Friday, March 29, 2019

Words From a Stranger

"I see a lot of good things here. Lots of positive things we can build on."

It feels like the nicest thing that anyone has said to me recently... and she wasn't even talking about me.  My son has a language disorder, and he's just finished playing with his new speech pathologist. She's a warm, bubbly woman with a big smile.  She keeps talking to me. 

"He's making sounds, he's saying a few words.  It's so much easier to build on this than with a child who is completely non-verbal.  He's going to do great." 

Her words feel like that first breath when you come up for air after swimming underwater.  Your lungs are on fire, and it's sweet relief.  It's all I can do not to stand up and hug her. I think she senses this, and pats me on the shoulder before she walks away. 

I can't help thinking about how these words from a complete stranger affected me so deeply.  Almost everyone who knows about my son's verbal/behavior delay has said something uplifting.  I feel like my husband tells me almost DAILY that it's going to be okay.  But for some reason, hearing these encouraging words from someone who has only spent about 10 minutes with my kid mean so much more.   

Why is that?

It reminded of the another time I can remember a stranger's words making me pause.

Before we had kids, my husband and I used to go to the grocery store together every weekend.  I'd make a big list, and we'd either divide and conquer or go up and down all the aisles together depending on our mood.   The life we'd built with each other was still fairly new, and everything we did together was still an adventure. 

I remember pushing our cart up to the checkout to unload it, and finding something dumb my husband had snuck into the cart. I called him out on it, and he gave some long explanation about why we *really did* need it.  We laughed and kept piling our groceries onto the belt. 

The cashier was young.  Probably just a high school kid working his first job.  I remember he smiled at us and said, "You guys seems really happy.  Most people come in here and they look tired or sad, but you two are really fun." 

Of course, NOW I know that kids and jobs and keeping up with the housework and dealing with life's other stressors can suck the joy right out of a trip to the grocery store.  But at the time, I thought maybe he was right.  Maybe our relationship WAS special.  Why did I need a stranger to point that out to me?

Why do I have a tendency to think:

"She's just saying that because she's my friend..."
"He's just laughing at my joke because he's friends with my husband..."
"This situation is REALLY bad, and she's just downplaying it to make me feel better..."

Why am I more willing to trust the words from a stranger than those from my family and friends? Maybe it's because they don't have any stake in the game. They have no reason to spare my feelings, so I assume they are being completely honest.  Anyone else ever feel this way?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Name Doodle Evolution

I'm 4-years-old, and I'm in our basement drawing on my chalkboard easel. I'm sketching out people and houses and a car (that looks nothing like a car).   Then my Dad asks me if I can write my name.  I scrawl the letters individually... but in the wrong order.   I make the "N" - then jump to the other side of the board to make my "I".  I make all my letters and Dad says I did a good job.  I'm proud of myself.

I'm older now.  Caught in that odd age where I'm still playing with dolls... but starting to get interested in boys.  I'm in my room playing with two dolls that my Grandma Betty gave me.  One doll is named Stacey, and Grandma crocheted her a beautiful purple dress.  The other doll, Charlotte, has a matching dress in pink.  I'm sitting on the floor with a notebook, doodling out the names of the dolls.  Stacey is a blonde, so I give her the last name of a light-haired boy in my class that I like.  Charlotte has jet black hair, so she gets the last name of a DIFFERENT boy that I think is pretty cute.   

Jump ahead to high school.  I'm sitting at the kitchen table, practicing signing my name on a scrap of paper.  My mom dug out my social security card, and she tells me it's time to sign it. I'm getting ready to start my first real job, and I have to bring it along with some other paperwork. I'm nervous that I'm going to mess up when I write on it.  My signature is fat and bubbly and barely fits on that tiny line.

Now I'm sitting in my new office, in an entirely different state than I grew up in. It's almost time to punch out for the day, and I'm just killing time.  I fish a piece of paper out of the recycling bin and start doodling what's going to be my "new" name.  I've just gotten engaged, and everything feels exciting.  Signing a different last name than I've written my entire life looks really odd.  I keep practicing.

