“this” only scrambled

Let’s start with “this.” Now, unscramble it, and you’ll begin to understand what I’ve stepped in. So, I’m pretty sure my kids ate Sour Cream and Onion flavored potato chips for breakfast today. We’re gonna go ahead and call that two vegetables. Abigail had the wherewithal to tip her head outside and nod to the bus driver. “It’s all good,” I heard her say, as I continued to place Lucas’s photos in a Photoshop document. Holy this. Holy this. It was time for the bus. “Our mom’s gonna drive us.”

I’d been up past 5am the night prior working on her Writing Workshop folder assignment, and now I was scrambling to finish the last of his project. I realize, just as you did, that the italicized pronoun in that sentence is “her.” Her assignment. His project. So, why exactly had I gone a night and a half without sleep, especially when I’m the type of parent who refuses to correct their homework? I want teachers to see the types of mistakes they’re making, what they need to learn. I see no value in doing the work for them; what do they gain from that? They know it. I know it. And, please, the teacher damn well for sure knows it.

In this particular case, the assignment was for “Writer’s Workshop,” where they work on developing the necessary skills to become independent writers. Students keep a Marble Writer’s Notebook and a Writer’s Folder in which they generate ideas and stories. They experiment with writing, so here, their work is free from adult comments and corrections. “Our goal is to have the children feel free to write without judgment, which will lead to developing a love for the craft.” And the colored girls say, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.

Right on! Absolutely. Love it. Sign me up. Wait. It’s basically a blog. Only with comments turned off. But offline. Riiiight. It’s a notebook. Brilliant.
Note: must buy more girly clothes for Fall to make up for uncle-like jokes.

The assignment asked that you “assist your child in locating some items to glue onto the front and back cover of his/her Writer’s Notebook and folder. Look for photographs of special places or people, postcards or ticket stubs from family trips, pictures of things your child likes to do, favorite foods your child enjoys, etc. Enjoy discovering and finding things together while creating opportunities for fun discussions. The decorations on your child’s Writer’s Notebook and folder will be a springboard used to generate writing throughout the year, so please make sure that your child works carefully and thoughtfully!”

Honestly, they should’ve put your child in boldface for parents like me. That and the word “assist,” with the “ass” in italics for those parents who get carried away. The problem is that I can’t half-ass anything. If it’s my kids’ art project, it’s theirs. I don’t get involved. I help them gather supplies, but it’s all them. I wouldn’t dare do it for them. But here, I’m being asked to step in. It’s not as if we have a bowl full of photographs lying around, ready to be carved with safety scissors.

I asked them to make a list of everything they might like to include on their folders. I probed for favorite books, memories, people, clicked through photos, asking what they wanted, where they wanted to visit, favorite things, etc. And together we chose some images. But, that’s pretty much where their involvement ended. They helped glue and tape, once we (read: I) found both. But all the photo resizing and collage and discovery and layout was moi.


Luke's Marble Writing Notebook Front, Grade 2
FRONT: Like me, Lucas loves working on our family tree! And he wanted me to include the time I dressed up like a bus. “Because any party where someone is dressed like a bus, it’s a good time.”

BACK: (EMPTY) Glued a very lonesome magazine cutout of a single Skylander – last minute and likely still wet as I type this because, shocking, they finished the glue dots and someone misplaced ALL the glue sticks in this house. Yes, all. Once upon a time we had enough glue to feed a family of crazy people who regularly need to sniff it. Now we have none.

We put a lot of effort in selecting each one of these photos, making sure there was a story to tell behind them.  Art selection “Art Buying” takes a long time, never mind the process of printing, making sure the wireless printing works, there are no paper jams, you haven’t run out of ink, or glossy paper. Everything that could go wrong, did. Wireless went down. Printer jammed. Paper stuck. Out of paper. Out of ink. Out of glue. Horror show. I am wiped out. All from a SECOND GRADE WRITING FOLDER PROJECT. Yes, but you did all of this well before the due date, right?

Ahem. With twins there are EIGHT SIDES to get through. 8 pages full of “springboard ideas.” It could have happened had we made these photos larger, or slapped some random “this” on there and called it a day. But we were busy touring the historic grounds of The Elms in Newport, RI this past weekend. So we couldn’t work on the project over the weekend. We had guests in Newport and were relishing the last of the summer. We worked on it for two nights straight, and now I can no longer speak without apologizing or complaining, or threatening to glue something. Good thing there’s no glue to be had ’round here.


