Melody Lumpkin


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So Many Letters

My 10 year old brought home a Scholastic Book Club order form today.  She was excited about a Star Wars Journal and the Guinness Book of World Records.  As she was flipping through, she saw a book called “Secret Stuff for Boys Only.”  She looked at it for a while and said, “Ugh! Why do they have to do that?  That just makes me feel mad.”

On the next page she saw the same book but for girls.  She looked at the descriptions of each of them and then said, “Why do they think just because I’m a girl I wouldn’t be interested in making a skateboard and that all I’m interested in is fashion?”

We talked about this for a while, about how she’s allowed to like skateboards and fashion.  I told her that I was disappointed in Scholastic for publishing these books.  We decided that they should have made them by interest (Secret Stuff for Sports Lovers or Secret Stuff for Fashion Lovers) instead of gender.  I said, “Do you want me to help you write them a letter?”

She sighed, looked at me, and said, “Mommy.  We’ve got a lot of letters to write.”

I agreed, “It’s a lot of work to change the world.”

  

 Update: Her Letter

Hi! I’m E____, a fifth grader at _____School in ____, California. I love that you have a book order where students can buy books, read them, and enjoy them. My mom ordered Honey for me earlier in the year and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

 

My teacher sent home a book order for January and I was looking through it.  I noticed that you have two journals, one for boys and one for girls: Secret Stuff for Boys Only and Secret Stuff for Girls Only.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to have separate books for separate genders.  What if a girl wants to learn how to design a skateboard?  The boy one seems to be about doing things and the girl one seems to be about feelings.  So I think it would be a better idea to have a book about doing things and a book about feelings without limiting the books to one gender.

 

Thanks for reading my letter.

 

Your Loyal Customer,

E_____


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Get Used to It

“What beautiful eyes she has!”This is a comment I hear often. My almost six month old has striking bright blue eyes. This time the commenter was an older woman. I thanked her politely and she added, “she better get used to it.”

  
She’d better get used to people commenting on her beautiful eyes. She needs to get used to people commenting on her body because it’s already starting. She is female, which means her form is open for comment and critique. Soon enough they will comment on her weight, height, skin, figure, hair, makeup (or lack there of). She’d better get used to it. As soon as she starts to learn what her body can do she will have people telling her what to do with it. She’d better get used to it. Unwanted comments, unwanted looks, unwanted touches. She’d better get used to it. 
No. I will not anesthetize my daughters to sexism and tell them it’s normal. I will not tell them “that’s just the way it is.” I will tell them that they are valuable. That they have agency. That they have power. I will not tell them that they better get used to it. I will tell them that I will work with them to change it. 


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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Today is a Monday. More specifically, the Monday after Halloween and the time change. Getting back into the routine of school was not easy this morning. E, my nine year old, was up an hour early, playing with Mr. Hamster, roller skating, and asking questions at a rate my pre-caffeinated brain could not keep up with. Her little sister, on the other hand, is not a morning person. She enjoys the warmth of her bed and the comfort of sleep. This morning I laid two outfits for C out on her bed and told her to get dressed and come downstairs for apple cinnamon oatmeal (a favorite of hers).

C, wanting to exert control of her clothing, choose one piece from each outfit resulting in a cute sweater/legging ensemble. It was cute until I realized as she was getting out of the car that the sweater is too short and the leggings too big resulting in a clothing gap around her middle. As I was trying to hitch her pants up, I noticed that she was covered in oatmeal.

I may have noticed these things earlier if I had not shut E’s fingers in the front door.

After I dropped C off, I went to get food for our family. I was trying not to beat myself up too much about the morning gone wrong, when I noticed the lady in front of me in line was having trouble getting out of her electric shopping cart. I offered to help her and she started telling me about her knee replacement surgery and how at 84 years old nothing works right anymore. She said, “Growing old’s a bitch, but it beats the alternative.”

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She has oatmeal on her clothes because she has food to eat (and because she’s a very messy eater). She has warm clothes that cover most of her body. She is happy. Having kids is a bitch, but it sure beats the alternative.


