Sunday, February 26, 2012

Accountability Sucks / Happy Birthday Jack

Jack is cut from exactly the same cloth as his daddy and this means that he spends a lot of mental energy worrying about things that the average person doesn't even consider. If you were able to step inside their brain you would know what it is like to fret about things like the Mayan calendar ending this year and the increasing incidents of tourists being kidnapped in Mexico. You would also be able to correctly identify the year and country of origin of any military vehicle on the planet but thats another post.

Jack has been particularly worried about the arrival of today: his eighth birthday. Like any decent pair of LDS parents we have been teaching Jack about baptism and the important choice it is. We believe that people aren't accountable for their sins until they reach an age where they can choose right from wrong for themselves and that when they enter the covenant of baptism they are able to consciously choose to do it themselves. We believe that the age of accountability is eight years old.

So a few months ago Jack had a complete breakdown because Christmas was coming and he was totally convinced that he was on the naughty list. He was sobbing and shaking and experiencing real pain. I felt extremely guilty because I am the one who constantly uses the threat of finding coal in your stocking to get my kids to behave. I had obviously milked it a little too much. I assured him that he was a great kid and was sure to be showered with presents from Santa but he was skeptical because he knows that I have no direct contact with The Elves. He knows I am biased.

Finally, to convince him I told him that I was going to let him in on a Mom Secret. I told him that there has never been in the history of the planet a kid under eight years old on the naughty list because it is impossible for them to commit a sin. Christ's atonement makes all children perfect and gives them eight years to learn the ropes before they are required to repent when they screw up and even then, we always have access to His saving grace and are granted forgiveness whenever we need it and every Sunday at church we can renew our baptismal covenant and be made perfect again. This is the most important thing you can ever know. If you died right now, you would be sent to celestial glory with no questions asked. It is covered by the Atonement. How can a person with literally perfect standing in the Kingdom of God get onto the naughty list?

This made sense to him and he was comforted. But then he turned his worry to a new topic: The tragedy of his impending eighth birthday. It was about a week after this conversation that his cousin Ella had an eighth birthday. She came over to our house and we all wished her a happy birthday and then Jack gave his condolences. "Now everything you do counts." He warned soberly. "And you get to be baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost!!!" I added. "And now when you are bad, it hurts Jesus!" he was clearly going to get the last word and add an element of fear to this celebration.

The thing that chaps my hide about this whole thing is that I understand that eight years old is the age of accountability and I understand that there is nothing magical about the age other than by that time kids are old enough to make choices and they have had enough life experience to know when they are wrong. These two facts have applied to Jack for quite some time now. He technically has a free pass before today but I have an issue with the fact that he has been using the last two months of his seventh year to have one big last hurrah. He will swipe money from my purse and when confronted look me in the eye and say "I'm not accountable." check mate. This morning over breakfast he asked, "Am I accountable today? Or do I get today free and it starts tomorrow?" Right. freaking. now, buddy.

When I think back to my baptism I have very few solid memories. I remember being indignant that I had to share the meeting with another child in the ward. (my first sin) I remember running into the church and tripping on the grass and getting dark green grass stains all over the front of my perfectly white dress and tights (karma for my first sin) I remember getting into the warm water and being overcome with the feeling that this was the best thing I could ever possibly do. I remember all of my aunts and uncles and cousins from across town at our house afterwards and when I asked what the occasion was my dad pointed out that everyone was here for me to celebrate my baptism. I was shocked that any of them cared enough to make the drive. I saw my opportunity and asked my dad for money (which I often did and got turned down). He reached into his pants pocket and handed me everything in it. It wasn't just a handful of change, there was paper money in there. Nothing he could have done would have driven home the importance of that day to me more. The best five bucks the man has ever spent.

