Friday, September 6, 2019

4,015 days

My sweet boy,

This year for your birthday, I'm going to do something a little different. Because you are turning 11 (!) today, I'm going to share 11 reasons I love you.

Eleven reasons I love my boy (in no particular order)

1. You are hilariously funny. Almost every day, you say something that makes me laugh hard. Most of the time, I don't think you have any idea how funny you are because it's just WHO you are. Although you are an eleven year-old boy who loves scatalogical and slapstick humor, a lot of what you find humorous is rather highbrow. I'm not entirely sure people your own age understand your humor sometimes, but that doesn't seem to stop you from enjoying what you really enjoy.

2. Part of why you have such a sophisticated sense of humor is because you're whip smart. Ever since you were a toddler, you have done and said things that have amazed me. You absorb facts and statistics in the blink of an eye, and you constantly amaze me with bits of trivia you have learned from something you read. I know you love your video games, but you're just as happy with a good book in your hand. I'm so proud that you're well-rounded in your knowledge and your interests.

3. Being sensitive tends not to be cool, but I think you're very cool. Good or bad, happy or sad, you  feel all of your emotions with your whole heart. You save worms in the driveway and caterpillars in the street; you truly feel that their lives have just as much meaning as ours. You hate to disappoint anyone or hurt their feelings because you know how that feels, and you hate it. I don't think you expect everyone to be happy all the time, but you certainly don't want anyone to be sad.

4. In the last year, the biggest change I have seen in you is your willingness to try new things. You have gotten into fishing, and you seem to enjoy that quiet time to yourself. You have done dodge ball, theater classes, surfing on the sand at Folly Beach: things I never thought you would do. The older you get, the more confidence you are finding within yourself, and that makes me incredibly happy.

5. You're a rule follower who believes that life should be fair for everyone, and I admire this about you. Intellectually, you know that life really isn't fair, but that doesn't stop you for wanting it to be true. You know right from wrong, and you want justice for those who have been hurt unjustly. As long as you continue to follow your heart, I know you'll be fine when you have to choose between different paths to follow.

6. I'm fully aware that you and Lottie fight sometimes and have disagreements. I also know that you love each other. I mean, you're never going to admit that, not now, but I know you do. Even when you two are mad at each other for whatever reason, it blows over quickly and I smile because I hear you laughing together. When one of you has good news, you run to tell each other as soon as possible. Don't ever let anyone tell you that being friends with your sister is silly or weird; she was the first friend you ever had, and she'll always be there for you just like you'll always be there for her. Because...

7. Once again, I know it isn't cool to be sweet, but you are, kid. You worry about people and do you best to make them feel good. I think being sweet and kind is different from being sensitive, and I think it's lucky that you're both. You have the ability to read people and know what to do or say. You carry their pain in your heart until you know that everything is okay.

8. When you laugh, really laugh, you do it with your entire body. You roll on the couch, on the floor, and you let it all out. Seeing you laugh delights everyone around you, especially Dad and me. Your smile takes over your whole face, and a beautiful smile it is.

9. I adore the way you treat animals. From the time you were little, I rarely had to remind you to be gentle with pets because you always were. When you spend time with our dogs, you're not mindlessly petting them but really playing or just having quiet time with them. I think that's why they love you so much; they know that you would never hurt them and that you love them for who they are. They're so lucky that you're their boy.

10. You know how to have fun, but you also take things pretty seriously. I think you're determined to be the best you can be at everything you do, and if you're not good at it, it's dumb. You're getting better at giving yourself a break, though, and realizing that you don't have to be perfect at everything. Life takes practice, and most of the time, the only way to get through something is to go right through it.

11. You are one of the shining stars in my life. I'm beyond grateful that you're mine. There are so many more than eleven things that I love about you, but if I were to list them all, this blog post would never end. Thank you for being unapologetically you. I love who you are, and I always will.

