Thursday, January 31, 2013

Delayed Kindness

Day 343
My oldest might not consider my disciplining him a kindness but in time (and I mean adulthood) he will. 

When you’re ten, it’s hard to listen to your mom rant and rave.  Constantly.  Did you do your homework?  Practice the piano?  Brush your teeth?  We’ll call these the “just living” nags.  Add on top of these the “not in my house” list (What word did you just day?) and any 10-year-old’s brain might explode. 

Every day, our oldest inches closer to figuring out who he is and who he wants to be.  I understand pushing back is part of the process.  As his mother, I need to remind him when he goes too far. 

I tell him in no uncertain terms to stay out of the muddy creek before his piano lesson.  Five minutes to five I call from the kitchen for him to grab his books and head down the street to his waiting teacher.  My voice bounces off the wall in the empty room.  One guess who’s in the creek. 

A quick phone call locates the boy and the dad relays my message.  Run.  Now.  Piano. 

I receive an email from his teacher that I. showed up late for piano, covered in mud and without his books.  She sent him to clean up in her bathroom.  In the process of "cleaning" he summarily trashes her bathroom.   I have a pretty clear image in my head.  I know what ours looks like. 

Instead of yelling or breaking into an ineffective speech of I-told-you-so, I have him read his teacher’s email. 

“What do you think?” I ask.  He bites his lip and avoids my eyes.  “I think,” I say, “that you need to write your teacher an apology note and hand-deliver it.” 

“Mom?  Will you come with me?” he asks as I pull into her driveway.  He screws his eyes up, his mouth turns down in a grimace.     

“Nope,” I smile.  “This is all on you.” 

Note in hand, he trudges to the door like a boy off to the firing squad. 

I watch the exchange from the warmth of the car: His teacher steps onto the porch.  I. hands her his note.  She reads it and leans in to hug him.  A smile breaks out across I.’s face. 

“See,” I think.  “That wasn’t so bad.” 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Raising Gentlemen

Day 342
He looks terrified and I don’t see his lips moving.  I give him a thumbs-up and he offers me a pained smile.  He’ll be thrilled I’m capturing this moment on my IPhone for posterity.

As the choir retreats down the aisle and the service concludes, my husband and I announce that a celebration is in order.  In our family, nothing says “we’re proud of you” louder than a pile of warm pancakes.  That’s how we get here. 

Here is a standing-room-only waiting area of a popular breakfast restaurant.  Filled with the after church crowd, everyone huddles for warmth against the cold blast of air each time the front door swings open.

I. sits beside me and we replay his choir performance note by note.  “And you had a good time?” I ask.  He nods his head yes. 

The door opens and the crowd folds into their coats as two grandmothers join the throng of waiting diners. 

“I.?  Get up, honey, and give your seat to that lady,” I say, raising and shuffling to the side of the upholstered bench.  I. stands and moves to the side. 

The two women see a small hole in the crowd and elbow their way to the open seats. 

“It’s polite to give up your seat to someone who’s older,” I explain.  “On a bus, in a doctor’s office, here, in a restaurant.”

He turns towards the two ladies and smiles. 

“Gentlemen,” I tell him, “are always kind.”

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pencil Promise

Day 341
“Do you need anything?” I ask.

Georgia isn’t shy about telling me what she needs.  She shouldn’t be.  If she is, her kids at Rothenberg Academy in Over The Rhine go without.  This spring, she’ll retire after 40 years with Cincinnati Public Schools.  I worry for the person who fills her shoes.  I hope they don’t drown in all that space.   

A young girl pops her head into the room where Georgia, our PTO President Angie and I talk.  “Ms. Keith?”  It’s one of many interruptions during our visit.  Georgia’s a busy woman with too much to do and not enough hours to do it.

“In a minute,” she says.  “I’ll be there in a minute.” 

Turning her attention back to me, she considers my question.  “Pencils,” she answers.  “We need, let’s see,” she counts in her head, “800 pencils.” 

She explains that the pencils will be used for standardized testing scheduled for spring.  “I’ll be gone,” Georgia explains.  “But I’m getting everything ready.” 

Georgia wants each student to have two pencils.  This seems completely reasonable to me.  Living in a school district where kids leave expensive name brand coats unclaimed without a care, our students can’t fathom not having the basics. 

“I’ll sharpen them,” she says and points to one electric pencil sharpener plugged in on her desk.  “Just bring them to me.”   

Oh no you won’t, I think.  I’m not going to be the one who adds one more thing to your list.   

