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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sometimes I Miss The Days of Diapers and Cribs

Yep.  I admit it.  There are days when I miss the simplicity of the days of diapers and cribs.  I knew everything about my kiddos.  I knew where they slept, what they ate, controlled who came to our house for play dates, rocked them when they were sad, scared or hurt and knew when I put them to bed that's where they would be when sleep time was over.  It was a physically exhausting time but it was an easy, if mundane, time.

Now life is all about the mental drain.  Where are the kids?  Are they at Wawa where they said they'd be?  What are they doing?  Just buying sandwiches or trying to talk an adult into buying them cigarettes or alcohol?  Are the doors to bedrooms open with girlfriends here??  And if not...well, SHIT...I know what they're doing!  Time to go a tap-tap-tapping at a chamber door!

During my kiddos' lives I have always said that whatever particular stage the kids are in is my favorite.  I've cried at each and every milestone which has come their way but I've also delighted in each particular stage they were in at the time.  When they were two years old, railing at the big, wide world around them, I was in heaven.  When they were in preschool, learning their abc's I thought that time was the best.  When they started elementary school I thought they were da bomb.  Now they are all in middle and high school and I know I've been more than blessed with these kiddos of mine..

I love being able to relate to the kids on a bit of a more grown up level.  It cracks me up that Lucas understood (and totally cracked up at) the slogan on the front of a breast cancer awareness t-shirt that read "Save Second Base...I haven't gotten there yet."  I love that Zach is comfortable enough with me to listen to me when I talk about contraceptives.
On the way to Homecoming the other night I offered him a piece of gum saying "girls don't like boys with stinky breath."
He responded that he's never kissed the girl he likes.
Knowing that wasn't the truth I went on to say "Just make sure you leave enough room for the Holy Spirit and make sure to use the most effective contraceptives out there...'aspirin.'"
Zach looked at me like I had three heads but said "Does that really work?"
"Yep," I assured him, "it works like a charm and is the most effective type ever.  Just have the girl put the aspirin between her knees and hold it there."  Zach cracked up laughing going on to tell me he couldn't wait to share that little anecdote with his friends at dinner.  These conversations were not possible when the kids were in cribs and diapers and I admit, it's kind of fun to have adult-ish conversations with them.   

So, I admit. ..this stage is a blast ~ it's just harder than hell.  But even so I wouldn't wish the kids, or myself, back into diapers and cribs, sometimes I just miss those days...

Oh, for the love of my children....

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Freedom

Ah, FREEDOM, sweet Freedom!  It's what teenagers crave most and what we, as parents, are most reluctant to give...mostly for their own good, right?  Zach, God love him, is starting to beat the war drum to gain more freedom.  Sunday evening was a testament to that and I have it documented.

Sunday evening was the beginning of Hurricane Sandy and the end of any pretenses of school on Monday.  The school board called school off at 4 p.m.  The kids were given a rare treat...the knowledge that Monday was all theirs well before it was time for bed.  The celebrations of school kids in the greater Richmond area were felt far and wide by parents just like me.  Zach just wanted to join the celebrations and I can't say I blame him but I can't agree with how he wanted to celebrate his good fortune of a Monday free from school.

Here's my text conversation with Zach....

Zach: "Can I have a sleepover with Grayson and Max?"

Me: "No.  Come home at 11."

Zach: "Why not?  I haven't had a sleepover in ages."

Me: "Yep.  That's by design.  No sleepover.  Unless it's here."

Me:  "I'm more than happy to make pancakes and bacon again tomorrow for you and your friends."

Zach: " And what's the reason for that?  There is no reason for y'all (yep, he wrote 'y'all') to not be able to trust me."

Me: " I am just more comfortable with y'all (yep, I wrote it too.  I figured if he could so could I.) here.  End of story."

Me: "Your friends are MORE than welcome here and I'd love to have them."

Stan sat next to me as I texted with Zach, shaking his head the whole time.  "This is not a texting conversation," he said.  "If Zach wants to talk about it more, tell him to come home," he continued.  With those sage words of advice being spoken, Zach and I continued to text each other...

Zach: "Okay, well you should get more comfortable with me staying out so I actually can.  I don't understand why I can't stay out.  You used to let me stay out."

Me: "That's when your friends' parents were more hands on and involved.  And I knew them better."

Zach: "Okay, well I feel you should be able to trust me."

Me: "I trust you.  But you are a teenager.  And I know about teenagers.  I was one...one of the most trustworthy ones out there but I still did stupid stuff.  So you can either come home now if you want to keep arguing or you (and your friends, if they want) can come home at 11."

Zach: "If you think I'm doing drugs, you're wrong.  And I'm not drinking either."

Me: "I understand all of that and I more than appreciate your honesty but it's my job as your parent to make sure you are as safe as I can.  You and your friends are welcome here.  END OF STORY."

I guess he doesn't get the "end of story" comment because he continues...

Zach: "I will be just as safe here as I would at the house."

