It’s been a (very) sweet trip

I came by my love of recorded media – movies, television, music – honestly. My great-grandfather, whose stage name was Colonel Stoopnagle, was something of a radio star back in the 1930s. He considered himself a wordsmith, and often did bits (and wrote books) showcasing the cleverness of the English language.

He also did print ads, like this (copy of) one that hangs in our bathroom. I’d like to think he would have gotten a kick out of looking over us on the loo. I imagine he also got a kick out of the apostrophe erroneously place in the word PROs; oh, the irony.

Stoopnagle’s son – my grandfather – spent his working career with a local Rochester television affiliate. A tinkerer who couldn’t stand to sit idle, he built a television set for the family (including my mom) in the days before you could easily go out and buy one. As I understand it, there wasn’t much to watch on said television, but hey – they were ready when things changed.

My mother, a theater major in college, loved all recorded media, and she shared that love with my brother and me. Her record collection was (is?) extensive, and although I know we had a car that played eight-tracks, the memory is distant, because we always ventured into new media technology as soon as it became available. When I was in the third grade, my mom picked up a friend and me from school (I was having the friend over – back then, there was no such thing as a “play date;” friends just “came over”), and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was playing from the stereo. Impressed (rock on, Mom!), I told her that I loved that song… and POP! she ejected the brand new “Thriller” cassette from the player on the dashboard. How funky and strong is my fight now?!

Similarly, while I imagine that we must have had Beta tapes, I don’t have specific memories of them because as soon as VHS became available, we were in. Not just for playing, either – for recording, too… except that independent hand-held VHS video cameras hadn’t come into play yet (although, the moment they did, you can bet we had them) – you had to tether the video camera to the VCR in order to record. For movies taken, say, in the living room where the television was, this wasn’t so bad. The recordings were live-streamed to the TV, which meant that our home movies feature the profiles of all of the video participants (i.e. me, my brother, our unwitting friends who’d come over for a birthday celebration) because we were enthralled with seeing ourselves on the TV screen – looking toward the camera was so not fun – but they were relatively easy to do, technically speaking. For anything more than, like, twenty feet from the TV, however, my dad would strap the VCR to his shoulder – yes, really, the entire VCR machine – and follow us around, video camera in-hand, tethered to the recorder.

Those were the days.

Having just one VCR was lovely – and I think, for a little while, that’s what we did – but it was limiting; all you could do was record from a single source and put it right on the tape. It didn’t take long, then, for us to acquire two VCRs, and for my mom to put them to good use. Sure, you could record things from two different televisions at the same time (which my mom continued to do right up until DVDs became the rage; more than once, I remember calling her from college – frantic – and asking her to please tape a crucial episode of Friends for me). But, more importantly, you could record from one VHS tape to another.

This was handy for creating home movies. No longer did we have to save entire school plays when all that my parents really wanted were the thirty seconds that my brother and I were visible from behind the towering third-graders; instead, the play was recorded onto one VHS tape and then – through the magic of more tethering – the crucial thirty seconds were recorded onto a second VHS tape. In this way, we were able to winnow down entire years’ worth of footage into bite-sized clips.

What I really remember, though, are the collections of show tunes that my mom culled together. I grew up in the era of mix tapes, but I think my mother may have invented the mix VHS. She would record a favorite movie musical off of the TV – The Wizard of Oz, perhaps, or Singin’ in the Rain – and then transfer just a snippet, maybe “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Make ‘Em Laugh”, onto another VHS tape, so that it contained clip after clip after clip of her most beloved songs and dances.

It wasn’t just movies, either. Any time there was music on the TV that was worthy of watching again, from songs performed at the Tony Awards to orchestral selections from Fourth of July celebrations (complete with fireworks) to bits and pieces from talk shows or even commercials, it went on the mix VHS collections. And this is how I so vividly remember Shirley Temple being a part of our lives.

