Fourth Time’s a Charm? Not Exactly

Last Friday, I spent six hours at my son’s middle school for Parent Visitation Day. I think this should negate at least six of my bad mommy moments (one for each hour ) — am I right?

This should be on my next Mother’s Day card, for sure.

Since this is not my first rodeo, I’ll shed a little light for those unfamiliar with the concept: On Parent Visitation Day (PVD, as I like to call it), parents follow their student(s) around from class to class in order to get a feel for what their day is like. Spoiler alert: it’s long, chaotic and exactly as you remember middle school to be.

When it comes to this shadow day, there are three types of parents: The super excited class participators who think this is the best idea ever (most likely, they’re with their first-born child and this is their first experience with PVD); The badass rebel who’s been through it before and says, “Nope. Been there, done that,” so they skip it (hey, no judgement here!); And the reluctant rule-follower who’s there begrudgingly and will most likely cut out early. I fall in the third category, although I wish I was in the second.

Having already gone through this torture three other times with my older son, I swore I’d never do it again. The first time, when my oldest was in sixth grade, I naively suffered through a full day of classes. The following year, I bailed before lunchtime. And last year, I arrived late and only made it through a couple of classes before I ditched. Does this make me a bad mom? Maybe. If so, just add it to the list. But I’m also an honest mom and Parent Visitation Day is sheer misery for me. The chairs are uncomfortable, I pee too much and I think I have adult ADD. Or maybe I’m just too old and uptight to enjoy it. Either way, PVD is my tenth Circle of Hell.

When I read the calendar last week, for a brief moment I though I was in the clear now that my older son is in high school. I actually thought I had dodged a bullet — until I remembered that my younger son is only in the sixth grade. As a newly minted middle schooler, that means I have three more years of visitation days ahead of me. Ugh! So I held my breath and secretly prayed … Maybe he wouldn’t want me to go. Surprisingly, not only did he want me to go, he was excited about it. Despite my best intentions to avoid a PVD four-peat (is that what follows a three-peat?), mom guilt won out. So there I was last Friday, suffering through yet another middle school experience.

I know I should have been happy that my eleven-year-old was excited to spend time with me, but I also knew it wouldn’t last. Sadly, I was right. My son’s excitement petered out midway through first period when I made mistake #1: Offering my help in Spanish class. To ease the embarrassment, I bribed him with the two mini muffins that I grabbed from the parent visitation lounge (a.k.a., the library, where they were conveniently hosting a book fair and spirit wear sale). Crisis averted  — at least until lunchtime, when I committed mistake #2: Asking a few of his friends to pose for a photo. It went downhill from there.

Product of my mistake #2: Photo evidence of my middle school “freshman” and some of his buddies.

If the past four years of attending parent visitation days have taught me anything, it’s that I know my kids and I know my limits. My kids like the idea of me being with them at school, but not the reality of it. And my limits no longer include six hours of middle school … Or wearing a name tag.

Maybe next year he won’t be embarrassed, or maybe he’ll tell me to stay home. A girl can dream, right?


Back to School: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

It’s the end of week 3 of the new school year and I’m already fed up with the morning struggle. Who’s with me?

This year, both my boys started in new schools (one high school, one middle school) with new start times, new bus routes and new schedules and commitments. But with all the newness, some things never change — at least not in the Tarr household. My boys still sleep through their alarms and need to be woken up. They still take too long in the shower and need to be hurried. They still treat breakfast like it’s Sunday brunch (read: slow and casual) and need to be prodded. And they still forget their stuff (e.g., lunchbox, house key, chrome book) and need to be reminded. Yes, this happens each and every morning. And yes, as a result, I yell at them each and every morning … But at least they haven’t had to chase the school bus yet. Score one for the Tarr boys!

Obligatory first day of school photo, 2017: Entering high school (9th grade) and middle school (6th grade), respectively.

Time management is a skill neither of my boys possess. Genetics are partly to blame, I’ll admit. I am perpetually five minutes late — in part because I’m always trying to cram one more thing in before I leave the house (e.g., start the laundry, empty the dishwasher, put on makeup if I’m lucky!) and in part because I still think nothing is further away from my home than twenty minutes (which is a falsehood I need to grasp after eight years of living here). But genetic makeup is only part of the story. I think for my kids, it’s a combination of not being morning people and not be interested/motivated. After all, going to school means sitting still and doing work for six and half hours. To tell you the truth, I kinda don’t blame them. But I still want to pull my hair out when they are checking their phones to read last night’s sports scores and trades instead of brushing their teeth.

