Clarinets Should Come With Earplugs

“I’ve made my decision,” my 10-year-old daughter said proudly. “I want to play the clarinet.”

Squeaky clarinet

Squeaky clarinet

The clarinet. Just what every parent wants to hear. Or really, plug their ears and pretend they can’t hear. My daughter is in fifth grade and our school district makes it mandatory for fifth graders to play either a string or band instrument. I’m sure there are all sorts of studies on how music helps budding young minds. Or soothes their tween angst.

I think it is really just a conspiracy to make parents lose their minds.

“Clarinet. Are you sure?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “I tried one in class and I could really get a sound out of it. I couldn’t really make a noise with the flute.   I made a really loud sound with the saxophone. Maybe I should play the sax?”

NoNoNONO. The clarinet was just fine, thanks very much.

I admit I have no experience with band instruments. I was a string player myself. I started off with the violin in fifth grade and proudly screeched my way through 50 versions of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (thank you, Suzuki Method). I had tiny yellow tapes across the fingerboard so I knew where to press. I didn’t even have a shoulder rest, but a kitchen sponge held on with a rubber band. My father called it “a squeak box”.

In middle school, I started playing the string bass. The bass was much taller than me and didn’t fit on the bus (which didn’t thrill my mother who had to drive me on “bass days”).   But the low notes were smooth, I loved the tone and probably thought I could be a bass player in a band some day. I even dragged that silly bass to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in the summer. Hiking through the woods with a bass on your back was not the most fun. (Right now I’m painting a pretty cool picture of my adolescent self, huh?) By high school, I was interested in theater and big hair. I gave up my orchestra dreams.

photo-22With the big decision made, I found myself at our local music store asking the guy behind the counter for a clarinet.  He hesitated for a moment and said, “Well, I don’t recommend buying one of those. You should just probably rent and see if your child really likes it.” Not a strong endorsement from a music store guy.   Then he went on to say, “Kids in the band are crazy. Orchestra kids are much better behaved.”

Thanking him for the unsolicited music/behavior observation, I left with my rented $26.50/month clarinet.

My thrilled daughter couldn’t wait to play it. She slathered cork grease on the insides, walked around with a reed sticking out of her mouth and wiped the clarinet with a cloth. Then she put it together. And…

OhDearLordItWasAwful.

The sound was unlike anything I’d heard before. It was like a dying whale. A forlorn honking mixed with a high-pitched squeak and whistling air. A deafening tone like testing the emergency broadcast system. Click here if you dare:

And she was so proud. I told her we’d have to set up her own special practice area. In the basement. Or at her grandparents’ house.

Maybe she’ll be a professional clarinet player and nail that solo from Rhapsody in Blue. “That’s my girl!” I’ll yell from my seats at Orchestra Hall. Heck, I’ll be happy if she ends up playing a few notes in a row without a squeak by the end of the year. Whatever she ends up doing, I know there will be a lot of practice between now and then.

Earplugs in.

 

 

 

 

The Attack On Snack

My 5-year-old was decked out in a blue and red uniform and cleats, hopping from one foot to the other.

“I’m so excited for soccer!” she yelled.

“What are you most excited about?” I asked.

“Snack!” she exclaimed. “I get snack after the game, like chips or cookies!”

SNACK. I hear the word “SNACK” at least 80 times a day. Apparently children can’t go an hour and a half without eating something. Even the word “snack” has taken on a life of its own. It’s not even “A snack” or “THE snack”. It’s like the term “prom”. You’re not going to “The Prom.” You’re going to prom. (And I’m sure they’ll have lots of snacks there)

Snack feeding frenzy

Snack feeding frenzy

You have to pack snack for school. You get snack after school. There must be snack at Girl Scout meetings, soccer and baseball games and Sunday school.   At the 5-year-old’s soccer games, there are TWO snacks. One for half-time, and then one for AFTER the game. Oh, and make sure you have enough for every player’s siblings who are hanging around at the game. And don’t even think about dodging the snack sign up. The parents in charge of snack patrol will track down and give you snack duty. One friend tried to start the “Ban Snack” movement last year at our oldest daughter’s soccer games. Didn’t work.

