My hands are starting to look more and more like my mother’s.  It recently occurred to me that those little freckles on my hands might not be freckles at all.  Oh the horror!

I looked at myself in the mirror this morning and was shocked to see a 40-something woman staring back at me.  This happens every morning, and the soundtrack that goes with it – the soundtrack of screaming, whining children who have the nerve to remind me that I’m 41, not 21, and a mother now to boot!  It’s particularly unnerving after a night of dreaming I’m 20 again.  I would like to throw the covers back over my head and say, “go away! I’m not your mother!”  But I don’t.

I don’t have any wrinkles yet – just three deeply furrowed lines across my forehead, lending a certain likeness to Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants.  They are like a daily advertisement for my previously well-hidden anxiety:  worrier! worrier!  And so the day came when it suddenly seemed pertinent to have bangs again.  Cheaper than Botox.  Less painful too, and without that look of perpetual surprise.  Besides, how can I cock a mischievious eyebrow that won’t move?

My dad says it’s the oily skin he’s passed down to me, that keeps the wrinkles at bay.  In truth – at 61 – he is remarkably youthful looking.  Except for that other genetic gift he’s given me – the gift of premature gray.  Totally gray at 30, he was.  My mother, being blonde, would catch up to him within a decade.  Thank you Mom and Dad, and thank you L’Oreal, for preserving my brunette locks for the last ten years.  Hey – I’m not vain – I just don’t want to look old.  Not yet.

It’s true what they say – you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.  I don’t know whether it was my insecurities, or the fashion of the time, that kept me well-covered in my teens and early 20s.  Everything was boxy, baggy or loose.  The provocative way teens dress  today – that was certainly not “our” style back then.   Proms of the 80’s – Gunne Sax; proms today – Fredericks of Hollywood.  Nonetheless, in retrospect, I had every reason to show off what I had, but never the nerve.

Now I’m 41, with 41 year old hands, San Andreas faultlines in my forehead you could see from the moon and… stretch marks.  Stretch marks aren’t so bad – they are what we mothers would like to think of as our hard-won battle scars, or, silvery badges of honor.  I can live with them, and the stubborn gray hairs that won’t take the hint.

Perhaps the most shocking change of all was my chest.  Did you know that breasts have their very own process of evolution?  Neither did I.  The mean girls in 7th grade had a nickname for me and my breasts – an alliterative phrase that did its best to make a virtual child feel badly for a lack of what still had plenty of time to grow.  And grow they did.  Well, with a little help from Ortho Novum 777.  After I got over that “if those girls could see me now” feeling, I started to hate the full cup size I’d gained – for the monthly painful swelling and the self-consciousness I felt.  Years later, I stopped the “pill-juice” as my sorority sisters used to call it, and happily greeted my smaller breasts.

Pregnancy would change all that.  It was like pill-juice times 10.  And what happens two days after birth, my friends?  Forget it.  I had a pair of melons that no bra could contain.  These things defied everything but gravity.  But, two breastfed children later, and evolution struck again – presumably for the last time, since I fail to see what natural direction is left.  One day I swear I woke up and wondered what the hell happened to my breasts?  No longer full and “perky,” they resembled two golf balls suspended in a pair of tube socks.

What IS the preoccupation with breasts?   Men, women, even children.  Ava tries to put on my bras sometimes and it’s funny even if it isn’t much larger than her small torso.  She wonders when she’ll get them.   I tell her, when you’re old enough.  In good time. 

Trials and tribulations

We made it!  We made it!  We made it to Week 9 and haven’t killed each other yet.  

Oh school week 9, oh school week 9,
Oh how I love you, school week 9. 
I never thought I’d see the day, 
I really thought there’d be no way.
Oh school week 9, oh school week 9, 
How good to see it’s school week 9.  

Week 9 means we’ve finished the first quarter – the first quarter!  And to think I thought I wouldn’t last an hour!  Really, I’m not easily daunted, but that first week I felt like I was trying to tame the world’s first wild animal armed with nothing more than a pencil.  The end of every one of those days rendered me as useless as turnip – resembling something pleasant but slightly sour when compared to the original with limited capabilities.  After one day of frantic text messages to husband during lessons whereby I threatened nothing short of self-mutilation, he sent me back his compassionate response, “sorry.”  Sweet vindication!  That one word was all I needed to brave the rest of tropical storm Ava.  Because he heard me.  

