Moving on from Miscarriage

At book club last night a friend told the story of calling her husband. “Bring home milk.” She told him. “And cornichons.” “What…are you pregnant?” he asked. We all responded with a hearty laugh. We are old enough now so that is barely a physical option. Most of us have made SURE it is not an option. It sent me back though, to the time when I thought it was a choice.

When I really wanted a third kid.

When I couldn’t have one.

The tiny woman stands in front of me beaming. She has sleek curls, white teeth and an open, friendly expression. Beside her stand two boys, clearly brothers, who look to be about the ages of my boys.

“How old are you?,” I ask the shorter one.

“Nine,” he tells me.

“I have a nine year son old at home.”

He smiles at me. What is he going to do with that information? I put those thoughts into words.

“Why do adults always do that? Tell you about kids who you will never meet and can never play with?”

He shrugs his shoulders kindly and I turn to his brother.

“How old are you?”

I can’t help myself, when he tells me he is just eleven I say, “I have a a ten-almost-11-year-old at home.”

All six eyes are on me. I look back at the mother.

“We have the same lineup.”

“Oh,” she replies brightly, “Do you have a younger daughter as well?” As if on cue a six year old girl shows up at her mother’s hip and slips her arm around her waist leaning in.

“No,” I answer, “Just the two boys.”

♦◊♦

The family moves forward, continuing to sell raffle tickets benefiting childhood cancer, and I see that the mom’s hand that isn’t carrying her basket with tickets gently stroke that soft spot where her daughter’s hairline meets her neck. The ribbons on the girl’s pigtails are red and blue to match her shirt. I follow the striped ribbons with my eyes until they are lost in the crowd.

I turn to my husband. “Did you see, she had two boys our age and a younger daughter.”

“This has come up a lot lately,” he responds, looking mildly concerned.

It passes though, as he lays his hand on mine and goes back to inspecting his beer. He is a beer lover and has a bit of a ritual to conduct before he takes his first sip. I have a ritual too, so I return to it as he returns to his beer.

I look around the restaurant. Where would we be seated if we were a family of five? I locate a booth with a curved side where the three kids would sit. The girl would be between Oliver and Leo, keeping them from jostling, maybe getting them to play tic-tac-toe. I feel better now that I have put my imaginary family in its place.

♦◊♦

After having two healthy sons who (surprise!) arrived seventeen months apart, Steve and I had a long conversation about whether or not to have a third child. We had already replaced ourselves on the planet, and figured out the rhythm of life with two toddlers. Yet as an only child I had wanted multiple kids, and Steve was one of three himself. Still, a newborn seemed difficult, but if we were ever going to do it, now was the time. It wasn’t a baby we were choosing, but a whole person, a part of our family and an individual.

The first pregnancy test came back positive very quickly. I showed Steve, and we showed the boys together. We counted the due date and their differences in age. They were interested, but not very, and we explained in a straightforward way that one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage. So there was a better than average chance we would have a baby, but no guarantee. Still, I placed the positive test in the special oak box that held our wedding vows and NFL playoff tickets.

It was only 5 weeks later that we lost this baby.

During those same five weeks another of my friends became pregnant with, and also lost, her third child. She and I both had miscarriages at the same time. It helped to talk about it. It is a personal choice whether to share news of a pregnancy and a pregnancy loss, but there is a societal norm to wait until 12 weeks to talk about it openly. I felt caring and reassurance from the people I told about this loss.

♦◊♦

A few months later we were both pregnant again, and then another friend as well.We would meet for pastries and herbal tea, because… baby.

It was a bit further in this time that I stopped feeling sick. When I worried, my husband told me to be glad to escape the nausea, but I knew.

The ultrasound wand was cold with jelly as the MD calmly extended a finger to the screen and explained that I only had an empty sac. My husband said, “See, no baby at all.” The science of it helped him a lot. He found peace in the fact that the only life inside me had been an imagined one, helped along by some trickery to my body. To me, real or imagined, this was a loss of life — the life we would have had as a family of five.

♦◊♦

Six months later I was spending less time with my friends and their rounded bellies.

I reminded myself of my relative luck. I had two healthy boys, whereas I had many friends who had lost pregnancies further along, or before they had kids at all. I had friends who had lost infants and even toddlers. This was nothing, NOTHING, compared to that. All I had to do was kiss a little blond head or snuggle close to a sturdy, healthy boy body for comfort.

Despite this I found it difficult to be around pregnant people, which at our age was a tough proposition. I stayed home more with the boys, who in turn were getting a little rowdier. I took pregnancy tests even when I couldn’t have been pregnant.

A few months later I peered at the pregnancy stick, willing the second line into existence. I had the two boys in the bath in front of me and I called in Steve.

“Do you see it?” I asked, “Do you think it’s there?”

He looked at it through squinted eyes and told me it was possible. “Lets wait until morning when it will be stronger,” he advised reasonably.

I took just one more test that night, which sat evenly in line with the last test telling our future. When I woke up the double line on the tests from the night before showed with more strength and that morning’s test confirmed with even brighter lines what I was hoping for. Unbidden, I thought “Its a girl!” This was the first time I had ever had a strong feeling about the gender of a baby but it was as clear as the lines on the stick, I was pregnant with a daughter.

I began to wear maternity clothes. I felt confident, different from the last two pregnancies. I took all of this as a sign that things were safe this time. I told my kids about my super power — super sniffing — and we battled bad guys using their scent to track them.

One morning Steve took the boys skiing, and while they were away I had some light cramping. When my 5-year-old came back with a broken femur I pushed worries about my pregnancy aside. This child on the outside needed me.

Two days later I was home with my hobbled son. Except he wasn’t hobbled. He tore around the house on crutches, alternatively swinging like a monkey or swinging his crutches like a weapon. The attending had told me they don’t normally give 5-year-olds crutches but my son, feigning poise, had argued his case, and we left the hospital with armaments.

I began to bleed and took to the bed. I didn’t rush into the hospital, though it was bad. On Monday I had the ultra sound that told me what I already knew. They took blood to measure the levels of pregnancy hormone to make sure they went down and as I was too far along to have the miscarriage at home, they scheduled a D & C.

Afterwards I used the pregnancy sticks again. The sound of the foil wrapper offering none of the exciting possibility of the last. Instead I was hoping for lighter lines. They didn’t come. I was scheduled for a second procedure. Then it was done.

So were we.

Steve was ready to be all-in with our boys. I didn’t want to go through the emotional and physical highs and lows of the last two years. From the conception of our first child to the day we made the decision to get a vasectomy I had been pregnant or nursing (or both) 46 of the last 60 months.

Enough was enough.

♦◊♦

And, enough WAS enough.

