The last day of school pic
Today is my son’s last full day of elementary school. We are done. Moving on. A door is closing. A season is over. The next stage of life is ahead of us. Do I feel sad? HELL NO!

Sorry for being so harsh, but I am tired of elementary school. My oldest started Kindergarten in 2003. I wasn’t sad on that day either. She was ready to go. Excited. She had plans. She had friends from the neighborhood who would be in her class. She walked in with a smile and a quick wave to me. No tears from either of us. It was the beginning of a journey for our family.

But after 10 years, the novelty of “big girl/boy school” has worn off. They are ready to move on and so am I. While I sit here this morning, I thought about the things I won’t miss about elementary school.

The Lack of Competition – The most frustrating thing about elementary school is that everyone is equal – all the time. If one class got something, they all got something (see classroom parties, below). Field Day at their school is more an organized play time. No one wins anything. The sad thing about the absence of competition at the elementary school is that by the time these kids get to high school, the competition is so high that these kids don’t know how to cope.

The Projects – All projects that are done at home are to be done “by the student only and with materials that you have in your home.” That has rarely been the case. First of all, who has felt, clay and Styrofoam balls lying around the house? Secondly, you would be surprised how many parents actually do their child’s project for them.

The Pick-up/Drop off Line –Ten years. Twice a day. Crazy hurried drivers. Creative parkers. People crossing the street in between cars – assuming you will stop for them. Moms on cellphones. Kids everywhere. The dads or grandmas who are sent to pick up the kids and are clueless to how it works. It is a miracle that no one has been injured during the process.

The Reading Log – Starting in first grade, my kids got a reading log from their teacher every month. The kids had to log their reading time and get it signed. Every night. Every kid. Then the librarian decided to do an additional reading log. When all three of my kids were there, that was 6 reading logs per night. Eventually, we just stopped doing reading logs. And you know what? My kids never got in trouble for not handing them in. They were OPTIONAL!

The Removal of the Holiday – At our elementary school, the holidays are “seasons”. For Halloween, it is called Fall Happenings. Those holidays in December? They don’t exist. Better to ignore than to hurt feelings. Honestly, I would love if my kids learned about a holiday that we did not celebrate at home. But, you can’t celebrate December holidays because that wouldn’t be fair to the ones that don’t celebrate at all. The Winter holiday that they do celebrate is Valentine’s Day, but they call it a Winter party. The Spring party is celebrated right before spring break. No holiday is tied to it – especially not that one with the bunny and the eggs!

The Classroom Parties – If you have seen one party, you have seen them all. A few years ago, they decided that the parties (games, crafts, etc.) had to be the same as the other classes in their grade. Sadly, the role of the Room Mom went from creative party planner to babysitter. The parties should probably only go on until 2nd grade. After that, the ring toss, bean bags, Bozo buckets, and bingo gets a little boring. The crafts might appeal to the girls through 5th grade, but my son doesn’t enjoy crafts. And the snack? It’s double healthy snack day! The perfect theme for a kid party! (If there was a sarcasm font, I would use it here.)

The Hours – This is something I will miss the least! School for elementary students in our district starts at 9:05. On Wednesdays, it starts at 9:15. That is so convenient for working parents! (Again, sarcasm font) For ten years, I have lived my life between 8:45 and 3:15. Next year, I won’t have to go into panic mode if I am on the other side of town at 3:15 or if I am running behind at work. All my kids will be taking the bus.

In all fairness, I should share some things that I will miss about elementary school.

After being there for 10 years, everyone knows who I am. Much like Norm walking into Cheers, I get a wave or a smile and a “Hi, Mrs. Molnar” when I walk into the school. In the middle school and high school, I am just another parent.

I will miss the excitement of the kids waiting at the mailbox for the post cards that reveal their classroom teacher’s name. Although they changed that last year, I remember the anticipation of neighborhood kids waiting for the mailman at the curb. The phone would start ringing as the first postcards were dropped off, with their friends asking which teacher they got. In middle school, you find out your schedule when you get to school. Such a downer.

I loved the special events like the Mother’s Day Tea in 2nd grade. My daughters enjoyed going to the Daddy Daughter dances and we all enjoyed having lunch together on field day. The Halloween parade (I can’t remember the politically correct name) was always fun to watch and the ABC countdown included fun days like Pajama Day, Hat Day and Crazy Hair Day.

But by far, the thing I will miss the most is seeing the friends I have made along the way. I know that once the kids get to the middle school, we will see less and less of each other. There is very little need for volunteers and very few times that our kids want to see us at their school. After all, as of tomorrow, those days are over.


