Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Have News

So I have news.

Funny, even when you've perhaps -- just maybe -- celebrated your fiftieth birthday, say the word "news", and everyone -- and I mean everyone -- assumes the news is the kind that arrives in about nine months.

Well, I have news.

But it's not that news.

I want to type, "We are moving," but we're not moving for a while. I think about saying, "We're buying a house," and as long as I stick to the present progressive, that's true. The most accurate report would be, "We have a contract to buy a house." Our mortgage papers say, "You're almost home," but it doesn't necessarily feel that way day to day. It's a process, and as I'm learning, it's a l-o-n-g one.

The whole thing came out of the blue and spanned about the seventy two hours from House Is Available to Contract Signed.  As I told someone, Dave and I have put more time into buying a coffee maker than we did into buying this house.

There's nothing like a chat with a real estate agent or a mortgage broker to make you feel stupid with a capital "S". These people couldn't be nicer, but they speak another language. Oh, the terms! Oh, the forms! Oh, the documents! Points and earnest money, escrow accounts and mortgage insurance, inspections and termite letters. It's another world entirely. At one point I turned to Dave and said, "And this is why we do this every eighteen years."

Stage I is The Contract.

Stage II is The Financing. Stage II is far more complicated and time consuming than Stage I and essentially involves locating hard copies of every last shred of paper related to your financial life and converting them to electronic copies so that the mortgage folks can turn them back into hard copies, mail them to you Fed Ex, have you verify them, and return them once again.

Rain forests, beware.

A new level of crazy and totally exposes the myth of "the paperless environment" all those nice computer folks promised us long ago.

Stage III is The Yard Sale, and it took place Saturday. Words fail me here. I could pen a passionate and humorous post on the merits and pitfalls of yard sales, but let me leave it at this: There must be far, far easier ways to score a hundred bucks. We are so beyond exhausted.

The thought of moving, or more precisely the thought of showing our house, has been, hmmmm, motivating. See, Stage IV is Showing the House. The ink wasn't dry on the contract, and I was zipping to Lowe's to buy flowers for my front window. Curb appeal and all that. 'Cause twelve bucks worth of pansies will sell this house, no doubt about it. Seriously, this is a combination of people over for dinner, my tidiest friend dropping by unannounced, and my mother-in-law planning a lengthy visit.

I look at everything in a new light.

And this is all good except that it doesn't jibe well with Stage III - The Yard Sale, Subtitle: Relocate the Entire Contents of the Attic to Your Living Room. Lest you think I exaggerate, on Friday my living room looked like this:

It wasn't too, too bad because until the night before Stage III, the towering mess was confined to one room. I can deal with contained mess. Mostly. Then it was transferred to the front lawn. The unsold items were then transferred to Goodwill or The Fall Fare which, conveniently, is in three weeks. Maybe five items came back into the house.

For most of my adult life, I have considered myself a moderate minimalist. There's nothing like an impending move or a renovation to put that premise to the acid test. I have my areas of excess -- books and teapots, mostly -- but I really have worked to keep things pared down. We support two yard/rummage sales per year, and I have always fancied myself a great contributor.

Faced with a) showing my house and then b) moving the entire contents, I have gone to the darkest corners of the attic, plumbed the far reaches of every closet -- and discovered that any pretensions I have of being "A Minimalist" are so far off course as to be comical. I hereby surrender my Minimalist Card, exposing myself for the impostor that I am. I will don sackcloth leftover from an All Saints' costume and sit in front of The Dollar Tree shouting "unclean, unclean." A dozen lashes with those broken Christmas lights I've been hanging on to for ten years!

Everyone, I am convinced, should touch every surface, every item really, once per year.  Our current house boasts two spacious attics. This, I now realize, is not necessarily a good thing. My mother-in-law always talks about moving into a house with no garage, no basement. I see her point. If you have the storage, it will come -- and it will bring a few companions along for the ride. Things like certificates from high school Model United Nations conferences, notebooks from nuclear engineering classes taken a quarter of a century ago, a piggy back I bought when I was eight, the one and only trophy I have ever earned. Tennis. Most improved.

We've made some fun discoveries.

There have been discoveries nostalgic -- I nearly swooned over Tim's first tennies.

There have been discoveries practical -- a brand new, never been used tea kettle.