I was introduced to Shirley so long ago that I don’t remember life without her; she came into our living room, beaming her dimpled smile at us and boing-ing her perfect curls, and dancing – oh, the dancing! – up a storm. She was adorable and sweet, sure, but it was really the dancing that had me hooked. How was it possible for someone that tiny to tap dance like that? I was in awe.

We watched her movies (which my mom had recorded from the TV onto VHS tapes) – The Little Colonel, Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Littlest Rebel, Captain January, Poor Little Rich Girl, The Blue Bird – and I loved them… but I was more interested in seeing the musical numbers – which was convenient, because my mom had them cued up on her VHS mixes.

Shirley Temple was just so stinkin’ fabulous, wasn’t she? Admonishing the kids in “Animal Crackers in my Soup” or bopping along the train in “On the Good Ship Lollipop”. She was charming and cute, an exuberantly dynamite little powerhouse who held her own against her adult co-stars. They held their own against her, too, simultaneously talking to her like a child (because, um, she was one) and treating her as their equal, undoubtedly fully aware that this ringleted moppet was the real reason so many people would flock to the theater.

I could have watched for hours (and probably did) as Shirley swished alongside Buddy Ebson in “At the Codfish Ball”, nimbly hopping on and off wooden crates while, you know, tap dancing – but not cutesy kid tap dancing, where you go Awwww, she’s pretty good for her age! but real tap dancing, where you go, DAMN! She holds her own against other hoofers! My very favorite, though, was whenever she would dance with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a man for whom a special place is reserved in the tap dancing pantheon. Here was this little – and I mean little, like seven year-old – girl, dancing brilliantly alongside a seasoned veteran… who happened to be Black. Yes, he played stereotypical roles for a Black man in the 1930s (in this case, most often a butler for white folks), but Shirley and Bojangles broke that color barrier (as the first white female and black male to dance onscreen together, fo’ real) and it was awesome.

Just try to watch the two of them dance up the stairs and not smile. No, really. Try it.

shirley and bojangles
I found this at this site and, even though it’s not from a movie set, I love it. Actually, I think I love it more because it’s not from a movie set – they’re just buds.

As soon as my girls were old enough (by which I mean as soon as they could sit still and watch a television screen for ten minutes at a clip… which, for Annie, was around 4 months old; that’s what having an older sister will do for you), I began introducing them to Shirley Temple’s songs and dances – only this time, we used the modern-day version of my mom’s old VHS mixes: YouTube. I’d plug in the song that was in my head and up would pop a clip, instantly available, for the girls and me to enjoy and laugh and gasp about, just as I did sitting beside my mom on the living room couch while the VCR whirred away.

True to my mother and my grandfather and my great-grandfather, we have embraced technology, especially when it comes to recorded media. While I am far from a fan of all modern technology, and while Nick and I impose pretty strict screen time limits, I will forever be grateful to the likes of YouTube for enabling me to share those bits of my childhood, of my own story, with Ella and Annie. Heck, I can even show them clips of Colonel Stoopnagle on Youtube – which is pretty damn incredible, if you ask me.

Which you didn’t. But I’m telling you anyway.

I was really bummed to learn of Shirley Temple’s passing today… but her legacy will live on. For one thing, my children (and my cousins – howdy, Andrew and Brian!) are unlikely to stop ordering ginger ale and grenadine any time soon, so Shirley is here to stay. For another, Annie’s perpetual washing-of-her-face using only her forefingers a la the song “Early Bird” from Captain January makes me wring my hands each time I see it.

(Seriously, this part of the song has bugged me since I was a kid. STILL DIRTY!)

And, of course, we have Shirley’s body of work to entertain, enthrall, and enlighten us from now until, well, forever. I plan to purchase some of her movies on DVD to show the girls (in addition to the couple that I already own, courtesy of my mom, naturally), but in the meantime, YouTube clips will happily tide us over. She is a part of our lives, ingrained, woven in, and I can’t imagine it any other way.

