August 28, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

In case you're new to this blog or you don't actually know me in person, let me tell you a little something about myself. I am a nerd. Always have been, always will be. I was one of those kids that was a little...slow to mature. I spent my entire school career being teased, picked on, ignored, you name it. It wasn't until junior year and for sure by my senior year that I finally felt comfortable enough with myself that it didn't bother much. My first few years out of high school cemented my "couldn't care less" attitude and I'm now very comfortable with my geeky status. It doesn't bother me to be the odd one out or to stand out in a crowd.

Let me turn your focus now to my dear Howdy. At 12 years old, he is smack dab in the middle of that awkward stage. His voice is getting deeper, he's growing armpit hair (I know, gross, right?) and he's closing in on my height. But he's also only 84 pounds, has teeth growing in all sorts of weird spots in his mouth and has a voice that randomly alternates between Alvin the Chipmunk and a deep tenor--sometimes all in one word. He's what I like to call a "sensitive" boy. He is a perfectionist who tends to stress over things like getting homework done perfectly and meeting new people. While he can be an outgoing and even obnoxious kid among his cousins and friends, he is super quiet around new people. He doesn't have that confidence and swagger that some kids seem to be born with. In truth, he is a male version of me at that age.

Taking all that into consideration, along with the fact that he has been homeschooled for the last 3 years, I was a little nervous about dumping him into public school in the 7th grade. Middle school is quite possibly the worst invention ever. Let's take all these kids who are at their most awkward and dump them all in a school that has 8 classes a day, all in different locations around campus--including PE in which they will have to shower in front of other kids who are all at varying stages of development--and hope they survive long enough to make it to high school. It's hard enough to make friends at a new school but Howdy isn't popular, cool, rich or the best looking. He's shy and awkward and seems (unfortunately for his social life) to be developing his parents' sense of humor. I lay awake at night thinking, "He's going to get eaten alive."

What could I possibly do to help him survive middle school? I consulted the closest thing I've got to an expert--my 15 year old nephew. I figured he's cool, has a lot of friends, seems well-liked--he'll be able to give me some pointers. His first piece of advice? Lose the knee high socks. Funny, that's the same thing his dad has been saying for years. Unfortunately, Howdy is pretty attached to his knee highs. In fact, if they made socks that went OVER the knee, he'd insist I buy those. (On a side note, I'm way more relaxed about things like this then MC is. He is always trying to think, "What is going to get them picked on?" He tries to help them match better and avoid going out in public in clothes that may be potentially embarrassing. I, on the other hand, encourage the "Be Yourself" attitude. I have a frog hat that I wear in the winter, my favorite outfit is a 70s style dress that MC calls a muu muu, and I keep hoping to find one of those cute baby tutus in a grown-up size so I can wear it. If my kids want to go shopping in mismatched clothes, I'm okay with that.)

Back to Howdy. His school starts at 8:25. As of 8:00 on the first day, I wasn't even sure if he was registered. We stood in line at the office and found out that yes, he was registered and they had a schedule printed up and ready for him. He had to skip out on getting an elective so they could fill that spot with his Math Tutoring class. Good bye, Theater. Hello, Algebra. Sorry, kid.

I had heard that they couldn't have backpacks so I sent him to school without one only to see 90% of the kids arriving with them. No big deal, I could buy him one after school. The only problem is that he was sent with a lunch (Just a plain, insulated bag--nothing embarrassing, I promise. I even refrained from putting in a napkin with a note from me like I did the other 2 kids.)

I helped him find his Advisory class where he will start each day and then (after lingering only a tiny bit), I left. I have to admit that I left with a knot in my gut. I was filled with anxiety and it wasn't even for me! I think that may be the worst. All the way out to the car I was racked with worry. Would he find all of his classes? Would he have anyone to sit with at lunch? Would he talk to any kids or would he spend the whole day silent? I called MC to let him know that yes, Howdy was in school and I dumped all my concerns on him. When it came to the lunch bag issue and how I was worried that he would look like a dork carrying that thing around all day, MC reminded me that he had given me cash that morning to pick up the rest of the school supplies. I ran back in the school 2 minutes before the bell rang and very discreetly swapped the cash for Howdy's lunch bag. I did give him the option and he chose to buy his lunch rather than carry around the lunch bag.

So that was it. I had done all I could do. The only thing left to do was to sit and wait. For 7 hours. Sure, no problem. At 3:25 I was outside his school with his brother and sister (who get out 30 minutes before he does) scanning the crowds, waiting anxiously for any sign of my big 7th grader. I don't think I had any fingernails or stomach lining left by the time he finally came strolling up. He looked up and, seeing us waiting for him, his face broke out into a big grin. That smile made my entire day. It eased the knot of fear and anxiety that had taken up refuge in the pit of my gut and lifted a weight off my shoulders.

Did he have a good day? Yes. His Math Tutoring classroom is cool. He'll get to have a locker. He likes his Advisory teacher. And they didn't have to do any work on account of it being the first day. He had a great day.

