Archive for December, 2010

Merry Christmas. Hope You Don’t Die.

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

This is so sweet and earnest and honest, in a heartbreaking way, that I wanted to document it here in on Dogwood Girl, even though Todd already posted it on Facebook.

Todd:

At Cub Scouts last night, the boys made Xmas cards to send to troops overseas…I look away for a couple minutes, and R has written “Merry Christmas, I hope you don’t die”….took some gentle coaxing to get him to change it….

Of course, it is also very funny, too. The story is slightly funnier when Todd tells it in person: Evidently, some of the other kids were struggling with the concept of war, and saying things like, “They use guns. I can draw a gun on my card!” and one kid, who has been watching WWII documentaries (?), wanted to draw a Japanese Rising Sun flag on one of his cards.

We were trying to decide if a soldier would bust out laughing upon reading Rollie’s, or burst into tears. I am guessing there is a fine line between laughter and fear and sadness over there, and it might elicit a little of both.

But, really, isn’t Rollie right, if not exactly tactful? (Not sure where he gets that from.) Don’t we want them to have a Merry Christmas, and not die? I guess I’d probably add that I want them to come home safe to their families. I can’t help but think that their own fathers might have been helping them write cards to soldiers just ten years ago, too. And I can’t help but think of the constant fear their mothers must be in every moment of the day.

Merry Christmas to all those serving our country this year. And to their mamas and daddies.

Wherein I Whore Myself Out for Free Cards

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Well, not really. Because the cards are so cute!

Every year, I say I am going to get my Christmas tasks done early. I say things like:

“I will finish Christmas cards right after Thanksgiving.”
“I will be done with shopping and wrapping by Dec. 15th.”
“My house will be decorated the first weekend of December.”
“I will make five different kinds of Christmas cookies.”

I hear you laughing.

So, when my neighbor, Lauren, mentioned using Shutterfly to order her cards, and how easy it was, my interest was piqued. I had used Shutterfly before, for gifts like photo books. I also used them for a baby announcement. (Apologies to my second child, for whom I never even sent one out. Isn’t that always the way with the second? I love this little pink bird design so much, I could almost justify sending out Matilda’s birth announcements a little late. Oh? You think five years late is too long?)

I love the professional look of their photo books, and they have such great variety in designs to choose from. . . Cute travel book themes to document a family trip, or a Christmas theme. I also used them as a way to make a baby book. Sure – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – I started a baby scrapbook for both kids. . . and stalled out a few months into their first years. Much easier to just upload the pics, and create a photo book right then and there. You can use their designs or customize your own. They make great gifts. Someone on my list is getting one this Christmas, but I can’t say who – They might just be reading this post. . . .

And they’re affordable! They start at just under 13 bucks. Who wouldn’t hand over 13 bucks in exchange for having a baby’s first year documented and in your hand, without all the pile of half-finished scrapbooks all over the dining room table? Not to mention, have you ever been in a scrapbooking store? Pretty darn hard to get out of one for thirteen bucks.

So, I create my photo book gift online, and get my Christmas cards at the same place. That just made my life much easier!

Oh. My. And I just found this. You can have a photo printed onto canvas. How cool is that? May have just solved the “what to put up over the mantel” question. Just have to figure out which photo to use?

* Disclaimer: I have to admit that when we discussed Shutterfly at the bus stop, Lauren told me about their generous blogger promotion – You blog about Shutterfly’s products, you get 50 cards for free. Not a bad deal, I thought, since I blog all the time anyway, why not whore myself out for free cards? But when I thought about how cute the Shutterfly cards are sitting on my mantel every year, it was a no-brainer. I’m glad I’m getting them for free, but I think they’re cute, whether or not I’m getting paid goods or services to say it. I’d say it anyway!

P.s. Everywhere it says, “Christmas?” Just do a find and replace and insert “New Year’s.” KThanx.

Snowsuit Sound

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Snow, even flurries, in Atlanta never fails to remind me of being a kid in Fairport, New York. We lived there for two years when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade.

Seems like I spent all my time in the winter as a kid wearing a snowsuit and boots, sledding in the front yard, or ice skating at Potter Park. (Think that was the name.) When you walk in the snow, dragging a sled behind you by a plastic handle, your snowsuit rubs together and makes a little whicka-whicka-whicka sound. Which is why my favorite Sloan song is “Snowsuit Sound.”