I wish I remembered more about the day but then sometimes I am comforted to know that when my kids look back at their lives as small children, most of the details will be gone and the lessons and principles will be what is left. When I have a parenting moment that is less than ideal and I feel guilty I remind myself that the odds of the child actually remembering this moment are infinitesimal. I can tell you who my second grade teacher was, but nothing more. I still know the difference between a vowel and a consonant and I can still subtract single digits in my head but of the hundreds of second grade school days, I can only tell you about the time we were lined up on the playground and everyone was making a fuss because there was a tiny frog on the sidewalk and a mean third grade teacher in an attempt to regain order walked up and mistaking the frog for a cricket stomped on it. We were all horrified into submission and I spent the rest of the day wondering why I valued the life of a frog so much more than that of an insect. I cant wait to hear what my boys end up remembering.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Speeding. If you're not doing it, move over.

I recently read that if a woman needs to engage her husband in an important conversation that may involve conflict that it is best to do this when sitting side by side in a car. The reasoning is that the male brain evolved as a hunter and therefore feels less threatened by side-by-side contact than the ever offensive face-to face method. They are more likely to have a flight-or-flight response if they feel like someone is squaring off with them. So instead, you pretend to be a hunting buddy getting his back and he will be more open to the communication. I thought, "My goodness aren't men sensitive little babies? and how many generations do we have to evolve before they drop the threatened hunter schtick?"

I always like reading research on how the male brain and the female brain operate differently. It is fascinating and satisfying to learn that the reason John can open the fridge and spend ten minutes looking for the mayonaise finally concluding that there is no mayonaise in the fridge and then I walk up and open the door and reach immediately for the Costco size jar in a prominent place in the front of everything on the center shelf. Apparently his brain is good at pinpointing single objects at a distance (like a stalking saber toothed tiger or a deer in a forest) whereas my brain can take in and unconciously inventory lots of objects at very short range which makes me more likely to keep my babies contained and protected. This is also why I can read facial expressions, remember past social connections, keep up on neighborhood gossip and know if the kids are lying about brushing their teeth even if they have carefully wet their toothbrushes.

The thing is, John and I argue while we are in the car because we are engaging in very thing we disagree about the most. Driving. We don't just use a different style while operating a motor vehicle, we have completely opposing viewpoints about how it should be done. And lately we have been resorting to low-blow territory and each of us has been indoctrinating the children about weather or not the other is a "good driver". Normally I wouldn't go there in a million years, but when I hear my sweet little four year old in the back seat saying "Mommy is speeding because she is weally weally bad at dwiving." I get his attention and explain that speeding doesn't make a person a bad driver, it simply makes them a fast driver, and if you want to see a bad driver, check out your dad about an hour after a carbohydrate binge when he can't keep his head in the upright position. And when dad says 'curb check!' its not a funny game, it is an unintended collision and its illegal".

John's basic argument in that since I have received speeding tickets in my lifetime and when I was a teenager I had an accident or two, I am a dangerous driver. Never mind that it has been damn near two decades since I was on the wrong side of the badge, and never mind that I'm not even sure John has witnessed my actual driving in his life since he insists on being behind the wheel no matter what. He has his mind made up.

I, on the other hand, do not need foggy memories from decades past to form my opinion of John's driving because I get to experience it every time the two of us are in the same car. My favorite argument is that he is a "professional driver" with advanced training. We will be sure to call upon him if we even need to perform a Pit Maneuver during the morning carpool run, but when it comes to getting people where they need to be in the quickest possible way, I'm your gal.

My favorite thing that ALL cops ask when they pull a car over for speeding is "Why were you speeding?" I always feel like drawing a diagram for them and explaining that when you travel at a faster rate between two points, the time required for travel decreases. Of course I have been married to a cop long enough to know the only way to go when dealing with a traffic stop. The officer is a beautiful brave genius, I am a thoughtless, lead footed retard that is so thankful for the intervention because who knows what would have happened had I been left to determine for myself what is a reasonable and prudent speed for any given set of road conditions. Now-a-days I just have to work the fact that I am a cop's wife into the exchange immediately and I can be on my merry way, which seems unfair but in reality is not unfair because this particular free pass has been earned. Believe me. I've earned it.

John gets scared that I will speed in his town. It almost made me sad when I had to break it to him that his town is the only place on the planet that I am GUARANTEED to not get a ticket and because thats too valuable a privilege to squander, when I cross the city border, I accelerate by at least 5 miles per hour. Writing a fellow cop's wife would make you as popular at the station as writing the cop himself. I'll always ask John for details just to be sure "Who is the guy who is always running radar by Higley High? Oh, him? Okay. He has sat at my kitchen table and eaten a meal. He wouldn't dream of it. Thanks! Bye!"

