No good deed …

Last night we did something we never do: We stayed out past dark. Dan, who normally avoids social activity on Friday evenings, preferring to recoup some energy after expending so much during the work week, suggested we go see a production of “Snow White” at the school where he teaches. It was going to be an interactive show and kids in the audience could participate, maybe even go on stage and act as dwarves, Dan explained. Six-year-old Annabelle was thrilled.

“I like acting,” she said. “I’m going to get that job when I grow up.”

Oliver, who is by far the more reserved of my two children, stated repeatedly that he had zero interest in being a dwarf. He would watch the play, but he would NOT participate.

“Don’t be so emphatic about it,” Dan said to Oliver as he drove toward the school, ignoring the fact that Oliver hasn’t yet worked “emphatic” into his third-grade vocabulary.

Normally, if Oliver doesn’t like something, Annabelle automatically assumes it isn’t worth her time to try it. He doesn’t particularly like performing. He first explained this to us when he was 6 and I was trying to make him go to church. The worst part about Sunday school, he said, was the singing.

“I don’t like singing,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m a religious person, which I’m not.”

My question was, at 6 years old, how did he know he was not a religious person?

For what seemed like years after that, Annabelle would say she didn’t like singing, either, but I knew it wasn’t true. From her infancy, she perked up when she heard music. She liked musical movies and shows the most. Even now, if she hears a good song on the stereo, she’ll run over and sing if she thinks no one is looking.

So all of us going to an interactive play on a Friday night felt to me like kind of a breakthrough for not only Dan, but Annabelle, too.

Everything was just great until they called for kids in the audience to volunteer to be dwarves. Annabelle’s hand shot up and stayed up. But they picked seven kids, and she wasn’t one of them.

At first she tried to hide her disappointment. I heard a muffled sniffling and saw her wiping away tears. In the grand scheme of things, I knew this was nothing. It was nothing compared to having a kid who is really sick. It was nothing compared even to having a child with food allergies and chronic skin problems, which affects our lives pretty much every day.

But still I felt a little stab in the heart for her. I knew it was among the first of many times she’ll feel rejection. It wasn’t even real rejection this time, but someday, it will be.

Dan looked over at Annabelle as she hid her face and sniffled.

“Why is it everything I do turns to crap?” he asked me. He didn’t really say “crap,” of course. It’s just that since we’re both supposed to be role models, I try to avoid cursing in public, much, or admitting that he ever curses.

“I don’t know,” I told him. “I often ask myself the same question.”

Annabelle asked if we could just leave. I told her that we couldn’t walk out then because it would be rude.
I told her I would sign her up for acting classes so she could have a chance to play a part.

“When can I start?” she asked me. “Can I start tomorrow?”

And it was only intermission. On top of that, there were no refreshments for sale, and I was really craving a cookie.

I know I’ll be a pretty laid-back parent when it comes to my kids getting picked for whatever team they’re trying for. I’m not very competitive and I don’t feel like my kids’ lives will be ruined if they don’t make varsity. I’m the opposite of a Tiger Mom.

But rejection sucks, even when it is only perceived rejection.

Some of my friends and colleagues believe we coddle our kids too much these days, give them too many awards for showing up and tell them they’re all special when it’s a lie. I disagree. I’m not a big fan of the You’re Not Special movement. By the time kids are in middle school, someone makes sure they know they’re not special and why. I can still remember a guy in my creative writing class when I was in high school making fun of a birthmark on my chest. He said it looked like bird crap. Except he didn’t say “crap” either. I still think of him every time I wear a V-neck shirt.

At any rate, we survived “Snow White” on Friday and Annabelle wasn’t crying when we left. She just asked me when she could start those acting classes I had mentioned.

We let the kids stay up late, so naturally they got up early.

At least I’ve figured out what kind of classes I can sign Annabelle up for. Like so many parents with more than enough real problems, I admit that I had been doing a fair amount of deliberating on that issue.

As for keeping my kids out after dark, I’m feeling the same way about that as I have about a lot of my recent endeavors: Never again … until next week.

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Woman makes Venn Diagram in attempt to visually compartmentalize stress

Husband deems strategy ineffective, “passive-aggressive”

WATERFORD, Va. – When Shirley Kemp began having trouble sleeping, her husband suggested she start making lists of things she needs to accomplish in order to clear her mind before going to bed.

Kemp had been making traditional to-do lists for years, so recently, when she awoke at 3 a.m. and found herself unable to get back to sleep, she decided to list her chores in a Venn Diagram instead.

Venn Diagrams are a type of graphic organizer unheard of outside of academia, but widely used by educators like Kemp and her husband, both schoolteachers, as an instructional strategy to engage visual learners.

Kemp’s husband, Arnold, said he found his wife’s drawings disturbing, even passive-aggressive.

