Mark, though we all took a turn with a paint brush) and the new canopy provides nice shade while still allowing an enjoyable amount of sunshine. Yesterday I planted some flowers in pots to put out there and then I strung white lights around the interior. It looks so cool after dark! I’ve named my little project “The Tiki Room.” I don’t know why. It was a joke, but once I started calling it that, the name  stuck. Brad, Kacey and I inaugurated the Tiki Room, eating our dinner out there last evening!

The Tiki Room

So this is what I’m doing with a week off. May not sound like much fun, but I’m enjoying being home, forgetting about work for a while, and being able to see the kids more as they come and go. By the end of this week, the party will happen, rain or shine, ready or not. It will be another busy weekend as we have two neighbors and a few other long-time friends throwing graduation parties this weekend as well. It will be fun to see everyone and celebrate together, and afterwards, we’ll be able to slow down a bit and enjoy the rest of the summer.

Until then, if anyone needs me, I’ll be in the kitchen!

Kacey’s Graduation

My baby graduated from high school today, which is so hard to believe because it wasn’t all that long ago that I was putting her on the bus to Kindergarten.

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Hug your babies. They grow up too fast.

These Are My Days

Kacey was just waking up and finding her breakfast this morning as I was getting ready to leave for work. I gave her a hug and said, “Happy last day of high school!”

“Don’t say that,” she said with a melancholy little smile on her face.

I felt bad and gave her an extra squeeze. She has loved her high school years and while a part of her is ready to embrace what comes next in life, another part is reluctant to let go of the here and now.

I mentioned this conversation to my coworker this morning, marveling to her that my kid loved high school so much that she’s having trouble with saying goodbye.

“I would never go back to my high school years,” my coworker told me.

“I wouldn’t either,” I agreed. “I was ready to get as far away from high school as possible as soon as possible.”

My coworker went on to say that she would happily go back to her thirties, describing those years as her happiest. She said she felt most comfortable with herself back then. She finally felt like a grown-up and had found a sense of confidence. For a few seconds, I contemplated to which stage of my life I’d be willing to return, but soon realized I couldn’t see going back. I told my coworker that I was happy right now. The last few years right through to today are my happiest. Maybe it’s taken me longer to realize who I am and to get comfortable with that person. But another part of it has to do with my kids. I love the people they have become. I truly enjoy them and want to spend time with them. And they are still very much planted within the framework of my life. They are on the verge of independence, but they’re not there quite yet. And I like it that way. I don’t want to go back in time, but I’m not in a hurry to go forward either.

When I came home from work this afternoon, all of the cars were here. It made me happy to know that we were all going to be under the same roof for a little while, at least until work schedules and social commitments called for the night. Later in the evening, Connor came over to hang out with Kacey and they were telling me how sad they were to see their last day of high school come to an end. It was a bittersweet day for them. One of their classmates recorded the seniors as they gathered at the Senior Railing just before the final bell. Connor couldn’t wait to show me.

If you can look past the blatant disrespect of paper tossing and listen closely, you can hear the pride in their chanting. They are happy to have made it, excited to go forward in life. You can’t see it here, but I have been assured their were a lot of tears too.

I swear I didn’t used to be such a sentimental sap, but even this video makes me feel weepy. I have loved watching my kids grow through their school days. Sure, there were many times I wished they would hurry up and be over, especially during Jake’s high school years. He didn’t embrace those days the way Brad and Kacey did. But even through the difficult times, I could see my kids rising to meet challenges and becoming the wonderful people they’ve come to be. And maybe I was especially proud of Jake because his challenges were sometimes more challenging for him than they were for others.

There’s a minor drawback to these days I claim are my favorite ones yet. Many of them make me very emotional. I have this habit of viewing each day, each special occasion with a don’t blink or it will be gone too soon sort of attitude. I worry that I’m missing something because I’m so worried about how quickly it will all be over. I’ve realized I need to simply embrace these times and enjoy them as they are, to just be in the moment. And they may still be gone too quickly, but it has occurred to me that there is a reason that I write this blog and that is so that these days will never really be gone.

