Saturday, September 05, 2009

9/5/09 The Orange Tree

Today I was hamstrung by too much to do, a terrible night sleeping, and just not feeling like doing anything. I've learned that when I feel overwhelmed by too much to do and not knowing where to start, to just pick something -- not necessarily the most pressing -- something to get started. Whatever pops to mind, to break the gridlock.

Today's gridlock-breaker was hardly the most important, nor the most urgent, thing on my to-do list, but thanks to the gridlock condition, it bubbled to the top. And that is: take care of my much-neglected lemon and orange trees. They've always been neglected, but at least they got water from the lawn irrigation system. Now they get nothing.

So today, I did a severe pruning on the lemon tree, raked and cleaned up around it, then sprinkled citrus food around the base, and watered it. Julian joined me for this project, which I was delighted by. He did the sprinkling and the watering.

Already tired, I knew our orange tree needed some attention, and told myself I'd just cut out some of the most obvious dead branches, and that was it. But I'd underestimated how addictive tree-pruning is. About two hours later, more of the tree was on the ground than was still on the tree.

Then it got the same treatment from Julian -- citrus-food sprinkling and then a nice deep-soak watering.

Julian wanted to play in the HUGE pile of branches and leaves (the disposal of which remains a big problem), but quickly found them too prickly.

Julian and I worked hard today! I spent the better part of the afternoon clipping branches while perched in the tree, eventually getting bold enough to climb up as high as the trunk branches would allow. Meanwhile, Julian picked up old "dead" oranges, set aside good ones, and piled the branches I clipped off into a big pile. By the end, my feet were sore from supporting me on tree branches, my arms scratched up, my face covered in dirt. But it was a very satisfying way to spend the afternoon (even if a professional tree pruner could have done a better job in half the time).

My mother says you can almost see a tree breathe with relief when you get rid of the undergrowth and dead branches. This one is practically singing for joy, despite the amateur work quality.

New swim lessons this morning. I didn't pay attention to Julian's class at all, believe it or not! I was intrigued to see that Gabriel's new class made him swim a full 20-yard length, which he can't do without stopping. But his classmates can, so that's a really good thing and I think he'll improve quickly.

The boys are wasted after an exciting birthday party that involved active playground play, then a movie in the community room at a park. What a great idea! I felt bad taking Katrina home early, but after 8pm she's a timebomb, even watching a cute movie. Thanks to our friends who drove the boys home!


Friday, September 04, 2009

9/4/09 Helping each other

For the most part, any "help" the kids give me is mostly "work" for me. I always feel like they get away with way too much, don't have enough responsibility, and they resist and complain if I do ask them to do things. I don't know yet how to fix that; it's so, so, SO much work to get them to do the smallest things, and I often just don't have the energy. Still, they think everything in life just comes to them. While there's no denying they come from privilege, I don't want them to grow up thinking they're going to be waited on all their lives.

But every so often my sparse efforts yield some good influence. Today Katrina wanted to set the table.

Then she ran outside to play on her "new" bicycle. Minutes later, I heard ear-piercing shrieks -- that is, more than usual -- and went out to reprimand Julian -- because he's usually behind them. Turns out, he was causing her shrieking, because he insisted she put her bicycle helmet on!

Then he spent a long, long, long time dutifully helping her ride her bicycle on the narrow strip that is left of our former yard. She can't turn her bicycle around, or even get it started pedaling on the uneven surface, and would screech for him to help her. And he did, again and again and again. He'd get on her bicycle to re-position it, or push her to get her going, only for her to get stuck a few seconds later and demand more help.

I was really heartwarmed to see how sweet and patient he was. She was really not grateful at all. In fact, she completely expected it. We're going to have to work on that. There's too much entitlement mentality going on around here.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

9/3/09 Back To School Night

This morning, when I dropped Julian off, I chatted with a Dad who was wearing running clothes (a clear invitation to be nosy). Turns out, he's training for a marathon, and his wife is the one starting a Yahoo!Group for Julian's class. I met her at pickup and really liked her as well.

To my surprise, in our brief conversation, the dad mentioned that he lamented the lack of diversity in the kindergarten. He wants his (Indian, of course) daughter to integrate, be around....I forget his exact words, but the jist was the predominating culture. He said something also about how competitive the middle schools are, but that's as far as it got, since class was just starting. I was fascinated...I thought for the most part, Indian parents were focused on the schooling and academics and if they thought at all about the cultural mixture at the school, that they'd be relieved that it's mostly theirs. But I guess there's more to this than I thought.

Gabriel asked me today if home-schooling was "strict." I explained that it depended on the teacher, which is mostly Mom or Dad. He asked if I would home-school him, and I said off the top of my head, having never thought of it before, that I really liked his being in a regular school -- being around other kids, getting to know other grownups, working in groups, learning to work within schedules on his own, seeing other kids' work -- and then the peripheral things he gets from school, like Running Club. I have to give this more thought, but I found myself saying that I thought home-schooling would be too focused on, of all things, "learning."

Tonight we did the big back-to-school juggle. Back-to-School night involves a 45-minute presentation by a classroom's teacher, with parents squeezed into kid-chairs. No kids allowed, so our bunch went to the CDC, which had a special back-to-school night also.