“I get up at 6 a.m. and the coffee is way stale,” Arnold Kemp said. “I ask Shirley, ‘How long have you been up?’ She says she’s been up ‘awhile’ and shows me this thing with all her household chores on it as well as her to-do list for work. Who needs that at 6 a.m.?”

Arnold Kemp said that upon examining the list, he abandoned his efforts to make coffee and began unloading the dishwasher, breaking a glass as he worked.

“It was an accident,” Arnold Kemp said, “and it never would have happened if she hadn’t started in on me at 6 a.m.”

For her part, Shirley Kemp denied ever making any attempt to engage her husband in the household chores.

“I never asked him to do anything,” she said. “It’s true that the Venn Diagram is considered an engagement strategy to aid visual learners, and I do think men are more visual than women. I mean, he’ll watch a chick flick if it has a good-looking woman in it, but there is no way I’m going to sit through a movie about car chases and explosions. I don’t care who’s in it.”

Arnold Kemp dismissed his wife’s claims that she never intended to upset his peace of mind by listing her stresses in a Venn Diagram.

“She has no concept of all I have to do,” he said. “She’s never mowed a lawn in her life.”

He said he finds ways to enjoy his chores, including restoring antique lawnmowers.

“Women just enjoy talking about their misery. Men know it only makes things worse. We take action,” Arnold Kemp said, as he headed to his garage, where he said he planned to tinker for a couple of hours.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” Arnold Kemp said, “I am so glad I am not a woman.”

Is there life after the Easter bunny?

I had my chance yesterday to say goodbye to the Easter bunny forever, and I’m not sure why I didn’t take it.

We were in the car on the way back from visiting friends when Oliver asked me if I would buy him the movie we watched at their house.

“Maybe the Easter bunny will bring it,” was my response.

“But isn’t the Easter bunny just you and Dad?” the 9-year-old asked.

There it was – my golden opportunity to break the chains that have bound me on two major holidays every year for the past nine. If the bunny went, Santa would surely be history as well. So what do I say?

“Nope.”

“Annabelle’s asleep,” Oliver said, as if goading me to confess the truth, that we’ve been, well, lying to him about the existence of an Easter bunny all of his life.

I looked back and saw 6-year-old Annabelle’s head bobbing back and forth and her eyes fluttering, but, overhearing the conversation, she awakened.

“Some people don’t believe in the Easter bunny,” she said.

“Yeah, well, some people don’t believe in anything,” was my response.

In a way I don’t know why I didn’t just confess right then. I’ve always been a little conflicted about the whole Santa Claus/Easter bunny thing for several reasons. One is that, technically, it is a lie, and I remember feeling betrayed and let down when I found out there was no Santa Claus. Two is that kids may come to the conclusion that if Santa is made up, then maybe so is God, and if there is no God, then life is just hard until you die and that’s beyond depressing. And the third reason is that having to be Santa and the Easter bunny is a major responsibility during an already hectic occasion.

Once my kids stop believing in Santa, I can flat out tell them that we’re not getting this or that for Christmas because it’s too expensive. I can stop feeling obligated to buy candy and toys they really don’t need because “it’s Easter.” I can stop standing in long lines with a cart full of crazy, colorful stuff when what I really want to do is sit at home with a cup of tea.

Or can I?

Once my kids figure out that the Wizard of Oz is really just an old man behind a curtain, will they still expect me to make holidays special by planning all the food and festivities? Because it’s kind of exhausting and there’s a part of me that fantasizes about having an “experience holiday” at some resort where everyone opens maybe one gift and I don’t prepare a meal for 48 hours.

But I guess I’m not ready for that yet. I guess I want just one more year to be the Easter bunny. I have this really cute idea for their baskets this year.

A few years ago, after spending way too much time thinking about the ethical dilemma of whether or not to propagate the Santa Claus lie, I came to the conclusion that there is a Santa Claus. It’s just not one person. You often hear of people giving to charity, paying it forward, of Angel trees and such.

The pragmatist in me still says there’s too much commercialism in American holidays. It takes away the meaning and ultimately creates a certain amount of misery. But the paradox of being a pessimistic type is that I NEED fun more than the average person. I need to force myself to create some sort of magic for someone else because I won’t do it for myself.

There’s a line I love from the Counting Crows song “Mr. Jones”:

“Believe in me. Help me believe in anything. I want to be someone who believes.”

A few weeks ago, Annabelle told me “the Leprechaun” brought her friend some gold coins, filled with chocolate. The Leprechaun didn’t stop at our house.

“I think maybe it wasn’t the Leprechaun who brought her the coins,” she told me. “I think maybe it was her Nana.”

“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe the Leprechaun didn’t come here because he knows you’re not supposed to eat much chocolate. He might tell the Easter bunny not to bring chocolate.

Annabelle thought for a moment before she responded.

“He wouldn’t do that.”