Four years later I still look at families of five and hear myself saying “they got it right” inside my head before I consciously and slowly let that thought go.

I reach towards my boys, now old enough to cook and clean and care for themselves, and I think how lucky we are. In the years between my pregnancy losses and today, I have helped friends through devastation much greater. Still, I remind myself that it is not a relative thing. Our loss was real, and it deserves the grief I gave it.

My husband grieved too, but has filed that sorrow away as a different time of our life. He can remember it, but not feel it.

When I come back to right now, I see his beer is almost all the way gone. I let the haze of loss drain away too. I picture it as his beer, cloudy to the point of being opaque. I concentrate on his glass as he drains away the very last of the sludgy bottom bits and leaves the glass clean. I lean in to my husband, who wonders aloud what the boys are doing right now. I realize that right now I am letting go.

As I pick up that third positive pregnancy test from our family keepsake box and set it gently in the bathroom trash, I think that today, finally, enough IS enough.

Eleven- alone and together

Oliver is red as he sprints to the finish line at his cross country meet. I recognize this red. It was what I felt back in fifth grade when I played soccer. One year they took our team picture after a game and my face was as red as our uniform. At home that evening I took out a red magic marker and colored in the faces of the other girls on my team. I would not be the reddest.

Oliver is the reddest and it doesn’t bother him. He looks up at me and I notice once again that it won’t be much longer that he has to tilt his head to meet my eye. “I came in second on the Hill B team.” He is grinning so widely that his third dimple is showing. “I mean, there are only two kids on the B team but second sounds so much better than last.”

He holds my hand as we walk towards the car. He is pleased with his time. He thinks by the end of the season he will be able to shave 19% off of it. “Then I will be slow, but not so so slow.” He tells me, mouth moving as quickly as his feet were minutes before at the finish line. “We had to pass through the creek three times. The first time I went slowly. I was worried there were going to be slippery rocks but instead it was sand. So the other three times I jumped in full force. It was my favorite part of the course.” He finds his poem funny and repeats it as we cross the street to our car.

At home our second (not last, but, you know, actually last) child is planning for his birthday party. He has chosen not to come to the cross country meet to cheer on his brother. I wonder about this. He used to come to all of the games. Even if he was digging worms out of the dirt rather than watching the field he was there. This was the time when it was just the two of them. It is changing. Leo has friends at the house more often than not. Where once he and Oliver sat together in a single chair it is now another 11 year old draped over the wide arm.

What’s that? Why its dirt covered rice crispie treats with sour gummy worms obviously.

Leo’s is a low impact party that doesn’t require much planning. We will be celebrating at Jumpoline or Tramplace or whatever it is called. As a weird anathema who doesn’t like cake we will have rice crispies treats.  As excited as he is with the party he is disappointed in his new age. This week he will be eleven. He claims that 11 offers no real milestones. He is already double digits. Twelve allows him shotgun in the car. Eleven is just…11. When I tell him it is the number of players on the football field he looks at me with disdain. It was weak. We both know it.

In between reading Steve and I corny jokes (“I have 21 of these and I am not afraid to use them.” Oliver declares with a mixture of threat and humor) Oliver tells me he will be willing to skip Leo’s party. I wonder about the word willing. It is not the same as a cross country meet. It is a birthday party. I would never have expected this. ‘Is there a reason you don’t want to go?” I ask. “Oh I WANT to go”, he insists,” I just want it to be as fun as possible for Leo, and he might not want me there.” My heart breaks a little. A few minutes later I ask Leo what he thinks of my conversation with Oliver. Listening, his almond eyes widen. “What?” “OF COURSE I want him to come.” It seems impossible that there was any doubt.

Piled in the car on the way to the party the five kids are chattering. They are talking about sports cars. Lamborghini Centenario, Le Farrari le ferrari. They are saying words in other languages I don’t know. They love the cars. From the back a lilting voice pipes in. “I love Suburus.” Says the one girl in the car. “I love her” I say to Steve. The boys say nothing at all. After sports cars they take on soccer. Elite teams, relative skill of players in their class. Oliver is quiet. He doesn’t play soccer. His brother has his back though. “Oliver came in second in his cross country meet.” The lone girl congratulates him. He looks at her. “There are only two kids on the team. So really I came in last.” “But” he repeats the truth he spoke earlier this weekend. “Second sounds better than last.” There is a moment of silence and then all the voices murmur their consent. They don’t agree on cars or relative soccer rankings, but second is a lot better than last.

Rice Crispies treats, friends, AND brother

Arriving at Tramplace Steve and I notice all of the things that are out of order. Some of them relieve us (make your own cotton candy) but some are a bit disappointing. The bumper cars and 3D rides are both “down for maintenance.” I wonder if this is the same euphemism they use for pools when they need to drain floating turds. It doesn’t seem impossible. Where I hear ruckus and see disrepair the kids see only thrills. They are jumping and diving and dodging balls. They are sticking together. Two “big kids” (clearly not 11) begin cheating and dodge ball and swearing at them. The group comes together. Where they might have criticized each other instead they are staunch defenders against a common enemy.

That evening Leo opens his presents. They are more touching and personal than ever before. There are meaningful notes and framed photos and matching soccer jerseys to ones he has complimented in the past. After years of saving every stick, rock and package he has finally gotten to the point where he has something to really treasure. Amongst the gifts there is a card about the number 11. It has facts about what makes the number special. We have a collective eye roll as the card too cites the number of football players on the field. Eleven may not be the very best number. There is one fact that excites my boys though. Eleven, it turns out, is the smallest double digit that is prime. “Nerds unite!” Oliver celebrates. I see Leo thinking. It is pretty cool to be a prime number. This is the fact he will hold close to him in his eleventh year. He is a prime, if not in his prime. He is surrounded by friends and supported by his brother. Just last night they sat together at the computer working on 9th grade math. Oliver was teaching Leo formulas and telling him he could do it. It was a real life example of nerds uniting. If I blurred my eyes I could almost imagine the locks of their hair falling together like when they were little.

The same brown chair that is filled with friends

Perhaps this is the story of 11. You are a little apart. You are tuned into your friends as much as your family. You stand as someone who is no longer second to your brother. You might not cheer him on but you still defend him, even in front of your friends. You two are not the brothers you once were. You used to spend life with limbs entangled, sharing a blanket, each of you wearing one of a pair of shoes.

It may be different, but different can be better. You are two boys, you are one set of brothers, you are 23 years of life between you. You are ready to be alone and together. First and last and first and second.

Nerds united.

Living with a bad case of nostalgia

We have returned to Vermont and I have caught a bad case of nostalgia.

