The Measure of a Man

A few weeks ago, report cards came home.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a ‘B’ for Adrian in math, especially recalling the number of failed tests I discretely threw in the recycling bin.

“Good job,” I congratulated him.  “Way to go, you brought that grade up!”

He looked at the floor and shrugged.  I put my arm around him, thinking perhaps he was sad it wasn’t an ‘A.’  “Hey, buddy, that’s really great, I’m proud of you!”

He nodded and shrugged at the floor again.  This wasn’t the reaction I expected; usually he would be beaming.  “What’s wrong, aren’t you happy about it?”  I asked.

“Well….”  he began.  He sighed loudly.  “Well, maybe I was copying off my friend’s paper.”

“As in you were cheating?”  I asked.

“Just a little!”  He said.  “Ms. M might have to talk to you about it.”

“Oh geez.  Don’t cheat, Adrian.  It’s ok if you have lower grades, you don’t need to copy off your friend’s paper.  Just do your best.”

“I know,” he said.  “It’s just hard for me.  But I only did it a little bit.  Don’t worry, the teacher might not talk to you if I stop,” he said, patting my shoulder reassuringly.  “You never know!”  He said, regaining his usual brightness.  He grinned at me and ran downstairs.

Today, I attended a luncheon for the Middle School celebrating students who achieved a 4.0 last semester.  The principal talked about how hard it is to get straight A’s while I watched Stephen, my gifted protege.  It sure didn’t seem hard for him.  My own mother prayed I would get a ‘B’ so I would chill out and see the world didn’t end below 90% accuracy.

One of the best lessons I learned about grades was from my high school Honors English teacher.  She was calling us up one by one to talk about our grade in class.  My friend went up and returned to her desk smiling.

“What did she say?”  I whispered.

“She said I did a great job and she’s proud of me,” my friend replied.  “I got a B+!”

“Way to go,” I said, smiling sincerely at her.  Inside, I was thinking of the accolades I was sure to receive with my solid A.

When my turn came, the teacher said, “You have an A, 94%.”

“Great!”  I said with a smile.

The teacher looked up at me soberly from her desk.  “Not great,” she said.  “You haven’t been trying in class and I think you can do a lot better.  I’d like to see better work from you next semester.”

I was stunned.  She said “good job” to a B+ and “try harder” to an A!?  But as I returned to my desk, I realized she was right.  An A without effort didn’t mean much.  The next semester, I worked harder in her class than any other, and I don’t even know what my grade was at the end.  But I felt good, because I earned it.

I have nothing against grades, but when I attend ceremony after ceremony for Stephen, who has never had to study, and see Adrian struggling on the sidelines, I wonder what we’re celebrating exactly.  Don’t we have it backwards?  Why are we cheering for the kids who already have everything?  Maybe some of them worked for their 4.0, but what about the kids who worked for a 3.0?

This afternoon, I will go to Adrian’s parent/teacher conference, which Adrian is anxious about because he’s worried about what the teacher will say about his grades and his cheating.

“I already talked to her about copying your friend’s paper, and she said you turned it around,” I reassured him.  “And I don’t care what your grades are, as long as you’re doing your best.  I’d rather see a D you earned than a B you didn’t.”

Indeed, Adrian’s teacher selected him for the “Bobcat of the Quarter,” a character award, because he has been doing his own work and trying harder.  But his math grade has suffered for his honesty.  I am prouder of Adrian’s bobcat award than all of Stephen’s honor roll awards (though he got a couple bobcats in there as well!).

Last night, Adrian cried in distress about his upcoming conference.  “It’s just hard for me,” he said.  “I always fail everything.”  I rubbed his back until he calmed down.

“Adrian, what are the points of the scout law?”  I asked.

“A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent,” he recited immediately.

“Good.  Is there anything in there about grades?”  I asked.  He shook his head.  “Do you know the fruits of the spirit?”

He shrugged, less well-versed in these.

“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control,” I said.  “Those are the things God wants you to be.  Are grades in that list?”

He shook his head again.

I hugged him.  “The most important things in life have nothing to do with grades.  That’s not who you are.  You earned the Bobcat Award with your character.  You look at it and remember that, that’s what counts.”

He sniffled and smiled at me.

I think we like grades because they are numbers that are easy to get, and quantify achievement.  As grown-ups, I think we still look to numbers to calculate our self-worth: the numbers on our paycheck, our bank account, our Facebook page. But character is harder to measure.  I hope I can grow in the fruit of the spirit and points of the scout law along with my children, even though I will never get a number for them.