There have been discoveries gross -- a set of crutches with arm pads that had liquefied in the balmy climate of our attic.

And there have been boxes and boxes and boxes. I'm talking empty ones. A few weeks ago, I found a box labelled "Empty Box," and I'm not even making that up. If I buy a skateboard or a radio or an iron, I always wonder if I'll need to return it. If it's gift, I wrap it and toss the box in the attic. Multiply this by eighteen years, and we've pretty well insulated the attic with cardboard. The good news is that a third of attic needed nothing more than flattening and tossing in the recycling can.

When I get a few minutes I plan to draft a brilliant and inspiring piece called "You Should Live in the Kind of House You'd Show Potential Buyers or Your Mother-in-Law." It's a working title -- a bit wordy, I know.  We all have To Do Lists, and sometimes they languish like so many good intentions. People have varying degrees of time, money, energy, and skill when it comes to home improvement. But the truth is, I thought about showing the house and planted flowers in the span of an hour. I plan to touch up the woodwork here, finally finish installing a doorknob there,  For at least a year, I've planned to get an estimate on recovering a set of chairs. I got the estimate. Forward march! We're not renovating the kitchen or adding a deck, but we're finishing projects and de-cluttering and sprucing up, and some of the results are startling. I showed Tim his clutter-free closet, and he put his arm around me and said, "Wow, Mom."

If we can accomplish "Wow, Mom" for other people, why don't we do it for ourselves?

Pep talk over.

When we close -- in forty-four days, but who's counting? -- I will post pictures. Until then, it seems premature. As I said, it's a process and a l-o-n-g one. We covet your prayers.

We are absolutely exhausted. We are excited. We are grateful.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Boy and His Fort

John had his buddy Henry over a while back, and they decided to build a fort. The Fort is now John's reason for getting up in the morning.
I can overlook "aloud" --  tricky things, those homonyms -- but the superfluous apostrophe? Ouch.

It started off rough. Then they added a mailbox. And if you're going to have a mailbox, you certainly need mail. John came to me with a sheaf of papers.

"Can I use these," he asked.

"What are you going to do with them," I wondered.

He leaned in slightly and in a conspiratorial tone said, "Secret stuff."

Secret stuff. Of course. And off he ran to do his secret stuff.

The next day he wanted to install carpet. Since I was planning a yard sale, I had an old rug to contribute. I had to laugh when John returned a few minutes later to borrow the vacuum.

Today the addition went in. I found John and his friend Jonah on the roof of the fort pounding planks into the roof of the addition. I wondered where they got the wood and then wondered if Dave would have to be resuscitated when he learned of this development.

No worries.

Our seven-year-old can pound a straight nail. Dave's one proud Papa. He headed for the workroom to grab a power saw and a drill. Suddenly the project became a father-son endeavor.

The addition, it turns out, is a jail.

Ainsley came running to me with a grim report. "If I get a bad grade," she told me, "John said he'd nail me into the prison."

I don't think he intended to nail her actual person. I think the door to the jail doesn't yet have a hinge, so the only way to close it is to nail it shut. Daddy will take care of that, no doubt.

Seven-year-old boys.

Absolutely precious.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Year of the Tooth

The past twelve months have found us spending an inordinate amount of time where I least enjoy it -- namely, the dentist's office. To be precise, I should type dentists' offices, plural, and add to that the oral surgeon's office, the orthodontist's office, and, worst of all, the endodontist's office.

Trust me, neither you nor your bank account should hang out in any of these places.

I had a cracked tooth which resulted in a crown followed by a minor breakdown in the endodontist's chair followed by a root canal followed by a second crown followed by the mother of all canker sores and two more breakdowns, one in the dentist's office which resulted in prescription that would deaden any level of mouth pain and probably a compound fracture of the femur and the second one at the pharmacist's counter.

God bless the hapless, baby-faced cashier at Barney's pharmacy who had the misfortune of waiting on Kelly in agony following weeks of dental work. Our interaction ran something like this:

Hapless cashier, Day 1: You're here for The Wonder Drug. Our compounding pharmacist has left for the day. Would you mind coming back tomorrow?
Kelly in Agony, Day 1: ???
Hapless Cashier, Day 2: You're here for The Wonder Drug. Our compounding pharmacist has left for the day. Would you mind coming back tomorrow?
Kelly in Agony, Day 2: ??????
Hapless Cashier, perceptively suspecting that I did, in fact, mind coming back tomorrow: When did you need this?
Kelly in Agony: Yesterday. Y-e-s-t-e-r-d-a-y.
Hapless Cashier: Let me see if the owner is here.