I really wanted to seethe presentations by both Gabriel and Julian's teachers, but the K and 2 classroom times were at the same time. So I went to the K presentation, which started exactly on time and finished early. I came away really liking Julian's teacher, she seemed very efficient and on the ball and talked often about spending time with small groups of kids as needed according to ability. Since she finished early, I had time to catch the tail end of Gabriel's class presentation, which ran over slightly, and I left to get to the CDC by 8 to pick up our little monsters.

I was intrigued by Gabriel's teacher's description of the book report project his class has due in a month. There's a paper display they have to do, with drawings, descriptions, excerpts, and an original 5-sentence paragraph the kids have to do at home, then they present the report in class. Gabriel's teacher (one of them) said they (two of them) don't grade on the report itself, adding carefully that the degree of help kids get from parents varies a lot, so instead they grade the presentation itself. They look at how the kids make eye contact with the audience, do they project their voices, do they speak clearly, are they animated and engaging, do they offer interesting things about the book they've read. That's what gets a "6" on a scale of 1 to 6, she said, "because I know parents are very concerned about how to get a 6." Oh.

I was glad to hear that they don't grade based just on work that's done at home, but sorry to hear that judge the work primarily based on presentation skills. Not all kids are good at stuff like that, and seems to me it's harder to improve performance skills than the more traditional academic ones. Or, maybe for the first time I have to develop a skill in my kid that's not in his top 10 of natural abilities or inclinations. Plain old-fashioned regular sit-down paper-and-pencil math tests are more my .... er, I mean, Gabriel's element.

I was also more than a little put off by the discussion of grades at all, but, I guess that's inevitable in school life. Or maybe it was the teacher's repeated mentions of how concerned parents were about how to earn the higher grades.

OK, you made it through all that blather, you've earned yourself some photos. This morning I found a great photo-op for one with all three, but Katrina has adopted Gabriel's old habit of putting her fingers in her mouth at picture time. This was the best I got when I was trying.

I did a lot better when I wasn't trying.

I took this photo seconds before Julian fell off and landed so hard I thought for a second he'd broken his arm, but it was just a nasty scrape on his elbow.

Good thing parents don't get grades.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

9/2/09 The Dictionary

Today, Gabriel's homework assignment included looking up two words in a "children's dictionary," out of a set of words provided.

Dave had pointed Gabriel to an online child's dictionary in preparation yesterday, since we don't have a "child's dictionary." (I wish the teachers wouldn't spring this stuff on us when we need to turn in homework every day. "Binder paper" was another basic supply we needed one night with no warning. This is the Google age -- who has binder paper around?)

But I didn't know about the online child's dictionary when I got Gabriel started on his homework tonight before Dave got home. Gabriel wanted to go to the computer, but I said No, and plunked a regular Webster's in front of him. Was I being too anal, too retro, too purist?

My doubts were immediately answered when I saw him open the dictionary. It hadn't occurred to him that the words were listed alphabetically.

Further, though he knows the alphabet well and reads fine, he didn't know how to find words in the dictionary. The basic algorithm of locating the section with the first letter, then finding the area with the second letter, and narrowing it down letter by letter until you find your word, isn't one you need to exercise when using an online dictionary. (Writing an online dictionary program involves an understanding of search algorithms, but how do programmers get there from 2nd grade?)

Gabriel caught on quickly, but there was more to learn: abbreviations, the difference between the origin of a word and its definition, multiple definitions. He only had to look up and write the definition of two words, and the first took some time. By the second he had a decent idea of what a real dictionary was about.

I was really struck by how much would have been lost by asking a computer to do most of the work. The basic format of a definition, recognizing and ruling out symbols and abbreviations, learning how to find a word in an alphabetical list, even judging how many words you pass with the thickness of a group of pages....All the online dictionary would have handed him, easily, were words defining "blossom." So much else would have been lost.

I can't make a case that online resources are life-threatening or that kids growing up on Google can't learn to use a dictionary, but my inner Luddite wonders if this effect pervades all aspects of learning. Maybe my generation has the best of it: we grew up with encyclopedias, but now have the information power of Google too. Still, I am really not a fan of computer use in the schools, above its being a necessary tool -- certainly not a topic in and of itself unless you're learning computer science, much of which is paper and math learning anyway.

But the #1 reason not to use an online dictionary is that without very very close supervision, homework time on the computer will surely turn into a Speed Racer game.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

9/1/09 New Tuesdays

Today was my first Tuesday as a full-time Mom again!

I can't believe my ambivalence. Part of me feels like I'm leaving the Real World behind; another part feels like I'm re-joining it. I'm just not sure which world is the Real one yet.

Once again, I tested the boys going to their classrooms on their own. I think this will work in the future, but without Gabriel going to Julian's class. Julian is actually more conscientious than Gabriel is about minding the warning bell, and it dawned on me today that perhaps the "Kindergarten Playground" isn't supposed to have 2nd graders overrunning the 5-year-olds.

Or a bossy 2-year-old ordering kindergartners off the slide.