My symptoms are obvious. I walk around sighing deeply my phone at the ready to capture images of things I remember. Something is wrong with my vision because I only see in sepia tones. As my son eats his creemee I see him in triplicate. He is a toddler and a young child and here his is now, on the same bench under the same tree with the same country store behind him. He is even giving the same sigh of pleasure as he makes the maple mustache that he never seems to see.

As I type these words I feel that I have written them before. Perhaps even at this table in the corner. Likely at this coffee shop. Certainly in this town.

After dropping Leo off at the field house for soccer camp just as I did four years ago I walk the few blocks to the village center. As I go I want to head down the lane to the carriage house that used to be my office but I pass by, worried about trespassing. It is part of a larger sense of no longer belonging. The sign in the town green says “you are here” but I read it “you were here.” I am a visitor in my own life.

Finally I reach the worn stairs and see the same lovely young mom that I passed each morning many years ago. Now she has three kids but the young ones are echoes of the first born I knew when I lived here. I ask her what she has planned for the day and she tells me “play group and nap.” Her present is my past. There is no more playgroup. There are too few naps. I wonder if the nostalgia I feel is for this place or for the family we were when we live here year-round.

A few weeks ago we were eating lunch in Burlington at Flatbread continuing our tradition of Flatbread Fridays. We are friends of this restaurant, Steve has brewed beer here and the boys know the menu (or their small slice of it) by heart. They sit, like always, in a table in the closed section of the bar with a backdrop of City Hall Park through the picture windows. They are silhouettes in the sun my sons. I see the lemonades in tall glasses that they are now old enough to order from the bar and say please and thank you without prompting. They carry them with confidence to the table and I wouldn’t give it a thought except that I remember the times when this would not have been possible. I am not the only one remembering. Leo asks if they can slide down the stair rail at City Hall “for old times sake” and I wonder if he has caught my case of nostalgia.

When I pick up Leo up from soccer camp I ask him how it went. His eyes are bright “I rescued a frog” he trills. “I knew just how to save him. I put him back in the pond that we went to in Kindergarten.” He goes on “I wonder if it is the same frog?” “Was he sort of brownish, faded around the edges, and did the theme from Wonder Years play when you held him?” I asked. Leo writes off my wistful description with ab arched eyebrow and we drove away, stuck at the same traffic light as always, thinking about frogs and photo filters.

The next day I know Oliver is also suffering. We are at the playground at their old school and the stories are coming quickly. “This is where I fell and hurt my knee, this is where I ran the jog-a-thon, this is where my friends knew how to push me just high enough on the tire swing.” But this last one is not true. The playground is new. There is no tire swing. I try to read his face but it is neutral. Leo has bumped into friends and they are off playing soccer in the field, everyone exclaiming over his short hair. Oliver, now 12, is climbing around the playground alone. He has almost outgrown it. His body is broad and strong. He is in a new setting and for now I see him just as he is. A boy who holds my hand and still also offers the advice of a much older soul.

He walks towards me slowly where I sit on the picnic table which dates back to our years here.

“I am not sure if it is nostalgia” he tells me. “But I don’t like this playground as much as the old one.”

“Yes” I tell him. I open my arms and he leans against me. Too big to play, old enough to know what he has lost, but no matter where we are, still and always, my little boy.

 

 

 

Hand in hand

I am backing slowly down the steep incline of our driveway. It is 8:10 and I am a little later than usual…but just in time for the elementary kids to swarm towards the school, bumper height obstacles from my perch at the peak of our driveway. The car is beeping in protest but a careful check confirms it is just our poorly engineered concrete that is causing concern.

I pause at the point of full reverse feeling thankful that no children died at my hand this morning and allow my eyes to move through the windshield to the dirt pile. It arrived a few days ago heaped richly almost to the edges of the green tarp and I imagined a Sunday vegetable garden. Yet Sunday has come and gone and the dirt remains. Because of this the risk of kid death remains even as I pull forward forced by the dirt to angle to the middle of the street jockeying for position with other Sport Utilities with their doors swung wide to allow children with backpacks bigger than them to tumble out and make the mad dash to beat the bell.

In contrast to the families around them there is a calm as my neighbor and his daughter walk down their driveway. It’s slope is gentle, the curb cut reengineered to meet the new 3 car garage allowing them to stroll rather than slide as they head to school.  For their first few steps they are protected by the dirt pile but then they have reached the midpoint of the street. As he greets me with a friendly nod his daughter reaches up for his hand and they cross the road together. They were walking as individuals and now they are a unit hands the perfect height to meet each other exactly where they are.

Later that day I met Oliver in the middle school hallway after I volunteered with a particularly talented sixth grade writer. I was distracted when Oliver approached me. Despite my lack of sentence structure and grammar I had spent our session helping the boy extend the staccato of his written voice into something a school might recognize as a sentence. And somehow it felt like a sentence. My thoughts were not on my son as we started down the wide Western steps toward the field that stretched in front of our house.  He had laced his twelve year old fingers through mine. I became aware of him in step next to me and felt the spread of my fingers. He was no longer little. I used to be able to feel each of the 27 bones in his hand when I held it in mine. They felt like a baby bird’s wing and I was worried about crushing them before he could ever take flight. Now he is holding onto me and I feel muscles in his fingers made stronger through drawing and writing and shuffling cards. I am not thinking of his vulnerability but the slight discomfort of the way we are laced together.

OK. I might not shave my legs but that is obviously Steve. I figure the reason I don’t have pictures of Oliver and I holding hands is because my hand is too busy for a camera.

The path home grows a little narrow and he takes a step in front of me, leading me forward. He is laughing as at first he walks directly into a leafy branch and then corrects and hip checks me sending me off of the sidewalk onto the baseball field. He loves it. “I guess it is not the biggest problem in the world having trouble walking in a straight line” he tells me. “There are so many other troubles, ones that are risky or painful or sad. This is mostly funny.” I have tried to pull my hand away at this point. He is swinging them together as he talks and walks and it is clearly too much for him to do with grace. I am getting jerked around and have not yet found firm footing. As soon as I get free he grabs onto me again. We are crossing the street now. Blazing the exact same trail that the girl did with her father 7 hours earlier. He guides us right to the dirt and laughs again. “Really the only risk is when I start to drive.” We both pause at this. We are in the middle of the street. It is still quiet, not yet elementary school pick up time so his poor aim isn’t really causing a problem. In three years though I can imagine him behind the wheel the car scraping garbage cans and crossing over yellow lines without his knowledge.  He his leading me again. We are stepping over dirt, we are approaching the driveway at an angle. He narrowly misses the fence and then trips over the uneven edge. “I almost took you down.” He tells me without a trace of sorrow. “But you held me up.”

Now he is the one to pull away.

