Standardized tests … ugh.

Yeah, it’s that time of year again, when we plunk down stacks of tests in front of the children and expect those to be a true reflection of both a school and a child’s ability.

Clearly, I’m not a fan.

First, some kids simply aren’t good test-takers, especially with the amount of pressure placed on them to do well on these tests. And second, I’ve never believed that a single week of tests is any indication of a school’s quality.

I think these tests also are unfair to teachers. They have to shift gears and focus in the middle of a semester for a week of testing. And that’s a week lost when it comes to what the kids are supposed to be studying and learning.

My daughter is a good student. She’s done well this year in all of her subjects. I’m not going to risk breaking her confidence by stressing over a stupid test. We’ve done the practice tests at home, yes, but I treat them like regular homework. Hovering over her and lecturing about how important this is won’t improve her performance. Rather, I think it would make her anxious. And anxious kids don’t test well.

For her teacher’s sake — and the school’s — I hope she does well. I hope all of the kids do.

But as far as I’m concerned, that test won’t prove anything.

Arkie Mama: Our morning with Jessica Dean

Today, Cindy (aka Mom on a Wire) and I appeared on KATV’s Rise and Shine with Jessica Dean to discuss mommy blogging. Jessica was adorable and utterly charming. We had a wonderful time chatting over coffee when we weren’t on the air.

Please ignore the extra chin that always appears when I’m on camera. Oh, and also the incessant eye-blinking thing. No, I didn’t have something in my eye. I just bat my lashes when I’m nervous. Let’s call it one of my cute little quirks, OK?

Anyway, here it is —

(There’s a second segment, when Cindy actually got to talk, but I couldn’t find it!)

Arkie Mama: From sexpot to gone to pot

Behold the youthful Cathy, with her big, Texas hair and dramatic makeup —

College days, during my dating-musicians phase

Waiting for our dates

Those were the days when I could wear corduroy without the fear that someone could hear my thighs making that swish-swish sound as I walked. The days when it was fun to spend an hour (or two) on hair and makeup. Since becoming a mother — well, my standards have sunk.

It started with pregnancy.

When you look as though you're carrying a litter in front AND in back, you know things are bad.

No, I'm not leaving a bar. I'm in the vomitous stage of labor, on the way to the hospital to have baby No. 2.

This cut & style was dangerously close to Mom Hair.

Why hello, Hubs! Wanna try for a third? I know you want me.

This month, my kids turned 5 and 7. I’m just now losing the baby weight. My hair is finally getting back to normal. I’m ditching the mom jeans. Mostly.

So hello, 40! I embrace you.

Girls' Night Out Birthday Bash. More photos tomorrow.

Arkie Mama: I’ll be partying this weekend

Next week, I turn 40. So let the festivities begin!

Tonight, Hubs is taking me out to dinner. And then tomorrow, I’ll be heading out with my girlfriends for wine, cheese and, later, dancing. As my friend Amy says, this birthday calls for partying like you’re 20!

Does turning 40 bother me? Nope.

The only birthday freakout I’ve ever had was when I turned 29. At that point, I evaluated my life and found it lacking. I was living in a crappy, small town in Texas. I was in a dead-end relationship with a man who was quite possibly gay. So basically, I went berserk, kicked out the boyfriend and started job-hunting.

And I turned 30 here.

Stayed tuned for pictures. Several of us will be taking cameras!

Arkie Mama: I had a blast at the Book Blast!

I’m one of those annoying people who loves to read aloud.

“Listen to this,” I’ll say to Hubs before reading something from the newspaper, internet, my latest southern-family-drama novel, etc…

“Mmmm,” he’ll say when I’m finished.

Translation: “Why must you torture me this way?”

You can imagine, then, my delight in birthing two little people who had no choice but to listen as I rocked them at bedtime. When they were mere babes, I read and re-read all my favorites, adopting various voices for the characters.


I was invited this year to inflict similar torture read aloud to children at McCain Mall’s Book Blast!, which is part of Simon Malls’ Kidgets program. Even better, I was told I could bring one of my own to read.