I’m sure there are well-intentioned readers out there who would tell me to make better use of the night before: Have the boys shower, make their lunches, pack their backpacks and lay out their clothes for the next day. Done, done and done. My boys already do all of that, sans the clothes. They don’t care what they wear; They just pull from the top of the drawer. But even with all the prep and planning (and the extra sleep they are getting due to the later school start time), my kids still can’t pull it together in the morning without a struggle.

I know it’s only been three weeks and things will improve over time. We’ll get into a rhythm, we’ll find our groove and then it’ll be smooth sailing … Until the seasons change, sports shift and a new routine is required. #thingstolookforwardto.

Happy back to school season, everyone!

Think a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old are too old for a school-day “morning checklist”?!


Graduating on the Down Low

It’s graduation season! Since the middle of May, social media feeds have been populated with pictures and posts of smiling kids — from college students down to preschoolers — wearing their ceremonial caps and gowns, waving their hard-earned diplomas. There’s usually a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding graduations, at least for most kids. Not mine. My boys “graduated” from middle school and elementary school, respectively, a few days ago without much fanfare. No caps and gowns. No moving up ceremonies. No commencement speeches. No leather-bound diplomas. No big family parties or expensive gifts, either. Nope, not here. We marked the occasion with haircuts and pizza before running off to basketball and lacrosse. Woo, hoo! Do we know how to party or what?!

Post-haircuts, pre-pizza (6/14/07)

I’m not complaining. As a matter of fact, I’m grateful that my boys’ schools didn’t make a big production out of it. Less pressure for me. While I am proud of my boys for successfully completing their respective levels of education, there’s really no need to over-emphasize it. Everyone “graduates” from elementary and middle school, don’t they? Do they really need a long, drawn-out, formal ceremony? I mean, three-year-olds in mortar boards are cute and all, but like everything else, it’s all a bit much. Preschool proms and grade school graduations have become the equivalent of participation trophies in youth sports. In my humble opinion, if we over-celebrate all the little achievements, the big ones are diminished. Shouldn’t an ice cream cone and a “Way to go, buddy!” suffice? But high school and college graduations, those are each a much bigger deal in my book. Those are accomplishments worthy of grand celebrations.

Both my oldest niece and my oldest nephew graduated from high school last week. This is a milestone to honor and of which both should be proud, given their individual experiences. Both experienced the traditional splendor that accompanies many high school graduations: the processional, a few speeches, a musical performance, awards, more speeches, diplomas and finally, the recessional. The only marked difference was the clothing: My niece went to a public school in Chicago, so like everyone in her graduating class, she donned the customary cap and gown in her school colors; My nephew, on the other hand, graduated from a small, private school in New York and was dressed akin to his male classmates in white pants, a navy sports coat, white dress shirt and blue school tie (girls wore long, white dresses). She was stunningly beautiful. He was tall and handsome. Both were happy, excited and relieved as they accepted their hard-earned diplomas in front of jubilant family and friends. Definitely a day worthy of more than just a pat on the back. But for my kids, finishing 8th grade and 5th grade, respectively, haircuts and pizza was enough.

My handsome nephew, surrounded by his brothers and cousins (6/16/17).

My beautiful niece, proudly displaying her HS diploma (6/15/17).

Some of you may think our school district is lame for not holding elementary school proms and middle school gradations. Some of you may think I’m a slacker mom for not making a bigger fuss about my kids’ “moving up” from one school to the next. You may even think I’m too negative or jaded. Maybe, but I’m thankful to UCFSD for not forcing my hand into something more elaborate and expensive. I believe everyone should do what works for them (this is my motto in life) — For me, that was pizza for dinner. For others, it was sending a limo to pick up their kids on the last day of preschool or hosting an all-out house party to celebrate the end of 5th grade. To those parents I say, your kids are luckier than mine. For real (no sarcasm intended).

So despite my belief that we should save the big festivities for the bigger triumphs, I do wholeheartedly congratulate all those who graduated this spring — be it from preschool or college or somewhere in between. Way to go! … Now go eat some pizza.


