Tuesday, February 28, 2017

On-Call

Most of my life is dominated by must, have to, should, and in the rare case that I escape all of these - the guilt that follows. So, it is with relief that I look toward Tuesday night - date night.

Dinner was a success, we talked and laughed while our cell phones sat silently to the side. Not a peep. No calls that Boy was tormenting Tween or Youngest was tying the dog to her bed. So, off we went - headed to shop for exciting items to spice up our time in bed - new pillows. Don't hate us because we make parenting look so glamorous.

Just as we entered the toothpaste aisle - yes we really were shopping for pillows & household goods - my phone chirped. Seeing it was Boy, I brought it to my ear and promptly heard a piercing cry from the background. "Mom, ---- sprayed herself in the face with bug spray....." Shift mental gears - quickly. Instructions were given in quickfire succession: wash her eyes with cool water, calm her, wet a towel and place over her eyes. These were largely done - she was not calmed. Mr Seashore abandoned his quest for bath products as soon as he heard bug sprayed in the face and we made a hasty retreat.

I was on the phone to the pediatrician even before we hit the exit doors, leaving a message with the on-call service. We talked about Youngest and her penchant for getting into things - including the cabinet locks as we drove maybe a bit above the speed limit home. The conversation was focused on anything that wasn't the possibility of  irreparable eye damage. Just as we were entering the neighborhood, Boy called again. It wasn't bug spray, it was pepper spray. Pepper spray that has lived in the junk drawer so long, I forgot we owned any. Don't judge, do you know the inventory of your junk repository? This is awful, but it elicited an internal sigh of relief - pepper spray wouldn't cause blindness.

We arrived home to Youngest with a towel on her face, Boy watching over her, and Tween busily trying to distract Youngest and herself from the chaos of 20 minutes earlier. The story was told, the pepper spray discarded, the doctor reassured us it would be okay, oldest texted to check the status of Youngest, and life returned to its normal pace. Once Youngest was showered and ready for bed, Boy told us we were free to head out again - isn't he sweet - but the moment was gone.

One day, there will be no kids in the house to mistake pepper spray for a flashlight and we will be able to shop all night if we choose, but for now we run the risk of date night being called on account of parenting.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Strong Willed

It was a simple bargain, made without thought, if Youngest ate all her dinner, she could have the entire sheet of bubble wrap, a glorious 6"x10" sheet of air bubbles for popping. I tucked the sheet away without another thought and proceeded to prep dinner.

Taco Tuesday. I knew this would be a contentious meal - with both Youngest & Tween avoiding Mexican food at all times - but the other three people love it, so que the struggle. Much care was taken in the prep of the girls' plates. The chicken was extracted from the sauce with any trace of pepper or onion thoroughly removed before placing the shredded meat in a warmed soft corn tortilla. Liberal amounts of cheese were sprinkled over the meat before the taco was plated with corn & rice. We all made our way to the ring table.

Youngest poked and prodded at the taco, folding it this way and moving it from here to there. She finally settled in, thoughtfully scooping corn kernels onto her spoon as she eyed the offensive taco with much hostility. With only a few errant kernels and grains of rice remaining, she began the task of bemoaning her fate eating the taco.

Food battles are not of value to me. My children need never finish their plates if they do not enjoy a meal. Of course they may not trade-up to a bedtime snack if they turned their noses up at dinner, but neither will they be sent to bed with hunger pains. It is the standard practice at our home not to force feed our kids.

Knowing she didn't want the taco, I offered Youngest more corn or rice, and upon her declining I excused her. She did not leave. Whining, moaning, and general all-around complaint about each and every bite ensued. The time dragged forward and all, eventually, left the table, all but Youngest. Nerves were set to their very edge by the vocal struggle to eat playing itself out at the table, and I cast my mind to the freezer and fridge to figure if there was some exotic dessert - like ice cream - she was struggling to win. Nope.

At some point I really just wanted it to be over. "[Youngest], why don't you just be done?" To which she looked up to me over the last 1/4 of her manhandled taco, huge, round eyes brimming with unshed tears and said, "I want that bubble wrap!"

And at this is the point I was faced with that parental call - forgo the previously established rule, or ride it out. I am no monster. In that moment, the words of excuse tickled my lips as they began to slide out, "Okay, you did a good job...." and I caught myself. By giving in at this moment, the previous 3/4 of the taco chocked down bite by bite would have been for naught. I would be stealing the victory from my youngest child who prides herself on being "a not giver-upper!"

So, I bit back the words that would free her from this self-induced agony. Instead I finished with, "only a couple bites to go. You can do it." And do it she did. It took twenty minutes longer for her to eat than everyone else, but she moaned and groaned her way through the last bite.

Was her bubble popping pleasure made that much sweeter by the lengths she took to earn it? I do not know. What I do know is that she is "not a giver-upper" and that tenacity paid off in bubble wrap, as it will pay off time and again in her life. I love this spirit and fire and drives her - until that will is pit against me, but it's the price paid for raising strong kids - at least that is what I tell myself as she insists she should spend her saved $10 on a balloon at that fair...