Me: "END OF STORY!  I want you at our house."

Zach: "I am 16 almost 17, why am I not allowed to stay out with some friends every once in a while?"

Me: at Stan's urging "Come home now."

Zach: "I'll be home at 11."

Zach: "I'm sorry if I seem snippy, but I am just trying to gain some freedom."

Me: "I understand that Zach.  I'm just trying to be your mom.  I love you enough to be strict and "unreasonable" sometimes.  Your freedom will come soon enough."

Zach: "Why can't it be here now? :-("

Me: "Because I love you too much to let it be now."

Zach: "I'm growing up, Mom.  I think that's what you're having the most trouble with.  I'm not a little kid anymore."

Me: "Sweetheart, I know you're not a little kid.  I wouldn't have conversations with you about 'aspirin contraceptives' if I still thought you were a little kid.  If you would like to talk about this more you can come home now and we can talk about it.  I'm finished texting.  Come home now or come home at 11."

Zach: "I'll be home at 11.  I love you.  See you soon."

Me: "Love you too!"

Yes, I know sometimes I have a hard time thinking about the kids growing up.  But this conversation had nothing to do, in my mind, with growing up.  This conversation had everything to do with making smart choices. I know what I did as a teenager with little to no freedom.  Some dumb things were done.  I know we all learn from mistakes but some huge mistakes can be made if parental supervision is not there.

This whole growing up and letting go thing is harder than hard.  Freedom or no freedom? Helicopter parent or absentee parent?  There's a line somewhere in there, a line that I need to find so that I can walk it...I guess it's more like a tight rope, a true balancing act.  I keep hoping I'm balancing things the right way.  I think I am...Zach did end our texting conversation with an "I love you."

I will keep his freedom in check and my self balanced on my tight rope for the love of all of my children...


Oh, and the "aspirin contraceptives" comment was from the other night and a story I will try to remember to share later....

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Field Trip

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure (and I do mean pleasure) of getting to chaperone Lucas' 8th grade field trip to Washington, D.C.  Stan went with Zach and had planned to go with Lucas as well but that darn work thing of his got in the way of the fun of being a chaperone this time.  So, the honor of accompanying two to three hundred 8th graders, by default, came to me.

I was assigned to look after 4 boys.  No big deal.  I got this.  I do three kids all the time...what's one more?  My four boys were a true delight and I enjoyed every aspect of my day with them.  They were polite, well mannered, at ease around adults and charming ~ all four of them.

Lucas and his three friends in our group decided they wanted to partner up with another group of boys to make it more fun.  Boys from the other group decided they wanted to partner with even more boys from yet another group so when all was said and done my little group of four morphed into a giant group of 19.  In hindsight it may have been a mistake for us but I think it the day was set in stone before I could say "yes" or "no" to partnering with other chaperones.

Our field trip started early, with school arrival time of 6:15.  The kids were quiet and well behaved (actually, I think they were still in sleep mode) on the trip from Richmond to Washington, D.C.  The bus trip mirrored a routine commute in our nation's capital, complete with traffic congestion and minor bus repairs en route but we ultimately arrived safely.

The buses deposited us in front of the U.S. Capital building for our tour.  Our three groups connected and off we went for an in depth look at the inner working of the Capital.  Our tour guide was good as she led us from room to room, giving not only history lessons but also tidbits of present day D.C.  We said goodbye to our guide, grabbed some lunch and headed to Gallery for the House of Representatives.

Did you know the staff taking you to the Gallery expects the kids to be quiet and respectful?  They also expect the kids to walk in a single file line through the halls of the capital.  None of which is easy for the average 8th grade boy on a field trip.  But the staff did explain to the boys that there are people who are actually trying to get work done within the walls of the Capital, necessitating the need for respect and quiet voices.  I was hoping the words of the staffer sunk in to the boys' heads.  Evidently, I was wrong.

The other two chaperones and I were at the front of our single file line.  Don't ask me why or how it happened like that, I'm not sure.  Maybe we got caught up chatting with each other.  Maybe we thought the boys could handle themselves for a little bit being toward the back, unsupervised.  Whatever it was that we thought, we thought wrong.  As we approached the gallery I heard a commotion at the back of the line so I stepped out and circled back to see what the heck was going on.  What I saw at the back of the line made my heart hurt and my stomach clench.

One of the boys was bent over, not able to catch his breath with tears on his cheeks.  One of the other boys in the line pointed to another and said "Bobby did it (not his real name).  Bobby kicked him in the crotch."  I kept the boy who had just been hit back and tried my best to console him.  In between his tears I asked him his name and he told me it was Neil (not his real name).  I kept Neil near me as we approached the House of Representatives Gallery.  I kept a close eye on him as he chose a seat near Bobby.

I don't think I've ever been more angry at a child who was not my own but I kept it hidden from the boy who was the victim and I kept it hidden from the boy who struck the blow.  I knew this would not go undocumented and I knew what I had to do.  I kept a very close eye on Neil, the boy who was victimized at the hands of  big, bully named Bobby.