BUT, who am I kidding. I’ll probably still get weepy at the drop of a hat.  And I accept this about myself. :-)

Serving Up Some Volleyball Fun

My daughter is a very busy girl. She is in the midst of her senior year of high school and determined to squeeze every bit of fun and excitement out of it as she can. So unlike me at that age. She makes me proud!

For the past week, Kacey has been busy preparing for the Incoming volleyball tournament at school.

What is Incoming? Incoming is a week-long celebration, along the lines of Homecoming. When the high school first opened its doors years ago, it was already half-way through the school year. The students needed something to help them get excited about their new school, and so Incoming was born.

One of the many Incoming activities is the annual volleyball tournament. Anyone can put a team together, and I’m not entirely sure of the rules, but I think there has to be a particular ratio of girls to guys per team. Only so many “actual” volleyball players are allowed per team. Beyond that, anything goes.

The team to beat is made up of several varsity volleyball players and the most athletic boys in the school. This team wins first place in their grade level every year. Kacey has it in her head that this team must be taken down and her team is just the one to do it! (I love this kid’s level of confidence and I wish her team the best of luck!)

Kacey is of the belief that not only must her team possess skill, but style as well. Over the past week, she has been very busy designing and creating shirts for her team. She has allowed only a select few friends to assist with the t-shirt production. I asked if she wasn’t over-extending herself with the t-shirt project, considering that she has homework, National Honor Society responsibilities, captain’s practices to run for softball and a certain amount of sleep needed. Also, it might be nice if she cleaned her room and did some chores around the house now and then. I wondered if some of the other team members couldn’t contribute their efforts to the project. Kacey and Haley, the one friend she would allow to help, explained to me that the guys on the team were not allowed to help. As I now understand it, guys don’t know how to be creative. Guys will just take a Sharpie marker, scribble a name on the shirt and call it good. No, this project required people who were dedicated to the creation of quality team apparel. Guys are not to be trusted for such a serious endeavor. Connor, (the boyfriend) was allowed to help some. But only with proper supervision from Kacey and Haley.

I must admit, Kacey’s stubborn attitude about the designing of the shirts paid off. Early this morning, I saw twelve matching jerseys, expertly decorated and monogrammed with the affectionate nicknames this group of friends and team mates have bestowed upon one another. There was Hay Rae and Spandex, The Donn and Nonn and a host of other names I can no longer recall. Kacey proudly showed me her shirt:

Gdubbs?

“Gdubbs” I asked? “You’re Gdubbs?”

“Yep.”

“What does that mean?”

“Gdubbs… G.W. … Guns and Wheels,” she stated matter-of-factly.

“Your nickname is Guns and Wheels,” I asked somewhat incredulously? (Okay, I’m sorry. She’s my daughter and I love her, but she’s not known for her speed, so I wasn’t really getting the “Wheels” thing. I’m still not sure about the “Guns” part.)

“It’s a joke,” she said. “From softball? Because they call me ‘Wheels’?”

Now I got it. And I was happy to see that she had such a great sense of humor. They do call her “Wheels” in softball. As a joke. Because trust me, the girl does not have wheels. Even she laughs about how slowly she runs. Hence the reason she’s got to rely on her hitting and stealing abilities to make it around the bases.

So the shirts had some great artwork and nick names on the backs. But that’s not all. Much effort went into the design on the front of the shirts too:

“Nice volleyball net,” I thought. I looked at the team name then looked at my daughter blankly.

“Safe. Sets. Safe Sets? I don’t get it. What does that mean?” I was thinking hard. Serve, hit, set, spike. What is a “safe set?” Kacey looked me in the eyes.

“Mom.” silent pause

“Yeah? What?”

She continued to look at me and then realization dawned. Safe Sets? Safe Sex? Safe Sets!