Snack happens any time there’s an event. If your soccer game is at 9am, your kid will be eating Chips Ahoy in a snack pack by 10am. Dinner at 6pm? Better hope your child doesn’t have a 4:30pm kick off – otherwise their appetizer will be Cheetos and Sunny D. Eat a light breakfast on Sundays, because church class is sure to pass out the donuts during the hour-long class by 10:30am.

Yes, the note goes home in the beginning of the year, advising that the snacks should be “healthy”. Not sure what foods fall into that category anymore. Everyone seems to have their own interpretation. Potato chips and Cheez-Its seem to be the most popular at games. But too many times have I seen 7-year-olds in a snack scrum with Nutter Butters and Oreos.

I end up being the snack killjoy, because I bring granola bars. Nope, not the chocolate-chip-drizzled-with-dark-chocolate-stuffed-with-cashews-granola bars. I get the regular hard oat ones that come 2 to a package. They break teeth. Word gets out among the kids. They know whose parents give good snack. Let’s just say no one is clamoring for Mrs. Samuelsen (my married name) to bring the goods. Hey, I got edgy and brought Sun Chips once.

As for school snacks, it’s usually Goldfish crackers because I have no idea when they eat these snacks, and if they are really hungry. In preschool last year, my daughter had TWO snacks. They got to school at 9am and were snacking by 9:45am. Seriously.   Many times half eaten snack comes home, crushed in the bottom of the backpack.

Snack of champions

Snack of champions

Maybe I’m just lazy.  I hate packing something extra - I already loathe making lunches.  No, no I don’t want the children to starve. Yes, it’s a long (insert activity here) school day, Sunday school session, game etc. No, I won’t tell you that “Back in my day….” And of course I could forbid my child not to touch the tantalizing snack that everyone else is chomping on.

Sigh.  But I’m sick of snack.  Children everywhere, though, seem to love it.  And I’m sure Costco does, too.  It’s the only place you can buy 36 granola bars in one handy granola bar box/carrier.

Oh – and the little one’s soccer snack?  Let’s just say it took hard scrubbing to get the orange off her fingers.

Detroit to NYC: 9/11 Journey 10 Years Later

I wrote this 3 years ago. It’s still hard for me to read, and to watch the video.  We will never forget…

 

When I woke up on September 11th, 2001 in Royal Oak, Michigan I had no idea I would go to sleep that night in New Jersey – with the cloud of smoke from lower Manhattan visible from my hotel window.

Live In NYC

9/11 is my generation’s “Where were YOU?” We all have the stories. No, I didn’t run for my life, watch the towers crumble from blocks away or lose someone I loved. I instead had a front row seat to history as a reporter. And for a week, struggled to cover the story of my lifetime.

I was sleeping on 9/11. Until the phone woke me up. My new husband (married almost 4 months) called to tell me to turn on the TV. As I watched both towers in Manhattan burn, my call waiting beeped in. It was my boss at Channel 7 (WXYZ). He told me to start packing and come to the station because I was going to New York. This was 9:20am.

By 11 that morning, after the Pentagon was hit, the towers collapsed and Lord knows whatever else was going to happen, I was in a van and driving to New York with photographer Nate Penn (thankfully an easy-going, kind, hard-working and huggable man). Midway through Pennsylvania, electronic road signs warned that all bridges and tunnels to Manhattan were closed.

When we reached New Jersey that evening, we had to talk our way through turnpike check points, in order to reach our satellite truck at Liberty State Park (LSP is just south of lower Manhattan across the river). As we got closer, we could see the smoke, and hundreds of ambulances lining the waterfront waiting for the injured that would never come. Minutes before I went on the air, my newsroom told me of a breaking report of more explosives in New York. I was numb.

The next day was a blur. I had about four hours of sleep and we still couldn’t get into Manhattan. Instead we interviewed rescue workers who came in and out of Liberty State Park to dig in the pile. People started walking up to our truck, asking us to put their missing family member’s picture on the air, in hopes of getting information. The acrid smoke was foul-smelling, and there was the constant, thundering parade of fighter jets circling Manhattan. They were the only planes in the air. I did five live shots from New Jersey that day/night, standing alongside a line of reporters, all talking at once.  We learned the bridges and tunnels to Manhattan would open the next day. I dreaded it.

