Wednesday, December 30, 2015

An Attempted Awakening

Kids are influenced by their environments. I don't think anyone would argue with that. And anyone who has tried to navigate the sea of princesses and superheroes at a preschool playground on Halloween or any other day can clearly see that movies and stories hold much power to shape the imaginations of children. 

Maybe this is why Star Wars holds such appeal to us. As a kid tearing through the neighborhood on bike and foot it was not imagined pursuit of "robbers" that kept me captivated - instead it was an intergalactic kegger, oops wrong franchise chase to capture rebels or evade the dreaded darkside, depending on my role for the day. Sticks morphed to light sabers and blasters - not revolvers meant to usher the bad guy to the hoosegow, and the old monkey bars found a second identity as the famed Millenium Falcon - or Death Star depending on who was at the helm. It was a chance for us to be both the good and the bad guy. Spy, rebel, evil emperor - all shades of good and evil were available.

It was in this world that stories gained complexity and depth. The villain was not conquered easily and the good guys had to persevere through various obstacles. Loyalty was valued and - even among scoundrels - there was a sense of honor. And woven through it all, there was the justice of right overcoming wrong.

Is it any wonder then that the legacy was passed to my children? That as adults my husband and I want our children to explore the galaxy far far away and find the wonder we felt? 

In Sunnyville we have made this happen - with Eldest and Boy anyway. Both were thrilled by the trailers, waited with impatience for the release of 7, and headed to theaters at the earliest opportunity.

Youngest, being in pre-k - is unaffected. But, Tween (MG for middle girl??) is unconvinced. And it's driving the family to odd behavior. Boy has committed to sit with her through a watching of each of the episodes leading to the most current, to better give her a foundation and understanding - in other words to convince her they don't suck, which is how she seems to feel at this time. Both males in my home sat with her for episode 3 - and when the new kitten caused her attention to waver they could be heard to quiz her on the movie: "What just happened?" "You're not paying attention!" "Stop with the cat!"  "This is important!" 

Now, I am not sure this approach is working. Personally, knowing her temperament, I think they should have skipped to 6. I mean a girl easily distracted by kittens is bound to be won over by an Ewok - right? Regardless, I hope she finishes them over the break, as I would like to witness the force awaken for myself before I return to the classroom and have it all told to me by students. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Recipe for...

It's December 23 - Christmas Eve eve as my kids have called it and that is a heavy duty baking day in this house. So I found myself pulling down the recipe box - largely empty thanks to the digital age and printers but housing a few family favorites - and sorting through the recipes we will be using today.

They are stained and brittle. Some are written on the backs of notes left for, or by, my husband in the days before texting. Absently pulling a folded slip, I think I should recopy them and organize this box.  Then I recognize familiar writing smudged here and there with a stained and dog eared corner. It's my mother-in-law's - though I never thought of her as that.  She was a friend and confidant. 

The day comes flooding back. Missing her traditional family Christmas dinner of homemade manicotti she called the family matriarch and obtained the recipe - jotting it down on nondescript paper. We spent hours flipping and filling the delicate crepes laughing while we rolled manicotti for freezing. Over the next couple years we perfected the technique and shortened the time. But it was always an evening affair - accompanied by dinner, talking about nothing, and often teasing her son relentlessly. Then she was gone. Too soon. 

But here she is - popping out among the recipes. 

With a more sentimental spirit I look again at the scraps of paper and I see them differently. This one in my husband's hand and obtained from my sister because he had to learn to make her mini cheesecakes. We lived in another house then - much younger but already creating our own traditions. Traditions that we hold today. That one from my mother, written in her hand - a favorite of us both but happily not loved by the children. There are so many more - from friends and family, favorites all. 

A box of old recipes, a day of baking. a few memories shared. That is the meaning of this day for me unlike my children who see it as cookie day. And if Ma is looking down I hope she smiles a bit as I roll my largely imperfect discs into cheesy filled goodness that have become Christmas staple for my family, much as it was for her's. 

Merry Christmas baking day! 
And may your day be filled with memories to cherish in the years to come.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The World is Her Oyster

Read any childcare or developmental psych book - heck just spend some time with people and you know - there are many ways to approach the world. Some take stock of the action for a bit, and when they feel the rhythm join the dance. Others find comfort in narrating, watching, listening, keeping to the edge of the floor, but still feeling involved. Yet others come to the party dancing. For these kids there seems to be no hesitation, no waiting to feel the beat - they just run with it.

And they scare the hell out of their parents.

At the park, grocery store, or church this is the kid that talks to every stranger in sight, often punctuated by "See, Dad, he was a nice stranger." No amount of calmly delivered expectations or anecdotes will keep this child from her gregarious nature. 

A while ago I was at the grocery store with 3 out of 4 kids. Youngest sitting happily in the cart noticed a few tables in the cafe area were full, and she had an idea. "Mom, just let me down to say hi those people." Hmmm - nope. Boy began the stranger danger talk and Tween uttered her dismay. 

