Saturday, March 05, 2011

3/5/11 The Very Social Day

I had such a full day that if I didn't know better, I'd say I didn't have kids!

First, a nice hilly run at Rancho San Antonio. Got lucky on parking (all lots completely full at 7:40am), and a good 6-mile reunion with my favorite running grounds.

Then a coworker's wedding at a winery in the hills of Saratoga. Beautiful setting, lovely wedding, really fun reception. (Dave stayed home with kids, I went stag.)

I got home just in time to give some former neighbors a tour of our remodeled house. These neighbors moved away soon after we moved in in 1999, but remembered years of previous owners and various states of disrepair of our house, so we offered to show them the updated version.

And we learned that our (apologies but there's no other way to put it) white-trash neighbors across the street are moving!! That is the best real estate news to hit Santa Clara County in years.

Then I had a birthday dinner to attend, a girls' night out for a friend's 40th birthday. This also was terrific fun, chatting with mostly new friends, and a few I already knew, at one of my favorite restaurants. I did some emergency grocery-shopping on my way home, and arrived at a house that's been dark and quiet for hours.

This was one of the fullest days I've had in years, but it still wasn't complete. There's one thing I didn't make happen. It was on my mind on and off all day, but the "on" moments didn't coincide with the few opportunities to execute, and that was: call my mother. March 5 was a coworker's wedding and a friend's important milestone birthday and the day we learned that the dead cars and domestic disputes and people living in the driveway across the street will soon end.

But March 5 was my mother's birthday first, and she should have gotten a call from grandchildren. It was on my mind between events, for whatever that's worth. Hope you had a great day anyway, Mom!


Friday, March 04, 2011

3/4/2011 Half-days

Yesterday, I left work around 12:15 to get Katrina out of preschool, since she had a 102 temperature.

Normally I look forward to these unexpected "breaks" -- especially when it means time alone with one -- but my head is very wrapped around work these days, so it was hard to get out of it. Fortunately, Katrina is very low-maintenance alone; she happily plays on her own for a long time when she's feeling well, and when she's sick she's a lot like Gabriel: low-key, rests a lot, doesn't whine, isn't demanding, just needs a little fussing-over.

Today, Dave and I did a half-and-half day: I worked from home in the morning minding Katrina, then he came home at lunch so I could go into work. Usually I'd much rather be home, but today, agitation over work and Katrina's returned energy for fusses made me anxious to get going to be around grownups.

Curse Bank of America -- I had to deposit a check for my Dad, so took Katrina to the bank this morning. As soon as she saw the parking lot, she said, "Oh BOY! Lollipops!" BofA gives out free lollipops to kids, and it's really a pain for those of us who don't allow candy before lunch, who don't allow eating in the car, and who really, really, REALLY hate lollipops.

Unlike another mom at the bank, I also restricted Katrina's take to 1 lollipop; her kid kept going back for more and left with a fistful, apparently on his way to school. Sometimes I feel like the strictest parent out there.

Katrina demanded lunch at 10:30 just so she could eat the lollipop, meantime carrying it around with her and dropping it on the floor, spreading sticky candy-splinters everywhere and causing a major crying fit. Great. She really wasn't hungry enough yet for a sandwich, so she fussed and complained for 25 minutes as she forced her sandwich down -- which she did, and finally put the green sugar circle to rest.

I really, really, really hate lollipops -- all it did was cause problems and create cleanup work for me today. Much of my rare morning alone with my daughter was spent fussing about this stupid piece of candy and counting the minutes until Dave got home so I could go be in the grownup world.

The second half of the day I was at work as usual...but then my half-day at home with Katrina didn't seem so bad at all.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

3/3/2011 The Perfect Grade

WOW!! I'm SO proud of Gabriel! He scored a perfect '6' on his most recent book report, both for content and for presentation. Overall he scored his first 'O' for Outstanding. His teacher is a tough grader, so I know he earned it! This is a first for him.