It should be far more illegal to drive slow in the left lane causing other drivers to have to pass you on the right than it is to go 36 mph on any inch of Hunt Hwy. (and don't even get me started on the posted 45 on Ironwood. That road is two lanes each way with no turns or intersections for 15 miles flat and straight in the middle of the desert. If you didn't know better you'd think you were on the I-10.) When other cars whiz past me I make an effort to think "You must have something important to do right now."

I am also privy to the fact that speed traps and ticket quotas are not mythical or unspoken. Your fines and penalties keep all of the worker bees at the traffic court with a paycheck and the cop who "gave you a break" and wrote you for a civil ticket instead of criminal "which he could have" wasn't nearly as cool as you gave him credit for. He was checking off his stats the minute he saw you coming. There really is a set of steak knives for the guy who gives the most citations.

This driving argument has been the longest standing most unresolvable debate of our marriage. I am a known and admitted speeder but I am never anything less than one hundred percent alert behind the wheel. There is no possibility that I could fall asleep while driving, because I have never even fallen asleep as a passenger. Sleep is illusive to me in the best of circumstances (in my bed in a cool quiet dark room) but while sitting up and belted in traveling 65 miles per hour? Not a chance. I dont even think I have ever really fallen asleep as a passenger on an airplane and I have been on some seriously long and boring flights. I once took an overnight train where I had a private berth with a full blown bed and I just laid there wide awake in the dark under the covers until finally the sun came up and I could quit pretending. Then theres John who "gets low blood sugar" between the hours of 3pm and 5pm and will literally nod off during rush hour traffic while I sit next to him white knuckled and occasionally reaching over to pinch him on the fleshy part of his inner arm (that will wake anyone up for a minute or two) or scan the stereo for upbeat music that may arouse him to wakefulness.

One of the first conversations I ever had with John was about how to get out of tickets. He didn't mention the stealth strategy of marrying him at the time but believe me, I was already doing the math. We determined early on that crying is unacceptable, being a smart ass is unforgiveable, and even indifference is bad. Your only viable strategy is pure humility and outright regret. You are screwed no matter what if the city is running a traffic sting or if its the last day of the month to turn in statistics.

Once I got pulled over in Pinal County. I mentioned that my husband was a police officer and got no reaction whatsoever. The guy just kept on filling out my info. I didn't know if he hadn't heard me or didn't care. I felt exactly like that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry puts a dollar in the tip jar but no one sees him do it so he wants to take it out and put it in again when they are looking but then of course they see him removing cash from the tip jar. If I mentioned it again would it just be obnoxious? I had to try. The dude was going to have to acknowledge and dismiss my badged husband or he was going to hear one hundred creative ways to awkwardly work it into the conversation. Luckily the second time I said it he caught on and it stopped him dead in his tracks. "What? did you say you're husband is an officer? Why didn't you say so sooner? I wouldn't have had to fill this whole thing out! Delete. Tell him to be safe out there."

Another time a DPS officer asked me who my husband was and who he works for and wrote it down and went back to the car and actually called my husband's police station and verified that he was for sure a cop married to a woman named Staci and then tried to call my husband on his cell phone to tell him personally that he was letting his wife go and to tell me to slow down. He came back to the window and announced that I'm married to a good cop. He was miffed that John wasn't answering his calls right then and there. I told him that he had worked all night and was asleep. Not that he was in his underwear in front of the TV watching the military channel and wondering who the mystery number on his caller ID was. Good luck with that, by the way. You'll need more than a gun and a squad car to accomplish that.

I set some rules for John to follow in regard to traffic stops that I honestly think should be made federal law. Here are his choices: Give a ticket and no lecture or give a lecture and a warning. If a cop is tempted to give both the ticket AND the lecture, they need to stop and think about it. If you are giving the ticket, it doesn't matter what you say to the driver, you are the enemy. In their mind you are nothing but a big fat jerk and they don't care to hear about how much brain matter you've stepped in or how many fatal accidents you have seen. They are only listening to hear what is going to happen to them. Your lecture is totally wasted on a person you write a ticket to. In fact, human nature dictates that they will most likely not just tune you out, but they will go out of their way to mentally discredit every word you say, even if it is wise advice that would save their lives. They are too busy hating you to listen to you. Its a fact.