Funny, too, because my kids are just about the same age that Lisa and I were when we lived up there.

Dug up some pics of my snow boots:
1979Nov_me_skis_FairportNY
(Weird. Just looked at my face, and i think Tiller makes that same face sometimes. I want to lock her in her room when she does it.)

Check out my sister’s bitchin’ snowsuit!
1980__winter 001
We both had orange sleds. The boy up the hill from her lived next door and I believe someone told me he was a doctor now. He used to make a lot of fart noises and try to poot on me while we watched cartoons. Him being a doctor also explains why he is not on Facebook. Almost no one I know who is a doctor is on Facebook. Or if they are, they are never on it.

Totally bummed I can’t find a picture of my red snowsuit with the bars on the chest. This is me on my sled, though, next to Karen Rapp, who lived two houses up. We played Snoopy together a lot. The taller dark-haired girl was one of my babysitters, Sarah.
1980__winter_me

Oh, wait! Here we go!
1980_latefall_me 001

Good stuff. Kind of makes me sad my kids might not get the full day of sledding, or building snow forts, or tapping trees for maple syrup. All very fond memories for me.

Oh, God. Black hole of photos tagged with Fairport on Flickr!

The Wegman’s where we shopped for groceries!
Fairport / ER Wegmans

The Mushroom House we used to pass on my way to softball.
"The Mushroom House"
Totally cool!

Found those while trying to find a picture of the park where we ice skated. No luck. Guess that’s a sign from God that I should actually get some work done and stop messing around on the Internets.

Getting in the Spirit

Friday, December 10th, 2010

My best buddy, the Q Man, getting in the Christmas spirit. . .

My Elf

Also featured: City Sidewalks singing dog, and Willy the Elf.

I’ve Got a Spelling Bee in my Bonnet

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

You remember those, right? They still do them. (And if you haven’t seen Spellbound, you are missing out. What a thriller!)

So, Rollie’s school had a spelling bee. I guess all schools have them this time of year and then the finalists go on to County, or state, or whatever. A few weeks beforehand, the principal sent home a note explaining that only 4th and 5th graders would compete in the school-wide spelling bee. First through third graders would have bees in their classroom and the winners from those spelling bees would have the honor of sitting in on the 4th and 5th grade finals. The reason, which I don’t remember exactly now, had something to do with testing, or scheduling, or timing.

I was mad.

God forbid that we let younger children compete against older ones, I thought. Someone might get their damn feelings hurt. Really, i think the only feelings hurt were mine. You see, my kid is a kickass speller.

There. I said it.

My kid is a really, really great speller!

I tend to not talk about it much, because. . . well, we all know how parents are. Playground Wars. Mommy Wars. Blah Blah Blah. Parenting is a fucking battleground of whose parenting techniques are most effective, whose methods create the best citizens, or whose kids are the most intelligent. Some parents put their thoughts out as landmines, others as bombs going off, but it is always there. The comparisons, and the subtle bragging, and the “well, my kid” and the “Oh, my daughter, too!” I am guilty of it too, sometimes.

And I don’t want to be that parent who thinks their kid is perfect, or that does nothing but brag on their kid. That parent is annoying. And sometimes, frankly, I look at their kid and think, “well, he seems pretty average to me.”

So for me to come out and say strongly that my kid is anything but average is really hard for me. I am starting to realize, though, that part of being a good parent is speaking up for your child, and making sure they get what they need.

My kid needs a bit of a challenge. He is in first grade and he reads on about a 4th grade level, and he can spell like a motherfucker.

Take for instance, the day that my sister and i were discussing spelling with him. He had brought home a practice list, and few of the words stumped him. Example: He had trouble with “merry,” because I had not explained to him that you could ask for its usage in a sentence, or the definition, and he assumed it was “marry.” So, Lisa and I, also pretty good spellers in our own right, and definitely word nerds, were telling him about the words that stumped us. Lisa lost a spelling bee on the word “cemetery.” I cannot remember the word that I lost the seventh grade bee on. I do remember I lost to Kenneth Walter. Damn you, Ken! (Yes, it would have been more productive to remember the word and learn to spell it, but I have always been more about holding a grudge.) Instead, i used another example: I failed a ninth grade paper, because I misspelled “separate” in the paper; A paper on the book, A Separate Peace. It was not pretty. A very low moment in my spelling career, one from which the scars will never heal. (I would like to add that I passed the class, and believe that the teacher did the right thing in failing me on the paper. At the time, i wanted to egg her house.)