Back To (Middle) School, Again

At this time last week, I was slinking out of my son’s middle school, trying not to look like a bad parent. Last Wednesday was Parent Visitation Day, a day when parents are supposed to shadow their children, attending classes and getting a feel for how their days are spent. I had not planned on going because I thought my big shot eighth grader wouldn’t want me there. Okay, that’s only half-true. I hadn’t planned on going because Wednesdays are a great heavy lifting day at my gym and I didn’t want to miss it, plus I had a writing deadline and, oh yeah, I just didn’t want to go. Two years ago, when middle school was a new experience for our family, I spent the entire day trailing my son … From 7:30AM to 2:30PM … It was brutal, and yes, I blogged about it.

But to my surprise (and slight disappointment), my 13-year-old did want me there. So after a quick morning workout at home and an even quicker shower, I arrived for my first (technically second) day of eighth grade.


That’s me at the end of eighth grade with my besties, Kerin and Carin. Yes, we are holding hands and yes, that is a big, white bow in my hair. Don’t judge!

Despite arriving a few minutes late and with my hair still damp (pulled into my trademark messy top-knot bun with headband, as usual), this time around I did it right. I wore comfy leggings with riding boots for maximum comfort to accommodate all the sitting and walking. I came prepared with a fully charged iPhone and a notebook to scribble notes for this blog post. I brought two large cups of green tea plus a big bottle of water to help me stay alert. And most importantly, I ditched school after morning classes to avoid the cafeteria disaster. Two words, people: Older (and) wiser.

Later, while I casually ate my lunch at home, I read through my notes and reread my blog post from two years ago. Not unexpectedly, my commentary was nearly the same: The school is still a depressing rat maze, it’s still easy to pick out the sixth graders from the eighth graders, the chairs are still super uncomfortable and I’m still tardy. That said, I did make a few new observations this time around. Specifically,

  • most moms dressed to impress; I was showered and out of my workout clothes, so I guess I was, too
  • geography is pretty boring (today’s lesson: cartography = snoozefest!)
  • I don’t remember much from geometry class
  • middle schoolers don’t pee (at least not before lunchtime)
  • my son is pretty popular in the middle school hallways, and so am I 🙂
  • my kid, while a pain in the ass most days at home, really is a good kid

After attending six classes in four hours, I can honestly say that I am not cut out for school anymore. I am too fidgety, uncomfortable and uninterested (except for Honors English class). Plus, I pee too often. So while I’m still bummed about missing last Wednesday’s workout and I’m certainly not looking forward to doing this again next year when my younger son hits middle school, I am glad I went because it seemed to make my son happy … And isn’t that what it’s all about?


My eighth grader with his buddies: Too cool for school. Oh wait, that’s not what they say anymore … They’re on fleek.

What boys looked like when I was in the 8th grade.

For comparison, here’s what boys looked like when I was in the eighth grade back in the 80s.


(Not) Music to my Ears

I do not come from a musical family.  No one can read music, play an instrument or even carry a tune.  Nonetheless, where I grew up, joining the school band or orchestra was a rite of passage.  During elementary school, my sister tried to play the flute.  When she couldn’t get a sound out of it, she switched unsuccessfully to the clarinet.  I played the violin and erroneously thought I was pretty good because I was second chair.  In hindsight, I think I was just the second best of the worst.  In any event, a music career was not in either of our futures.


This horrible photo is the only hard evidence that I actually played the violin.

Fast-forward thirty years and the tradition continues.  When my oldest was in fourth and fifth grades, he took up percussion:  A relatively safe choice that included a simple drum pad and bell kit (think xylophone, but metal and high-pitched).  He practiced regularly that first year and was pretty good, so listening to him was relatively painless.  It was even more painless the second year when he lost interest and conveniently “forgot” his instrument at school each week, which meant he stopped practicing at home.

Now my 9-year-old is playing percussion and it is anything but music to my ears.  At first, I was thrilled because (1) we already have a perfectly good drum pad and bell kit so we didn’t have to pay for another instrument and (2) listening to my first newbie drummer wasn’t a horrible experience, so I figured it wouldn’t be this time around either.

I was wrong — at least on the second count — and now the thrill is gone.