But… If you are giving the driver a warning, by all means, talk yourself silly. There is actually a chance that they will listen to what you are saying and even make a mental note to change their behavior in accordance with your lecture as long as you are not a villan. They will listen to you as a friend and be grateful for the break. I know that most of the cops out there are all too crusty and jaded to even give a crap about who they pull over but I would at least like to save them the effort. Ticket or lecture. pick one. never both.

I enjoy going on ride alongs with my husband. First, I find him outrageously attractive in his uniform but also I am fascinated by the job itself. It is crazy to get to walk into people's homes and take a peek at how they roll, but its especially entertaining to do it on the worst day of the person's life. The day their husband beats them or the day they got into a wreck, or the time their teenager threatened suicide. Its a voyeur's dream come true. I couldn't handle it every day but a few times a year is perfect. There is a certain rush that you get when you flip on your lights to pull a car over. It is intoxicating to have all of the power. The person has to pull over and obey you or they will meet the ghetto bird or a set of stop-sticks. It is so odd to know exactly what kind of emotional response you are eliciting from them the minute you engage the light bar. It makes me squirm and feel really really guilty even if the reason we are stopping them was blatantly wrong and the person needs to be removed from the road for the public good. It is unnerving. Last time I was out with John we were bored and so we set up in a hiding spot and ran radar. Every driver was moseying along at what looked like unreasonably slow speeds. We were there for about fifteen minutes when we got a hit from the radar gun. A woman was going 63 in a 45. The thing is, those radar guns are aimed so far down the road that when it clocks you, you aren't even aware that there is a cop in the neighborhood. Then they see the cop hiding on the side of the road and every car automatically brakes. Then they drive past at five miles per hour under the posted limit and as they pass you can see them look down and double check their speedometer. They are all identical. And if you pull them over they always say, " I looked down when you clocked me and I was going exactly the speed limit." I don't know if it would help to point out that the violation occurred half a mile before that moment, but I am amazed by how consistently and predictably people behave.

So last time we did this, John caught a nice lady who was obviously a Mormon mom about my age. She is someone's primary teacher or visiting teacher and the minute I looked at her, I knew I couldn't be a part of ruining her day like that. She shuffled with papers to try and find her registration and insurance and I was turning red and having a panic attack. I had to intervene. John was running her plate to be sure that she wasn't a dangerous criminal and I sat holding my breath and preparing my argument. "John, we will just let this one go and then I swear I will never even suggest it again. Please baby, Its Christmas time. Make her day. Give it to her for Christmas. She will be grateful and I'm sure she will stop speeding. She is praying right now for help from God and you are the only one who can help God answer her prayer. As your wife, you are not allowed to ticket this woman. I am sorry. I know its not my place but it would be bad karma for me to allow this to happen."

Yes, I pulled the Wife Card to save some random woman from a few hundred dollar fine and a giant pain in the ass. The best part was that when John told her that his wife was riding along and wouldn't let him give the ticket, she got choked up when she thanked him. The worst part was watching poor John turn purple and die of embarrassment when he struggled to explain that "his wife said no". Had she been way younger than me or in a super expensive car or sporting a liberal bumper sticker, I wouldn't have wasted my one and only lifetime veto on her but I could picture her telling the funny story of how she once miraculously got out of a ticket every time the family was hanging out and telling cop stories. She will probably leave out the part where she actually committed the crime, but that just makes me relate to her that much more.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Am I the only potty mouthed mom out there?

I grew up with a mom who never swore. Well, once she called an insurance rep on the phone a jackass because he was denying life saving medical care to my sister. It made quite an impression. We knew she was madder than she had ever been. And of course she was raised by Laurene and Charles Arnett who resisted expressing even negative opinions successfully their entire lives. Ask Grandma to say something nice about Hitler and she will tell you that without him we wouldnt have the Volkswagen which is a very economical car that a lot of people have used.

