Category Archives: Raising Kids

The Nitty Gritty

I had always equated nits (head lice if you’re nasty) with John Hughes-era, backwoods elementary schools in dirt-road Appalachia. I mean, really, who gets lice?

We do.

About three weeks ago, just as school was about to end for the year, Cole mentioned that his head was itchy. As this coincided with the first days of a Southern Summer, I chalked it up to sunburned scalp. Just a week ago, he had his mop cut into a smooth, swim-friendly cut. The hairstylist clearly didn’t notice his head was, uh, apparently home to parasites.

Wolf cut

What you know about rocking a wolf on your noggin?

How did we not know? Well, because you don’t know what you, uh, don’t know? He never complained of itching, sans twice in three weeks. I would have never even thought to look. Until we thought to look.

Tonight the kid has suffered through my cleaning mania, which is far more focused on the child than on the house. I find my own behavior a tad uncharacteristic, because I have a tendency toward obsession in terms of a clean home. The way I look at it, though, is that the bugs don’t live for long when not lovingly attached to a head, so fix the kid, fix the house. That translated to an hour and a half spent in the bathroom, first washing his hair with tea tree oil, then with Nix®, followed by the gel and a metal fine-tooth comb. He was a trooper, shedding just a few tears from the initial pull of the comb. At 10pm, he is asleep, his head clean but coated with a big-ass glob of Pantene hair mask and olive oil, in a hopeful attempt to get the last of those fuckers. And while I write here, relatively safe on a leather couch, Matthew washes all manner of bed and furniture coverings, God bless him.

It’s nasty business.

Funny thing, though. As much as it’s a giant pain in the ass, I am not… freaking out (much). It’s unpleasant, yes. It’s tedious, mmhm. But in the mammoth vastness of bad potentialities, this is small potatoes. And for the first time in a week or more, Cole and I had a quiet conversation. As I combed through the gel plastered to his hair, inch by excruciating inch, we talked.

Am I saying it’s been a blessing? Hell no. But I’m saying that sometimes it takes a little inconvenience to slow me down and jar me into awareness. Cheers, universe.

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Whooaly shit

Time flies. Let’s jump right in.

The Kaiser started his first year of Catholic school in early fall. Thus far, it’s been (mostly) sunshine and pretty, pretty roses. Of course, the homework overfloweth, the work rampeth upward, and the push for mommy-centric volunteerism is high. I’m good with those things.

For All Saints Day (uh, happy All Saints Day), Father Smith sprinkled the classrooms with holy water. Now I don’t really understand this, because A) it sounds messy and B) it sounds stupid, but that’s what they do. Cole tells me this with some glee. “And he came in and [exuberant hand motion] sprinkled us with holy water.”

That’s nice.

the power of christ

“The power of Christ compels you…. to do your spelling.”

Whatever. But a droplet of holy water found its way to Cole’s cheek. He darted his tongue out. Licked it away.

And as he tells me his tale, we eat and I smile and nod, nary making a single solitary sarcastic comment. And then, he dropped the bomb.

“Mom, after I ate the holy water, I suddenly remembered all of Hail Mary.”

“Huh?” I pause, fork to mouth.

“Before I licked the holy water, I couldn’t remember the prayer. After I licked it, I remembered it. I knew it all.”

He is convinced a miracle occurred. And who am I to squash his belief? But I don’t really have a good response for that, so I mumble and nod and smile and stuff spaghetti into my mouth. He reaffirms his thinking aloud, retelling the story, and his eyes implore me to make a comment on what is surely the hand of GOD HIMSELF at work in the world. And I do. I tell him that that’s really great and cool and that I’m so happy that he’s learned Hail Mary (he hasn’t–still says, “Blessed is thou among women and blessed is thafudodawubJesus”).