Yay! I get to pick!

These days, you see, my children insist on picking out their bedtime selections. Occasionally, however, I insist on my faves. One such beloved book requires me to sing a lengthy passaged to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance. Which is why the children groan when I beg to read it. I threatened to bring that one — When the Sky is Like Lace — to the Book Blast, but my daughter, who is now old enough to be embarrassed by her mother, pleaded that I leave it at home.

Anyway, the Book Blast was so much fun! Except, probably, for the poor girls who had to hold a microphone for me while I read and bantered with my enthralled captive audience.

Moody Mom was kind enough to take pictures of the event. I’ve included them below:’

Why yes, I am indeed sitting in Santa's mall chair! Oh, the power...

Oh my. Not sure why I look deranged. I thought I was merely being expressive.

Young audiences are so fickle. One minute, they're listening in rapt attention...

Hello! Children! Over here!

So tell me, little ones, what do you want for Christmas this year?

Lisa Meyer, left, is the marketing director at McCain, and the woman to her right was one of the many nice ladies running the event.

Thanks for inviting me, guys!

Arkie Mama: One of the most raw yet beautiful things I’ve read

I stumbled across Kelle’s blog, Enjoying the Small Things, quite by accident. She’s mama to two girls, one newly born, and an amazing photographer.

But this one post she wrote … it lingers with me. It’s her baby daughter’s birth story. 

Here’s an excerpt:

I knew the minute I saw her that she had Down Syndrome and nobody else did. I held her and cried. Cried and panned the room to meet eyes with anyone that would tell me she didn’t have it. I held her and looked at her like she wasn’t my baby and tried to take it in. And all I can remember of these moments is her face. I will never forget my daughter in my arms, opening her eyes over and over…she locked eyes with mine and stared…bore holes into my soul. 

Love me. Love me. I’m not what you expected, but oh, please love me.

If you read nothing else today, read the entire post. And if you have time, browse the rest of her blog and look through her photos. They’re balm for the February-weary soul.

Arkie Mama: Valentine Mommy FAIL

This morning, I drove to Arkansas Tech, where I was scheduled to speak to two classes about journalism.

Minutes before my first talk, as the students took their seats, my cell phone rang.

It was my husband.

“Hello,” I murmured. “I’m about to start talking.”

“We have serious situation!” Hubs barked, nearly blowing out my eardrum in his hysteria.

“Can I call you back?” I asked. “I’m standing in the front of the room.”

“You forgot about the E-man’s valentines,” a panicked Hubs informed me. “What do I do? I have jury duty in 30 minutes.”

Oh no.

Somewhere in our snow-day-cluttered house was a box of SpongeBob valentines, which I had completely forgotten to address and sign.

Where did I put them?

The pre-K Valentine party was set for 11 a.m. But I was in Russellville. And Hubs had to get to the courthouse.

I am a horrible mother.

You have to find them,” I whisper-hissed.

“Never mind,” Hubs said. “I already … {crackle, crackle} of it. {crackle, crackle} took some {crackle, crackle} and the teacher will {crackle, crackle}

Mommy guilt washed over me. I’d let the E-man down.

And rather than swim in said guilt, I would have to shift gears and talk shop.

Several hours later, I tracked down Hubs.

“OK, so what happened? What did you do?”

Turns out that in the 30 minutes he had left before jury duty, Hubs managed to hit the grocery store, where he bought gift bags, several varieties of candy and other party favors. Then he hurriedly assembled them in his truck and dropped them off at the daycare.

“You did what?!” I screeched. “You outdid me! We don’t do bags. We do cards. Now you’ve gone and set a precedent. I’m known as the slacker mom and  you’ve totally ruined my street cred.”

“I HAD to,” Hubs replied. “When I walked into his classroom, all these women were bringing in cute little bags stuffed with candy. I couldn’t just go buy a bunch of cards.”

“What’s wrong with just cards?” I asked. “I even got him SpongeBob ones.”

Hubs sniffed indignantly.