He has passed through the gate into the side yard and I hear him cooing at our cat. “I missed you all day. You are the sweetest thing. I love you so much.”

I stand on the uneven driveway I am wondering how much longer my hand will tingle from our joined walk. I will it to stay a little longer as I hear the slam of the side door. The parents are beginning to arrive to pick up their little ones, the cars gathering. I do not need to navigate.

How to tell if your child’s injury is real or imagined

Ten is a funny age. He still climbs into boxes and up trees making himself both small and tall- which of course he is. Right now he is cross legged in the laundry basket that he dragged down from the bedroom. He wants it to be a boat but instead settles on calling it a seat. I can tell by the way that he is holding the edges and rocking gently that in fact he is a boat on the water just as he was when he was three.

He chattering about the clothes as I fold them. That is our division of labor. He lugs and switches and I fold. Usually he dumps them on my bed and I fold in front of the TV but this time we have stalled in the laundry room. As he carried the heaping basket around the corner he hit his head on the wall. It was soft enough that I didn’t hear the clunk, but perhaps it was drowned out by the wailing. He fell face first into the laundry pile. “My head.” “My heeeeaaaaad.”

I know what he wants from me, this boy with legs full of bruises. He wants sympathy. Not just a little sympathy. He want sympathy on the level of his suffering which is catastrophic. “Oh sweetie” I begin. “you hurt your head.” He can tell my heart isn’t in it though and he peeks up from his laundry nest to check out my interest level. It is no good that I am folding laundry still. “My head. My head. Am I bleeding?” “Let’s see” I tell him examining his forehead. Not only is there no blood but there is no sign of injury at all. “That must have hurt so much…and while you were doing laundry. Double pain!” I have given him enough. He is back on his feet loading the washer commenting on his love for our detergent.

It goes both ways this sympathy. He collects it and he projects it. Anytime I have a small scrape he is there to comfort me. “Can I get you ice?” he asks. “Do you want me to kiss it? I’ll be gentle.” When I reassure him that I am fine and continue to fill my glass with ice he is aghast. “You sit down” he commands. “Let me do that! You are hurt.”

He brings me warm compresses and hot tea. He smothers me with kisses and smooths the blanket over my sick sleeping self.

He would make a wonderful nurse if only he weren’t a hypochondriac.

He has daily aches and pains: feet that keep him from running, lungs that keep him from breathing, cuts that will likely bleed out. It is difficult sometimes to keep up with his ailments but I try my best. In addition to exaggerated real problems there is the anticipated pain. It took over an hour to give him his flu shot and 4 adults to hold him down during a tooth extraction. During each of these events I tried comfort and then headed outside to leave it to the pros. Then stood outside the door listening to him wheedle and wail wishing they would just get the hell on with it.

Worst of all though are the injuries that he doesn’t complain about. Finally I have learned that when he is stoic I need to pay attention. When he was five he walked around for 4 days on a broken femur after a ski accident. We assumed that the kid that took to the bed with a thorn prick might not be on his feet with a broken bone. Wrong. Two years ago he broke his radius on a four square ball. He reassured us that it wasn’t a problem. Two days later I saw him silently wincing and we knew it was bad. He had not mentioned pain once and x rays showed two broken bones.

So here we were are in the laundry room and he is bored of his laundry boat. He makes his way over the cat food to the sports equipment and picks out a soccer ball. He is pretty good about not playing ball in the house but this room doesn’t quite feel like indoors. It has a wall of glass and concrete floors. So neither of us mention it when he starts working on soccer tricks. He is telling me about a new subject they are learning in math. I am listening and folding and feeling like things are moderately under control. Then I hear the thud.

“Babe” I head over to him, once again on the floor, this time his face in kitty litter rather than laundry. “Are you OK?” “Do you need a hand up?” “I’m fine Mama.” he answers. My heart drops. “I’m just going to lay here for a bit.” “Let me help you.” I continue. “No, really, I’m totally fine.” I lurk for a while until he gets up, hopping. He doesn’t cry. This is a problem.

He insists on getting his own ice but Oliver is quicker and we get him set up with ice and a book and a pillow to prop up his swelling foot. “It’s fine. I don’t want you to worry.” There is almost nothing that could make me worry more.

This morning I lay in bed with a small snoring dog and heard the tell tale clunk of the crutches making their way down the hall. There was a brave boy piloting them. “How is your ankle?” I ask. “So much better” he tells me. “I can move it.” I have to look very very closely to see the tiny twitch. He beams. “See. Nothing to worry about.”

When he insists on going to school instead of the doctor I know we are in trouble.

I think I know what we will be doing this afternoon and it will not be climbing trees.

 

Twelve years of this boy.

2005.

I might not have started with this one if you hadn’t (gleefully) pronounced that you have vomited more than anyone else in the family. Sadly (or happily depending on your attitude which is almost always good) this is true. You were born with reflux. It was so ridiculous that I lay awake at night designing a new kind of baby sleeper which kept you strapped in and upright. Then we discovered that the swing did the trick and for several months you slept in a swing. Granny worried we would have to find an adult size to send to college with you. The puking continued as we force fed you a chocolate cupcake for your first birthday and to this day you take road trips clutching a trash bag and old towel. The fact that you do this all without expressing misery is as remarkable as the volume of vomit. Which is obviously remarkable as well.

2006.

This was the year you became a brother. It hasn’t always been easy.  He lists you as “stranger” in his cell phone and after the cat and dog in terms of his love for family members. Yet you know this isn’t true. Your sword fights and giggles and all the times you hear his voice calling out “Ollie” blend together into a relationship that is more fun than friction. You have always known the importance of having and being a brother. “I believe in you” you tell him as he struggles with math. You do. You believe in him and you brother him even as he bothers you. In this picture you are signing “more.” The shot before this one had you kissing him. Yet this shows your open eyes and face of glee. The only thing about this shot that isn’t true to our life is that Leo is the one sleeping.

2007.

Ah cooking. Around this time you were a master imaginary chef. You loved to play “fast cooking” inspired by Koto where the hibachi table performance featured clanking knives and “big fire”. Today you are working on cooking a minimum of seven meals so you will be ready to take care of yourself. You are a master of breakfast for breakfast, brunch and dinner. Your waffles are from scratch and your patter as you mix the batter is endless and endlessly charming. You make turkey tacos and boil some things. There are other dishes I am sure, but you are still best at opening a box of crackers and enjoying until the end. You are no quitter. You eat to the last crumb and almost always remember to recycle the box.

2008.