Thursday morning we drove through the tunnel and into Manhattan. The traffic was terrible. Soldiers held rifles at the checkpoints. We parked near Chelsea off the West Side Highway in a public garage. I had a map in my pocket, several camera batteries in my backpack and carried the microphone. I was wearing blue tennis shoes. (blue. Who let me buy blue sneakers, let alone wear them??) Nate had the camera. We looked at each other and just started walking south. We wound our way through Greenwich Village, the streets were silent, which was just so bizarre. I remember at one point we saw garbage trucks packed with wreckage rumbling up the street. There was a mini shrine on the opposite corner, with candles and fliers of missing people. Sirens, I can’t explain the sirens. They were constant – whether chirping, or blaring, or beeping. The continued roar of fighter jets. The smoke. We stopped on Houston Street. I had to get my breath.

Me and Nate, on 9/11/03

Where was I going? This was the hardest part. As a reporter, I’m usually sent somewhere to cover a story. A murder, a fire, a city council meeting. There’s only a certain amount of people who are a part of those stories – it narrows your focus.

But this. I was sent to the aftermath of a terrorist attack. IN NEW YORK CITY. The stories were everywhere, on every corner. Do I stop the woman crying on the sidewalk? The teen passing out water bottles to workers? The only guy I saw walking on his block? I froze. I was overwhelmed, anxious, scared and tired. Nate looked at me and said, “What do we do?”

For ten minutes we just stood there. Finally I saw sanitation workers walking in a group. Toward Ground Zero.

“We’re going to follow them,” I said to Nate.

Turns out they were sanitation workers that had been reassigned to clear wreckage at Ground Zero. We walked more, and ran into little stories everywhere. A cop gave us filter masks to wear. A woman pined a red, white and blue ribbon on my jacket. Each person I met, gave me the ammo to keep going. We stationed our live truck along the West Side Highway, near the staging area for work crews going in and out of Ground Zero. I had made it through the “What the hell am I going to see?” day. A few times the sirens were so loud and frantic, they made me want to burst into tears. After my 5pm live shot, I did.

On Friday, my toughest stop so far. A fire station in Midtown that lost 12 men. The Captain spoke with me on camera, but none of the guys did. I spoke with a few privately and one firefighter broke down while talking with me. There’s something about seeing a man cry, knowing he’s so emotionally and physically pushed to the limit, that he breaks down in front of a stranger. I won’t forget his piercing blue eyes.

The President arrived that day – and we talked to people about what he said, how they were coping. Much to our surprise, the President’s motorcade drove right past our live camera during the 5pm news. That night when we went to grab dinner, people started coming out to street corners with candles. Restaurants stopped, people stopped – as close to a moment of silence as you can get in New York. That night it all caught up to me – on the air I remarked that we had been there since Tuesday night. It was now Friday, and it felt like a lifetime had gone by. At this point  I had traded in the TV reporter suits for a zip up jacket I bought at the Gap a few blocks away and jeans.  

On Saturday we decided to find volunteers, loading food and supplies onto trucks for workers at Ground Zero. There were hundreds of skilled trades workers waiting to volunteer down at the pile. I managed to meet two men who were transporting those workers and asked if Nate and I could ride with them. The press wasn’t allowed within the Ground Zero boundaries. (There was even one reporter who impersonated a federal agent to get near the pile. He got arrested) We took a risk to even go that far, but I had this need to see it for myself.   The guys agreed to take us, so Nate put his camera on the floor and covered it up. We didn’t touch it, but instead our volunteer drivers took pictures with their camera. And I finally got to see with my own eyes.  It was as terrible as you can imagine, a smoking pile, so very high. The pictures on TV couldn’t capture it. Nate and I didn’t get out of the tow truck. We just looked. Later that night, we dashed into Midtown, begged a drug store film developer to turn the pictures around in an hour.  (There were a lot of people getting film developed – showing their pictures of the World Trade Center in flames) We got them just in time for our 11pm story.  

Two more days of reporting – finding people moving back downtown, the stock exchange opening back up- and then we went home. A full week after we left. I couldn’t watch much tv when I came home because I just found myself crying. I couldn’t fully react when I was in New York, because I was frantically trying to tell the story, setting up for 5 live shots a day, sleeping only a handful of hours a night and constantly thinking, “Ok, what’s next? Where do we go from here?”   It came pouring out for weeks after.

