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I Look Awesome!

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by Melissa Face

Dressing Delaney was simple last year because her school required a uniform. Each day she wore a plaid jumper over a white polo, with matching navy tights and black Mary Janes. 

Life was easy then. There may have been no room for creativity, but there was also no room for arguments.

This year, Delaney is in public school, and she has a bit more freedom in her wardrobe. She has always had a strong sense of self, and more recently, that has transferred into her fashion choices. She knows what she likes, and what “looks bad.” And she is very much aware of the effects a fantastic outfit can have on her self-esteem.

“I look awesome in this!” she exclaimed the other day, while trying on a black leotard at Target. She has since worn the leotard around the house on the weekends, but thankfully, she hasn’t mentioned wearing it to school.

She has, however, asked to wear the shirt portion of a Wonder Woman costume, and she became incensed when I pointed out that it was tight and showed her belly. 

We don’t always agree on what fits.

Another issue we don’t see eye to eye on is color coordination. 

“That doesn’t match,” I told her, as she slid her legs into striped leggings and pushed her arms through a floral print top.

“Yes. It does,” she argued. “They both gots pinks in them!”

To minimize the morning clothing chaos, we pick out Delaney’s outfits for the week on Sunday afternoons. She tries each one on. She looks at herself in the mirror, then she does her splits. If the outfit passes both the fashion and flexibility tests, we hang it up in the closet, so it’s ready to go. We also pick out a few alternates because…she’s Delaney.

This week’s lineup includes leggings, a rainbow skirt, and two Halloween costumes. Before I agreed to costumes, I checked the school’s handbook and read the dress code line by line. The costumes don’t include a mask; they aren’t revealing, and they are longer than her knees. They really look more like dresses than actual costumes. 

There is, however, a clause that prohibits clothing that is “disruptive to instruction.” 

But isn’t that the very essence of being a kindergartner? Five-year-olds, by nature, are disruptive to instruction. What difference does an outfit make?

I’m letting her wear the costumes this week. If we’re told they aren’t appropriate, she won’t wear them to school again. I’m not encouraging her to break rules, but I do want to encourage her to express herself.

At five years old, there is very little that Delaney can control about the world around her. But if a few outfits can make her feel ready to take on this crazy world, she needs to wear them. I want her to feel as awesome as she did in that black leotard, every day of her life.

Mother-ship

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by Melissa Face

I was worried about the start of school this year. I wasn’t sure how the kids would do without me. And honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would be okay without them.

This summer was an emotional one for us. I lost my grandmother, and my children experienced death for the first time in their young lives

Aside from two long weekends and an overnight stay, we were always together. 

Every. Single. Day.

 And even though they often drove me nuts, I wasn’t ready for them to be under the supervision of someone who cannot possibly love them as much as I do.

From mid-June to early September, we were both captain and director of our summer cruise ship. We decided when it was meal time, how long we could stay at the pool, and how many snacks we could consume each afternoon. 

We set no limits. 

On September 3, our ship docked and the all-inclusive vacation ended abruptly. My little passengers embarked on new adventures in kindergarten and third grade. They had their own set of concerns at first: Would classmates be kind? What would the teacher be like? Who would we sit with at lunch? Would the new itinerary allow time for multiple snacks?

Evan was especially concerned about the increased rigor and the first year of SOL testing. Delaney was more worried about the change in her sleep pattern. “I’m not a wake-up kind of girl,” she reminded me the night before.

Fortunately, their fears were minimized once they arrived at school, found their seats, met their teachers, and reached out to make new friends.

The first week, though it was only a three-day week, was smooth sailing. They had virtually no adjustment period, and I found myself, once again, saying, “They are okay. They are strong kids who deal well with change.”

For the next few months, Evan and Delaney will be at sea, learning new skills, creating new bonds, and taking in new experiences. 