All my kids enjoyed their first days of school and were looking forward to going back. I felt so much better knowing that they not only survived but they liked it. I'm holding out hope that Howdy will find his own little mix of quirky kids who will be just like him--funny, sweet and slightly awkward. I'm hoping that he will find that self-acceptance sooner than I did. I know that he will be making memories that will stick with him for life. I hope the good ones stick like glue and the not so good ones slide right off.

(Author's note: As I was finishing this post, Howdy came up to me and waved his armpit stench at me until I was breathing in a cloud of noxious stink. Then he giggled in that evil, so-pleased-with-himself way of his before scurrying out of arms' reach. I think he may fit in just fine in middle school after all.)

August 26, 2011

Back To School Again!

I was just spurred on to write about my kids' back to school adventures. You know, another of those events that I keep meaning to blog about but can't tear myself away from trashy books and mindless Facebook updates long enough to actually write anything. I finally realized that I could use having to update my blog as an excuse to "check out" for awhile. So I present to you my first entry in the Back to School Chronicles.

Before I could even send the kids back to school, I had to get the list of their school supplies. I remember the days of shopping for school supplies fondly. My favorite part of shopping was picking out my school supply box and my lunchbox. They would set the tone for the entire year. It was a decision not to be made lightly. Sure I was in love with the boys from Dukes of Hazard, but would I still want to see their faces staring up at me 3 months from now? And you don't want to pick your favorite cartoon character for your backpack only to get to school and find out that the other kids think it's childish. Despite the heavy decisions, shopping for school supplies was always fun.

Nowadays? Not so much. See, they've changed the way you buy supplies now. You no longer buy a box of crayons and a few pencils for your little minion to use. No, now you buy supplies for the WHOLE class. For the. entire. year. My kids are in 3rd, 5th, and 7th. Let me share with you their combined supply lists.

*2 pkgs tab dividers
*6 pkgs wide ruled paper
*5 spiral notebooks
*3 2" binders
*7 LG pkgs pencils
*2 pencil sharpeners
*4 lg erasers
*3 boxes 16 ct crayons
*3 pr scissors
*19 (yes, that's 19) glue sticks
*7 boxes of Kleenex
*4 pkg colored pencils
*colored construction paper
*2 pkg 9x18 manila paper
*12x18 manila paper (This is the first time I've ever even heard of manila construction paper. What in the world is it used for?)
*2 boxes quart bags
*2 zippered supply bags
*7 composition bks
*6 blk dry erase markers
*dry eraser
*index cards
*hand sanitizer
*4 highlighters
*5 folders w/pockets and brads

I had to buy all this to send with my kids on the first day, which happened to fall on a Monday. I didn't get paid until the Friday before. What a surprise. So Saturday found me elbowing my way through the crowded, picked over school supply section of WalMart in an attempt to make sure my children wouldn't be singled out on their first day for not being prepared. I grabbed a cart and started throwing in whatever supplies I could reach and prayed they were on my list. I figured I would just grab everything I could and sort through it later. My cart couldn't fit in there among the sweaty bodies and grabby hands so I kept parking it at the end of the aisle. More than once I had to go back and rescue it from the supply vultures who kept trying to pick through my stuff in search of supplies that they hadn't been able to find yet. Once I even had to take it back from an employee who scolded me that they were instructed to pick up all stray carts. I felt like I was shopping on Black Friday. I was guarding my 20 cent pencils and 97 cent pens like they were they sale-priced Louboutins. Anyone came close and I growled out, "Mine!"

The store employees were trying to keep up with the crowds and the mess. As quickly as they could reshelve returns and misplaced items, they were being snatched off the shelves. I nearly shouted in triumph as I saw the manager hang a package of pink erasers back on the display. They were still swinging gently on the hook when I grabbed them and threw them in the cart. The manager remarked that he believed that was some sort of record for how quickly a reshelved item was gone again. That's right--I excel at guerrilla shopping!

I lapped the aisles for about 45 minutes, scanning the displays for discarded or replaced items that I could check off my list. I scored when I found a catch all cart that seemed to be the primary dumping ground for items people changed their minds on. (I can't actually be sure that it wasn't another shopper's cart but since no one body slammed me to get me away from it, I figured it was safe.)

Eventually I conceded defeat, endured the long check out line, and moved on to another WalMart. And then the dollar store. And eventually Target. I found most of the things on the list and had to reassure the kids that I would just have to buy the few things I missed after the stores restocked. Which should be around Easter.

In addition to spending the national debt on glue sticks and crayons, I also had to buy backpacks and lunch bags and a cart full of food to fill those lunch bags. Our stuff is still in storage in WA so I had to buy backpacks knowing that we have 3 perfectly good ones already. Grrrr! And because my kids won't. stop. growing. I had to buy them new clothes as well. Howdy's school has what they call "standard dress", which is an unofficial uniform. They have to wear slacks with belts and plain polo or other button up shirts--always tucked in, of course. See--the non-uniform uniform.