That year I went back to Manhattan two more times, and did features on the viewing platform at Ground Zero and Fresh Kills Landfill, where they processed the remains. I was there for the first and second anniversaries.  It felt better to be back those times – it was less frantic, there was rebuilding, life moved forward.  I was able to be a part of a healing New York, which made me love the city even more.

Blue shoes, mask and newspapers

This anniversary, I will be at home, with my three children and husband.  I wonder when my kids will start to be aware of 9/11 or how I’ll explain it to them.  I still have all the newspapers I saved from that week, and those silly blue sneakers. It has been difficult to look back at this old video.  I have always been uncomfortable seeing myself on TV, I can’t help but be critical of everything: my voice, hair and gestures. I also feel bad for that girl from 10 years ago, in the middle of it all – sometimes talking too fast, talking too much or struggling to find the right word. I want to tell her, it’ll be ok.   And it is, though military jet fly overs still make me shaky.  But I find that many of the decisions I’ve made in my life have been influenced by what I did and what I saw that week in New York. Admiration for people who persevered, even after their lives changed in an instant. The knowledge that life is fragile.  And faith – I felt that God watched out for me and helped put people in my path, so I could do the job I had to do.

As journalists, we all want to tell THE story. I got that chance. Ten years later, and it is still so clear. I will never forget. I hope we all never forget.

There’s No Crying In Kindergarten

“I’m going to Kindergarten today!” my third child yelled at me when I opened her bedroom door Tuesday morning.

Indeed. She was already dressed and rolling around on her bed, throwing her stuffed giraffe in the air.

It was the day I had been waiting for, counting down, dreaming about. The day all three of my children would be in school, at the same time. The closets I could clean! The work I could do without interruption or guilt! The meals I would plan! (Ok, maybe I’m getting a little ambitious)  Plus, it was like getting a raise. For the first time in years, I wouldn’t be paying for preschool or childcare. Visions of new shoes danced in my head!

But really, it was about freedom. Freedom from chasing a toddler, inventing random trips to Target to kill time, or playing “Little People” for hours on end.  (I was running out of Little People story lines- there’s only so much Eddie and Sonya Lee can do) It was freedom for her, too. No more mother hovering. Finally she could do what the big kids do, like eating lunch at school. Which, according to the third child, is the best part of Kindergarten.photo-17

As we walked to school together, she skipped over lines on the sidewalk and chattered on about seeing friends. She grabbed my hand and swung it as she walked. Suddenly, her plump cheeks and lips didn’t look so babyish. When did her legs get so long? And who taught her that Iggy Azalea song? (Curse you, “Fancy”)

At the Kindergarten door, she hugged her teacher, cautiously looked around and found a seat at a table. Parents gushed and took pictures. When we kissed her goodbye and told her to have a good day she answered with a happy “I will!” No tears, no hesitation.

I was the one who suddenly hesitated, and the feeling hit me like a ton of bricks. This wasn’t my first time at the ‘ol Kindergarten rodeo, mind you. I dropped off two kids before her. It was always a new and happy beginning – I had no problem scooting them through the door and leaving. But I always had a smaller child on my hip. I knew I would experience the Kindergarten shuffle again in a few years.

But this time when I dropped off a child, I didn’t have another one. It was just me, with my list of things to do. Which was still liberating and exciting. And suddenly sad at the same time. It was the realization that I wasn’t just finishing a chapter, I was moving on to the next section of the book. The baby days were done and believe me, I’m not looking forward to the teen years. Suddenly my eyes welled up. Must have been allergies.

At the end of the first day, we picked up our Kindergarten queen. She knew all the class rules and of course, when lunch would be. Hard to be sad, when someone is so happy and exactly where she needs to be.

Now, time for some shoe shopping.

Kitchen Calendar: Blueprint for Chaos

Every time I walk by my calendar on the kitchen counter, I break out in a sweat.  The scribble in each square is taunting me, as if to say “I own you lady, for the next 6 weeks.”

