Thursday, September 24, 2009

Careless Mistakes

We have a new catch phrase at our house: careless mistakes. I've been hearing it from both of my children, several times a week, since school started. "I would have gotten an A+ on my test, but I made a few careless mistakes." It just rolls off their tongues as if the mistakes are perfectly acceptable because they were careless in nature.

It doesn't sound like a term that either one of them would have come up with on their own, so I'm assuming they are quoting their teachers. I'm sure their teachers use the phrase as an incentive to do better on the next test, but my children use it as a defense. They plead not guilty by reason of careless mistakes. It's much easier to cop a plea than to admit that their efforts, or lack thereof, might have had something to do with their oversights.

When my son brought home his math test this week, the numbers circled in red did not indicate that he had a fundamental problem understanding the material, but rather that he was sloppy and absentminded. These careless mistakes are happening so often that I'm beginning to wonder if he and his teacher will soon abandon the term "careless mistakes" and replace it with "chronic mistakes".

My daughter has been after us for about, oh, I don't know, roughly 3 years to buy her a cell phone. When we were finally ready to succumb, my husband threw out a challenge: ace your math test and you'll get your precious phone sooner rather than later. A few days later she strutted through the door announcing, "Yeah, baby, somebody is getting a cell phone!" I was pleased as punch for her and told my husband that he better deliver the goods. So imagine my surprise when she brought the test home the next day and I saw that she received a 90, not a 100. "Um, hello? Acing a test means getting all the answers correct." Her response? "Pfff, come on, Mom, I did, these are just careless mistakes." Seriously?

Now granted, careless mistakes made on math tests should not have huge ramifications (yes, she still got the phone), but careless mistakes made by a bank teller, a construction worker, an airplane pilot or a neurosurgeon could have horrible repercussions and I don't want my children to lose sight of that fact. And add fertility doctor to that list: I read an article in yesterday's paper about a woman in Ohio who is carrying another couple's child after a fertility clinic implanted her with the wrong embryo. Now that was a careless mistake of monumental proportions.

I don't have a problem with my children making mistakes, but I am getting a bit fed up with their cavalier attitude toward their slip-ups. They act as if there is nothing they can do about careless mistakes; they simply come with the territory. And that might be true, after all, they are just kids. But at what age do careless mistakes become just plain old stupid mistakes?

Some people are paralyzed by the fear of making mistakes. I don't want my children to ever feel that way (although, surely there's a happy medium?). Oh, for the love of Pete, I am trying to do two things at about mistakes and make brownies for a friend and it seems I've made a careless mistake...I've added too much oil. Hmm. Looks like I will have to double the recipe and keep some brownies for the Reids. I hope my children learn from my careless mistakes. Or are my mistakes considered just plain old stupid mistakes because I am no longer a kid? No, I don't make stupid mistakes, only very, very clever ones. And I'm pretty sure that my kids will agree when I offer them a brownie this afternoon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm Much Too Busy...

It was a week of lessons in civility brought to us by Wilson, Williams and West. Every newspaper I picked up, every website I visited, and every magazine I subscribed to was abuzz about our society's inability to be gracious and humble. It seems that we as a nation have forgotten how to keep our mouths shut and demonstrate self-control.

I grew up in a household of five girls where my mother would often tell us to "act like a lady, even if it hurts." Over the years, I've learned that biting your tongue figuratively can be a lot more painful than doing so literally. But lately it seems that what we as individuals have to say simply can no longer be contained. (Hence my blog.) When did we get so gosh darn important?

Which brings me to my rant. I'm not going to add my two cents to this week's civility lessons. Instead, I'm going to vociferate about a problem that I believe has added to this attitude of self-importance. This week, I'm going off on....busy people.

Every one of us is allotted the same 24 hour period, 7 days a week. Mother Teresa managed to minister to the poor, the sick, the orphaned and the dying during her 24 hours. Leonardo da Vinci made due with his 24 hours while dabbling in math, science, engineering, botany, anatomy, painting, sculpting, writing and playing name a few. Best I can tell, Franklin Roosevelt put together the New Deal in a string of 24 hour periods. And yet, a lot of people today cannot manage to get dinner on the table in the same 24 hour time span.

My problem is not in the fact that dinner isn't made, but rather that busy people feel the need to recite the litany of reasons why they don't have time to make dinner. They reel off the list of excuses as if I couldn't possibly understand because I'm not nearly as busy. Or perhaps even more offensive, they assume that I haven't made dinner either. Quite frankly, I don't have time for this behavior (I'm far too busy).

Busy people wear their busyness like a badge of honor. It's become a competition amongst busy people to prove that they are the busiest. "You think you're busy? Your child plays soccer, takes piano lessons and art lessons? Hah! Mine does all of those as well, and he's in a play at school AND he's got 2 brothers in activities as well!" You do the math...the person with the most kids in the most activities is the busiest person. And the busiest person wins.

