On Registering for Kindergarten and Choosing a Catholic School

I can’t complain. I was fortunate enough to have a summer baby, so I got an extra year with my first baby at home while other moms were standing puffy-eyed and runny-nosed in school parking lots late last August. Instead of sending him off to kindergarten at the tender age of barely five, we are sending him off to kindergarten at the ripe, old age of six. I have read all of the research. Hell, I even did some of the research for my freelancing job. I know there are all kinds of statistics on the values of delaying a kindergarten start, just as there are all kinds of statistics on the evils of “redshirting” your kindergartener. But, I’m a mom who saw her child struggle with speech and some fine motor skills when he started preschool. I’m a mom who saw her son hang back even though he wanted to play and knew the answers but was afraid nobody would understand him if he spoke. I’m a mom who made the gut-wrenching decision to have him repeat preschool and watch his very first friends move on to pre-K without him. So, I redshirted my kid. And, I’m so glad that I did.

Homework by Chris YarzabIn this year of pre-K, my sensitive, bright, quiet son has blossomed. He seeks out kids to play with at school, after happily playing alone during his two preschool years. He now has rich discussions with the school helpers and teachers. In fact, the pre-K volunteer who helps the kids write journals once a week had no idea my son has overcome a severe speech delay. He also recognizes sight words and figures out words when we spell them instead of just telling him to do something (“Please bring me an e-g-g.”) He asks questions and makes connections and watches shows on The Weather Channel and The Learning Channel that I never imagined would interest a five year old. He writes notes to us in church. He helps his younger brother and cousin and pretends to read to them. And, he will start kindergarten in a few short months.

Last night we visited his new school and started the registration process. The principal, faculty and staff, and school nurses welcomed us with open arms and impressed me from the moment I stepped inside. I was more impressed by my son, however. He walked into the kids’ room, answered the brand new teacher at an appropriate volume with clear enunciation, and sought out the action. I wanted to follow him, give him a hug, and tell him that my husband and I would be right across the hall, but he turned and gave us a wave and said, “Goodbye.”

And, that was that. This child of mine about whom I have lost years of sleep is going to be okay. He’s going to be more than okay. He’s ready.

And, he’s going to be in a school that values faith and respect and encourages curiosity. He’s going to be in a school that proudly displays students’ writing assignments (completed in cursive!), creative artwork, group projects, and homework schedules on the walls. He’s going to be in a school that uses short, formative assessments as tools to evaluate students. The one standardized assessment utilized by the school is viewed as a tool to evaluate the programs and curricula, and not to evaluate students. He’s going to be in a school with a principal who stood and answered all of my “I’m a former teacher and want to know what goes on here” questions with honesty and compassion. There was no spin. There were no excuses. I may not have agreed with every single thing that she said, but I know that I will be able to communicate concerns to this principal without being snowballed or told “that’s just the way it is.”

I am going to continue fighting for public education with all of my might. I am a proud product of our public education system, and I was a fourth generation public school teacher. I will more than likely be sending both of our sons to public education for grades 9-12. I believe in public schools and the power of students, parents, and teachers to continue to work to get our administrators, legislators, and departments of education to right the course and get back to the business of teaching and learning.

But, our sons will be attending our local Catholic School for grades K-8 because I believe in small class sizes, strong curricula that includes science and social studies, and an educational environment that puts students, not tests first. I am putting my money where my mouth is, by putting my own child/student first while I continue to fight for others’ children and students.

Image via Flickr by Chris Yarzab

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Hayden’s Heart Needs You This February

Of course, everyone knows that February means Valentine’s Day. But, February also is the time to wear red and think about your own heart and the hearts of your loved ones because February is American Heart Month.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Each year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. Fortunately, heart disease often is preventable when people make healthy choices and manage their health.

Hayden's HeartFor many Americans, though, hearts are on their minds year-round. These heart families are all too aware of the devastating effects of congenital heart defects (CHD), the most common birth defect in the country, and the leading cause of all infant deaths in the U.S. One such family, the Dorsetts, have been raising awareness and honoring their son with Hayden’s Heart, a nonprofit foundation that works to help families with their staggering medical and travel expenses. Born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, Hayden died at the age of 5 months, 4 days. Now, Hayden’s family keeps his memory alive and helps other heart families by hosting fundraisers, holding events, and organizing care packages to help others in Hayden’s name.