There simply are no words. No words. None.

Meanwhile Tim, aged sixteen, had no twelve-year molars. This wasn't too terribly surprising for the kid who sprouted his first tooth at fourteen months, but a quick x-ray showed wisdom teeth coming in at odd angles and blocking the molars. On to the oral surgeon for an extraction that left us with a dopey but sweet Tim for a few days.

Not one to be left out, Kolbe arrived for his semi-annual dental check with two molars hanging on by a thread. Problem was, a month later they were hanging on by a tad more than a thread. Like Kudzu on a telephone pole, the thread just grew until the day Kolbe ran into our friend Larry who is a dentist. "Hey, Uncle Larry," Kolbe said. "Look at this."

Larry took a quick look and informed me that  those molars were no longer hanging on by any kind of thread. If we wanted them out, they would have to be pulled. So one shot of Novocaine and $250 later, those molars were gone, baby, gone.

Then John got into the action. He had  a loose tooth that seemed to growing less loose by the day. I told him the Tooth Fairy was running a special -- ten bucks a tooth but the offer expired at the end of the week. My kids will do a lot for cold, hard cash. Out came the tooth, and I figure I saved myself $115.

I was determined to avoid dental repairs of all varieties by a simple, two-step method: A mouth-guard at night would help avoid a repeat performance on the cracked tooth and more diligent flossing would do, I don't know, something positive I guess. Right? Because flossing is good for you. Or so they say.

And then my teeth started to throb. Again. And the pain was suspiciously like the pain of the previous year that cost me hours and hours in the dental chair and more cash then I care to calculate. I decided to do the sensible thing and block out the pain through a combination of denial and excessive amounts of Advil.

The pain grew worse as my dental exam drew nigh. At least they'll be impressed with all my flossing, I thought. Not so. I guess my flossing was a little too energetic. I managed to expose roots and this, apparently, is a bad thing. But cheaper than a crown. And much cheaper than a crown plus a root canal plus risking the life of a teenage cashier and all the legal issues that would have entailed.

Ainsley, John, and Kolbe headed to the dentist last week. No cavities! But John has a tooth coming in at a bizarre angle. And it's trapping a baby tooth. And now the baby tooth has to be pulled, and I don't think the Tooth Fairy Special is going to get it to budge. The dentist ran through the arrangements with me including the menu of narcotics that tend to make the process go smoother. I wondered aloud which drugs they offer the mother.

Sadly, the mother gets nothing but the bill.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Ainsley's signature week 1.
Ainsley's signature week 4.

Now teachers, they call this progress. Dave looked at it and said, "Ainsley can write an "s" correctly?"

Yes, dear, she can. But on the up side, she handed me this the other day:

At least the "Y" is still backwards.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Teenagers, Plural

So we've now experienced approximately eight consecutive days as the parents of teenagers, plural. Naturally, I feel compelled to write about the whole, albeit brief, adventure.

At last count we had two teenagers in the house. Now, plenty of families have three or more teenagers. My parents nearly had four. I did some rough math the other night, and I think my younger sister was twelve and three quarters when my brother turned twenty. My long-suffering parents nearly had four teenagers living at home at one point. Let the record reflect we gave them a run for their money, and it's not without reason that my mother has a bit of a nervous twitch.

I have friends who will one day be able to say they have five teenagers under the roof. Hello, Rachel! Click here to get Rachel's observations on life with teenagers. You can survive and even thrive, though your grocery budget may not.

Yes, it's true. They eat everything in sight. The grocery bills are astounding. Their clothes aren't cheap. Their shoes cost even more. So all of you moms of littles who hit the yard sales and consignment stores, keep it up. The pickings are slim once puberty sets in. You don't often find a bargain on size 11 men's shoes.

Hanging on.
But while sticker shock is, well, shocking, the real challenge for me falls under the category of  what I call The Agenda.