Fast-forward a little bit, and I'm sitting at that same desk trying not to fall asleep during a conference call.  I start doodling names on the legal pad where I was taking notes.  Only this time, it's not my name.  It's the name we've chosen for the child growing in my belly. I print it.  I write it in cursive.  I write all three of our names together like I was signing a Christmas card or something.  "Love, us."  I think it looks pretty good.

Nearly 8 years later, I'm sitting next to my daughter, helping her "test out" the new metallic markers we just bought.  I start doodling my baby sister's name... and what her "new" name will be.  She's getting married in less than a week.  I laugh to myself and wonder if she's been doing the same thing recently.  I laugh again because, unlike her, I'm VERY thankful I didn't choose a partner that would require me to remember the correct way to make a cursive Z.

My daughter dismisses me from the "marker testing," so I re-read the document again. It's not a social security card, yet I'm still kind of worried I'm going to mess it up.  It's got some legalese, but it's pretty straight forward.  It's the contract for my first REAL piece of published writing.

No doodling this time, just signing.

(Hey, 4-year-old Nicole... I got all the letters in my name in the correct order. Dad wasn't watching when I signed it, but I think he'd still say good job.)

Friday, March 22, 2019

My Parents Are Turning Into MY Grandparents

Things I Probably Should Have Known Already: Chapter 3
My Parents Are Turning Into MY Grandparents

My parents were "promoted" to the title of grandparents back in 2011.  At first we called them "Grandpa and Grandma."  Then when my daughter started talking, she changed their names to "Papa and BUCKY."  It was hilarious, and we have no idea why.  But "Bucky" vanished almost as quickly as she arrived, and we went back to Grandma again.

I knew that my parents would be excellent grandparents.  Even though they were living over 300 miles away when my daughter was born, they made the trip to visit her eagerly and often.  When we'd drive back to my hometown to celebrate her birthday, she'd be lavished with more gifts than any kid needs... which I think is in the "Grandparent Handbook."  When my daughter got older, she'd go visit them for a week by herself. This week always included hanging out with Papa as he ran errands and picking out her own "prizes" from the store at least once or twice.

Again, none of this is really surprising.  What has surprised me recently is catching similarities between my parents... and the way I remember MY grandparents.

When I was growing up and my Grandpa Walt and Grandma Florence would visit us, they would usually sleep in my bedroom.  (I can only imagine this was because I kept my room WAY cleaner than my younger sisters.)  Every time they'd stay over, my Grandpa would leave "rent" money on my dresser on the day they left to go back home.  It was never a crazy amount, but it always made me happy... especially because I never really felt like I'd done anything to earn it.

Earlier this month, MY dad attended a special event in my daughter's classroom and he stopped by my house afterward.  While he was there, he stuck some money into the envelope my daughter was using to save up for a computer game she wants to buy.  Not only was she thrilled when she discovered it, which made my heart happy... but it reminded me of Grandpa Walt's "rent money."

I've noticed it with my mom too.  She is constantly asking about and making time to attend my daughter's events - even though we still live two hours away from my hometown. My daughter's "theater camp" is giving a performance?  Yep, she'll drive the 224 miles round trip to be there for the 10 minute skit.  You bet.

I have a feeling that my parents always going to be in the audience, just like my Grandma Betty and Grandpa Paul.  Grandpa Paul sat through more school concerts and plays than I can count - and I know for a fact that he couldn't hear ANYTHING that was happening.  But he was there every time, smiling.

Watching my parents "shift" into MY grandparents makes me realize that I'm likely "shifting" into my mother as well... but I "probably should have known that already."  (And that's an entirely different post.  Ha!)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

My 7-Year-Old is a Sh*tty Babysitter

Things I Probably Should Have Known Already: Chapter 2
My 7-Year-Old is a Sh*tty Babysitter

Okay, calm down.  Before you call CPS, I didn't actually leave the house and put my daughter in charge of her 2-year-old brother.  What I *tried* to do was go to the bathroom in peace. I knew I was going to need more than a couple minutes to get things "accomplished" - so I asked my daughter to please watch her brother while I was in there.

