King of the wild cards

This post is an inside window into what it’s like sending my sensory-driven son Regan to first grade. He is blessed: with an amazing school, a small classroom, and a wonderful teacher who loves him–Miss Yvonne Yoder. Though I wrote the post as if to her, she knows every bit of it already. And more. It’s just for you, so you can see in… and for me, so I can see too.


Dear Teacher,

When I enter your classroom my eyes are big and blue, tinted almost with fear though I am not afraid. Where you see a single image, I see a thousand—a host of colors and shapes shouting at me to attend. I feel a little dizzy, my pupils wide.

I walk slightly stiff-legged. Maybe I’m acting a little babyish because I’m so excited. Maybe I’m pretending I’m a robot. I love pretending. I especially like pretending to be a robot, because the jerky arms and legs help me feel calm and focused.

I like my robot lunchbox with the flashing eyes and I like show and tell and I really like how I feel when you get down on my level and smile at me. I can’t stand being last in line and I can’t stand raising my hand if you don’t call on me and I can’t stand chapel because it’s so boring to sit still. I respond better to hand signals than words and I will have an ear infection in the first month of school and I spell my name wrong on purpose.

I love recess. I love our alphabet rhymes with hand motions. I love art class. You will always be able to tell my art from the others’ because I will find a way to make it mine. Once when you told us to sign our work, I wrote Regan Regan Regan Regan Regan all around the edge of the paper. I was so happy with my painting and I wanted everyone to know who made it.

I always need to know about relationships. I need to know what game is rowdiest and which child is kindest and whose backpack is coolest. I always know who my first best friend is, and my second best friend, and my third best friend, and fourth best friend. This all changes multiple times a day, but I never lose track. When I am angry at someone, he is immediately demoted to my last best friend.

I want people to like me, though I don’t really know how to make them do it. I bet your substitute teacher doesn’t like me as much as T, because she gave him the best notebook and called on him twice and me once. I will stick out my tongue at that teacher when she is not looking, and when she catches me I will pretend I never heard of a tongue before, much less this “sticking it out” bit. I am very good at pretending.

I like to know what I can get away with. I had to find out if you’d really take away a joy stick if I was naughty, and sure enough you did; but I’m pretty sure that your teacher’s aide wouldn’t. See? I got away with it.

You will learn to watch me like a hawk because I am king of the wild cards. Happy to furious to crying to laughing—I can do it all in 10 seconds flat. I will beat up on somebody someday and run away from you a few times and try your patience to no end. I’ll be an angel one day and a devil the next. It’s good you’ve taught a lot of kids before me; you will need every bit of your wisdom.

I hate to put you through all this but I love you a lot and there’s no one else I’d rather do it to…

I will amaze you and baffle you, charm and repel you. You may love me or not, conquer me or not, but I’m pretty sure you will never forget me.



Ideas for packed lunches

Confession: I always start out the school year with grand ideas for great variety in my children’s packed lunches; and sometime near January I find I’ve fallen into a rut—a.k.a. “same-same every day, all along the way…”

Would you help me prevent the slump by sharing some of your favorites?

My tech support guy* created this wonderful interactive table for me, below, in which you may share your ideas with the class! Don’t be shy; it looks complicated but it’s not. Just click and type.

*(I really like my tech support guy. I’m considering proposing marriage, but that may be premature; I don’t want to freak him out.)

What lights up eyes and fills up tummies midday? What’s simple? What’s nutritious? What’s new? Mommies are good at planning such things; so are teachers and working women! Let’s brainstorm.


Update: This sharing forum stayed open for one week, but now it’s read-only. If you want to add your ideas, use the comment section below the post.

Thank you so much for all the lovely options! I know why I asked you…

The work of a critic

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so…

– Anton Ego, food critic in Ratatouille


Confession: I love critiquing.

One of the wonderful things about the school to which I send my sons (Faith Builders Christian) is that it’s a training school: a place to equip teachers as well as pupils. That means for several weeks each fall, new people from across the country will take turns in my children’s classrooms. They make yards of lesson plans. They teach classes. They get videoed. They receive endless evaluation forms. They learn from their mistakes. They get better.

Their instructors teach them, critique them, hone them… and call in a few community people to offer an outside perspective. I get to sit and watch from my comfy chair in the back row, and write down “anything I think is significant.” Do they teach well? Do they invite student involvement? How do they manage the classroom? Do they use questions and equipment effectively? How do they relate with the children? How do they respond to difficult situations? Can they problem-solve on the fly?

I write it all down.

And I know that they are braver than I.

It takes little courage to critique, and much to create. In fact, sometimes the act of offering critique is so delightful that we get stuck there for most of our lives, sniffing out the best of the best (teachers, coffee, art, music, love)… so occupied in passing judgment on everyone else’s contributions that we can ignore the small memo “I am creating nothing of value myself.”

My husband calls it aspirational paralysis: when unable to meet my own high expectations, I end by producing nothing. I call it cowardice, though I—.


I am the aspirational paralysis case study.

Anyone who breaks free from it is worthy of a hat tip.


Can you create and present with courage a thing you know is flawed? What? How?

Fall is coming.

I hear it in the crickets singing of an evening. I smell it in the pumpkin and cinnamon baking together in a dozen muffin cups. I feel it in the air, a softening and slowing.

In the spring I think perhaps spring is my favorite season, and in the summer I think maybe it is summer; but come fall I know.

There is a tangible loosening in the tight loins of our schedule, like a large woman sighing out of her corset.

There is hot tea again (Beautiful tea. It tastes just right in the fall.) and spiced and comfortable food.

There are new school supplies, sharp and smooth and colorful. I walk my second son to the door of his first grade classroom, and my big boy to fourth. I am smiling in order to hide a complex mix of anticipation and fear and hope and aging. They are just smiling. Ear to ear. Oh yes; I know why I send them.

There is the longing Mr. Lewis called joy, the reaching for an infinite otherness that is never… quite.



What says “fall” to you more than anything else? Tell me.

Black belt loops and baloney

Confession: The dress pants I bought for my son Aarick at Walmart, though perfect in size, style, and color, lacked a crucial feature requiring Post-Market Modification. I bought them knowing this. But it still took me right up until an-hour-before-his-school’s-spring-program to get down to business and modify them…

No belt loops.

I could not find kids’ black dress pants with belt loops. So I bought kids’ (yes) black (check) dress pants (check) without belt loops.

And fixed them at home.

I planned to create matching belt loops out of his brother’s worn-out pair. (Not his own pair—those got passed down to his brother, freeing up his brother’s shiny-kneed pants [which had already been through two kids] for cutting up into belt loops.) (If you followed that sentence, comment and I’ll send you something. Well, maybe just a prayer. For your prosperity and felicity.)

(Life is complicated.)

(Where was I?)

Oh yes. BUT. One-hour-before-the-program did not lend itself to extensive poring over raw material. So I pulled out some sturdy black ribbon. Cut 2 ¼ inch lengths. Burned the edges with a match so they wouldn’t fray. Folded them under. Sewed them on.

black pants black belt loop

Now that’s what I’m talkin about.

Hmm. If only I could fix his belt… which was reversible and broke after a single week of use… Elmer’s glue did not work and the only other thing I can think of is duct tape. Even I have slight scruples about using that. (Slight.)

Sometimes I worry that my son will grow up with scars from wearing his brother’s belt and black-ribbon belt loops on stage. And then I think—Oh what the world. I wore worse and look at me. Coming off antidepressant meds and getting lost in parentheses. How bad can it be?


Do you jerry-rig clothing? What and how?