As much as my boys look alike and enjoy many of the same things, they are very different in many ways.  Learning how to play an instrument is one of those ways.  My 9-year-old struggles with the notes and does not understand how to control the volume.  Every drum beat is deafeningly loud.  Every bell note is deafeningly loud and high-pitched.  And because he hasn’t mastered the notes yet, the deafeningly loud sounds he produces are anything but melodious.  I love my son, but listening to him play the drums/bells is killing me slowly.  I realize it’s only been a month since he started lessons, so I can only hope for both our sakes that he improves over time.  He can’t get any worse, right?

So what’s a mom to do until practice makes perfect?  I, for one, am going to search the house for earplugs, put on my ‘good mommy pants’ so I can praise his dedication and fortitude and then say a little prayer that he occasionally “forgets” his instrument in school … Just don’t tell him I said that!


He looks cute, but he’s no Ringo Starr.


Just Say No! Why I am the Nancy Reagan of Volunteering

Let me start by saying thank you to all those moms and dads who volunteer to coach, manage, organize and otherwise get involved for our kids’ sakes.  Truly, I appreciate your time, effort and dedication.  I used to be one of you.  I used to be a volunteer slut.  I didn’t know how to say no.  Class mom, team manager, spirit wear coordinator, committee chairperson, field trip chaperone … I said yes to it all.  Repeatedly.  For years.


At first, I enjoyed spending time in the kids’ classrooms and being productive on the sidelines.  But after a few years and a few too many volunteer posts, the joy was gone.  I was over-committing and becoming resentful.  As I became a more seasoned mom, I realized that I wasn’t always saying yes for the right reasons.  I wasn’t always saying yes because I wanted to.  I was often saying yes because I felt I was supposed to.  That’s what stay-at-home moms do, right?  We volunteer.

But not anymore.  Not me.  Now, I hardly ever say yes.  Now, I am a volunteer prude.

As a freelance writer with a corporate background, I am the PTO’s wet dream:  I have the time, the skills and the resources to help.  What I don’t have is the drive or the desire, for three simple reasons:

  1. My kids don’t care.  Back in the day, my boys used to beg me to be in their classrooms to help out.  Nowadays, they practically beg me not to get involved.  I guess it’s just part of growing up.  Fair enough … You don’t have to tell me twice.
  2. I’m not interested in impressing other moms.  Let’s be honest … Kids don’t care if cupcakes are homemade and Pintrest-worthy or store-bought and prepackaged.  They just want cupcakes.  There are, however, a handful of moms who are prone to judging and think that as a stay-at-home mom, I should be baking Duff Goldman-quality treats.  I’m not even close, but it’s all good because I’m also not trying to impress anyone.  I’m too old for that crap.
  3. I don’t know how to do it casually.  As a perfectionist, I stress over everything being done right and I end up treating my volunteer posts like full-time jobs.  I invest way too much time, energy and money and as a result, become bitter.  Ironically, volunteering makes me mean and that’s not good for me or my family.

So now I follow Nancy Reagan’s advice and just say no.  At first I felt guilty, but I’m over it.  I’m even getting good at it.  Last month when the homeroom parent sign-up sheet came around, I politely passed it along.  When the JV football team searched for a team mom, I graciously declined.  When the PTO requested book fair helpers, I nicely and unapologetically said no thank you.  This doesn’t mean that I won’t do my small part when asked.  I will happily contribute money or supplies when I can.  I will even help out at the occasional class party or team dinner if my kids want me to and time permits.  But if you’re looking for someone to spearhead the upcoming Halloween party or organize the next fundraiser, I’m no longer your girl.  Worker bee, yes.  Queen bee, no.

Am I a slacker?  Maybe, but it’s for the best.  I know my family would agree.



Fundraiser Overload

I love autumn.  The weather gets cooler, the leaves turn colors, football season is in full swing and fundraising season is winding down.  Yes, I said it — the dreaded “f” word (and this time I’m not talking about the 4-letter “f” word that rhymes with ‘art’ and makes my skin crawl).  If you have kids in school, be it elementary, middle or high school, then you know what I’m talking about.  ‘Tis the season for school spirit wear sales, book fairs, magazine drives, wrapping paper campaigns, team car washes, mattress bargains (yes, that’s a real thing) and boosterthons (be it a run-, jog- or walk-athon).  Even the annual fall class picture day event is a fundraiser.  Multiply these activities by the number of kids you have and the requests become overwhelming.


