Dear Simcha: Some back-to-school advice

Dear Simcha,

I believe in predictability, order, and routine. The alarm goes off at 6:20. Breakfast is always ready on time. We’re well-stocked with clean clothes, toothpaste, and deodorant. I keep the kids’ shoes in labelled bins and their backpacks on labelled hooks. I give them a ten-minute and a five-minute warning when it’s time to leave. We’ve been doing this exact routine for three weeks, but we are still late every single day, and my children are often partly naked. And they all act like it’s my fault! What is wrong with them?

Signed,
Craves order

Dear Craves,

Well, it is your fault, you know. Don’t you know how important it is to have reasonable expectations?

For instance, you are expecting your children to act like rational human beings, even though the testimony of every mother throughout the course of human history, from the cave matron shooing her hairy little cavebabies off to twig-gathering school to the LuLaRoe’d, overcaffeinated yummy mummy weeping quietly into her suddenly deserted cul-de-sac, can tell you children are lower than the animals.

Animals, at least, respond predictably to stimuli and will act in service of their own self-preservation. Children, on the other hand, can zero in on the least helpful, most self-destructive course of action like a hungry pig after a truffle. Children crave order and predictability. Children are order and predictability’s worst enemy. You must know this.

Still, you have to get out that door. Your only recourse is train your kids to sing out adorably, “Daddy gets us ready every morrrrrrning!” According to the latest research, a kid who turns up wearing a stained leotard, Scooby Doo slippers, and grits in her hair is cute as long as Daddy got her ready.

***

Dear Simcha,

I make a point of serving my kids a balanced breakfast including protein and whole grains every morning. They also bring a full lunch and two snacks, and I keep cheese sticks, almonds, and dried fruit in the car for the ride home. Can you tell me why they are always hungry enough to take actual bites of each other’s arms by the time we pull into the driveway at 3:45?

Signed,
It just don’t add up

Dear It,

Well, I’ll tell you. On that very special day when a brand new baby first opens his eyes on this big, overwhelming world, a tiny fairy comes to him and whispers a very special secret into his ear:

“You’re not going to eat your lunch,” she tells him.

“Never mind why. Just know that it doesn’t matter what your mother packs. It doesn’t matter if she cooks it herself, and you requested it specifically, and it is monogrammed with a special lunch monogrammer purchased at some expense from Hammacher Schlemmer. None of this matters, for, o my child, you are not going to eat it! Your lunch is just there for the ride. It wants to go to school, and it wants to sit on your desk, and then it wants to go home again, to be thrown away completely intact, even unto the granola bar that was produced on machinery that does not also process tree nuts. It is the way of the world, little one. So shall it ever be.”

Your best bet, mom, is to buy a chicken, a goat, or some other non-discerning animal with a great hunger, so at least someone eats all that food. Then, when it’s nice and plump, you can sell it on Craigslist and buy some booze.

***

Dear Simcha,

Wow, you sure do complain a lot about school! It just makes me glad that we home school. So many people believe that home school is going to be hard, but in my experience, a full day of school work can be accomplished in mere minutes a day. I have never met a homeschooler who has regretted their choice or who has found their job difficult.*

Signed,
Just Sayin’

Dear Just:

I may have a public school education, but even I can tell one of two things is going on here. Either (a) You don’t actually home school, but you fully intend to, once you have kids of school age, once you have kids, once you get married to your secret boyfriend, Milo or (b) You do home school, and you do finish in minutes a day, but your kids can’t, like, read. Or add. And the youngest one is nineteen.

I have friends who home school for all sorts of reasons, but not a single damn one who will tell you that it’s always easy. Like every other kind of parenting, including parenting that involves a brick and mortar school, home schooling is sometimes easy and rewarding, sometimes hard and unrewarding, and sometimes easy and unrewarding, and something hard and rewarding. Sometimes it’s some combination of these things within a single hour. So say all my home schooling friends who are not liars.

If you have any choice at all (and not everyone does), you keep on doing it as long as the rewarding part outweighs the hard part. But saying it’s always easy for everyone? That’s just plain . . .

you know what, never mind. I gotta get back to that Craigslist guy about this goat. Baaaaa!
_____
*Actual comment I read on actual Facebook.

When you are sad, cry.

On the drive home this morning, I decided not to turn on the radio. I wanted to cry, instead, and I didn’t want to be distracted.