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Christmas Magic

Reid had a sad day on Monday.  Then on Tuesday, he had a no good, terrible, very bad day.

Reid and Will got brand new spider-man hoodies as an early Christmas present from Grandma.  I was going to wash them and write their names in them before wearing, as prudence dictates.  But of course R&W HAD to wear their hoodies to school IMMEDIATELY, as 5 year olds dictate.  It was Monday at 6:54 am–time for the bus–and I didn’t want to deal with meltdowns in my bleary-eyed state.  I threw caution to the wind.

“Don’t lose them this ONE DAY and I’ll wash them when you get home!”  I yelled down the driveway at their retreating backs.

I’m sure you already predicted the outcome.  Only one Spiderman hoodie came back.

“Really, guys!?  ONE DAY!”  I said.

“I left it on the playground, and when I went back to get it, it was gone!”  Wailed Reid.  “I hope a bad guy didn’t steal it!”

“I think your standard bad guy runs bigger than a child’s 6,”  I reassured him.  “Someone probably took it to lost& found.  Look there tomorrow!”

That evening, Reid lost his tooth while brushing his teeth and put it under his pillow, cheering him up.  He went to sleep with a smile on his face: “the tooth fairy will come tonight, and tomorrow I’m going to find my hoodie!”

The tooth fairy DID visit that night (Despite her unreliable reputation.  Tooth Fairy of the Many Excuses services our home: “a lot of kids lost teeth this week, she’s probably running behind” or “You lost it late in the day and she didn’t get the message during business hours” when she is less than prompt)

Reid excitedly discovered the dollar under his pillow, ate breakfast, and couldn’t find the dollar again….gone.  It went downhill from there: terrible, no good, very bad morning.

  1. Lost tooth fairy money
  2. Didn’t get to write the new day number on the “Days til Christmas” countdown whiteboard (Adrian beat him to it)
  3. Had to collect downstairs trash instead of upstairs trash (Will beat him to it)
  4. Amorphous daily advent calendar chocolate (very distressing to eat Christmas chocolate that doesn’t represent anything)
  5. Ran out of time to fill water bottle before school (due to excessive time spent crying about the above items)

And that was all before 7am!  “Love you, have a great day at school!”  I yelled down the driveway at their retreating backs.

They came home that day unable to find the hoodie or the dollar.

“We looked in Lost and Found,” Will said.

“I looked too and it’s not there!”  Adrian added.

“A BAD GUY STEALED IT!”  Reid wailed.

“I really don’t think a bad guy would take your sweatshirt.”

“Someone took it on the playground,” said Will.  “A first-grader took it but it has something from his nose on it.”

“What is his name!?  What do you mean there’s something from his nose on it?”

“J took it and we told him it was Reid’s!  Then he put something FROM HIS NOSE on it!”  Will said.

“Uh-oh.  Well try to get it back and I’ll come by today and look through the lost and found again.”

Reid patted my shoulder kindly.  His little blue eyes looked earnestly into mine.  “Don’t worry, Mom.  We’ll get it back.  Will asked the elf in his class.”

Will nodded proudly.  “I told Snowflake the elf we need help and to get it back for us!”

Oh dear.

“Ok, well that’s a thought too,” I offered (sorry to you elf on the shelf fans; loving your pics of elves tied to railroad tracks and pooping chocolate kisses and all, but the school using dolls to try to manipulate kids to cooperate at the end of the semester…. ?)

I drove to school to check out lost and found, full of faith in humanity and in my children’s inability to find things.  As I was handing over my ID at the front desk, attempting to enter the secure fortress that school has become, I noticed a spider-man hoodie sitting on the receptionist’s desk.

“That’s exactly what I’m looking for!” I exclaimed, pointing at it through the glass.

“What?  Oh no, this was just dropped off for another student with his lunch, that’s not yours,” she said.

“Oh ok, that’s funny,” I said.  I continued to stare at the bright red and blue jacket.

“But really, that looks EXACTLY like what my son lost.  It’s a brand new spider-man hoodie?  Size 6?  He left it on the playground and said maybe a first-grader took it by accident?  I didn’t have a chance to write his name on it yet.”

She picked up the hoodie and checked the tag.  No name.  “Hm, yes, size 6.”  She glanced at the receptionist next to her, then back at me.