Right now, you can help Hayden’s Heart by logging on to Sevenly and purchasing apparel. The best part is, $7 from each item purchased will go to Hayden’s Heart now through February 15. The designers created very special options just for Hayden’s Heart, and they’re available this week only.

Make this February more than just about flowers and sappy cards. Do something to help heart families across the country and to raise awareness for CHD. For more information, visit Hayden’s Heart on Facebook or read Hayden’s Heart blog.

Relishing the Boring Stuff – What the Hell?

My addiction to Disney movies is not something I’ve ever tried to hide on this blog. So, it should come as no surprise that this blog post is inspired by one of my all-time favorites: Up. The beginning love story sequence makes me cry. Hard. Ugly, shoulder-shaking, snot-sucking crying. It’s bad. I don’t even have to be looking at the screen. As soon as I hear the music, I know what’s happening, and I start to cry right around the time that they are in the doctor’s office. Again, regular readers will know why. There is just something about the whole movie that gets me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve had students like Russell, or if it’s because the love between Ellie and Carl is timeless, or if it’s because I’m just a sucker for Disney movies.

Anyway, there is one line in the movie that hits home with me every time. Russell is talking to Mr. Fredricksen about being a kid and says, That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.” (Don’t send me a nasty email if I misquoted that a bit. I’m not so good at quoting movies; that’s my husband’s claim to fame.) As a mom, I try, at the very least, to make each day fun. They’re not all smash hits, but if we laugh and smile and spend time together, then I’m happy. The rest of the tribe seems to be, too.

I see all of these moms on Pinterest and Facebook planning these elaborate day trips and play dates, and to be honest, there are times when I wish I had the creativity and the patience and the time to do half of those things. I envy their energy and their enthusiasm and their eagerness to be perfect moms. But, then I stop and wonder if that just makes their kids expect every day to be a grand gesture. Would they even appreciate the “boring” things that our family does? That’s when I realize I’m glad that we have that boring stuff. That’s the stuff of real life, and that’s what makes our family… well, us.

I like our nightly pillow fights and tumbling shows. I was thrilled when the big kid asked to help me make a chocolate chip banana bread yesterday, but “this time without the volcano.” I love knowing that I’m going to get the little guy out of his crib each day after his nap and see his smile and answer that daily question, “Daddy home?” And the next daily question, “Brother home?” And the one after that, “Turtle game?” We may have our boring routine, but there is comfort in that schedule. We know we will be together and play each late afternoon and evening. We know the Phillies game most likely will be on after bath time. We know we will make our wishes and read our books and talk about our days, head-to-head on the pillow. I even love knowing that we go to our favorite family dinner spot so often that they know what to bring us to drink and that we don’t need menus; knowing that we can leave with a screaming little guy without insulting anyone is kind of awesome, too.

So, yes, the boring stuff is the stuff I will remember the most. And, I hope it’s the stuff our boys will look back on and remember with fondness. We may not have done something awesome every day, but we did spend time together, as a family. When I figure out how to pin that and update that, I will. In the meantime, I’ll check out what those other moms are doing, and for once, I’ll be able to think I may just be doing something right. What the Hell?

My Son’s Other Woman – What the Hell?

I’ve written about it before: the unbelievably tight bond between my older son and my mother. It’s something that amazes me, warms my heart, and makes me jealous, all at the same time. That’s tough for me to admit, but it’s the ugly truth.

This past week has been rougher than most in the he-likes-Gatoni-more-than-he-likes-me category because he is crying for her every night. This is very unusual; typically, he cries once a week for her, the night after his super-awesome sleepover at her house. This week he’s having a rough go of it because he knows she is going on a little vacation in a few days.

I was worried about her dogs and her house. I was very worried about fielding all of the phone calls from my grandmother and my grandfather and my brother; I swear they call her twenty times a day, each. I was worried about having to answer all of the questions about where she is and when she will be back and why she isn’t available to get my brother groceries. I was worried about what would happen if I didn’t remember how to follow that one recipe or how to deal with the latest little boy ailment: the usual reasons for my twenty phone calls a day.

I wasn’t prepared for my kiddo to have himself all upset about her leaving. And, I’m really not sure how to make him feel better because he’s never really had to miss someone before, let alone his person. I’m sure I won’t live up to his super-awesome weekend expectations. I’m sure I won’t come up with the most fun games ever. I’m sure I won’t indulge his every whim. And, I’m sure I won’t fill that hole in his little heart when he can’t see his Gatoni for four days.

