Saturday, October 10, 2009

10/10/09 Faces

Busy day getting ready for party tomorrow & friend visiting tonight.

Children fine, though Julian wouldn't pose today.


Friday, October 09, 2009

10/9/09 Teacher Conference

This morning, Dave and I met with Gabriel's teacher to review how he's been doing.

Overall, it was anticlimactic. I'd been anxious to talk with his teachers about motivating him, as he complained a lot at first about pretty much everything. But, lately, he hasn't been complaining as much, and that's been reflected in class too. His teacher said he's been doing a lot better with not procrastinating an assignment, especially if he's warned that he'll have to finish his work over recess, but they haven't had to do that as much lately. It helped that he was separated from a CDC pal he liked to mess around with.

I think the teachers are supposed to push various programs and methods to work even more with the kids at home. She reviewed a reading technique, something about counting the number of words he misunderstood out of 100 words, and gave us some material to work on "reading strategies" (methods to improve comprehension). I interrupted her and asked if this was standard, or did Gabriel need extra reading help? He was reading so well entering kindergarten that we really haven't paid any attention since, so, maybe he's fallen behind? "No, no, he's fine," she assured us. I guess she had to give us the spiel though. Too bad. In a 20-minute conference, I'd rather focus entirely on Gabriel than be shown yet more work to do together. The one thing Dave and I both heartily agreed with that he needs extra work on is his handwriting, it's atrocious and the worst in the class.

Overall he did well on the book report too. She said she could tell he had help, as his discussion of the book was more sophisticated than most kids'. I couldn't tell if this was a tactful admonition, or praise, and didn't have the mental togetherness at the moment to ask. His sentences and wording were his own, but the ideas were developed in a lot of discussion together, and I gave him a lot of guidance on how to organize his sentences and what scope to keep them (e.g. "Can you write an example of how Puss tricks the King in one sentence?") It's hard to know where the line is, and if I crossed it, in discussion. I hope not. It's important to me that he be able to do his work himself and that he not develop dependency on me. (But I have a nagging self-doubt that I did help too much, even if I have no idea how else to have done it.)

So, no big surprises. Gabriel's areas of weakness are reading comprehension (just like me) and expressing himself in writing (not like me at all), and handwriting. It's clear he's most comfortable with math, though he's often careless and makes enough mistakes that his work is pretty typical grade-level. I think he can do better, but, whatever.

2nd grade was off to a rocky start, but he's now finding his stride!


Thursday, October 08, 2009

10/8/09 Entitlements

This morning I had a nice hike at Rancho San Antonio, along a route I usually run. This time, I walked it with a friend who's training for a big walking event next month, and with Katrina in the jogging stroller. It's a steep trail for a jogging stroller, certainly doable, but I was glad to have the excuse that since my friend was training, she should do the heavy pushing up the steep parts! Still, my rear end feels the strain, moreso than when I've run the same route.

We got talking about how much more independent and self-sufficient kids were back in our day (boy that sounds old), in the context of how difficult it is to get our own kids to do the most basic self-help tasks. Getting the boys to get dressed in the morning is still a major undertaking -- and why should I have to do that at all? When did book reports start requiring so much guidance? There really are no meaningful consequences we can employ -- I can't actually leave the boys behind and have them miss school, and Gabriel would be just fine with not doing a book report.

Adversity builds character, strength, resourcefulness, independence, self-sufficiency -- all valuable skills for life. Are we doing our kids a favor by raising them in such luxurious circumstances? To hear Julian groan and gripe about brushing his teeth, you'd think I'd told him to scrub the floors for 6 hours. Then again, no one suggests a return to the old order, a life in which kids were left to fend for themselves far more often, in which parents covered the basics but didn't engineer the details. Nowadays we want to be more involved, perhaps to a fault.

But the middle ground is elusive. I don't know how to enforce serious consequences for inaction, misbehavior or rudeness without completely overhauling the way we live. I don't know how to make them more self-sufficient without approaching the boundaries of neglect. And I'm not sure I'd want to do that, even if I had any idea how, or thought I could.

Tonight I was talking with the boys about how other kids live in other parts of the world, or in other times in history. I told them about how my friend took care of herself and her brother in 2nd grade, and that she just got dressed in the morning and got her and her brother to school without any parental guidance, because that's just the way it was. Other kids come home from school and go to work at their parents' farms -- or don't go to school at all to work to help the family. I try to do these talks without admonition or sanctimony, and make them appear informational, though I suspect that only goes so far without a concrete point or plan.