We’re fine. Thank God, we’re not dealing with floods and sinkholes and wild boars and floating fire ants, and we’re not refugees or victims of famine. I’m just sad because, among other reasons, I left my five-year-old off at kindergarten for the first time. In her excitement, she ran too fast, tripped, and scraped her knee. With a bloody cut and a hole in her tights, she suddenly lost courage, and so did I; so we clung to each other a little longer than I planned. It’s a tiny, manageable loss, this child heading off to school. But I did want to cry on the way home.

We sometimes want to erase grief immediately, to send an emergency brigade out with a firehose to wash things clean. When a mother miscarries, for instance, she may report to her doctor that she cries, feels sad, and is having a hard time sleeping. I’m not talking about months down the road; I’m talking about grieving immediately after the death of a child. Of course she feels sad. But a doctor’s response is often, “You are depressed. Let me write you a prescription so you feel better.”

Let me be clear. When grief and sorrow are debilitating, antidepressants are a godsend. If sorrow lasts too long and has too much power, it can become paralyzing depression, which roots itself deep in your psyche and separates you from living a full life. I have been on antidepressants myself, and so have some of my family members. Some people castigate mental health drugs as artificial or as a mere band-aid, but in many cases, they can truly heal and restore us to health, to our true selves.

But grief and sorrow are not in themselves pathological. They are, in fact, the only appropriate responses to death, to grief, to separation. I forget the context, but Florence King once skewered oafish do-gooders who couldn’t even wait for the blood to stop flowing before they lept in howling, “Let the healing begin!” There’s nothing healthy about trying to erase grief before it can even declare itself.

That’s why I didn’t want to be distracted by the radio this morning, even though I knew it would stave off tears. Distractions don’t heal grief; they merely chase it into hiding, where it eventually morphs into something uglier, and harder to live with than tears.

We are afraid of grief, and rightly so; but we should also be afraid of losing the ability to feel, and the ability to understand ourselves. When we chase grief away the moment it appears, we are deliberately blinding ourselves to some true part of our own lives. No good can come of that. When we don’t know ourselves, we aren’t free.

Maybe it’s easy for me to say so, while my sorrows are small. But I take my cue from the Psalms, where people with big sorrows also felt free to pour them out without reserve. They wanted the healing to begin, yes, but not before they had their say:

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
    Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
    that was inflicted on me,
that the Lord brought on me
    in the day of his fierce anger?

13 “From on high he sent fire,
    sent it down into my bones.
He spread a net for my feet
    and turned me back.
He made me desolate,
    faint all the day long.

[…]

16 “This is why I weep
    and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
    no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
    because the enemy has prevailed.”

It is good to sit with sorrow for a while. I know it’s not a new idea, and not a ground-shaking one, but maybe you need to hear it today. If you are sad, let yourself cry. If someone you love is sad, don’t try to steamroll them into healing right away. Sorrow has its place, and sorrow will have its due.

Dear Teacher

How I spent my summer vacation

How I spent my summer vacation

Alas. We spent our summer swimming, watching X Files, sucking down gallons and gallons of ramen, eviscerating countless watermelons, making a meticulous survey of the entire lifework of the master cinematographer Chow Yun Fat, and creating various kinds of heartache for your long-suffering soul sister, the public librarian.

Read the rest at the Register.

***

How to organize lots of shoes and water bottles, plus a love letter

The main reason we home schooled for six years was because home schoolers don’t have to know where their shoes are. Ditto for water bottles. Need to go outside? Lie down with a manga until the feeling passes. Thirsty? Just drink directly out of the faucet like my son — or, like my son when he’s being fancy, drink out of a plate.

I have failed.

Anyway, now we have to be shod and watered every morning. Behold, I have some solutions for you, especially if you have a lot of kids and not much space.

For shoes, you want to buy a bunch of stacking bins, like these:

stacking bin 2

They’re meant for office supplies, but they work fine for shoes, especially for kids. One bin for each kid, and you can configure them however you want, AND you can empty them out and hose them down as required.

For water bottles, an over-the-door shoe organizer like this is poifect.

shoe organizer

We had a million water bottles clattering around the counter, and the tops were, of course, nowhere to be found. I want to make sure the bottles air out, so we keep all the lids in 2-3 pockets, and the bottles in the rest.

The thing I like about these systems is that they’re cheap, and you don’t have to actually install anything — so if it’s not working for you, you can just scrap them, no big deal.

