‘Guest Posts’ Category

  1. Guest Post: Pencil Me Out

    June 10, 2016 by Jennifer Carsen

    Today’s guest post is courtesy of Erin Carrozzo, an NYC mother of three and former (and hopefully future!) high school English teacher turned reluctant stay-at-home-mom. She enjoys reading, writing, the NY Mets, and avoiding housework.

    I am increasingly worried my husband is going to come home one day and find me dead…under an avalanche of pencils.

    When did we begin celebrating every occasion, every season, and every event with pencils? My oldest kid is in 5th grade, my middle in 3rd and my youngest in kindergarten. How many more years of pencil favors and exactly how many more pencils are we in for?

    Just a quick count this week alone turned up 49—yes, FORTY NINE—pencils. And that was in one room. Toy Story, Star Wars, Chinese New Year, Disney Princess, Valentine, Happy Birthday, Halloween, Santa, scented, mechanical…even a Jesus pencil for Christ’s…uhh…for Pete’s sake!

    Not too long ago, while preparing my son’s lunch for school, I discovered a small package of Cheez Doodles in his lunchbox from the day before. I asked him where it came from and he replied, “From my 100 Days party.” That must have jogged his memory because he then exclaimed, “Oh wait, Mommy, I forgot to show you what else we got…”

    Yes, you guessed it.

    A 100 Days pencil.

    Did “100 Days” even exist 20 years ago? Two decades later, not only does it exist, but we also have a pencil to commemorate it.

    When I was young, back in the ’80s, if I got a Hello Kitty pencil I was in love with that thing for months—maybe even a year; it had a place of honor in my Hello Kitty pencil box and I wore it down to the nub and prayed for the day someone would give out another cool pencil. Today, my kids can’t make it through Memorial Day without receiving three flag pencils each.

    And how about the erasers attached to these pencils; a more useless addition to this writing implement I cannot imagine. They are worn down or break off in about an hour and a half, leaving me to purchase individual erasers to complement the pencils. Or more pencils. Because, of course, the kids won’t use the pencils that lack erasers.

    In order for us to begin to get a handle on these rapidly multiplying cylinders of graphite, can we moms band together and call a moratorium on pencil favors…not forever, but maybe for about a year? In that time period, I’m going to have my entire family write lengthy diary entries and book reports every day (if need be, we’ll copy the Bible)…in pencil. Then we should be good to welcome the pencil deluge anew.

    In the meantime, may I suggest practical alternatives to the pencil?

    How about hair ties? In a house with two girls, we can never find a single one when we need it.

    Maybe shin guards? That might eliminate my need to scream, “Where are your shin guards??” every Saturday morning moments before game-time.

    Perhaps underwear? That could reduce the number of times I have to hear, “Mom, are you planning to do the laundry this week?!”

    Possibly mini airline bottles of liquor? (Well, that’s really for me, I suppose.)

    Maybe calendars where the kids could write down and keep track of their own sports practices, dance classes, piano lessons, play rehearsals, games, homework, quizzes, tests, and chores for the week? That way we wouldn’t always need to be scrambling around at the last minute whilst sweating and cursing on any given day. And it might preserve what’s left of my sanity; well, that and the airline bottles, of course. Yes, that’s it! Let’s do a calendar instead!

    But wait…I think we’re probably going to need a pencil to go with it.

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  2. Guest Post: My Helpful Opposite

    April 11, 2016 by Jennifer Carsen

    Today’s guest post is courtesy of Jen Altrogge, a wife, mother, and writer. You can find out more about her at her website.

    This is my third year in a row with a kindergartener (that’s right folks, I have a second grader, a first grader, a kindergartener and, guess what! A preschooler as well). When my two oldest, who are very UNlike me, were kindergarteners, they reminded me every day, for weeks, of upcoming events at school. I took this for granted, even found it a little annoying, until this year.

    My third born is a miniature version of myself. This means I get along with her fairly well but we’re doing nothing to help each other. So when Muffins with Moms rolled around this year, I did not know that the reason I had been prepared for this event the two previous years in a row had been the obsessive reminders of my first two daughters.

    And that is how I found myself in the drop off line, noticing all of the parked cars and suddenly thinking, Wait. This is M week…Oh no.

    “Hon, is today Muffins with Moms???”

    Daughter #3, after a brief delay: “Muffins with Moms???”

    Her sisters wouldn’t let me forget it. She had no idea what it was.