It’s a brave new world for us. I’m not big on organized religion. I’m not big on dogma and legalism. I’m not big on (any of that) Old Testament drivel. But Cole is, and I have to balance my desire for him to take it all with a grain of salt with what clearly brings him joy. He’s thrilled about God. He loves to talk about the sublime and abstractions–the very bigness of it all. And he’s a little fundamental in his belief, as I imagine most six-year olds are. He believes in the Flood. He believes that God is very clearly male. He believes that Adam and Eve were part of a perfect creation story. He wonders why God makes hurricanes. He knows that bad people go to hell.

It’s hard for me. It’s hard to give him other information without confusing the hell out of him. It’s hard to hear beliefs I don’t share. But we made the decision to put him in a Catholic school. Now I’m making the decision to leave his faith to him, and do my best not to bruise his mustard seed.


Filed under Catholic school

May 1 General Strike — with kids

I’m taking May 1 off. For this:


Granted, I’m using my paid time off to stand in solidarity with Occupy. I’m not the type to call-in sick when I’m not actually sick (it’s not really that I find it morally reprehensible; I have guilt issues). But I’m also keeping the Kaiser out of school that day.

No work. No school. No buying. No banking.

I mentioned this to Jed, and he was all for it, but then Jed is a huge socialist anti-authoritarian liberal hippie, so that was fairly simple. I’m keeping the Kaiser out to enjoy the day with me. It’s been a while since I’ve allowed him a mental-health day, but it’s something we dig. And it’s something we do every once in a while. I’m also pretty sure he learns as much in a day with me as he does in a day at kindergarten, but that’s neither here nor there.

I feel this motherly need — this impulse — to justify myself, to explain that “Yes, yes, I’m keeping my child out of school but I PROMISE we’ll talk about civil disobedience and Liberation Theology and how this relates to doing the right thing.”

And that’s true. But mostly we’ll skateboard and we’ll mess around with bugs and we’ll read and we’ll probably picnic. We’ll also spend a bit of time in downtown Greenville with our decisively small (yet determined) Occupy group.

What’s it about then? What’s the point? To quote Lisa Fithian, “It’s not about getting our elected officials to do something. Shit. They ain’t gonna do shit.” That is what it’s not.

It’s about standing up for the least among us. It’s about looking at a corrupt system and deciding that nah, I’m not buying this garbage. And it’s about teaching my kid that the status quo doesn’t equate to right, that money (or lack thereof) doesn’t define your character, and that political races shouldn’t be won by s/he with the biggest bank roll. The system is corrupt, unsustainable and not in the best interests of our citizens. The widening chasm between rich and poor is not a good thing, for us or for those inheriting what we leave behind.

Can you explain all that to a six-year old? Sorta (ehhhh). Will it make a difference? Sure it will.

My child lives a privileged life in many ways – middle class, suburban, safe. He needs to know about lives beyond his own, and I’d like him to know that there are people who are willing to stand up for outsiders. Even when it’s uncomfortable. And even when it’s against the rules. I want him to remember Occupy, and I’d like to think that this is one small way among a million others to shape both his strength and his compassion.

I realize I live in a part of the country where Occupy isn’t very popular. I think that’s sad, and I think it’s a damn shame that this movement has become politicized. But if you’re feeling radical come May 1, keep you kid out, call in to work, and come spend the day with us.

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And the Fury

Dear After-school Teacher,

Tomorrow is my son’s sixth birthday. He’s pretty excited about that. See, he’s one of the youngest in his class, and he’s been looking forward to this day for a while. You probably don’t know this, but only two kids have RSVPed for his party this coming Sunday, and that’s been a little hard on him. He hasn’t had an easy week at school, because he can’t seem to remember when to use his brain and when to use his mouth. He’s poignantly aware of that shortcoming. He’s also a pretty cool kid (although don’t get me wrong; he can be a shit) who goes out of his way to be inclusive and kind. 

You didn’t know any of that, because you’re not his teacher. So I’m telling you now. Stick with me. 

I can understand that you may have just had a bad day today. I have them, too. Often. And you only see Cole after you corral a classroom of kindergartners all day. You pull double duty, and that must be exhausting. I also understand that your personal life is a mystery to me. I don’t know what you’re going through. Maybe you didn’t sleep last night. Maybe your cat ran away. Maybe your car wouldn’t start. Maybe your husband is sick. Maybe you are.