And of course, like an organizational system, they only work if you actually use them!  My kids are genetically predisposed to be slobs, and most of them will only put their stuff away if I remind them every single time. So these systems don’t automatically make our house tidy and clutter-free; but they do make it possible to clean. There  is somewhere to put stuff if the urge strikes you. When someone (me) suddenly can’t take it anymore, someone (me) can go into an angry, white-hot cleaning frenzy fueled by self-loathing and dust allergies, and can turn a ghastly heap back into a living space again without having to think about it too hard. Success!

Now I’m going to share pictures of what our shoes and water bottles look like right now, a week before school starts. I haven’t done any organizing or cleaning yet, and I’m in the middle of a huge painting job, so these areas are both at peak disgustingness, everything is out of place, and I haven’t been making anyone put anything away because it’s just not my top priority at the moment. I’m painting cabinets, too, so everything that was in those cabinets is now cleverly being stored in the middle of the dining room. But they’re still better than what we had before!

The water bottles:

water bottles now

Why, yes, that is a tattered copy of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” hanging up on the door, from the last time I was panicking about my kids not having a good foundation in poetry; and yes, that door is on the For the Love of All That Is Holy, Please Paint Me list. I call this picture “Palimpsest of Things I Was Worrying About.”

The shoe area:

shoe bins now

To the casual observer, this would appear to be the shameful evidence of a slovenly and chaotic household; but to me, it’s a picture called “Simcha Loves You and Wants You to Feel Better about Your Own Life.” Extra points if you can spot the kid who doesn’t appreciate air conditioning.

As soon as my new camera gets here, I’ll take some “after” pictures, and you can laugh at me all over again, because it will still suck.

In a couple of months, I’ll show you how I came up with a brilliant system which doesn’t keep our mittens paired up and readily accessible, but it could. 

How about you? Do you have any smart systems to share? Or maybe you’d like to pay someone to clean my house?

25 Back-to-school Items Your Kids Can’t Geek Without

Doing your back to school shopping online, maybe? Do me a big favor and usethis link.

It will take you to Amazon, and you’ll have the exact same shopping experience as you always do — only my code is craftily embedded in the link, and every time you buy something, I get a percentage. Easy for you, super super super helpful for us!

We are still in denial about school shopping, but there are a few items that caught my eye – things that will help ease the pain when we can’t put it off any longer.

 

25 Back-to-school Items Your Kid Can’t Geek Without

Message in a Bottle flash drive – about $6. An appealing mixture of old and new storage techniques. 6GB of storage corked away inside a little glass bottle. Perfect for kids who tend to drop things in the toilet a lot.

bottle flash drive

 

 

12 large beeswax crayons – about $7  Yarr, $7 for crayons. But what crayons. Silky, velvety, brilliant. Everyone should color with these at some point in their lives (and they come in a nice case).

beeswax crayons

 

Slingshot pencil – about $4 – How to make friends with your kids’ teachers.

slingshot pencil

 

Nose pencil sharpener – about $3.50 Tee hee.

nose pencil sharpener

 

Totoro messenger bag – about $10 Note that the model is a weensy weesny Asian model. For the typical causcasian American kiddo, this is more the size of a purse than a messenger bag! It’s not exactly sophisticated looking, but for the right kid, it’s the best ten bucks you’ll ever spend.

totoro messenger bag

 

Little Alchemy – free  Just a neat little game that you may actually want to play yourself, or at least it won’t make you feel horrible when your kids play it all the time. All you do is put stuff together to make more stuff, until you have all the stuff. It’s just difficult enough to be fun, and the breakthroughs are very satisfrying. I meant to type “satisfying,” of course, but they are also sometimes satisfrying.

little alchemy screen shot

 

Robot pencil sharpener – $13 Nicely made. You wind him up by sharpening your pencil (or by using the key), and his little head fills up with shavings. He can hold your pencil in his robot hands as he marches along, too. Sturdy construction; nice and small so you won’t feel the need to assert your human primacy.

robot pencil sharpener

 

Dinosaur earring – $6 (Note that this is a single earring, not a pair!) For an extra boost of confidence for the first day of school, know that you have a dinosaur sticking out of your ear. Also available in T-rex .

dinosaur earring

 

Totoro lunchbox – $12.99.  This lunchbag took a beating all year and held up really well. Cute and sturdy.

totoro lunch bag

Human organs lunchbox – $12.99 Boy stepped on it; lunch box still functions.

human organs lunch box

TARDIS dress – $35. Picture day!

tardis dress

 

I had to stop myself from linking to all the Peter Pauper journals. Dozens of gorgeous styles, and very reasonably priced for the quality, according to the reviews. Here are a couple that caught my eye:

Celestial journal – about $7

amazon celestial journal

Cosmology journal – about $12

amazon cosmology notebook

The cover design of our magnificent journal is adapted from the celebrated Catalan Atlas (1375), attributed to master map-maker Abraham Cresques of Majorca, Spain.