“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld.

Although I am not that bad, public speaking is not my favorite thing. As a kid, I was uncomfortable speaking to adults. Whenever we went to 7-11, I asked my friends to order my Slurpee from the man behind the counter so I wouldn’t have to talk to him. I tried to go unnoticed whenever possible. It got better as I got older but in high school, I dreaded my speech class. The last thing I wanted to do was stand out or God forbid, make a mistake. How silly I was to think I could blend into the background when standing in front of the class with big 80’s hair and loud bangle bracelets.

I swore that my children would not have those same fears and taught them to speak confidently when talking to adults. As soon as my children could talk, they ordered for themselves in restaurants. My oldest daughter became so confident at a young age that she carried on long conversations with the wait staff after introducing herself and our family. She later talked with ease to teachers and authority figures and took every opportunity to speak in class.

By the time my daughter got to middle school, standing in the spotlight was her favorite thing. She had no fear of the stage or crowds or new people. (Spiders, on the other hand would send her running from the room.) My daughter enjoyed performing in the orchestra, chorus and musicals. She auditioned for dozens of solos and performed them with ease. If she did not get the part, her confidence did not waiver. It seemed to fuel her to practice more and try again – each time with a smile.

High school offers so many more opportunities for performers like my daughter. In addition to chorus and musicals, she plans to audition for plays and the speech team. The speech team is an extracurricular activity where she voluntarily gets up in front of strangers, judges and her peers and performs – sometimes off the cuff. That sounds like complete torture to me and yet, she loves it. This week she attended a speech camp where she is learning the different parts of the speech team – Dramatic Interpretation and Radio Speaking seem to be her favorite so far. They are working in small groups reading off scripts, acting in charade-like games and doing improvisation. I can’t imagine doing that without a glass (or two) of wine in my system!

As a parent, I feel like I can cross an accomplishment off my list. I have a confident teenager who can not only order her own Slurpee, but has also learned a life skill. I think she has found a new passion and I am happy for her. What more can a mother ask for?

I was asked to speak at my daughter’s middle school for their career day. When I got the call from the school, the teacher who called asked me if I wanted to come in and speak about being a dog groomer. I assumed that my daughter, who is 14, wanted me to come in. How else would they know I was a groomer?

When she came home from school, the conversation went like this:

“Hey, I got a call from Mrs. W today. She asked me if I would come in and speak to your team about being a dog groomer.”

My daughter looked at me like I said I was planning on coming in to shoot up the school.  “I HOPE you told them NO.”  That’s when I realized that the school looked up my occupation on the registration forms.

“Well, honey, I already said yes because I thought you wanted me to be there.”

“WHY would I want you to come in?” she replied with all the drama of a middle-schooler.

“Well I am coming in to speak and I can’t back out of it,” I told her. “Besides, everyone’s path is different. Being a dog groomer is a great job. I never have to dress up or wear makeup. I work out of the house so my commute is 2 seconds. How many other occupations can you train for in 14 weeks? It can be a full time career or a flexible part time one. Think of all the kids that are going to college and have a huge debt load? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to work at a job that paid more than minimum wage while you went to college? What about the kids that can’t afford to go to college or decide that college is not for them? Or what about those who graduate and find that there are no jobs available for them? Dog grooming schools place their students.”

None of my kids want to be a dog groomer. That is fine. I don’t expect them to. I had no idea I would be a groomer, either. I have a graphic arts degree. Life at 18 or 22 is a lot different than 42. Your needs change. Your expectations are different.  How many of you work in the industry that you studied in college?

There were 8 parents asked to speak – 3 women and 5 men. There were 2 speakers in each class and the kids rotated from room to room. The other woman that spoke in the classroom with me was Scribble Jane, a professional singer for the kid’s band, Scribble Monster. They sing songs for 3-8 year olds and have 4 CD’s. She played a song for the 8th graders called “Chocolate Milk”. My son would have loved it when he was 3 or 4!

Jane and I both told the kids that it is hard to know at 18 where your life will take you or what skills you will need. The leader of her band was a marketing guy. He always wanted to sing and write songs but he had a teacher in high school that told him he had no talent and had no business picking that career. He thought marketing was a “normal job” and that is where he headed. After he was laid off, he decided to pursue his dream. The band headed by the “untalented” man will play at Lollapalooza this summer in Chicago. Look how different his life is than the one he imagined in college.