Luke's Writing Folder Front, Grade 2

Luke's Writing Folder Back, Grade 2
BACK: Lucas loves museums and all things learning oriented. He adores art museums and learning about artists, despite not enjoying doing art. This year he enjoys ice skating lessons, trapeze, fishing, tennis. I didn’t have time to include the other photos of karate, swimming, golf. Oh, well.

Once Lucas’s project was printed, 20 minutes after the bus had gone on without us, on the car ride to school today, where I threatened both beans if I had to rip myself from the car and walk into the office to sign any type of late note, we all lost it together. “Seriously, so help me if I have to walk you both in there. I am not walking the halls of your school with no makeup, my teeth not brushed, in bleach-stained shorts, in, what are these, Lucas’s flip-flops I’m wearing? And without a bra! No chance in all G-d’s glory. I will die, and I will take you both with me!” I was laughing as I threatened it, and Abigail actually snorted. “No bra,” she said. “I love it.”
“That’s right,” I continued, “You will both be dead to me!”
“Hey,” Lucas said, “you need to ask first if you’re gonna wear something of mine.”
“We’re missing the point here, people!” We were the last car on the car drop-off line, and we were all, at this point, thankful that we hadn’t missed drop-off entirely. It was probably the very last minute. “The point is,” I mock yelled, breaking to let them out now, “that if I could take a photo of this hellacious moment, of us scrambling to get here, with me all nasty in my pajamas, and Lucas’s shoes, and manage to affix it to your Writing Folders, I’d do it in a hot second.”

They both looked at me with huge smiles. Lucas all chin and teeth. Abby all eyelashes.
“Guys,” I said, softer now, “this is what you remember in life. The little crazy moments. Maybe the big fish you caught, but really, you remember this. And um, you know I’m not planning on dying or killing anyone, right?”

I’d never threatened to “kill them,” even jokingly, or “take you down with me,” or said “dead to me,” and wanted to make sure they understood the somewhat adult humor, in context. I realized it wasn’t quite appropriate, despite hearing it on the Disney Channel.

“We get it,” Abigail said, “It’s called a figurine of speech.”
“Yeah,” agreed Lucas. “But I might have to kill you if you don’t put my flip-flops back in the bin, Skylander Mama!”

Well, there are worse things.

I am not going to lie and say that next year when the same assignment comes it will be any easier, or that I won’t go overboard with the photos. The sad truth is that I want to provide them with as many “springboards” as possible for their memoir type of writing at least. What’s funniest of all is that last year, I went through the same thing, and do you know not a SINGLE piece of writing came from a single photograph included on their writing folders? And I’m fine with that. This year, I only feel badly that Lucas was slighted. The back of his folder is missing many of his photos that I didn’t have time, in my rush, to make visible before printing (his karate, mini-golf, swimming, etc.). But he’s fine with it and understands that just because there’s no image doesn’t mean he can’t write about something. Also, he accidentally is stuck with Abigail’s Spanakopita photo (and he hates spinach)… maybe he can write a humor piece about that.


Abigail's Writing Folder Front, Grade 2
FRONT: Memories and family mostly. Florida with Yiaya (and Big Yiaya), very small in the corner is the raccoon at the beach in broad daylight, and the lecture that came to follow about not going near all animals, especially nocturnal animals who are out during the day! Abigail fishing, discovering pineapple and bananas in my mother’s backyard, down at the lake with Phil’s side of the family, then more family, family, family. Katy Perry, food glorious food, cooking memories made in the kitchen with my little chef from lobster races to Spanakopita and her getting the coin in the pie for luck “which Poppa took and never gave back!” “So, write about it.” Her favorite stuffed animal, Serendipity visits aplenty with her cousin, a dairy farm visit, where she fed a calf, then milked a cow, then trotted off with some of our fav peeps in Austin to go eat one. Also, The Elms and Castle Hill in Newport, RI and Test Track from Disney, where Abigail cried non-stop until the ride ended, and she asked if she could go again.