Here's a typical scenario:
Nameless Teenage Boy: Yeah, well, we're all working on our t.v. commercial for Civics and it's worth 900 points and it's due tomorrow and we have to get together and we're headed to the river and it's totally fine with all the other parents and we're leaving in a few minutes . . . oh, they're here right now, so can I go?
Bewildered Parent: ?????
Note that every Agenda has three required components:

1. It's Now!
2. It's New!
3. You're the only parent in this limitless solar system who has ever had the slightest qualm, misgiving, catch in the old spirit about whatever it is.
Hanging on.

Let's examine these points one by one.

1. It's now!

Nothing is ever Next Saturday or The Day After Tomorrow. No, no, no. It's now or never. The future tense barely exists for the average American teenager. They are in the driveway, revving the engine, late, late, late for a very important date and the only thing gumming up the whole works is YOU.

2. It's New!

New is far more troubling than Now. This age is chock-full of Firsts. Deodorant, driving, shaving, braces, acne, checking accounts. Now Firsts can be nerve wracking at any age. I remember when it dawned on me that John really, truly could walk two doors down to the neighbor's to borrow a cup of sugar without any fear of repercussions from the Department of Family and Children's Services. I recall when John and Ainsley could play in our backyard without me hovering over them. When Kolbe could ride his bike to a friend's house.

Hanging on. 
We all struggle with these Firsts, of course, but Teenage Firsts are extra worrisome and when they're your First Teenage Firsts, they're downright alarming. Because they involve cars or boats. Because they usually happen at night. Because they're typically unsupervised. Because they might even include girls.

3. What's Your Problem?

To hear a certain nameless teenager talk, no one else in the state of Georgia spends Sundays with the family. No one else is expected to dine at home on a regular basis. No one else is hampered by such trivial matters as homework, orthodontist's appointments, piano lessons, chores, sleep, Mom's sanity, the family budget, etc.

Every other parent  -- and I mean every. last. one. of. them. -- is a-okay with (insert something never done before, something you've never even envisioned your child doing).

(Here I should admit that there is a slight element of truth in this, just a shred. Tim is an oldest child who is friends with a whole bunch of youngest children.  Many of these parents are grizzled veterans. Been there, done that, don't sweat some things that are, in Tim's vernacular, epic to his uninitiated parents.)

I remember running a youth ministry event when I was young and single. The phone rang. It was my good friend on the line. Her oldest daughter was en route to the party and was driving alone for the first time ever! Would I please call back and tell Mom that Daughter had arrived and do it all clandestinely so that Daughter wouldn't know that Mom was on her knees with a rosary and a box of Kleenex wondering how Daughter had graduated from a Barbie bike with training wheels to a mini-van in the blink of an eye and who on earth decided that sixteen was a reasonable age to issue a driver's license and Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, pray for us.

I get it.

My dear friend Bob V, father of many, had a stock response when his kids would come to him with the dreaded Agenda: I'll let you know in ten minutes. Ten minutes. Enough time to ask the question: Am I crazy or is he? Enough time to confer with the spouse because if there's one absolute in parenting it's United We Stand; Divided We Fall. Enough time to assess other priorities and to offer a Yes that is confident or a No that is reasonable and not simply a knee-jerk response to the fact that, ready or not, you're going where you've never, ever gone before.

Teenagers, plural. Just hang on.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Seven Quick Takes

1. Fall has arrived. Let us rejoice and be glad! The other night I carried some plastic out to the recycling bin and was -- for the second time since April -- cold. Cold! Mind you, it was ten o'clock at night, and I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless blouse. But I was cold. Gloriously, mercifully cold! I nearly cried.

I am sure the heat will fire once last shot across the bow, but the end is near. Let us rejoice and be glad!

2. In the spirit of the new weather, Ainsley is compiling  a Naughty and Nice List. I am happy to report that I made the Nice List. In fact, the preliminary Nice List had only three names on it: Hope, Mama, and Ainsley. I think this had less to with virtue than with the fact that these are the only three names Ainsley can spell. In a moment of charity, she asked Kolbe how to spell his name and added him as well.

The Bad List consists of the devil and, at least initially, dinosaurs. John and Ainsley had an animated discussion about dinosaurs, and John is relieved to see they have been transferred to the Nice List.