Gabriel listened with interest, then piped up, "But Mom, I have it harder than many other kids." "You do?" I asked with curiosity. "How so?" And he delivered with complete sincerity, "Well...they get cookies for snack!!"

I have a long, long road ahead.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

10/7/09 Crying over spilled milk

If there's one thing I hate the most about motherhood, it's cleaning up spilled milk. What is it about that substance that gets it everywhere, splattering into a million drops, getting into places and surfaces not just in direct line of the point of impact, but well onto a tangent? It's sticky, it coats everything and gets really ugly if not every last drop is found. Even a small amount of milk in a glass makes a huge mess. It is such a pain.

My children know this. I'm patient with milk spills that are genuine accidents, but when someone's messing around or not following a rule, usually designed to prevent milk spills, and then a cup gets knocked over, then I get mad.

Today I left work a little early, I wasn't feeling well all day. When I got home with all three, I gave Katrina some milk and reminded her to sit down at the table. I dared sneak upstairs to change my clothes -- could I possibly get 5 uninterrupted minutes for this luxury?

And I did get that, thanks to Julian. When I came back downstairs, he told me that Katrina had indeed spilled her milk. But the dining area was spotless, except for a large wet area that looked like it had been recently wiped clean. Julian had taken it upon himself to fix the situation: he found a cloth, pulled a footstool up to the sink to wet it, then wiped up the whole spill, table and floor, and even got most of the drops that get onto every chair leg within 20 feet. He'd put the cup in the sink and even rinsed out the cloth and put it back into the sink. He did a really good job on a challenging and very annoying task. I couldn't believe it! Dare I say....I'm not sure Dave could have pulled this off! Dads are notoriously incapable of finding things in a crisis.

But my industrious little boy decided to spare me one of thousands of spill cleanups I will face in my career as a mother. And I got my 5 minutes of peace, thanks to him. That made up for the hours of un-peace he provided later.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

10/6/09 Library afternoon

Busy kid day, but productive and fulfilling. I don't say that lightly!

Dropoff at kindergarten. Katrina loves playing in the playground, especially sliding down the slide with big brother.

I took her to the Y. I'd been looking forward to this for months, but had forgotten until I almost put her in the little-kid childwatch....she's three now, and can go in the big-kid childwatch! No adjustment issue at all, she launched right into playing.

The big-kid childwatch has an outdoor playground, so she got yet more slide time.

Picked up Julian, home for lunch....then back out to pick up Gabriel. School dismissal at 1:10pm this week, so I could sneak that in before Katrina's nap. Wait behind the blue line! Or use it as a balance beam if you're Katrina.

Usually the boys aren't crazy about clothes as gifts (I AM!), but Gabriel loves this Hot Wheels T-shirt, and insisted on changing into it this morning.

My mission was the library. Gabriel got his 2nd book report assignment yesterday, a "bye-oh-graff-ee" in his words. This would require an external book source! And we're not falling behind on it this time. So we went to the library to find a 2nd-grade level biography on a person important in U.S. history.

First, a note on book reports. As difficult and time-consuming as the last report was, I actually think it was a very worthwhile project. Far moreso than the routine day-to-day homework Gabriel gets. An in-depth focused project like this taught us -- and it was us -- a lot: how to summarize, how to talk about it, how to pace ourselves, indeed, even how to read it and pull the important points out of it. I'm almost looking forward to the next one, though I want him to do it on his own as much as possible.

I had an interesting conversation with another mom while waiting Gabriel's class to be dismissed. Her daughter was in Gabriel's first-grade class, and is now in a different 2nd-grade class. The mom was genuinely puzzled when I told her how much effort the book report was. Her daughter breezed through it, and did it entirely on her own! She did Alice in Wonderland too, not a simple story. She picked and did the drawings on her own, and all her writing too -- without prompting from mom. I was blown away. I know many kids probably had less trouble than Gabriel, but I never expected that level of independence for this project from a 7-year-old.

The same mom had volunteered in Gabriel's first-grade classroom a few times, so she was blown away when I told her how much trouble we had with the book report. "Gabriel??" She said that her daughter had said many times how smart and quick Gabriel is, that he was the smartest in the class. This is the 3rd time I've heard superlative accolades about him from other first-grade parents. Yet he -- we -- had a harder time with the book report than anyone I've talked to. Maybe it's that book reports use abilities that are lowest in his natural repertoire, yet shining bright in class (like calling out answers to math problems) uses abilities that are highest in his repertoire. That's Gabriel, always has been -- a set of extremes.