So we have wrapped up Week 9 by taking her second online fluency assessment and a reading comprehension assessment, the latter being a straightforward exam with multiple choice answers all of which she answered correctly.  The former is meant to gauge what she knows so far.  Basically there are letters and words on the screen and she has to say aloud what they are/sounds they make/whether they are uppercase or lowercase.  The computer records her voice.  At this point it might be rather obvious the difficulties this can present.  The only prompt I can offer is to point to the words on the screen and pray she not only answers them correctly, but actually says something at all. You might say it’s a very awkward way to test a 5-year-old on their knowledge:  “okay, first I will point to it and you say what you see.  Now, you only have 60 seconds so HURRY UP!”  No wonder her stress hormones kick her blood sugar up to 250.

The quarterly DORA/DOMA assessments – the other online assessments Pa Cyber uses to as a “tool” for parents and teachers to gauge the students progress in math and reading – works much like the PSSA’s with their multiple choice answers.  The program is designed to tailor her next questions based on her answers to the previous ones.  I am not permitted to prompt or help in any way, so I just sit there biting my nails while she “guesses” at the answers she doesn’t know.  What disturbs me is that she has to guess at all – because the program won’t “finish” until she’s answered.  She can’t just “quit.”  So here it is:  what if she guesses correctly?  If so, how can her scores be accurate?

I remember my own Sat’s in grade school, when the teachers told us not to leave blank answers, but rather give our best guess.  How can this be an accurate assessment of a school’s progress?  I find myself wondering whether our students in this No Child Left Behind era are instructed to answer every question.   Again, how can these tests then be accurate measurement of progress??  Obviously this is a much bigger problem than I care to dissect right now – I’ve got smaller fish to fry.

Which leaves me pondering my older fish and how much help is too much help and – on some days – whether to help at all.  Owen needs me to sit with him during homework.  He needs me.  I think it’s really his way of sequestering me in a room with him so he has me all to himself.  I am happy and willing to help, though I keep trying to tell him I may not be his best choice for math assistance but so far fourth grade math isn’t above my head.

So last night Owen was again finishing up homework at bedtime AND he wanted my help because he “just didn’t get it.”  His first mistake was waiting until bedtime. His second was demanding my time during Grey’s Anatomy.  I’m not a selfish mom – I don’t ask for more than one – ONE – show a week to watch uninterrupted.  And he crossed the line.  BUT, I helped him find the answer to his embryology question in the book he had supposedly already read.  And then went online to get a real definition of trends in line graphs, so I could better explain the question he had to answer in math.  Me – the one who for the first 3 years of high school couldn’t make honor roll because of my grades in algebra, trig and geometry – explaining math concepts to my fourth grader.  My parents ought to get a good laugh out of that by now.

And why let him slack off all day after school?  Because I was painting my toenails, eating bon bons and watching Oprah?  No.  Because I was under the impression he was finished and I had housework to do.  He asks for help and when I do help I am “wrong” and he wants to “do it [his] way!”  Well, then, I’ll just get back to folding my laundry.  The drama escalates when dad is home, like it did last night, because dad wanted to know why he was still working this late.  The little traitor told dad that “mom won’t help me.”  This preceded the meltdown that followed my final attempt to help him answer the line graph question when the truth came out:  he wanted me to give him the answer, word for word.  Which, as any parent knows, is a bad idea.  So I tried to talk him through it and he just had a meltdown, with tears and the voice of a thousand jetliners above your ears.  So I did it:  I recited it, word by precious word.  And then my grateful little man said to me, “no! I want to do it in my own words!”

This was the second night this week too – the other meltdown precipitated by a lack of preparation for the social studies test.  He had insisted earlier that he studied.  But later, when I asked him  (at his request, mind you) questions from the study guide he couldn’t answer, it became painfully clear there was a whole page he didn’t know.  So I got angry.  He cried.  And then he told me that I wasn’t “reviewing it right” and that he just wanted to “read over it” with me.  But he was so hysterical because at this point he was exhausted and knew he wasn’t ready.  So I sent him to bed and made him get up early the next morning to study again.  I was more angry at myself for not enforcing the week-night rules about television and Wii.  And doesn’t he come home today with an A on that test???!!!