With exasperation beyond her years, and speaking very slowly as though we didn't share languages, she explained "It is good. I will go sit at a tablet and talk to those nice people. The bad people are not here. When you are done you get me here and it is fine." 

As a one time anecdote this is a precious example of the pure innocence of childhood.

As a life approach for a 4 year-old it is akin to juggling dynamite. Without any warning this is the child that sees a smile from across the auditorium and between one line of the play and the next has made his way under 3 rows of seating to say hello to the family down the way - typically just as his sibling is delivering his big line in the school play.

Child leashes were created for this kid. You see the self-conscious parents at theme parks avoiding dirty looks and hating the need for it, but knowing within the depths of their souls that their child will be the one who is on the 6 o'clock news at the bottom of the gorilla cage without such precautions - because they are nice in Tarzan you know.

So I found myself spit-balling some ideas to create more stranger aversion with Boy last night. And this was his idea...Have a friend that she doesn't know follow us at the grocery store and then, when Youngest talks to this person have it arranged that she takes Youngest away and says mean things to her all day. A staged kidnapping! Ahhh - NO. 

So he said we could do the same thing, but just have the friend be mean and grumpy to her - scare her while we are there. I get where he's going - but I'm not sure shattering the oyster that is her world is the best approach. Until we find the solution that keeps her uniquely her and us relatively sane, you may see me scurrying by in the class chorus concert on my knees as I try to extract my daughter from conversation with some hapless stranger. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

I Will Love Him and Hug Him...

Everyone knows the longer a child is quiet the more mischief she is finding. Our home is no exception - as evidenced by events like this.

We know to periodically monitor quiet moments with one exception - the backyard. While hunting lizards and tracking slugs a girl needs some space. This is a kid space specially designed for hunting, frolicking with fairies, guiding a pirate ship, and planning jailbreaks. 

Decreased supervision coupled with a strong need to love and hug a small furry animal - perfect storm was brewing. 

The first time it happened Boy was babysitting and Youngest came into the house casually telling her brother it was a good time to check on the guinea pigs. He responded by heading out to the pig mansion where he discovered a only 2 of 3 pigs were present. A search through the yard revealed the missing cavy, a quick chase followed by a capture saw the littlest piggy all the way home.

So, we should have learned. 

Yet only a week later found Youngest playing in the yard with the elusive "Just playing" called through the open door to reassure me as I made dinner. Boy warned she was up to no good, but she was spotted on the swings and on the platform to the slide. Playing. No worries.

Dinner was served and in she came to eat, put on PJ's and start the evening routine. As she headed toward bed, she returned - worried. "I want to play outside again." I told her it was dark and time to settle, maybe read a book. She was having none of it, "I forgot something on the pirate ship." Hmm, warning bells begin. "Just let me out, I'll come back," she implored. Nope - not happening. The panic and tears began. "I just need to get Harry Potter Pig" 

What? Since it was daylight?! "Where is he?" struggling to maintain quiet calm - a necessary trait when dealing in interrogations. "He's on the pirate ship - just let me see him." Up I jump.

Hubby and I grab flashlights, head into the murk and hope against hope that we will not need to explain anything to 'Tween. As we approached the "ship" I feared encountering the broken body of the littlest pig at the foot of the climbing wall. Fully aware he would be nakedly open to predator hawks and owls alike. It could have been his magical namesake or pure luck, and frankly I don't care, he was there - alive and safe.

Phew. Upon her debriefing - Youngest burst into teary confession - she only wants "a little pet to love and hold..."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Repurposed not Replaced

There are plenty of mansions in Sunnyville, houses with more bathrooms than occupants. I do not live in one. So, when Oldest rented an unfurnished house near school last month we delivered all her furniture and belongings. 

People ask me if I'm okay. People say, "It's got to be hard, having all her stuff gone." The truth - it isn't. Even as I type this I can hear testimonials about my horrible parenting. My husband and I strive for all of our kids to reach this stage. Oldest is reaching for her future. Isn't that what we raise them to do? I miss her face, her ranting about atrocities, even watching TV with her, but she is not lost. 

She is thriving and supported. But my house is still cramped. So, her room underwent a make-over. Instead of a drafting desk it shelters castles and fairies. Children's books and games now dwell where portfolios and amplifiers once reclined. 

The room has reentered circulation. No longer do I trip my way through bedrooms to bestow bedtime rituals. The once dormant room again houses laughter and imagination. We will always make room for a loved one, and Oldest can always find her way home again, but for now we will relish the increased square footage.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

My Permanent Record

This will absolutely not shock anyone who knows me well, but I have not always been the stellar advocate for education you know today. Life is a process. 

Maturity and insight do not often dwell in the hearts of 17 year-olds. Which goes a long way to explaining how I found myself leaving a Social Distortion concert about 7 hours before I sat for the SAT. The concession I made to testing was that we did not engage in teen dining at Denny's on the way home. I needed my sleep. Even more shocking may be the insight that I didn't study. For the SAT or my classes. I had good grades and that was enough - I had a life. Someone had to keep track of the happenings on General Hospital.