Abigail's Writing Folder Back, Grade 2
BACK: More Activities-Based memories from Girl Scouts to MoMa visits to swimming, Karate, Ice Skating lessons, climbing, learning how to pack, camp sing, mini-golf, finding a baby turtle, etc.


FRONT: (EMPTY) Yes, completely empty. Last minute, Abigail “found” a few photos in my special scrapbook, which I sliced into strips, and she taped them onto the cover in a pinch.

Abigail's Marble Writing Notebook Front, Grade 2
BACK: Favorite things. Matzo ball soup. The 360 bridge in Austin. Movie Nights at home. Cruise Ship day at camp. Castle Hill with Lucas. Grandma Carol with Chloe & Hannah. Anne Shirley & Gil from Anne of Green Gables (Oh, how Abigail LOVES to LOVE Anne Shirley!). She also adores Shirley Temple and wants to hit up Paris and get a Pink Beret. And wants to see the New Annie movie with me and our friends Shea & Betsy. Abby loves all seafood, especially clams. Loves artichokes and art and Grandma Barbara’s dog, Molly, loved helping me decorate the “LuvBus,” and she loves to tell the story of the time Norma (our Nanny in Austin) took her out with Kini (Mr. Bikini) and how Kini hunted down some rabbits, baby bunnies, and how he ate them. And how Norma freaked out.

Here’s to a great year 2 for my favorite 2! And to their mama learning to chill out and learn how to slap it together? Kills me. And to learn to stop saying things like, “kills me.”
Second Grade, Age 7



  1. “And the colored girls [go], doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo”? Seriously? Lou Reed or not, totally not necessary in 2014 to put that in a blog post about your kids (and considering the meaning behind the song, even less so). What purpose did it serve to add that line? It makes me think you’d have no problem dropping it in real life, knowing full well it’s inappropriate.

    And before your fans get all up in arms: http://kzok.cbslocal.com/2013/12/30/297-lou-reed-walk-on-the-wild-side/

    1. Lucas being described as “gypped” is the one that made me gasp. Stephanie, please, you are educated; you should know better.

      That said, was this graded work? If so, you shouldn’t have helped so excessively. If not, who cares? Only your kids and their teacher will see their folders, right?

      But do stay away from science fair and the like, because everyone in the school will see your ass showing if you repeat this level of shenanigans on those.

      1. Author

        Hadn’t heard of it as a racial slur equiv of “jewed down!” No. Now I know, thanks. Learn something new every day. No, kids are certainly not graded, as parents were asked to help. And no one will see them. Again, they serve to stimulate ideas for writing material throughout the year.

        1. Seriously? People need to get a GD grip. There was nothing even remotely offensive in your post.

          1. Now there isn’t, you’re right.

            However it was there originally, she wrote it having no idea how derogatory it was, she learned something new, and she scuttlebutted the term from her vocabulary.

            I commend her for her quick and sure response.

  2. Shame. Both of their teachers will know that YOU did their work. By saying you’re not the type of parent to do their work for them, that they will not learn anything from that, you just completely contradicted yourself by posting YOUR art projects on your blog. Ironic that the writer doesn’t follow directions. You should have let them do the work themselves, you taught them ‘you don’t get involved’ when clearly, you can’t help yourself. So when they’re older, they’ll just expect you to get carried away because YOU can’t leave anything half-assed. Seems as though you did just that.

  3. I think the end result is lovely. If it doesn’t inspire them to write it will at least remind them of some wonderful times they’ve had and who the ones who love them are. Anyway, i thought you just helped gather the photos and they stuck them down – maybe a little help here and there. You give those kids a lot of your time and attention -in my eyes that’s being a great mum.

    1. Author

      Thank you. Yes, they did the tape and glue and made the list and chose what went on the folder. Look, of course it would be easier to post something that said look, my kids did it all by themselves. But I am being honest here, which takes guts. Thank you for praising the good you see (a quality of a good mama)!

  4. you are being honest but your readership who have older kids will be honest with you. seriously you really really want to think twice before ever doing something like this again. the teachers will think you are insane. this is a nice thing to do for yourself but it’s a huge marker for the teachers that you are a parent to be ‘flagged’ as a potential problem. trust your readers with older kids on this one.