Friday, January 27, 2017

If They Can Do It...or "Why I Love My Job"

My media feeds are inundated with vitriol from both sides of the spectrum. Maybe this is what we have been taught. The leaders of our country have been modeling just such behavior for years, and it seems that the disgust shown to one another has trickled down in a way economics never did to offer us more than we can possibly use. It is staggering in its negative message, and yes I will use the appropriate buzz word here divisive at its core. There is no way a people who look upon one another with such disdain can hope to move forward in a positive way.

And that is simply unacceptable to me - as a parent, a teacher, a citizen, and a human I cannot sit by twiddling my thumbs while the virus of us versus them continues to spread. What is more, I cannot stand to sit by as this behavior is taught to my students, by means of the examples being set on every platform of social media, certainly not without fighting back.

I leave my politics firmly outside my classroom door. It is no educator's task to indoctrinate the young minds he is charged with teaching - the calling lies in giving them the tools to step up and form their own hopefully valid & reliable (preferably peer reviewed) researched answers, opinions, and ideas - regardless of the subject. While teaching the fundamentals of research and argument is a standard practice, it dawned on me that perhaps I have, albeit inadvertently, been fueling this us vs them mentality. My students are so focused on refuting the arguments posed by other students, and waiting to share their take on Okonkwo's deeply seated fear of becoming his father that they have forgotten how to listen to each other.

Yes, it's a standard. Yes, we practice listening: to reports; to speeches; to stories.

But, we don't truly practice listening to each other, allowing the ideas of other students to truly get into our thoughts and to germinate. We don't allow the idea that the same piece of text, in context can lead to different opinions to grow. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I changed my lesson plan - 15 minutes before my first period. Without boring you to tears with the schematics of my lesson, I will share the basics. My students took a position on a harmless topic (relating to Things Fall Apart) and spent a few minutes bullet pointing their support to prep for a discussion. Run-of-the-mill English stuff. Until the discussion.

They were explicitly instructed to listen with open minds to their peers. To understand that though they may have said nay, there are likely elements of yea that they will see as valid. Yes, they could discuss, yes, they could debate one side - but the focus was not to "win" support for one side. Instead, the focus was to understand each other.

They discussed. I watched and prodded here and there, played a bit of devil's advocate facilitated.

Then it was time for reflection. Instead of reflecting on the conversation, they were instructed to reflect on opposing views that were valid or with which they could understand or agree given the support. Then they shared.

I was blown away.

Students who were staunch supporters of one view or another were sharing with the class their original position and what they felt was valid or what they hadn't even considered about the other position. They were listening and truly hearing one another - here was the evidence. A couple even changed their opinion - though I had made clear that this was not the goal - and far more was heard than when they typically argue their own side and feel the need to dig in further to support their own positions.

In the scheme of the world, it matters not one lick if my students believe the Ibo people were or were not a civilized culture - but this listening and sharing of ideas is the groundwork of a civilization that works. Who can ask for more?

So I say to you, grown-ups of the world, if my 9th graders can listen to understand one another - why can't you? You might be surprised at what you learn.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Last, First Day

I got a phone call from Oldest today. While I miss her in the house and our everyday lives, and think about her a hundred times a day, hearing the ring tone designated for my kids was not bringing a smile to my face - mostly because my face was sleeping trying to anyway - but I roused myself from my flu-induced nap to connect before she went to voicemail. If that isn't mother love, I don't know what is

Once I made myself heard after hacking up a lung and was able to ask what she was doing, she explained she was running home before heading to the library on campus. She was full to brimming with the excitement that comes with the first day of new classes - what to expect, which professors she had classes with previously and was happy to be with again, how she would balance 6 classes, her internship, and working. Ah, the energy of youth It stirred within me all the feelings of new beginnings that I know and love so well - truly worth giving up my nap.

Then she said something.

She said, "It's my last first day of school."


Now I am sitting here thinking of her first, first day of school. Little-girl bangs and eyes alight behind her glasses, she was so excited in her pooh bear overalls. I walked her through the neighborhood to the school, pushing chickenpox covered Boy in the stroller. She was chattering the whole way, asking about homework and lunch, reassuring herself that it would be a good class because, "You know my teacher right, Mom? You worked in her classroom." (which I had as an intern class in college)

The memories hit me - coming around the corner to the classroom and peeking through the windows for a glimpse of the brand-new students already at their seats and curiously exploring the space with their eyes. Seeing the child unwilling to let go, and then Oldest saying, "Okay, bye Mom!" as though she had done this so many times before. This day, this memory is far too vivid and fresh to belong to this young woman embarking upon her last semester of college. 

But she is. It is her last, first day.

I feel proud and nervous and excited to watch her as she takes these steps toward graduation. But I would be lying if I said there wasn't a teary part of me that looks on in astonishment wondering how it happened that my strong, independent little girl became this fiercely determined young lady in just the blink of an eye.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Oh Christmas Tree

As any parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, neighbor knows, September is fund raiser month - it should be declared an actual thing, then maybe we could face it head-on, be done and enjoy the school year. This September saw me ordering magazines, donating to various charities, and ordering Christmas greenery. Yes, I bought my tree in September, sight unseen as it wouldn't be cut for 2 months. 