Mini Steve. Many many many people compare you to your dada. It’s easy to see why in this picture. It is more than skin deep however, you both have engineering minds and love logic. Your outlooks range from matter of fact to fantastic. You both love breakfast. Despite these things there is some me in you as well. We are always early, including when we wake up in the morning. I’m sure there are other things. So I issue this challenge…find bits of me in you. I am so proud to be half of your DNA, however the mad mix is made up. Which is something we ponder together while talking about cross pollination of beans. So that’s one more thing I gave you. An interest in purple peas. 

2009.

Admittedly this is not the best picture. I had to include it though because it combines so many of the things that made up Oliver at that age. And make you up now. You are outside. You love the outdoors, hiking, walking, swimming. They are all great. You are by the lake at our old house. You have built a fire. You love fires. Shelbure farms camp had a big bonfire and the counselors said you stayed by to tend it most of the day. You are not as much of a fire starter as a fire tender. Perhaps because you are tender. Also, if you look closely into the blur of this photo you see your signature pose. You used to cup your face with both hands for every picture. Here it is important that you hold your stick so you only have one hand free to look cute. You managed it though. Just as you manage the fire.

2010. 

Chess. Your love of chess started in a big way. Our trip to Mexico when you were five had lots of milestones. You learned to swim. You became an international traveller. You tried tropical fruit. I said you TRIED tropical fruit.  As we walked from our Linda 2 casita with plunge pool that only penguins could tolerate you always had us stop at the giant chess board. You walked the squares putting yourself in the game. You still play…on a smaller physical scale and a larger mental one. Its funny as you get bigger the concrete world gets smaller and your inner world gets bigger. It is amazing to watch you grow. When you were around this age you would have us watch you grow in real time. You would scrunch your fists and your face and scream out like the hulk. You believed that you were making yourself larger with your effort. As it turns out it happens effortlessly.

2011. Your life has not been without sadness. 2011 was the year that your grandpa died. One year you picked out a t shirt that said “grandpas are for loving and fixing.” This was literally true for your grandpa. He built decks and gave cuddles. Most of all he loved you boys. I had to choose two picture for this year though. Because with the sadness came the strength to get through it. Just a week after you sat by your grandfather’s side in his last days you and your brother sat on our lawn looking at the sunset. I think Leo started it (in this case in a good way) but you joined in. As the sun slipped behind the mountains and the lake reflected pink on your faces you closed your eyes and offered yourselves a moment of peace. The same peace you wish for everyone.

 

2012 

This is how you feel about getting dressed up. Here are the clothes you like: Sweat pants (which we used to call play pants because little kids don’t sweat), t shirts, socks, or best of all a fizzy blanket. Occasionally you will wear a button down. (Which really should be called a button up) but it usually results in this face. Where we can’t see your cheek dimples let alone my favorite third chin dimple. After a while your smile comes back though as you grin and bear it. 

2013 

Napping. There really doesn’t need to be a particular year to highligt this. You are a world class napper. As you know I have an entire folder of photos of Oliver sleeping. It is the largest folder on my phone. That said this shot one is a great because it captures your ability to sleep in crazy situations (in the freezing cold on a pokey plastic chair) whilst accurately documenting your interest in live sports. Low. There is another side to the story though. It is the enthusiasm you showed before and after the outdoor hockey game to support your dad. It was disproportionately high given your level of interest. Which was clearly low.

2014.

This is the year we moved to Colorado. This was probably the biggest disappointment of your life. This is what you say about Vermont. “On a scale of 1 to 10 Vermont is a 12 because its as good as heaven but I’m not dead.” Despite holding onto your love of Vermont you have settled into a life of happiness in Colorado. The month we moved you made up a song which went like this: “Life is a song and inside is a chorus. The chorus is this: there is no happiness without sadness. There are problems and there are solutions. Life is an oyster and inside is a pearl. You can’t open it with force. Only with kindness.” In your own words you explain how you manage the disappointment of our move. There is happiness and sadness and together they make life. Plus there is beauty everywhere. See?

2015

Things I see here. Your love of animals. Birds, cats, dogs, flamingoes. Your endless enjoyment of the jungle garden. You loved our little house in Sarasota and our walks to the weird 4 acre park. I see your DI shirt and remember how you worked with your friends. I also see your goofy grin. This post has so much of your reasonableness. There is so much more Oliver than that though. There is the Oliver who says with a smirk “I just stepped on my own leg after I tripped.” The Oliver who dances the robot and chicken dance. The Oliver who can’t eat chocolate ice cream without it ending up all over his face. The Oliver who delights in his bed head. The Oliver who challenges drunk adults to a badminton game versus hyper kids. The one who speaks the truth: “you know whats hard to wrap? Bacon.”

2016 

Just out of the frame of this picture is the totem you, Leo and Granny built at the beach. You are a boy who enjoys rituals. You inspired Wednesday game night and Tuesday taco night.  There are traditions to your visits to the cape. At low tide you collect critters, in the afternoon you swing in the hammock where you have played coast guard since you were a little boy, you get the ice cream most evenings. You love to swim in the pond with Toby and Alex and Mike and Hes. You love to host Dmitri and Colin and other friends. You read the Declaration of Independence on Forth of July and crack open lobsters on the deck. The only part you don’t like is the drive there…for more information on that please reference 2005…the year of your birth.

2017

We started with vomit…we might as well end with tech. Here you are my dear. You neck is cranked into an uncomfortable position but you won’t fix it because you don’t want to disturb the dog. Speaking of the dog I will remind you of one of the most Oliver stories ever. Driving home from Leo’s soccer game I offered the family a choice. “shall we go to an open house or the rescue pet center.” Guess where we ended up? Sitting in the small room with the shivering 7 pound piglet dog you were the only one who saw reason. “There will always be dogs that need us. Now is not the best time for us to get a dog with our travel schedule. Let’s wait a few months and come back when we are really ready to take care of a dog.” Fast forward eight minutes and you are the one lugging the dog food to the car. Like always you make the most of a questionable situation. You have taken on the role of “primary person” to the cat who was abandoned. You snuggle the dog and love him even though you still think he wasn’t the best choice. You clean his pee without saying I told you so. So here you are…snuggled in a blanket, a three quarters eaten loaf of challah beside you, a dog and blanket on top of you. You are watching something. Probably youtube. You are taking time for yourself, but if we called to you, if Leo called out Ollie or if Dada and I asked you to come see us you would jump up right away. (After gently placing the dog on the floor of course.) You are here for us. And I hope you feel how much we are here for you as well.

Love love love. Your mama.

Houston there is no problem- how to be ground control AND the astronaut

Space launchBeneath the noise of the coffee shop David Bowie sings.

He thinks his spaceship knows which way to go.