  5. I think you hit on something really wonderful here: the best moments in life are the unplanned and unpredictable moments like you, Abigail, and Lucas in the car on the way to school. I would put money on them remembering your sense of humor and togetherness in this moment far more then any folder or notebook. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Stephanie, please don’t take this the wrong way — but the elevated manner in which you handled this project leads me to believe that you are majorly missing a creative outlet in your life. I am a new reader so did not know you once wrote for TV, etc. I thought you were a stay at home mom and then read backwards – I was shocked. In short – I think you need to get a job and a job would be lucky to have you.

    1. One. Hundred. Percent. I have one word and it’s spelled J-O-B. Stephanie, I have written the same comment over and over again on this blog – please think about channelling these obvious gifts – organization, drive, passion, follow-through – into something other than organizing your kids’ playroom and going completely manically overboard with their second-grade project. You are so creative and clearly derive joy from being creatively engaged. Why don’t you pursue something professional outside the home, whether that be design, photography, interior design, whatever? Your kids are in school now. I’m genuinely wondering if you could share with us your reasons for remaining a SAHM at this juncture in your life without something else to keep you occupied. I don’t mean to be harsh, but this level of mania (staying up til 5 am? seriously??) really does send up a red flag. Yes, it’s wonderful that you made these projects that document your memories, and you’re clearly proud of the result – but why did it have to be in the context of your kids’ project? That is certainly not a good example to set for your kids and it feeds on itself – the second grade writing folders become the senior-year college essays. Give your kids the gift of being free from your involvement and expressing yourself through them, and please, please think about doing something for yourself that will give you an outlet for your passions.

      1. Author

        Phil has expanded a Logistics company, and I’ve created the new marketing materials, an enormous creative J-O-B. The company has exploded with work, and he can’t hire people fast enough; he’s too busy to handle the work and has to turn business away (a good problem to have, no question). In turn, I’ve been creating html-emails, flyers, anything creative needed for meetings, on the fly.

        Then, there’s the additional work that comes with volunteering as a troop leader, as a service team member, and all the different volunteer positions inside the Girl Scouts, planning meetings, organizing for future events, coordinating other leaders, parents, etc. Not to mention, working on several committees in the school PTA, where meetings begin tomorrow.

        Then I’m home to see that they complete their homework, talk to me about what’s going on at school, then a quick snack before we head off to Karate, or Girl Scouts, or Art Lessons. Though, we don’t want to do too many after school activities, as we’d rather just play, and occasionally tie a cooking lesson or art lesson into something they’re learning at school (butterflies, astronomy, dinosaurs are all up for discussion this year). We plan to make our own “Story Cubes” this week, for example. Then, showers, and independent reading for 25 minutes. Then I read to them for 45 minutes every night after family dinner.

        I keep the Girl Scout blog current with photos from our meetings, links to relevant information, summaries of each meeting, so the parents know what the girls are learning, discussion topics, links to videos, etc. Then, I practically live at the Girl Scout Council building, where I’m constantly picking up uniforms for a new girl who has joined our troop, or meeting with staff members, or brainstorming ideas.

        I have prioritized these things over writing to see how they satisfy me. And to be honest, being a Girl Scout leader is very satisfying… and grueling. I know that I’m giving back, and that I don’t earn a penny, but to see these girls gain confidence and learn skills, to learn to value authority, I find that it’s worth it… at least for now.

        1. And those all sound like truly wonderful things to be doing – and they are lucky to have you on board. But again, those are things you are doing for others – your husband’s company. Your daughter’s Girl Scout troop. Volunteering is a fabulous thing to do, but you do seem to derive a lot of pleasure and self-worth from having your own professional identity that you are recognized for and compensated for, and that’s not necessarily something that comes from being involved in an organization. I think that sometimes our volunteer activities can expand too much at the expense of our own selves. My mom was a lot like this – she worked when we were very young but then stayed home, and did a ton of volunteer work, and most of it was centered around her kids. She did have a “career” in a sense through being involved with a ton of charitable organizations as a leader, but it was never paid, and she never really had much professional recognition, only gratitude on the part of those she toiled for. And only now, at age 68, does she have a paying job and it’s just amazing to see how much she loves it and derives pleasure from it. I wish she would have done something structured earlier, even part time. Who knows if this is your story or not. But it’s food for thought. I’ve long thought that you should teach in some form, so if that instinct is getting satisfied through mentoring the Girl Scout Troop, then awesome.