I purchase the pencils and the boys and I take turns on the old-school sharpener in our first floor laundry room.  Every twenty or so pencils, we empty the shavings and shake the numbness from our thumb.   

“How many left?” I. asks. 

I don’t want to tell him hundreds.  “Just keep sharpening,” I say instead.  “Just keep sharpening.”  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Twitter This

Day 340
I love this story

Minnesota teenager Kevin Curwick tired of seeing his friends taunted by twitter starts his own account (@OsseoNiceThings) that only spreads good things about his classmates. 

“Is going to be a famous musician one day.  Katie Ray Murray.” He tweets.  “Only knows how to be positive. Gabbi Horsford.”

That is 50 shades of awesome.  I can’t imagine how proud Curwick’s parents are of their standout kid. 

Taking Kevin’s lead, I turn to social media to shout from the rooftop.  Since I don’t understand Twitter, I’ll use this blog.    

For being a true friend for more than 25 years.  For always telling me what I need to hear not what I want to hear.  A caring mom with two adoring boys.  A supportive wife and cheerleader.  Melissa Everett. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Postcard Party

Day 339
I receive an email from a friend that her daughter needs postcards sent to her classroom.  We haven’t seen them in an age but I’ve always had a soft spot for her little girl.   

My boys and my friend’s daughter O. met as toddlers when they all attended a quaint one-room school called The Growing Room.  “She’s the nicest girl in school,” F. once shared.  “She never hits anyone.”  For a preschooler, there’s no higher praise.

Who wouldn’t want to help a girl who never resorts to slugging it out? 

O.’s class is in a race with other grades to see who gets the most mail.  The winning class’s prize is a coveted uniform-free day and pizza party.  The school will make a charitable donation for every postcard with an out-of-state postmark. 

We can’t do much about the out-of-state (except spread the word) but we can certainly do our share with mail baring an Ohio postmark.  I stop by the post office and pick up a handful of prepaid blank postcards.

The boys and I decide on kindness quotes and neatly write the words in simple block letters.

“One kind word can warm three winter months,” I read.  “That’s my favorite.”  I pull out our art bucket and the boys pretty them up with pictures.   

Here’s my attempt: more scary than smiley. 

I. does better.  He’s all about mice since receiving one from Santa. 

Art skills aside, they’re in the mail.  We'll keep you posted!   

What would you write to a class of fourth graders?  Postcards (no envelopes, please) may be sent to:

Jon Paris (O. Lum)

CHCA Elementary School

11312 Snider Road

Cincinnati, Ohio. 45249

Friday, January 18, 2013

Promise, Promise, Promise

Day 338
Some houses embrace a no-pet rule. Ours isn’t one of them.  

Over the years, we’ve welcomed lizards, fish, dogs, hermit crabs, fire belly toads, tree frogs, guinea pigs, a bird, and a dwarf hamster.  Whew.  It’s an exhaustive list.  I draw the line at tarantulas.  You have to put down your foot sometimes.  

I believe that kids raised with pets learn responsibility and compassion.  Or I did until we opened our own private zoo. 

The reality differs a bit.  On the upside, I can clean a guinea pig cage in no time flat.  (I mention that in the off chance I need to bulk up my resume.)

While the majority of the animals’ daily care falls to me, the boys do love on those animals.  Sometimes I wonder if I need to file a restraining order.     

All except Fuzzy.  We added a guinea pig to our menagerie three years ago.  “Please, please, please,” the boys begged.  “We promise, promise, promise.” 

My dad once referred to Fuzzy’s cage as “the prison.”  He wasn’t far off the mark: Food and water twice a day and confinement to a small space with little interaction with the outside world. 

“Why don’t you play with Fuzzy?” I suggest.  To my surprise the boys agree.  I credit Rachel, a sweet little girl who joins us in the mornings, for renewing the boys’ interest in their long-forgotten pet.  She often kneels by Fuzzy, talking softly in little-girl-speak while slipping fresh carrots through the slats of his cage. 
Whatever the reason, I’m thrilled.  The boys pull her (him?) out to play.  There’s carrot feeding, obstacle runs, a free-form guinea pig dash across the carpet.  

And a promise, promise, promise to play with Fuzzy tomorrow.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Leave the Light On

Day 337
After the kids are tucked in and the television’s on, there’s very little save an emergency that motivates my husband or I to pick up a ringing phone.  Don't take it personally.  We don't pick up for anyone.   