I guess it's politically incorrect and Tiger-Mom-ish to be happy about a good grade, but when you've got a kid like Gabriel, for whom great capabilities compete with even greater resistance and ambivalence, it's cause for celebration.

This most recent book report was to present a "How To" project. Naturally, he picked something related to electricity: How To Make A Battery From A Lemon. This actually was fun to help him with ("go pick some lemons from our tree!"), what little I had to do -- little enough I felt it was reasonable -- and I learned a little myself. It was pretty cool to see an LED light on his Electronics Playground lit up by his battery cells made from lemons, hot-dipped (zinc) nails, and pennies (copper, kinda).

I'll take a little credit: though Gabriel objected and though it caused a fair amount of stress and conflict, I insisted he start this project as soon as he got the assignment. He had to work on it a little bit every day until it was done -- I was not getting stuck working on a book report over a long holiday again. This was painful, but not as painful as cramming it into the last few days, and he was done almost 2 weeks before it was due.

How is it that this kid, for whom symbolic manipulation, logical reasoning and concrete concepts comes so easily, and creates such a struggle for us with math, so easily does so much better with fuzzy intangible stuff like writing and expression?

Come to think of it, I was never any good at liberal arts either - math and science were more my things -- yet the only subject in which I consistently got good grades in was English (well, French too but that doesn't really count), despite constantly not "getting" it. My brain shut down immediately when it came to interpreting literature, but somehow writing and spelling always squeaked me through English classes. Maybe my son has inherited some of that.

He's not going to inherit my crummy grades though. I refuse.

Grade regardless, I'm really proud of what a great job he did on this report, and how much he got out of it. Homework be darned, there's so much more value to the projects -- that they can do themselves that is. He'll remember this, and it will set the foundation for all his future understanding of battery chemistry.

Let's see if I still feel that way after his next report: on poetry. Throwing us right from our comfort zone into a field of nettles.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

3/2/2011 Homework Talk

I went to a meeting at our school tonight that the principal organized, to invite parents to discuss concerns about too much homework. This was motivated by the movie "Race to Nowhere," which I haven't seen.

About 40 parents showed up. First we split into 3 groups to get acquainted and raise issues, then each group's leader presented what the group discussed. My group was led by a first-grade parent and first-grade teacher in the same district, who had seen the movie. Most of the parents in my group were 2nd- and 3rd-grade parents, mostly moms, and with a higher representation of 2- or 3-kid families than is typical in our classes.

Our discussion opened with about how homework before 4th grade has not been shown to enhance student success before 4th grade. Intuitively I agree, but I hate "correlations" like that because "success" is so ill-defined. And for a first-grader, I'm not worried about long-term success, I'm worried about getting through the next book report.

Though overall everyone agreed there was too much homework, there really wasn't much consensus, even about what "too much" means. One mom thought the difficulty of the homework was too high. Other moms thought the quantity was too high. Others focused on the time it took. Many were concerned about the stress it places on the children; they probably have kids who actually care, unlike mine who shift the homework stress to me. I was glad other moms agreed that the content was an issue, that it needs not to be parent-homework.

Another raised an issue that has bothered me too, which is that it becomes repetitive. That's true, Julian's homework format hasn't changed much since the beginning of the year. In some ways that's good: it's predictable and he can do it himself, but if that reflects his classwork too I wonder if this explains why his behavior reports have been coming in "poor" so often.

Two things we don't experience, but I'm sympathetic to, came up often. One was the child's confidence. One mom said that she didn't want to ask the teacher to reduce her child's homework because it would send her kid the message that he's not capable. We were given the same suggestion by Gabriel's first-grade teacher, but the message I didn't want to send was that Mom and Dad would get him out of homework. Confidence has never been an issue for either of our grade-schoolers. The other thing is ability -- can they do their homework by themselves; the math in particular. This again has never been an issue for us (yet?) both boys have little trouble with the homework content itself. It's getting them to do it that's the problem. If they were more conscientious, they'd both blow through their homework in plenty of time.