I love you the most of the most,

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Trying to be a Wallenda

I think every phase of life with kids can be equally joyous and difficult. When they're babies, we get to see the milestones like first smiles and first steps, but that time is also fraught with so many questions and often isolation. The toddler stage is crazy because they learn so much so quickly, but they can also be stubborn little people with unlimited amounts of tantrums. Elementary school-aged kids are gaining independence and learning socialization, but sometimes, they still want to be little for a while. Now, we're at middle school chez Wells, and that change has brought a whole new level of adjustment to us all. It was honestly a great first year of middle school, and we're quickly coming upon the second year. I don't know who learned more this year: the parents or the school kid.

Middle school is a weird, weird time. Physiologically, things are changing practically by the minute. a middle school kid (MSK) can be happy and on top of the world at one moment, and the next moment, he is upset about things unknown. Hormones are raging with little to no control over them. Bodies are changing, and to an MSK, that's gross and full of ewwwww. It's strange for parents, too, to watch their MSK grow taller with bigger feet and funnier smells. Emotionally, being an MSK is a complete crap shoot from day to day. MSK's spend hours at school trying to navigate the shark-infested waters of moving from class to class, new teachers and their expectations, and worst of all, friendships with other MSK's. Although they don't mean to be, they're fickle creatures who would rather have the blessing of the crowd than the blessing of their own hearts. I mean, I know plenty of adults who do the same, so it's not a big shock that kids have a hard time keeping things balanced. They don't quite yet understand that they don't have to befriend everyone even though that is what they are taught in the younger grades. Being cordial and being a friend aren't the same things, but MSK's are still figuring that out. Emotions aside, MSK's get beat up mentally, too, with all of the work they have to do at school every day. There aren't a lot of second chances, and in order to be successful, they have to be really organized for each class: different folders, different notebooks, different requirements for six or seven teachers a day.

This is where things get difficult for the parents of MSK's. How much do we help? How often do we rescue them? How hard do we push and when do we step back and watch them fall because it's all for the greater good? There is no simple answer because I can tell you I sure haven't figured it out. It's a delicate balance, being the parent of an MSK. We are always there for our kids to listen, to hug, to sympathize, and to help: it's increasingly clear, though, that this is the time they have to learn some things all by themselves. If you haven't been there yet, allow me to tell you that it's hard. That lesson is hard for the MSK and hard for the parent. I don't want my kids to fail because watching them be hurt in any way, shape, or form breaks my heart. What I have come to realize, though, is that someone is going to teach them lessons in life, lessons about getting things done on time, doing what is expected of them, and doing things alone. I would rather my kids learn those things from me than from someone else who isn't as invested in them as I am or someone who doesn't care.

And so begins the tightrope walk. As the parent of an MSK, I only take one small step at a time before stopping to assess the situation. If the MSK has a missing assignment, do I give a lecture or simply remind the kid that zeros will hurt them in the long run? I take another small step as I listen to how mean some of the other MSK's are being at school. Do I encourage my kid to be kind or do I tell her to walk away from nonsense and drama? Maybe I say nothing because what she really wants is to be heard, not to get advice she neither wants nor needs. Another wobbly step and we're not understanding the math homework. If I help, she gets frustrated; if I don't help, she gets frustrated. I take a tinier step this time, and the math frustration has turned into hysterical laughter because I don't remember my order of operations. I attempt a bigger step, but I am stalled when trying to help both kids with homework and not doing a great job being stretched between the two. That's another piece of the puzzle, too. I have a younger kid who is watching how his dad and I deal with the MSK, and he is learning from all of this as well. That just serves to add weight to the pole I am using to balance myself on the rope.

My feet want to slip off the rope, and I can feel my entire body listing to one side. I know I can't stop walking, though. This is a tightrope I have been walking since the day my first child was born, and when I look ahead of me, it's stretched out as far as the eye can see. I don't feel weary even though I know it's going to be a long, long walk. I can see the fruit of my efforts , though, when the MSK unloads the dishwasher just to help out or offers to bring me some applesauce when I'm not feeling well. I can see it when she shows her brother how to make an online comic because she knows he loves to create his own. I see it when she can laugh at a mistake and realize that failure isn't the end of the world but an opportunity to learn and grow.