Rollie could spell both cemetery and separate, without pause. There are many adults who still cannot spell these words.

Now, spelling well does not make one a genius, and any parent worth their salt knows that reading levels out as kids get older – slower readers catch up, etc. Also, it is easier to spell when one has read more and longer books. It is just a matter of having seen the words. The more you read, the more likely you are to be able to spell something, right? Right.

So going back on what I said earlier, I would like to put in the disclaimer that I am not calling my kid a genius, or even highly intelligent. I have never seen a test score from him yet, and have no idea how he will test. He is in the Discovery program, which is the Talented and Gifted of today. (Again, god forbid that the kids who don’t test into a gifted program think that they are not “talented” or “gifted.” No. Better to just give them the message that they are not worthy of “discovery.” I digress. Wait. Let me do it again: “Personal Record Day.” Instead of Field Day, a friend’s school had “Personal Record Day!” Are you fucking kidding me? Digression complete.) So, he’s not stupid. But i have no way of knowing how smart he is. Schools don’t really help you with that too much, as far as I can tell.

I do know he is not perfect. He has trouble controlling his emotions. He can be self-centered, controlling, stubborn, angry, and disrespectful. He still has some trouble sharing, and he gets jealous of others. He has acted out in class to the extent that he has thrown a chair. He got in-school fucking suspension, for God’s sake, for fighting. One of my relatives thinks he needs to see a therapist. (This is ironic, because he is more like that person than anyone else in my family!) There have been a couple of times that I have cried on the phone with my mother or sister, wondering if I am raising a Sociopath. I have no idea whether this fear is normal or not, because I have not done this parenting thing before, and as far as I know, no one else at the bus stop or playground or the coffee shop or Bunco seems to wonder if they are raising sociopaths. It just doesn’t come up very often in polite mommy conversation.

My kid is far from perfect.

Also? He is a shitty artist, he can’t carry a tune, and he looks a little like he is having a seizure when he dances.

But when he is sweet and charming? He is the most perfect child in the world. That, I know, is universal. They win our hearts at birth, and then keep us guessing for, I am guessing, the rest of our lives. His beautiful, warm, laughing brown eyes make my heart hurt and my throat constrict sometimes.

And I owe it to him to make sure that he learns and has the opportunity to excel at what he enjoys and gravitates toward. Don’t I? Is it any less honorable to fight for my gifted child to have opportunities, attention, and appropriate lessons and curriculum, than for the mom of an Autistic child or a dyslexic child, or a child with some handicap to fight for her child to get the resources that he or she needs?

Shouldn’t the needs of all of those children be met?

And I have to be honest. I have had my reservations about how well the public schools are doing for children. I held those back, though. I chose my house based on the schools my kids would go to, picking schools that are rated highly, and that have high parental involvement. I thought, I am going to send my kid to public school and he is going to do great. How could he not, if I am involved, and i have a good relationship with his teachers, and I stay on top of things, and stay informed.

You know what? It is my third year with R. at his elementary school. He had two great years, Pre-K and K. Those teachers were great. His K teacher was probably the best teacher he will ever have. She was amazing. She made sure that he (and the other advanced kids in the class – and there are a good number of them in this class) was challenged, busy, motivated. He didn’t have any trouble with any of the curriculum. He did great.

I was more than happy with him not being forced to learn things that were hard for him, with easy homework, with him just being allowed to be a kid, and learn how to perform in a social setting.

I thought, okay, first grade will start to challenge him. They will realize that some of these kids learned the stuff in this curriculum a year, or two, or even three years ago, and they will alter the lessons appropriately.

That has not happened.

Sure, when parents complained that the homework was too easy, they created a second tier of homework for the more advanced kids. Rollie doesn’t study the words on his homework, even the “challenging” words. He reads it over once, and makes an A on the test.

Am I happy my kid is making As and not struggling? Well, yeah. But when I asked my kid’s teacher how he is doing academically, if he is struggling with anything, her reply was, “He is meeting standards!” She said this with a smile on her face, as if I should be as happy as she is. I was not, because how well I am doing as a parent is not tied to standards. I understand that her paycheck is. I sympathize with that.

