Saturday, January 10, 2009

1/10/09 Reading

Usually Dave puts the kids to bed and reads to them, but tonight a late dinner made it work out so I put Katrina and Julian to bed. Frankly, by story time, usually I'm sort of "done" with kids for the day, so I do the reading out of duty, but I always secretly hope they'll pick a short book.

Tonight, though, I found myself prolonging Katrina's storytime, reading three books to her, including pop-ups and flap books (which take a lot longer). It's so nice to have her sit calmly in my lap and almost cuddle. She repeats a lot of the sentences I read and points things out in pictures, but she really lights up when it comes to identifying shapes. I noticed a few months ago when she was pointing out "octagons" (which are often hexagons), and thought it was a passing phase, but this does seem to appeal to her. Finally she'd had enough and I reluctantly put her down.

Julian was very tired and actually wanted to go to bed early, and given his whiny obnoxious evening, this was not an opportunity to be missed! I gave him a quick bath and then read a long story to him, talking about it with him along the way, and enjoying his characteristic wide-eyed fascination. So different from Gabriel's intense focus. Gabriel concentrates on stories too, but he's almost sharp about it, where Julian is absorbing. You can just about see the spreading beam coming from Julian's eyes, and the pinpoint laser coming from Gabriel's.

It still baffles me why Gabriel's school picks reading, of all things, to force parents and children to do together as an extra activity. Reading together of all things is the first thing we do, the last to go. There's no lack of reading together in this household, and we happen to have concrete evidence of that in the boys' excellent reading skills, Julian's especially. The real value in reading together is to establish the habit and lay the foundation for learning, whether or not they actually learn to read before kindergarten. We understand that. Not to metion, we like to.

Reading together is fun, and should remain that way, not a chore. Er, not a chore the school imposes, anyway. Modern-day parental guilt does plenty of that.


Friday, January 09, 2009

1/9/09 The Last Resort

It's horribly irritating to be in the car after The Three are re-united at the end of the day -- they're incredibly loud, so active the car rocks, and in under a minute, someone is crying (often me).

I found a way tonight to keep things calm -- an obvious one, and one that wears off fast, but if I keep it fresh it should keep working. I played one of my favorite Eagles songs, called "The Last Resort," about missionaries taking over Indian land. It starts with some piano, which caught Gabriel's attention immediately. With him focused on the music, the other two's antics were reduced to mere childhood play. It was magical.

The only strange thing is when we get out of the car, and Gabriel stated evenly: "Definitely a transposed F-sharp."

I'm not sure what he meant by that exactly, but he makes these sort of comments from time to time. It's eerie. It reminds me of the kid in The Sixth Sense: "I see dead people...." I know there will come a time when he knows many things I don't, but I'm not ready for that yet. Right now, for a short time anyway, I'm still smarter, faster and stronger. But I've never heard music the way he does.

I'm still not over the supreme irritation of the "Heritage Doll" school project. Thank goodness we have such an alligator-skin kid, who's not too embarrassed by the minimum begrudging effort his parents put into helping him with this grotesque, creepy figure.

Basically I printed photos onto a piece of cardstock, which he cut out and glued onto the doll template. Well, she did say to "be creative," does that have to involve yarn and macaroni? Dave also talked to him for a while about our history of motorcycling together. I'm sure that was the point. Yeah, whatever.

But it doesn't end there. Gabriel's school is on a mission to force parents and children to spend their idea of the right sort of time together.

Today Gabriel came home with a notice about a numbered book bag he's going to take home every week, with a journal and instructions for activities. The notice specifically says not to have the child read the book on his own, it's intended for the parent to read with the child, then we do a writing activity with the child to put into the journal. "This is a great opportunity for you and your child to share the joys of reading. Have fun!"

Please cover your ears while I SCREAM!!!!!

Does it not occur to them that perhaps that isn't the way we WANT to spend time with our child?! It takes away from time we spend together, especially relaxed, productive -- or not -- time. Never mind the two other children we would like to spend time with. I'm sorry, but my two-year-old isn't interested in your idea of how to spend precious minutes with our first-grader. We might prefer to do, say, piano practice.

Or science experiments. Julian got a book on experiments for Christmas (birthday?) and he's been looking at it a lot. He'd picked one experiment he really wanted to do, so we did it together tonight -- lamely, we didn't have the right materials -- but the boys and I had fun trying.

There'd have been no room for this on a weeknight if a "writing activity" were demanded.

Apparently the vast majority of kids in Gabriel's class don't have two parents who work. But even if I weren't working, I'd still resent this assumption that we parents want to put so much into school-dictated activities at home. Homework and required school projects are already a huge drain on our time together -- quantity and especially quality -- now this??

Besides, I have other things to worry about, like this corner cabinet in my new kitchen. I love open shelves, and specifically asked for some, where I'd planned to put frequent-access items: plates, glasses. But the frame around this opening creates a lip -- 1-1/2 inches deep!!! -- that prevents sliding things in or out easily. It also encroaches into the opening on the sides and the top. It looks great, but it works horribly. I know it won't "look right" without the frame, but it won't work right with it.