As I stand in line for my English Breakfast tea the barista admits that he front loads the playlist with his own choices and I see him in silent song daring Major Tom to leave the capsule.  I think about the amount of faith that is required for bravery. Major Tom needs to step outside his tin can to see the difference in the stars. He needs to trust ground control, himself and the entire universe.

Back at my sticky table I try to imagine 100,000 miles. It is unfathomable. And at the same time it is absolutely within reach. When I stop focusing on the literal fear of heights and vast space I thing about traveling to figurative heights. On any given day we are all both the ground control and the astronaut. Ground control focuses on protein pills, ignition, and circuits.  But it is the astronaut who floats in the most peculiar way.

When I read my boys “A Wrinkle in Time” I watch this transition happening. For the first few minutes they are ground control. Oliver stops my reading to try to make sense of the multi dimensions.  Leo offers his predications about what will come next. Eventually they give themselves over to the story. Instead of tracking facts and trends they are unmoored, left to fly away into the story.

This weekend we finally got them bikes that fit. As they check their helmets and practice their handsignals before they leave our driveway they are focused on safety. I hope that careful riding remains their focus, but somehow when they return I see the flush in their faces and I know that they achieved launch. I have mixed feelings about their mixed ride. I want them safe. I want them alive. Yet I also want them to live.

Despite the name ground control is never actually in control. Just look far above the moon at Major Tom floating in his tin can. Yet somehow, with nothing left to do, we can feel very still. Watching the barista turn dials and push buttons on his fancy coffee machine I see that at the same time he is lost in his music. He is both in control and floating above it all.Sometimes it is good be the astronaut. Sometimes it is good to be ground control. It is wonderful for us that we don’t need to choose.

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom (ten, nine, eight, seven, six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (five, four, three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (two, one, liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you “Here am I floating ’round my tin can
Far above the moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do”

-David Bowie

 

Eleven Signs You have Nailed this Parenting Thing

We worry about teaching our kids resiliency, kindness and how to eat a balanced meal. We are focused on the wrong things. If your kid can’t make a penis joke you have more parenting to do.
1. You kids understand penis humor

Me: “I like a firm banana.”

11 year old: giggle.

9 year old: “what’s funny? Wait…are you talking about penises?”

11 year old: “Why yes, yes she is”

9 year old: “Thought so.”

2. Your kids express a feeling of cosmic emptiness.  

11 yo: “You know what’s depressing? ”

Me: “That supergirl is a re-run?”

11 yo: (ignoring my guess) “Most of an atom is made up of wasted space. And we are made up of atoms. So we are mostly wasted space. ”

3. Your kids are mature beyond their years.

Setting:  Jungle Garden feeding flamingos some years back

Me: “I wonder what age you will be when you don’t want to come here.”

10yo: “No age, there will never be an age where I am not happy here.”

Me: “I’m glad you feel that way, but I have to imagine that at 16 you won’t really want to do much of anything.”

9 yo chimes in: “Are you saying I am 16?”

 

4. Your kids know how to handle bad hair days.

Me: “Do kids ever mention your hair when you go to school like this?”

11yo: “Sure, I just tell them it is bed head. Then if they ask again I tell them I already gave them an explanation and its not going to change.”

Somehow my 11 year old has gone to the Bill Belichick school of interviewing.

5. Your kids believe in justice for all.

9 yo (a little bit gleeful): “What would happen if there was no law against stealing?”

me: “What do you think? How would you stop people from stealing your things?”

10 yo: “Civil agreement.”

9yo: (even more gleeful) “Guns and knives!”

6. Your kids can manage screentime.

Me: “The average boy spends 12 hours a week on screentime.”

10yo: “I am no average boy.”

The fact that he says this while using the computer as a mirror to fix his hair is not lost on me.

 

 

7. Your kids’ jokes are actually funny.

Me: “Have we ever watched the movie Groundhog Day together?

10 yo: “Yeah…like every day.”

8. Your kids take an interest in sports.

While watching my beloved Patriots play there is an impressive tackle.

9yo: “Why are they trying to kill that person?”

Me: “They aren’t they are just trying to stop him.”

9yo: “Stop him from breathing?”

 

9. Your kids teach you not to interrupt.

9yo: “You will never be your best.

Me: “That isn’t very uplifting.

9yo: (rolling his eyes at me as he continues to make his point) “Because once you reach your best there is immediately a new best that you can be.”

10. Your kids understand nutrition.

9 yo: “The french fries are the protagonist in my meal. The ketchup is the antagonist.”

I didn’t document that particular meal because it was in fact comprised of only french fries and ketchup (a vegetable.)

This picture features another wholesome combination..and the appreciation my son felt for his supper.

 

 

 

11.Your kids can make penis jokes.

10 yo: “Florida is America’s penis…which explains why it is always so damp.”

9yo: “You are Florida.”

10yo: “You are right. I am hot.”

 

Because I have nailed this parenting thing I knew not to include an actual picture of a penis in this post.


Wondering how I managed to remember all of these quotes? Using Notabli. Check it out.

Also…my top two parenting books.

How to grow a grown up

How to talk so your kids will listen…and listen so your kids will talk.


	

Parenting middle aged boys, stinky sneakers and wacky weed

The eyes I know. They are the same royal blue with dark grey flecks that I have admired for 11 years. Beneath them the cheekbones seem new.  The smattering of freckles that made him seem young and cute now make the strength of his face look open and friendly. It is not just his face that is made of more sturdy stuff. I grab onto his shoulders for emphasis and they are more mountain than bird wing. As a new mother I always felt it was possible he would fly off and leave but now I see that he his attached to this earth.

Logical and level Oliver is a rock mentally as well as physically.  Right now that rock seems rather dense. “No” he answers when I ask if he took a survey on drugs at school yesterday. He is sitting in the blue chair in the corner of my bedroom holding a bowl of oatmeal. It is 6:30 am and he has none of the early morning fog around him. Even though his answer is not truthful it doesn’t occur to me that he is lying. He looks at me. I look back. “You didn’t take a survey during a drug presentation?” I ask. “No.” He repeats. Now I am confused. “Did you have a presentation?” “Well we had a marijuana presentation.” He answers. “And there was a survey.” “Did you take it?” “Yes. I took it.” I am confused now. “Why did you tell me you hadn’t taken a survey the first two times I asked?” “Well Marijuana is not a drug.” He states. I wonder about the efficacy of the presentation, and whether in Colorado we have a new designation for legal weed. It is probably worth following up on but I am not too interested now.

