Saturday, November 20, 2010

11/20/2010 Passport to rebellion

I was determined to get the boys' projects that are due right after Thanksgiving done this weekend, so that we don't have to ruin the holiday.

This is proving to be very difficult. I'm really furious that they both have projects due right after a week off of school -- that means Julian's 4-week project and Gabriel's 3-week project include a week of vacation time, and right before they're due. Families travel, have visitors, relax, have time off during Thanksgiving. We're not talking about a paper due for a college student; this is time-consuming, labor-intensive work for the parents.

I think this time we need to rebel against Gabriel's "passport" project, partly on principle and partly because it's just too much work and not enough time. It was given Nov. 10th and is due Nov. 30th -- a span that includes only 6 school days -- and it was given concurrently with the main project, the "country study" report.

The "passport" project includes a booklet of questions in which you're supposed to draw a flag of the country of origin (that's a 1-night project right there) and trace your ancestors' path on a map and make a clothespin doll with the traditional clothing from the country of origin and bring in a dish from the country for a multicultural feast (separate from the "country study" recipe).

And answer these questions.

Family History
When did your family or ancestors come to the United States? (What year?)
Where did they live before?
How did they travel to the U.S.?
How long did it take them to get here?
Describe the route they took, who came with them, and their traveling experiences.
Tell what happened when they first got to the U.S.
What was hard for them to get used to?
What was easy for them to get used to?
What do you think they miss the most from their old home?
Tell what special traditions and customs they brought with them.
Did they bring any special mementos or favorite things?
Did they bring knowledge of any special skills or languages?
Description of the place they left.
Place name:
The physical setting (mountain or valley, hot or cold, rainy or dry, etc).
Tell something about what it might have been like to live there.

Make a drawing of the flag of the place your family came from
Name of country:

Additional information?

Color the map to show the place your family left, and the route they took to the United States.

Come to class ready to show something about your family's immigration to the United States! We encourage students to take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday to find out the answers to those questions by asking the family members would would know! Parents should provide guidance in filling out the passport.

This is in addition to the Country Study report, which is the main report!! And regular homework, at least when there's school.

Really, this is too much. Or is it? Do other 3rd-grade parents think this is excessive? What about the assumption that you have relatives to ask these questions of? Or the assumption that this is what you, the kid and the relatives want to be doing over the holiday?

I don't know, I'm starting to think the only thing that Gabriel should turn in is a note from his parents saying this is too difficult for Americans who have assimilated, and is too much work in too little time. But I don't have the gumption to rebel against teachers and stick Gabriel in the middle of it.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

11/18/2010 The Prince

Julian had his first trip to "The Prince"'s office yesterday. You know, that Prince that is your Pal? This is why, from his teacher:

Today Julian was teaching some of the students the F*** word. I asked him
where he learned this word from and he told me from the baseball field. I
informed him that this word is inappropriate to use and he should not be
using it. I also told him if he doesn't know what a word means he should
ask an adult before using it or teaching it to others.

Julian is also a budding liar. He claimed he didn't know it was a bad word, but it was completely obvious to me and Dave and his teacher that he knew. And baseball field?? Baloney.

Funny, Gabriel doesn't lie about stuff like that -- he stands up and says things like "it's my life and I can do what I want with it" -- resistant, but tackles it head-on. Julian, on the other hand, tries to worm out of it with a fib. He's not very good at it.

It's just one thing after another with these boys!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

11/17/2010 Projects

These school projects are ruining our lives. Really!

I get home from work and before doing anything else, go straight to the office to get Julian started. Tonight I also had to do something for Gabriel (find and print a black-and-white Canadian flag so he can color it). I spend at least an hour trying to herd the boys with this work, running back and forth between the rooms where they're set up and the kitchen, while attempting to make dinner and take care of everything else. If Dave gets home in time, he helps too, but much of the trouble is in keeping Katrina from distracting them.

As a result, we've had dinner far far too late every night, after 7:00. This pushes bedtime far too late -- as I type, Katrina is crying her eyes out about not wanting a bath, way overtired, and it's that much more difficult to keep the boys on track. My main thoughts about Thanksgiving have been how on earth we're going to finish Julian's project by Nov. 29th, the Monday after the break. I spend dinnertime either in the office trying to keep up with school things (contribution for teacher gift, paying for Katrina's preschool gymnastics, ordering shoes, whatever) or rushing around the kitchen cleaning lunchbags and making lunch for the next day. Actually sitting and talking to everyone is out of the question, and besides, I need a break by then.