3. Tim, oh my Tim, has been burning the midnight oil. Among other endeavors, he is in the early stages of his first full length research paper. Here I must offer a shout out to one Linda Finnegan, Tim's middle school English teacher, who had her students write short research papers, MLA format and all, three years straight. Teachers get a fair amount of, ahem, push back from students and parents alike when they embark on ambitious projects and hold kids to high standards. In the long run, short term pain bears enormous fruit, and we are seeing that now.

Tim is writing about Ernest Hemingway, and I will confess right here that I encouraged him to choose a shorter novel than For Whom the Bell Tolls. Time is of the essence, and while Tim is a strong reader, he is not necessarily a fast reader, and that bad boy is 500 pages long.  Well, he chose it, and he finished it around 11:00 last night, a full twelve hours before the deadline. I made him a milkshake by way of celebration.

My bleary-eyed scholar begged me to call him late for school, and to my enormous credit, I made no smart remark linking the bleeping alarm clock and For Whom the Bell Tolls. I didn't call him in, but I did make him a big cup of coffee.

4. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd began yesterday against all odds. About two weeks ago, our directors went into the atrium and discovered we had no water. A brief investigation showed some enterprising thief with the potential to be a successful welder had crawled under our building and stolen all our copper pipes!

Note to thief who probably doesn't read family blogs: We are a non-profit organization operating on free labor and a shoe-string budget. Our plumber estimates you made a whopping $25 hawking our pipes. When it looked like we would have to delay our start day by 2-4 weeks and face thousands of dollars in repair bills, two friends stepped up and re-plumbed the entire house in twelve muddy, nasty, backing-breaking hours for a fraction of the original estimate.

2nd note to thief: The new pipes have no black-market value.

3rd note to thief: We prayed for you, prayed that God's grace would be on you, prayed that if this was to turn quick drug money, that you would be freed from addiction and restored to wholeness.

5. In preparation for our first atrium session, I had about fifty-two pieces of paper to print out including a spreadsheet we use for attendance. I tinkered, I saved, I hit print. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a message that read something like, "printing page 1 of 2,752 pages."

Faithful readers are familiar with my long-standing feud with Hal, the device formerly known as Printer. Kris, especially, will be pleased to hear we have a new printer, a laser jet, a wireless beauty that hums and prints two-sided copies and did I mention that it is wireless and comes with all sorts of handy features that have come about in the past decade?

Sometimes, for reasons I can't fully explain, I still turn to Hal. This reminds me of when we replaced our ancient Buick with a newish van. I missed the comfy seats and the cavernous trunk.

"You are seriously complaining about the van," Dave asked me one day, wondering about the state of my mental health.

No. No. But I get accustomed to how certain things work. I used my $10 hand mixer for years before turning to my state-of-the-art Kithenaid. I am a creature of habit.

But back to yesterday . . . Hal groaned to life. I spotted the error message, and in a move that would amazed Jackie Joyner Kersee, Olympic hurdler, I lunged at Hal and yanked the plug. No messing around with "Cancel print job," a function, I am convinced, doesn't actually exist. I cancelled, I cancelled, again, I cancelled some more. If I plug Hal back in at this very moment, I am confident he would resume printing that oft-killed job.

Hal, to be honest, reminds me of something out of a Stephen King novel, and, really, I think maybe I need to carefully carry him to the backyard and dig a big hole.

6. A good friend shared this scripture the other day:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


7. And if that isn't positive enough, let me end by saying my sweet Ainsley is lying on the bed behind me reading Bob Books. "I readed it," she tells me. "I readed it!" Cold weather, new pipes, and Bob Books? Life is good. It is very good indeed.

On that upbeat note, head over to Jen's and add your Quick Takes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What I'm Up Against

Note to self: Every Saturday around two o'clock, take the little people and go somewhere. It doesn't matter where. Just go somewhere. Just go.

The park or the Greenway. Our favorite secondhand book store or the swamp. If it's raining or boiling hot, try the library . . . on the far side of town. The McDonald's play-land will do in a pinch.

Coolest ever four part fort.
Here is the thing: Everyone can't stay inside all day. It never goes well.


Oh, it always looks like it's going well. I thinks it's going well. And then, about four in the afternoon, things fall apart.

When we have a Saturday at home, we typically pass the day full-steam-ahead in project and cleaning mode. Bushes and shaggy hair get trimmed. Lawns get mowed. Pictures hung. Homework completed.