Fret not, parents of my potential students, I matured. That's what kids do after all. Education became the path to my goals. And I pursued it and my career experiences with gusto. All these experiences are part of what I bring to class with me daily. My connections to curriculum and students stem from my experiences. But the legislature of Florida, in its lack of wisdom, has decided that I should be judged worthy based on my SAT score.

Yes, you read correctly - MY SAT SCORE. From 1990. Of course my evaluation - a composite of my teaching evaluation and my students' test scores (from a newly developed and unproven test) - must be "highly effective" as well, a bland issue compared to this new assault on teachers. 

The idea that a college entrance test should be used as a bar for my bonus 25 years later is so ludicrous it defies explanation. If only I had a Delorian and a flux capacitor, I could tell my past self..."high school never ends."

Let's not even discuss how drastically this has effected already tight budgets in each district... You can read more about the insanity here or here.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

30 Years Late

I was an invincible child. I leapt with abandon from the garage roof, played chicken while crossing the road, ran across frozen surfaces, rode 3 wheelers at break-neck speeds through woods, and even dropped-in with zero idea what in the heck I was doing. I lived. I walked away okay limped in a few cases with little damage.

There was a time in my life when I looked at kids with casts in envy. A trophy of an experience that must have been so amazing, yet was unattainable for me. To walk into class with a clean canvas on my arm or leg, to have kids sign and decorate at recess - how cool would that be?

But due to a vigilant guardian angel or Irish luck it was not meant to be.

Soon I was busy keeping children out of harm and avoiding risks. Hell, I even quit smoking to avoid harm. 

Okay, I did bungee jump, scuba dive, and brave some rope swing plunges into murky depths among other acts of fun as a mother - but largely I have focused on safety.

So either my guardian angel took a hiatus or my luck is running low. How else does a walk across the bedroom turn into this miserable, limiting cast from the tips of my fingers to halfway to my elbow?

You laugh. I know. My own husband laughs. But you try wiping your bottom with the wrong hand. He says "It could be worse." But really, what argument is that? I didn't survive a horrible car accident or shark attack. I went to the dang bathroom! How could that be worse? 

I have less than 2 weeks left until school. This week was scheduled to be busy. Summer cleaning - moving furniture busy. Preparing to neglect my house for a long semester okay whole school year busy. Instead I am waiting for the hard cast to be put on my arm on Monday. 

And the worst part? They aren't even smooth enough to decorate anymore!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

RV - Not the Movie

It seems I can't shake the habit of turning the world I see into narrative.

It started as a hairbrained idea. Instead of driving or flying to Michigan we would make it about the journey and rent an RV. Just me, my sister, and six children. 

Yes, I said six.  
No, we are not currently undergoing treatment for out Pollyanna view on life.

In fact, it went well. So well that I am ready to share some tips for anyone else willing to travel 2770 miles while outnumbered 3 to 1.

~ Prepared Meals: Hungry teens are prone to eating the souls of younger siblings. To avoid this we prepared & froze all dinners at home. This made dinner easy and we didn't have to forgo fun to prep and cook. This and lots of snacks kept the younger ones from irreparable damage.

~ Insurance Cards: Word to the wise - when one child comes down with strep throat, others will follow (50% of the kids). Moodier than a menopausal woman questioning her career and life choices is a tween with strep on-set being teased by her unknowing family. Squash it with antibiotics quickly! Or suffer the glare and tears at your own risk. 
*addendum: It's important to note that a day of antibiotics drastically turns the tide.

~ Ear Plugs: Bring board games and cards. Lack of internet will give kids looking for some down-time a renewed interest in shared activity. Yes, they are loud and playfully arguing over the merits of 3 of a kind versus a straight but they are bonding darnit! What's a migraine to the joys of our children? Keeping them plugged in while driving may be the coward's way, but is a highly effective sedative & noise reduction technique PACK CHARGERS!

~ Develop Codes: Ours was "DOOR DOOR DOOR!" Which means: slow the hell down. 
Well, it developed quite naturally as we pulled out of a rest area and the door to the back began swinging in the breeze... Seems the rear door must be locked while the RV is in motion. A lesson, one would think, once is enough to learn... But we are only human - and to our credit it only happened 3 times...Which seems excessive - but statistically with all the stops and starts, rest areas, and gas stations it's really quite...okay I'll shut-up now. 

~ Plan Memories: We planned stops, outings, and adventures. We did them. Kids laughed and had new experiences.We revisited favorite spots and saw family. But I'd bet $$ that when they are older and have their own kids they will get together and talk about the crazy trip their mom/aunt took them on when cousin J was declared "fine" after an overnight in the hospital because the rope swing broke. Oh well. At least they'll remember something. 

All-in-all our Pollyana view worked-out and we only slept in a scary parking lot once...