    And so I attended Muffins with Moms in my lime green slippers, with severe bedhead and not a speck of makeup on my face. It wasn’t my proudest moment.

    Unlike daugther #3, my oldest, who is turning 8 soon, is essentially my total opposite in almost every way. This, as you can imagine, is an infuriating thing at times. Like when she thinks my way of doing things makes no sense and insists her way is better (because apparently 7 ½ is the new 15??). Or when she cries because I just don’t get her.

    However, due to incidents like the Muffins with Moms debacle, I’m finding that these differences can actually work to my advantage. She’s basically my own little calendar/reminder system.

    See, I’m a laid back, fly by the seat of my pants kind of mom. And I’m kind of disorganized, messy, and forgetful. I’m not worried about germs, I don’t obsess over my kids eating habits and going to the doctor is reserved for actual crises, not head colds. Routine is kind of torture for me, which is one of the reasons I’m so grateful for school, which instills this in my children for me.

    My oldest is a hand-wringer. She’s constantly concerned about everything. She loves to be organized. She’s always trying to come up with plans that will solve my disorganization problems (“Mom, I think if we just did this, it would really help.”). She wants to bring the structure of school into our home life. And she remembers everything.

    A regular conversation for us goes something like:

    Daughter #1: Remember when you said _____, Mom?

    Me: No…I said that??

    Daughter #1: Yeeeeees. (proceeds to repeat entire remembered conversation to me, including context and location).

    So, a few days ago, I had to take her to the doctor. Remember how I said we only go for crises? Well, that’s true unless I’m just exhausted from telling my kid every night that she has growing pains while she insists her legs are broken, and I decide to let the doctor put an end to the conversation.

    As we pulled into the doctor’s office, I noticed that, of course, I had forgotten to get gas, and we were exactly 2 miles from empty. Ugh.

    “Sweetie, can you remind me to get gas when we leave? Like, you really need to remind me.”

    “What happens if we run out of gas, Mom?”

    “We’re stranded and we have to walk to the nearest gas station.”

    “Oooooh, dear. We CANNOT forget to get gas.”

    And oh boy, did we ever NOT forget. In the span of time it took to get her vitals, see the nurse (and be told, BY THE WAY, that it’s just growing pains) and check out, she had reminded me to get gas approximately 352 times (give or take).

    She also managed to tell the nurse a lot of other facts that revealed all sorts of things about our family life. For instance, “we’re going to Disney for spring break but then we won’t go again FOR A LONG TIME, because it costs a lot of money and we have 4 kids and it’s really expensive and we don’t have money.” I have no idea where she heard that, nurse. We’re financially fine, I promise (P.S. Go ahead and click that link. It’s true. There are no coupons for Disney. Ever. It’s expensive. Even for us Floridians).

    Well, the entire staff at the doctor’s office might have been looking at us funny, but at least we weren’t stranded without gas.

    So it turns out that even though having my complete opposite questioning my every action can be somewhat annoying, it has its perks. I’ve resigned myself to letting my oldest keep our house in line and am just going to reap the benefits and call it a day. After all, what good are all of these children if they aren’t showing us how incompetent we really are.

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  3. Guest Post: My Prodigy

    March 14, 2016 by Jennifer Carsen

    Victoria Anderson-Sheer is a first-time mom of one lovely little boy, and three fur babies, living life in rural Eastern Oregon. When she is not freelance writing she spends her days drinking copious amounts of coffee, finding all the things her fiancé has lost, and chasing their toddler.

    “Please throw that ball in the living room.”

    A phrase no mom usually says, but I have been begging my 15-month-old to do so for about a week now. Weird, right? Well, if it’s in the living room, then most of the time I’m out of harm’s way.

    It started when my husband came home from work one day and turned on football. (Our son loves football.) As the game played, they spent the commercials playing pretend football on the floor running, and tossing the ball back and forth to keep Sam interested.

    Sammy pancake cannot actually catch the ball. It bounces off his belly. He’s no prodigy yet; he is only one. This gave me much-needed time to catch up on the Eiffel Tower of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. I wasn’t complaining…yet.

    I had no idea what kind of monster was being created while this harmless game of catch was playing out.

    Shortly after, and a few evening football games later, everything became a ball. Seriously, everything.

    It became a regular occurrence for my one-year-old to assault me with random airborne objects. Tonka Trucks, sippy cups, cell phones, blocks, cardboard baby books, and the X-Box controller all became a few of many things I found myself dodging daily.

