Homework: isn’t it about time?

We’ve been a little worried about Callie lately. Grades came out a few weeks ago and hers were much lower than I expect to see (twos on a scale of one-to-four). She is very conscientious about her homework and seems to understand the concepts, and she reads late into the night. I really don’t want to be “that mom,” demanding that teachers recognize the Mensa-level brilliance my kids exude. I hope I’m aware enough to know that where I see fiercely-delicate, uncommonly superior children, others see pretty average, normal kids. On the other hand I want to be proactive, advocating for my kids just like my mom did for me.

(It’s kind of like trying to decided whether to take your kid to the doctor. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m confident that Dr. Google and I know what’s going on, but that one percent is the time I’m in with one kid for a routine visit and the doctor hears her sister cough in the corner and whips her head around in concern. Five minutes later you’re out another copay and leaving with a “walking pneumonia” diagnosis.)

On St. Patrick’s Day Callie came home with a themed 6 x 6 Sudoku puzzle. I like logic puzzles (the kind you find on the GRE), and I’ve gotten really good at the word searches Avery brings home, but I hate actual puzzles and though I enjoy math, I’ve never done Sudoku. She struggled and struggled. It came with very few instructions. I tried to find it on Homework Google, but couldn’t find the exact puzzle (lots of other St Pat Sudokus tho, if you’re into that).

I figured this was a good time to remind the kids that they’re on their own when it comes to homework. Much more valuable for them to puzzle it out on their own. (hah!)

Tom came home and took pity on her. I said if they were really serious about it they should make tiles to move easily around instead of drawing, erasing, re-drawing, ad nauseum, harps/shamrocks/rainbows/etc. They worked and worked. Dinner and bedtime came and went. They worked and worked. It didn’t get solved. I was just about to fall asleep myself when Tom told me he’d found the key: cross-hatching. I did the Aged P nod (Great Expectations) as he explained the method and wished him good luck on his plan to brave Callie’s morning brain and breath to teach her.

The next morning Tom woke her up thirty minutes early. I don’t know how to underline this unless you have a kid who is like a hibernating bear every single morning. He explained, quietly-excitedly, how to solve the Sudoku and she (slowly, slowly) caught on. Tom took a later train in order to be there for her, and I don’t know how to underline that unless you have a spouse who doesn’t miss work unless he’s got something much worse than man cold.

As I dropped her off just a few minutes late, she told me she didn’t want to write “finishing my homework” as the reason for being late on her tardy slip. I said, “Why not?” and she said that usually that’s not a true excuse so it sounds weird. I said, but it is true today, so just write it.

All that day I felt pleasantly circle-of-life, remembering how my dad once patiently spent hours in front of a chalkboard with me, explaining that “borrowing” (now known more-helpfully as “re-grouping”) was actually a fair and okay way to treat your subtraction problems.

I spoke to Callie’s teacher and found that her low assessments are a result of the grandfathering in of Common Core Standards and that in reality she’s at the top of her class. There’s nothing to worry about, and Callie can get the new book we give as a reward for good grades, just like her sisters. And then as we walked home from school, Callie asked if we could find another Sudoku puzzle for her online and print it out. I said yes.

(Tom wrote about this on his blog too.)

Feminism and the family dinner

On Friday as I walked the girls home from school, Callie said she had something to talk about later. She resisted my prodding to talk about it right then, and in the after-school shuffle and Friday-night pizza making, I completely forgot about it. I asked Avery to say the prayer over our dinner, and then Tom started asking the kids about their day. A few months ago he instituted a system where we each take turns talking, shining the spotlight a little, formalizing what sometimes still descends into chaos as everyone babbles eagerly.

Callie’s turn came and she reminded me that she had something to tell us. Her deskmate at school, a boy called M– has been telling his friends to tell Callie, on the playground, that he is going to have sex with her. Callie is eight years old. All my attention, all the focus around the table centered on her in an instant, though Lucy and Molly and even Callie don’t really know what that means.

Callie was awkward and mumbly as I interrogated her as gently as I could. Has he touched you? (yes, but only on the arm) Has anyone else touched you? (not like that) Have you told anyone? Does he bully anyone else? (Yes, though as far as she knows she’s the only one offered that specific threat).

Our transition to California has been smoother and happier than I anticipated, and a large part of it is how welcoming an responsive the schools have been. This was a bit of a shock, but I know what elementary schools are like. When I was in kindergarten, I told the kids, a boy named Jim Leavitz had his friends tell me he had something to show me and then he ran towards me, unzipped his pants and showed me his penis.

I’ve never forgotten that, I told Callie, when she said she thought she would never be able to stop worrying about that boy, but I don’t have to think about it any more. You might not forget it, either, I said, but you don’t have to think about it.