And in December, they will return to me for a couple of weeks. We will sleep in, watch movies, bake cookies, and enjoy the freedom of setting our own schedule again.

I can’t wait to welcome them back aboard.

Granny

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by Melissa Face

***Previously published in September Sasee. ***

I’ve been thinking about my childhood, longing for the simpler days, and wishing I could clean up my life’s messes the way you would mop your kitchen linoleum. One section, then another.

 “Good as new,” you’d say.

I liked when you picked me up from school in your gray Chevelle. That whale of a car floated down Highway 460 and you didn’t mind giving it a little gas, especially right when the light turned green. You backed off once you reached the speed limit, though. You weren’t one to break a lot of rules.

I remember sitting at your kitchen table, eating carrots dipped in ranch and working on my “lessons” as you called them. You let me eat as many after-school snacks as I wanted: dunkin’ sticks, hot chocolate, or something homemade you planned to save for Sunday lunch. You let me have it anyway. 

You chatted some while I did my homework, but you mostly kept busy with chores. You washed and peeled vegetables, shelled peas,  and snapped beans. I nudged your Lazy Susan and watched your African Violets spin a kaleidoscope of green and purple. 

“You need to finish up your lessons, now,” you reminded me. 

Once I completed my work, I daydreamed by the kitchen window. I flipped through stacks of seed catalogs and gawked at pictures of unusual vegetables: purple potatoes, red carrots, and bumpy gourds. 

Sometimes we walked to the back lot and ate apples from the tree or tasted tomatoes from the garden. We surveyed the farm, checked on the azaleas, and flattened down some of the raised spots the groundhogs made. 

“Ornery critters,” you’d mutter.

I liked snooping around your bedroom when you were busy with other things. I peeked at your house dresses, arranged neatly in your closet and stiff on wire hangers, your shoes in rows on the hardwood floor. I found your closet was exactly like the rest of your life: clean and organized, with no hidden surprises. What you see is what you get. 

I opened the makeup on your vanity, tubes of rounded, red lipstick and several black pencils. I wondered for the longest time what you did with those pencils. What were you drawing?

I remember you cleaning your house with ammonia.

 “It stinks,” I complained. “Why do you clean with pneumonia?”

“It’s ammonia,” you corrected. “Doesn’t your momma clean with this?”

I’m pretty sure she didn’t. I remember the smell only from your house. Your house, sterile as an operating room. Windows up on nice days, floral breezes in the kitchen. You scrubbed and cleaned and polished and scrubbed some more.

In later years, you had to be careful cleaning around the house, pruning azaleas, and working in the flower bed. The slightest brush against something left your arms sleeved in shades of purply blue. You blamed the bruises on aspirin.

“I don’t even remember it happening,” you told me. “So I guess it didn’t hurt much.”

You changed your bandage and revealed a slice of skin shaved back like parmesan. I held my own arm and winced. But you tended to your wound without even an “ouch,” doused it with rubbing alcohol, covered it, and got back to work.

I remember you as tall, strong, and fearless. I can picture you in your green church dress that you knotted at the waist. I remember your hair, styled and colored, dark with violet hues. Sometimes Lady Clairol gave you more shades than she advertised.

You always had good advice, too. Finish chores you like least, then do something you enjoy. And let yourself air out at night; parts need to breathe.

The years have passed quickly.  Twenty-three of them. I wish I could remember more. More than the azaleas, the smell of ammonia, and the pencils on your vanity. Something more than the shades of purple on your arms, your hair, and your African Violets by the window.

I wish I could forget some things, too. Like the way the corner of your mouth hung after the stroke, how you struggled to find words, and the way your walk became a shuffle. 

I wish I could forget my parents’ car parked in front of the funeral home, the knowing, denying, refusing. It’s all part of my memories of you; there’s no separating good from bad. 

It’s like the bowl of succotash on your Sunday table. I can’t spoon out a butter bean that hasn’t touched a tomato. 