    I felt like I was in 6th grade again playing dodgeball. I just wanted to get pegged in the leg so I could be “out.” Unfortunately, there is no “out” with a one-year-old, and a partially filled bottle of Fiji water is a far cry from a squishy dodge ball. Who knew he could learn how to target his aim so quickly?

    In the beginning I thought that it was just a phase. After a week and a scratched cornea, it was a problem. So I started to address the issue. We sat down together and I tried to explain to Sam that you only throw balls in the living room (that my husband so kindly promoted) or outside.

    After some lengthy explanation, he later started to walk around his play corner and pick up things to show me.

    “Ball!” he would say, as he picked up each thing over his head proudly in ready-to-hurl position.

    “No, Pancake, that is not a ball.”

    He hobbled around, picked up a few more things, asked if each was a ball, then set most of them down when they were not. He still wasn’t quite getting the point. However, the number of things soaring through the air had been decreased, so I still felt like I was winning the battle – a little.

    Last night we were sitting down watching a football game when we were rudely interrupted by a actual leather-skin football smacking my husband in the face with impressive force.

    It was a throw that was 100x better than any Peyton Manning has ever made. Maybe I am a little biased because I’m his mom. It was still one of the best throws I have ever seen him make. It wasn’t thrown at my face, and it was an actual ball.

    Now, he is a prodigy.

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  4. Guest Post: Attack of the Babies

    February 16, 2016 by Jennifer Carsen

    Today’s guest post is courtesy of Veronica Brush, who has an enthusiastically random blog at www.ThemelessWriting.com. When she’s not confusing readers on her blog, she’s confusing readers on Amazon with “First Grave on Mars,” a sci-fi novella and the first in a series. She also has a dog. She hopes that makes you like her more.

    Let me first explain that I was a youngest child.

    I mean, I still am (even at 30). But I lost my youngest child innocence a long time ago.

    Back in the good old days, I had never changed a diaper, mixed formula, or calmed a screaming baby. I’d held happy babies, but once they were no longer happy, I handed them off. The only baby living in our house was me.

    Then my innocence was lost. I was hired as a babysitter.

    A friend hired me to watch her two year old and twin ten-month olds for a whole day. Looking back now, I’m not sure what made this nice couple think I could handle it. Maybe with 3 small children, they’d become experts and had forgotten how hard it is to look after 1 small child all day, let alone 3. Or perhaps, with 3 small children, they were desperate.

    I was determined to make a good impression. As soon as I walked in the door, the 2 year old latched onto me. We’d met once before, so we were now best friends (when you’re 2, you don’t get out much).

    “We went to the zoo,” she told me.

    “You went to the zoo?” I exclaimed, repeating her exact words in the form of an overexcited question in that way that you only do with small children and sarcastically with your boss (e.g.: “You’re moving up the deadline from next week to tomorrow?”)

    Kid’s love this form of conversing (bosses, not so much), so the 2 year old answered with eagerness, “Yes!”

    “What did you see at the zoo?”

    “Umm…Lions.”

    “You saw lions?”

    More excited, she answered, “Yeah! And monkeys.”

    “You saw moneys?”

    There’s so much excitement now, she’s attempting to hop. Being 2, both feet never quite made it off the ground at the same time. “Yeah! And cows!”

    “You saw cows?” That time I was really asking. What kind of zoo was this?

    “Yeah! And penguins!”

    “You saw penguins?”

    She stopped hopping. “No.”

    I do love a good twist-ending to a story, and I’ll admit I didn’t see that one coming, but it confused me. So the penguins turned out to be kind of a conversation killer.

    The mom showed me around, telling me everything I needed to know. Or so she claimed. Then she and the dad left.

    As a youngest child, what happened over the course of the next six hours I witnessed with pure terror and disgust. I spent a majority of that day on the phone, making panicked calls to my mother.

    Topics of these calls included:

    -Only one of them will eat

    -Now they all only want to eat what the child next to them is having, which is a problem because only one of them has sufficient teeth to eat a sandwich. Also, should a 2 year old have baby formula?

    -One of them ate a sticker

    -The 2 year old pooped in the toilet and wants me to look at it. Do I have to?

    -THE 2 YEAR OLD’S POOP IS BLUE!! IS SHE DYING?!?

