Friday, December 17, 2010

12/17/2010 Birthday Party

A big bright spot this week: Julian's birthday party!

I felt a little guilty about skipping a "real" friends party, but sometimes something has to give. And actually, as shortcuts go, this was among the better ones.

First, his class sang Happy Birthday to him, adorned in a special birthday hat.

I took advantage of the captive audience to do a 2-minute presentation on the holiday Kwanzaa, which starts on Julian's birthday. Ironically, if his birthday really were Christmas Day, I'd de-emphasize that, but Kwanzaa actually helps distinguish his birthday from Christmas and he likes the fact that his birthday is also a "holiday."

Then I told the story about his first being named "Adam," and about how the family story is that "Doudna" comes from Dave's ancestor answering "Dunno!" when asked what his last name was. Julian told the story of me forgetting to put bananas in banana muffins, and then all the kids had stories about things their moms forgot! I really enjoyed my few moments of stand-up in front of this welcoming audience.

Then Julian passed out the banana muffins (no cake allowed), and blew out his candle.

He passed around the party favors -- a wrapped book for each classmate -- and we capped it off with a photo. I've had lots of other photos of me and kids this week, but I look so stressed and strained that I deleted them, but not this one.

I thanked Julian's (substitute today) teacher profusely, packed up the party stuff, then made a final stop at the school office to donate a book in Julian's name for his birthday.

In the school office, there's a cart for parents to drop off forgotten lunches, so that they don't disrupt classes dropping off lunches. There, on the lunch cart, I saw a take-out bag from McDonald's with a kid's name and room number on it. Some forgotten lunch. Whaddya know -- someone even more discombobulated than I am.

I went home, satisfied that I hadn't completely screwed up one thing this week.

An hour later, I picked the boys up and took them to Katrina's holiday party. All the preschoolers sing songs they've rehearsed for weeks -- all except Katrina, that is. She knows the songs and pays attention, but refuses to sing along.

(She's roughly in the middle, in the back, with a purple striped shirt.)

Afterward, the "party" consisted of the kids eating yet more cookies and candy. The boys happily joined, proud to be with their sister, competing for her attention as usual, but in unusual peace.

And then we all went home, where I cleaned out and put away lunchbags for the two whole weeks. The only thing that overshadows my relief at school being out is the fond memory of Julian's birthday party.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

12/16/2010 Heritage Figure

Today I missed work in the morning to take care of a few things at home, and to attend the "multicultural potluck" luncheons in the boys' classes today.

I'd warned the boys I might not make it, which I later felt was a mistake -- I should have committed one way or another so their expectations were set. They were both so happy and excited I made it, which told me how disappointed they'd have been if I hadn't.

I almost didn't go today partly because I'm going back to the school tomorrow anyway, for Julian's class birthday party. Tonight we worked on his party favors -- he gift-wrapped 20 books with Katrina. His teacher told me today he likes leading and instructing people, and he'd be a good leader if only he could focus. He's social and scatterbrained and messes around a lot, except when he's reading. Then she has to tap him on the head to get his attention. I could see that commanding instructive side of him tonight when he was showing Katrina how to wrap presents.

I also made banana-blueberry muffins for his party (no "cake" allowed).

We were able to do this tonight because we finished his "Heritage" project yesterday. Incredibly, this project could have been even worse: other first-grade teachers were giving this project to do over the next two weeks. Holiday weeks. Julian's teacher thought having it done before the holidays was better.

The doll came out nice, thanks to my friend Cris. Julian liked this part better than the writing, though, well, you know, I'm repeating myself: I object to the school imposing this sort of work on parents.

The writing work I feel is appropriate, even though it was much harder to get him to do it. (Actually this is still a lot to ask of a 6-year-old, at least, mine.)

I've asked myself if my feelings about what sort of work is right to assign a first-grader are objective, or if those feelings are based in my own skillset. Crafting and writing both require parental supervision and effort after all. But objectively, I still think the writing could be done entirely on their own, depending on their ability, but the crafting can't. It still needs supplies and guidance and planning and watching to make sure they don't make a big glue puddle, even for crafty sorts of kids. And given a choice between one or another, I think the writing really is more important.

I can safely say this has been my worst week yet as a working-school-mom. Friday after school can't come soon enough to try to salvage some holiday spirit.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

12/15/2010 One more

Thank goodness, I only need to endure one more last-week-before-holiday evening of schoolwork, running through things the boys need to send into school, things to sign, answer, email, respond to. It's a wonder their lunches even get made at night.

Julian finally finished his "Heritage Figure" project sentences tonight. It was a serious, serious struggle, but I'm noticing some important trends.

First, he's completely single-minded on how to do something -- he has a specific idea in mind, and nothing else will do. This clarity is a benefit in many ways, but a liability in others. It makes him inflexible and unadaptable if he makes a mistake. Tonight's struggle centered around persuading him that if he starts a paragraph with the school-prescribed "I know many things about X...." that the next sentence doesn't have to start with "First,....". Then he insisted on writing his sentences on paper with the exact right sort of lines with it that he gets from school, which we didn't have. Once we got past these requirements, he cranked through it.

The other thing I've noticed is that Julian does much, much, much better with schoolwork after dinner. Even if dinner is late -- and it has been ironically because of these projects -- his mood, cooperation, and willingness to work around setbacks is a total 180 from when he first gets home. Partly he's motivated for dessert, but partly I believe he needs more transition and non-school-related time than Gabriel does. He gets snacks at the CDC, so I know he's not starving, but somehow the food and ritual of dinner (often not a pleasant experience for us; he's rude and noisy and obnoxious) resets his mindset.

I'm also noticing that Julian's lunch is coming home largely uneaten. That's routine for Gabriel, but Julian eats a lot more in general, and he's not nearly as resilient as Gabriel (who is?).