I have a lot of Arnett in me, but then there is that streak of Haws that feels occasionally compelled to offer the middle finger and of course curse just a ittle bit to keep from being translated. I have never used the F word in my life and I don't plan to. In my mind there is a hierarchy of bad words and I leave the top tier untouched. Not because of any intense moral philosophy, I just want to leave a space so that if the day comes that I am so provoked that I need to go there, I have somewhere to go. I have let my husband know in no uncertain terms that if he ever hears me use the F word, he better hide becasue that wil signify that I am literally madder than I have ever been in my entire physical existance.

The lower tier words happen to be some of my favorites. I have no problem with damn and hell and every now and then I can think of no other way to respond to something than with a simple "bullshit.".

Take tonight for instance. Jack has his best friend staying the night which is a big deal because I never allow sleepovers. They caught me in a moment of weakness (and forgetfulness) and begged to have a sleepover. Why not? tomorrow is Saturday. They havent gotten to hang out much lately. I gave in. So I made both of them solemnly swear on their eight year old lives that they would be in bed by ten and asleep by ten thirty and if they werent asleep they would at least be laying in bed in total silence. I considered putting it in writing but settled for verbal commitments.

Its 11:30 right now and I can still hear them up there screwing around and giggling. They didnt get into the bedroom until 10:30 and even though I made them each repeat their previous promise, its just too tempting for them to talk. So they had been up there laughing and horsing around for five minutes and I hear them come out of the room. In my scariest voice I holler up there " What are you two doing out of bed. I will lock you in seperate rooms if I hear another peep."

And then Isaac says (and he isnt joking, he is actually thinking that this is a believable statement) " I am asleep. I am sleep walking and sleep talking."

This is when I scan my brain for an appropriate response and literally the only thing my entire vocabulary can produce is one word. "BULLSHIT."

Of course this frightened them both severely which was exactly the response I was hoping for and they both knew that screwing with me tonight was not an option. So of course my use of bad language is reinforced and I am all the more likely to cuss the kids out again in the future.

The thing is, I don't know any other moms that ever slip and swear at their kids. I dont know if everyone does it occasionally and I am just not witnessing it or if I am in a separate trashy class of mother that my peers are just not stooping to. I would love to see some actual statistics on the matter except that I don't think people would accurately report.

Jack goes to a Charter school this year called American Leadership Academy. I never thought I'd be the charter school type but they were brand new this year three minutes from our house and I was sucked in by the right wing pro American philosophy and the fact that they wear uniforms and I had fantasies about not having to pick out clothes. I am fully aware that the claims they make about superior curriculums and superior teachers is total well, bullshit (there I go again) but there is definitely something to be said for having your kid in a school where he interacts only with other children who's parents give a crap enough about their education to bother with the charter schools. The Public School is fine except that it tends to be the default for poor families, indifferent parents and kids who do horrible things like say bad words. They run a tight ship at this school. It starts at 8:00 am which absolutely sucks but the disciplined structure they provide is exactly the thing Jack is cut out for. He loves rules. He loves uniforms. He loves to know the boundaries and who is in charge and what the chain of command is. Does this sound like anyone you know? If you have ever met my husband then you know the answer to that question. He is not a cop because of some wild coincidence. he loves rules and uniforms and boundaries and the chain of command. This is why he was in the Army, and this is why he was in the marching band and this is why he was a golden convert to the church and this is why my house is littered with things like helmets and flow charts.

So going from a school that started at glorious 9:30 to a school that starts at grueling 8:00 has been a challenge. Its not so bad now but in the dead of winter we were out the door before the sun was up and it just felt wrong to wake my kid up from a deep sleep and cattle prod him into his uniform every day.