The last person I want to go up against is my kitchen designer, who's been a source of respite and peace through all this. It's my kitchen, I know, but, can't we just all be friends and agree on everthing?

That squishy sound you hear is my backbone melting.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

1/8/09 Attitude problem

I'm having a serious attitude problem with this stupid "Heritage Doll" project for Gabriel's class. I don't have black construction paper. SORRY. Suppose I'm a working mom who's remodeling and has two other children and who just doesn't have all the right supplies? Not to mention the time. Or desire, or "creativity" we've been admonished to have. Or even the heritage! I SO resent having to spend my evening dressing up a stupid paper doll.

I have a friend who thought a project her daughter had to do for kindergarten was too much, and just refused to do it. Why don't I have that kind of nerve?

I need an assertiveness training class. Online -- so I don't have to face anyone in person.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

1/7/09 The Wringer.

I'm exhausted.

I was planning an almost-full day of work, with a "treat" to myself of a short workout at the Y after dropping off The Three. Bzzt. I'd barely pulled out of the driveway before I was divert to the jobsite (after dropoffs) for what should have been a brief consultation, and turned into another grueling 3-hour session. And I left saying, "I *can't* decide on this now, I've GOT to go to work."

  • The hall niches don't fit.
  • A dryer vent has to be moved.
  • The 1x1 tiles in our beautiful living room fireplace design won't fit, will have to be cut and hand-tumbled, and there's not enough of them.
  • The electrical light box above a vanity isn't centered and the medicine cabinet that's supposed to go there is too tall.
  • The sliding patio door can't be swapped, a whole new unit has to be ordered and installed. The labor to replace it will likely be more than the door itself.

    That's just the "little" stuff.

    Meantime, the fence between us and our incredibly patient next-door neighbor has a 12-foot section removed, and another kitty-korner neighbor had no idea that guys would be digging under his fence today too.

    Here's the view of our house from our neighbor's yard through the huge hole in the fence. This view should never exist -- there should be a fence!.

    Our incredibly patient neighbor is a meticulous landscaper. I can't imagine how he felt about this.

    This is what showed up to dig up our yard.

    Meantime, our jobsite foreman did some fast-talking with another neighbor, one we've never met but who lives kitty-korner to us. A five-foot-square in the far corner of his property is the unlucky grantor of an easement to PG&E to locate an upgrade an electrical meter.

    This poor blindsided neighbor unfortunately bought his house with the easement in place. Our two next-door neighbors, on the other hand, out of unprecedented goodness of hearts and benevolence voluntarily signed one, through an unimaginably complex circus of hoops we (mostly Dave) had to go through with PG&E, the County, the City, the assessors, the surveyors, the title reports, the notaries....just so that our neighbors could sign away the rights to 10' of their property for PG&E to dig up at the behest of their noisy neighbors, who've forced them to live with construction dust, traffic and noise for months now.

    I'm listening for ideas of how to thank our beleaugered neighbors -- Harry & David's biggest gift basket isn't nearly enough.

    Oh, and tonight, we all had to go pick up Dave's car, AND work on Gabriel's scrapbook, AND have an "intervention" talk with Gabriel about some trouble he got into at school today. By all rights he should have been writing two letters of apology, but when it gets to be 9:30 and we're all about ready to scream, it's just too much. The "heritage doll" is going to have be a biker babe, and that's fitting, since they ("we," once) are known to get dressed simply and very very quickly. She crams for the test and does the whole multi-week-long project in the one night before it's due. My kinda gal.

    Now I will slither my sorry rear end to the couch and stew about all else that's gone wrong today. Can I think of *anything* positive?? Oh yeah, Katrina happily sat on the potty at Julian's school for another teacher, just for a few minutes while he was getting ready to go. I figure potty-training will save us about $60 a month, between the diapers, wipes, and lower daycare costs. The aggravation leading up to it...not so sure.

  • Tuesday, January 06, 2009

    1/6/09 The Statements

    This morning after I dropped Gabriel off, Katrina looked sadly after him and said, "I lost Gabriel!"

    Tonight she was sitting in her high chair, engaging in the usual inexplicable dinnertime fussing. Then she suddenly shifted into an angry-sad cry. Something offensive about the rice, I guess. I asked her, "What's the matter?" She stopped, scowled at me, and then said with irritation, "I'm CRYING!"

    Every potty-training tool at my disposal is met with instant, total, complete, vociferous rejection. No little potties, no ducky ring on the big toilet, no training pants, absolutely not Mom. Total, unabashed, unwavering outrage. So I'm getting creative, like playing with a doll sitting on the toilet, or putting a footstool in front of the toilet with the ducky ring and just leaving it there without saying anything.