These are important lessons for 2nd grade next year, when he'll have 6 book reports (and a really really P.O'd mom about dioramas and other crafting projects). More and more, Julian would really benefit from having some home downtime and a big break from his school environment (including CDC) before delving into schoolwork. This has been true about Gabriel for some time, who also really needs chill time at home to work on his various projects, humming to himself, concentrating for hours at a time without interruption, but it's dawning on me that Julian is needing it more now too. This all points to their need for me to be at home with them after school, more as they get older and take on bigger projects at school.

Meantime, things at work are looking up and I'm liking the work part of my life more and more, even as I struggle more and more with balancing it with my home life. Every school project or missed event or lacking extracurricular is evidence of that lacking balance.

Can we all survive sticking out my original plan of working at least until Katrina starts 1st grade?


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

12/14/2010 Reading practice

What better way to spend time together before dinner -- reading comics! Katrina won't really try to read if someone's there to do it for her, but it sure is fun to giggle at what sounds like a joke, even if she doesn't get it.

"Are you sure about that, Dad?"


Monday, December 13, 2010

12/13/2010 The Mixer

Four nights to get through this week.

Tonight we tried Julian's writing portion of his "heritage figure" doll, seriously hampered by his belief that a "paragraph" must have the format "I know a lot about X. First,....Next,....Last,....Clearly, I know a lot about X." He was rude and resistant, and I decided to give up until after dinner, when food and the potential for dessert seriously improved his attitude.

Gabriel and I had to work on "Nanaimo Bars," a treat named for a harbor city on Vancouver Island, for his Canada project presentation tomorrow. Also, he has to bring in candies to decorate their gingerbread tree tomorrow.

We also have to answer a letter about a "Student Success Team" and a meeting with the principal on Jan 14th about Gabriel's progress in behavior in class.

Maybe we should be having this about Julian too, because his work was all "incomplete" and "poor" last week.

Oh yes, and our contribution to Gabriel's teacher's class gift never made it, so I have to resend it. It's just one thing after another.

At least preschool only requests we be there 3:30 for a Christmas party!

It was so busy helping Julian and getting dinner together that I had to recruit help for Gabriel's baking project from a most unlikely source: Dad. Turns out, at this stage in life, Gabriel knows more about handling the equipment and ingredients for baking than Dave does, though it helps to have any adult to make sure a kid turns the mixer off before lifting it out of the bowl.

School notwithstanding, my boys are going to be awesome bakers! Now that's a legacy every man wants from his mother!!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

12/12/10 Holiday Party!

I hosted the Las Madres 2006 holiday party today -- or rather, I provided the house. Everyone else did everything else!

I had to make cookies though. I wasn't done before the first guests arrived, Elena and Megan. They were there with mom Cris to help set up, and I'd suggested the girls come too, because all 3 of my kids adore Elena. Turns out, Katrina spent a lot of time playing with Megan too, which is only a few months older than she is.

First, they helped me finish making these reindeer cookies. The kids loved this.

Then guests, party, food, an ornament-making craft, and a book exchange.

(I noticed that the ornament craft was all girls plus Julian -- he's onto something!!)

When things were winding down, my friend Sonia told me she met another 1st-grade Collins Mom who was so upset about all the work that she and some other parents went to complain to the principal! I was thrilled to hear this -- at last, vindication! A support group!!

Meantime, Julian's "heritage figure" had to get started this weekend, and the weekend was winding down. As we were cleaning up, the really amazing thing is that Cris offered to help Julian with the crafting part of the project -- and they got it done! It sure helps when you know what you're doing (who knew you could cut a popsicle stick into a nose?). Cris is great at crafting. She gave me some interior design ideas too. I need more friends like this.

Meantime, Katrina and Megan colored Tinkerbells. It was so sweet, and so unexpected, to see all this cooperative girl-play in our house. We need more of that. Katrina falls right into the girl role when she's not surrounded by boys.

Julian was adament that his heritage figure be an AMERICAN kid. This includes a flag T-shirt!

We're not done with the project, he still has to write about it, but I can handle that part. Emotionally, anyway -- I think he should be learning to write a 5-sentence paragraph. The crafting stuff...not so much. Not just because it's not my thing, but because I don't see that as essential a school function as learning to write.

Hmm, I sound like an uber-academic parent, don't I! Well, yeah, I don't think gluing and cutting is as important a part of a 1st-grade curriculum as writing, sorry! And I don't think parents should be forced to do crafting, even if they are good at it!

Unfortunately, Julian prefers the crafting part of projects. It's ironic, but Gabriel is actually easier to work with for the writing parts of things. I can't remember if that's because he's older or because it comes more naturally to him. My guess is the latter. It's amazing; our super-literal and engineer-oriented son does best in the fuzzier language arts in school, despite his claimed preference for the math. Meantime, our more open-minded creative imaginative communicative son has a harder time expressing himself in writing. The learning process really is fascinating.

I still insist that this level of help and effort and time -- two dedicated hours of a friend's time to help with a craft project -- should not be imposed upon 1st-grade parents by the school.

And the more I think about it, the content of the "heritage" thing should be accessible to a wider range of parents. Gabriel's passport project might have seemed rather inappropriate in East San Jose, where a large number of the kids are illegal immigrants. "Tell about their experiences getting to the USA." Imagine! Kids with Native American or African-American backgrounds might feel the same way. Some heritages might actually be sensitive. Or, like ours, forgotten, not influential in our lives, or just dull.

Right now I'm too overwhelmed to compose a letter of complaint to the school, but I'd better get to it before the next 1st grader comes around. My weekend hosting a party shouldn't be marred with schoolwork -- the party is way more important!