As the girls came home from school, I was in the middle of writing this and had the various YouTube clips playing so that I could link to them properly. Without even being in the room, Ella heard three bars of “At the Codfish Ball” and said, “Is that Shirley Temple?” Yes, honey. It is. She made our lives richer and more colorful, and I’m sad that she’s gone – but I can’t wait to watch her with you tonight.

Nor can I wait to see how you share her with your own children; it’s in your genes – I know you will. And they will laugh and roll their eyes at the thought of us using something as antiquated as YouTube to watch her – but I’m good with that, because I know that I’ll have embraced that kind of media, too. Right after my mom does.


The day Bob Costas ruined my daughters’ childhood innocence

I’m absolutely not ashamed to admit it: we loooove us some Olympics. Summer, winter, doesn’t matter – the pageantry, the history, the amazing feats of athleticism, the sappy TV-produced backstories – I love every single bit. I’ll cheer both the underdog and the world record-setter; I’ll cry over the heartbreak and the triumph; I’ll avoid online updates so that I can watch the events on TV. Just hearing the Olympic theme (actually titled “Bugler’s Dream,” which I am so totally teaching my students about) brings goosebumps – which, while overdramatic, is not an exaggeration.

For two magical weeks, the world comes together* and laughs and cries and cheers its ass off, and it is Nick’s and my absolute most favoritest thing.

* unless they’re being boycotted, and then we don’t come together, and it sucks. But I digress.

* true story: my dad and stepmom’s sister-in-law (married to my stepmom’s brother) is a crazy-amazing, world record-holding swimmer who was favored to win gold in, like, six events at the ’80 Moscow Games… but then the US boycotted the Games and she, along with all of our athletes, got totally screwed. She did, however, win a silver medal at the ’84 Games in Los Angeles. She regularly sends Annie and Ella her daughter’s hand-me-downs, and they think that wearing clothing that was touched by the same hands that have held an Olympic silver medal is maybe the coolest thing ever. But I digress more.

At age two, Ella couldn’t exactly understand the 2006 Winter Games (Annie, at two months old, probably took in even less, but perhaps my own new-baby brain fog is clouding my memory). I seem to remember them tumbling about the living room emulating the gymnasts during the 2008 Summer Games, but it wasn’t until the winter of 2010 that they really got the Olympics – or, at least, they got that their Mommy and Daddy were batshit excited over something on the television.

Watching the opening ceremonies is akin to the Super Bowl or the Oscars ’round these here parts, and I vividly remember tucking in with the girls for the Vancouver celebrations. For reasons that escape my memory, Nick was out of town, so it was just the girls and me. The coverage began at 8 p.m., which was at or past the girls’ bedtime, but I reasoned that this was such a special occasion, it warranted the privilege of staying up late. I anticipated that Bob Costas would welcome us, his eager audience, to the games – and then, after a few pomp and circumstance montages (during which I would cry), we’d be whisked away to the start of the ceremonies. I figured, if I let the girls stay up until, say, 9 p.m., they’d be able to catch some of the pageantry.

As the broadcast began, we piled into the reclining chair, all three of us, so that I could keep them close and explain the fantastic things they were about to behold. There was Bob – just like I’d imagined! – welcoming us to the Games; surely the ceremonies were only minutes away. THE EXCITEMENT!!!

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What? Don’t you wear bathing suits in the dead of winter to avoid getting paint on your clothing when you make a bigger-than-you GO USA poster?

But then, without warning or preamble, the tone of the broadcast shifted dramatically. I was mid-sentence, likely doling out some Canadian history tidbit or maybe explaining (for the 37th time) what the Olympic rings symbolized, so I didn’t really register what Bob was telling us… Something about an accident… A practice run… The tragic death of a luger from Georgia (near Russia, not near Florida)…

It was the word “death” or “died” that suddenly piqued the girls’ interest, and they turned toward the television screen to see what had happened. I was still trying to process what Bob was calmly explaining, like a doctor giving an expectant family bad news in the waiting room. Someone died? Is that what Bob just said? A luger? Is that the technical term for someone who does the luge – luger? When did this – wait, did someone die? I thought we would be seeing the opening ceremonies by now…

… when BAM!, my processing was interrupted by video footage of the poor Georgian luger hurtling down the luge track… then flying off the track (leaving his lonely sled behind)… and then, horribly, smacking into an unpadded metal pole, after which he lay crumpled on the ground, surrounded almost immediately by paramedics and spectators.