    -The 2 year old isn’t dying. She ate a bag of colored animal crackers, the majority of which were blue.

    -They’re all crying and they won’t stop.

    -It’s been six hours and I haven’t gotten to eat, pee, or sit, and now I can’t stop crying.

    My mom did not seem to appreciate the trauma I was experiencing. Even over the phone, I could tell she was stifling laughter.

    Somehow I survived the day. When I got home, I made an immediate bee line to the shower. I had the 6 types of baby fluids (pee, runny poop, spit, tears, regurgitation, and food that went into their mouth but was chewed but never swallowed before it came out again) from 3 different babies all over my person. I was not sure how I was ever going to be clean again and I was pretty sure I was going to have to burn my clothes.

    Seeing my distress only made my parents laugh all the harder. This wasn’t exactly their wish that I have a child just like me someday, but it was close.

    I learned a lot that summer. I learned that I can handle a surprising amount of grossness. I learned my parents are a little vindictive. And I learned how to write a formal letter of complaint to the colored animal cracker company.

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  5. Guest Post: When Community Events Go Wrong

    November 13, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

    Today’s post is courtesy of Julie Morris-Teets, the mother of a toddler who is currently running the asylum. She has a background in School Psychology, which has provided zero help with parenting but has given said toddler a bookshelf full of material to destroy.

    If you stay at home long enough with a young kid, you’re going to get sucked into the Community Event scene. It’s nearly impossible not to. It’s kind of like the inevitability of daytime television addiction when you’re at home with a newborn. You can try to resist it, but Judge Judy will find you on your couch and then it’s just a matter of time before you have a garage full of crap from the Home Shopping Network.

    So I hear.

    Anyway, when I say “Community Events,” I mean those free, week-day activities put on by the city, the public library system, religious cults, etc. They usually take place mid-morning and provide entertainment to a bevy of toddlers while the moms and the occasional weird dad with a beard socialize.

    I’m not a fixture at Community Events, per se, but I dabble in the scene enough to appreciate their value. Typically, the crowd consists of like-minded moms: a little unkempt, acutely aware of the absurdity of little children, and focused on one chief mission in life – wearing out a child out so he/she takes a nap.

    But there is another group of moms out there who occasionally infiltrate this judgement-free bubble. They are lurking on the fringe of the Community Event scene and they are waiting for you.

    Today, they got me.

    I woke up feeling homicidal, so it was an ideal day to look on the city website for a Community Event to attend. The first thing that came up was a play group at a park that involved bubbles (!), a ball pit (!), chalk and crayons (!), and snacks (!). Jackpot. The last line of the event’s description noted a “Stroller Strides” demo that would occur for the first 30 minutes. I had no idea what this meant, but I pictured a middle-aged woman performing Cirque du Soleil acts with a Britax.

    I packed up the Honda Civic and we were off.

    We got to the park and joined a buzzing swarm of moms and strollers. Oh, I thought, looking around at all the strollers, I guess participation is encouraged. All of the other strollers seemed pretty fancy – very sleek-looking, with a single front wheel. One mom was loudly lamenting the lack of amenities on her double stroller: “For $600, I expect a cup holder. I mean, really!”

    I looked down at our bargain-bin Toys R Us stroller. I think it was $40, on sale. Something had happened to its covering long ago, probably due to our poor storage habits or tendency to shove it in the trunk, and now the top kind of slanted to one side.

    I was busy trying to remember how it broke when the workout began. By “workout,” I mean Olympic trial. There was running. There were lunges. There were jumping jacks – which were particularly absurd for me, being 30 weeks pregnant. My pregnant self had been looking forward to a lady dancing around with a stroller and maybe some sparklers while I sat on my duff and watched. I hadn’t planned to be lapped by fitness-model-moms while the fetus within me yelled, “What the hell is this rapid movement?! And why aren’t we watching Judge Judy?”

    I was too proud (and, frankly, too out of shape) to make a run for the parking lot, so I tried my best to participate and pretend like I belonged. I kept my eye on the prize: bubbles and a nap. I pushed past my profuse sweating and the rude commentary streaming from my stroller (“I WANT A SNACK! IS THIS OVER YET? YOU LOOK FUNNY, MOMMY!”).

    Against all odds I completed the class. For doing so I kind of expected a diploma or to be awarded a vintage American Gladiator spandex leotard. Instead, I settled for what turned out to be a pretty lame display of Dollar Store bubbles, chalk, and freeze-dried vegetables that my daughter later threw all over our car like stiff, green confetti.