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School Decisions

Growing up in rural Arkansas did not prepare me for sending my kids to school in Southern California. When my oldest was 4, we started looking into schools for her kindergarten year. Where I grew up, there were very few options for schools. Most kids just went to the school in their district. A few were homeschooled. I didn’t know what a charter school was until it was an option for us as parents. We toured several schools before deciding on (and luckily getting into) the school that seemed best for our older daughter.

When it came time for our younger daughter to start school, things were a little more complicated. California changed the date that kids had to be five by to start kindergarten (from December 1 to September 1) and formed a new program for kids with fall birthdays called transitional kindergarten. Since our little one falls in that category, we were looking for a TK program for her and there was not one at the school were our older daughter attends.

We found two TKs that seemed like they would be a good fit. Deciding between them was hard, but eventually we choose the one with a shorter day and smaller class size. Two days before the school year began the teacher of this TK program quit. Other indicators of this school not working for us started to come up, but our kid seemed happy, so we stayed. A month into the school year, some more significant things started to happen. I called the other school we had looked at to see if they had space for our little one. They had one space open.

I took C to look at the other class. She fell in love with the class and the teacher in the afternoon we spent observing. The office told me that someone else was interested in the space, and the spot would go to whomever turned in the paperwork first. Matt and I talked it over and decided to switch schools.

Through out this, my stomach was in knots. How would we know if this would be a better situation for our kid? How would she deal with the transition? Would I be scarring her for life by pulling her out of a class where she had settled? I was really worried.

Her first morning, I stopped her and took a picture. She was excited about a new adventure and making new friends.
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The school has a dress code that only allows red, black, and white clothes. We had stopped by a thrift store to look for anything that would work in this dress code and she found this dress. Her second day she insisted on wearing it. I stopped her to take a picture because the dress was cracking me up. If ever in her teen years she’s embarrassed about anything I wear, this will be the picture I show her.
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By the third day, this was the established routine: stop for a picture at this spot. I went with it.
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I was so worried about this child starting a new school. I should not have worried so much. She loves school. She loves meeting new people, learning new things, trying new foods.
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On the fifth morning she was skipping in the uncoordinated, methodical way only five year olds can skip, literally dancing toward her classroom. This kid cannot wait to see what the day brings and what she will learn. Yesterday she got to watch construction workers pour concrete. Who knows what she will experience today? Whatever it is, she’s ready for it.
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Boundaries

Last week as we were driving home my nine year old daughter was complaining about one of her friends always asking for help.  We’ll call this friend Sally.  Eleanor said that Sally would always want her to retrieve things for her or carry her things and if Eleanor didn’t do it, Sally would get mad.  I told Eleanor, “It sounds like Sally doesn’t have good boundaries.”  Eleanor looked at me funny, so I explained:

Boundaries are like a fence around a yard.  They separate what you are responsible for from what other people are responsible for.  When Sally asks you to do all these things, it’s like she’s asking you to mow her lawn.  If her leg was broken or there was some reason that she couldn’t mow her own lawn, it would be great to help her.  But generally her yard is her responsibility to take care of.  

We talked about this for a few more minutes, then life went on.  A few days later at dinner Eleanor said, “I told Sally to stop trying to make me mow her lawn.”

“Did she understand what you meant?” I asked.

“Not at first,” she explained, “but I told her about the fences and how her yard is her responsibility.  So, today Sally asked me to do something, then she said, ‘wait, I’m asking you to mow my lawn.’ and then she did it herself.”

I sat with wide eyes.  I have been in so many relationships with people who have poor boundaries (not you, of course).  To think that I could make the friendship better by simply having a conversation.  I have so many things to learn from my children.


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An Apple A Day

On Monday, I packed nine year old E an apple with her morning snack.  She didn’t eat it.

On Tuesday, the same apple went back to school in the snack bag.  She didn’t eat it.
She said, “Don’t pack another apple for my snack.”
I answered, “It’s not another apple.  It’s the same apple.”

