This much you know about me: I have four children.
Now, some people think I am some kind of a mothering hero for managing to keep four children alive and fed and relatively clean. Some people think this, but not my children's teachers.
The secret to having more than one child?
Seriously. Do you remember when you had that first child, and he cried, so you dropped everything and ran to the crib to console that small being? You gave him baths every afternoon, if only to fill the time. You cleaned that bellybutton wound and sterilized the pacifiers and later, maybe you pureed sweet potatoes or fresh peaches for snacks.
Riiiight. And then along came the second child. And the third. And the fourth! And by now you realized that kids don't need baths every afternoon, and pacifiers are going to get dropped as soon as you clean them off, so why bother? And when the dog stole a cookie from the baby, and the baby pried the dog's mouth open to retrieve the cookie, you let the baby eat said cookie and applauded her ingenuity without too much thought about how nasty the cookie probably was.
That, my friends, is how you raise four kids without losing your mind.
Lower your standards.
The good thing about this method is that, as they grow older, the kids do learn to fend for themselves. Because if you don't climb up on that counter to get a drinking glass, and if you don't pour your own milk, you might have to wait a really, really, really long time for your mom to get around to it. And if you don't remind mom to sign your homework folder at night, it won't get done, and then you're the one who gets in trouble.
So I tell myself that this hands-off method of childrearing is actually A Good Thing, because I am raising resiliant, independent, creative, non-germophobe kids. Right? This isn't a parenting failure, it's a success!
And I can convince myself of that, in the privacy of my own house. But once the school gets involved, well, it's all over. I'm pretty sure my photo is posted in the teacher lunch room, on the "crazy parent" bulletin board. (What? You know they have a crazy parent board in there. They have to.)
You might recall the day I got a note from Ainsley's fabulous pre-school teacher, reminding me that the lunchbox, when sent to school, actually has to have food in it. That was not a high point in my motherhood career.
It got better this week, though. I packed the lunches, and Ainsley's was the usual: strawberry milk, pretzels, apple slices, a cookie and a cheese sandwich (she doesn't eat the sandwich, not ever, but it makes the teacher happy when it's in there, so I dutifully make one every morning and throw it out again every night.) I put her lunch into her sparkly pink lunchbox and left it on the counter. When the bus came, she ran out the door, lunchbox in hand, and hopped on the bus with a quick wave goodbye.
Fast forward to that night at dinner.
"Did anything exciting happen at school today, Ainsley?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied, "the teacher said my lunch was SO old."
Old? I was suddenly very confused, and just a little bit afraid.
It turns out, after much questioning and searching of spare lunch boxes, that what transpired was this: Ainsley picked up her lunchbox that morning and carried it out to the living room. She set it down somewhere and then, before the bus arrived, she somehow found an old lunchbox lurking somewhere under a couch or something, and took that with her instead. I found the lunchbox I'd packed that morning by the front door. God only knows what was in the lunchbox she took to school, or how old it was. I'm pretty sure I got another sad face sticker next to my picture in the teacher lunchroom that day, though.
And then there's Kyra. She's become quite the independent little thing these days, which is mostly A Good Thing. Just last week, she told me all about her homework project: she was writing a little "how to" book, and she was having so much fun with it. She showed me the paper, two pieces stapled together actually, but I only saw the second page. She didn't ask for help, and I didn't offer. It all seemed normal and above board. She had written a couple of sentences under the title "How To Make A Paper Snoflak."
But this weekend, when I was going through her take home folder, I found the how to book. I flipped it around, and that's when I saw it: the first page.
The first page was actually a note addressed to the parents. It turns out that this little how-to project was one of those dreaded "work with your kid" projects. The parent (that'd be me) was supposed to help develop the idea, rehearse with the child and then make sure there were enough supplies on hand so that the child could teach at least four other kids to do the project.
And it was due last week.
"Kyra," I asked her fearfully, "did you do this how-to presentation in front of your class?"
"Yes mommy," she answered cheerfully.
"But... How did you do?"
"Good I guess."
"And did you bring supplies for four other kids like it says to do here?"
"Ummm." Here she thought for a bit. "Yes?"
I don't know much about Paper Snoflaks, but I'm guessing you need scissors and paper to make one, at a minimum. And, given the state of our craft drawer (currently a shoebox without a lid, full of broken crayons and markers without tops, plus possibly a screwdriver or two, and some duct tape), I think it highly unlikely she could have found 4 pairs of scissors and enough paper for everyone. I can't even find scrap paper to write down phone numbers when I need to.
But here's the thing. I'm afraid to ask the teacher if the presentation went okay. Because then I'd have to admit that I haven't looked in the homework folder, for, like, ever. And really, what kind of mother doesn't even know about her child's week-long research report?
Me, that's who.
I stood there, looking down at the scribbled report, with its crude drawing of a snowflake, and I contemplated what to say, what to do. Probably I needed to say something about teamwork, or Keeping Mommy Informed. Maybe now was a good time to talk about project planning, or organizational skills, or even the dismal state of the craft drawer. I looked, and I thought, and I sighed, and I finally said "that's a really nice snowflake, sweetie." I said a silent little prayer that I wouldn't run into the teacher at the next night's elementary concert. And I resolved to do a better job checking the homework folder. Next year. Maybe.
Lower your standards, people. Lower. Your. Standards.