But, so what, that's neither here nor there. So, book reports will be tougher for him. That's life. Fortunately, this one looks much easier, and even more fortunately, we had a lot of practice last time. And, I'm not wasting a minute. Hence the trip to the library less than 24 hours after receiving the assignment.

And, Step 1 completed: pick a person, get a book, and read it. We found a perfect book at the perfect level, written in an interesting story-telling way, and about the perfect person for our electricity-loving son: Benjamin Franklin.

The others had a great time at the library, and everyone got fun books too. There's nothing so gratifying as seeing your children happily burst out of a library clutching a new stack of books. The boys rushed inside at home and read intensely for an hour. In this day and age of Google and iPhones, libraries almost seem like a quaint anachronism, but the joy and promise of a new book transcends technology.

Fortunately I had my technology handy for some group shots.

It was great having both boys home early in the afternoon. Katrina took a nap with no complaint (she was tired, she'd run around a lot today!), they read, they played (and fought of course), then I got them both to do their homework and reading before dinner. This is the way our days should go!


Monday, October 05, 2009

10/5/09 Katrina is 3!!

I think I'm more excited about Katrina's birthday than anyone else. This past three years has been filled with changes and challenges -- two boys starting school, going back to work, remodeling, getting hooked and hurt on running, and, oh yeah, having a baby and raising her to 3.

I brought little cupcakes to her preschool today, even though I wouldn't be there for her class to have them. I couldn't bring myself to buy them, so I made whole-wheat carrot cake with orange frosting. The teachers raved about them! Kids are used to sweeter "regular" things from stores, so generally my homemade healthy goodies aren't as popular. But I'm OK with that.

Katrina was a happy camper when I picked her up from preschool today, and joyfully drew me...well, a me. "Mommy, I'm going to draw you!" she exclaimed.

I got hair, a hat, and a smile.

In a normal family, I'd have made a birthday cake for our family celebration at the same time as I made the class muffins, but Dad won't touch anything baked that includes any fruit or vegetable. So I made a devil's food cake tonight too. I used to lament that no matter what I did, cake mixes still came out better. No more. I don't mind other cakes baked from mixes, but I think they have an artificial tinge to them. This devil's food recipe from the Joy of Cooking was light and moist and wonderful, though not especially chocolately. I'll have to work on that.

We did things a little unorthodox, singing Happy Birthday in a different room from the cake. Gabriel took it upon himself to learn Happy Birthday again and wanted to accompany us by piano. Dave says Gabriel already knew the song, but I haven't heard him play it since we moved back here, and never the ending part. It took him under 10 minutes to (re?)learn this.

Cake time!

Then we opened presents, starting with a card from Bonne Maman and Papa Paul. Thank goodness we really do have one genuine artist in the family! Katrina liked the birds. Funny, because she scolds real birds chirping outside: "be quiet, birdie! QUIET BIRDIE!"

And she liked this dress. We had to divert her from insisting on wearing it, because there was one more thing.

A doll in a cradle!! The boys were under strict orders to stand back while she pulled a blanket off this and unveiled it. Yes, you read that right: we had to lecture 5 and 7-year-old boys not to touch a baby doll in a pink cradle, so that a 3-year-old girl could enjoy her gift unfettered.

This cradle comes with a mattress, blanket and pillow, all of which have a beautiful cottage-y home-sewn look to them...Mom, you didn't. Wow! How very special!

Katrina knew right what to do and wasted no time jumping into doll play. How adorable -- even a hard-bitten boy-mom like me can't help being charmed.

This is for Bonne Maman, who I know has a special place in her heart for watching little girls play with dolls, as she saw me and my sister play with them a lot.

Of course, one thing my sister and I didn't have were older brothers.

Three. I've never had my youngest child turn three before. Empty-nesting can only be right around the corner.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

10/4/09 Cleanup

Sorry, not much to say today. Busy night cleaning up the whole house for cleaners tomorrow. Cleaners come once every 3 weeks now, which means that by the end of 3 weeks, getting things under control is a major task.

Katrina...her latest thing. When she's mad and refuses to eat (only after sitting down and demanding "I want FOOD!" of course), she clamps both hands over her mouth and glares at you! She also clamps her hands over her mouth when she doesn't want to brush her teeth. It's really funny, the force and veracity she does it with. This afternoon she had a tantrum about something, I can't even remember what, and stripped all her clothes off and stormed into the kitchen naked and then clamped her hands over her mouth, glowering at me. Boy, she sure showed ME!