I get that these fundraisers are necessary in order to provide our children with cool and unique experiences not covered in the school budget (insert commonly expressed, “What do I pay taxes for?” remark here).  And while I appreciate that most of these campaigns are highly localized, reaching only our school community, it’s the larger appeals that stress me out.  The drives and -thons.  The ones for which teachers bribe students to guilt out-of-town family members and friends into ponying up money for a magazine subscription or pledging $1.00+ for every lap they run (knowing full well that every kid is encouraged to complete 35 laps) in exchange for some small prize.

Problem is, those of us with kids (or those of you with grandkids, nieces, nephews or even just friends with kids) are inundated with the same requests.  Every kid in every school comes home with the same magazine drive, the same boosterthon campaign, the same candy/wrapping paper/tchotchke sale.  Maybe if schools started selling wine or raffling off useful commodities like a night of free babysitting or a reserved parking spot at Back to School night, they’d see a better return.  I, for one, do not need any more wrapping paper and will most likely never buy my mattress from the high school football team … and I’m pretty sure neither will my parents, sister or friends.


So if you recently got an email from me about a school fundraiser, know that I sent it against my will and do not expect you to contribute.  Really.  But if you are so inclined, thank you, thank you, thank you!  I’ll try to return the favor so your kid, too, can come home with a new boomerang or wrist band he’ll never use.


P.S. This hysterical Texas middle school fundraising letter (shown below) has been making its way around the internet to the delight of parents everywhere … Genius!


One Down, Forty More to Go

Week #1 of the new school year is officially in the books.  Thanks to the long Labor Day weekend, the kids only went to school for four days this week, and it’ll be another four-day week next week, too.  This is probably a good thing because our first four days weren’t pretty.  Here are our less-than-stellar highlights, by the numbers:

  • One lost algebraic calculator (lost on the first day, nonetheless!)
  • Two rough mornings, complete with running after the morning school bus
  • Three begrudging trips to Staples
  • Four “parent homework” assignments (WTF?!)
  • Five school checks written (for those “extras” not covered by my tax dollars)

It really was kind of a record-breaking week for the Tarrs.  Losing something on the first day was a first.  Last year, nothing was lost until the end of the first week and I think we made it to week #2 before we had to chase down the morning school bus.  As for those trips to Staples, I think even the cashier felt bad for me  The first visit was to buy a replacement calculator, the second was to return said calculator after the original was found in my seventh grader’s locker (I’ll say it again, having a penis makes you blind — or at least gives you tunnel vision) and the third was for yet another “required” 3-ring binder.  For the record, I refuse to step foot in Staples again for the rest of the year.  When my kids come home next week asking for book socks to cover their text books, guess what I’m going to say? … No way, Jose!  The Tarr boys will be kicking it old school with brown paper bag covers on their text books.


Good thing I collect Whole Foods shopping bags!

Next week, we get to start over.  I hope my kids will wake up on time.  I hope they won’t lose anything.  I hope I won’t have to go to Staples.  But even if it’s a less than perfect week once again, I will remind myself of the alternative (two kids home, under my feet all day!) and be grateful for the few hours of solitude that I gain when school is in session.

One week down, forty more to go … We got this!


My Back-to-School Boycott

It finally happened today … The first day of school.  As I posted last year, I do not get sentimental when the kids go back to school.  I don’t cry or worry or wish they could stay home longer.  Honestly, I don’t really even miss them during the day.  Does that make me a major bitch mom?  Maybe, but I’m okay with it because I know my kids don’t miss me during the school day either.  The way I see it, we’re even.  This year was no different for me.  Following a trying last two weeks of summer, I practically pushed my boys out the door with two hands this morning … After taking the obligatory first day of school photos, of course.


First day of 7th grade, 2015.


First day of 4th grade, 2015.

Usually, my boys love going back to school.  This year … Not so much.  Their usual excitement seemed more like ambivalence (for my fourth grader) and even indifference (for my seventh grader).  I’d like to say it was because they simply wanted more time with me, but I know that’s not true.  I think schoolwork/homework is the true buzz-kill.  Older and wiser, I guess, even at ages 12 and 9.  The good thing is, their lack of enthusiasm made it easy for me to boycott the hell that is back-to-school shopping.