But what would you say about the wanting to remember and the trying to forget? What would you tell me about my incessant daydreaming and worrying?

“Worry is a waste. Do something practical.”

What would you say about the messes in my life? 

Start with what I like least and fix that first, maybe. Clean up the mess. One spot at a time. Then, air it out. Things need to breathe.

Good as new.




Back to School Thoughts

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by Melissa Face

My family and I walked into one of our favorite fast food chains the other day. I immediately recognized the young woman across the room at the drive-thru window, and she noticed me. She removed her headset and called to another employee to switch places with her so she could come take my order at the counter. But first, she gave me a hug.

“Mrs. Face! How long has it been? It’s so good to see you!” she said.

I told her I was very happy to see her, and she quickly caught me up on college and work. We chatted a little bit more until our order was ready. Then, my family and I ate and said goodbye.

“That happens a lot,” my son, Evan, said on the way to our car.

“What does?” I asked.

“You seeing your former students. It happens all the time. At restaurants, at the movies, at the mall. They’re always so happy to see you.”

“That’s true, Evan. They usually are.”

“Well, it kinda makes me proud,” Evan said.

“Really? Why’s that?”

“It’s just cool having a mom who is a teacher and who really loves her job,” he said.

I believe that sometimes things happen right when we need them to. And I really needed both of those things at that moment  – the quick visit with a former student and the admiration from my own child. 

You see, if I’m being completely honest, this is the first year since I began teaching that I haven’t felt excited to return to the classroom. Despite the fact that I do truly love my job, I just haven’t felt ready to go back. It’s not that I need more time at the pool or one more road trip, though those aspects of summer are pretty fantastic. I’ve just been feeling like I’m not emotionally prepared to go back to my job. 

A big part of my summer break has been spent grieving the death of my beloved grandmother who left us unexpectedly in mid-July. The loss is significant, and the pain is intense. I am more exhausted now than I was when school dismissed in June. 

The other difficulty I’m having is being separated from my own children again. They will be entering third grade and kindergarten at a school that I like very much. But with our country in a state of constant violence and upheaval, I’m not ready to have my kids out of my sight. School supplies, SOL scores, and AR goals all seem so trivial to me right now. I just want my kids to be safe. Nothing else matters more than their safety.

Anyway, teacher work week is rapidly approaching, and I have to get myself prepared whether I want to or not. Since I’m a compulsive planner and list maker, I’m making a list that I hope will help me keep things balanced personally and professionally: 

  1. I will continue to put relationships at the forefront of my teaching. I will treat my students with respect and provide an environment that is safe and inviting. It may not look like a Pinterest classroom, but it will be a welcoming space for them to share concerns and discuss difficult topics. 
  2. I will set firm boundaries. I will only grade at home if it’s a major assignment and we are nearing the end of the grading period. Weekends are for family and my personal projects.
  3. I will not allow hectic work and school schedules to keep me from doing the things that really matter to me. We aren’t over committing ourselves to a variety of outside organizations or over scheduling the kids this year. But we are making a weekly dinner date with my parents, and we’re sticking to it. Life is short.
  4. I’m going to make certain my two children know that even though I love my job, I love them much more. And I will make sure my actions mirror my words.

I’m struggling a bit right now, but I know I’m going to be okay once the first bell rings on September 3.  I may not have six weeks worth of lesson plans complete or a perfectly decorated bulletin board, but everything will be fine. My students don’t need a “perfect” teacher any more than my children need a “perfect” mother. They just need someone who cares about them, values relationships, and can help guide them through this crazy world. And I can do all of that – even on my worst days. 

Pre-Order I Love You More Than Coffee

Are you trying to balance raising a family with maintaining your own identity?

 

Have you ever been so exhausted that you showed up to a meeting carrying your baby’s diaper bag instead of your briefcase?