Many of the 8th graders wanted to be rock stars. Jane told them that to be Katy Perry is nearly impossible. However, making a living in the music industry is attainable if that is what they really want to do. She told them to keep practicing and work really hard and a door will open. She told them that the leader of their band wanted to be in a “big boy band” but found too much competition. He has since found success taking another road in the same industry.

My own speech went well. Clearly I don’t have the kind of job where I speak in front of a crowd, but I knew my subject matter and told my story. The kids were all interested and many asked questions. The most popular question I was asked was “Have you ever been bit by a dog?”(The answer is yes.)  We were all asked to talk about the good and bad parts of our jobs, what education we needed, salary range and how our jobs are affected by the economy.  That is another good thing about my job – it is recession proof.

The careers of the 8 parents were:  singer, photographer, FBI agent, pharmacist, nuclear engineer, firefighter, phlebologist and a dog groomer. (For three of us, this was a 2nd career.)  It was a nice variety of careers for the kids to hear about. At this point, the 8th graders want to be teachers, nurses, doctors and engineers. Not one person said they wanted to be the Midwestern United States Sales Director for a global paper company. (Sorry, honey!)  I don’t think the kids in this primarily white-collar neighborhood are considering a trade as a career or a stepping stone. (However, when the plumber comes to the house and gives you a bill, the trades look like a pretty smart idea.)

I went to share my story with the kids to let them know there is more than one path to success. Lack of money or a low SAT score does not eliminate you from the race. A four-year degree does not guarantee you happiness or a six-figure income. It is never too late to take another path if the road you are taking is not what you hoped it would be. Trust in your dreams and let them lead you to your own road to success.

Last month we had dinner with another couple from the neighborhood. They are fun to be with and wonderful people – the kind of people you would want as family. I guess that they must feel the same way because over dinner, she said, “I can see why people arrange marriages for their kids.” I think she was only half kidding. They have triplets – two girls and a boy who are my son’s age. She told me which daughter she thought would be best for my son, noting how nice it would be to share holidays and vacations with our children and grandchildren.

“You never know what you are going to get for in-laws. They should be people you enjoy being with,” she continued. I have to agree.

My parents and in-laws have shared less than 10 events together in our 26 years of dating and marriage. Part of the reason is the fact that my in-laws were divorced and living out of state. The other part, well, is a long story.

I spoke to a woman last week whose son is getting married. She complained that she was left out of some of the wedding planning – something that wouldn’t happen with an arranged marriage.

Think of the weight that is taken off your shoulders if your parents arranged your marriage. You can skip the whole dating thing and the stress and heartache that go with it. Mr./Miss Right is a guarantee (at least for the parents).

My parents lived across the street from each other when they were in high school. My maternal grandmother owned a hair salon that she ran out of her basement. My paternal grandmother was one of her customers. One Saturday morning while she was having her hair done, my paternal grandmother was telling her hairdresser a story about her son. It seemed that the girl her son was taking to homecoming was sick and couldn’t go to the dance. My maternal grandmother suggested that her daughter might be available to go with him since she went to a different high school. The date was made and the rest is history. They have been married for 43 years.

I am sure the argument can be made about making your own choice of who you marry. I saw Fiddler on the Roof several times and always root for the girls to be allowed to marry the man of their choosing.

Recently, I thought about matches for my daughters, too. Boy/girl drama is already stirring for them. I have a match in mind for my oldest. We love his parents – friends that moved away years ago. I would love to spend holidays and birthdays with the long-legged toothpicks the two of them would produce.

My middle child may be a little harder to match. She is a little bossy and will probably want someone who is happy to sit back and let her call the shots. If you know someone, let me know. I think we might have to put together a large dowry for her.

My 14-year-old daughter asked if she could invite some of her friends over while they were on Winter Break. Of course, I said yes. I then asked how many girls she wanted to have over. She said about 10 girls and 5 boys. Really? Boys?

I shouldn’t be too surprised. My daughter has a ton of friends that are boys. She has always made friends easily and I see her at school functions talking to girls and boys alike. My daughter is not boy-crazy. Many girls in her school are “dating”. I have to tell you how stupid that really is. No one has jobs. No one can drive. They don’t actually go anywhere. Yet they are dating. My daughter feels the same way and although she may have crushes or “like” some boy, she is not “dating”. She just wanted to include these boys because she likes hanging out with them.

We ordered pizza, bought some snacks and pop and prepared to have 16 teenagers in our basement. I asked her what she was planning on doing and she said they would play Just Dance and karaoke on the Wii and listen to music. Okay, sounded easy enough.