One mom I thought was completely out of control assured us that kids are very capable, they'll get through this, long-term this is all good for them. She offered that her kid would be idle and bored and have nothing to do, that he needed the extra structured time with more homework. I disagreed immediately and said I was fine with my kid being bored sometimes. That's when the creative wheels really start to turn, and they need unstructured time. Many nods in agreement.

Out-of-control-mom also told the mom who was concerned about difficulty of work that it was just a matter of practice -- work on the extra math every day without fail and the kid will get through it. She didn't seem to pick up that this is exactly what most of us were here to rally against. When I brought up that the homework was especially difficult for full-time working parents, she asked me, "Can you work from home?" Huh?! It seems the most rabid parents are the ones least capable of critical thinking.

After the small-group discussion, each group presented a summary of each group's primary concerns. I cheered aloud when another group leader described her group's top issue as "Parent Homework (e.g. Heritage Dolls)." THANK. YOU. Yes, that is work for US. Another mom piped up, "But didn't you find that fun?" Me and several others immediately chorused, "NOOOO!!" and the principal laughed nervously.

(I wonder what the heritage-doll/diorama/culture-book advocates would think about parent-dependent project they didn't find fun. How about a project to find a local open space preserve and take a hike and sprint up a hill with your 1st-grader? I'd find that quite fun. Inappropriate to assign as schoolwork to be sure, but fun. I'd like to see how the (let's face it) Indian moms would feel about that project.)

The group leader speaking added that most parents in her group felt there wasn't enough homework. The mom who thought the heritage dolls were fun offered that long-term, it was important for kids to get used to daily turn-in homework early, so that they were prepared for middle school and high school, so they learned to take on daily responsibility themselves. I said, "Yes, but not in FIRST GRADE!"

Where do teachers fit in? As a group, do they believe in homework? Do they realize how much of it is done by the parents, especially in the younger grades? Do they feel it advances the childs' learning in that grade?

Another rare point of consensus in this discussion is a more standardized curriculum -- the principal didn't even know if the 1st-grade teachers get together and agree on what to teach. It seems there's a great deal of variation from one teacher to another within a grade -- for instance, Gabriel's 1st-grade teacher did daily homework turn-in, but most other 1st-grade teachers didn't. And I learned of a 3rd-grade teacher who assigns 9 book reports, instead of our measly 6.

While I'd like to see some more regularity, I also hate to hamstring teachers and take away flexibility. Teachers know better than anyone else what their class can handle -- should a teacher be told what to teach to if the class is ready for more? Or less? So far we've had very good teachers (even if they assigned too much work), and I'm very pro-teacher and in favor of maximum flexibility. The problem comes in when the parents of 18 out of 20 kids in the class want more homework, more advanced work, send their kids to after-school learning centers, and have no compunction about doing their craft projects for them. What is a teacher to do when the other 2 parents complain?

Our elementary school has 750 kids, about 40 parents showed up tonight, and many were there to advocate for homework. I really appreciate the principal taking this on -- he has a very tough job because of the demographic of this school district. He said he aims for balance, and very calmly fielded the variety of comments, and explained that he'd be taking all these comments to the school site committee that oversees the school curriculum. So nothing will change right away, but he's tackling it slowly and practically.

Meantime, this tiger is going to snack on granola.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

3/1/2011 Katrina loves dogs

Our dog-walking neighbor happened by as I was parking the car with the kids while arriving from work & school today. She was walking "Polkie," her 12-year-old rescued pit-bull-dalmation mix who's missing an ear. This is the most docile, gentle, sweet dog you've ever met, yet our neighbor says some people get freaked out by her resemblance to a pit bull. Hahhh!

Katrina especially was very happy to see Polkie again, and exclaimed to our neighbor's delight that she wasn't afraid of dogs. "Am I screaming?" Katrina asked, hands in the air, "Seeeee -- No!"

