Burn, baby, burn: Homework inferno

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

My kids’ education just went up in smoke – again. Friday was their last day in school, so this weekend we held the annual End-of-School Bonfire. Other than Christmas and birthdays, it’s the one day of the year the kids look forward to most.

We stumbled upon this idea last spring. Tom was using a burn barrel to burn some twigs and leaves and suggested the kids toss in the piles of math worksheets and spelling tests they’d stacked on the kitchen table after the last day of the school year.

fireShocked, the kids looked at him for confirmation. “Really? We can burn our school papers?”

Tom shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t see why not. You already learned that stuff, right?”

The kids nodded furiously.

“Okay, then pitch it into the fire.”

They hooted and hollered as they retrieved their school papers and sprinted to the burn barrel with nine months of knowledge tucked under their arms. One by one, they crumpled up papers and shot them into the barrel, clapping wildly as book reports and algebra worksheets disappeared into a fine, educated smoke.

One of the neighborhood kids caught wind of the situation and asked if he, too, could pitch his papers into the fire. Why not, we said? So he ran home and came back with a backpack full of work to keep the fire going.

It didn’t take long before one of the kids wisely observed that the only thing that would make a homework-burning bonfire better would be the ability to roast marshmallows while your science project faces its fiery fate. The other kids agreed with gusto, and soon we were using wire clothes hangers to stab fluffy marshmallows and thrust them over the flames.

This year, at least two weeks before school ended, the kids were already asking about the next bonfire. Knowing it was coming helped get them through those last whiny weeks of school, when everyone had grown weary from early mornings and standardized tests.

smores photoDuring a recent trip to the grocery store, the youngest of the three kids asked if we could go ahead and buy the marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers so we’d be ready for the end-of-school bonfire. Proof that our school system truly is teaching our kids a thing or two, she not only showed the ability to plan ahead, she also had the good sense to hide the chocolate bars from her older brothers so the s’mores ingredients wouldn’t disappear before the bonfire began. Smart kid.

When I picked them up from the last day of school, they climbed into the car, happily toting backpacks full of completed papers and graded tests. They showed me the stash of papers that would soon turn into a burn barrel inferno – bright orange flames licking the crumpled edges of vocabulary tests and American history study guides.

We kept the books, of course, and any folders that can be used again in the fall but the rest was tossed into our impromptu incinerator.

Huddled around it were our three kids and neighborhood friends, too – all of them gleeful for summer break, hopped up on s’mores and wide-eyed as they watched the flames do a celebratory dance for summer.

So if you detected the faint hint of smoke in the air last weekend, it wasn’t steaks on the grill. It was just the Rockwood children’s collective knowledge going up in smoke yet again. It was the smell of decimals and mixed numbers, longitude and latitude, conjunctions and proper nouns. The kids call it the smell of freedom.

Hello there, Summer. We’ve been expecting you.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: The Royal We

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

After you become part of a couple or get married, “you” become a “we,” and “we” is a powerful pronoun.

rp_crown2-1024x752.jpgCouples begin many of their sentences with the word “we,” and they’re particularly fond of “the royal we.” In case you’re not familiar with the royal version, “the royal we” was originally used by kings and queens to suggest they were acting in conjunction with the people over whom they ruled. Queen Victoria is famous for the quote “We are not amused.”

But couples tend to use it for more practical reasons, like passively handing off responsibility for a task to someone else, while giving the illusion that we are in this thing together. Here’s an example of the royal we in action:

“We should get up early and take the puppy outside for a bathroom break.”

Now if the we is not specifically clarified, both he and she go to bed thinking the other half of the royal we is going to take care of said puppy. Then the next morning, there’s a puddle on the floor and “we” are definitely not happy about it. Now “we” have to clean this up.

See how easily the royal we can go astray?

That being said, I definitely use “the royal we” to my advantage. After 17 years of marriage, my husband knows that when I say, “We should really put down new mulch in these flower beds,” I am referring to the “he” part of “we.” The “she” part of “we” prefers to avoid the pollen and supervise the job by staying inside and glancing out the window supportively. If the flower beds get new mulch, it’s always the “he” part of “we” that gets it done.

Of course, there are also times when Tom benefits from use of the royal we. If we bump into a friend with a new baby, I might say, “We saw your baby announcement and we think your baby girl is just beautiful. Her big blue eyes are amazing!”

Tom will nod his head and offer his congratulations, even though he knows that the “we” refers only to me, who actually looked at the birth announcement and sent a gift. The “he” part of “we” never laid eyes on the birth announcement and was probably not even aware that the friend was pregnant.