“Kacey,” I exclaimed! “SAFE SETS? Oh my god, whose idea was that?” I couldn’t help but laugh.

She giggled. “I dunno. One of the guys thought it up.” She shrugged me off.

Oh, to be in high school again. She reminds me of the good parts that I actually enjoyed, like close friends and inside jokes, nick names that made sense to no one outside of the circle and finding the fun in anything as long as you had your friends along for the ride. No, I really wouldn’t want to go back and do it again, but I’m very happy that she loves it so much. My girl. She knows how to enjoy life so much better than I ever did.

I hope the Safe Sets beat the team to beat, but I have a feeling that win or lose, they’re going to have a great time.

He will soar

My middle child is an amazing kid. The problem is, he doesn’t  often remember it. He can be imaginitive and ambitious. His personality is adventurous and full of humor. He has a gentle heart and a loving spirit. But the simple act of going to school can make all that disappear. He retreats inside himself and hides all those spectacular qualities away. You see, Jake and school are not a good mix. Oh, he loves the social aspect. It’s the classes he’d prefer to avoid. In class, Jake often feels lost and inadequate. He is a very intelligent kid, but has such trouble focusing and proving himself in the traditional ways.

We have spent years trying to help Jake find his niche. I feel as though we have been fighting and battling, ever step of the way. There has been encouragement and discipline. There were times we pleaded and bribed. We tried to develop routines. There were often heated words and tears. I have read so many books and we have tried everything possible to help my son find what works for him. There have been a few teachers, a few gems who have a gift with kids and have helped Jake not only merely pass, but succeed in ways he never thought possible. But the sad reality is those teachers were few and far between. And the current system just isn’t set up to accommodate certain kids and there is nothing parents like  us can do about it. It took me a while to realize it but Jake stopped fighting long ago. He does what he can. Sometimes we have to “remind” him to stay on top of things. He is merely counting the days until his life can finally move beyond high school.

Over the holiday break the real Jake came back and I loved seeing him so confident and relaxed. As you can imagine, summers are a wonderful time for us too. Most recently, the kids enjoyed another long, though unexpected break. Last Thursday and Friday, school was cancelled due to extremely cold weather and they didn’t have to return until Wednesday of this week because of the MLK holiday and parent/teacher conferences on Tuesday. Over that long, long weekend, the real Jake resurfaced again. When I came home from work last night, I realized that he had retreated yet again. I hate that. I miss my happy, relaxed kid. I hate that he judges himself against a system that doesn’t work for everyone. I hate that he can’t help but compare himself to “the norm.” When I tried to talk to him last night, I received one word answers and little eye contact. I felt confused for a moment before I caught on to what was going on. I thought maybe he had had a trying day at school, but that wasn’t necessarily it. There is another session of parent/teacher conferences tonight and he knows we plan to go. It is tempting for me to just skip them, but I know I need to stay in touch with his teachers.

The thing is, Jake is passing. I don’t care whether his report card shows As, Cs or Ds. As long as he does the best he can and turns in his work, that’s all we ask. I just want him to pass. Years from now, no one will care whether he passed Physics with an A or a D. He has fought hard and he’ll graduate but it has been a battle. Where his grades are concerned, what is acceptable in our eyes for him might be cause for concern if it were one of our other kids. That’s ok. The current system can’t offer alternative methods for kids like Jake who don’t function well in a traditional classroom and won’t award him with the kind of grades that prove what a highly intelligent person he is. I hate that this very fact weighs on him so heavily. He is so much more than the school system would let him believe. I know he will someday, but I wish he could realize now that there is so much more to life than this. In a few short months, he can walk out the doors of that high school for good and the world can be full of possibility and doors just waiting for him to open them. He can’t wait for that day, and neither can I. He has wings and he can spread them and fly. He just needs the chance to believe it.

Shoulda just shut my mouth

Remember the beautiful cell model Kacey made for her Biology class?

Remember how proud I was of her? Remember how sure we all were that she would get an A on this project?