    Once home, I looked back at the city website and determined that I had, indeed, been misled. Nowhere did the advertisement mention the prerequisite of physical fitness or the need for anything other than the type of hooptie stroller I owned.

    Community Events, my long-time haven, had betrayed me.

    See, when you don’t have a traditional job to show up at each day, it can be hard to find a place to belong. Community Events are supposed to be that place – a water cooler for stay-at-home-moms. If you take the judgment-free Community Event scene away from me, I am just an island – an island run by a two-foot-tall dictator. I need a place where I can go at 10am on a Tuesday and feel okay about being frumpy and lazy and perpetually available at 10am on a Tuesday.

    In spite of it all, I’ll be back. Oh, I will be back. But the next event I attend will be preceded by several slow drive-bys and perhaps the use of binoculars.

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  6. Guest Post: Ma(ma) Always Said

    July 2, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

    Today’s post is courtesy of Elizabeth Spencer, wife to a long-suffering husband and mom to two adolescent daughters. She firmly believes she would be rich if she got paid for the psychotherapy she administers every day after school. She blogs about life as a craft-phobic, DIY-challenged, underachieving mom at Guilty Chocoholic Mama

    My mom was not a fan of the “Little House on the Prairie” TV show. She complained that the only thing the Caroline Ingalls character (a toned-down, niced-up version of Ma from the Little House on the Prairie book series) ever said was, “Oh, Charles.”

    I loved the TV series. (Well, except the sad or warped episodes. Which wipes out a lot.) But I treasured the books more. I read and reread them as a child and still listen to the entire lot of them on CD every fall. They have a calming influence on me without pharmaceutical side effects. I’ve pretty much memorized the books, and I can tell you that the “real” Ma Ingalls—or at least Ma as Laura Ingalls Wilder portrayed her in the classic “Little House” collection—did say, “Oh, Charles” quite a bit.

    If you’ve read the books, you probably know what I mean when I say this: there is no escaping the fact that from a lot of angles, Caroline Ingalls was a very edgy mother.

    – We cannot overlook the Indian bead incident. (Little House on the Prairie)

    – Or her warning to her daughters that “a lady never did anything that could attract attention.” (On the Shores of Silver Lake)

    – Or the fact she wouldn’t even allow poor Pa his puns. (Little Town on the Prairie)

    But when Ma unbunched her petticoats long enough for the less-addled parts of her brain to kick in, she doled out some advice that still rings true today. It rings in our house quite often, actually.

    Really, I’m not sure what maternal counsel I’d give my girls half the time if it weren’t for Ma’s inspiration. (Insert eye roll from my daughters.) Here are some Ma-isms I regularly employ in our not-so-little-house-in-the-country:

    1. “The darkest hour is just before dawn.” I quote this Ma standby at least once a week. I have one tween and one teen, so we dwell semi-permanently in The Land of Dark Hours.

    Once, my older daughter humored me long enough to ask what the phrase means. I told her that in literal terms, the time of night that’s the blackest is right before the sky starts to lighten with sunrise. (I’m sure there’s some meteorological or astronomical explanation for this, but I am not the kind of mom who knows that type of information. Or wants to. This, and my infamous “teach Lydia to count from 25 to 35 without saying ‘twenty-nine, twenty-ten’ incident” are two of the main reasons I know I’m not cut out for homeschooling.)

    In a spiritual/emotional/life-experience sense, I told my teenager this truism is a reminder that when life is at its bleakest, better days are usually not far off. The trick is to hang on during those dark hours and not give up or do anything else you’ll regret when the sun shines.

    2. “There’s no great loss without some small gain.” Ma regularly said this following some agonizing development in the family’s hand-to-mouth existence. “We built our house two feet on the wrong side of the ‘where you can build and where you can’t’ line and now we have to pick up and move? Well, at least we can eat the seed potatoes we were saving for the garden.” Or, “blackbirds just destroyed the best crop Pa’s managed to eke out in years? Hmmm, how many of those suckers can you bake in a pie?”

    I haul out this Ma-ism when my daughters lose and gain various items and opportunities that make up tweenage/teenage life. It makes me feel better.

    3. “If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek, five things observe with care: to whom you speak, of whom you speak, and how, and when, and where.” Or, as I tell my daughters here in the 21st century, “When in doubt, shut your mouth.” Ma wrote her 1800s version of a tweet in Laura’s autograph album, and I think our kids could use a dose of this in today’s Facebook/Instagram/Twitter-saturated culture.