“He would have been a social leper. You should have seen what the other kids’ parents were handing out.”

My suggested party contribution

Hubs' suggested party contribution

So. Which is better? Yeah, I know.


But I’ve learned my lesson. Next year, I  am sooooo delegating all Valentine-related duties to Hubs.

Arkie Mama: Help me

Am cowering in a closet, listening to loud banging noises coming from one of the children’s bedrooms, where they are busily constructing a weapon of mass destruction.

Really, though, I can’t imagine what’s left to destroy. The living room looks like a toy bomb went off in it. Our long hallway has been elaborately boobytrapped, with scores of plastic GIs waiting to puncture my feet.And Tootie’s room? We will not speak of its condition. It is simply too terrifying.

Now on our second snow day, the children are bored. They are stalking me.

One keeps yelling, “Let’s do the Bobblehead!” before vigorously shaking my head back and forth. The other wants me to help her find a teensy stuffed animal that she thinks was most recently under the tent she made in the living room. Am convinced she wants me to enter the tent, where further torture awaits. By an impressive array of armed and dangerous Pet Shops.

Awhile ago, I called a fellow mama and told her my children were out to get me. She told me that her son’s ADHD medicine ran out right before the snow fell.

My back is still killing me. The children sense my weakness. The only safe place in the house is the coat closet, which is where Hubs will find me upon his return, huddled among the jackets and his musty-smelling hunting gear. If he does not have Chocovine for me, I will tell him he is responsible for catching the children and wrangling them into the bathtub and bed. Must now send out a plea for help on Facebook.

Arkie Mama: Bullies and the bullied

A few years ago, on the way home one evening, a car pulled out in front of me and — being the eloquent former Texan that I am — I let a few well-chosen words fly.

And then Tootie piped up:

“Mama, was that a bad car?”

“Yes, sweetie. That person didn’t wait for her turn. We have to take turns when we’re driving or else we might hit each other.”

“Hitting’s bad,” Tootie replied.

And then she added: “Except when a boy pushes you down. Then it’s OK.”


Oh, hell, what’s the appropriate response here?

We don’t hit in our house. I know many parents spank, and I’m not casting judgment. I think one parents by instinct and lingers in a chosen comfort zone. For me, spanking — or any type of hitting — just doesn’t feel right. And so we don’t.

But if someone pushes her down … ? Hmmm. Does she just sit there meekly, waiting to be rescued? What kind of message does that send? Or does she put a stop to things then and there by pushing back, by standing her ground?

People tell their children to “ignore” the bullies. Yeah, right. It doesn’t work. It never worked for me, and it hasn’t worked for countless other children either. “Telling” is acceptable only during the very early grade-school years. After that, it only adds to the helpless-victim image. And plus you’re a snitch.

Imagine being the kid who’s subjected to such misery from kindergarten on? Imagine the kid who doesn’t see an improvement in high school?

I’ve often wondered/worried about whether one — or both — of my children could ever be that kid. How would I handle it?

Since I’m a neurotic freak who often imagines dire scenarios just so I can carry on entire conversations in my head with the imaginary people who have wronged me or my offspring, I mull the what-ifs, over and over.

Because quite frankly, if Tootie or the E-man came home, day after day, year after year, bullied and beaten down, the Mama Mean-Ass Shrew in me would want to huff over to the high school cafeteria and — abandoning my no-hitting beliefs — smack the holy crap out of the offenders.

A few years ago, I wrote an in-depth story on a family who was grappling with this issue. Their teenage son was developmentally delayed, and, sadly, an easy target. They already had switched schools once in an effort to stop the abuse. It didn’t work.

He was punched. The kids broke his glasses. Twice. Called him a faggot and made fun of his mannerisms. They followed him through the halls, making threats and laughing when he cowered.

His teachers said he should ignore the kids. Didn’t work. The principal, whom I interviewed, was openly frustrated. “We don’t know what to do,” he told me. “We’re at a loss.”

How comforting.