Okay. Hold the phone.
Did we seriously just watch someone die on national television? When we were supposed to be seeing the opening ceremonies of the damn Olympics? Instead, we just watched someone die right before our eyes? AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN WARN US to maybe, I don’t know, look away or even just be prepared, because you are about to watch another human being die???

Horrified at what had just unfolded before us, I tore my eyes away from the screen, hoping, by some miracle, that Ella and Annie had not really been paying attention… and found them literally – almost comically – open-mouthed, staring mutely at the television. Turning back to the TV, Bob was now showing us photos of this athlete in happier times, then photos – closeups – of him lying in a heap beside the track. Is that – oh my God, is that blood on his forehead?

“Mommy? What happened to that man?”

“Why did he get hurt?”

“Is he dead right there?”

“But you said that there would be singing and dancing!”

Before I could answer their barrage of questions, NBC was airing the video again! There he was, racing down the track… Oops, there he goes, off to the side… SMACK!, now he’s down…

There was no avoiding their questions; it’s not like I could pretend that they hadn’t seen what they’d just seen, because there we all were, gaping intently at the television, poised with excitement and rapt with attention. And there was Bob, telling us exactly what had happened (so there was no possibility for doubt), and there was the video. Again. AND AGAIN.

I reasoned that, surely, the coverage of this terribly sad and unfortunate event would dim and we’d be seeing the opening ceremonies any moment now… but no. LUGE LUGE LUGE. By the third showing of the accident, I knew enough to place my hands strategically over the girls’ eyes so they wouldn’t have to witness the horror anymore (which, don’t get me wrong, was indeed awful and undoubtedly newsworthy… just maybe not so much in primetime when we were expecting prancing maple leaves and festive mounties). I answered their questions as calmly as I could – physically turning them toward me so they couldn’t see the TV screen – and then began talking up other parts of the Games.

And there will be skating! And hockey! And something called snowboarding with a guy who has wild red hair! Did you know that there’s a crazy event where you ski and then shoot a gun? Should I be talking about guns? WHY NOT – WE JUST WATCHED SOME GUY DIE! The Olympics are so much fun!! LA LA LAAAAA!!!!

usa hockey
The artists hard at work…

As nine o’clock rolled around (yes, we kept “watching” because I reasoned that they would switch over ANY TIME NOW), we still hadn’t seen any of the opening ceremonies, but I promised the girls that I was recording the broadcast and, tomorrow, I would show them the highlights. They could not wait, let me tell you.

Eventually, the ceremonies did start, and I watched the coverage for the rest of the night. At least once an hour, there would be a break so that Bob could tell us again about the death of the luger – but I noticed, by the fourth or fifth announcement, that NBC had changed their presentation somewhat. “Be forewarned – the footage we’re about to show you may be graphic for some viewers. Children are advised not to watch.”

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was bummed that her three and five year-olds had spent a cheerful family evening gathered around the television set to watch someone die.
Also, apparently NBC pays attention to Twitter and Facebook feedback.


By the following day, NBC had shifted its coverage entirely; they no longer showed video footage of the accident, and Bob even apologized for terrorizing us the night before. All well and good… but too little too late, Peacock. Are none of your producers parents? Or even just human beings? It’s the OLYMPICS, for crying out loud. THE OPENING CEREMONIES, not something potentially dangerous like slalom skiing or speed skating or, heck, even figure skating (okay, so a lot of the Olympics features potentially dangerous events, but I digress yet again). The most “dangerous” coverage we were preparing for that night were Proctor and Gamble commercials of mothers hugging their wee ones after falling on the ice rink. Instead, we got Evel Knievel meets CSI. MY CHILDREN CAN NEVER UNSEE THAT.