They showed up on the first day scrubbed and shiny and chock full of brand new pencils. And then Howdy, who is in middle school now and has 8 classes, started bringing home supply lists for his individual classes. I asked, "Can't you just use some of the supplies I already sent with you?" He informed me that he was specifically told that those supplies were to be used in his advisory class only. So I had to go out again for more folders, composition books and a PE uniform. I've been to WalMart so many times in the last week that any time I see that giant blue sign on the side of the highway, I have to grip the steering wheel because the car starts to turn off the exit on its own and my debit card lets out a scream of protest. If those plastic WalMart bags were edible, I could single-handedly wipe out famine in a third world country.

My only consolation is that they have now finished the first full week of school and it looks like we are done buying school supplies. That should give me approximately one week to save up and recover until they start bringing home the list of supplies they need for the sports teams and clubs they want to join. I'm starting to see the benefits of having children who are completely uninvolved.

August 10, 2011

Why I Will Never Be Allowed in the PTA

Classic Slacker Mom situation. I just got off the phone with the secretary of the elementary school that my kids are going to be attending. School starts in 2 weeks and after searching the website I realized I can't actually register them today as I had planned. See, I still don't have my TX driver's license. I've been waiting to get it until I knew where we were going to be living. It looks like we may have found a rental house but we haven't signed a contract yet and have no move in date. But I thought I would at least talk to the school and find out what all I was going to need to take care of.

Here's how the conversation went:
Me: "Hi, I just moved to the area and I need to register my children for school."
Secretary: "OK, what is your address so I can find the right school for you?"
Me: "Um, I'm not really sure since we haven't moved in but I thinks it's 704 or 705 Sesame St."
Secretary: "Which one is it? Because that street is divided and it could be one of 2 schools."
Me: "I really don't know but I'll drive by it today and find out."
Secretary: "Oh...alright. Well, what grades are your children going into?"
Me: "I think they'll be going into 3rd and 5th but I'm not for sure. See, we've homeschooled for the last few years. In WA state."
Secretary: "What kind of program did you use?"
Me: "We didn't use a specific program. We used Unit Studies." (I say that because it sounds so much better than telling her we did whatever work I could come up with when we actually sat down to do school.)
Secretary: (Again, she's polite and doesn't press.) "Well, did you do any testing or evaluations in WA?"
Me: "Yes, we did." Once. "But I don't have the records. They are in storage in WA."
Secretary: "Were they ever in private school?"
Me: "My daughter has never attended a regular school but my 2 oldest did attend public school for a few years. Those records are in storage as well."
Secretary: (I can practically hear her collecting herself again.) "Those records would give us a place to start but that's okay. We'll just have you come by the school and pick up a packet of forms to fill out and then we can go from there."
Me: "Great. But while I have you on the line, I have a concern. My children are not up on their immunizations. In fact, in WA, we opted out of immunizing our children. Is that a problem?"
Secretary: (a momentary silence) "Well now, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. You see, there's a special form for that. I'll need you to fill that out and then we have to send it off to the state of TX. They'll review it and then decide whether or not they'll allow the children in school."
Me: (mentally thinking, "It figures") "Can you add that to my packet?"
Secretary: "I'll have to see if I can find one. I may have to go to Admin and have them get one for you."
Me: "Thank you. Now, there's one more thing."

At this point, the secretary has been very polite and professional despite the things I keep throwing at her. In her pauses and silences, I can practically hear her cursing out idiot parents who call to dump all of this on the school 2 weeks before the first day. But I continue anyway because I have no choice.

Me: "My younger son has a diagnosis of high functioning Autism and had an IEP in WA." (That's an education/behavior plan for those with special needs.) "I don't think he's going to need that or the one-on-one para educator he had in WA but I'm thinking he might still need a 504 plan." (That allows for special help when it's needed.) "See, he was integrated in the regular classroom but I think we might want to have a plan in place in case he has a melt down in the middle of school."
Secretary: (no doubt reaching for the Advil at this point) "Special Ed would most likely need to be brought in to go over all that."

I'm shaking my head because I never do things the easy way. School starts in 2 weeks and we have no house and I'm not sure of the address of our possible rental. I know what grade my kids should be in based on age but not on skill. I haven't bought school supplies or the non-uniform outfits that have to conform to the dress codes. I haven't worked out the whole before/after school plan because I didn't know where we would be living and how far that would be from the schools. I have no school records because they weren't in school and no testing records because I assumed we would've already moved our stuff down here from storage so I didn't bring it with me. In order for me to feel comfortable and know that Bubba will be taken care of at school, I want to meet the principal, the director of Special Ed, his teacher and any speech therapists that might be involved with him and I'm just now finding out what school he will be attending. I have legitimate reasons why none of this has been done before now but that doesn't change the fact that I am left scrambling right before my kids are supposed to start school.

Me: (with a deep sigh of resignation at yet another hole I've dug myself into) "Can I come by and pick up the forms and at least get started on those?"
Secretary: "Yes. But we're leaving for lunch so you'll have to wait for 2 hours."
Me: (of course) "Alright."
Secretary: "You should probably know that the immunization issue is a really big deal. You're looking at at least a month before that comes back to us and we can't allow the kids in school until then."

With my head in my hand and my stomach curdling, I thank the secretary and hang up the phone. I start to wonder what the requirements are for homeschooling in TX.