Yesterday he chose not to take the trip to buy new sneakers. “Why get new sneakers when these are just fine?” Part of me wants him to understand the joy of choosing something new, something unnecessary but I know that it is a thin line between that pleasure and the pain of believing that particular material goods can make a good life. He stays home. Leo of course wants to come, in fact needs to come as the soles of his shoes are pulling away and the traction is totally gone. It isn’t their lack of function that has him excited to shop, it is that he wants the shoes his friends have. “This is going to be a great outing” he trills from the back seat. “I think we should bring Ollie home a chocolate milkshake” he suggests from no where. His voice is high and lilting. When he finds the shoes he wants and we select the mixed sports pack of (probably chemical laden) shoe de-oderizers we check out. He is excited to point out the Patriots fan in line behind us. He is joyfully giving me a backrub with the ribbit battery operated back massager. He is noticing that his socks are going to look great with his new kicks. He wants to share the shoe balls with his friends. It isn’t until we leave the store that the reality of new shoes hits him. “Do you want to throw them out?” I ask, gesturing at the garbage can at the exit. “But these have been with me through so many great times” Leo replies, brow furrowed. He doesn’t want to let them go. “The soles are pretty shot” I remind him. “I want to keep them to look at.” He tells me. His head his uplifted. I have my hand on his shoulder and can feel the knob and collar bone gently curving away from me. “I want to look at them and remember how happy they made me.” “It’s your choice babe.” I say, thinking of his long blue dresser crowded with rocks and sticks and baseball cards. The surface where a giant card stock pelican squeezes out a collection of spy gear and cheap plastic soldiers. I imagine these filthy sneakers in the mix. “We have lots of pictures of them.” I remind him.

He looks down at the shoes in his hand. “One last picture.” He asks. He sets it up with the sun shining in the right directions and poses as he throws his shoes into the bin. His face is sad, but it is easy to see it is put on for the photo op. He is already excited about the chocolate milk shakes.

This morning Oliver is looking at me to see if we are finished talking about drugs. Or marijuana. Or whichever. He wants to be helpful. Just yesterday he spent an hour giving a tour of his school to a potential corporate sponsor. He talked about building windmills in STEM class and how it connected with their electricity unit in science. He likes these connections. But somehow the mislabel of marijuana as drug has kept him from making the connection between my question and probably the only survey they have had all month.

It used to be like this. He used to require the exact input to offer the output I was looking for. Between that and having to teach him that a kiss wasn’t just a dry pressure of lips to another person I wondered about whether I should evaluate him for being on the autism spectrum. As he grew I realized that this was a style. He was a toddler version of the absent minded professor who had temporary blindness for his sneakers in front of him while being able to see his way through algebra before the topic was introduced. It was clear though that he was able to form attachments and understand emotion. He was passionate about Pokemon and breakfast  and socks. He loved and expressed emotion to his family, friends and pets. He sang songs about kindness and love being the key to unlock the best person within each of us.

After confirming that the survey was anonymous I explain that I had gotten a question about it from another parent and wanted to know more before I answered. He did not take this as a cue to offer more. So I left it there and he left the room with a kiss (complete with sound) and a cheerful wave as he passed through the glass barn door.

A few minutes later I make it downstairs where his brother is writing out his spelling words three times each. I watch him pause to shake out his cramped fingers. He is gripping the pencil tightly and rushing to finish. “These are long words” he tells me. “It is so annoying to write them all out three times.” “Every once in a while I just write the word twice and try to space it out.” I look at his page and see that he has done that on one of the 30 words. “Maybe pick another word” I suggest pointing at his paper. The word that is stretched out to fill the space is “truthful.” He laughs. “Ironic” he says. As I step away to fill my mug I see him stretching out his leg at the same time he rubs his fingers. He looks down at his new shoes and a small smile plays at the corner of his lips. “I love these.” He says. “I love these even more than my old ones.”

I bought them matching blue years ago so large that they went almost to their 20 toes. Now they almost fit. Oliver snuggles in his so much that they both live in his room and at two different times he has brought them downstairs. Leo is pretty much done with his. His friends don’t wear things with pom-poms but he has it on probably just because it was convenient. I haven’t bought them the same clothes in years, images of them in matching yellow slickers and striped terry cloth hoodies are for slideshows and memories. But today they sit in front of me in their baby blue shirts eating bacon.  It is this feeling loving what was last while nearing what is next that makes me take the picture of the boys. Like Leo and his sneakers I want to hold them here.

And I don’t.

 

 

 

Standardized Testing in elementary school

He is swiveling gently in our cow chair knee socks up to his shins. I like the knee socks, a gift from his grandma, they remind me of my own time in fourth grade, but I wonder why I can see them. “Shorts?” I ask him in a tone that is neither instructive nor nagging. “I’m staying in for recess.” He explains. His tone is neutral like mine but quickly his face crumbles. “I hate iReady” he tells me. It is the refrain of his fourth grade year.

At the beginning he was love and light. It was his best year ever he ADORED his teachers and his work. He quit Minecraft to be able to “focus on fourth grade.” He was determined not to miss a single homework assignment. Workbooks were always at hand, pencils sharpened, and Steve and I shared an expression of pleased disbelief. We didn’t want to move too quickly or look too closely in case we upset some delicate balance we were ill equipped to understand. This lasted through November. Then slowly the cracks came.

“I hate iReady” he said. He explained they were expected to do a half an hour of reading and math on the program a week at home. Like the knee jerk liberal I am I instantly wondered about the other families. Did they have computers? At the middle school level we are working on a technology grant that includes internet access to the homes of 45 percent of the students at our school. I assumed someone was taking this on for elementary and tuned back into Leo. “I can’t stand it” he tells me. “I get it wrong on purpose just to have it end.”

Since the sessions were timed this didn’t make much sense. Our boys are doing very well academically so we have the luxury of allowing them to do their homework with no intervention. We assume that learning time management and how to fail and try again are the primary point of homework at this age. As for iReady we decided allow school expectations and natural consequences to take care of his reluctance to complete his assignments. Then came parent teacher conferences where we raved to his teachers about his best school experience ever and they expressed their satisfaction with him as a student and a classroom citizen. In addition to their smiles they had a stapled packet. On it were the assessment scores for iReady. “Yeah…” I said. “Leo doesn’t love iReady.” Despite his lack of love his scores on the program from in class efforts ranged from good enough to great. Somehow good enough wasn’t good enough. “Well ,Leo says he gets the answers wrong on purpose to make the test stop.” Six eyes turn to me. Steve is not expecting this irrational excuse and I am instantly wishing that I didn’t sound like a fourth grader. Maybe it is the medium sized chair that I have squeezed into.

“That’s not how it works” explain the teachers patiently. “Is there an alternative?” I ask. “Like Kahn academy or prodigy or something.” Their response is measured and reasonable. “Tell Leo to give it his all, and if his scores support it he can switch to a different program.” I walk the short block home holding this news tightly in my hand like the present it is. I undo months of non-interventionism in a moment. “Guess what?” I tell Leo, now his conspirator,” if you do really well on the iReady assessment you can switch programs!” His face lights up. He is free from this iReady prison AND has a special arrangement. What could be better?