    It’s the classic tube-of-toothpaste object lesson: once your words are out there, you can’t shove them back in. You can always say them later, but you can’t unsay them.

    4. “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.” Laura summoned up this bit of Ma brilliance after she’d just endured an appetite-killing lunch with her employer’s contentious family. In one of the rare understated funny moments in the “Little House” series, Laura observed that her boss “came from the kitchen whistling a tune, as if he had just had a nice, quiet dinner with his family” (Little Town on the Prairie).

    My girls get this nugget of mom gold from me when they’re talking about kids at school, teachers, and other people in their circle of contacts who don’t click for them. They both have acquaintances and classmates they “get” and some they don’t. I understand this, of course. But I want my daughters to give grace to all kinds of people, understanding that the world would be beyond boring if everyone fit into the same mold. As my niece says, “Weird is a side effect of awesome.”

    5. “Hunger is the best sauce.” Okay, this is not a piece of advice: it’s just something Ma said that I borrow sometimes. It is true, though: give me hungry diners, and the food I serve automatically tastes at least 50 percent better. Add to this the “everything is more delicious if you didn’t have to make it yourself” effect, and I’m suddenly one of the world’s best cooks.

    I’m not under any delusion that quoting these pioneer proverbs to my daughters is changing their lives. But maybe someday my girls will put them to use on their own children, as in, “Your grandmother always said…”

    If so, at least I will have given credit where credit is due. Thanks, Ma.

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  7. Guest Post: Another Day in Paradise

    September 14, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen

    Today’s guest post is courtesy of John Severin, a contributor at nature-babies.com. He is currently working on a project relating to baby monitors.

    I’m not a mom. I’m not even a parent.

    What I am is a clueless 26-year-old guy who happens to interact with a bunch of two- and three-year-olds on a regular basis due to my job. I’m a teacher. I can’t say that I’m a good teacher, but I do make a solid effort every day. Oh, yeah – one more thing: I’m an English teacher in Vietnam.

    Vietnam?! Isn’t it dangerous there? Won’t the communist government think you are a spy? Why would you go there?

    No, it’s not dangerous here (the general levels of punishment for crime are extreme enough to deter violence). And, yes, the communist government does think I’m a spy; they have video cameras installed at my school and a direct wiretap on my Internet. It’s actually kinda fun randomly saying trigger words like “government” during Skype conversations…until you hear the little click signifying the beginning of their eavesdropping.

    Why am I here? It’s simple, really. I was working in the States a few years back and my little sister said, “John, I’m going to teach English in Vietnam.” I replied, “Can I come?”

    A few years later, here I am sitting in class with 20 little Vietnamese faces staring at me, and only one thought is going through my head: How in the heck am I gonna get through another 40 minute lesson?

    The students don’t understand English, I don’t understand Vietnamese, my assistants are sitting in the corner playing on their cellphones, and two of my youngest students are kissing in the corner. AHHH! I jump out of my chair to stop Tom (two years old) from fully frenching Sandy (three years old).

    Too late. The kiss has already gone on for several seconds by the time I get there. Tom is pretty pleased with himself. This is gonna be a long 40 minutes.

    After attempting some failed “listen and repeat” drills, I have all the kids stand up to sing the song “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” The kids are more than happy to be out of their chairs, but somehow in the excitement, Brian loses all his clothes. And I do mean ALL his clothes. Bless his heart, he’s still participating by doing the actions to the song – much to the bewilderment of the little girl behind him.

    A typical class consists of the above-mentioned “listen and repeat” drills for about 10 minutes, coloring or some other activity for 15 minutes, then listening to songs for the final 15 minutes. After the nude head-and-shoulders incident I was more than happy to move into coloring time. Upon receiving his customary blue and green crayons, Jerry begins scribbling all over the tile floors as is his wont. I ignore it.

    The next 15 minutes are filled with little voices saying over and over “lam sao” and “mau gi” – which roughly translate to, “I don’t know how to do this” and “What color should I use now?” I want to enjoy the calm before the upcoming song time storm, so I lie down on the ground with the students and help them color. It’s my favorite part of the day.