Once “the royal we” have children, the kids learn how to get in on the act and take advantage of the pronoun’s perks. Not long ago, our middle-schooler said, “Mom, we forgot to wash my gym clothes and put them in my backpack.”

What that sentence translates to is this: “I forgot to take my stinky gym clothes out of my backpack and give them to you for washing because I was far too busy playing whatever iPhone app happens to be cool this week. I also forgot that I’ve been taught how to use the washing machine, which means I could’ve washed the gym clothes by myself. But I will use the royal we in this sentence on the off chance that it will trigger some misplaced mom guilt and get me off the hook.

we are not amusedThe kids also like to say that “we” lost the remote control and now “we” really need to find it, even though “we” can’t be bothered to lift a sofa cushion and find the thing.

Needless to say, sometimes use of “the royal we” is more about a person’s reluctance to get off his or her royal duff, and, to that, I’ll reply by borrowing that famous line from Queen Victoria: “We are not amused.”

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Slightly Tilted: Between One and No

By Jen Adair, Blogger at Slightly Tilted, Entreprenuer, Homeschool Mom to two fab kiddos

On a recent trip with my kids and parents, we were playing a game where you tried to guess what color, number, or thing the “it” person was thinking. This was not a fun game, mind you, but it was a good distraction while we waited for our food. And coffee. We all really needed our coffee.

It was my daughter’s turn and she sleepily said, “I’m thinking of a color between one and no.” She’s not exactly a morning person, so while we all burst out laughing, she looked confused at the words that had just come out of her mouth. It instantly woke us all up and got the day off to a great start, which was a miracle, because laughing before coffee NEVER happens at my house.

bicycles-1029858_640Anyway, the trip was wonderful, the weather was perfect, and we rode bikes along the beach for hours. The kids got along and played chess and checkers together. We had great food. I thought, “We are that family! Look at us! We’re almost perfect! We’re like the anti-Kardashians!”

And then…dum dum dum…we got home. Everything went back to normal. Kids fighting. Moody tween. Work. School. Laundry. Yard work. Ugh.

It’s no secret that I’m not a perfect mom, but if you didn’t know let me say it again: I’M NOT A PERFECT MOM. I’m not perfect at anything except getting frazzled and worrying that I’m doing this whole “life” thing all wrong. I’ve got that down pat. Also, my kids are not perfect. Not by a long shot. Hubby is almost perfect, but he puts his darn dishes in the sink or on the counter and not in the dishwasher and this disqualifies him. That deserves its own post.

So, I’m sitting on my couch, tears welling up in my eyes because I can’t communicate with my daughter, my yard looks like crap, and I found a new batch of cellulite on my rear, and I realize that I feel like…I’m a color between one and no.

I’m this young-hearted, carefree girl stuck in the awkward position of not being young but not being old.

stuck in the middle with youI’m this loving, giving mother stuck in the middle of the cuddle years and the “let me go” years of my children.

I’m a beautiful, sexy wife stuck in the middle of extreme attraction to my hubby and extreme attraction to my pillow.

I’m this color that can’t be defined because the parameters don’t line up to what I am. I feel a little lost, to tell the truth. On one side, I know exactly who and what I am, but on the other side…it’s all loosey-goosey.

This realization helps me with my daughter, though. We will get through her teen years, I hope, because we both feel the same way right now. A little lost, but mostly determined to figure out what color is between one and no.

I hope it’s aqua. Or coral. They’re my favorites.

jen adair3Hey. I’m Jen Adair. I’m an entrepreneur. Homeschool mom. CEO of organized chaos. Ok – it’s really not all that organized. Some days are great, some are not, some days I feel invincible, some days I can barely get out of bed. BUT…it’s my life and I’m living it. Browse my collection of random thoughts, humor (well, I think I’m funny!), images, links, whatever…at my blog Slightly Tilted. Sharing is caring, people! :)

The Rockwood Files: The measure of a man

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

For months now, 14-year-old Adam has been asking: “How about now?” And I’ve been saying, “No, absolutely not. You’re still a kid.”

He kept on asking, so certain the time had come. Last week, he asked yet again and insisted on standing back-to-back with me in the kitchen, our heels lined up and touching.

“Look, Dad. Am I taller than Mom yet?”

Tom looked closely from several angles before issuing the verdict. “You know… I think you are. Just barely, but you are a little taller than her.”

I shook my head in defiance. “No way. I think Dad is just telling you what you want to hear.” Still standing back-to-back, I put my hand on top of his head and then slid it over to the top of mine so I could judge for myself.

measure rulerAnd there it was – the oh-so-slight but undeniable dip that my hand made as it slid from the top of his head down to mine. It was true. My firstborn –the newborn small enough to fit into a Christmas stocking when he arrived in December, the baby who fit so perfectly in the crook of my arm during those sleepless nights he had colic – he is now taller than me.