But, I’m his mom. And, even though it hurts my heart to see him so upset and sad because he’s anxious about losing his grandmother for a few days, it hurts me more to know that he’s not seeing it as an opportunity to spend more time with me. I was expecting to feel this when he got a girlfriend. I never thought I’d have to deal with this at age 5. What the Hell?

Another Injury – What the Hell?

My boys are not delicate flowers. If they were, I’d be very concerned because I was a tomboy and I don’t really know how to do quiet games and sit still for long periods of time. Unless it’s to read a book, but I’m usually scribbling furiously in the margins or taking notes or highlighting or writing as I read, so that doesn’t really count. Anyway, because of their rough-and-tumble natures, my boys look like they’ve been in some sort of horrible accident. At any given time, I can find a bruise, a brush burn, or a scab with little effort.

I’m starting to worry, because as they grow older and bolder, their injuries are becoming larger and much more noticeable. My immediate family at least has learned to stop asking, “Oh, honey, what did you do?” and start asking, “What did you do this time?” And, bless my pediatrician because he looks them over and says he’s glad we are so active and outdoors so often at our house. I haven’t had to worry about a call from CYS yet, thank goodness.

But, I am noticing that the boys are starting to be more daring in their escapades. The five year old is climbing trees and jumping out of his clubhouse, which is attached to the swing set. He won’t yet jump off a swing, but I’m sure that’s going to happen soon. He is running and jumping into the swimming pool, going down the slide into the water, and, just recently, flipping off the diving board. Most of these activities are harmless and there is always a throng of people ready and waiting to catch him, ask him if he’s okay, or pick him up if he falls a little too hard. He has more bruises and scrapes to prove his bravery, but I don’t make it a point to tell him that they are badges of honor; though, I know at some point in his little boyhood another rough-and-tumble kid will tell him that’s what they are. I don’t curb all of the flipping and running and jumping, but I’m certainly not going to make it a show of honor yet.

The two year old’s latest trick is to jump off the love seat and land on one of our bean bags. We now are on our second set of bean bags because the first set is as flat as pancakes from the big kid’s shenanigans. We use them as buffers along our hearth, and it’s a system that is working well so far. The problem with the little guy’s jumping routine is that he sometimes doesn’t jump out far enough from the love seat, and I’m afraid he’s going to hurt his leg. Last night, though, he was launching himself so far that I used a second beanbag as a “safety net.” I was having heart palpitations because my baby is turning into an acrobat before my very eyes, and I wasn’t ready for his bravery to kick in yet.  Chalk it up to yet another way he’s growing up that Mommy isn’t ready for. When he slid down the indoor slide right into his brother’s head while I was picking up toys (I really can’t take my eyes off them for a second at this point), there were a few tears but no blood. I felt better because the big kid wanted me to rub his noggin and check his head, and the little guy wanted my husband, his Nuk, and his Lovey.

I guess these boys are growing out of their Sesame Street toys and Little People play sets. We are moving on to tumbling mats and trampolines soon, I fear.

I will patch up the skinned knees and put Aloe on the brush burns for as long as they want me to. I will hug them and hold them when they get a little too wild. I will warn them to “Be careful,” even though I know I should save my breath. I’ll willingly offer them comfort after a tumbling accident as long as I can. But, when the day comes that they don’t come running to me with an injury, I will not be able to handle it. Somebody will have to give me a hug because all I’ll be able to think is, “What the Hell?”

The Potty Battle – What the Hell?

I know it’s been all over the internet on Mommy blogs and parenting sites and Pinterest: people are potty training their kids in a matter of seconds, and they are celebrating with awesome displays of balloons and parties and domino rallies.  Every time I see one of those jubilant faces, I want to yell, “Bullshit!” with the same gusto I used in high school when I learned how to play the card game.

I can’t take any credit for potty training our first son.  It was a battle of the wills, and I lost.  Two stubborn people are not usually good together under any circumstances, and when you add puddles of urine and stickers that aren’t being put onto the cute homemade chart that took one of the two parties HOURS to put together, a disaster ensues.  We had potty chairs that he chose at the store, proudly holding them in the cart on the way to the checkout aisle.  We had stickers with his favorite characters to put on that damn chart.  We had candy dispensers when I finally resorted to sugary bribes.  We had those special potty-training pants with his favorite characters on them.  We had underwear with his favorite cartoon guys on them, waiting in the drawer for when he was a big boy.  And, I had a headache and he had a warm stream of pee running down his leg.