I have officially entered the most hellish time of the year – where wild-eyed parents of multiple, school-aged children have to figure out who is getting where and when.   And like some activity addict in a 12-step program, I take it one day at a time.   Don’t talk to me about next week.  I’m still figuring out today.

The 8-year-old plays baseball, which requires practices twice a week and will ramp up to 2-3 games a week. (Long, very long games.  Like watching grass grow, bless their little minor league hearts) The 10-year-old plays soccer three times a week and she does ballet.  Which is twice a week.  The 5-year-old? Well, she lives in the van that I pilot all over our city and constantly begs for iPad access to play Angry Birds Star Wars.  She also wants to know when it’s her turn to play soccer.  “Never,” I say.

May hasn't even started yet

May hasn’t even started yet

The timing is the worst part.  Everything seems to happen around the same time.  6pm.  Dinner?  Who has time to eat? Dinner turns into a meal on wheels.  Lots of hard boiled eggs, crackers and fruit in baggies.  In the van. There’s not an air freshener alive that can combat the sweaty egg smell combined with foot odor in my vehicle by the end of the week.  Homework has also become a van activity.  I helped my daughter study for a history test while sitting in baseball bleachers last week.  Throw in my part-time job and the fact my husband works evenings, and I’m an over scheduled, frazzled mess.

I’ve had friends suggest a color-coded white board in my kitchen.  Everyone can see it, everyone knows what’s coming up.  Still others say I should coordinate my schedule with my husband in the “cloud”. (All the cloud has done for me is mix my husbands contacts with mine, so his college roommate’s number pops up first when I start typing in J. Annoying)  Plus there’s something about seeing it actually written down that helps it sink it.  Siri can’t help with this.

Perhaps they shouldn’t do all of these activities, you say.  Just pick one and stick with it.  I get it.  My son will never be a pro baseball player and my daughter will never be in a World Cup soccer match.  Unfortunately, each activity seems to have the demands of Olympic training.   And it makes it kind of hard for kids to pick what activity or sport they like – if each activity is so all consuming they don’t have time to try anything else.

The two things that save me are carpools and my parents.  And a glass of wine at the end of the day, er, week.  (Ok, that’s three things)  I’ve realized you have to do activities with friends because sharing the driving duties is the only way to survive.  I’m also extremely lucky there are grandparents around the corner to pick up a dancing child, while I’m delivering a third baseman across town.   My parents smile, laugh and seem to remember my years of soccer, dance, tennis and show choir (yes, show choir – don’t judge my jazz hands).  They made it happen for their four girls, without grandparents.  And somehow it all worked.  My mother likes to remind me, “You can only do what you can do. If they’re late, or if they miss something – they’ll live.”

Simple enough.  And in mid-June I’ll be home free.

But last week, after an especially rousing game of catch my son asked,”Hey mom, am I going to try out for travel baseball?”

Never.

 

Birthday Treats More Painful Than Labor

It’s my own fault. I admit it. The picture looked really easy when a woman I worked with last fall showed me.

“My grandkids loooove the Minions from “Despicable Me,” she cooed. “So I made these cupcakes and they are so cute and fun!”photo-3

When I showed my three kids, who are Minion lovers, the picture of impish yellow heads sitting on blue frosted cupcakes, they went nuts.

“Will you make these for my birthday?” begged my son Josh.
“Sure! I can make those.” I boasted, pretty confident that he’d forget about the cupcakes when his birthday rolled around seven months later.

Like many of my parenting assumptions, I was wrong. Josh, the king of remembering random sports stats, never forgot about those cupcakes. A month before his birthday, Josh came to me and said it was time to plan his birthday party. I froze.

He’s only had one party, when he turned six. Eight boys came over to our house. One fell in a puddle, a glass broke, one screamed “cheater” during touch football, and another wanted to go home. That was in the first fifteen minutes. As one of four girls, I looked over at my husband and shakily asked, “So, is this what boys do?” He nodded slowly.

So I’ve sworn off boy birthday parties. Terrible, I know.

“Well, if I’m not having a party,” Josh says. “Can you make those Minion cupcakes for my class?”

What?! He remembered. But really, how hard can they be?