The part of me that looked forward to kindergarten drop-off and perhaps cornering a business-suit mom or two was sorely disappointed. Most of the dropoff-ers were Dads, to my surprise, and most were speaking other languages to their kids. It's not even clear to me that they can communicate with each other. I felt like a foreigner.

After dropoff, I took Katrina to the Y to get in a workout, then took her to what I hoped would be a well-attended playgroup. And it was, I had a nice time chatting with other Las Madres moms I know, all of whom have 2006-born babies but also have 2004 "babies" who just started kindergarten. One mom explained that she did "Mom's club" today, which means a group of moms from her neighborhood walk their kindergarteners to their neighborhood school, and when they're all accustomed to it, the moms will take turns walking groups of kids to school.

That school in particular, she said, has a much better balance of backgrounds (meaning, not all Indian, and this from an Indian mom). And so many moms want to volunteer in the kindergarten class that they actually have way too many. The discussion had me ready to sell our house and move. This other school is in the same district, but it might as well be in another world.

I couldn't take any chances with Katrina not taking a nap today. In fact, at lunch she started to get picky, and I felt annoyed. She doesn't give this duff to her preschool teachers, and she eats what she gets in her lunchbag! So after she deliberately dropped a piece of banana on the floor, I scooted her upstairs for her nap. But not before taping double pieces of black felt over her windows, to ward off every scrap of light that could go in her room.

Once again, more backtalk about wanting pajamas for nap (her favorite procrastinating move), and I thought, "too bad, positive parenters, this time, this toddler doesn't get what she wants." I don't know if it was my preschool-teacher attitude or the black felt on her windows, but she didn't tear apart her room, change her clothes, come out of her room with one excuse after another, or run laps around her room. She actually took a nap. Oh joy!

Tomorrow, back to work. It's going to take some adjustment to be a working-mom one day, then a full-time mom the next. Two such drastically different existences. It's like having each foot on either end of a seesaw, and lurching sickenly from one side to another, with a hard bang at each end. Somehow, I need to pull my feet closer to the fulcrum, and find my balance in the middle.


Monday, August 31, 2009

8/31/09 K-fun

Out of the blue at dinner, Julian blurted out something about a music class. "It was SOOOO fun!" he exclaimed. He got down on the floor and showed us some of the clapping patterns they did, and said random things about it that I don't remember now. The PTA sponsors music classes once every two weeks I think, and he must have had his first one today. Gabriel never said a word about music classes, but Julian couldn't stop talking about it. He loved it.

I asked Julian if other kids in his class get hot lunch, before remembering that he's an AMer, which means he and his AMer classmates leave class before lunch and don't deal with hot lunch at all. To my surprise, he still rattled off a list of names of kids who get hot lunch -- all PMers with whom he overlaps an hour and a half, and before lunch.

He can also tell me who his friends are (though he still struggles with some of the names), and various things about the class, like who's at what table. Such a difference from Gabriel, who gave a fraction of this information, and only with a lot of careful probing.

Thanks to Julian, I'm learning a lot about kindergarten!


Sunday, August 30, 2009

8/30/09 Bike rotation

I went for a swim this morning, and returned to quite the charming scene: all three kids with their bike helmets on, riding around, and Dad doing varied bike maintenance. It's been the plan for a while that Gabriel should get the 18" bike Dave salvaged, Julian would get Gabriel's 16" bike, and Katrina would get one of the two 12" bikes we have, with training wheels. Part of that plan was implemented today.

Katrina "helped" Dave during this operation, by spinning the pedal of one upside-down bike.

She looked on during an adjustment of training wheels, after throwing a major fit about their presence at all.

And then she was willing to get on it! She half-pedaled, half-pushed it around. It's pretty tall for her. She doesn't mind the hand-me-down bike -- the T-shirt and Crocs are also hand-me downs. (For the record, I set out a darling white fitted T-shirt for her this morning, but she's getting increasingly opinionated about her clothes. Good thing I don't care that much: she went out later in pink flowered shorts with red-and-blue striped socks.)

Note the other wheeled vehicle in the background -- that's Gabriel playing on Katrina's tricycle. Now, really.

Gabriel's 18" bike is ready! Dave ended up replacing the handlebars with lower ones after I took this picture, and took the boys to the BMX park later in the afternoon. Julian was still on his yellow 12" bike, which is looking downright silly on him now.

Rats, I didn't get a picture of all three on cycles together, it was pretty cute.

Katrina has always liked bicycles, and she's pretty happy about this one. I sure wish it hadn't turned into a massive tantrum later when I wouldn't let her ride in the driveway, because I needed to work in the kitchen and couldn't keep an eye on her. I swept the backyard walkways for her, but, not good enough.

She didn't take a nap today and spent the better part of the afternoon wearing me down and testing my patience with one picky fit after another, punctuated by several long full-on top-of-the-lungs screeching tantrums. By 4:30 I was counting the minutes until her bedtime.

I took her to Jo-Ann Fabrics to buy some black felt, to black out her windows. Starting this week, I'm full-time Mom on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it will be a very unpleasant experience if every afternoon goes the way today's did. A room with minimal light is my first defense against a nap-less toddler. A full-time job is my second.