It's clear from the project instructions that they think this will promote family time together. It has the exact opposite effect. Time in the evenings with my children is little more than a stressful nagfest. There are good moments, but there is little opportunity for relaxed enjoyable time together, like listening to Gabriel's latest blues composition on the piano.

Gabriel actually has two reports due in early December. One is a "country studies" report (on Canada) and one is a "passport to the 3rd grade" project, in which he has to answer pages of questions about his ancestors, where they arrived in the U.S, where they came from, etc. This is not something he can do himself, he needs a great deal of time and interaction. In fact, the intent is to work on it over Thanksgiving, when presumably we'll be with family members to ask all the questions!! GREAT IDEA! Let's spend Thanksgiving with family doing schoolwork!

On top of it, I just discovered that while I escaped a craft project for the "country studies" report, the "passport" report includes a freakin' clothespin doll. I HATE THOSE!! Oh yeah, AND, a multicultural feast, in which we're supposed to bring a dish from the "passport" country. That's two cooking projects.

"Gabriel's in 3rd grade, isn't he supposed to do these things himself?" Dave asked. Not a clothespin doll. Not a recipe from Canada. Not a dish from France. Not pages of questions that can't be answered by looking things up yourself. Not going to the library to get books on Canada. Not planning your time, reading through the pages of instructions, and breaking it down into projects that can be done in an evening.

Julian's report is turning into a nightmare too. He's cooperative and wants to do it, but he resists direction on how to do it. For instance, I'm suggesting that he write his sentences on a separate paper than the one he does the drawings on, then cut out the drawings and glue them to the paper with the sentences. That way, if he makes mistakes in the sentences, he doesn't spend half an hour erasing everything. Kids erase FAR FAR too much, it looks awful, takes forever, and leaves eraser scraps all over the place and it's SUCH a pain! But he can't be convinced to do his sentences and drawings separately. I get impatient and have to leave it -- after all, I have dinner on the stove and can't spend a lot of time persuading him in how to put this together. It is his project, but if he makes a mistake he will want to do the drawings all over again, and we already ruined one evening just getting those done. So far he's almost done 3 out of the 6 pages he has to do, and it's taken about 6 very painful nights to get even just that done.

It's quite clear the school is geared toward families with 1 or 2 children, two parents, one who stays at home, and parents from cultures who don't mind extra work.

I guess I have to expect to ruin this weekend in order to save Thanksgiving. This SUCKS.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

11/16/2010 Writing

I heard a panel discussion on KQED tonight (local NPR affiliate) in which a children's book author was asked, by a girl about 10 years old, when he knew he wanted to be a writer. He said he'd always known, he'd always wanted to be a writer.

What do you mean, want to be a writer? What writer wants to be a writer? What does want have to do with it?

I've always assumed I'd be a writer too, pretty much since I could write. But I was surprised to hear him say he wanted to be a writer. We born writers are stuck with it, it's not something we want to do or don't want to do, any more than we want to breathe or not breathe. It's integral to who we are, we're driven crazy by it and driven even crazier not to do it. It's not a matter of choice.

Other things are.

Today I told my immediate boss at work that I wasn't going to apply to move to a different group after all, which means I (and he) will continue to work under the umbrella of a truly awful Director. Why wouldn't try to move groups if I could? The move would mean brushing up on technology that's more marketable, more widespread (IP, layer 3 for you networkers), which would increase opportunities to work from home, flexibly, contract, part-time -- and working for a very reasonable and well-regarded manager. It would mean that my immediate boss, a great guy who I really like, will not be constantly running interference between me (who will not keep quiet) and our mutual Director (who will never see outspokenness as an asset).

But moving groups would also mean leaving a group I really like, and more importantly, a technology (Carrier Ethernet and MPLS for you networkers) that I really really want to learn about. And I have enough experience in my career (meaning, mistakes) to know better than to go against what I "want" or am driven to do at the moment -- practical or not.

Someday I would like to leave network engineering behind and move to writing. Of what sort, I don't know exactly (though I have lots of book and article ideas), but the answer has not yet presented itself in sufficient force to cause that to happen. Right now my "passion" for network engineering exceeds my drive to write. I can't say "passion" to write because that again would imply some sort of choice. Passion fades, shifts, goes in waves. Writing is a nonstop thorn in my side, always tormenting me, always relieving me, always there whether I want it to be or not.

