Thursday, February 9, 2012

Maid of the Mist

The flooding of the Flower Mound UPS store was caused by my toddler's consumption of a Vita Top muffin, a chocolate confection magically injected with nine grams of fiber and thus sold as health food.
I gave one to Charlotte, now age 2, for breakfast only because I had my girlfriend, Michelle, on the phone from North Carolina. Her husband is recovering from actual brain surgery, which is why I couldn't be distracted even by pouring cereal.
"Give her that and she's going to poop big," warned Michelle.
I was willing to take my chances.
Charlotte squealed with delight upon seeing me rip open the package and, three hours later, she gave me one of her own.
We were at UPS--the one on 2499 in Flower Mound--mailing a box to our cousins.
Charlotte peeked out from behind the rotating greeting card display, pretending to sort Valentine's cards. I knew darn well what she was doing.
I paid for my package to be sent first class--they'll take pity on me and allow me to use the bathroom if I paid full freight, I figured.
I took Charlotte's little hand in mine. We wound our way back behind the counter, past the boxes and the Styrofoam injector machine to the potty.
Remember now, Charlotte is my third child.
This means that I am full of useful information and good parenting strategies, yet I mostly ignore all I know in the name of time constraints and disorganization.
And while I happened to have one spare diaper stuffed into the bottom of my purse, I had no baby wipes to clean up the mess. I was even out of Old Navy receipts.
Moreover, there was no trash can. (And, of course, no Koala Kare changing pad--who changes a poopy diaper during the 32 seconds it takes to mail a package?)
Thus, I found myself simultaneously holding up Charlotte's multi-layered dress, removing overflowing output and trying to clean up her rump while holding the diaper.
Meanwhile, Charlotte had found the store's water cooler.
Strangely, it was placed right next to the toilet.
(This should be the subject of another blog post entirely. For while I will hold poop in my hand and even catch vomit in my purse, I will never, ever endorse placing drinking water within 150 feet of a flushing toilet. That's just asking for cholera.)
Anyhow, Charlotte's wiggling around as I balanced the colossal poop in my palm. She grabbed the water cooler taps and pulled down, spraying frigid purified water into the drain.
"Cold!" she screeches with delight.
The water cooler provided a perfect spot for Charlotte to begin washing her hands. It was, after all, right at eye level.
"Wash-wash-wash-your-hands-wash-them-together!" she sang, spraying water on herself, on me, all over the floor.
I would have to tell Miranda Howland--Charlotte's preschool teacher--that this was a very effective usage of a simple song.
Now, a less seasoned mother would have turned off the tap, but no, I am a veteran mom. I know distraction is my ally; I could easily clean up the floor after I re-diapered the baby and deposited the poop. This running water would provided me with ample opportunity to get my work done.
That idea would have been perfect had I not forgotten that water cooler drains fill up quickly--and overflow.
The puddle at Charlotte's feet began to grow into a pond.
The water cooler was like Niagara Falls.
Gallons of combined hydrogen and oxygen molecules surged through the little plastic taps.
Soon, a man wearing only a barrel would zoom through the roaring foam.
I wondered if barrels were even allowed anymore at Niagara Falls.
Maybe modern-day thrill seekers go cloaked in wet suits?
They used to let you take a boat right under the falls and you got to wear a poncho.
I seem to recall taking a seafaring vessel called "The Maid of the Mist" when I was maybe eight years old...
Charlotte was laughing like a hyena, gleefully sopped.
There was more water on the floor of the UPS store than in my backyard swimming pool.
Miraculously, the baby was diapered, the toilet was flushed and I was no longer holding a poopy diaper, but how those things happened I do not know.
I jammed the water cooler taps closed.
"Swim!" said Charlotte.
The thoughtful clerk who had placed the water cooler next to the toilet had also supplied a year's worth of paper towels atop a coat rack, for which I was grateful.
I sopped up the mess using several rolls.
"Let's go," I said, placing Charlotte on a hip, the wad of soggy trash under my armpit.
"Bye-bye," Charlotte said, waving to the clerks as we stomped through the shop.
Next time, I would know to wear a poncho when I fed my baby breakfast.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Behind the Wheel