Seems like a simple enough request, which of course, meant she had several follow-up questions.

"What do I HAVE to do?"
"How long are you going to be? Like hours and hours?"
"Ugh, really?  Can't he just watch TV?"

Even though my daughter's response didn't exactly inspire confidence, my husband was at work and she was my only option.

So I'm in the bathroom, doing my "thing"... and it's surprisingly quiet.  No crying or shouting. No thuds of toys being thrown against the closed bathroom door.  Looking back, this probably should have been my first clue that something was up.

I finish up, and head back toward the living room.  The first thing I spot is that there are about 30 packets of fruit snacks on the kitchen floor.  Kind of annoying, but manageable.  The next thing I see is that one of our big "toy storage tubs" (which is currently the only decorating theme in my house) has been dumped all over the living room.  Eh.  Pretty typical.

The next, really ODD thing I notice, is that there are little tiny rocks all over the armchair.

"Kate?  What are these tiny rocks?" I ask, thinking maybe my son shook them off someone's shoes, or squeezed one of those squishy toys until it exploded.

"Oh, that's cat litter."


"It's okay, Mom.  I *watched* him like you said.  He didn't pick up any of the poop... I don't think."

Oh. Em. Gee.  So, yeah.  My daughter probably isn't going to be advertising her babysitting services in the future.  Private detective, maybe. Or perhaps she'd be a good documentary filmmaker. Don't they follow the "observe but don't interfere" motto?

No matter what ends up being her future profession, I probably should have known that I needed to elaborate on what "watch your brother" actually means.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Sometimes Water Bottles Are JUST for Water

Things I Probably Should Have Known Already: Chapter 1
Sometimes Water Bottles Are JUST for Water

There are a lot of special events in my daughter's first grade classroom.  I think it's great.  Recently they were celebrating "Cuddle up with a Book" day, which meant that the kids were able to wear pajamas to school.  They were also encouraged to bring a pillow, a blanket, a stuffed animal, a couple of their favorite books, and a clear liquid drink in a container with a lid.

My daughter was pretty excited, so we planned what she was going to bring and packed everything up the night before.  After some pretty intense begging, she talked me into letting her bring ginger ale as her special beverage.

The next morning, we're running around in our usual pre-school craziness.  I pack her lunch, dump some ginger ale in the water bottle she normally takes to school, make sure she's got her backpack, and drop her off.

Fast-forward to that afternoon.  She's emptying her backpack, and I notice she has a little ginger ale left in her water bottle. "Do you want this babe, or should I just dump it?"

She looks at me with a glint in her eye and grabs the bottle.  "Stand back, Mom."

"Wait, what?" I ask confused.  "If something's going to happen, go stand by the sink."

She moves over the sink, flips open the top of the water bottle, and WHOOOSH! A stream of ginger ale shoots up in a high arc and splashes against the underside of the cabinets above my sink.


She tells me that it did, and it was *so* high it touched the ceiling in her classroom... and then her teacher had to call for a custodian.  I didn't know it was possible to be mortified and genuinely belly-laughing at the same time until that very moment.

My husband laughed too, and then turned to me and said, "I can't believe you put it in her regular water bottle."  When he saw my confused face, he gave me a little lesson about how the carbonation had no place to go and that I should have consulted the insert that came with the bottle.  Really?  Like I still *have* an insert from a bottle we bought over two years ago?!?

After that impromptu "science lesson" - I immediately sent her teacher an email:


I just wanted to apologize for my daughter accidentally decorating your classroom ceiling today. I had NO IDEA that some water bottles aren't designed to handle carbonated beverages. (And here I thought she could "get away" with bringing ginger ale for the special day today. Ha!)

Again, sorry for the unexpected excitement!

My daughter's teacher replied almost immediately.

Hi Nicole,

No worries!  I didn’t think to mention that to the kids about water bottles with clear pop in them.  I think it just threw us off—it was like it happened in slow motion.  Really, no big deal!  I felt bad that she didn’t really get to drink much of it!


Saints, people.  Elementary teachers are saints.

Well, they say you should never stop learning... even if it IS something I probably should have known already.