I love how busy people act as if they aren't responsible for setting their busy schedules. One minute they are in complete control and the next..POW...their kids are put on several sports teams and are forced to take guitar lessons. So, I guess what we are to believe is that coaches are sneaking into the homes of busy people in the middle of the night and taking their children to travel soccer tryouts without the parents consent or knowledge. And to make matters worse, when the parents do find out, they can't say no. It's out of their hands and there is nothing they can do about it.

Don't get me wrong, I realize that there are plenty of truly busy people out there. I think the difference is that a productive person, one with a lot on his plate who manages to pull it off on a daily basis....doesn't obsess about it. And doesn't feel any more important as a result of having a hectic schedule. (Nor does he feel the need to share the boring details with others). And most importantly...a truly productive person doesn't fear free time.

I could go on and on and on, but I don't have the time...if I told you all that I have to accomplish between now and the time I have to be at the bus stop, your head would explode. I'm one busy lady. Move over Mother Teresa....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Keep It In Perspective

We are right back in the thick of it: school, homework, soccer, forgetting our homework, field hockey, homework meltdowns, flag football, carpools and more homework. Like it or not...we are back in a routine and on several occasions, that routine has been known to set me over the edge. But after today, I've vowed to try to keep it all in perspective.

You won't hear me reading my son the riot act when he tells me he can't do his spelling because his book is in his desk at school. And far be it from me to lecture my daughter about her commitment to the field hockey team. If I spend the next 5 days in my car shuttling kids, that will be ok, because after a day like today, I am going to rejoice in every single ordinary, customary, familiar piece of my routine. Because having a routine signifies that every thing is normal and normal is good. Just ask my friend Amy.

Amy, who lives in Charlotte, spent the day in NYC at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center with her husband, Jeff, and her 5 year old son, Grier. When Grier was 2 1/2, he was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma; since then, their lives have been anything but normal. Today Grier underwent another surgery and I don't think I've stopped thinking about him for more than 5 minutes at a time. I spent most of the day checking for updates on Facebook and Grier's website. I don't know how Amy does it, but she does it and she's an inspiration to everybody who knows her. And so in honor of Amy, I've vowed to keep it all in perspective. (And, boy, do my kids owe her BIG time).

When I click on her website, I immediately hear Amy's voice and that crazy giggle of hers. And while I know it must be unbelievably hard for her to write about the things her family has been through, she always does it with humor and grace. And most importantly, she keeps it all in perspective. I remember one post back in the spring where she described the grueling round of scans that Grier undergoes every three months. She wrote that while Grier bears the physical part of the tests, she and her husband endure the emotional burden. But that's it, she doesn't go on to question why this is happening to her sweet son and the rest of her family. Instead, she convinces Grier that everybody goes through these tests...and he believes her and is comforted by her. And we almost believe her, too...but not really...but we are comforted by her. And when she recounts an incident where somebody asks Grier about his summer vacation plans and he doesn't miss a beat with, "we're going to NYC to live at the Ronald McDonald house!" we find ourselves laughing along with her. And we can't believe how well she manages to keep it all in perspective.

The last update I received this evening said that Grier was resting comfortably in the Pediatric Observation Unit. I hope Amy and Jeff are resting, as well. But if I know Amy, she's watching monitors and keeping tabs on nurses and IVs and medications and catheters....but undoubtedly keeping it all in perspective.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Honk If You're Always Right

While pulling into the farmer's market parking lot, I noticed a woman backing out of a space who was completely unaware of my presence. I stopped and waited for her to notice me, but to no avail, she continued to back up. When she got dangerously close to my car, I beeped my horn to let her know that I was there. Or maybe I laid on my horn, in moments of panic, I don't always recall the specifics.

But the horn got her attention and she stopped immediately. As she pulled beside me toward the road she mouthed the word "sorry". I nodded, acknowledging her apology and as I started to pull into the empty space, the off-duty police officer who mans the lot motioned me over.

I've been going to the farmer's market every Tuesday and Friday for years and this particular off-duty officer is always there controlling the traffic flow. He's tall and thin, wears dark sunglasses (even when it's cloudy) and shaves his head. He almost looks like Mr. Clean, but not quite. I think he'd be flattered by the comparison, but quite frankly, he isn't nearly as buff as the grimefighter. Still, he's probably more at home at the farmer's market than at Dunkin' Donuts and I get the feeling he likes this gig of his.

I've never had a full-fledged conversation with him, we've just exchanged pleasantries, but based on the way he looks and the way he carries himself, I've managed to sum him up quite nicely. I do that often, and yes, I know that you can't judge a book by it's cover or a person by their appearance, but that never stops me. I'm quite good at it and on the rare occasion when I'm wrong and misjudge an individual, I am overwhelmed with guilt (but then am quick to do it again).