  • This cosmological diagram places earth in the center, personified by an astronomer holding an astrolabe.
  • Around the earth, the elements, planets, signs of the zodiac, and moon phases are displayed within concentric circles, and the four seasons are portrayed in the corners.
  • Cosmology is enhanced with subtle iridescent highlights and embossed for a dimensional effect.
  • The journal provides 192 lightly-lined opaque pages for personal reflection, sketching, making

Drumstick pencils – about $6 I don’t hate teachers. Honest, I don’t.

drumstick pencils

Clip-on adipose for backpack or zipper – about $8. A nice little companion. Clips on so it won’t just walk away.

adipose clip on

Luffy T-shirt – about $15  For those kids who are – *sighhhhhhhhh* – really, really into One Piece, especially that one time when they were all in a ship, and Luffy was sitting on the figurehead, and he ate the gum gum fruit, and if you eat any kind of devil fruit, the price is that you can’t swim, and everyone was telling him he shouldn’t sit there because he might fall in the water, and he was like, “No, it’s my special seat, you can’t have it!” And then one time Luffy fell off into the water, and there are two other devil fruit users on his crew, and they’re the ones who jumped in to save him! Also there was one part where he was trying to get this guy who was a shipwright to join his crew, and this guy only wears a Speedo and a Hawaiian shirt, and he wanted to join, but he also wanted to stay where he was, so Luffy stole his Speedo and told him he couldn’t have it back unless he joined his crew, and it was the only one he had, and so he was running through the town to get his Speedo back, and . . . it was just great.

one piece t

 

Super Mario earrings  Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? – about $10 (Note: these are from China and will take forever to get to you unless you pay extra for fast shipping.)

polymer mario earrings plants

 

Zelda ocarina and songsheet – about $8  You certainly won’t regret buying this for your kid so that you can hear those Zelda songs all the time even when they’re not playing video games; you certainly won’t. (There are a great number of Zelda ocarinas available on Amazon. This plastic one is the one my kid happens to have, and it’s fine. I started to plow through the reviews of the higher-quality ones, thinking I would find a better product, but I started to feel kind of sad about humanity.)

zelda ocarina

 

Terrifying owl backpack – $49 Whoa. If you are worried about your kid being a little bit frail and puny and maybe not ready for the wilds of the hallway, it might help to send ‘em out wearing one of these.

owl backpack

 

Set of 6 sushi erasers, about $10 Tip: never make back-t0-school lists for your blog when you’re hungry.

sushi erasers

 

Zita the Spacegirl graphic novel series – about $9 each. I’m getting my kids to write a proper review, but in the meantime, I can’t say enough about these books, which are clearly a labor of love, written by a dad who really knows kids. So funny, weird, sweet, and exciting – and fairly back-to-schoolish, if you kid feels like she’s been catapulted out of her familiar world onto a strange planet on the first day of school.

slingshot pencil

Musician’s transposition ring – about $15 Useful and pretty. Does this count as cheating? I’m not sure.

amazon musician ring

This ring helps you transpose musical notes into different keys! It is a simple way to pick the number of steps or half steps you’d like to change for any musical sequence. Want to move a score up a major 2nd? Just turn the top band two position over. Works for any transposition you need. You can also use it for more complex variations such as descending 5ths root movements. One example is ii-V-I’s which are the basis for most jazz tunes.

 

Finally:

Lovingly handmade bags and pouches in awesome fabrics from Door Number 9 on Etsy. A few samples of the pouches, wallets, and mini bags for sale:

star wars pencil bag

Sherlock Holmes

sherlock holmes letter bag

My daughter has this one: the One Ring Tea Wallet. Gorgeous, one-of-a-kind.

one ring tea wallet

 

Okay, I think that’s it! Happy shopping!