    One tool not to use is older siblings. Whose bright idea was it to use two little boys to demonstrate peeing? That's a mistake I won't make again. They think this is hilarious, and put on a show, like peeing in a big circle around the edge of the toilet, or they turn their heads suddenly to say, "LOOK KATRINA!" Every motorcyclist knows: you go where you look. Ugh.

    Meantime, she was unimpressed by her brothers' urinary antics. And I know she gets the point, that's clear from her adament refusal. Maybe if I tell her she can't....yeah right, she'll fall for that (hey, check out the wings on that pink barn animal flying by!).

    This child...she's going to be the end of me. At least the hilarity of her comments match the force of her resistance.


    Monday, January 05, 2009

    1/5/09 The worst part of the day

    Ugh...back to the grind.

    I thought the worst part of my day would be the dropoff runaround. It wasn't.

    Then I thought the worst part of my day would be the pickup runaround. It wasn't.

    Then I thought the worst part would be Katrina's still-daily dinner tantrum. It wasn't.

    Then it seemed clear the worst part of the day would be the boys fighting before dinner. It wasn't.

    No, the worst part was opening Gabriel's homework folder and discovering that he has two -- two -- "family projects" due Friday. One is a "Heritage Doll," in which he's supposed to decorate a paper doll with traditional costume from his family's heritage. (What traditional costume? We don't have heritage! "Be Creative!" the instructions call. Uggghh!!) The next is a "My Family Scrapbook." Dragging my reticent, literal son through these open-ended projects is torture.

    I know what the school is trying to do: involve parents in the homework and the kids' lives, and get families talking about their history. But do you have to make me do that on a weeknight when I have lunches to make, clothes to put away, and a grumpy toddler to get to bed?

    I had a telling conversation with a co-worker today, about kids playing together. She commented that her girls, ages 8 and 10, play together a lot; and I followed up by saying my boys do too, but they fight a lot. "Oh, my girls fight too, but I just ignore it."

    Ignore it, really? How?

    "Sometimes the older one just wants to be left alone and she won't talk to the younger one and makes her cry, but she goes to her room and...." No, I stopped her. I said fight. I'm not talking about hurting feelings; I'm talking about hitting, kicking, punching, pulling, tripping, pinching, biting, throwing things on someone's head, scratching faces with toys, grabbing clothes, shoving, rolling on the floor together, destroying things around them, and making a huge extremely annoying racket. That's fighting. "Oh," she conceded, "Boys."

    I can think of maybe one or two times anyone's cried around here because of something someone else said. Ignore it? Fighting around here is too loud, too destructive and too irritating. If only.


    Addendum: I video'd some sample semi-fighting, it's not great but gives an idea of the fine line between playing and fighting. This is pretty tame, but without me standing there with the camera, lines get crossed quickly. The funny part is Katrina's reprimand: "No throwing, Gabriel!"

    And suddenly, they're friends again.

    Sunday, January 04, 2009

    1/4/09 Downtown Ice

    The one thing I've wanted to do this entire holiday was to take the boys to Downtown Ice, a seasonal outdoor ice rink in San Jose. Finally today, somehow, I made it happen.

    Gabriel's first experience on ice skates was at Downtown Ice, when he was just shy of 4, with me and Aunt Laura to help him. We had no idea how to teach a child, and it had been decades since I'd been on skates. Laura could skate, but it wasn't long before our backs ached.


    (I look so innocent...little did I know I would be pregnant in a few weeks, if I wasn't already.)

    A lot has changed since then! Both boys have had ice-skating classes, and I had another baby. This excursion motivated skating lessons for myself too, despite said baby. (One thing that hasn't changed: I wore the same vest today as in 2005!)

    With the boys being older, I can put their skates on and send them off to the rink while I do my own skates. They're not old enough to tie their own skates, however, and one thing I don't like about skating is the 20 minutes of creative pulling and tying of ice-skates, including my own. Velcro, anyone?

    (My cute. I'm so proud of them.)

    I've never been so warm skating before! Outdoors in downtown San Jose is a whole lot warmer than indoors at most skating rinks. It was a glorious day. Some people were skating in tank tops.

    Unfortunately, Julian pooped out within 10 minutes, claiming his legs hurt. He can skate fine, but it seems he just doesn't like to. A shame, because it's so fun for me doing stuff like this with both of them, if they both like it. Dave says Julian isn't much fun at the BMX park anymore either.

    Gabriel, on the other hand, is full of enthusiasm, determination, and willingness to try. We worked a little on forward crossovers again, which is about the limit of my skating skill. He's shaky, but he likes to try, and it's a good start!

    Then, inspired by cousins, we had hot chocolate when we got home. OK, so it's 65 degrees out. You still have to have hot chocolate after ice skating!

    It's really fun doing this once a year as a lark, even though the actual skating isn't that good. The sun creates wet spots, it's small and crowded with mostly first-time skaters. Still, I'll certainly take Gabriel again next year....maybe even Katrina too. That's a really exciting thought!

    I wonder how hard it will be to come across an activity that all three will like? Better yet, all five?