So, I roll down my window and Mr. thinks-he-looks-like-mister Clean, puts his (not very) massive forearms on my door and leans into my window and says, "She didn't see you, you know." And I want to say, "Really? Hmm, you don't say?" But, I don't say that, instead I say, "I know she didn't see me, that's why I beeped my horn." And then the keeper of the lot says, "Well, I saw your expression, ma'am and you looked angry." And I want to say, "Not as angry as I would have been had she hit my car." But, I don't say that, instead I say, "I'm sorry if I appeared angry, I think I was more scared than angry." And why are you getting all Dr. Phil with me? Is it against the law to look angry or do you just want me to work through my emotions? (and no, I did not say that).

Seriously? Are we having a discussion about my body language and facial expressions? Does he think he can sum me up based on how I look? Cause I get that, really I do. And I get the whole knowing-what's-going-on-in-your head thing because I fancy myself a doctor of psychology, too. I guess the difference is that I don't go telling people to roll down their car windows so that I can tell them what I think and he does. (and maybe I'm a little envious of him, because I'd like to be able to do that). (I'm just saying.)

Deep breaths.

So now he's turned his entire body and he's leaning on just one arm and his head is a bit closer to mine as if he's going to let me in on a big secret. And then he proceeds to tell me that tempers often flare in this parking lot and he does his best to keep everybody calm. Really? Do fruits and vegetables make people crazy, I wonder? Or does he make people crazy? Because I was fine until he told me to roll down my window. "Ok, listen up Officer, get your overly flexed bicep off of my car door, let me park my car, buy my veggies and then you can continue to pretend that you are controlling both the traffic flow and the overall mood of the farmer's market." But I don't say that, instead I say, "And we so appreciate all that you do." (And if I had that sarcastic font I would have applied it to the previous sentence.) Then I looked straight ahead, put my car in drive and pulled into the space.

I wasn't angry when I arrived at the farmer's market, but clearly I was leaving feeling a smidge irate. But then I thought, I was soooo right about Mr. Clean; I knew he thought he was something special. And just knowing that I was right made me happy. And when I left the parking lot, I tooted my horn, but I made sure that it was a happy toot.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On Being Red

During dinner last night my daughter mentioned that several boys on her bus have been giving her a hard time about her red hair. That particular morning one of them broke out into a chorus of "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" while rubbing his hands together over her head. We all chuckled about it. And then I told her that they do it because they think she's cute; that's how middle school boys flirt with redheads. If she were blonde, they would tell her dumb blonde jokes, that's what 12 year old boys do. She was quick to silence me, "Stop it, Mom, they do NOT think that I'm cute, just stop." (She's far more bothered by me, than by them.)

She's actually ok with her red hair; in fact, she's always been ok it. Which is rather odd when you consider that she doesn't like attention of any sort. You would think she would prefer being a brunette so that she could blend in, but I don't think that's the case. Apparently only 1% to 2% of the human population has red hair, but I didn't realize how truly unique it was until I had a little redhead of my own.

I must come clean, while I think her hair is beautiful, there was a time, not so long ago, when I was not a fan of red hair. I knew a girl in college who had a wild, crazy, unruly mane of flaming red hair that was, well, in a word...tragic. Poor Grace, she didn't resemble Bozo, per se, but her hair was the same shade and it certainly had the same texture of the popular clown's wig. The phrase "better dead than red" was often muttered under my roommates' breath whenever poor Grace walked in the room. Today I'm eating those words ...

Since the beginning of time people with red hair have struggled with a bum rap, treated as a redheaded stepchild, if you will. They've been thought to be untrustworthy: Judas is most always depicted as a redhead. During the Spanish Inquisition, flame colored hair was evidence that its owner had stolen the fire of hell and as such redheads were burned as witches. Another common perception about redheads is that they have fiery tempers and sharp tongues.

My daughter's red hair came as a complete surprise to my brunette husband and I. But I think it was more of a surprise to my BFF. She was one of the college roommates who coined the phrase "better dead than red" and she was there in the delivery room when my daughter was born. I was in the throws of the delivery when my friend glanced down (as only a BFF could do) to check on my progress as the doctor announced that the baby's head was crowning. And as I watched the expression on her face, I knew something was terribly wrong. Did my baby have two heads? Was she missing an ear? I couldn't bear to hear it. But then my doctor, very matter-of-factly proclaimed, "Ahhh...we have a redhead!" I looked at my BFF and she winced as she patted my arm and whispered, "we can dye it."

So you see, when your own mother and godmother are dissing your hair color before you're even born - a little ribbing from the boys on the bus is simply small potatoes. Red hair is often associated with fair skin, and while my redhead has her fair share of freckles, I'd say her skin is pretty thick.

It didn't take us long to fall head over heals in love with her... and her gorgeous red hair.