What’s not a “maybe” is how you hurt my son today. Tonight, I was helping him rinse his hair in the shower (sometimes he doesn’t get all the shampoo out; he’s still learning) when he told me how you hurt his feelings. He explained that he came to you during afterschool time, and he told you (with some animation, I’d wager) that tomorrow was his birthday. He explained that he was excited because he got to be a car rider (that’s a big deal to him, because I work, and normally he doesn’t get to go to the car line). Your response?

“I don’t care.”

Let’s just stop for a second and think about what that means. Let’s stop for a second and ask ourselves: Were he an adult, would you look him in the eye and say that you don’t care? When you say that, when you give those words life, you are demonstrating a thoughtless, irresponsible, and rude response to another human being.  

I wonder if you achieved whatever it was you set out to do. I wonder how you felt when he turned, silent, and walked away. I wonder if you saw his shoulders slump. Did you see his expression change? Did you notice the bend of his head? Did you watch him walk away?

The thing is this: You probably don’t actually care. The other thing is this: That’s ok. Truth be told, I don’t much like other people’s children either. But then, I didn’t choose to be a teacher. And then again, I also wouldn’t treat anyone, particularly a kid, with such utter contempt.

Please do not make the mistake of thinking that I’m one of those parents who thinks her child can do no wrong. I’m not that woman. But I am one of those parents who believes that every interaction we make with a child—every disgusted glance or warm smile or gentle touch or dismissive wave—matters. And every moment is a choice in which we either guide or hurt. Today you failed. Today rather than build him up, you tore him down. You failed.

You know, sometimes with children, we have to pretend. And oftentimes with children, the pretending can get tiresome. Especially when you have an overeager, talkative child on your hands. You know, that’s why Cole thinks you were so ugly to him – because he talks too much. I explained that only someone who was sad or was having a bad day would be hateful like that. I also told him that when he sees you next he should walk up and declare, “You know, I wouldn’t much care if it were your birthday either.”

I failed too, there. But the thing about Cole is that he would never be unkind to you. He explained, somewhat aghast, that my suggestion was, “really mean.” He’s also asked me not to mention this to anyone because (and this is a direct quotation), “I don’t want her to get in trouble.”

He seems to have more insight on compassion than either you or I, because frankly, I’m fighting the urge to look you up, drive to your house, and tell you in person what a mean old bitch I think you are. I won’t, because I hope you were just having a bad day. Or a bad week. Or a bad life.

Though I wrote you this letter you’ll never see, unfortunately Cole’s father doesn’t feel the same kind of catharsis that my writing grants me. So tomorrow morning, you can expect him.


Sara Fraser


Filed under Buddhism, Raising Kids

Still fighting it

The Kaiser is a worrier. As he’s changed pre-school classes for the summer before elementary school starts, he has begun to give a shit. What he wears. The electronics he (doesn’t) have. Whether he has the right shoes for water day. What people think of him. 

Cole and Colin

Stop with the aging.

This is new to me.  He’s been oblivious until now, and oblivion is easy.

On Friday morning his class was having a water day, followed by lunch then a trip to a jumpy-castle place. So the kid needed to wear his swimming trunks to school, get sunscreened up, bring a towel and a change of clothes. All week he had stressed about me bringing in the permission form and the $7 for the trip. I assured him that his father and I would take care of it, annnnnd we did.

Yesterday he woke excited, and we puttered around the house packing our bags and lunches and preparing for the grand day ahead. I folded towels and stuffed them into his bag. He ambled into the living room, face panicked, eyes wet.

“I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do,” he says and grips his hands tightly together.

Oh God.

I stopped. I sat down. I explained it all, all the points that seem so self-evident to me, but to him made no sense and sent him into a five-year-old tailspin. We talked about the plans, what was packed and ready for him, how he had underwear and socks and that yes, someone will help him should he not be able to button his pants.

