Saturday, June 09, 2012

6/9/12 Beach Birthday Party

Today we went to the much-anticipated yearly beach birthday party of Julian's friend Jake. Julian and Jake haven't been in the same class yet, but I made friends with Jake's mother when our boys started kindergarten, and they've been regulars at each others' parties since.

This party is held at a beach near Santa Cruz, a terrific one that's easy to get to and park, with nearby bathrooms. Jake's party is right at the beginning of the summer, so it's sort of like a summer kickoff for us. And what a great way to catch up with your friends!

Katrina was so excited about the beach that she was up and ready to go at 6:15am today. I had to ask her sternly to wait when she woke me up again at 6:20 for breakfast. She loves the beach, and today again spent almost the entire time running around the surf, drawing numerous comments about how self-entertaining she is. I keep forgetting that parents have to actually pay attention to their children sometimes -- especially at the beach, it's all I can do to get my childrens' attention at all.

The boys start off in the water, but as usual ended up retreating to the sand. Jake's father always digs a huge hole for the kids to play in, and sure enough, they spend the bulk of their day there. This time, the boys dug a second hole nearby and spent all day trying to connect the holes with a tunnel -- and succeeded.

How's this for a party favor: kites! This was a huge hit. What a great idea!

Jake the beefy birthday boy with his kite.

Katrina took a few breaks from running around the ocean to contribute to the tunnel-building effort with buckets of water.

Jake and Julian conspiring.

Later, Julian and Katrina collaborated on some fort-building, though Julian took a few breaks to show off his Kung Fu splits.

I learned later that he'd experimented on a boogie board, and me and my camera missed it!

We sure enjoyed the wildlife today though. The surf was so packed with sandcrabs that you could feel them swarming against your ankles when the waves rushed out. Lots of little shrimp (or something) too.

But my favorite was the pelicans. They were out in full force today, and several times joined huge groups of cormorants, probably to fish a big school of...well, something. We saw two or three massive feeding frenzies today, and the pelicans were still plentiful inbetween. I find them fascinating, how they glide in perfect synchronization in pairs inches above the water's surface, then dive-bomb fish with their beaks leading the charge like swords.

For once I made conscientious efforts to sunscreen everyone properly -- once in the morning before swimsuits, and again thoroughly when we arrived. You're supposed to re-apply frequently, but the kids are always so wet and sandy it's really hard to do even if I could catch them. They all refused to wear their T-shirts; the only way that would happen is if I were to prepare them carefully well before the party and made sure they understood they had to wear sunshirts or rash guards or whatever...and you know, I don't quite have the heart to insist. They really like the feeling of the wind and sun on their skin, harmful as it's supposed to be, and it's so infrequent in their lives I have a hard time insisting. What a spoilsport I'd be if the one or two times we go to the beach I wouldn't let them feel the freedom of just bathing suits! As a result, Julian has random red splotches, and Katrina is pretty uniformly fried.

This beach party turns into an all-day event, at which I occasionally attend to my children to insist on lunch, walk Katrina to the bathroom or help detangle kite strings -- but mostly I hang around, take photos, chat with other adults and watch the pelican show. Jake's parents have terrific friends and some of them I feel like I know pretty well now.

It was all I could do to drag the kids away from the beach at 4pm. They were pretty mellow afterward though -- all that sun and surf is exhausting. Like with camping, I've learned to maintain momentum when you get home, and immediately unpack the car, vacuum the sand out, and give the kids an "express bath" right away, or it just won't happen. And that sand gets everywhere!.

What a great day. Summer has officially started!


Friday, June 08, 2012

6/8/12 The Principal's Office

Gabriel has managed to avoid the principal's office all year -- until yesterday. And boy, when he breaks a record, he does it up right: he spent the whole DAY in the office!

I didn't know anything about the troubles until well into it. I got to school at 10:45am to get a good seat for the 4th-grade "Gold Dust or Bust" school play performance. I thought it odd that Gabriel didn't have a hat like all the other performers, but didn't think much of it.

(That's Gabriel in one of his classes's songs, the camera appears to be pointed right at him - the kid without a hat or button-down shirt.)

The "Merchant Song," about the merchants selling pickaxes and other supplies to the gold miners -- known as the only group that consistently made money from the California Gold Rush.

The performance and songs were really cute. The kids were well-prepared, the lyrics were funny, it was historically significant, and I was impressed at how much better and more synchronized 4th-graders for singing in groups than are 2nd-graders.

The rest of the school, minus the kindergartners, was there to see it too, Katrina complained vociferously about that.