I promised to talk to the teacher and we reminded the kids of our family rules: you can tell mom and dad anything; even if a trusted adult warns you you won’t be believed, or you’ll get in trouble, you won’t. You will be believed, and that person making bad choices will be the one who gets in trouble. And if you’re threatened, run away, or fight back if you can’t. Fight loud and hard, throw a tantrum, make as much noise as you can. Don’t be quiet. Scream no. You don’t have to please anyone. Ever.

This is why I’m a feminist, I told the kids, because boys and men are not allowed to say these kinds of things to women and girls. We are going to talk to the teacher and try to get this boy the help he needs to understand that that kind of behavior is completely inappropriate.

I am a feminist because I want a better world for my daughters. A world where rape culture doesn’t tell elementary school kids that sexual harassment is just boys being boys. Or worse, across the world, where girls get acid thrown in their face for even daring to go to school. Because while I want my daughters to know I will fight for them to be one hundred percent safe and comfortable in their environments, I also want them to be aware how many girls around the world face much worse.

Feminism allows me to care about every little thing threatening my daughters’ peace and each huge tragedy threatening the peace of our world. Feminism allows me to make pizza from scratch, from flour I have ground myself, if I want to, or to get in my car and drive to Little Caesars. But wherever our pizza comes from, on Friday nights we’ll be eating it together, around the family dinner table.

Family motto

A quick look at Pinterest will tell you that it’s important to choose a family motto or theme. Here are some that we considered:



“Tempus Fugit” (in Mrs. Shinn voice)

(Joan of Arc)

“Work and God will work also”


“Awake, awake, Deborah!” Judges 5:12

“Cheerfully do all things” D&C 123:17

“To me he doth stink not” Alma 19:5

(British vintage hipster)

“Keep calm and carry on”

(Anne of Green Gables)

“What would Marilla do?”

But then I realized that we already have a few signature family sayings. Imagine one of these on your chalkboard-painted kitchen wall, mega cross-stitch, vinyl lettering or, even better, in 3D: helpful sing-song by your little sister:

(for glasses)

“On your face or in your case”

(for homework)

“It’s not done until it’s packed”

(for crap, figurative)

“If in doubt, throw it out”

(for naptime)

“Happy or Asleep!”

I don’t want to take the credit for these humble confections, but honestly, I think I may have invented them. Feel free to adapt or incorporate as needed!

(Please add any your family loves to hear both day and night)

(gratuitous Pride and Prejudice quote)

Elizabeth Bennet: Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?

Mr. Collins: They arise chiefly from what is passing of the time. And though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.

Elizabeth Bennet: Oh, believe me, no one would suspect your manners to be rehearsed.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mr. Johnson (and assorted others)


I dig the cynical disdain for the holiday of lovers, I do. But it does seem to brighten my gray February a little, no matterhow not-Anthropologie-worthy my decor is and how not-Family-Fun-worthy my breakfast is. I had intended to get up and make those apple ring pancakes I found on pinterest, but then I slept in (till 8!) and maybe the kids had Cheerios?

When we lived in The Bronx, Tom brought home a bunch of little presents for Valentine’s Day. I remember especially a tiny sweet pot of African violets and a roll of duct tape. Both were appreciated at the time, I assure you. I couldn’t tell you what we did or got last year (if anything), but it is still a nice day, because fourteen years ago was our very first date — pizza and the nickelcade on State Street, which we both did not “get” and so ended up streetwalking and talking instead. (We were doubling with his roommate The Hairy Ape — he really was quite hairy, and happened to be in my Humanities class, where we were reading Eugene O’Neill, and he wore overalls (the roommate, not the playwright).)

This year we sent out Valentine’s Day cards instead of holiday cards, and it is a practice I highly recommend, if you are the card-sending type. Much less stressful, and again, something to brighten the after-holiday winter lull. The picture we sent out was taken by my dad at the Manti Temple (where we were married thirteen and a half years ago); the occasion was my youngest sister Karin’s wedding last month. It was the best picture we got that day (sad), completely unstaged (obviously), and the more I look at it, the more I like it.

I love you, Tom. I love you, Avery, Callie, Lucy and Molly. I may not get around to making fancy (or lame) valentines for you today, but that would be a lack of craftiness, time, and imagination, and not a reflection of the depth of my feeling.

What would Marilla do?

I am getting old. I am the mom in the book instead of the coming-of-age heroine. I am Mrs. Bennet clucking over five husband-less girls. I am Marilla Cuthbert, mopping the kitchen floor, weeping, after seeing Anne off to Queens while her pretty bosom friend goes on a picnic with cousins.

I am the comfortable marriage and bearable mortgage, not the idealistic dreamer of genteel, educated poverty. More hearth guardian Mrs. March, less fire in the belly Jo.