I don’t know what my mom did to finally get him to use the potty on a regular basis, but she worked her grandmother magic somehow.  I think it involved lots of peeing on trees and into metal buckets, but whatever worked for her eventually worked at our house, and I didn’t complain about her spoiling him during the potty-training process.  I worked the chart into our daily routine, and enough stickers earned him those coveted trucks from the store, until he was peeing and pooping on the potty like a champ.

Somehow in the years between child one and child two, I forgot how awful it is to try to force a small person with different equipment down there to pee on a potty.  I forgot how cold the bathroom floor can be when you sit on it for endless stretches of time, just praying for one little tinkle into that potty so you can high five and dance and sing and give chocolate to a kid who has no real concept of why what he did is as awesome as you’re making it seem.  I forgot what it’s like to watch a clock and put a tiny body on a potty every fifteen minutes and pray that you’re not somehow scarring him for life; I don’t even want to know just how much will those therapy bills cost later on in life.

This time around, it’s worse than the first time.  This child wants even less to do with that stupid potty chair.  This child will not even look at the potty chairs at the store because he’s too busy screaming, “POTTY, NO!” at the top of his little lungs.  This child knows that every single person in his life uses the potty but him, and he’s just fine with that, thank you very much.  This child, who will normally do anything for chocolate, will not even look at the Hershey bar being dangled under his nose when he gets near the potty.  This child is going to be the death of me.

I know you’re not supposed to push potty training with kids who just aren’t ready, especially with boys who just aren’t ready.  I’ve discussed this with fellow parents and my parents and our pediatrician.  They all say to give him some time.  And, trust me, I’d be more than happy to give him time because I know I’m looking forward to the whole process less than he is.  But, the diapers are no longer containing his rivers.  We are changing his clothes top to bottom – yes, even the socks – at least once a day.  I’ve tried all kinds of diapers.  Different brands, different styles, different sizes, different everything.  I’m convinced they don’t make a diaper for my child because his body IS READY for the potty.  It’s his little mind that isn’t.

I don’t know how I’m going to get him to do this.  I don’t think my mom wants to put another child through her potty-training boot camp: especially this child, because for all of his adorableness, his nickname isn’t TROUBLE for nothing.  I can’t keep washing his clothes and our carpets and his crib as often as I am, or everything will just disintegrate some day soon.  Of all of the times I’ve wished for a magic wand or just one wish to be granted by the big blue genie from “Aladdin” during my lifetime, this is the time when I want someone to pay up.  One of us isn’t going to survive this potty battle.  What the Hell?

I Became an Adult Today – What the Hell?

I traveled without my parents for the first time when I was 17.  It did not go well, because I was in a car accident with my friend and had to be rescued near Hershey by a state trooper and then eventually by my dad and grandfather.  I moved 4 hours away from home to attend college when I was 18.  I got my first full-time job when I was 22. I bought a house when I was 23 without any co-signers.  I was married that same year.  I bought my first brand new vehicle when I was 24, and I negotiated without my dad.  I gave birth to my first child when I was 28.  I sold my home when I was 29 and built a brand new house when I was 30.  I gave birth to my second child when I was 31.  But, it was not until today that I became a real, live, bonafide adult.

I don’t handle blood and guts and gore well.  I’ve been known to get lightheaded just watching ER and Grey’s Anatomy.  I can’t handle pictures of gutted deer (don’t forget, I live in central PA), and I can’t watch anybody clean a fish.  I can’t watch my son wiggle a loose tooth, and the day that he pulled out his first tooth I thought I was going to die.  When a former middle school student cut his hand on a locker right outside of my classroom, I gathered him up and put pressure on the wound and screamed for another teacher to help because I was already starting to pass out.  The other teacher swooped in and saved the day while I sat on the floor with my head between my knees and another teacher put a cold compress on the back of my neck.  I was never so humiliated in my life, but I did all that I could before I became the patient being loaded into an ambulance.

When my husband cut his hand in our basement years ago, he wrapped it up and came upstairs and hid his arm behind a wall while he told me to sit on the couch.  Once I was no longer standing upright, he told me that we had to go to the hospital and called my mom to give us a ride because I was already sitting with my head between my knees just because I thought about the blood.  Once we arrived at the ER, I sat in a chair in the waiting room while my mom helped my husband.  Nurses kept checking on me because I was so pale.  I couldn’t look at his stitches.

