First Grade Journaling.

First graders at our neighborhood school are required to write in a black-and-white journal every morning. They aren’t allowed to bring it home and they aren’t allowed to draw in it.

This afternoon, I got a text from Maverick’s teacher. It was a picture of today’s entry.

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The year is supposed to be 2015. I hope he didn’t lose points for that, because I keep doing it too.

One of the most traumatic events in my life thus far was the day that Asher, who was only a year old at the time, went to the refrigerator looking for juice. It was on the same day that Aunt Nancy and Uncle John were coming to see our new baby girl for the first time, and Robbie and I were busy cleaning the house.

I heard him saying “Mommy, juice,” but I was busy and figured I would get to it in a minute. Always the self-reliant middle child, he went to the refrigerator to get the juice himself. He then proceeded to lug out a gigantic bottle of wine that was stored in the door, dropped it on the tile floor, slipped, and fell in the glass. Just thinking about it makes me upset — my heart starts to race, my stomach flip-flops.

I NEVER drink white wine. I don’t know why I bought it. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was living in The Blur, so I probably just saw it on sale somewhere and thought YES, I NEED THAT. I need ALL of that. EVERY LAST DROP, right this minute. I don’t have time to rip the cork out with my teeth in the parking lot and drink it immediately because the baby is hungry and screaming, so I’ll just take it home and chill it. Isn’t that what people do with white wine? I usually drink red. It’s much more low-maintenance. Yes — I’ll chill it — and as soon as I get the chance, I’m gonna down this mofo like the sleep-deprived bitch that I am.

That chance never came, because my child beat me to it.

When the ambulance arrived, our entire house smelled of alcohol, the baby was screaming, and I was covered in blood, crying with a toddler on my lap. The biggest chunk of glass that lodged itself in his ass left a large, crescent-shaped scar on his butt cheek that still makes my heart sink every time I look at it.

Maverick wasn’t home when it happened, but one of his most favorite activities is to meet a new person and tell the exciting tale of The Time Asher Broke A Bottle of Mommy’s Wine. If you hear the story from a charismatic 6-year-old, it’s actually quite entertaining.

His teacher informed me during our textversation today that this story, as told by Maverick, is one of her very favorites. “This one’s a keeper,” she said, referring to the journal entry. Yes, indeed it is. I never made baby books for any of my children, but I do have THIS.

I’ll just store it right next to the bloody chunk of glass I have stored in a box in my closet.

The Light.

Last quarter, Maverick’s report card contained straight A’s, except for one C which was in conduct. Did you know they give letter grades for conduct now? Well … they do, much to the misfortune of elementary-aged talkers and disruptive types all across America.

He never mentioned anything to us about it, until one day when it came out in conversation that he thought he couldn’t go to the Honor Roll ceremony with his friends because he “has bad grades.” I remember standing at the sink when he said it, stopping in my tracks and looking straight at him. “What?! Maverick, you make EXCELLENT grades!” I looked into his big eyes and realized that for almost three months, he had been operating under the assumption that his grades sucked.

After I explained that the reason he didn’t make Honor Roll was because he had a C in conduct, I watched a fire start to burn in him as he said “I am going to do better next time. I want to get on Honor Roll. If they can do it, I can do it.” I remember my mouth dropping open a little, but I collected myself and said something like he can do anything if he works hard enough.

We have never pushed him to excel academically — unless you count putting him in first grade when he was 5 years old, the youngest in his class. This year is an experiment, we are fumbling through it in the dark and just waiting to see how he does. We congratulate him on a job well done, for working hard when he does well — but we leave it at that. There is no pushing. Most of the time, I am running around like a cat tied to a stick just trying to keep him from burning the house down or poisoning a sibling with one of the “potions” he likes to mix up in the bathroom.

Parenting a child like Maverick requires a skill set that I’m not even sure I have, and energy I only possess occasionally. Lately, most of my days have been pretty rock-bottom terrible. It’s just another valley; a time when I feel too exhausted to keep pressing forward, but I have no choice but to keep going, lest I be trampled or dragged along with my face in the dirt. Sometimes I find myself in a pit where it feels like everything I’m doing is wrong. It’s lonely there. And dark.

But it doesn’t last forever.

Yesterday, Maverick came home with a report card peppered with A’s and B’s. He was bursting with pride over making the Honor Roll. I’d totally forgotten about his resolve to improve until I held the report in my hands. He did it, just like he said he would.

He has that fire.

He’s six.

20150110_14574720150110_145745I am so proud and I am so terrified. That boy can do anything he puts his mind to, whether we want him to or not. In my soul I know that if we ever slip up and pressure him to succeed, he will fail on purpose to spite us. So we remain calmly encouraging, careful not to make too big of a production of things, all while still acknowledging his hard work. It’s like walking a tightrope.

It’s exhausting.