        2. Contrary to your earlier posts, you are completely over-scheduling your kids and being the over involved, ultra competitive mom. The thought of you teaching young girls anything is horrifying.

          1. Author

            Be a sister to every Girl Scout. Be considerate and caring. What lessons have stuck with you most from your childhood? Be kind. Make people feel good. How do you want people to remember you?

  7. Gosh – I’m exhausted from reading this. And a little worried about you. I agree with Arianna that it may be time to re-enter the work world.

    There is a helicopter parent phenomenon that is gaining speed and popularity in our world. These parents will do anything to ease the way for their kids – grease any wheel – stay up to any hour – provide every edge…but I think that’s the wrong approach.

    It is super important, in my book at least, to let children do their own projects – find their own inspiration – be imperfect and child-like. You produced an amazing product, but it is not featuring your childrens’ creativity or brilliance – only yours.

    My youngest darling is planning her 3rd study abroad to Seoul, South Korea. I haven’t done one thing to help her. Not in the least. She had to do ALL of the work – the research, the creativity of financing, travel, transportation, passports, visas, etc. Yes, I could have done it for her, made it oh, so easy for her – but that’s not my job. Never was. My job is to let her grow, find, learn, fail, succeed…just BE. This started young – and I truly believe that by letting the kids do stuff on their own – they will turn into strong, capable adults.

    But they are beautiful books – sock those babies away into a cedar chest so they’re not lost.

  8. So I just read your blog because I enjoy your writing. In the few blogs I stop by, I’m always surprised by your comments. Even when people are polite, they are often so critical it is surprising. I rarely feel compelled to comment, but just thought today I would let you know that there are those of us around who read just to read and maybe be inspire to write ourselves – not to comment on how you parent, tell you our opinion on if you should get a “job”, or really anything else other than to read and enjoy your style of writing…or maybe sometimes to know there are people out there totally different than us and it’s OK to laugh at ourselves trying, no matter how we do life. Thanks for sharing, Stephanie!

  9. My 5 year old had his first home art project as his quarterly project assignment (public school, very good school, very involved parents). After reading your post I was nervous because I had him do 80% of it (I helped a lot with taping/gluing and cutting -still working on those skills!). He had to select as many 3D shapes as possible and build a model, and write about it (or dictate his story to me). We covered all the household items we used with aluminum foil and the model was so unstable despite tape/glue that I sent a photo of it to the teacher so she would see what it’s supposed to look like (in case it got mangled on the bus – my husband offered to drive us to school to keep it intact but I declined because I don’t like the message that sends to him about keeping it “perfect”).

    Last night the teacher posted photos of all approx. 24 models. 3 of them were fairly ornate. 3 of them were even more bare bones than ours. The rest were a lot like ours as far as materials used and level of parent input (and we were told to help them as part of the assignment). All the children in the photos seemed happy or focused on doing their “presentations”. I think in total it took us two hours to do the project including writing his story and rehearsing the presentation. I am hoping this experience is typical. I fear it is not from all I hear about and read!

  10. Stephanie, I am late to this party because I have been on a self-imposed social media holiday for a month or so (and after reading these comments, I may take another one…), but I cannot believe women would crucify you for being a “SAHM” (hah), focusing on your children and making home a wonderful place for your family. Your main objective is raising smart, creative, loving children, and you are doing that – STAY THE COURSE, MAMA!

    I’d be willing to wager my next paycheck that these petty women that phone motherhood in and proudly serve as acolytes in the cult-like “good-enough mother” movement are suffering from crippling guilt because they’ve chosen a self-satisfying career over committing to raise the kids they chose to have. Their kids are the ones that cling to their caregiver’s legs and cry when mom shows up at daycare after a 12 hour day. Or perhaps they’re still pissed/hurt that their mothers worked and left them alone as latch-key kids in the 1980s we’re all so fond of, instead of taking them to extra-curricular activities. A leap? Perhaps. Whatever. Let ‘em hate. I’ll stop short of quoting that new Taylor Swift song.

    All that matters is that you’re happy with the life you lead. And how lucky that your career is one you can pick up again full time once the Beans have sprouted.

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