This year, we kept it simple:  A fresh haircut and some new underwear.  That’s it.  No new backpacks or lunch boxes.  No new clothes or sneakers, either.  Not even school supplies (sort of).  This year, we did back to school on the cheap.  Reduce, reuse, recycle — That’s my motto for the 2015-2016 school year.  Last year’s backpacks and lunch boxes were cleaned and reused.  Unworn summer clothes were pulled out for the first time (just like new!).  And with the exception of a few folders and a couple of three-ring binders that needed to be purchased, unopened supplies from last year were put to good use (I swear I could open my own Staples with the amount of unused notebooks, pens, markers and glue sticks we have left over each year!).


A family tradition started by my grandma: New underwear for the new school year.

Am I being a back-to-school killjoy?  Am I being cheap?  Yes, but I like to think I’m also being practical … and environmentally conscious.  Luckily, I have two boys who don’t like to shop and don’t care what color their notebooks are.  They’d rather spend money on Eagles tickets or new basketball shoes.  To that, I say … Deal!

Happy New School Year, everyone.


Field Day of Dreams and the Dirty “C” Word

Field day.  Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s when I was in elementary school, field day was the biggest end-of-school-year event on the calendar.  The set up was a combination track and field meets color wars event.  It was fun, it was loud and it was competitive.  We were divided into teams and competed in events like the long jump, high jump and 40-yard dash.  We also ran potato sack races, three-legged races and played tug-of-war.  Individual and team points were awarded, scores were kept and winners were named.  I think we even received ribbons (although my memory is a little fuzzy on this part, so don’t hold me to it).


Fast forward twenty-something years to yesterday … field day at my third grader’s elementary school.  Kids were divided into equal color groups, not teams (this distinction was intentional).  There was no long jump, high jump or 40-yard dash.  No potato sack race, three-legged race or tug-of-war.  No points, scores or winners, and definitely no prize ribbons.  Field day at my son’s school is not a competitive event.


In our school, competition is considered the dirty “C” word.  No one says this aloud, but it’s true.  Nothing is about winning and losing.  Just participating.  Reading events, talent shows, Box Top collections … all just for the fun of it.  No motivation to finish first.  No challenge to do your best.  The school’s ideology fits right in with the “everybody gets a medal” mentality that is rampant on little league fields and soccer fields around the country.  I don’t usually agree with this ideology, in part because I’m competitive and in part because that’s not how it was when I was growing up.  Back in the day, we had winners and losers, and only the winners received awards.  Sure, the runners-up were sad, but they got over it — quickly — and life went on.  Competition was, and is, natural.  It’s healthy.  It’s motivating.  It’s part of life.  And before anyone sends me an email about how “winning at all costs” isn’t healthy or motivating, that’s not what I’m talking about.  Good sportsmanship trumps winning every time, but it doesn’t mean you don’t give 100%.

Back to field day … Despite my competitive nature and upbringing, you may be surprised to read that I am happy that field day at my son’s school isn’t competitive.  Why?  Because this event isn’t about who is faster or stronger or more talented.  It isn’t even about sports.  It’s about getting the kids — all kids, even the ones with disabilities — moving, laughing and playing together.  Something they should be doing ever day, but sadly many are not.  Field day is just a fun day, plain and simple.

To keep it light, the event has a theme and the games are silly, requiring a good attitude rather than good skills.  This year’s theme was Rock ‘n Roll, so each of the 12 stations was named after a song.  Some examples: Wipeout (ride a boogie board in a kiddie pool), I Wanna Rock (pick up marbles with toes), Welcome to the Jungle (race to collect stuffed animals before being tagged), Pour Some [Water] on Me (race to fill up bottle with water), Walk This Way (walk course with huge inflatable ring around belly), and so on.  Each time the song “I Love Rock and Roll” was played, it was time to change stations.  Throngs of blue, red, yellow and green clad kids from kindergarten through fifth grade ran from station to station, squealing with delight and singing along with the music.  Not one kid stood still.  Not one kid was left out.  Not one kid looked unhappy.  Despite the overcast skies and unseasonably chilly weather, UE’s field day really was a success … a dirty, wet, loud, joyful success.


And I bet everyone slept well last night, too.