    Sadly, the 15 minutes of bliss end all too soon and its time to power up YouTube for song time. The kids have assigned seats for song time, but they are largely ignored. Kids are constantly shoving and jostling in attempts to get closer to the screen, but that’s to be expected. All in all, it’s going pretty well.

    I’m standing up there doing my best to maintain some kind of order when I see Tom (yes, Tom again) trying to grab the picture little Sue has colored. A small power struggle ensues which predictably results in Sue’s picture being torn in half. Tom triumphantly holds his torn half in the air and, with a flick of the wrist, sends it floating down to the floor behind him.

    Sue doesn’t even see him. She is looking at the paper scrap in her hand, tears welling up in her eyes. I try my best to salvage her picture, but she’s not having any of it. Her little heart was torn just as much as her stick figure drawing. Maybe next class I’ll bring her a special piece of candy or something.

    Chaos reigns every single moment of the class. Somehow, despite my best efforts, the little ones managed to learn exactly zero percent of the lesson. Tomorrow is another day…filled with Vietnamese toddlers trying to pull down my pants, smacking my butt, and doing the same to each other.

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  8. Guest Post: Parenting Haikus By Life Stage

    July 8, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen

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    Today’s guest post is courtesy of Samantha Rodman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice and a mom of three sweet/demonic kids under 4 1/2. Guess which job is harder? (Hint: not the one for which she is financially compensated.) Visit her blog, Thoughts on Psychology, Kids, and Reality TV, on Facebook, and on Twitter at DrPsychMom, and judge her parenting.

    Newborn

    Peeing while breastfeeding.
    Every new mom has done this
    It’s multi-tasking.

    Crawler

    Across the playground,
    See him eat mulch. Don’t judge me,
    Mom of just one kid.

    Toddler

    Are you friend or foe?
    Who knows what you will do next.
    I am terrified.

    Preschooler

    You can pump your legs!
    Swinging you no longer feels
    Like I’m Sisyphus.

    School-Aged

    Two years in advance,
    Already I am dreading
    The dioramas.

    Teenager

    If you can hide things
    As adeptly as I did
    I will not worry.

    College-Aged

    You better be smart.
    There is no way I can pay
    For all three of you.

    Adult Child

    I already know
    I’ll miss your childhood stages
    (except you, toddler).

    Grandchild

    I will babysit
    But will try not to intrude.
    So I like to think.

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  9. Guest Post: The Tree

    September 10, 2013 by Jennifer Carsen

    Dena Daw is a mom, tree lover, and self-proclaimed humorist who resides in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, and is not afraid to pronounce it. A graduate from the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism, she enjoys blogging and writing short stories, several of which have been published online via A Fly in Amber and Black Lantern Publishing. When she’s not eating, writing, or staking out trees, she’s a full-time mom in the process of adopting her third child from Uganda.

    The other day, I walked up to school to pick up my daughter with my four-year-old tagging along. (Is that right? He doesn’t really have an option, so maybe “tagging along” isn’t the right term. He’s stuck with me, poor soul, and has absolutely no choice but to follow me, even if it’s down the tampon aisle.)

    So, yes, he was following me to the school, and we went to stake our claim at the shady tree – one of two shady trees in the vicinity – as we do every day.

    And when I say we “stake our claim,” I mean it. For real.

    Ever since my daughter was in kindergarten, this tree has been mine. Being a ridiculously punctual person (and by punctual, I mean I generally arrive 10-15 minutes early, so please don’t be naked), I have always been one of the first parents to arrive at the scene. And let me tell you, this tree is perfect. Just small enough for the other parents to walk on by, oblivious to its awesomeness, but big enough to provide me protection from basal cell carcinoma and other moms that wear blinged-out jeans.

    It has always been mine. Most of the long-standing walker parents understand this. It is an unspoken agreement; they stay near the bike rack, hang out near the sidewalk, or use the other shade tree and leave me, the tree freak, alone.

    Over the years I have made some friends and accepted them into the inner tree circle, but I am always the first one standing there, like a bouncer. It’s nice to have the inner tree circle, because sometimes it plays out like a scene from West Side Story, with all of us grouping together and standing down, except no one is snapping or wearing leather jackets. (Or maybe we are.)

    For the majority of the year, no one challenges the order of things; it is a peaceful existence. But the other day it happened, just like it does every year. Kindergarten parents, with their crying ways, and their cameras, kissing their five-year-olds and waving and snapping pictures as they comfort each other under the shade of My. Tree.