We have a long road ahead, but it doesn't have to be a rough road. This is where the parenting gets tough and sometimes it's the hardest thing I have ever done. There are some days when I am exhausted, and I don't think I have the energy to say "no" one more time. That's my job, though, like it or not. My MSK might occasionally (or more often) wish for a new parent or sob in her room, but I'll be damned if I let anyone else do my job. So if you ever see me with my head in my hands in the pillow aisle at HomeGoods, it's okay. I might have temporarily lost my balance, but I'm planning to get right back on.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Beach baby

Ever since spring break, I have been seeing ads for weight loss and exercise that tout getting your body "beach ready." Many people before me have had the same reaction that I am having, and I'm sure many have expressed it better than I'm about to, but enough is enough.

I think exercise is great. If you want to lose weight, you should go for it. Being healthy is important for both physical and mental well-being. That all being said, quit thinking that people have to look a certain way to enjoy summer activities like the pool or the beach. For the love of God, y'all, summertime is about staying cool, playing, lazy days, ice cream, sunblock, and enjoying oneself. Every single one of us has a beach body: it's our own body that we take with us to the beach. (Don't try to take another body to the beach; that could get creepy.) But, really, what's the hang up? A few extra pounds? Lots of extra pounds? I get it. I have those; however, I'm not going to let that stop me from having a good time.

Here's the thing that might shock you. It's a big one, so brace yourselves. Ready? Deep breath.

No one is really looking at you in your bathing suit.

Well, let's amend that. Yes, people are looking at you in your suit. People actually see you in your suit. Those people, though, don't really think about you after you have passed their line of sight. Why? Because those people are too damn worried about themselves to worry about you and what you're wearing. For the most part, we are selfish creatures. Our vanity overrides many other emotions, so we're more concerned with sucking in our own stomachs than watching other people do the same. Can there be a certain amount of pride in seeing someone at the beach and feeling like we look better? Sure, but I imagine that feeling doesn't last more than a minute. And if you're still thinking about how much better you looked than that other person when you go home at night, you have a problem, and you're kind of a creeper.

My daughter is only 12, and she started having worries about her body image a couple of years ago. That's not something that is innate: that's learned behavior from constantly being barraged with "get skinny" ads. For a long time, I reminded her of all the things her body does for her every day, and that she needs to appreciate it for what it is. The hardest part of that phase was showing her that I can accept my own body for what it is as well. I'll do anything for her, though, and the more I talked to her about it, the easier it got. This body of mine carries extra weight, sure, but it has also served me well in the last 46 years. This body gave me two beautiful, smart, generous, and kind children; this body got me through thyroid cancer; this body helped me pack up and move three houses; this body kept everything as normal as possible while Trevor was fighting colorectal cancer. When I think about it in those terms, I hate that I am always trying to fit the societal norm of what a body should look like.

 So to you, my faithful bag of bones, I ain't mad at cha. As a matter of fact, the past few years of my forties have taught me to give zero fu...I mean, cares, about most stuff that happens. I'm proud of who I am, I'm proud of what I have accomplished, and I couldn't have done any of it without the body that houses my brain, my heart, and my soul. My beach body and I will be at the Dunes this summer, and my pool body and I will be swimming. If you see us, make sure you catch our attention to say hello because chances are we'll be having too much fun in the sun to really notice everyone else around us.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

4,380 days

My girl,
Just like that, you are twelve years old. Things are changing quickly these days: new school, new friends, new feelings. This journey is yours, but we're all along for the ride with you as well. As you experience new situations, so do we, albeit in an entirely different way. When we brought you home, I remember thinking that I had absolutely no clue what to do with you. I figured it out, but diapers and baby food all seems easy compared to what's coming now. (Lack of sleep was not easy. Truly. No sleep almost killed me.)