Teenagers get a lot of sass from insurance companies about being the worst drivers on the road. They gab on the phone. They text. They drink alcohol. Mostly they’re just way too excited and inexperienced.
They’re subsequently punished with high insurance rates and frequent stops from the authorities.
There’s probably a lot of truth to all that, but I’d argue there might be an equally menacing threat out there few notice: The 38-year-old suburban mom.
These moms are, by most accounts, boringly safe.
They make their kids were bike helmets, sunscreen, retainers.
But get them behind the wheel of an SUV in a McDonald’s drive-thru with a clutch of 7-year-old soccer players buckled up in back and watch out.
It all starts with French fries.
Mom pays for the promised treat with one hand while changing the CD with the other. She passes the fries back to the third row, head swiveled in the direction of the hungry second graders while warning them to use napkins, the SUV inching forward as her toddler thumps her back from an oversized car seat behind her.
The toddler requests—no, demands—Sesame Street’s “C is for Cookie.”
That’s track 5.
No, wait, track 9.
Oops, wrong CD.
Mom pulls out of the parking lot with two hands shuffling through the seat pocket in the opposite seat behind her, a feat Cirque du Soleil, acrobats would envy.
Boys launch French fries.
Sisters squeal.
There is a great unbuckling and swashbuckling.
Mom’s eyes are riveted on the shenanigans in the rear view mirror. She is making demands, thinking of punishments, wondering where she has gone wrong.
The toddler pelts a sippy cup into the front seat then, suddenly hysterical, requests a lovey from the passenger seat. The lovey slips between the cracks and Mom contorts herself to find it, sunglasses rocking from hair to neck obscuring her vision for an instant.
The cell phone rings.
It might be an emergency, Mom figures, so she picks up.
Soccer practice has been moved to another field across town.
Mom speeds up, makes an illegal u-turn, punches the gas.
The SUV lurches forward.
“I spilled my milk!” squeals a defender.
Mom opens the glove compartment—there is nothing worse than the smell of milk rotting on a triple-digit day—and pilfers a half-empty envelope of baby wipes, two crumpled tissues and a receipt from JCPenney to mop up the mess. She catapults it into the third row while making a left turn.
There is a loud discussion over whose turn it is to clean up the mess.
Mom thinks about the breakfast mess and the dinner mess before that and who it was that left a wet swimsuit undiscovered in a plastic bag for a week. She does not remember and is accused of not paying attention.
Singing breaks out.
The song is Lady Gaga.
Mom joins in because she is actually fun, darn it all.
The kids are singing, opening all the windows, waving at construction workers, at dogs whose tongues wag wet, at serious bikers whose Spanx make them giggle.
The toddler chimes in with “Wheels on the Bus.”
She is louder than all the second graders put together.
She throws up French fries and milk.
Mom prays silently that there are no library books on the floor of the car where the splayed vomit now seeps into the car’s carpet.
Mom roars into the soccer field parking lot, pitches the SUV into park and begins the rescue mission, second graders evacuating like fire ants put upon with poison.
I know all this because I am likely the 38-year-old suburban mom behind the wheel.
Watch for my SUV: I am more dangerous than a teenager.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Click on Your Brain

From the Dallas Morning News, Dec. 17, 2011

Paul refused to stand up in the sand. He tipped sideways. Tumbled forward. Fluttered backwards.

My second-graders groused as they tried to prop their homemade paper figures of the Christian missionary atop sloping “islands” — boards we covered with shifting white grain and shells.

There was a great flicking of sand. An “I quit!” Some made pleas for rescue.

Of the dozen or so children who attended my Sunday school class that day, not one — including my own 7-year-old twins — could figure out how to make tiny Paul stand tall.

I eventually provided a strategy — dig Paul a hole and glue him in — and we moved on with our craft. That morning, however, a seed of worry planted itself in my mind.

My Sunday school class is made up of incredibly bright, wonderful children raised gingerly by middle-class, well-educated parents in Flower Mound, Highland Village and Lewisville. They attend some of the premier elementary schools in the Lewisville Independent School District. A few have been deemed so accelerated, they are plucked from their general education classes weekly to take part in LISD’s gifted and talented program.

Yet, when I asked this group of leaders to do critical thinking, they not only failed, they balked at even trying.

So when I received a survey from my neighborhood elementary school a few weeks ago essentially asking if I thought it was a good idea to provide my very young children and their classmates with in-school access to technology — iPads, iPhones, iTouches and the like — to do “research,” a red flag went up.

Simply put, I worry that kids will supplant critical thinking with quick clicking in a day and age in which creative, agile minds are necessary to compete globally.

Already similar concerns are swirling around LISD as the Bring Your Own Technology program is phased into the district’s 42 elementary schools over the next few months.

The initiative, installed in high schools last year, aims to “unleash personal technology” but remains optional so that families don’t feel burdened, said LISD Public Information Officer Karen Permetti. The hope is that teachers will engage students in new and different ways, she said.

“The kids love it,” Permetti said. “They say they learn best with technology … and they want more of it.”

Still, I find the issues ominous — and mind you, I’m not an anti-tech ogre.

My children get a kick out of practicing their numbers on Fast Math, a district-endorsed educational website that drills little ones on basic addition and subtraction. And, which is used by LISD in part to teach history, helped inspire my son’s Halloween costume of the Greek God Perseus.

But technology offers only one type of learning. It doesn’t require kids engage their physical bodies or spiritual selves. They don’t have to negotiate with others or even interact with them.

Moreover, in my experience, programs designed for the very young place limits on their creativity and dominates playtime.

In fact, controlling technology was such a problem in our house that my husband and I eliminated the use of every type — including television — during the school week. None of my three kids wanted to play a board game, make-believe or even go outside when the option of technology and its instant gratification was available.

I can only imagine teaching a classroom full of small kids with hand-held gadgets: You’d have to be on fire to get their attention.

As a mother, a veteran K-12 education reporter, a liberal arts graduate and a taxpayer, I respectfully suggest that technology is a distraction to the real learning that needs to take place in our schools.

I’ll do my part by pushing my precious Sunday school students to think critically. Because I want Paul — and every single one of my church children — to stand strong on their own two feet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rain Gutter Regatta

By William Riekse

On Sunday I went to the rain gutter regatta. Rain gutter regatta is a boat race. But you can only use blowing power to get your boat down the gutter. At first I was scared. But then when I got there I felt a little bit better. My whole cub scout den was there to cheer for me. JD, Hayden, Collin, Jason, Brandon, and Chris were there. First we checked in my boat. My boat was a Texas Rangers boat. Then we played for a little while. Then the cub master told us the rules of rain gutter regatta. He told us to hold a pipe behind your back and hold on to it while you are blowing your boat down the gutter. Then it was time to start. I was up first. I was racing Jason. The guy that told us to start said READY SET GO!! I blew and blew and blew and I was so close to the gutter when I heard a pink! And I saw that my boat had made it to the end of the gutter! I won 2 out of 4 heats! At the end of regatta we got rewards! I got a patch! I want to go to rain gutter regatta next year!