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In her debut collection, I Love You More Than Coffee, Melissa Face writes about the emotions we all experience as parents: anticipation, joy, fear, guilt, and worry. Whether you are a new or seasoned parent, you will find common ground in Melissa’s heartfelt, humorous, and authentic stories of her life with two young children.

If you love coffee a lot and your kids (a little) more, this book is for you. Fill your mug with your favorite brew and settle in with I Love You More Than Coffee.

 

“An honest, heartwarming, and hilarious look at motherhood. If you’re about to be a mother, in the trenches, or looking back, this is the perfect book for you.”

– Elizabeth Varel, Editor, Parhelion Literary Magazine

 

Pre-order your copy at the link below!

 

I Love You More Than Coffee

Reflections on Forty

***Published in Sasee Magazine – August 2019

by Melissa Face

IMG_4933For the past couple of years, I have noticed significant changes in what brings me joy. A great sale, for example, is pretty darn exciting. An upswing in my 401k balance is another fun topic of conversation, but that hardly ever happens. And scheduling more than one medical appointment in a day gives me feelings of productivity and accomplishment that really cannot be rivaled. All of these habits point to one fact: I’m not young anymore.

And just in case there were any doubts, I proved this truth recently when I called my parents after a visit to a new pharmacy. “They are so nice here!” I said. “They filled my prescription quickly; my out-of-pocket was cheaper than other locations, and I was able to make a cup of coffee while I waited!”

“That’s great, Honey,” my mom said.

I paused for a moment and thought about what I had just told her. In the past, I have called my parents to describe restaurant visits, share updates on an interesting piece I was writing, or repeat something hilarious one of my students said. But today, I called my mom to tell her about a trip to a drug store.

“Holy crap,” I thought. “I’m old.”

Getting older definitely has its challenges. My skin and hair require maintenance that wasn’t necessary in my younger years. I take acid reflux medicine to offset the side effects of my blood thinners. And I make food choices based upon how they will make me feel the next day instead of whether or not I enjoy eating them.

Despite these hardships, I must admit that there are some pretty awesome things about getting older.

For starters, I have learned to say “no” and not feel guilty about it. Whether it’s serving on another committee, assisting with a school function, or accepting additional responsibility at work, there are times when I must say “no.” Years ago, this bothered me a lot more than it does now. But I have learned that there is no one sitting around, brainstorming ways of making my life better or easier. No one else is putting my needs first. That is my job. And sometimes that means taking care of me and saying no when my plate is full.

Another benefit to aging I’ve noticed is gaining the ability to own my faults and not be too hard on myself for them. I know that I can be impulsive and easily distracted. And I realize that those are only two of many faults and imperfections I have. I make mistakes, but I also admit when I’m wrong, and I apologize when I hurt someone’s feelings. These are not easy things to do, but they are much easier now than when I was younger.

I’m also aware that I’m not very domestic, and now that I’m forty, that’s probably not going to change too much. I don’t enjoy cooking and I only clean before vacations or when I know someone is coming over. I’m grateful that there are other people who don’t mind those things, and I’m fortunate that one of them happens to live in my house.

One of the biggest insights I’ve had is that my past does not define me. I am no longer the immature and irresponsible 19-year-old that I sometimes still hear in my own head. My mediocre high school career did not determine my future success, and I can still accomplish anything I want. I can be proud of what I have already achieved, and I can stop trying to prove myself to people who never realized they were asking me to.

The wisdom and confidence that come with aging are incredible. Sure, I go to the doctor a lot more frequently than I used to, and I’m sometimes a bit shocked by my own before makeup reflection. But I love my age, and I especially love that even though my skin is saggier and more wrinkled than ever before, I’m finally feeling comfortable in it.

Thanks for the Invite: Why My Child Will Attend Your Child’s Birthday Party

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By Melissa Face

A couple of weeks ago, my five-year-old daughter handed me an invitation to a birthday party at Swaders Sports Park (think Chuck E Cheeses, but with more activities, tastier pizza, and fewer mice). She insisted that I post the invitation on the refrigerator so she could look at it often until party day. And she did. Every time she walked through the kitchen.