 The next few years are going to be full of ups and downs, and you have such a tender heart that I tend to worry about you. We have already dealt with mean girls at school, the new academic load, all of the extracurricular choices, and lying friends. You have faced each challenge with a true desire to do the right thing - the good thing - but you're also finding out how difficult that can be when peer pressure rules its ugly head. With each week that passes, though, I become less and less worried. I watch you go through all of the options and decide which one feels best to you. You usually pick the choice that won't hurt other people, and we have talked about how that's not always the way to go. Lately, you're looking at the bigger picture: how the choice may affect the future, how the choice may affect others, how the choice may affect you. I'm proud of you for looking at a situation from all angles before tackling it, and I'm even prouder that you are standing up for yourself.

One of the things I love the most about you is how loving and inclusive you are to everyone and everything. You came with me to say goodbye to Judy even though it broke your heart because you knew both Judy and I needed you. You make both Minny and Honey know how much they are loved, and whether you realize it or not, you make Dallas feel important and adored, too.  From the time you were a little girl, you have never met a stranger. You're the first to welcome someone new to your class or talk to the kid at the park who is playing alone. Often before I knew it, you were dragging your "new best friend" over to meet me and then running off just as quickly to play. I want you to always be a kind person - always. I don't want you to forget, though, that you matter, too.

My advice for you in this new year of your life is to keep love, kindness, and acceptance in your heart, but take no guff. Hang on to the friends who build you up instead of tear you down, and be sure you build them up, too. Ignore the meanness and jealousy that inevitably pops up in the coming years because when it's all said and done, none of it really matters. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Be strong enough to walk away from it with your head held high in the knowledge that you're on the side of good. If people make fun of you for that, so be it. That makes it easy for you to recognize them as people you neither want nor need in your life. Remember what Dumbledore said, "It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends."

I know that you know all of this; we talk about it a lot. When you're in the middle of it, though, it's hard to remember exactly what to do or how to feel. This is where it gets hard for me and for most parents. My instinct is to swoop in and fix it all so you never have to feel any pain or disappointment. Of course, realistically, that's not possible nor is it healthy. I have to loosen my grip a little and let you make your own mistakes and learn from them. Man, that's hard. I know that I have to let it happen now so you feel confident making your own decisions in the future. You can always come to me for help or with questions or just to talk: I promise that I'll be your soft place to fall. But it's time for you to start spreading your wings. Don't spread them too far, too fast, though. I may seem pretty zen about all of this now, but I'm not ready for nose piercing or dates or college applications. Not yet.

Thank you for making me a mom, for making me laugh every day, and for being such a unique and amazing human being. There is no one else like you.

As you would say, you're so SPICY!!

All my love,

Thursday, September 6, 2018

3,650 days

Dallas Simon,

You are officially double digits! You are no longer a little boy, but you're not quite a teen yet. This is a sweet time for me because you seem to still enjoy spending time with us, your family, but you're also gaining more independence by the day.

We have had another amazing year with you: vacations, summer fun, winter fun, school, camps, Scouts. You went to your first overnight camp this summer, and other than the bugs, you had a good time. I didn't sleep that week because I was convinced that you would call and want to come home. You stuck it out, though, and I'm so proud of you for stepping out of your comfort zone.

You're still definitely more comfortable with a schedule. Don't get me wrong: you loved the last summer mornings and afternoons of playing on the Xbox. But I know how you get anxious if you don't know what's going to happen, so I think the school year beginning again was secretly a relief for you. You're continuing to surprise me by learning new things constantly and trying new things. This year, you joined the Spell Bowl at school even though you weren't really sure if you wanted to. I hope you begin to understand, and I think you are, that being afraid of something is never as bad as the regret you feel when you don't try.

You did things at Cub Scout day camp that I never thought you would like, too. You loved fishing and archery; you even loved shooting the BB guns. Usually, anything remotely dangerous makes you nervous, and you tend to talk yourself out of attempting to face your fears. This time, though, you jumped in feet first, and I am thrilled for you.