Chastened by Steve I decide once again to step into the background and allow Leo and the teachers to sort this out. Although I see work books and spelling words I do not again see him work on iReady at home. I figure this is a good thing. When the endless holiday break rolls around we have no plans to travel. The kids are excited for three weeks of nothing. I am scared shitless. To unlock free time we decide somewhat collectively that each day they need to be active for an hour, read for an hour and work on math online for an hour. Oliver leaves the table to do his math RIGHT THIS MINUTE and the rest of us are left, frozen. Leo has not helped shape this list the way his brother has. He is not all in.

“Do you mean iReady?” He asks.” Or Kahn academy, or prodigy or anything else you find.” I say with fasle brightness.  “It has to be iReady” he mutters. “Why?” I ask. “They have changed it. They say iReady teaches us exactly what is on PARCC (the standardized test used in CO) and they want us to do well on PARCC. So we have to do it.” The tears are slipping down his face silently.  He is trying to be brave in the face of his nemesis.

“You can do it.” We tell him. “It’s just a half an hour a week.” I begin listing the things that make me miserable that I suffer through. This is not a compelling argument. He is lost to us now. Heading down the misery of this program. “It’s NOT. It’s NOT half and hour a week.” His voice is rising. “It is 45 minutes PLUS making up what I have missed.” “Better get going.” I tell him matter-of-factly. This was not the right tactic. I have betrayed him.

He drags himself to the computer making noises of deep psychic pain. Finally he strange sounds turn to intelligible words. “Come try this.” He ask/demands.  If my son is being tortured I need to know what it is all about. I pull the seat up to the computer and he starts the program. Slowly, oh so slowly a canned voice begins to read me the instructions.  I begin clicking to make her stop. She is reading the words I see on the screen at 1/20th of the pace that seems appropriate. My clicking increases in speed. I am trying to make her stop, advance to the next stage of the problem where I can give the answer. “You can’t” Leo tells me. “She has to finish.” So we wait. I realize  am bouncing my leg the way I did in my elementary days. Finally we move forward. She is now offering some sort of complicated explanation about multiplying 3×3. I move the curser to the answer box to enter 9. It isn’t taking. I can’t get the curser in the box. “You have to wait.” Leo tells me. “Wait?” I ask. Then she begins. She is going slowly through the rationale of 3×3. So slowly. Slowly like the offspring of a snail and a sloth. I continue to click. Finally I can input the answer 9. I realize I have been holding my breath. “Steve.” I yell. “Steeeeeeeve” You have to try this.

“Its horrible, right?” Leo asks me, the sparkle back in his eyes. “Intolerable.” I tell him. I think I might have hives. I need Steve’s confirmation. I am not the most patient woman. Steve might be the most patient man. I need confirmation that this is terrible. He takes his seat. Slowly she begins reading the words on the screen. Quickly he begins clicking. He clicks the right side of the page, the words, the bottom. He looks for settings to turn her off. “How do you make her stop?” he asks us over his shoulder. “You can’t” Leo and I say in thrilling unison.  He doesn’t believe us. He is searching for drop down menus when the next screen arrives with the answer input. Steve is trying to type 16. It won’t let him. “Its not working” he tells us. “Just wait.” I tell him. Leo trills with laughter. Steve is up out of his seat he can’t make it through the first problem. The man of patience has been taken down by a single iReady math problem.

Leo is standing inches taller. He is justified. He is not alone in his loathing. Still we can not rescue him. He goes to a public school where teachers have to meet the needs of 30plus students per class and follow ever changing curriculum and standards. At the school level they need high test scores to do well on their School Performance Framework (SPF). At the district level they need to follow the results of tests and  SPF ratings to distribute resources in a way that is equitable. At the state level they need to offer a comprehensive education for a very low per capita expenditure. Our current school gets 1/5th of what our Vermont school did. Money isn’t everything but it is something. iReady is a necessary evil. For some kids it isn’t an evil at all. The instruction is clear and extensive. The results are fed directly to the teachers and are granular enough for them to meet each student where they are.

We talk about this with Leo. He understands but it doesn’t change his experience. “Why do they care so much about test results?” He asks me. The answer is complicated. At some point we had discussed standardized testing and he has held on to the nugget that he can opt out. “Opt me out.” He tells me. It is a strange phrase. I explain that he is a great tester. That his high 90s scores will help his school. “I don’t care. I want them to do badly. Maybe then they will care less about tests.” I ask him if he thinks it would really work that way. He lowers his head. “No. I know it wouldn’t. “My friends and I are talking about just putting C for every answer on PARCC.” “Why?” I ask him. “To show them that testing shouldn’t be the only thing.” I ask him who would really be effected by this and he remembers his teachers and hangs his head a bit lower. He loves them. He just hates the standardization. So he has done what he can. He has protested iReady.

So now he explains his knee socks and shorts. “I can’t go out for recess.” “Why?” I ask, though I know the answer. “I have to stay in to do iReady.” My mind flashes past all of the research he did earlier this year on the value of recess and wonder why he is trading in his favorite time of day. He doesn’t have an explanation. He is battling this expectation. He is not sure why. He doesn’t like the program but he also doesn’t like what the program stands for. He tells me he has been staying in for 3 weeks and I am surprised. “Don’t you miss it?” I ask him. “I do, he answers in a low voice.” “But I can’t do it at home.” “not even for 45 minutes a week?” I ask. His answer is in his eyes. He has drawn a line. It is a line born of stubbornness but also of individuality. He hates being asked to do something without a good rationale behind it and skipping iReady has become a statement. “I know the math.” He tells me. “I know you know it sweetie.” “It’s not just that.” he goes on. “I just don’t like how much they care about testing. It’s not about us learning. It’s about the test scores.”

Once again I try to explain that the test scores give us information about how well the school is able to help kids learn. But my heart isn’t in it.

Sometimes I believe in the system. I want kids to have equal education. I want them to have internet connections. I want Colorado to be able to stretch its meager dollars which sometimes means using from the box technological teaching. I want our wonderful teachers to be supported and have room to be creative. And sometimes I just want to skip the canned voice. Click through to the binary answer and move on to something that more complex and individual. Which is exactly how my son feels. I imagine him at his desk now as his friends shriek with pleasure over soccer in the sunshine. I can picture his slender legs showing beneath his shorts, legs crossed. I imagine he has been trained not to try to click through anymore. I hear her voice droning in his ear as he waits to enter his answer in a box.