I went to the boy’s house one morning, before school, and I remember the cajoling required to get him into the car so that his dad could drive him to the campus. I rode with them, and it was awful. This boy’s misery radiated from every pore. He was nearly in tears by the time we arrived. I watched him pull on his backpack, square his thin shoulders and trudge to the front doors.

I wasn’t a mother then. But it hurt, physically, watching that boy, and feeling his dread.

Awhile back, I read Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes, a novel that dissects a school shooting — and bullying — from all perspectives. It was a tough read. Because even as I was appalled by the shooter’s coldness, I read his mother’s thoughts and the descriptions of her anguish, and I wondered, yet again, what do we as parents do?

Two years ago, Tootie’s best friend was a bully. She came over to our house twice. Both times she stalked the E-man and tormented him for no apparent reason. When I found out that this little girl also was bullying other kids who tried to play with Tootie at recess, I put the brakes on that friendship, explaining to Tootie that we don’t hang out with people who treat others that way. The bully transferred to another school around that time, so that was that.

We live in an Alpha Society. Always have, really, but now, new precedents have been set. We see more, hear more, want more, have more.

We strive to be Alpha Moms, Alpha Career Women, Alpha SAHMs. Our partners do the same. Because, really, who wants to remain at the bottom of the heap, especially as “more” and “better” become increasingly available?

But we are adults with maturity (allegedly) and experience to draw from.

Our children, while they see and feel the pull of Alpha, don’t have the capacity to manage it.

And so they bully. Or they cower.

And I wonder, as a parent, which is worse for my child? Life as one of those snotty girls I hated in junior high? Or life as the kid who agonizes each day over where to sit in the cafeteria?

How do I help them find the happy medium in the social shark pool that is school?

We tell them, “Use your words.”

Yes. Well. The only words that work with bullies are strong ones, delivered with a certain attitude. Must I chip away at the sensitivity I love in both my kids, harden them up and teach them my arsenal of cuss words?

What troubles me is that children who are chronic victims in school often remain victims even after they enter the adult world. I’ve seen what’s out there. I write about it, on a regular basis. I don’t want them to be quite as cynical as I am, but I hope they will develop a don’t-eff-with-me sort of armor.

But how to balance this? How to develop it, without cultivating a bully in the process?

I treasure my children’s innate empathy and kindness. I also worry these traits will make them vulnerable.

Kids need to learn how to deal with bullies when they’re young. Because even as adults, they will still encounter them — at work, within the social scene, at PTA meetings, everywhere.

Right now my instructions to the kids are these: Try to ignore a bully at first. If that doesn’t work, use your words. Strong and powerful words, forceful even. Make sure the bully knows you mean business. And if a kid attacks, hit, kick, do whatever’s necessary to defend yourself until a teacher arrives.

When she was 5, Tootie came home one day and told me a boy had sat on her and tried to make her eat a crayon.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she replied. “I just kept my mouth closed.”

I told her the next time a boy pulled that kind of stunt, she had my permission to do whatever was necessary to get the kid off of her.

I refrained from explaining exactly where to hit or kick.

For now.

Arkie Mama: The E-man freaks out over Up

So a few minutes before we departed my parents’ Texas home yesterday, the little people finished yet another viewing of my mom’s copy of Up.

“It’s almost time to leave!” I announced.

The E-man promptly fell into hysterics.

“We’ll come visit again,” I said, hugging him.

“I don’t WANT to get old!” the E-man replied. “I don’t WANT to die!”


“Um. What are you talking about, E-man.”

“When you get old and die, you can’t move your arms and legs,” he wailed.

I looked questioningly at Tootie, who shrugged.

“He asked me to explain,” she said, gesturing toward the DVD cover.

Oh, great, I thought, all too aware of Tootie’s love for scaring the crap out of her little brother.

Thus began a discussion about aging, dying and the afterlife.

The E-man was somewhat mollified. But then his eyes narrowed.

“How old is Nana?” he asked.

“Er … ”

“How old is Granddaddy? How old is Papaw?”

“Uh …”

“How old are you?”

“Oh, I’m only 39!”

And the E-man exploded into tears yet again.

Thanks, kid.