Needless to say, We have been tardy on more than one occasion. When he is tardy I have to walk into the office with him and sign him in so he can get a pass. On the sign in sheet is asks for the name, teacher, date, time and reason. Really? They want a reason why we are here at 8:05 instead of 8:00. All of the parent's entries before mine always just write "late" and so I followed suit but it always struch me as odd to answer the question "Why are you late?" with the word "late". So I decided I would start being honest. I wrote "because child's mother is a slacker". A few weeks later he was late again and I wrote "Child has a bad attitude". Sometimes I write one word answers like "sloth" or "underachievers" and some times I expound a little. "Laundry crisis" or "fellow drivers unaware that the gas pedal is on the right". I like to fantasize that the office ladies look forward to my hilarious excuses and therefore look forward to Jacks tardiness, but it has become painfully obvious that they unanimously have taken all of my statements at face value and decided that I am a bit of a loser. The other moms I know who volunteer in the office look forward to my entries as the funnest part of the whole painful volunteering experience but the staff… not so much.

Heres the other issue that I tend to land on the wrong side of in relation to ALA. I have an almost religious conviction that homework is… how should I put this… well, bullshit. Lets be real. It is really more a chore for the parent than it is for the child and in our home it always involves weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. And can I really blame him for not wanting to do the stupid skill drill and kill busy work after an eight hour day of doing skill drill and kill busywork in the classroom? no. My kid is home. Can I please have him now? Can he please be a kid for an hour or two an then can we be a family? Dont get me wrong, If my kid isn't passing the tests given in class or if he is not performing up to grade level in a subject, by all means he need to work on it and get his skills up and in that case, send the rap home and we will work on it until the kid is up to par. But thats not why they give homework. I can see the lesson in having a child do something diligently every single day weather you like it or not because that is what real life demands, but I am so sick of the daily stack of mindless busywork that he has already mastered and proven mastery of in class that becomes my job to crack the whip on.

Occasionally I get emails telling me that Jack has missing homework assignments and therefore his grade is suffering. My response is always the same: "Can he actually perform the skills required in the missing homework assignments? Is he up to grade level when he does the work in class? Is he passing the tests? If homework wasnt factored into the grade what would he get on the report card? Because guess what. I dont give a crap about anything else. I know for a fact that he is one of the smartest kids in the class in literally every single subject and that he has absolutely no problem performing any of the skills that he has been taught. So we will definitely take the homework into consideration and do our best to get it all in, but in case we don't, you can take your Xerox machine and shove it. Of course I don't tell this to Jack, but I know that my absolute disregard for his homework grade has done nothing for my slacker reputation. The thing is, It has nothing to do with laziness. I have researched this and read everything I can find on the subject and I am convinced based on hard facts. Also, Im fairly certain that when Jack is applying to Universities, his second grade homework score will not come up. They love to act like its life or death. Heres a news flash. He doesn't even get what a C means. He is not motivated by the letter A. He has no context for such a system and his report card provides literally NO MOTIVATION WHATSOEVER. AND I AM FINE WITH THAT BECAUSE HE IS SEVEN. Call me when he is accountable for sins. The funny thing is that every single staff member in that school would know what that means because the place is 99% LDS.

Other than the fact that they are a tad retentive, I love the place. Sure they will give a kid detention if he shows up without a belt (yeah, I look forward to the day they attempt that one on my kid. There might be a certain B word that they get to hear from me) But Jack is thriving and he loves school and he has a truly fabulous teacher. Every single teacher raves that he is the best behaved kid in class and he has never broken a rule or stepped out of line in any way. Then I got this email from his Spanish teacher saying that he has a 100.00% score, he has never missed a question or an assignment and he participates and is a joy to teach and he is ranked Number 1 among all the second graders in the school. This was the first time I was even made aware that he takes Spanish. Who knew? Same thing in Music and Art.

In other Jack news, he has his first official crush on a girl. I don't fully understand the dynamics of a seven year old crush, because I am pretty sure that hormones are uninvolved and he has always seemed totally indifferent to girls, but this week he wrote a love note that said " I like you. Will you be my Valentine?" he didn't put his name on it but rather signed it "Secret Kid" but he covered it in meticulously drawn hearts and sealed in in an envelope. The whole thing is pretty obviously consuming a lot of his emotional energy. To understand I turned to the man from whence this strange child came. Of course John's entire childhood is one crush after another and he had a long history of love notes and embarrassing declarations of love. The two of them are once again a perfect match with their hearts on their sleeves and their puppy love. I will say that he chose an adorable girl and I hope his taste stays so impeccable when it comes to girls in the future.

Kramer Boys

Kramer Boys