Kitchen disaster

Minion Creation Station

Two boxes of Twinkies, a massive bag of Smarties (sorting through each roll for the white ones), tube of icing, sprinkles, two boxes of cake mix and two cans of electric blue frosting later, I was on my way to a Pintrest nightmare.   Even the check out lady at Kroger looked uneasily at my cart, as if to say “Do you really need all those Twinkies, lady?”

That Saturday night (yes, this is what Saturday night has become) I was parked at the kitchen counter, smearing on eyeballs and poking sprinkles on top of little Minion heads.  Thanks to a strong gimlet, some of the smiles are a little crooked.  Word to the baking wise, never drink and decorate.

When I finally sat those babies on top of the blue frosted cupcakes, my kids crowded around like they were looking at the eighth wonder of the world.   The builders of the pyramids had nothing on me.

“These are the best treats ever!” Josh yelled gleefully.

Crooked and crazy looking, they were.  And categorized as a “Never Again” project.  Why do we do this to ourselves? These half Twinkie, smartie-eyed, blue frosting smeared messes symbolized a mother’s guilt.  Perhaps some store-bought cookies could symbolize my no-birthday-party-guilt next year.  It would save me some serious time to feel mother guilt about something else.

The report from school was a thumbs-up from the second grade class.  Not a picky crowd, I’m sure just blue frosting out of the can would have been a hit.  But the birthday boy was pretty happy and I guess I’m a sucker for his sweet smile.

“So good, Mom!” Josh said as he ran down the hall, bumped into a wall, yelled ‘whoo hoo’ and pretended he was hitting a baseball.

On second thought, Minion cupcakes instead of eight boys doing that in my house?  Hmmm..

 

photo-2

Crooked Minions

Lunch Box Confession

On Friday, I will be free.

Sure, I will have three children running wild through my house until the beginning of September.  Of course, they’ll fight every two hours and repeatedly ask me what we’re doing next.  Yes, they’ll leave the top off the sandbox when it rains, their dirty shoes will crowd the back step and a trail of snack food will cover the pantry floor.  And I imagine I’ll be begging the school district to take them back early in mid August.

But it’s a trade I’m willing to make for freedom from the worst parental school year chore of all time.

Packing lunches.

Please, not another lunch

Please, not another lunch

I can’t stand it.  It’s the nightly ritual I dread.  It would seem so simple to pack a lovely, nutritious meal for your darling child to eat each day at school.  But it ends up making me feel like a grouchy, short order cook who goes through a box of Ziploc baggies a week.

There’s never a quick or simple way to do it. One kid likes mustard, the other doesn’t.  One wants wheat bread, one likes white. One wants ham, another pb & j, one wants sliced melon, another wants grapes.  I’m sure there’s a super mom out there that makes those cutesy, Pinterest-inspired, fun kid lunches that turn cucumber, turkey and hummus into a fake sushi roll.  Yeah, you win, lady.  I don’t even operate in your league.

Perhaps it’s awful because I do it at the end of the day when the kids go to bed.  After chauffeuring children to ballet, soccer and baseball games, eating dinner in different shifts, tackling homework, supervising baths and showers and chasing them into bed (“can’t I please stay up 5 more minutes?” NO.), I’m ready to be done.   But when I get back to the kitchen, ready to put my feet up, there is a Hello Kitty lunch bag smiling at me.  Pack me, it says.  I want to punch the Kitty bag in the face.

Oh, I know.  You say I should pack them in the morning.  But I can’t bring myself to add yet another component to the morning grind.  It’s enough for me (not a morning person) to get the kids out the door to school with everything they need.  Like shoes and combed hair.   I have to admit, I do have help.  My husband Jamie will give me a hand at making the lunches at night.  It is such a loathsome task, that it has become a grand romantic gesture if the other volunteers to do it.  Sad that I dream of Ryan Gosling riding up on a white horse, handing over a glass of red wine and saying “Hey Girl, you go relax.  I’ll make the lunches.”

But freedom is so close I can taste it.  Taste it like a ham and cheese sandwich with mustard on white, lemonade, sliced strawberries and two chocolate chip cookies.  And a freezy pack to keep it cold.

So farewell, lunch boxes until the fall.  I’ve reclaimed that annoying 20 minutes I lost – in exchange for having the kids home.  All day.  Hmm.