Well…..

The day the project was turned in, Kacey came home mildly upset. It seems that when she arrived at class that day, one of her classmates was already there, having been frantically putting the finishing touches on her model. Apparently the teacher had given this classmate a heads-up that she should have a written page listing all the cell components as well as their functions and the girl managed to get it written out before class began. This girl told all the other kids that they were supposed to have this written piece, but no one else had been aware of that requirement. Kacey thought this was extremely unfair. She didn’t think it was clear that the written page was part of the assignment.

I asked to see the instructions she was provided and she gave me this:

I read through the first part. “Use unlikely stuff to depict the structure and function of the cell, with emphasis on interrelationships among parts.”

I was a little confused. The teacher uses a word like “stuff” then goes on to talk about “interrelationships among parts.” I had to wonder if your typical 15 year old grasped what was meant by this phrase.

I suspected this is where the problem was. I asked Kacey what she thought “interrelationships among parts” meant. She said she didn’t know and I told her it was her responsibility to ask about those things she didn’t understand instead of assuming she had covered all her bases.

But she was still very worried about her grade. She had put hours of hard work into this project and was afraid she was going to lose points over a technicality. So we promised her we would talk about it with her teacher at parent/teacher conferences later that week.

So when conference day rolled around, I made sure to bring the instructions with and when it was time to visit the teacher, we listened as she gave us a breakdown of Kacey’s performance in class. Overall, it seems she is doing very well.

Once the teacher was done telling us what she wanted to tell us, I brought out the instruction sheet and asked if we could talk about it. I very nicely explained that Kacey was worried that she was going to lose points on her project because she didn’t understand there was supposed to be a written piece. I explained the conversation I had had with Kacey and asked the teacher if she could clarify what her expectations were on the project.

I could see the teacher’s face sort of freeze up. For some reason, she was upset that I was asking her about this. She wanted to know what the problem was. I told her that Kacey didn’t understand where in the instructions it said there should be a written piece to accompany the model.

The teacher reached over and underlined the words “interrelationships among parts” while shooting me a challenging glare. (See where she underlined it clearly for simple, little ol’ me?)

“Right here,” she said.

I replied that I didn’t think those words specifically implied that the students were to describe the cell components and functions in written form. I was irritated at this point and trying not to show it. I calmly suggested that if I didn’t quite get what that meant, it might be possible that a bunch of 15 year olds wouldn’t get it either.

Her reply was, “If Kacey didn’t understand, she should have asked me.”

Mark joined the conversation and said that it sounded as if the entire class misunderstood. I told the teacher that we had no intention of undermining her, we simply wanted to understand ourselves what her expectations were. She was clearly miffed at the fact that we had questioned her at all.

Mark made things worse by asking if Kacey completed the written portion over the weekend, could she possibly get partial credit for the missing piece? There was a LONG pause before the teacher finally agreed, emphasizing, “She can’t have full credit, but I might give her a few extra points.”

We agreed that was fair, but I left the conference worried that we had done nothing but irritate this teacher, even though all we wanted was to understand ourselves so that we could pass the information on to our daughter.

I was right to be concerned. This is the grade slip Kacey brought home:

Does anyone else notice a sense of vindictiveness in this grade slip? The teacher initially gave Kacey full credit for neatness and effort, then knocked that score in half when adding a mere 2 extra points for the partial credit Mark had asked if she could have.

I. was. LIVID!

We apologized to Kacey for making the situation worse. She’d have been better off had we never said a word. But she just laughed it off. She said she was glad that we had called the teacher out on her “questionable” instructions and had learned her lesson about asking questions when she wasn’t sure of the requirements.

I was really irritated by that grade slip for several days. The teacher had sent a very clear, very unfair message that she is not to be questioned. But I have since adopted my daughter’s attitude. If Kacey can let it go, I guess I can too. Lesson learned. But trust me, my daughter will never have that teacher again. I’ll make sure of that.