Or, at least I thought they could never unsee it. Like all good Olympics-loving families, we have been talking up the 2014 Games for several weeks now. In one of our recent discussions, I was reliving my incredulity over the 2010 “opening ceremonies” – laughing at what a horrifying gong show it had been, complete with lunging to cover the girls’ eyes – when it dawned on me that, four years later, they likely didn’t even remember it. A lot has happened since then; certainly they’d forgotten.

And so I asked: Do you actually remember any of that?

They were quiet for a moment, deep in thought, and then…

“No. I’m not sure that I do remember.”

YES. Childhood innocence restored!

“But wait… I think maybe I do remember it…”

“Were we all on the black chair together?”

“Was that the time with that guy on the little sled?”

“Weren’t we all cuddled together watching TV? Except Daddy wasn’t there?”

“And that guy fell off his sled?”

“And then he hit that thing? Wasn’t he bleeding?”

“Yeah. He was lying on the ground.”

“And then he died. We watched him die.”


You might think this would have turned us off from Olympics-watching, but no. Oh, no no no. We are still rabidly pro-Olympics. And although we may be gluttons for punishment, we will absolutely be watching the Sochi opening ceremonies tonight. The girls’ bedtime is later now, so Nick and I are confident that, no matter how much air time is devoted to stories about terrorism threats and diverted planes and stray dogs and unfinished hotel rooms, they will still see at least part of the actual festivities.

And don’t worry, Bob. We’re still tight. Even with your unfortunate eye incident last night (yes, of course we were watching), we still adore you. You can tell us about someone’s death anytime.

But when you do, if you could just warn us a little, that would be great. Or at least sandwich it between sappy stories that will make me cry happy tears.

I’m hearing the theme in my head as I write this, which means I’m typing with goosebumps on my arms. But I don’t care – the Olympics are worth it.

ech 8 of 52 go usa

I’m a lover, and I’m a sinner…

I heard her in the hall as she shuffled quietly, calmly, demonstrating no concern over what was about to happen. “Mama?” Her voice was even, sweet. “My tummy hurts. I think I need to throw up.”

It was 1:30 a.m. – I should have been asleep – but even in my exhausted stupor, I knew that standing around chatting about vomiting was probably a bad idea, so I ushered Annie to the bathroom just in time for her to empty her dinner into the toilet.

After getting cleaned up, she seemed no worse for wear, so off to bed she went, tucked in with wishes of sweet dreams and hope your tummy feels better, before I returned to my own bed and stage-whispered to Nick, “Shit! What are we going to do??”

This was completely new for us –  not the sick kid, not the puking in the middle of the night – but what to do the following morning. Since Annie’s birth, I have always been the one to stay home with the girls when they’re not feeling well. (Given that I don’t have to take a sick or vacation day to do so, nor do I have to shuffle my schedule to work from home, it just makes sense that I’d be the nursemaid.)

We can’t call on help, either; with no family close by who can watch a kiddo with a low-grade fever or a tummy ache (save for my fabulous grandma – who, at 93, I’m not willing to expose unnecessarily to kid-germs), it falls to Nick or me (in this case… me) to cancel appointments or rejigger things in order to sit by a sick one’s side. Thankfully, my piano students’ families have been tremendously understanding of my occasional need to cancel lessons for an ailing daughter. Part of that may have to do with them not wanting me to sit right next to their offspring for thirty minutes with plague germs emanating from my sweater, but still. They’re really good about it.