But wouldn’t a great teacher realize that I don’t just want my kid to “meet standards?” I was tempted to ask her, “But what is he learning?” For the most part, he has learned all of this already. I did not ask her that.

So, we continue to feed him books that are more challenging, at home. He continues to whip through his Accelerated Reading and Lit Guild books, which he has to reread for the tests many times, because he already read the books, but doesn’t remember them at all, because he read them when he was four. But you have to finish the “first grade” level lists to move on to the higher lists. I told him, “this is just how school is sometimes. You just have to do some stuff that is busy work, and you have to finish it to get the grade. Part of life is doing things you don’t want to do, and learning to knock them out is a life skill.”

We continue to let him play computer games that do more difficult lessons in math and language. It can’t hurt, i think, but what if it is just creating a bigger gap between him and “the standard?” Not that I am going to stop enriching his life, but at what point does the school start challenging him more? He goes to school with a good night’s sleep, a full belly, ready to learn, and then he has eight hours of learning “standard curriculum.”

Are those eight hours just a waste? No, he is learning some valuable lessons where he is weaker, in his interpersonal relationships. But wouldn’t it be cool if he was really, truly, feeding his brain? Learning to fail at things? Then learning how to do them better a second time?

And that is why, when I read that bit about the Spelling Bee, i was immediately mad. They have the framework for a competition, based on a skill, where kids are allowed to excel, move on to the next level, test the waters, see how well they can do, push themselves to be the best they can be! To learn to be a humble and modest winner, or a gracious loser! Would it really have taken that much extra time or work to let four kids from each grade move on to the next level? The framework was already there!

I was mad, and I didn’t even know if my kid would win the spelling bee in his class. I knew he had a good chance at it, but that there were a number of other really advanced readers, and that a spelling bee can be a complete crap shoot. All it takes is one word you have never come across before to stump you and knock you out.

And part of me? Part of me thought that my kid losing a spelling bee would be a better lesson for him than winning one.

He didn’t lose. He won.

He won his class Spelling Bee. (Not his grade. They didn’t get to see who the best speller in the first grade would be.) And the next day, he and the winners from the other first, second, and third grade classes sat and watched the 4th and 5th graders compete in the school Spelling Bee. There are four first grade classes. Probably the same number for the other grades. So, there sit about twelve kids who excel at spelling. Who probably wondered if they could have gone on to win the whole thing. (Doubtful, but who knows?)

Twelve kids who were not even given a chance to try. Twelve kids sidelined. Why? I just don’t understand how the school could let this opportunity pass these kids by. (MY KID! – make no mistake about it – I am mad for MY kid most of all! That’s my job!)

And that sucks. And it is just a symptom of a much larger problem that we have in education. We are allowing standards and curriculum to drag these kids down, just as if we had tied a cement block around their necks and dumped them in a lake.

And it just plain sucks.

The real question is, what are we – what am I – going to do about it?

Oh. And it goes without saying that if you remember the words that you lost spelling bees on, you gots to post them in the comments. I love spelling bee stories!

A Good Day

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

I thought I was having kind of a crazy day. I started my period yesterday, and I had to do a newsletter for a non-profit, and we still had a bare Christmas tree just sitting around undecorated. We got it on Friday and didn’t even have time to decorate it until late this afternoon, and the kids were just driving me batshit crazy about all the Christmas stuff in piles that wasn’t put up yet.

But then my wonderful husband went to the store for tampons for me when I really didn’t feel like it. He took the kids with him. Then he came home, cooked me dinner, and made brownies for dessert. He is mine, girls. Mine, all mine! Taken!

Then, as I was eating a Brownie bowl of shame, a friend sent me a v. nice message about enjoying my blog (consider this your shout out!) and now I kind of feel pretty happy.

Not a bad day. Lots to be thankful for – I can’t complain. Nothing like good friends, a hot brownie, and a full box of tampons to turn your day around.

Our Tooth Fairy is Retarded

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

So, Rollie came home from school having lost another tooth. I think it’s his . . .fourth? They are becoming a blur. Interestingly, only one was pulled at home – the rest were at school. I guess maybe he gets bored in class and decides to wiggle it until it comes out.

toofs

Oh, and the Tooth Fairy? Well, ours is retarded. . .