Here's what this blog post tonight should have been:

Today when I picked up the boys from the CDC, Julian was engrossed in an unusually thick book for him. He could only be persuaded to get up and get his knapsack if he could bring the book home with him, he liked it so much. I was floored when I saw that he was reading poetry! Kids' poetry, the excellent popular Shel Silverstein book "Where the sidewalk ends." What a nice thing to find him doing. I think we need to get that book.

I wonder when Shel Silverstein knew he wanted to be a writer.


Monday, November 15, 2010

11/15/2010 A friend's passing

Turns out, I don't do so well with death. I've never lost anyone truly close to me, but the few memorial services I've been to were extremely difficult, and these for people I didn't know well but really liked.

Sunday, a very longtime friend died at home, of some sort of respiratory illness. He ran one of the best BMW motorcycle dealerships in the country, and was a true champion of adventure riding. Kari was one of my first advocates when I started riding BMWs, helped me through one bike purchase and rebuild after another, led numerous group rides and adventures I was on, and was a frequent presence in a very big part of my life for 10 years. He was daring and confident and very kidlike in his joy and glee for the sport.

One of the moments I remember best of Kari wasn't about riding, however. It was when his wife had breast cancer, and he was so worried about losing her. One day I was at his dealership buying yet another part (we old boxer owners did that on a very regular basis) and he talked to me about what was going on with his wife's illness -- and broke down in tears. I hugged and comforted as best I could -- we were standing and he was quite a bit taller -- but he was as sincere in his grief and fear as he always was in his cowboylike fervor for riding. Dave and I ran into Kari at a motorcycle show once when I was pregnant with Julian, and he happily gushed about his oldest daughter getting engaged. Though he was a very very well-known rider and advocate for adventure riding, he was first and foremost a family man. (Thankfully his wife survived.)

I saw Kari at his dealership for the last time a few months ago. He'd slowed down a little, mostly because of some persistent respiratory illness, but was still his usual warm and friendly and enthusiastic self. It seems that same illness finally claimed him yesterday. He was only 62.

I know few people who more embody life and energy than him, and it's incredible he survived the countless daring adventures and crazy risks he leaped into happily. He was a really really fast and brave rider, taking on challenges that most would never dare, joking about his advancing age.

It almost seems unfair that he died for a relatively useless and not-fun reason; I can just imagine him saying he'd much rather die doing while something he really loved than be taken by a stupid cough. Then again, he was with his beloved wife and daughters, and that to him probably would be the best place to be.

A huge part of me and my past life is gone with him too. Though I wasn't running into him weekly as I was for many years, he was instrumental in a very major part of my life.

I'm not sure I can handle this memorial.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

11/14/2010 Return to the BMX Park

Dave's always been the one to take the boys to the BMX park, since it is a vehicle-related thing after all. But now the boys are pretty comfortable there, and there's not a whole lot for a parent to do other than stand around and watch. Dave will ride his own bike a little, but he's not into the wall hills or death-defying drops into pits that attract the teen crowd. Nor is his mountain bike well-suited to it.

But I've always liked going. I put on running shoes, and follow the boys trotting along, taking pictures, watching the other kids.

One thing for sure: this place is a boys' bastion. Occasionally, as today, there's a girl there being encouraged by Dad, but she's usually pretty timid or held back by having worn her sparkly silver princess slippers (as happened today). If there is a boys' place, this is it.

I read about these little training bikes, ones with no pedals or brakes, for a shocking price of $150. There were three of them there today, and the little kids did pretty well!

Julian mostly stayed in the first zone. He's confident there, but despite his more natural balance than Gabriel, Gabriel's courage takes him to all the zones and now, all the bumps, in the park. Of course, there's plenty of fun to be had in the first zone anyway.

Then I chased around getting photos of Gabriel, which he just loves. He'll call from way the heck across the course, "READY MOM!! HERE I COO-OOME!!!" and then show off his best run. Aww, I love that. My boy showing off for me.

I really look forward to when they're big enough to get mountain bikes with gears -- the possibilities that will open up to us will be huge!!! I haven't ridden a bicycle in years (and my spin class yesterday morning doesn't count), but it's something the whole family will love. We do live in California after all, the birthplace of mountain biking. I can't wait.

Meantime, it's awfully fun chasing after my sons on these nice confined hills.