These days, though, taking care of sick children isn’t quite that easy. Last Tuesday, I started an 11-week, long-term subbing job as a middle school General Music teacher (oh yes, I did. HOLLA!), and so for the first time in seven years, I felt an unfamiliar terror grip me as I slid back into bed: OMG, will I have to miss work? Who would cover for me? Who do I even call in order to get a sub? Wait… is that funny? A sub for the sub? I haven’t even been there long enough to leave a set of emergency lesson plans behind…

Nick would normally have immediately offered to watch Annie, but – Murphy’s law – one of the “big bosses” was in town and there was a very important lunch meeting that he absolutely could not miss. We entertained several possibilities other than my just staying home all day… Perhaps I could go in for the first few periods and then ask someone to cover for me so I could cover for Nick? Perhaps a neighbor could watch her for a short while? Each seemed less appealing than the last.

And so I did the only thing I thought made sense: I crossed my fingers and prayed fervently that Annie would be fine in the morning. Annnnd, thusly, I committed Cardinal School Parent Sin #1: Contemplating the possibility of sending your child to school within twenty-four hours of vomiting, despite the very clear school rule prohibiting such activity.

But… you see… I had excuses. Or, perhaps better, I had explanations. After dinner, I had discovered that the brand new shredded mozzarella I’d included in that night’s baked pasta was covered with mold. A quick 10 p.m. Google search confirmed that it was entirely possible for moldy mozzarella to make people sick to their stomachs… So, perhaps that was what was wrong with Annie.

Translation: she wasn’t contagious, so there was no reason not to send her to school, despite vomiting.

Translation #2: I freaked out about missing work on only my third day, so I was willing to do almost anything to avoid such a possibility.

Because I am awesome like that.

I was still slogging through my thoughts, nearly incoherent, when Annie appeared – silently – at our bedroom door a little after three a.m. “Mama? I just threw up in my bed.”

Much like Uh oh! or It’s even bigger than I thought! or Promise you won’t be mad!, the words I just threw up in my bed will startle even the heartiest, been-there-done-that of parents. Prying my stinging eyes open, I immediately sprang to action (after waking Nick for some help), changing sheets, offering a toothbrush and a glass of water, and once more tucking Annie back into her bed.

You might think that this second bout would cause me to rethink my earlier stance on possibly sending her to school, but no. She had puked up the rest of the pasta, which clearly indicated that it – the moldy mozzarella – was the source of her trouble. Smart little tummy for getting rid of the offending junk! She had no fever. She said she felt fine. Surely, she could go to school.

Cardinal School Parent Sin #2: Continuing to consider sending your child to school after she has vomited not once but twice.

Come the morning, Annie, indeed, felt fine. Her temperature was normal. Her appetite was solid. She was energetic, despite the lack of sleep. Plus, earlier in the year, Ella had been sent home early from school (on her birthday, no less!) because she’d vomited once in class, which subsequently caused her to miss all of the next day of school… and, turned out, that one little blip was her only hint of illness; she was completely fine otherwise. Although I understand – and agree with – the school’s policy, I was bummed that Ella had had to stay home from school, completely healthy… and so I reasoned that Annie would be equally okay.

Cardinal School Parent Sin #3: Actually sending your child to school after she has vomited twice because you think she’s okay, even though you know the policy prohibits such behavior.

One of the best things about my new (temporary) job is that my schedule is an 0.6, meaning I teach three classes and a study hall and I have to be at school from 8:48 – 11:40 a.m.. Three hours! That’s it! And then the afternoon is mine! Most days, I stay after school for a quite a while because teaching is not exactly a punch-your-time-card kind of job, but that Thursday, there was a class at the Y I wanted to attend. I’d carefully chosen my outfit that morning – black yoga pants, black tank top, cute (long) sweater and scarf – so that it would look professional with black boots… but then I could pull a Superman, throw on some sneakers, whip off the sweater, and be ready to work out.

I am so clever like that.

I left school immediately following teaching and arrived at the Y with a few minutes to spare. Even though I was running on, oh, about three hours of sleep, I managed to feel like an exceptional badass. I am so on top of things. I can change my clothes on the fly. I can work out AND teach. I. am. AWESOME.

It wasn’t until I accidentally touched the screen of my iPhone (yes, I keep it nearby when I work out; I’m addicted weird) that I discovered I had a voicemail, left fifteen minutes ago. From the school. Or, more specifically, from the school nurse… Who was calling to tell me that Annie was really not feeling well, and would I please come get her.