“Who is that supposed to be for?”  The other receptionist asked her.

“J, in first grade,” she responded.

“That’s too small for a first grader, too,” the woman pointed out.

They shrugged and handed me the jacket.

Thanks, little elves….maybe we got some Christmas magic after all!  Do you have a connection to the Tooth Fairy and lost dollars?






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Bad Guys

On a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon, Stephen and I made apple pie together.  As we sliced, we talked.  I asked him what he learned at Sunday school that morning.

“Oh,” he said.  “Just safety stuff.”

“Yeah?  What kind of safety stuff?”

“Just what to do if there’s a fire or whatever.  And stranger danger.”

I nearly choked on an apple.  Stranger danger!?”

No disrespect, and I think our church is great….but Catholics warned him against stranger danger?  Let’s not pretend strangers are the greatest threat to my altar boy!

“Ok, stranger danger, but remember that unfortunately you are more likely to be hurt by someone you know.  A teacher, coach, pastor, priest, scout leader, family member etc?  Not someone jumping out of a bush.”

“Yeah yeah mom we don’t need to talk about it again!  I know I know!”

I sighed.  “I know, honey, it’s not something anyone likes to talk about.  I just want you to be aware that it’s not usually strangers who hurt kids.”

The next day on NPR, I heard the statistic that suicide has become the leading cause of death among adolescents.  And then a segment on what schools can do to prepare for shooters.

My boys like to play “good guys” and “bad guys.”  In their games, there is no confusion about who is who, and the good guys always win.  I smile at their play, and realize that “bad guys” live with Santa and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.   Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things, and it turns out they’re all the same; just people.

The person statistically most likely to shoot my son is himself.  A trusted friend or family member is statistically most likely to assault my children.

It’s more comforting to believe in bad guys.

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Exciting Life

When I tucked Reid into bed, he had a huge smile on his face.  He had lost his first tooth at lunch.  The school gave him a plastic tooth necklace to keep it safe, and he put it under his pillow.

“The tooth fairy hasn’t come yet,” he said.  “I felt my tooth and it’s still there!”

“She won’t come until you’re asleep!” I said.

He smiled and shivered with excitement.

“Are you happy?”  I asked.

“The tooth fairy is coming AND tomorrow is Johnny Appleseed Day!”  He exclaimed.  “It’s all so so so exciting!”

The wonderful life of Kindergarten!

(Though Reid and Will were disappointed that they still had to collect the trash and do chores on Johnny Appleseed day…they thought they’d get a pass due to the “holiday”!)



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Growing up: a poem

My son,

I see you.

Standing on the edge, razor thin

Between childhood and manhood


Growth hormone


Molecules steal my baby

In pieces every night


Are you the same person

Who shared my body

Sucked my breast

Slept in my bed


I feel like God.

I see your past

And your future

In the present time


Intimate love, bodies mingled



Another woman



Standing on tiptoes to kiss a rough cheek


Your lips suckling in the dark



I see you.

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Mystery floater

You give away the diapers, your kids are all at school, you think you’re coasting on Easy Street, and then you hear from the bathroom:



“There’s poop in the tub.”

“What do you mean there’s…..oh my God….THERE’S POOP IN THE TUB!!  Boys, who pooped in the tub!?”

Reid and Will turned red and looked at each other.  They shrugged.

Reid offered, “I don’t know.  Wasn’t me.”

Will said, “I don’t know.  Wasn’t me.”

Eric said, “Someone sat there LOOKING at the toilet one foot away while he pooped in the tub!  Seriously, who did that?”

Reid and Will exchanged guilty looks.  “I didn’t do it,” they chorused.

I got Reid and Will out of the tub and into our shower while Eric sanitized the tub.  “Two guilty faces and a turd in the tub but no one did it,” he fumed as he cleaned.

The next evening at dinner, we were discussing the incident and chuckling.

“Still no confessions?”  I asked.  “Maybe they really didn’t realize they did it.  What do you think, Reid?”

Reid shrugged.  “I don’t know.  It wasn’t me.”

“What do you think, Will?”

Will shrugged.  “I don’t know.”

“Willy…..”  Eric prompted.

Finally Will looked up with a little shy smile.  “Well,” he said.  “My body made me do it!”



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Young Love

I discovered Stephen has two girls harboring crushes on him.  The first, from last year, was revealed to me and Eric at a parent/teacher conference.

“I assume you know all about A,” the teacher said with a smile and raised eyebrows.