Polkie loved the attention.

I took the opportunity to finally introduce myself to this longtime neighbor we've waved to and exchanged a few words with for over 10 years. Finally today, I asked her what her name was, shook hands and introduced myself, and found out where she lives (a block or two away). She's a lovely kind lady, and as I discovered when I uploaded these photos, she's one of those people who just lights up a camera.

She's lived in this neighborhood almost since it was built, and remembers the original owner and builder of our house, who died in the mid-1970s. And she's been walking dogs around this neighborhood for decades.

Katrina woke me up this morning at 6:45 when I heard her going into the bathroom to tell Dave (who was taking a shower): "Daddy there's BLOOD on my pajamas!" Poor thing had a nasty nosebleed gusher that wouldn't quit for over 20 minutes. She never cried or got upset, she was just very interested in it all as I used wipe after wipe to clean her up and contain the blood. It must have just woken her up too; I could tell from her trembling hands -- she still trembles when she's just woken up, as she's done since she was born.

It somehow stopped at about 7:15 and we all went about our usual day, if there is such a thing.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Saturday Dance Class

Bonne Maman was here when Katrina had her first pre-ballet class through the Cupertino Parks and Rec department. This was a lower-key, less expensive, less committed way to go than a "real" dance place that has monthly tuition, dress codes and recitals to rehearse for.

Katrina was so excited to go to a dance class!

I got choked up seeing my little girl doing something I've always loved. And how cute is a roomful of 4-year-olds in little dance outfits?

Unfortunately, as soon as the class started, so did Katrina's bad attitude. She wouldn't follow what the teacher was doing, though would basically stand in the right place. When she had to cross the floor with the other little jumping-bean dancers, she'd drag her arms down and throw her head back in a classic brother gesture of "I'm SOOOO BOOORRRED."

Later she gave up altogether and threw herself on the floor while the rest of the class did the hokey-pokey in a circle.

To me, this wasn't the most appalling performance though. This class had 3 cryers, one of who basically stuck it out with one visit from Mom, but the other two had to go in and out of class several times. At one point, both of them were outside class with their Moms, right by the dance room door, wailing loudly, and their mothers talking to them in rapid-fire Mandarin in an apparent attempt to calm them down. 5 minutes later, they were back in class, then 5 minutes later, back outside. I found this really rude and disruptive for the teacher, who already had her hands full and had made an attempt to minimize the ins/outs from the class. Jeez, if your kid is crying that much, leave!

I made certain to avoid any potential of such a show from Katrina and stayed out of sight, though she wasn't looking for us. Her obstinance is more rooted in irritation that the class wasn't what she was expecting, so she'll show THEM. It's nothing about being shy or fearful or even making an impression on Mom, it's about being PO'd that it wasn't all twirling and scarves. Newsflash, little girl: dance is a lot of work!

But it always takes her a few times to get into a new thing, so I'll take her back next week for certain.

Later when we opened Gabriel's birthday present from Bonne Maman -- a skateboard -- she was all over it and wanted to ride it right away, no hesitation. Maybe for her dance really is just about the pretty clothes.

Whew, I've been working hard this past week -- with Mom here I took a few nights off, but it's been every night for a while, hence the lame unedited blog posts!


Sunday, February 27, 2011

2/27/2011 Cold warm day

Another day of a horribly stuffy nose and a head cold. The worst part is low energy. I hate that.

It was warmer today than yesterday, so Mom and I took the kids to the little park down the block on bicycles and Gabriel's new skateboard to practice. It was great for everyone to get outside in the beautiful weather, though a Katrina tantrum about being forcefully moved from a section of glass sent us back after an hour. She got over it by the time we walked home, then helped Mom and I do some much-needed pruning of our landscaping plants. Now that's a great way to spend the afternoon.

Dinner and nice conversation, and once again too tired to post photos or do much of anything. Mom flies home tomorrow (sniff) and then it's back to the grind.