But Gabriel didn't stick around for the photos afterward -- I saw him slip out of the auditorium purposefully. Puzzled, I went out of the auditorium to find him, and the principal stopped me and told me Gabriel had had a horrible day. I redirected toward the office, then was intercepted by his teacher, who told me Gabriel had been calling out in class and then acted proud of his unacceptable behavior, and lost the privilege for a cool game. Then he was rude to the school secretaries in the office -- !

I ran to the office to talk to Gabriel. I found him nearly in tears (very unusual for him) and very distraught. It was impossible to get a straight story out of him, but he was upset about having lost the class game privilege and, he thought, almost not being able to perform in the school play. He reluctantly admitted to some other offenses, including being rude to the school office staff, but mostly he was mad that he had to write letters of apology.

Seeing how upset he was, I sensed that scolding would get nowhere, so I tried to get him to talk about his feelings, while appealing to his practical side. I told him: don't make it worse. He said the day was ruined, it couldn't get better, so I told him, OK, but it can get much worse. What do you choose: worse, or not worse? I strongly encouraged him to do what he had to do (write the apologies), cut his losses, and move on. I even wrote down for him: "Do what you're told, accept responsibility for your actions." I hugged him a lot and told him how sad I was that he was so unhappy, but that I hoped he could dig deep enough to salvage the day.

I was late for a lunch meeting, but I hoped that my spending so much time with him and hugging him would help, though I had a sinking feeling that most of what I said was dumb grownup things that kids think are stupid.

It so happened that Dave got home before I did, and not knowing the background he found that Gabriel still had some letters of apology to write and still hadn't written them despite spending the whole day in the office to do so. With any other kid, I'd insist that no other interaction occur until he'd met his obligation, but Gabriel can outlast anyone. So I took him outside to talk about what had happened today, and about what he had left to do.

I spent nearly 2 hours talking to him, starting with trying to establish the facts as he saw them. Kids are very poor conveyors of fact, so I didn't believe anything he told me, but mostly I was trying to understand what he believed had happened. (He believed that the school secretary mistakenly told his teacher he was forbidden from the play, but then that his teacher had come back to let him into the play because I'd intervened - none of which turned out to be true).

I talked to him about responsibility, practicality, rudeness, cutting your losses. I told him about the time I saw a snowboarder tumbling out of control, picking up speed and losing things as he went along, and that Gabriel's situation reminded me of that. I made it personal, telling him how sad it made me to see him spiraling, that I felt helpless watching that snowboarder from the lift and calling out to him, "STOP YOURSELF!"

I talked to him about what he thought he'd really done wrong, and what he thought was a genuine injustice. I explained that if he can't take responsibility for what he did do wrong, then we can't respond to the true injustices. With a little kid who's not responsible for anything and can't make things better for himself, we can't find out what truly was done wrong to him by others.

Aware of his challenges with empathy and social pragmatics, I asked him how he thought this made his teacher feel, or the school secretaries when he talked back to them. I asked him if it made him feel good to lash out at someone with a nasty comment, in the moment, and then later?

After all the philosophizing, I turned it practical and talked to him about what he had to do to get out of this. Without letters of apology to both secretaries and to his teacher, and finishing his last homework due tomorrow, he would be suspended. And that's with 2.5 days of school left!!

I told him if he got suspended, I'd take away the video game camp I'd signed him up for -- so he'd better write those letters. He tried to tell me I didn't have to do that, that it was my choice, and I almost laughed and told him that I knew he didn't understand this now, but good parenting demanded that I give him a consequence for truly unacceptable behavior (rudeness to adults and not apologizing and getting suspended).

I didn't leave him on his own for the letters, knowing how angry he was to have to write them. I talked to him about the content, what he should say he knew he did wrong, and talked to him about separating what he did wrong from what he thought someone else did wrong. I explained to him that he must apologize for his rudeness, even if he felt someone else had done something wrong to "deserve" it. No adult "deserves" rude behavior from a child (even if that child's adult has endured rude behavior from that adult! which I didn't say).

(A note from the principal later explained that Gabriel had misunderstood, and that in fact no one had ever intended to keep him from attending the school play. I'm still not sure of the facts, but for some reason he thought he was going to be kept out of performing, and that seriously upset him. I talked to him about how that made him feel, upset and disappointed because he'd been looking forward to the play -- and he knew I was making a point of attending. I told Gabriel he owed his teacher a big thank-you for letting him perform in the play, though later the principal said that no one ever intended to keeping from it, he'd just misheard. Between you and me and anyone who lurks this blog, I wouldn't put it past the secretary to tell him he couldn't go -- no love lost there -- but Gabriel's rudeness to any adult can't be tolerated, that rudeness immediately cancels any "reason" for it.)