A couple of years after that, my husband had his first surgery of our relationship.  He had to have his wisdom teeth surgically removed.  My mom offered to go along because she was afraid I wouldn’t “be able to handle it.”  I refused her offer and happily accompanied my husband because I knew I wouldn’t have to be in the room during the procedure or see any of the blood.  I was just a loving, supportive chauffeur.  I didn’t know the doctor was going to call me back into the recovery room and start describing the procedure in detail to me while my husband was still groggy.  I didn’t know I should have been sitting down while he was talking to me.  If I had known, I would have told him to stop talking and put my butt on a chair.  Too late.  I passed out and hit the floor and my mom had to come and drive us both home.  Humiliating life event #2.  I, the ride, had to be given a ride.

When I had a C-section with our second child, I could not look at the incision or clean the site or change the dressing.  When they came in to remove my staples, I cried and begged the nurse to do it as quickly and painlessly as she could, and I made sure I was lying down with a firm grip on the pillow because I was positive I was going to die.  When I came home with surgical tape on the incision, it was my husband who had to check the site and clean it and take care of me because I couldn’t look at it, touch it, or think about it.

Before you start thinking that I am a complete imbecile who needs everyone to do everything for me, let’s get a little perspective.  I have had my own wisdom teeth surgically removed and did not pass out.  I have given birth: once naturally and once by C-section.  I have cleaned belly button stumps and put ointment on newly circumcised penises.  I have cleaned poop out of car seats, off of walls, out of the bathtub, out of carpet, and just about everywhere else shit can happen.  I have wiped noses with my shirt and stopped pee fountains with my hands.  Being a mother is not glamorous or hygienic, and I have done all of those things (and more!) with no help because my husband was dry heaving in the background.  It’s blood I can’t handle.

So, when my husband came into the house with his hand wrapped in his handkerchief today and told me that he had just cut himself and needed stitches, I could see that old look of panic on his face.  Not the I’m-worried-about-my-hand-and-don’t-know-how-bad-it-is look, but the can-you-drive-me-to-the-hospital-without-passing-out-because-I-can’t-drive-myself look.  I decided then and there that I was calling my mom.  But, this time, I was calling to see if she could stay with the kids while I drove my husband, because on THIS day, I was going to stop being a baby about blood.

While I was driving, I didn’t look at his hand.  I was gasping for breath and feeling faint.  I answered him in short phrases when he asked me if I were okay.  But, I drove my husband to the ER and didn’t pass out.

And, I accompanied him to the exam room and stayed with him the whole time.  I didn’t sit down because I NEEDED to; I sat down because it took forever.  I didn’t feel queasy when the doctor started to manipulate his fingers and asked him questions about whether his hand were tingling or stinging.  I watched the doctor glue him back together and wondered how much money we would have saved if I had just gotten the Gorilla Glue out of the cupboard and done it at home.  (Note: Apparently, that wouldn’t have worked because that glue is toxic, but I still think we could have given it a try.)  I listened to all of the at-home care instructions and follow-up duties and didn’t even feel lightheaded.  I drove him back home and was doing a little jig about my success.  I probably could have been a little more concerned about his hand and how he was feeling, but I had a major accomplishment to celebrate.  I think making it all about me helped me to forget all about the blood and huge gash that was simply glued back together and seemed like it could burst open at any minute.

It only took 33 years and lots of hurdles and stumbling blocks along the way, but I did it.  I became an adult today.  What the Hell?

Broken Promises – What the Hell?

I broke a promise to myself yesterday. I swore on my old Girl Scout honor that I would write and publish a blog post every day since I started more than a month ago. There were days that I barely hit “Publish” by midnight, and some days that I had to accept hitting that button a few minutes after midnight, but I always made it. Until yesterday.

I was crazy busy with a project for the job that pays the bills, and because the little guy didn’t sleep for two minutes after I got home from my satellite work location (that’s my cool new term for my parents’ den), I couldn’t write when I got home. Then, there were all of the Mom Duties: changing diapers, playing the Wii, playing with trains, pouring milk into sippy cups, filling the Ninja Turtle cup with water when he realized he wanted it instead of the milk, getting the iPad to do whatever it was he wanted it to do, cleaning up, ordering pizza, paying bills… well, I think that just about paints the picture. Once everybody was finally in jammies and in bed, I cleaned up some more and sat down to continue that crazy-busy project. Until 4:15AM.