My husband and I hung out upstairs, but we ventured down to deliver food and clean up as the night went on. Every time we went downstairs, we saw happy teenagers engaging in conversation, eating, laughing, singing and playing the Wii. There was no drama. No girls ran up the stairs and locked themselves in the bathroom because some boy wouldn’t talk to her. No couple hid in the closet and made out. No one asked to turn the lights off. No one tried to spike the pop. These were just good kids – boys and girls – hanging out together and having a good time.

At 10:00, everyone’s parents came to pick them up. Some came in and met us. Others texted their kids “I’m here”. Each teenager thanked us for having them over. One boy offered to help clean up. Another boy shook my husband’s hand and said “Good to meet you and thank you for having me over”. He then turned to me and did the same thing. (My daughter has been given permission to marry him!) It was a good night.

The next week we were discussing the gathering with our friends. They have a daughter that is the same age and goes to the same school. They were surprised that we would have a boy-girl party. They said that they heard that boy-girl parties were “mosh pits with bumping and grinding going on”. The girls were the instigators and created most of the drama. Of course, their daughter was not a part of these parties; this is just what she heard.

If there is any truth in that story, I blame the host parents. Where were they when all of this was going on? We stayed out of the way, but made our presence known. And what about the parents of the kids that came to these parties? Maybe the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I am a big believer in organized activities and knowing who your kids are hanging out with. If your kids are involved in activities (all of my daughter’s friends from the party are in music), they will have confidence in themselves and not need all the drama and bumping and grinding in order to have a good time.

I am proud of the person my daughter has become. She is smart, confident and a good judge of people. Her friends can come over anytime!

My 11-year-old daughter had softball practice between the holidays. During some down time at the end of practice, the girls sat in a circle and shared what they each got for Christmas. Of course, no one talked about the jammies they got from grandma – this discussion was for big ticket items only. The list included an iPod Touch, Ugg Boots, cell phones, Xbox with Kinect, a drum set and several other nice gifts. My daughter’s best friend got an iPad. A nice haul for 11-year-olds.

Although my daughter has some very nice things – she already has a cell phone, iPod Touch, Ugg slippers and then got the Xbox with Kinect for Christmas – she was feeling a little bit of the ugly green monster rearing its head. After practice (two days after Christmas) she announced she was going to buy her own Ugg boots and an iPad. (I guess the two other pairs of boots she got for Christmas from Delia’s and access to my iPad wasn’t enough).

I told her I was happy to hear her plan to save and buy her own things. I knew she would appreciate them more. She had done it before. Two years ago, she used her own money to buy her iPod Touch. Her “own money” consisted of monetary gifts from her birthday and Christmas and money she had earned from doing things at home. After counting her money, she was about $400 dollars short on the iPad and less than $50 short on the Ugg boots. (Of course, she didn’t factor in tax.) She would earn the rest somehow. We went to bed that night knowing she had a goal in mind.

The next day we went to Petsmart to get new collars for our dogs. Santa didn’t realize how much weight the dogs lost and brought collars that were too big! My 11-year-old came with me. After recently losing a snail in her fish tank, she wanted to replace him. Moments later, she decided she wanted to buy a 10 gallon fish tank to replace her 2 ½ gallon fish tank at home. I reminded her about her savings plan, but she waved me off. She told me it was her money and she was going to spend it however she wanted. So we walked around and added up all the things she would need. We talked to the man in the fish department who gave us some tips. When all was said and done, the price was the same as the Ugg boots. (plus tax, of course)

Wow! That was a lot for a last minute decision. I told her that since she had a totally different plan yesterday, she should go home and sleep on it tonight. That didn’t sit well with her. She had an 11-year-old tantrum right there in the fish department. She loudly shared her feelings about HER MONEY and that I was the meanest mom in the world. The before-having-kids Pam would have been embarrassed, but I have been through the Terrible Twos three times. At least she wasn’t lying on the floor. I just told her I was leaving and she followed.

In the car, I told her that I know she is mad at me, but she should really think it over. I told her that I didn’t go to the first car dealer I saw and drive out of there with my car. Yes, it was her money and I thought she should spend it on something of her choosing. I just wanted her to research it and not end up with buyer’s remorse. When we got home, my husband got to listen to the whole story and agreed with me. We told her to do some research and compare prices and then we will talk about it again.