And yet Anne was a mother, a mother of, let’s see: Jem, Walter, Di and Nan, Shirley, Rilla, yes, six. Why can’t I be a mother like Anne? She never yelled, she probably composed odes to eyebrows and greeted each day as a grand adventure. She made her kids feel loved, and special, and unique, and different in a good way. Recited poetry at the dinner table instead of reminding of the “no singing at the table” rule.

Yesterday Callie was awful at Hobby Lobby and Costco and waiting during Parent-Teacher Conferences for Avery. She ran down the aisles, included Lucy in her crazy shenanigans. She said she wanted to do something fun. I just wanted some quiet. In the car she read books to Lucy and passed crackers to the baby. Lucy couldn’t see the pictures from the back seat and Callie told her kindly to use her imagination.

I thought: this is the Anne Mother Moment. My kids are not a dead loss. They are worth what I am doing here, they are worth watching, worth listening to, worth my attention, worth describing and remembering and liking. (Loving, always, that goes with the heart milk; liking is harder, except when it’s a free gift).

But I am not the Anne Mother. The minivan stops at our next stop and it’s back to fighting or whining or snotty nose crying and I am not the Anne Mother.

I am the Marilla Mother. And I guess the best thing about her is that she really didn’t want Anne, she wanted a hardy farmboy, but what she got was a fragile yet strong, slender and red-haired, day-dreamer, flavor the cake with liniment girl.

And she kept her.

fixing the Jesse Tree

I am not a radical feminist, probably because I usually sublimate my frustration in reading romance novels (and no, that’s not an oxymoron), but at a recent family scripture study, Tom pointed out that I was just being crabby with my insistence on substituting feminine pronouns and complaining that in 2 Nephi it says “Adam fell that men might be,” when everyone knows that it was Eve who fell first (and most wisely). Sometimes I don’t have the best attitude after dinner when we read scriptures. Sometimes I’d rather nurse the baby to sleep slowly and then hide up in my room while the normal pre-bedtime sounds echo through the downstairs.

(Who am I kidding? by “sometimes” I mean “always,” except then I am irritated when my routines of kids clearing up the kitchen and making lunches and packing backpacks for the next day and generally behaving like responsible members of society don’t get honored so well.)

But as I was updating my Jesse Tree, I grew more and more dissatisfied with the representation of women in it. Who wrote that thing? Is that the best she can do? (I hope not.) Already I do prod the kids to consider the unnamed or obscured women in each story we tell, but I need to edit my devotional outline to reflect this. For the Moses night, for example, I think I will read my meditation on Jochebed (Moses’ mother). Beyond that, I’m going to add six distinctly female stories: Deborah, Anna, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, Abish and Mary Whitmer, to my Jesse Tree, bringing the devotional total to 31.

(This exercise has been a little frustrating. Why don’t we have better art and songs about women? Why isn’t there a Follow the Prophet verse for Deborah? Why does the picture of Mary presenting Jesus at the temple include Simeon and not Anna? Why does God hate women? Just kidding, I’m sure he doesn’t!?!)

You can find all 31 of the stories in (rough) chronological order on the Jesse Tree post, but here are the six additions:

Deborah (scales of justice), picture (Judges 4:4-9) Deborah was a prophetess, judge and warleader. Perhaps as judge and temporal savior of her people she is more a type of the Second Coming of Christ. Battle Hymn of the Republic, Hymn #60

Abish (feather) Picture (Alma 19:16-17, 29-31) Abish was the Lamanite woman who hoped that seeing King Lamoni and his household prostrate after the teachings of Ammon would convert her people. She also raised the queen and king from their stupor. Army of Helaman #172

Anna (Bible) Illustrated Video (Luke 2:36-38). Anna lived 84 years as a widow, fasting and praying in the temple. She is called a prophetess. I Know that My Redeemer Lives Hymn #136

Mary and Martha (cooking pot) GAK 219GAB 45 (Luke 10:41-42, John 11:21-27) I love Martha. She was admonished by the Savior to care more about spiritual things, and yet, she is the one who told the Savior He could have saved Lazarus, had He only been there. Families Can Be Together Forever #188

Mary Magdalene (spices) GAK 233, GAB 59 (John 20:10-18) Mary was the first person to see the resurrected Lord. He asked her to tell the disciples that He was ascending to His Father. She did. I Know that My Savior Loves Me

Mary Whitmer (milking cow) Fourth Witness movie* (February 1989 Ensign) Mary Whitmer was rewarded for facilitating Joseph and Oliver’s  translation of the Book of Mormon by an angel who showed her the plates. My Life is a Gift #164)

*I can’t find this twenty minute movie online anywhere, but it’s worth buying. I (briefly) dated the producer at BYU, and remember an uncut version that was impressive.