As much as you love everything that has to do with technology, especially your video games, I still find you quite often in cozy silence with a good book. You constantly quote facts and statistics to us, and when I incredulously ask how you know so much, you simply shrug and say, "I read it somewhere." You say some of the funniest things I have ever heard, and I know that's in big part to everything you read. I love that you love all books, and I hope that you continue to read all throughout your life.

As you get older, you and Lottie tend to pick at each other more often. When it comes right down to it, though, you love each other. I know you make each other crazy sometimes, and I also know that will continue for quite a few more years. I hope so much that you find that you're friends later in life as well as brother and sister. With your good and loving heart, I'm sure that will happen.

Promise me that you will always hold on to your soft, loving, and charitable heart. I know it isn't considered cool for boys to be sweet and considerate, but I want you, and the rest of the world, to make it cool. Be kind to others. Always remember what's in your heart. Love whatever and whomever you want to love. Continue to do your weird Fortnite dances with abandon. Do your full-body laugh as often as you can. Keep gently removing bugs you find to a safe place where no one will step on them, and never apologize for protecting them. Roll around with Minny on the floor. Stay soft. Find your strength.Believe in yourself. Believe in all the good in the world.

Nothing in life is perfect: that's a hard concept for you as a perfectionist. But know this: you are the perfect son for me. I can't imagine what my life would be without you. Silly, dry, smart, sympathetic, precocious, snuggly, forgiving, and introspective you.

You are and will always be my best boy,

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


It was interesting to follow all the news today about the National School Walkout day. Some schools were very supportive of the students' desire to make a statement; some schools tolerated the walkout but didn't exactly support it; and some schools denied the students an opportunity to join together with other kids around the country so their voices could be heard. Detentions, suspensions, truancy reports: kids, and likely adults, were punished in different ways.

The thing that made me shake my head, though, was the social media memes and posts from parents who were obviously against the whole idea. I mean, I'm not shocked that some adults found the walkout ridiculous because they tend to be the same adults who call Generation Z spoiled snowflakes who can't handle anything. I read posts from numerous parents who said they went to the walkout themselves just to make sure their children weren't participating.  One parent even said she told her son before school that if she saw him outside during the walkout period, she would "whip his ass in front of all of his friends." Classy.

Then there are the people who post the meme about how kids should just be kind to one another at school instead of doing the walkout because kindness can cure any ill. Don't get me wrong: kindness is a vital part of a happy and healthy existence. I think our world could use all the kindness it can get; however, it's not a panacea, and in our hearts, we all know that.

What I realized is that I envy the parents who feel there is no need for a walkout, that things are fine the way they are. It must be a wonderful feeling to wake up every morning in a cozy bubble of rainbows and puppies. When their kids head off to school, they probably feel completely at peace because nothing bad could ever happen where they live. Everyone smiles and bluebirds perch on beautifully blossoming trees when they're not helping princesses clean little cottages. At night, doors are left unlocked while families eat popcorn and read in front of a roaring fire. Such a lovely vision. I envy those people because I would love to thrust my head in the sand and keep the fantasy of a perfect world at the forefront of my mind. Sounds nice, right?

Instead, I live in a quiet, albeit constant, state of gnawing despair.  Every morning, I send out wishes and hopes to whatever deities or higher powers choose to listen to me to keep my children safe because I know what can happen. Our school system is no stranger to violence, so I can't pretend that we are completely sheltered. I trust our administrators to do the very best they can to protect our children, but I'm not so naive to think that's always enough.  Why? Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Red Lake. That's just in the last twenty years, and it doesn't even include universities.

I choose not to live my life in complete fear because that isn't living, but I cannot completely erase the insight that when I watch my children get on the school bus, I am sending them to a place that may or may not be safe, that may or may not become a target for a bad guy with a gun. My kids live in a time when school shootings are commonplace. They will never know a school that doesn't have a buzzer and a camera at an entrance that is flanked by bulletproof glass.They have grown up with the Internet, Taylor Swift, and lockdown drills.