Beautiful trees are cut, packed, shipped, and delivered right to our high school and then delivered to the customers. Previous customers (from another organization) rave about the beautiful trees and how they last. A great way to earn money for the kids. 

It arrived okay, Boy and I helped unload the truck and picked up or orders for delivery before Thanksgiving. And it was a gorgeous tree. Not too fat, not too scrawny, a perfect height. My husband commented more than once that it was perfectly symmetrical. It decorated our home until the 19th of December.

Yup - the 19th.

The drooping, browning, break-in-your-hands evergreen boughs were doing nothing for the holiday ambiance by then, let alone the fire hazard it posed, and it had to go. So it was that Monday saw me and the kids undecking the halls and Boy wrestling the tree to the backyard.

Tween and I hopped into the car to buy another at a local store. We arrived and wondered at the sight of the closed tent; it was quickly determined that there were no trees left. Do not panic. There are lots of stores was my inner chant as we headed out again. A second store - about 5 trees - as tall as Youngest and she isn't even tall enough to ride the carousel alone. It was at this point that I began to question my thinking, and to silently curse myself for forgetting my cell at home. Driving by an overpriced tree stand - in the midst of packing itself up - no trees here - annoyance turned to dread. At this point, empathetic Tween began to voice options - we could get a palm tree, a small plant to top a table, borrow a fake tree from Aunt C who has a couple in her garage. We headed home to call around. 

After a couple of calls we are able to locate a store that did, indeed, have some trees, and we were off. Tween is a stickler for looking at the options before choosing - even when it's tree #2 of the season. I held up, turned, and twisted tree after tree thank goodness they only had a few dozen left until the Goldilocks of trees was found.

It is a cute tree, full and wild looking, but sporting proportions that required yet another room rearrangement. We set it up, the kids wondering if their dad would notice - I voted a strong yes, and now we are on tree 2.0. The girls are happy to tell you this one sports enough room to add a toy train, something each one of my kids have wanted and to which I finally relented I must be getting soft in my old age or they are just wearing me down.

*disclaimer - My sister also got a tree through Boy, and  has no issues. I think we got a bad one, the trunk was rotting in the water when we took it out.*

Monday, December 19, 2016

Avoidance Accepted

Sunnyville is a hectic place from August through May, but there are moments of respite from the running and juggling that make the school year a test of endurance - and my favorite is Christmas break. The cookies will be baked, there will be time to walk through the woods and along the beach, we will drive around to see the lights - all in all a great time of year - once the chores are done.

Getting the holiday cleaning done weighs heavily on my mind, so it was with visions of dust cloths that I woke much too early for my first official day off and offered Youngest a choice. Part of her aftercare program provides camp for non-school days that occur throughout the year, but I figured she could use a break and I was filled with guilt for wanting her to go to camp, so I left it up to her. She chose to stay home.

I warned her that we would be doing chores today, the clean under your bed and dust while your down there kind of work, to which she assured me she could do it. Okay, home it would be, and we settled in to relax and wait for the siblings to wake. As breakfast came and went, I began to straighten, plan, and warn tell Boy what we would be doing today. At some point in this litany, Youngest walked up to me and said, "I changed my mind. I want to go the the Y today."

So, we hustled to pack a lunch, and headed to the car. Was it the reality of hours spent cleaning, or just the draw of hanging out with friends all day that motivated her to go? I don't know - but if it was chore avoidance, who can blame her? I want to go to the Y too!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Finding Solace

For the majority of this country it has been a difficult week, even here in Sunnyville. I have found solace in the fact that we happen to be working on argument writing in class, not because I want the students to debate politics - far from it as they are outlawed in my classroom for the good of all - but because my text happens to use social justice essays to teach rhetoric.

Today was especially gratifying as we read, "I THINK THAT WORLD LITERATURE has the power in these frightening times to help mankind see itself accurately despite what is advocated by partisans and by parties."

Having my students translate this to everyday speak forced them to focus on the thesis, but the real power lay in the words, "At birth, violence behaves openly and even proudly. But as soon as it becomes stronger and firmly established, it senses the thinning of the air around it and cannot go on without befogging itself in lies, coating itself with lying’s sugary oratory."

I love to dissect this personification with them, the growth of violence, how it cloaks itself to hide and thrive. I love pointing out to them the inevitable connection being made between lies and violence... and then turn them lose to discuss whether this work has any relevance in the world today.

To encourage them to discuss the ideas they have without sharing my ideas or values can be hard, but I live by the motto "my job is to teach them how to think - not what to think." I facilitate through questions and through listening, and I hear them make connections to extremist groups  - the methods they use, I hear them make connections to dictatorships - notably N Korea,
and
finally
I hear a few groups make connections to the idea that media might use lies to achieve a goal. And after warning them that ALL MEDIA should be assessed for credibility and validity, I smile. Just a small, little twitch of the mouth. Maybe - just maybe - I am making a small difference and these kids will assess information and its source before making judgements. That maybe they, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, will believe "One Word of Truth Outweighs the World."