Cardinal School Parent Sin #4: Having to admit your asshattery and pick up your sick child.

In the blink of an eye, Nick and I had become those parents: the ones who put their own agendas before the school’s. The ones who decide that they are better arbiters of school rules than the school officials. The ones who are struggling with everything in them to figure out how to honor their own job commitments while simultaneously doing right by their children and their children’s classmates.

In short: we become the parents we have long criticized, the ones we bitch about on Facebook or over coffee. And, man, was that a slap in the face.

But it was a weird kind of slap – like a fake stage one, maybe – because, although it stung, both sides of the argument suddenly became crystal clear. Do the rules exist for a reason? Sure. Did we push it by sending Annie? Yes. Should we have kept her home? In hindsight, yes. But, in a nearly identical situation, Ella absolutely did not – medically – need to remain home that second day… And so the doubt, understandably, crept in.

Although the rules do exist for a reason – a good one, at that – they can also be difficult to follow. It’s awfully easy to complain about a parent who sends their feverish kid to school so that she can go to work; after all, it’s “just” work. Our children always come first, right? What about their classmates’ well-being? Since when are your wants and needs more important than everyone else’s? Just keep them home, damn it.

And yet… It wasn’t that easy. It just wasn’t. I knew my students – my brand new students – had no lesson plans awaiting them, and I had no idea what would be done with them that day, especially at the last minute. It’s just one day, you’ll argue, and I agree… but this one day, this early on, was one I wanted to be there for. I had just started my job; I wanted to make a good impression on my superiors. I wanted to be a team player. I wanted to continue to establish a good relationship with my students. I also knew that Nick was going to be out of town all this week… and so, if one of the girls became sick or there was an emergency, there would be no choice but for me to stay home. Doing so on my third day of work just seemed… not okay.

Nick and I also, of course, wanted to do the right thing by Annie. In that moment, the right thing seemed to be sending her to school. Yeah, so we made the wrong choice; but it was not a choice that was made quickly, callously, or without a lot of consideration.

I’ll be honest: Do I feel bad about sending Annie to school? Yes. She wound up feeling icky (although she felt otherwise that morning), and I’m sad for her that she was at school feeling gross. I also feel guilty about breaking the school rule, given what transpired. Ahhh… but that’s the rub, isn’t it… Given what transpired. Because, faced with a similar situation – a kid who’d been briefly ill but rallied and did not seem remotely contagious –  I’d do it again.

Yep. I said it. Would I keep her home when she was obviously sick? Feverish? Sore tummy? Vomiting or diarrhea? Absolutely. But if she felt great and exhibited no current signs of illness and I had a super-pressing reason for going to work? I would. I’d send her to school.

It’s only been eight days since I started my new job, but that has been the hardest part: the balance. Some of it is logistical balance – prepping for things the night before, finding time to do my lesson plans, getting the girls off to school in the morning before I head my way, navigating the ins and outs of our schedules with Nick – but the bulk of it is mental and emotional. How much time can I spend researching beat versus rhythm lesson ideas before the girls start to feel that I’m ignoring them? Can I still fix their hair and make it to school with enough time to run copies and organize my classroom? Should these “free” thirty minutes be spent watching my kids put on a Frozen medley (for the 835th time) or making sure I’ve graded the assessments for my other kids?

Which explains why I was still awake at 1:30 a.m. last Wednesday. (Okay, I guess it was technically Thursday. But it felt a lot like Wednesday.)

Don’t get me wrong… I’m loving this. The job is absolutely perfect for me, and I truly don’t think I could have found a more supportive school, district, and staff. The students are hard-working, respectful, and genuinely kind – even though, at age thirteen, this should practically be an oxymoron. I’m being challenged mentally in a way I haven’t in… well… seven years, and it’s fantastic. I’ve even learned how to use a SMART board (mostly).