We talk, watch movies, fill each other in with the details of our day.  Nights offer us a moment to breath and communicate by more than text. 

It’s past eleven when the phone rings.  Chaz pecks away at his computer.  I sleep upstairs, an open book beside me; two Golden Retrievers on the other side snuggled in for the night.

“Hello, it’s Jack.” A frail voice crackles out of the answering machine.  “I know it’s late but there’s a light that’s been out on my porch.”  The man pauses.  When I hear the message the next morning, I imagine a white-haired grandpa wearing a worn plaid shirt and stained khaki pants.   

“I’ve tried three different light bulbs, but none of them seem to be working,” he apologizes.  “It’s the light outside my back door, the one I like to keep on all night.” 

I listen and realize he must have called after I’d fallen asleep. 

“What are your plans?” Chaz asks walking into the kitchen and planting a quick kiss on my cheek before heading off to work. 

“Did you hear the message?” I ask.  “I’m going to call that man back.  Tell him he had the wrong number.” 

“I talked to him,” Chaz says.

“Last night?” I ask. 

“I wasn’t going to pick up,” he says.  “Then I heard him talking.”  

“You,” I smile, “are so making the blog.”    

Monday, January 14, 2013

Helping Hands

Day 336 
At a PTO Board meeting last week, I ask the boys’ principal if she’s overheard any kids talking about Sandy Hook.  My question comes after an update on district security and ready preparedness, all scary topics in our new normal. 

She confirms what I suspect: Very few kids know of the shootings.  Many parents, like Chaz and I, chose to not share the news but instead be ready to answer questions if asked.   
I don’t want to create fear where none exists.

Still, as my kids finish their first full week back to school after the holiday break, I can’t help but think of the kids all those states to our east who will enter school today on the one-month anniversary. 

There’s talk by school officials to relocate Sandy Hook Elementary School students to a new building located in adjacent Monroe over the next few weeks.  To welcome them to their new school, teachers are asking kids from around the country to send handprints that the teachers will string together and hang around the school. 

I imagine a rainbow of little hands from California to Ohio to Massachusetts stretching across the hallways, weaving themselves through classrooms, hugging children as they walk from lunch to music class.  We're in.        

I tell the boys that we are sending the hands to a school that needs our help.  I don’t elaborate.  They don’t ask.  They hear “help” and that’s reason enough to jump on board.

We gather together white computer paper and a variety of washable paints.  Each boy paints his hand before pressing it into the paper.  We add our names and hometown and set them to dry before I find an envelope to mail them later this afternoon.

In, too?  Find some paint and paper and send along your handprints to: 

Helping Hands
c/o L. Mazzariello
69 Osborne Hill Rd.
Sandy Hook, CT 06482 

*Thank you to my new blogger friend Sheila for the idea.  Her and her boys finished handprints last week and sent them on as well.    

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bully Me This

Day 335
It’s a rough-and-tumble life in the first grade. 

“He’s so mean to Anna,” A. explains, retelling with painstaking detail the goings on at recess.  “I mean really, really.” 

The culprit turns out to be a boy who A. shares a love-hate relationship.  In the same kindergarten class last year, G. liked to hit A. on a fairly frequent basis.  G.  spent a lot of time in the thinking chair. 

“Do you think he’s mean because he wants to play with you?” I ask.  “Do you ever invite him to join in?”  I remind A. that kids change from year to year.  Spending a lot of time in the red chair doesn’t sentence a child to a lifetime of crime. 

A. considers this.  “No,” he decides.  “I think he just likes to be mean.” 

I try something else.  “How did you help Anna?” 

A. smiles, clearly happy to get to the crux of his adventure. 

“I stood next to her and told him to stop.  No one’s going to bully my friend.” 

My youngest isn’t what you would call a wallflower.  If I had to guess, I bet he’s pretty fierce on the playground. 

I’ve got to give him props for standing up.  “Way to be a good friend,” I say.  “Maybe we can be a friend to G. and invite him to play?”

Angus rolls his eyes.  "OK, Mom."  

Somehow I doubt his sincerity.    

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Karma, Baby

Day 334
The boys and I have spent the last week talking about karma.

The talks come after I lose my driver’s license.  I’d tucked the license into my back pocket under the misguided impression that I might get carded at the Cyclones game.  I never was.  Not even a pity card.  (Honestly, that hurt more than losing the license.) 

When I realize it’s gone, I boldly announce to my family that instead of replacing it I plan to wait and see if a nice stranger finds it and returns it.