I support the students and the adults who participated in the walkout today just as I support those who couldn't participate due threats of repercussions. I support the parents and community members I saw today in front of our local high school. What I can't support, though, are people who continue to insist that everything is hunky dory. We cannot maintain the status quo and expect anything to get better. It's time for change, big, BIG change, and I have faith that the kids who agree that they have had #Enough are the kids who will reconstruct the nation.

Every town for Gun Safety
March for Our Lives

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The ISTEP can kiss my...foot

It's no secret that standardized testing has spiraled out of control. Starting in third grade, students throughout Indiana take the ISTEP test, Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress.  Teachers start a lot of lessons with "This will be on the ISTEP." They prep, they assess, they prep, they assess. The students are reminded to be on time for testing, to eat a healthy breakfast, and to get good sleep. This is the way our state wants to check in on our children: test them. Choose the right answers and impress us so your school can get money. C'mon kids, go out and make the fat cash.

I hate these tests. I hate that our kids are made to feel that they have to fit into a certain box in order to succeed. Pass, Pass Plus, and Fail: that's all they get. There is no grey area, no room for individuality, no chance to show different types of intelligence, and no time for different points of view. We spend time teaching kindness, and fairness, but we test them on nothing but memorized facts: fractions, punctuation, state capitals, elements.

We decided to opt out of testing this year for Lottie. She has spent the last three years stressing over the test; no, she stresses over the results of the test. She does her homework with an intensity that should be reserved for heart transplant surgery because she knows the information will be on the test. Then the questions begin. Will she be held back if she fails? Will she be forced into remediation? Does failing make her dumb? Will we be mad if she fails? What if she's the only one in her class who doesn't pass? Will the other kids know? These are the thoughts of her eleven year-old mind.

Imagine our shock and disgust when we were told that our district doesn't allow parents to opt out of standardized testing. Not. Allowed. (Odd how there are other parents who have done that exact thing throughout the state, but no one here is allowed to rock the proverbial boat. Apparently the Fourteenth Amendment isn't recognized 'round these parts. Odd how a former superintendent of an Indiana school system assured me that Lottie couldn't be forced to take the test and that his system never punished students who did opt out. Odd that the IDOE doesn't have a policy on opting out because it knows it legally can't.)  I'm a product of this school system, and I was even hired once upon a time to teach in this system. We moved back here, in part, because I had faith that the schools were the best we could find. I thought this system would be different and treat its students like real people instead of statistics. Mea culpa. Big time.

I can't even keep her home on testing days because she'll be made to take the make up tests as soon as she returns. We have to put our daughter in the middle of this ridiculousness because someone in some office who has no idea or memory of what a real classroom is like has decided that we don't have the right to refuse an assessment that only assesses test-taking ability and not true knowledge.

So, anonymous person, let me tell you about my daughter and what she knows. She knows kindness and compassion. She can make you laugh like no other. If you're sad, she'll do whatever it takes to make you feel better. She can mimic any voice with absolute precision, and she can climb any tree in the world. She loves Taylor Swift, gymnastics, slime, her friends, and her family. I'm pretty sure her dream is to open an animal sanctuary for any poor creature who needs a home. She wrote a Valentine to her brother that would make you believe in magic. She is happiest playing outside with the wind blowing on her face. Her favorite books have scary plots, and she is counting the days until she can see an R-rated movie without my permission. She's easy-going and adaptable, and she knows how to let loose and have fun without caring how it looks. She wakes up with a smile on her face every single day. She knows so much more than you can assess with a computer. She is the sun and the moon, the brightest star in the universe. You don't have to love her, but if you meet her just once, you will.

If the district is so set on having Lottie take this unnecessary, useless, irresponsible test, it will get its wish. Fair warning: she will do it her own way with our blessing. If the district doesn't like it, it can take the Jumbotron and all of its other priorities and stick it where the sun don't shine because one thing my girl knows for certain is that in our family, we value hard work, joy, and heart more than test scores.

34 problems with standardized tests
Diane Ravitch: Why all parents should opt their kids out of high-stakes standardized tests
ust Say No to Standardized Tests: Why and How to Opt Out 
Truth in American Education
8 reasons to opt out