And when this little ditty arrived in my school mailbox, I did a not-so-little happy dance. It’s OFFICIAL!!

teacher ID badge2I realize that loving this so much makes me a dork. I’m good with that.

Part of why I’d been so excited for this position was that it would still allow me to continue to teach piano and do most of the mom/wife/volunteer/me stuff that is so important to me. I know myself well enough as a teacher to know that I wouldn’t do it half-assed; I’m going to give my students everything I’ve got, and then some. This amazing job enables me to give them that, while still being able to help out at Ella’s third grade Valentine’s Day party or walk Annie home from school.

Having spent these past seven years with the girls, I imagined that it would be difficult being away from them when I returned to work, and that they would always be prioritized above anything teacher-related. It came as more than a little bit of a surprise, then, when I found myself concerned about missing school when Annie got sick – when, in that particular instance, I prioritized work above being by her side.

Not above her well-being, no. If she’d been more obviously sick, I wouldn’t have hesitated to call in a sub for the sub, however it needed to be done. If she or Ella gets sick again, and Nick isn’t able to take off of work (as he did last Friday, when Annie was still home with an ailing tummy; maybe that mozzarella wasn’t the culprit…), I will be home with them, no questions asked. But, given that she seemed okay, the immediate priority became my students and their well-being… and suddenly, the thought of committing Cardinal School Parent Sins went from shameful to possible to definite.

I’m sure there are parents out there who are abusing the system, who routinely send their kids in when they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they’re too sick to be in school. I’m sure that some of them do it callously and without consideration for their child’s classmates or teachers. And those parents piss me off.

I’m equally sure, however, that for every parent who doesn’t care, there are three more who hem and haw about sending their maybe-sick child to school, who weigh the possibility of rescheduling meetings or finding childcare or taking their last paid sick day or falling behind on their lessons against the possibility that their kiddo might simply have a headache through math, but otherwise, feel fine. Some days, the decision turns out to be good for everyone involved. Other times… it doesn’t go the way you’d hoped.

Turns out, most of those parents are simply us, doing the very best we can with what we have. We deeply admire their teachers. We respect the school rules. We love our kids to pieces. And, occasionally, we commit Cardinal School Parent Sins – because we are frazzled and stretched thin and we make mistakes because we are human.

Lesson learned: enough with the judging. You just never know what’s going on in another person’s life.
And also: make emergency sub plans the first day you accept a teaching job. They might come in handy… immediately.

Adventures in Annie

Three days… three separate conversations…


So… who’re you talking to?

“Oh, just my toes.”

Excuse me?

“My toes. They all have names.”

I’m not even sure how to respond to that.

“Wanna know their names?”

I’m guessing I don’t have a choice.

(pointing) “These are Alissa, Annie…”

You named a toe after yourself?

“… Grace, Anna, Katelyn, Kathryn, Molly, Hannah, Lucy, and this big one is Chenille.”

Chenille? You named one of your toes Chenille?

“They’re sisters and they’re really funny.”

I just bet they are.

6.23 pedi girls


“Hey, Annie. Mom says you named your toes.”

“Yes, I did.”

“So, what are their names?”

“Welllll…. They’re… Anna, Elsa, Hannah, Harper, Molly, Marin, Grace, Lilly, Jojo, and Polly.”

“I thought one of them was Chenille.”

“Ohhhhh, right. This big one is Chenille. I just forgot.”

“You forg…”

“And these (points to fingers) are Lucille, Camille, and Chenille.”

“You also have a finger named Chenille?”

“Yes. They’re twins.”

fourth toes


“Mama – did you know that my toes can lose their teeth?”

Yet again, I’m not sure how to respond to that.

“They do! Chenille already lost hers.”

She did?

“Yes. Except when toes lose their teeth, the Tooth Fairy doesn’t bring them any money.”


“No. All they get is a letter and some glitter.”

That’s a bummer.

“Yeah. I’m glad I’m a person and not a toe.”

Aren’t we all.


You cannot make this stuff up.