“It’s pretty easy to get a new one,” says Chaz, my man of little faith. 

“I’m optimistic,” I smile back.  

Instead of focusing on my lost license, the boys and I concentrate our efforts on being kind. We talk about unbroken circles, how kindness begets kindness, how simple kindnesses freely given bolster someone else to pay it forward.   

“Like if you do nice stuff to other people, they will do nice stuff, too,” A. explains.

The discussions come during a week that NPR releases results from a new study on kindness.  Canadian scientists working with fourth and fifth grade students report that kids who find opportunities to be intentionally kind to others are more likely to be accepted by their peers. 

This may seem like a no-brainer; Kids want to be around kids who are nice to them.  Scientists argue it’s more than that.  They hypothesis intentional kindness lowers instances of bullying and increases self-confidence and self-esteem. 

Put another tally in the kindness column.  Kindness wins again.        

Six days after losing my license, I receive a phone call telling me a stranger has left my license at the US Bank Arena security office for me to pick up. 

“Boys,” I say, slipping my license back into the protective plastic of my wallet.  “That is what you call karma.”  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

It's a Dog's Life

Day 333
When a friend calls to ask if I want to join her for a walk around the block with our dogs, I beg off.  She’s caught me in the car running errands.  A walk means switching gears and slowing down.  It means not taking a yellow highlighter and crossing off a few more items on my long to-do list. 

It’s only when I exit the grocery store do I realize how truly gorgeous the weather is.   It’s an unexpected gift after the last week of near freezing temperatures and I’d be crazy to pass up the chance to spend time outside on a day like today.  A chance to spend time with a friend is a gift equally as precious.

The two of us turn up Zig Zag, a busy street with wide brick-lined sidewalks that connects several neighborhoods in our town.  Across the street, a little white dog steps closer to the road when he sees us approach.

Cars zoom past in the late afternoon rush of wanting to get home.  The dog bounces towards us, wildly wagging its tail, just as a car zips past.  Dogs were never ones to look both ways before crossing the street.   

Another car approaches from the other direction and shows no indication of stopping.  I put up my hand, a skill learned in my long-ago safety patrol days.  Hold up, it says.  Stop right there.   

I run into the road and hook my finger into the dog’s collar.  In the excitement, my two dogs jump and tangle their leashes around my legs and threaten to bring us all down.  Cars now stop in both directions.  We all shuffle across the street back to the safety of the sidewalk.

“Is there a tag?” my friend asks.  I feel around the collar but don’t find a tag. 

“No, but do you think it belongs to that house?” I point directly across the street. 

Again, bent over, holding a collar and struggling with the tangle of leashes, the three dogs and I stumble towards the door. 

The white dog pulls against his collar.  I worry he’ll break free and run back towards the road. 

Ring.  Ring.  Knock.  Knock.  An older gentleman answers the door with “how did she get out?” before I utter a word.   

“Oh, good.  She’s yours?” 

He picks her up and carries her into the house, tossing explanations of broken fences and open gates over his shoulder.  Anyone who’s seen me chase my dogs through our neighborhood knows I’m not one to judge. 

He returns to the front yard and introduces himself.  I've also met many a neighbor in hot pursuit of Spot.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

For the Birds

Day 332
Most days I throw on another layer to stay warm inside our house.  We like to call it the “charm” of an older house with little insulation.   

Our feathered friends don’t have the option of a sweater.  The freezing temps prompt us to fatten up our birds in hopes of keeping them warm.

The boys and I thread cheerios onto long pipe cleaners looping one end to make a hook and twisting the other to keep the cheerios from falling off.  It’s a fun, easy project for the kids and hopefully something the birds in the yard will appreciate. 

“Did you know that yesterday was National Bird Day?” F. asks as he reaches for a second pipe cleaner. 

“There’s a National Bird Day?”  I ask and wonder how he knows this.     

“Oh, yeah,” he says with authority but gives nothing away.    

“Then it seems a perfect project for today.” 

*Out of curiosity I google “National Bird Day” after the kids board the bus.  Darn it all, F. wins again.  Learn more about National Bird Day at   

Monday, January 7, 2013

School Days

Day 331
I join dozens of parents around Cincinnati giving a silent cheer when the yellow bus pulls up to mark the start of school.  As excited as I am with school starting, I bet a few teachers don’t feel the same. 

You know what makes me feel better?  Donuts.  And I’m not just saying this because I’m on day six of a 24-day cleanse.     