I’ll admit that I looked at the clock around midnight and felt like crying. Maybe it was the combination of the frustration I was having with the internet and the long list of things I still had to do before going to bed, and maybe it was the realization that I can’t remember the last time my husband and I hit the sheets at the same time, but the tears were ready to fall. I didn’t give in to those salty pests and continued to plug away at my list. I’d like to be able to say that I didn’t turn on the waterworks because I realized that crying over a missed blog post would have been silly and juvenile, but I think what stopped me was knowing that my keyboard would get wet. Anyway, the fact that I broke a promise to myself still bothers me this morning.

As a kid, I made promises all of the time. And, I kept them. If my mom wanted me to do something, she would ask me to promise; it worked better than a guilt trip because even at a young age, I knew that a person’s word was supposed to mean something. I can remember looking at my dad as he was rushing out the door after work, on his way to a meeting, and asking him to promise he’d be home before I fell asleep. He wouldn’t promise if he knew he wouldn’t make it. I remember being very young and asking my mom to promise she wouldn’t make me eat steak one more time because I hated it. She promised, and I still don’t eat steak.

I didn’t intentionally teach our big kid to say “promise” when it came to matters of the utmost importance, but that’s another thing he’s picked up from his mama. It hit me last night – well, this morning – while I was finally trying to fall asleep, that he uses promises the same way I do. If he really wants something, or if something really matters to him, he makes a promise with me. He doesn’t use promises for silly situations: I’ve never heard him say, “Promise me I can eat ketchup tonight.” And, I’ve never heard him say, “Promise we’ll never go to the dentist again!” because he knows that I won’t make promises that I won’t keep. But, he will ask me to promise that I won’t check my phone when he wants to show me his new tumbling moves. And, he asks me to promise that I’ll make his favorite Yummy Chicken soon. The funny thing is, when he wants his brother to do something, he doesn’t ask him to promise; he knows that little guy isn’t capable of sticking to his word.

I believe in teaching by example, and I got all warm and fuzzy thinking about how I’ve already instilled the value of a person’s word in my son. Don’t get me wrong: he still fibs and tells lies every now and again, but he’s at least on the right track with following through on a promise. He doesn’t know that Mommy has a blog, so I won’t tell him about my little slip. But, I promised him that I’d play with him when I got home today, and I will. That next blog post will just have to wait. I may break a promise to myself, but I’ll never break a promise to my children.

I’ll probably be up until the wee hours of the morning again, though, despite the fact that I promised myself I’d be in bed by 11 tonight. What the Hell?

12 Signs You’re From a Small Town – What the Hell?

I’ve lived in four houses my entire life, all within the same county in PA: the two that are the farthest apart are separated by only 18 minutes, on a good driving day. I’ve been eating at my favorite local restaurants at least once a week for as long as I can remember, minus the time I spent away at college. I have a category of people in my life who are “mill customers:” I don’t know their names, but I know they have been buying at our family feed mill since before I was born, and I know them on sight. My family doctor went to school with my mom; they even traded homework in an alley before school in the morning (Mom did the English, and he did the math). I’m a small-town girl, and I’ve decided there are 12 signs you’re from a small town, too.

1. Everybody knows your name.

Well, they may not know your first name, but they know that you are so-and-so’s daughter or son or so-and-so’s granddaughter or grandson and you look just like her or him.

2. When you hear a train coming, you know at least two alternate routes you can take to avoid the train all together.

That first whistle is just a warning. You know you have exactly 90 seconds to turn around, head down a side street, and jump the tracks because the lights are flashing but there aren’t any bars coming down across that crossing. And you feel a little bit like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit while you do it.

3. You hear “mom ‘n’ them” on a regular basis.

Okay. Maybe this is just a colloquialism from my particular small town, but it’s something you hear regularly around here. If it’s unfamiliar to you, picture this: you’re standing in line at a store, and you hear the people beside you say they had to pick up some Pepsi for “mom ‘n’ them;” you ask somebody to come for dinner this weekend, but they say they can’t because they’re going to be with “mom ‘n’ them.” It’s absolutely horrible. I’ve never said it. But it’s a part of the vernacular around here.