    They are completely oblivious to the fact that there is an order here, people. A long-established order that cannot be tampered with. No matter how punctual I am, these kindergarten parents always arrive like an hour early for a photo op. There is no beating them to the school, at least not with a bra on. And trust me, there is never just one to deal with. There are several, and some have bikes, taking up at least 90% of basal-cell-blocking shade.

    Yes, it’s true, they only arrive early for about one week out of the year. But they will always insert themselves under my tree before I can get there, and standing in the same place for an entire week can often lead to a year-long habit. Not on my watch.

    So, as you can see, every year I am left with several choices on how to deal with this. The first and the most obvious solution would be to not shower for at least a week. This plan is flawed, however, due to my inner circle, whom I cannot risk losing for fear of looking like that crazy loner mom who doesn’t want to be friends with anyone but a tree. Therefore, I am forced to consider other options.

    After about a week I am usually able to arrive before the newbies, so I generally make sure I stand there in the absolute middle of the tree shade, faking a loud conversation on my cell phone. For the most part, people shy away from women who are talking loudly into a phone that is clearly turned off.

    Other options include asking questions regarding income/religion/politics. Quickly the crowd around my tree will begin to shrink, especially if I decide to forgo the aforementioned bra. Regardless, even after the fake cell phone conversation, the brooding looks, the leather jackets and snapping, or the bra-less woman asking if they know Jesus, there will always be that one special person who decides that the tree is worth it.

    Anyone who values that precious tree as much as I do is henceforth accepted and brought into the inner tree circle. Introductions are made all around and another leather jacket is ordered. And so a new year, and a new friendship, begins.


  10. Guest Post: If You Have Friends Without Children…

    July 1, 2013 by Jennifer Carsen

    Sarah Edwards is a freelance writer who is trying to find time to set up her own blog. She currently writes for Topps Direct, specialists in online trading cards in the UK.

    Guidelines for Parents Who Have Friends Without Children…

    ….or people who have never been in a room with a toddler ON THEIR OWN…EVER.

    There are a great many joyous moments in childhood. You parents get to share the first steps and the first tooth, and spend endless hours discussing your child’s unique mannerisms and classic comments.

    If, however, you have friends (like me) who have never come within yards of little people before – please think about us.

    We don’t know how to take a child to the toilet, how to navigate clothing removal that doesn’t end up with a screaming child (I learnt this one quickly), or what a Moshi is. Hopefully the points below can remind parents about these friends so you don’t panic when we start to look scared.

    Point 1. We truly don’t know how to hold the baby – and may not want to learn.

    OK, firstly, don’t blame your friend if your newborn is being held upside down or just basically looks like a squashed-up bag of clothes in our arms. Believe us when we say, “I don’t know how to hold a baby.” “I might drop him/her” is not a line or an excuse – it’s a fact.

    Those reassuring comments of “you’ll get used to it” or “wait till you have one,” or the line my friend used for all of two seconds – “you need the practice” – mean nothing to us. We are holding your nearest and dearest, your world – and the crying baby is not a confidence booster, either.

    We love you and we love your newborn. We are happy to help out and be there for you – but this doesn’t mean we want the responsibility of holding a little baby.

    Point 2. We don’t know child lullabies (or “sleepy music” to your friend without children).

    We don’t watch children channels and we don’t have ‘The Greatest Hits of Mr. Chuckles’ (or whatever he’s called) on our iPods. So don’t blame us if, when asked to sing or make up a story, we opt for a rock classic – which, when sung acoustically, actually sounds OK.

    Point 3. We buy inappropriate toys.

    This is a hot topic at the moment with my best friend. As parents, you have seen age-appropriate toys and know what is suitable. We don’t.

    I can look at packaging and guess height or age of children for clothing. But please, give us some clues. If you don’t want to be saddled with a 2-year-old armed with a supersoaker, or a pleasant-sounding recorder that blows lots of bubbles, tell us.

    (Not that we do sometimes get it right all on our own – my best friend’s little person loves his lawnmower!)

    Point 4. We don’t know how tough (or not) your child is.

    Kids’ playtime is different than ours. We need to know when they say, “Play WWE with me!” they actually mean, “Throw me gently onto the sofa.”

    It would also be really helpful for you parents to supervise our play and advise your child he or she cannot hit Aunty Sarah/Uncle Bert before said child develops the skills of a ninja and takes out our eyes with one fell swoop of the “play” mop.

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