Sometimes I lie awake at night terrified that somehow we will screw up and that fiery self-motivation will redirect to something else, something negative. What if he becomes a scientist and figures out how to make blue meth like on Breaking Bad? What if I make him really mad one day and he slips me a roofie? What if he teaches himself how to drive before he’s legally allowed to and he leaves home with a road map of the U.S., finds a life as a con man, and never comes back? WHAT IF HE TAKES THE OTHER ONES WITH HIM?

Maverick is clearly my greatest challenge, so when he does well without any prodding on my part, it’s a huge victory for me. All the battles we wage in our household take their toll on my psyche, and just when I felt like I couldn’t possibly go on because I AM A TERRIBLE MOTHER WHO CAN’T UNDERSTAND OR FIGURE OUT HOW TO BEST PARENT MY OLDEST CHILD …

The light came through.

Finally.

Overwhelmed.

Sometimes, like now, I find myself completely overwhelmed with my life and I wonder if something is wrong with me. Why can’t I just chill out and not care about the mountain of laundry shoved in my closet or the toothpaste that got squeezed all over the kid’s bathroom?

I have piles of paperwork-slash-multiple writing projects accumulating all over the house, and just when I get started on one, someone comes along and pushes the papers to the floor, poops their pants, or starts yanking on the cord of my laptop.

Robbie will look at me curiously and throw out comments like, why are you so grumpy? He says that he makes these statements hoping that it will, and I quote, “snap me out of my mood.” I’ll let you draw your own conclusion about how well that works.

 

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Today we all got dressed for church and the children sat nicely on the couch in a row and definitely did not smack each other in the face while they waited for me to take their picture. Asher also did not get upset because his shirt was touching him. He was calm and completely rational.

Maverick listened to all of my instructions and did not squeeze his little sister until she started screaming. And she most certainly did not jerk the bow out of her hair multiple times.

So yes, excellent question, Robbie. Why AM I so grumpy?! Certainly not from tiredness. Since you’re home to watch the kids, maybe I’ll take a little walk and think it over … I’ll come back when I have it all figured out.

I may be gone awhile.

When Children Learn To Read.

You know what’s hilarious? Overhearing a first-grader reading an Anne Taintor calendar out loud.

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Slowly and painfully he read from the October page, “There’s a very fine line between medicated and over-medicated. Hey Mommy, what does ‘medicated’ mean?”

I just laughed and hurried him out the door, feeling pretty proud of my 6-year-old who over the past few months has started to REALLY read. That feeling of pride continued until the next evening, when I caught him in our bedroom trying to sound out the second word on a greeting card my friend Kelli sent almost 2 years ago.

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I turned the corner and saw him studying it closely, mumbling to himself “You’re … f …

I quickly redirected him and shoved the card deep under a stack of papers, and once he was out of sight I stood still for awhile and let the waves of mom fail wash over me. I am well aware that there are many things worse that hearing your child trying to sound out the F-word, but I can’t think of them right now … unless it’s the time last week when Robbie and I were chatting with Maverick after the other kids were in bed, and we were making up rhymes.

Maverick was silly and tired, and I was just about to suggest it was time for bed when the following came out of his mouth, and I quote: “You don’t have a wiener, Mommy. You have a pagina. Starts with a ‘P’ and ends with a ‘gina.’ Do you have the Great Wall of China in there? How does it fit?”

Robbie turned his head away, his body shaking with silent laughter, as I sat frozen and speechless.

That.

THAT is worse than hearing him try to sound out the F-word.

First Grade.

Today I bravely held Maverick’s hand as we moved with a flood of strangers into the elementary school. I looked at the other children and their parents, laden with school supplies, and wondered who else was terrified.

People tell us the East Baton Rouge Parish School System is broken. They say private school is the best option, that things aren’t what they used to be. They say we can’t trust our public schools, that children know too much, too soon; they warn of the dangers of drugs and guns and that my child will be exposed to sex by the time that he’s 8.

But I’m choosing to trust this school.

As we walk through the doors, I note that some parents look just as nervous as I feel. I look away from the big sign that says NO GUNS and I focus on the smiling teachers who are greeting us. They all seem genuinely excited for the school year to begin. 

We walk through a maze to find his classroom. Most of the other boys in his class are bigger than him. He’s young for a first-grader. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe he’s too young. He’s still 5 years old, and most boys his age are entering Kindergarten this year or even next.

Maverick quietly introduces himself to Ms. Johnson. He answers her questions politely and shakes her hand. We find his desk and he sits and begins to color carefully inside the lines. “I love you,” I say. “I am so proud of you.” He begs me not to go. He says that he’s scared. I am, too, but I don’t tell him that.

“I have to leave you,” I remind him. “If I don’t leave, then you can’t learn. And because you want to be a scientist, you have to learn, right?”

And before the tears started, I gave him one last hug and turned away, leaving my little boy alone in a sea of faces, sitting at a desk with his name on it.

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