What a monumental MESS!

I told Gabriel to join me in the kitchen, and we'd talk about the apology letters he had to write while I made dinner. Thank heavens, by then he'd calmed down and was willing to write them. We spent extra time on the letter to his teacher, who's worked really hard all year with this challenging student.

Gabriel also had a "Spanish Keyboard" homework assignment to finish, plus a 5-paragraph essay. The essay was another terrific idea on his teacher's part: a letter to his future self, describing what he thought was memorable about 4th grade. I talked to Gabriel about 4th grade, reminded him of things he'd liked about it, and he cranked through the letter pretty fast once he had the basic content down.

Still, this was not easy because Gabriel was really burnt out by now, but he had to do this, lest risk suspension. I noticed he started humming and tapping his pencil a lot, with The Blues flooding his head. He was fried and needed that outlet, but I had to keep him focused. Let me tell you, it's not easy to compete with the powerful musical impulses i kids' head!

In the end, Gabriel finished his obligations and narrowly avoided suspension and losing his video game camp. And like a kid, he woke up the next morning refreshed and as though none of it had ever happened.

Though he'll forget the details, I hold onto that silly grownup idea that the time I spend consoling and counseling him will build a lifetime of trust with me (beyond "Mom can you get me out of this?"), and he'll always feel secure with me even if he can't point to any particular reason or incident why. I'm keenly aware that I only get a few more years to build that relationship while he has a child's need for Mother, before he becomes a rebellious teenager (who also needs Mother but in a completely different and must more distant way). The narrow miss on performing in the school play will be lost on him in a few days, but what about the time and energy I spend trying to get closer to him? I wish I knew.

I wish we could build that relationship without so much involvement from the poor beleaguered principal's office! But Gabriel's never been one to make it easy.


Monday, June 04, 2012

6/4/12 Enjoying your work

I always imagine it can't be too much fun cleaning other people's homes, but then sometimes our cleaners do little things like this.

My favorite was one time when they arranged stuffed animals on a bed, and one dog had sunglasses on it. It almost makes these ladies seem like family friends -- we don't see them and can't talk to them when we do, but little things they do tells me they make their jobs a little more fun for themselves.

Sometimes I'll take my work to an extra level too -- last weekend, I took the boys on a field trip to a nearby community college to do a little wireless network sniffing, in preparation for a meeting with the college's IT managers coming up in two weeks. Gabriel walked around some buildings with my small laptop, putting together a heatmap (he's done that at home so knows how), and Julian was tasked with navigation on the paper maps. They boys also got in a lot of running around, while I sat outside the locked buildings, with my laptop fitted with my little Wi-Spy antenna, checking out the RF activity in the WiFi bands. Not nearly as cool as making a flower out of toilet paper, I know.

On a different note, one of the original landscaping plants, a non-native hibiscus, was planted in direct view of the guest suite sliding door. It's flowering now, and it's a showy delight to see every time you walk down the hall.

Right next to it is another survivor of the first round of plantings, a native-ish salvia. I love these plants because of their scrubbiness and nonstop flowering with small, striking red flowers.

It's time for some patio furniture so I can enjoy these plants sitting down!


Sunday, June 03, 2012

6/3/12 Cartwheels

I'm not sure how this started, but somehow, a cartwheel-fest happened after dinner tonight.

Julian has to work on cartwheels in Kung Fu, so he has some idea how to do them, though he doesn't do them very well. Gabriel joined in the action, and I tried to show both boys how to do cartwheels. This turned into all sorts of fun, including when one hard landing on Gabriel's part resulted in some unexpected flatulence. I said, "I said cartwheel -- not FARTwheel!!!!" and they were both whooping with laughter -- it doesn't get funnier than that for kids!

I noticed that like me, Julian is "left-sided" -- putting his left hand down first (though we're both right-handed). I asked him to try putting his right hand down first, and he couldn't even position himself to make that happen. Gabriel in contrast, is "right-sided," he could only attempt a cartwheel with his right hand down first. Interestingly, Gabriel's hand dominance was far more ambiguous as a baby than Julian's, but Julian is the left-sided one.

My cartwheeling boys!

Katrina wasn't interested, but she's signed up for a week of gymnastics camp this summer -- we're in for lots more cartwheeling fun!