Then I think, donuts?  Is that really a kindness?  What if the boys’ teachers made new year’s resolutions like I did to eat healthy?  Wouldn’t a donut mock them? 

Clearly I’m over-thinking. 

The boys and I polish up three red apples. 

“I’m not bringing one,” F. says. 

“Me either,” A. mimics. 

They like Plan A. 

The bus rolls up and only I. holds his offering.  One out of three ain’t bad. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Watch Your Words

Day 330
“You must have the nicest boys.  Ever.”

I’ve heard this before.  People read my blog and assume.  Don’t. 

My boys are equal parts good and rotten.  Recently, the rotten’s winning out. 

This school break, they’ve made it a sport to find new, inventive ways to torture each other.  If they can make one another cry?  Oh, that’s just cake. 

I hear arguing in the basement playroom then the telltale stomping on the stairs.  Angus slinks into the family room and slumps himself into a chair.  He’s nothing if not dramatic. 

“Problem?” I ask. 

“Is it true when F. said his life would be better if I’d never been born?” 

“No,” I say.  “He’s just being mean.  Did you do something to make him mad?”  F.’s temper rivals the Hulk. 

“He said it after I punched him.” 

Instead of “Hum, do you think that was a good choice?” I go with “Words can hurt more than punches sometimes.”  

Angus’ shoulders slump.  “Yeah,” he frowns.  “They can.” 

“But maybe you shouldn’t punch him just the same.”  I can’t help myself. 

I yell down the basement stairs and tell F. and I. (because he needs to hear this, too) to come upstairs. 

“Boys,” I start my little lecture, pacing back and forth in front of the couch as they watch. 

“I do not like how mean you’re being to A.”  They both break into giggles, not an audacious start.

“OK,” I change tactics, “if you don’t have anything nice to say.  Try not saying anything.  At all.”  It’s an adage we all should adopt.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Full Bellies

Day 329
Who knew one of the day’s highlights would be feeding meters? 

The boys and I are downtown trying to squeeze out as much fun, fun, fun as possible before school starts on Monday: Skating at Fountain Square.  Lunch with Chaz.  Carew Tower.  Sweet Abby Cupcakery. 

What do the boys talk about on the ride home?  This.

I give each of the boys a handful of quarters and tell them to find expired meters.  Each embraces the task as they do life. 

I. analyzes each meter and carefully selects which meter he should feed. 

A. runs willy nilly down the street putting quarters in every meter he passes, even those without cars parked beside them. 

F. searches until he hits the jackpot and finds an expired meter flashing red. 

We cover four blocks.  Up.  Down.  Hungry meters get full bellies. 

“High five,” I say, smiling when each runs back to report and hold up their hand in triumph. 

Our mittens connect in a muffled slap.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Day 328
The older I get the more I regret the choices of my youth.     

As a teenager, I’d slather baby oil over my skin and bake in the sun.  For hours. 

I don’t apply moisturizer nightly.  I’ve been known to stay up all night just to see if I can.  Fruits and vegetables and I enjoy an on-again-off-again relationship. I don’t floss.  

I tell you all this to explain why in 2013 I’m pledging to be kinder to my body. 

Today I start a 24-day cleanse with a handful of friends.  I expect I’ll need an army to talk me off the ledge since from my perch there’s no sugar, no dairy and no bread. 

The boys and I talk about New Year’s resolutions, what they are, why people make them and why they’re helpful in pushing us to be better.

“Like a do-over?” A. asks.   

“A do better,” I say.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Something Unexpected

Day 327
“Mom, where are the eggs?”  This comes from the same boy who at three asked me where I keep the gasoline. 

“Why?” I ask with more than a little trepidation.

It seems his intentions are pure.  F. wants to surprise my husband with breakfast in bed. 

Whenever we can, we let Chaz sleep in.  He works long hours during the week, volunteers his evenings to the Cub Scouts and does the lion’s share of the cooking on the weekends.  Yes, if you’re wondering, I did marry Superman. 

This shocks all who knew my husband all those years ago. 

He was the one who was never getting married.  Kids?  Forget about it. 

Then I became his roommate in a rundown Capital Hill row house.  Six months later he proposed.  The rest as they say is history.  Sometimes you don’t know what you want until it moves into your apartment.  

I steer F. away from eggs and encourage him to make a breakfast that doesn’t include using fire.  He builds a plate of cereal, fruit, yogurt and toast.  I think it’s a nice touch that he trims off the crusts.