Rollie woke up this morning, ran downstairs all excited that the Tooth Fairy had left him a dollar, and left his tooth, too! Upon being questioned in isolation, the Tooth Fairy confirmed that the tooth was indeed taken last night when the dollar was left. . . so. . . there must have been an older tooth still in the pillow, one that she missed on a previous visit.

So, the Tooth Fairy cost us a dollar. Good thing I coupon to make up for fiscal disasters of this nature.

The Gift of Dreaming

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Do you remember your dreams? Do you think they are a message you are supposed to receive and think on? Or are they just your brain’s way of working things out for you while your body rests?

Mine are very vivid, in color, and the ones closest to waking up are sometimes so real that when I do wake up, i confuse the dream with reality. I often talk as I am waking up, as I did the other morning when I said, “There are no more colors” to Todd and Tiller. I wish I could remember what that means, but that one is lost to the ether.

Todd and I talk about dreams often, because he rarely remembers his. When he does remember them, though, they are doozies. (Perhaps he will comment with the story of his ghost dream. I cannot possibly do it justice, it is so funny. When I match that dream story with the sounds he was making while having the dream, I am overcome with giggles.)

I had a wonderful dream last night. Scary and vivid and special, and tied to things going on in my life. We have been watching The Walking Dead on AMC. (I you aren’t watching it, you are dumb. It is awesome, and also, set in Atlanta, which makes it even more fun!) So, the beginning of my dream involved living with a group of survivors or refugees, somewhere out in the wilderness, not unlike the survivor group on The Walking Dead. (Or like the one that I started writing a short story about after having a similar dream while in NC and having seen a Walking Dead episode the night before, then dreaming about that!) Except that, last night, we were not Zombie Apocalypse survivors.

We were survivors of some sort of alien attack. This was no doubt prompted by the announcement yesterday that NASA will have a 2:00 PM Thursday press conference to discuss an astrobiological finding that impacts the search for extraterrestrial life in our universe. The buzz about this press conference was all over Twitter yesterday, and in true nerd fashion, I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. Not surprisingly, it showed up in my dream.

So, in my dream, there is little explanation for how my group ended up with one, but I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO FLY ONE OF THESE GUYS:

I flew this in my dream. Be jealous. Be very jealous.

I flew this in my dream. Be jealous. Be very jealous.

Have you ever had a flying dream? I don’t have them very often, but they are the absolute best dreams out there. It is the most exhilarating feeling in the world to soar over things in dreams. (Ironic, considering I am phobic about both heights and flying.) Except of course, flying dreams pale in comparison to one other kind of dream: the dreams where you get to hang out with deceased loved ones.

At some point during my dream, it was announced that good aliens were coming to earth, or maybe we had befriended the original attacking forces. I don’t know which, in that weird way that dreams are logical at the time, but never make sense when you try to describe them to others. But i was in downtown Atlanta and there were tons of people there, hanging out in the shadow of the Equitable building, waiting for the Alien Welcome Parade to begin. (Shadows of DragonCon, i suppose?) There were people I went to high school with, parents of people I went to high school with, some of Todd’s friends from Auburn, and pretty much any other random person that I can think of ever having met in my life. That guy that served me and Todd poolside rum drinks in Belize and told us about the Temptation Island folks? I think he was in my dream, too.

So, in my dream, i am rushing to find a good spot, and someone links arms with me as I am walking, and I look down and immediately recognize the green and white outfit my Grandma Smith wore. Apple green polyester background, with white polka dots. It was one piece, I think. Head-to-toe green and white polka dots. And grandma was beside me, walking damn well (she was a little wobbly there in the last few years, but not in my dream) and she was just SO EXCITED TO BE MEETING ALIENS! My grandmother was thin, wobbly, gray, and psoriatic. But her smile? Grandma had a million dollar smile, and one of the funniest, most contagious laughs I have ever heard.

197_grandmasmith

And me? I went to bed last night worrying about all of the things I had to do today. And I woke up this morning having received a precious gift. I got to link arms with my grandma, celebrate something happy, see her smile, and hear her laughter. And today, I feel as if I have been visited by someone special, and I know there are things in this universe that we will never explain, or understand, but for which we must have respect.