4. You don’t know street names because you reference everything by “where so-and-so used to live” or “where such-and-such store used to be.”

I hate it when people from out of town ask me for directions, because I have no idea what the streets are called around here. It’s only been 33 years; don’t judge me. I’m always fascinated by the college kids’ ability to deliver pizzas in this small town. I’ll bet not one of them knows where the old Kmart even used to be, but they’re successfully delivering pizzas nonetheless.

5. You know where everybody’s grandparents live.

Part of growing up around here meant spending time at your friends’ grandparents’ houses, not just your friends’ houses. Whether it was Sunday visits or trick-or-treating or just to drop off a clean casserole dish, you visited grandparents almost as much as you visited friends. The nice part was, you had a whole group of grandparents you weren’t related to but who still treated you like one of their own.

6. People have their own booths and tables and barstools in the restaurants and bars, and you know people are going to catch hell if they’re sitting in them on the “wrong night.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s the local family restaurants or the local dive bars: you can guarantee people will show up and immediately get pissed off if somebody else is in “their seat.” I’ve seen people march over to poor, unsuspecting patrons and tell them to get out of their seat. I’ve also seen people sit and pout while staring at the offending ignorant eaters because they didn’t have the guts to confront them. There even are a couple of waitresses in town who are nice enough to warn people about sitting in certain spots on certain nights.

7. If you can’t find somebody, you know which restaurant to find them in on a Friday night.

There is a whole culture of diners who eat in certain places on Friday nights. These people make up the majority of the people in #6 who have “their spots.” I’ve heard my parents say they weren’t going to call so-and-so because they just knew they’d see them at dinner that night. They didn’t have dinner plans together, and they weren’t going to eat together; they just knew they’d be there having dinner. In their spot.

8. Your mother and grandmother refer to all of the girls within five years of your age by their maiden names, and it doesn’t sound weird to you.

We’ve been to the weddings. We’ve seen the pictures of the ones we weren’t invited to attend. Everyone around here knows when one of “the kids” gets married. But, even though the majority of the girls take their husbands’ names, your mother and grandmother never get the memo or take notice of the new address labels on the thank-you notes and Christmas cards. You will forever go by your maiden name to those mothers and grandmothers, no matter what.

9. You see your friends’ parents and they still treat you like you’re twelve.

This probably has a lot to do with #8, too. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a wonderful development with some of the best families around, and those moms and dads watched out for us when we rode our bikes and played flashlight tag. I don’t know for sure, but whatever the reason, when I bump into those same moms and dads now, they look shocked to see that I’m old enough to be married with children (even though their kids are, too) and they still use that tone of voice they used when I was in elementary school. How are yoooou? What have you been up toooo?

10. You hear certain last names and know they’re trouble.

Right or wrong, fair or not, people are branded in a small town. Certain names and places carry stigmas, even if the current generation is made up of college graduates and success stories. It seems like the oldest generation in town is the most guilty of doing the labeling, and there is a subset of teaching families who shares the blame, but certain last names earn people the ire of many community members. And, the people who are the targets of the ridicule are aware of it and perpetuate it: “Oh, we’re not part of that clan. Our last name is spelled differently.” I’ve even heard people change the pronunciation of their last name, just to disassociate themselves from the rest of the clan.

11. You can list every sport the kids in certain families played.

Small towns like to cheer on their kids, and certain families are known for raising football players, basketball players, soccer players, baseball/softball players, and even 4-Hers. If a kid chooses not to participate in a sport that made his or her family famous, everybody wonders what’s wrong with him or her. It’s like the town expects people to follow suit and not break tradition; when it happens, they’re not sure how to handle it. On the other hand, when a new generation of a family begins, everybody starts purchasing sporting gear in the “family sport” for the new arrival. Baseball gloves for newborns are common baby shower gifts around here.

12. You expect to be able to park for five hours on one quarter.

There are some perks to being from a small town. You’re practically guaranteed a parking spot, and when you get one, you know you can spend the better part of the day parked in town on a single quarter. It’s funny when we go out of town and are expected to pay more than that for parking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about parking fees in the surrounding communities because we are spoiled here.