My defiance turned into denial. “I still think I’m taller. And even if I’m not, I’m still the person who brought you into this world and changed your diapers, so let’s just remember who’s in charge of who.” I harrumphed off to the sofa while Adam celebrated the milestone of being able to – literally – look down on his mother.

I don’t know why it bothers me. It’s not as if I thought this day wouldn’t come. For many of my more petite friends, their sons and a few of their daughters were already standing eye-to-eye with them by the time the kids were in 6th grade. But I’m five feet, eight inches tall. I thought I’d have more time.

The fact that I’ve had to buy longer pants for this kid every three months for the past two years should have tipped me off that my days of towering over him were nearly over. There were other signs, too. About a year ago, I chatted with a friend on the phone while in the same room with the kids. Suddenly my friend noticed the background voices and asked “Is Tom home? I thought you said he was on a business trip.”

“He is on a trip. That’s just Adam.”

“THAT is Adam? His voice is so low!”

I hadn’t thought much about it until she pointed it out, but it was true. My kid’s voice had changed from that of a young boy to that of someone who could have sung back-up vocals for Barry White. While I’d been busy navigating parenthood’s highway, my kid had suddenly swerved right and took the on-ramp to young adulthood, leaving me with a wicked case of whiplash.

As freaky as it is to see him growing up so fast, there are certain perks. He can carry boxes that are too heavy for me, do his share of the laundry and reach stuff on the top shelf at the grocery store. But he better not pat me on the head and call me a “little mom.” I might not be able to pick him up like I did before or make him sit in the corner when he misbehaves, but I can cut off his supply of pizza and burritos and change the Wi-Fi password, and, for a teenager, that’s just as bad.

Who’s taller now, kid?

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Happy Mother’s Day

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I slid the wrapper off the straw, blew air through it and stabbed it through the plastic lid of my Chick-fil-A tea.

Eleven-year-old Jack questioned the move he has likely seen me do a thousand times. “Why do you always blow air through the straw before you put it in the drink?”

aunt-eunice4“Because that’s what Aunt Eunice always did.”

(Aunt Eunice was my smart, witty great aunt who taught me how to diagram sentences when I was a kid, just for fun. That’s her on the right, pictured with the cake she had on her 104th birthday. Aunt Eunice always gave me a can of Lipton tea every Sunday afternoon when I’d visit her. She’d pop the top of the can, pull a straw out of her cupboard, and blow air through it before sticking it into the can of tea.)

Jack pressed for a better explanation. “Why did Aunt Eunice always blow through the straw?”

“I asked her that question once. She said you never know whether or not a tiny bug has crawled into the straw, so she’d blow through it, just in case. You wouldn’t want to drink a bug, right?”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Well, then, there you go.”

He seemed somewhat satisfied with the answer. But it made me realize just how many things I do simply because the women who came before me did them, too. The straw-blowing habit is one of them and fig jelly is another.

At our house, we eat fig jelly on toast. Why? Because that’s what my mom has smeared on toast since before I could even say the word toast. I love fig jelly. Every other jelly pales in comparison and my three kids agree, fig jellyeven though they definitely wouldn’t be able to identify an actual fig in a fruit line-up.

The only problem is that fig jelly is not exactly winning any popularity contests in the bread and jelly aisle. Lately I haven’t been able to find it at the store where we usually shop. It probably got bumped for a more modern, showy jelly like mango or blueberry lemon. Don’t get me wrong. Other jellies might be delicious, but my heart belongs to Braswell’s Fig Preserves. Anything else is just getting by.

So I drive across town to the one grocery store that still stocks it and hope I’m lucky enough to find it tucked away on the top shelf, overshadowed by red raspberry and blackberry fruit spread. The store usually has only two or three jars of fig, and I buy all of them just in case this is the last shipment.

The straw-blowing compulsion and the stockpile of fig jelly in my pantry help prove just how powerful a woman’s influence is – in little things and in big ones. So often, the “little voice” in our head belongs mostly to our mothers.

When I’m driving in a hard rain, the voice reminds me to slow down so the car won’t hydroplane. When I feel a sore throat coming on, the voice tells me to gargle with warm saltwater, even though I hate it. And when I’m worried or unsure, the voice reminds me God will take care of us.

One of the most humbling parts of becoming a mother myself is the knowledge that my voice is taking up residence in my own kids. I pray that voice will be a blessing and never a stumbling block. I pray it builds them up and makes them feel loved long after I’m gone. And I thank God I came from a long line of women who gave that same gift of love to me.

From our home to yours, Happy Mother’s Day.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.