John added a window.
John and Ainsley don't play a huge role in these endeavors. Oh, they like to rake leaves, and they're the only Dolins we can lift into the cans to smush the leaves we've already loaded. And they do other things around the house. Mostly, though, they spend uneventful Saturdays with Legos and forts, Rescue Heroes and, their latest favorite, playing spy.

Eventually, though, they get bored. Their boredom seems to coincide with my peak efficiency. I am making progress, and suddenly and with little warning, they're reversing my progress.

So Ainsley added one, too.
You know, in theory, I am all about one toy/game/project at a time. Really, I am. The problem, as I see it, is that I don't notice when a child is moving from one mess to the next without any "clean up, clean up, everybody do their share" in between. And, actually, it should be "everybody do her share" because a) that's grammatically correct and b) my sweet yellow-haired angel is far and away the biggest culprit.

Seriously, the girl is positively unstoppable. These days it's art, art, and more art. And is this a bad thing? Of course not. But by the eighth hour of the day, when I have tripped over seven crayons, put away the markers three times, searched the entire length of the house for the tape that has gone missing, and spied those horrible little scraps of paper leftover by pages torn out of a notebook, well, I no longer see the developmental benefits of art of any kind. She might as well be spray painting the walls.

I begin formulating household management principles in my mind and even try to communicate a few on the fly.Things like:

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place.

If You Open it, You Close It.

If You Spill It, You Clean It Up.

And here is the thing: These are good and valuable lessons that I should (and do!) work on everyday. But the best time to make progress is not when Mom is tired and irritable. A friend of mine recently wrote an insightful article about self-control. We need self-control when we encounter out-of-control drivers on a crowded freeway, when we deal with acerbic customs officials at the tail end of a long trip, when we spend five hours waiting in the emergency room.

But my friend added a brilliant piece of advice: The best practice in self-control comes when we're not  in a crisis. We can practice self-control when we're not late for a doctor's appointment, rushing to catch a flight, urgently trying to meet a deadline.

Self-control is a virtue we can grow in the mundane dealings of life so that it's waiting there in times of crisis.

So back to last Saturday. Progress on several fronts! But then I'm tripping over more markers and trying to dodge princess dolls and puzzle pieces. And replacing pillows that have migrated to the floor. And picking up stray playing cards and Silly Putty and a yo-yo and a magnifying glass.

This is the point at which I should have regrouped, loaded up the troops, and headed across town.

Discretion, I hear, is the better part of valor. Because this post simply demands an adage, I think I can throw that one in here. The best strategy in a moment of frustration in the midst of what was (mostly) a highly productive day would have  been a simple one: Change the scenery. While the little people clamored around the McDonald's play-land, I could have sipped a mocha frappe and brainstormed brilliant, creative ways to work on those habits and routines that could use a little attention.

But I'm no quitter.

I spied John swiping the stapler.

I remember years ago Danielle Bean wrote a funny, funny post about her dear dad -- the father of nine, if memory serves -- who chained a pair of scissors to the kitchen counter.

Where, exactly, can I buy one of these chains? Because I am totally in the market for one . . .  or twenty. We could anchor the living room throw pillows, the toothpaste, Dad's favorite flashlight, the remote, the good scissors.

But back to John who was about to abscond with the stapler. See, he had been hard at work at the dining room table making a book about wepens (sic). Now isn't that special? He was making a book about wepens (sic)! And, of course, he wanted to bind his book.  And that, too, should be special, but, really, I was just miffed. The stapler was leaving the room, and, rest assured, it would not return anytime soon. I'd find it on the bathroom sink or in the silverware drawer or next to John's pillow. And this was only a big deal because it was the 86th item I had put back in about 90 minutes. Seems I have a limited capacity for stuff out of place, and that limit happens to be 86 plus a stapler.

"Don't take the stapler out of the room," I told John, perhaps a bit gruffly."Bring your book to the stapler."

John shot me a look of shock and incredulity. Bring the book to the stapler????? His eyes were wide; his jaw was slack. I began to lament that my deepest fears were true, that I have, in fact, taught these kids precisely nothing.

But then he said, "Mom, there's peanut butter all over the stapler."

And that, friends, is what I'm up against.