I’d like to be able to say that my small town is exactly as I remember it from my childhood, but it’s not. I described my dilapidated memories of some of the places that made up my childhood in an earlier post, and after I did that, I realized that even though things don’t look the same, they often still feel the same. Some days, that’s a comfort; other days, it’s not. I don’t know if I want our boys to be able to write a list like this thirty years from now. There are some advantages to this small-town life, but I often wonder about the things I missed out on by living in a big city or going out West somewhere. The hardest part is realizing that our boys are going to have to make that decision for themselves some day, and I can’t handle thinking that my small town may not be their small town. What the Hell?

Vacation Anxiety – What the Hell?

We’ve finally done it. We’ve finally taken the steps to book a vacation, even if it is just for almost three whole days and our lodge is less than two hours from our house. This is a big deal, so don’t roll your eyes and groan. We haven’t been anywhere together other than our honeymoon ten years ago; we figured it’s time to go somewhere, in honor of our tenth anniversary.

My husband and I don’t come from families that traveled often. When I was little, my parents never took a trip without my brother and me in tow. And, our trips consisted mostly of day trips to local attractions, visits to my aunt and uncle in Hershey, and an annual summer trip to the Jersey Shore. The biggest trip of my life happened the summer between fifth and sixth grade, when we went to Disney World. I was twelve and too cool for the Dumbo ride, and while I enjoyed the trip, I’m not sure that I appreciated the time with my family in the most magical place on earth as much as I should have. Chalk that one up to that pesky adolescent phase.

So, I did the only thing a less-than-worldly traveler can do when she wants to go on vacation with her husband: I took to Facebook and put out an all-call for destinations within reasonable driving distance that are not too outrageously priced. Suggestions came pouring in from friends, and I was astonished by how many people actually travel. We got so many wonderful ideas from so many people who encouraged us to get out there and not feel guilty about leaving our children for almost three whole days that I made an Excel spreadsheet and started researching potential destinations.

Long story short, we are going to an outdoorsy spot close enough to home that I could rush back to a kiddo with a scraped knee and still make it back in time to hike with my husband. I didn’t mean to pick the spot that’s nearly closest to our home base, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be too far away from our little guys. Some day, I’ll be able to travel without the guilt and anxiety associated with being Mommy. That day is not today.

I’ve talked my parents into staying with the boys, and it didn’t take much arm twisting at all. (No regular readers of this blog should be surprised by that!) We officially are heading to the great outdoors, complete with a suite fitted with a fireplace, hot tub, and private deck. We’ve booked some adventures with local outfits, and I truly am looking forward to not cutting someone’s meat and lugging three bags full of iPads and trains and trucks to dinner. I can’t wait to talk to my husband without being interrupted every other word with such important issues as a broken truck or a turtle whose arm won’t move or a movie that won’t start. I’m looking forward to being able to do things after 8PM, for goodness sake.

And, now that I know our reservations are set and our confirmations have been received, I am starting to feel that old anxiety creeping in every time I give a thought to our upcoming anniversary getaway. What if the baby won’t sleep without his dad being the one to put him down, because he’s the one who puts him down every night? What if somebody’s asthma flares up and I’m not there to notice the first signs of wheezing? What if the five year old doesn’t transition well to his preK class and is having issues with getting out of the car and up the steps to his classroom? What if the two year old can’t find somebody who understands the new word he’s trying to say?

And, my anxiety is not limited to all of the imagined problems at home. I’m starting to think about all of the things that can wrong on our trip, too. What if there are bears that roam a little too close for comfort? What if we encounter bed bugs, even though I researched our lodging site and followed up with references and made sure that it’s the cleanest and friendliest place to stay? What if the bathroom is scummy and small and has hair stuck to the shower drain from the last vacationer? What if there are annoying people staying near us, with their loud talking and their door banging and their question asking? What if there are SNAKES? What if there are more mosquitoes and ticks than there are in my own backyard? What if I can’t relax enough to just have fun?

This is a problem. I don’t even have to worry about these things for more than two months, and here I am. It’s already been keeping me up at night. I’m sure that as the departure date draws near, I’ll be more excited than anxious. I’m sure I’ll hug my boys and have trouble keeping back the tears, all the while knowing that they are in the best second set of hands they could be. I’m sure I’ll look at my husband apologetically and hear him sigh when I check in with the homefront for the twentieth time in one day. And, I’m sure that when we return, I either will want to book another trip right away or never think about traveling again. Or, at least until our boys are older and begging us to just go.

I’m going on a three-day anniversary getaway in October, and I’m already freaking out about it. What the Hell?