Eric and I looked blank.  “A?  Who is A?”

“Oh my!  You don’t know about A!?  The whole school day, it’s ‘A and me this, Stephen and A that,’ they’re practically joined at the hip, it’s so cute.”

We had never heard her name mentioned.  When I asked Stephen about her, he turned red and then hid behind the couch.

“Stephen?”  I asked the couch.  “Stephen?  It’s ok, I was just wondering about her.  Your teacher told us you’re good friends.”

No response from the couch.

Then later, Stephen complained,  “It’s so annoying that everyone thinks A and I like each other.  People are always teasing us about it.  And it’s not even true, I don’t like her.”

“Well, sometimes people think the more you say you don’t like someone, the more you actually do.  You protest too much, as the saying goes.”

“No that’s not it!” Said Stephen.

“Kids also think it’s fun to get a rise out of people.  So the more excited you get about it, the more people will tease you because you get worked up.”

“Even you tease me about it,” He said glumly.

“What!?  How?”

“You ask me about her all the time!  And you make funny faces!  Like your face is funny right now!”

“Well, it is awfully entertaining to watch you turn colors and hide,” I admitted.  “You shouldn’t make it so fun to tease you.  Also, you will be having different feelings as you go through puberty, and I want you to know that I’m always here for you and we can talk about anything and….Stephen?…..  Hello? …….. Couch, have you seen Stephen?”

And another day, “People keep saying A and I like each other but I told them all I don’t like her.”

“How do you think she feels?”


“Does she like you?”

“I have no idea!”

“Maybe you should find out.  What if she likes you and you’re running around telling everyone you don’t like her.  How do you think that makes her feel?”

His face looked blank.  “Um…..I never thought about that.”

“Yeeeah.” I said.  “So maybe don’t make such a big deal about not liking her?  It could hurt her feelings.”

“Oh.  How do you know when you like someone?”  He asked.

“You think about them all the time.  You wonder when you might see them; if you’ll pass them in the hall or see them in the cafeteria.  You think about what they’re doing, and if they like you.  If your eyes meet in line at lunch, you wonder if you should smile or pretend you didn’t see them in case they don’t like you after all….. *sigh* young love.”

“Ew Mom, that’s weird.  Did you feel like that with Dad!?”

“Oh yeah!” I responded.

He shook his head with apparent relief.  “Well, that’s just weird.  I don’t have that,” He said.

He and A kept in touch over the summer and are in many of the same classes this year.  Now he has also made friends with our neighbor, T.

“Stephen and I are going to the fall dance together,” T informed me casually as she breezed in the house one day.

“Oh really?”  I asked.  “I didn’t know there was a dance!”

“Yup,” she said.  “And we’re going.”

“Ok, cool.  That sounds like fun,” my cool-mom persona remarked.

Going together!?  What does that mean, ‘together’!!!???  Does that mean ‘together’ like ‘we’re both going to happen to be there at the same time together’ or does that mean ‘together together’!?  And what is ‘together together’ in 6th grade???   I don’t remember!  What is happening!!???

T’s grandmother confided in me that T was anxious about asking Stephen to go.  The grandmother counseled T she should let the boy ask and be patient, but T didn’t want to wait and asked him right away.  Possibly due to his friendship with A?  Could Stephen be involved in a love triangle he doesn’t know exists?

“Thank goodness she asked,” I said.  “Stephen is just a typical boy, he isn’t thinking like that yet.  I don’t think it would have ever occurred to him to ask anyone to a dance.  He probably would have forgotten there was a dance until the night before!  Poor T would have waited all month for nothing!”

After “the ask,” T had gone home to her grandma, bouncing and excited that Stephen “said yes.”  When I asked Stephen what happened, he shrugged.  “She asked me if I wanted to go, and I said, ‘sure.’  Why not?”  He barely looked up from the comics he was reading.

This non-response, as opposed to hiding, beet-faced, behind the couch?  A mark of maturity, or a sign that A is winning the battle for Stephen’s heart?  Did he learn to play it cool to avoid further questions and funny faces?  Or am I reading too much into it yet again?

As my mind raced with possibilities, I thought of us poor adolescent girls, anxiously planning the purposeful-accidental-meeting in the hall, dreaming of that coincidental-hand-brush as we both reach for the napkins, feeling crushed when no one asked us to the dance….while the boys were probably just thinking about lunch, clueless about our internal drama.


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