On Wednesday, the apple went back to school in the snack bag.  She didn’t eat it.
She said, “Mommy, I told you not to pack another apple in my snack.”
I answered, “It’s not another apple.  It’s the same apple.”

On Thursday, the apple went back to school in the snack bag.  She didn’t eat it.
On the way home from school she said,”Mommy, why do you keep sending this apple to school?  I’m not going to eat it.”
I said, “Okay, hand it to me.  I’ll eat it.”  I ate the apple.

On Friday, before she left for school she asked me, “Did you put an apple in my snack?”
I answered, “No.  I did not put an apple in your snack.”

Then I laughed.  I had put an apple in her lunch.


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Leveling Up

This year my littlest started school.  To complicate things, she and her sister are at different schools.  The schools are only about 5-10 minutes apart (depending on traffic) and the start times line up perfectly.  C has to be to school before 8am, E before 8:15am.  It’s a little tight, but doable.

This morning, things seemed to be going relatively smooth and I relaxed for a minute.  The girls were eating breakfast, lunches were packed, backpacks were by the door ready to go.  I felt on top of things, so instead of just combing their hair, I decided to style it.  I took an extra three minutes to put ponytails in their hair.  They looked cute. I admired my handiwork for a brief second before glancing at my watch and breaking the spell.  Those 3 minutes were ones we didn’t have and we had to GO.  Shoes on, out the door, down to the car, all in a blur.

As I’m pulling out of my parking space, I look at the clock and we are less than 5 minutes later than normal.  We should be fine, or so I thought.  I had one girl finishing her breakfast, the other doing her homework.  This all still seemed under control, if not a little pleasant.  I was helping the eldest work through her times tables (should have reviewed those more over the summer) and engaging the youngest in conversation.  It was a supermom moment.

And then we got stuck behind a city bus.  After several blocks, I was able to get around it, but we had already lost another couple of minutes.  This still didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me, until I realized I wasn’t factoring in school traffic.  C’s class starts 20 minutes before the rest of the school, so as long as we are on time, I don’t have to contend with the other 400 families bringing their kids to school.  When we got to the four-way stop that feeds into the school, I was behind a long line of cars.

C’s school is on the side of a mountain.  When I finally turned into the school’s steep parking lot, I realized there were no close parking spaces left.  I made a quick decision to look for spaces at the top of the hill where it’s not technically part of the parking lot, but much closer to the gate.  When I got up there, the only spot available involved driving over a curb.  The girls enjoyed the bumpy ride more than our car did.

I jumped out and started to unbuckle C when I noticed her face was covered in her breakfast.  As I grabbed a wipe and cleaned her up, E asked if she could just stay in the car and work on her homework.  I wanted to say yes. It would take me less than 5 minutes to walk C in.  I knew she would be fine, but all the stories about parents getting in trouble for leaving their children unattended in cars played through my mind and so I said, “I think 9 is old enough to stay in the car for 5 minutes, but I don’t know what the law is and I don’t want to get in trouble with the police.”  Of course, another mom overheard this whole conversation and shot me a judgy look.

As we ran C in, I remembered that today is the day that she is has substitutes (she has two teachers).  I forgot to remind her about it this morning.  Walking up to her classroom I said super cheerfully, “Remember, today is the day you get to meet the substitutes!”  I gave her a hug, shoved her in her classroom and ran back to the car.*  Of course, judgy mom was standing behind me for this great parenting moment as well.

E and I got back in the car, backed off of the curb and drove on to her school, with her finishing her homework along the way.  She finished the last problem as we pulled up into the drop off line.  I helped her stuff everything back into her backpack and she jumped out–at least 3 minutes before the tardy bell rang.

Only 170 more school mornings before summer.

*”Shoved” is strong language.  Maybe “physically encouraged” would be a better term.  Also, C loves school and was excited about meeting the substitutes when we talked about it a few days ago.

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