“I’m so excited!” she shouted. “I’ve been wanting to go to Swaders for years (really only about a couple of months), and now I finally get to go!”

Her excitement intensified on the drive to the party. It was a level of chattiness that I’ve only witnessed a few times with her.

“What do you think we will eat? Pizza? Hot dogs? Will we eat first or play first? Oh my goodness! Will there be cake? I wonder what kind! I’ll bet Maddie likes chocolate! What about ice cream? Do you think there will be ice cream? Mom! Do you think she will have goody bags? With candy?”

She asked at least one hundred questions throughout our 15-minue drive, and she didn’t wait for my responses to any of them. She was too excited and so adorable.

I mimicked her enthusiasm to the best of my ability, and it wasn’t too much of a challenge. Maybe I’m in the mom minority, but I don’t think birthday parties are the suckiest things ever. 

For starters, I am an adult, and I realize that the party you are hosting is not for me. I am not expecting trays of cocktails (not a bad idea, though) or bacon wrapped scallops. It is not my social event; it is my child’s. I will make small talk, offer to help pour sodas, or pass out plates and napkins. I will take pictures of my child having fun and do whatever is necessary to help pass the time. I can do these things because I am a grown-up. And I am wise enough to know that it is not your job to entertain me. I can schedule my own social engagements that do not revolve around a child’s birthday party.

Some moms have complained that food allergies are the reason they can’t tolerate kids’ birthday parties. My son has had a nut allergy since the age of two. He is eight now, and we have never skipped a party because of his allergy. Most venues are understanding and allow me to bring in outside food, provided that I can show them a certificate from the bakery. Parents are equally understanding and offer me a list of cake ingredients, as well as substitutions when necessary. Each year, there are fewer and fewer people who are unaware of food allergies and their potential, serious reactions. So, sorry folks – not a good reason to skip a party.

Sure, sometimes birthday parties are at inconvenient times. Sometimes I don’t know anyone at the party except my own child. Sometimes allowing one of my children to attend a party means securing a sitter for the other. Sometimes I would rather do other things or just relax at home after a long week. But I’m not going to bail on your kid like that. If you invite us and we don’t have other plans, we’re coming to your child’s birthday party.

A big part of my rationale is that I don’t want to think of a child having no guests at his party. And I certainly don’t want to be responsible for that type of disappointment. This was one of my fears when my son was little and I organized his first few parties. I was so neurotic about it that I had a back-up plan in mind in case no one showed up. Fortunately, that never happened to us. But it did happen in Arizona. Last year. To a kindergartener. 

But my main reason for attending your child’s party is I remember the magic of birthdays. Birthday parties were a childhood staple for many of us. Sure they were simpler then: most cakes were homemade, parties were held at parks, pools or homes, and there was less focus on entertainment. 

The intent hasn’t changed, though: we are still planning ways to celebrate our children. And you do that however you want: hire a petting zoo, host a paint party, make slime, decorate pizzas, or rent a bounce house. And we will come if we can.

 Birthday parties are magical for children: the games, gifts, goody bags, etc. Every birthday morsel is delicious. And guess what?! The fun doesn’t end when the party is over.

In fact, it has been two weeks since my daughter attended her friend’s birthday party at Swaders. She is still talking about it. She can’t wait to “swing on the purple thing” again and she just HAS to play the goldfish game next time because she’s positive she has figured out how to hit the jackpot.

I’m glad that I was able to help my daughter have that experience. She has the opportunity to attend her friends’ parties without seeing her mom sulk in a corner. Nope, I’m going to be right there having as much fun as possible, maybe too much fun. That goldfish game is pretty awesome, and I can play some mean skeeball if those kids would free up a lane already.

Seriously, though, thanks for including us. We appreciate the invite.