That night, my daughter went online and wrote down all the items she would need. She compared prices at three different stores. She even made a spreadsheet listing prices and items. While she was price shopping, she decided to read up on the types of fish – who was aggressive, who needed different water temperatures, who played nice with others. She also realized that she needed to buy a 20 gallon tank to get all the fish she wanted. It was a very thorough list and we told her how proud of her we were. The only problem was that she was still short on money. She asked if there were projects she could do to earn money.

Projects that needed to be done? You have come to the right Mom! The first project I gave her was the Christmas card list. It got out of hand with address changes and new names. I wanted them all changed in the computer so I could print out labels next year. It took her about 2 hours to complete and she did it without complaining.

Next project? Clean out her room. I don’t mean make the bed and pick up the stuff off the floor. I mean go through every drawer, the closet and under the bed. Make bags for donation and bags for garbage. A couple hours into it, I went to check on her. She was working hard and I told her that. She made a face and then said “I have to. I need the money.” I nodded in understanding and left her to her work.

I walked away from her room smiling. It was a teaching moment that had gone well. If you really want something, you have to work for it.

The following week she had enough money to buy her tank, accessories and fish. Today everything is living happily on her dresser. Last night my husband asked her how much money she had left. She told him it was less than a dollar. He was surprised and it must have shown on his face. She responded, “Dad, fish are expensive.” I had to laugh. She should try having kids.

On Sunday, my daughters and I spent the day making cookies. This is not something we do every year. I consider myself a good cook, but baking is something entirely different. With cooking, you can fudge on the time or ingredients and no one is the wiser. If you do that with baking, you will come out with something undercooked and gooey or overcooked and hard as a rock. However, our baking on Sunday came out great.

We spent most of the day baking and an hour or so shopping for the ingredients. After we were done, we spent another hour plating and delivering the cookies. When we got home, a pile of bowls, cookie sheets and spoons needed to be cleaned and put away. The whole project, start to finish took us about ten hours to complete.

Ten hours. The whole day. To make cookies. That we gave away. Why? I could have done a lot of things during those ten hours. I haven’t finished Christmas shopping yet. I still had to address some cards. I haven’t even thought about wrapping. There is always laundry to do and with two black Labs, I always need to vacuum. What about just relaxing? I have been working like a dog (no pun intended) this season. I had to extend my hours to accommodate everyone. I even worked on Saturday which is something I promised not to do. So why would I spend the whole day making cookies?

Because it is the Christmas season. I thought it would be nice to do something with my kids that didn’t involve us being at a soccer field, softball diamond or theatre. I also wanted to extend more of the season than a Christmas card to our neighbors and friends. Outside of a wave as we pass in the car, I don’t see them as much as I used to. Our lives have gotten so busy.

In a perfect world, I would have a simpler Christmas. Everyone would get one gift – something they really wanted or needed. Of all the gifts I bought this year, there isn’t one gift that someone is going to go crazy for. I would love to see some Carolers at our door. I told my oldest daughter that she and her friends should do that. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Go ring someone’s doorbell and then start singing? People will think that’s crazy.”

My kids thought it was strange to bring cookies to everyone. Like someone is going to refuse a plate of cookies. I told them to put on Santa hats, ring the doorbell and say “Merry Christmas”. Every person smiled back in surprise to see the cookies and thanked them. The kids came back home smiling because smiling is contagious.

My husband and I tell the kids to practice random acts of kindness whenever possible. My husband is especially good at it. I have seen him pull over many times to help someone push a stalled car. He has helped lift TVs and other big boxes into cars as we walk by them in the parking lot. He frequents McDonalds for his daily Diet Coke fix and often buys breakfast for the car behind him.

One night last week, my kids and I were running into the grocery store for some last minute dinner items. It was 7:00 and we were coming home from their activities. We were all starving so we tried to be quick. My son saw the Salvation Army bell ringer and asked for some money. I gave him the singles I had in my purse. It was a cold night and I noticed how bundled up the man was. He said, “Merry Christmas” to us as my son dropped in the money. After our shopping, we saw him again. He remembered us and said “Merry Christmas” as we passed. I told him to stay warm and he said “I’m trying”.

When we got to the car, I told the kids we had one more stop. They groaned about it because they were hungry. I drove to the other end of the mall and picked up a Caribou Coffee gift card. I told the kids that the bell ringer looked cold and I wanted to give him something to warm up. My oldest daughter wanted to give him the card so she jumped out as we drove back to the store. He, like my neighbors, was surprised and pleased with this small act of the Christmas spirit. My daughter was smiling as she got back in the car. I asked her what he said and she told me he said “God Bless You”.

He already has.

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