Growing up, man. It’s complicated and it’s bittersweet and it’s just… it’s hard. The Kaiser slept in my bed last night, a Friday tradition. I traced the still-chubby curve of his cheek and chin. He’s changing. It’s never going to cease. Every day, I parent a new kid, and I’m tackling that with as much grace as I can muster.  

But if there were ever a choice to stop time, to slow it down and make it last, I’d choose now. This summer, this day, this morning. Ain’t figured out how to manipulate its passing, though, so I’ll continue to hold on and let go, all at once.

Everybody knows
It sucks to grow up
And everybody does
It’s so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what:
The years go on and
We’re still fighting it, we’re still fighting it
You’ll try and try and one day you’ll fly
Away from me

-Ben Fold, Still Fighting It

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It’s not a newsletter.

It’s difficult, after so much time away, to find anything to write that doesn’t read like one of those family newsletters sent out by deluded mothers that haven’t yet figured out that no one really cares what her family has been up to over the past twelve months.

(Just because it happened to you doesn’t make it interesting.)

When I don’t write for a length of time, the process becomes alien to me. The mechanism by which I once turned anecdotes into a focused story has become rusty, red and jerky. It’s a different part of my brain – the clever sliver, the storytelling nook, the metaphor maker – that helps me write. And when I don’t use it regularly, it fades until eventually I don’t even realize I’m missing it.

I’ve been working a lot, thinking a lot, planning a lot. I’m on the crux of making some key life decisions (oh, Christ) that will change the course of this little path I’ve ambled along for the past year.

On June 13, I hit my one-year sober anniversary. I marked the day with more significance than I marked my own birthday or past wedding anniversaries or the day my mother died. I marked it well. There was no grand celebration, not even a dinner out. And I didn’t tell my friends or remind my family until the day had passed. That’s ok, though, because it’s mine. It’s a day I wanted for myself.

And the Kaiser? He’s great and we just last week returned from a Myrtle Beach adventure:

The Kaiser Rides

Handsome as he ever was.

Cole and his foot

He still... loves his foot?

Cole on pier

... and climbs.

Cole eats mexican food

... and always looks sneaky.

Cole and hermit crab

... and tells everyone that he "got crabs."


Filed under Raising Kids, Recovery

Forgetting the crap


Mad scientist time. Now.

There is something about being a child, some little nugget in a kid’s brain, that hardwires them to wake early on a Saturday morning. Monday through Friday the Kaiser sleeps until well past seven and I have to wake him with soft words and coaxing. On a Saturday, though, his weekend gray matter kicks in and he’s in my room at 6am, telling me to wake because it’s going to be, “a beautiful day, Mommy.”

As we sat in the drive thru at Dunkin Donuts, I questioned the Kaiser about this oddity. He laughed and told me he didn’t know why.

I don’t suppose it much matters, and I remember doing the same thing when I was a child – waking on Saturday morning like it was Christmas, full of the happy and the readiness to start a glorious, school-free day. I wish I woke like that now. I don’t know how to wake like that now. Most mornings are punctuated by a vague sense of dread; yes, I am aware that that is probably not healthy.

The Kaiser and me? Our ideas of the supremely fun are different. I’d love nothing more than to lie in bed until ten with a cup of coffee beside me, book in hand. But he reminds me, and often, that it’s not always about … me. And maybe my idea of fun isn’t actually all that fun.

The thing about kids is this: When you have a child and if you’re open enough, you can lay your hands on the magic of childhood. When you have a child you can watch cartoons for hours and wrestle on the floor and jump in bouncy castles and discover the sweetness of a honeysuckle. You have direct access to childhood, an immediate and every-day opportunity to see things anew and forget, for a while, that you have bills to pay and work emails to answer and a car to wash. Stay in the moment and you can forget that excel doc you forgot to send, your broken vacuum cleaner that spits dirt instead of sucking, and all the boxes that still need packing.

It’s Saturday, and it’s time to forget.

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