I saw a strange and awful dance that day of a kid who just wanted a friend and a kid who didn't give a shit about anyone but himself.  I watched as Neil tried hard to be a friend.  And I watched as Bobby became an even bigger bully.  At one point during the day a bird crapped on Bobby's shirt sleeve so he reached over and wiped his shirt off on Neil's shirt.  Neil leaned back over and wiped it back off on Bobby.  Bobby's head whipped around so fast I thought he was a character in the movie "The Exorcist" and as his head spun he spewed out "What the HELL do you think you're doing?"  Neil cowed back a little but his voice was strong as he said "You wiped it on me first."  I was proud of him for finding his voice but I was there as back up if he needed me.  I kept close to Neil that day, hopefully without him even realizing it.

When we got back to the buses I found the administrator and one of the teachers and told them the awful story.  (It was kind of ironic, me telling the administrator about misbehavior of a student since Lucas seemed to find himself in trouble quite a bit last year.  But he never got in trouble for being cruel to another kid, just stupid, goofy, immature behavior.)  I was glad to get that off of my chest and pass it along to someone who could take the information and do something with it, besides make sure nothing escalated or got physical again.  Neither the teacher or the administrator seemed shocked by my story of Bobby.

As Lucas and I were driving home I asked him about Neil and he said he had never seen him before today which, to me, was odd because Lucas knows everyone.  He has never met a stranger so I thought it was strange that Lucas wouldn't have ever seen this kid before.  And then Lucas explained...Neil is new to school.  What a way to welcome the new kid ~ let's kick him in the nuts and make him cry.  That part made the incident seem even worse.  Neil really did need a friend.

Lucas told me the next day that he was called down the administrator's office as a witness this time.  He told me that Bobby got out of school suspension for three days and in school suspension for two.  I guess Lucas' school is taking this incident seriously.  And for that I'm glad.  School should be a safe environment for all kids and field trips should be full of fantastic memories made better in the company of friends.

Oh, for the love of all of our children....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Favoritism

OK, I'm putting this down in black and white so you all can call me out on it if you ever catch me favoring one of my children (or even disfavoring one of my children) over the others as they grow up.

I try so hard to treat my children as equally as I can.  There are things about each and everyone of them that I truly delight in. They all vie for a spot as my favorite so I'll humor each of them by saying things like "You, my honey brown-eyed boy, are my favorite first born son named Zach."  To Lucas I'll say "You, my sweet, little blond boy, are my favorite second born son and my favorite ever Lucas."  Claire gets "You, my darling daughter, are my favorite youngest child named Claire and my favorite daughter."  That way each of them get to be my favorite...and they each are my favorite in their own special ways.  Like I said, there are things about each of them that I delight in and they know it.  I just need to make sure they always know it and I remember to always show it.

I've seen too many instances lately where favoritism is rearing it's ugly head.  And I don't like it ~ not one little bit.  But I'm powerless to change the circumstances for others, in the here and now ~ all I can do it try never to repeat the failings of showing favoritism.

I talked to my friend Julie, the other day and we made a pact to keep each other on the straight and narrow as we get older and our kids grow up, leave the house, get married and have kiddos of their own so none of our kids have to deal with the sadness that comes from favoring a kid, or kids, above any others.  I know Julie and I will honor that pact because it's too important.

My heart hurts for those who are subjected to the degradation that comes from favoring one, or more, of your children above the others.  I said above that I have found things in each and every one of my kiddos that I truly delight in but there are also things that irritate the bejeezus outta me.  And when one of those things I don't like rears up, I try so hard to focus on what delights me, rather than focusing on the irritation...sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.  When it doesn't work, well....those are the times I totally screw up in relating to my kids and those are the times my apologies are the biggest.  I hope my kids remember my apologies when they grow up.  I hope, too, that their hearts never have to hurt, for long at least, thinking that I favor one kid over the others.

And I wish nothing more for them, as they grow up and have kids of their own, that they can always find it in their hearts to give and receive forgiveness so favoritism never becomes an issue.  I hope I learn my lesson from watching others I know who are suffering through the sadness of favoritism.  And hopefully, I can pass down to my kids the ability to show their children that they are loved, warts and all, with not a favorite in sight.

Oh, for the love of my children....

Friday, October 19, 2012

Have I Told You I Hate Middle School??

Because I do.  I truly do.  I hate most things associated with middle school...especially PE.

Yesterday, Claire came home with a story about gym class.  And I got pissed off.

Usually, the boys and girls are in class together.  Yesterday, they were separated.  The boys went to work with Claire's male teacher and the girls went to work with the female teacher.  Both the boys and the girls were playing the same game, I guess they just wanted the boys to play against the boys and the girls to play against the girls.

The game was ultimate football.  I'm sure it's a good game.  I'm sure it's a fun game.  I'm sure the girls know the rules to the game because Claire told them to me.  But it's not a good game, a fun game or a game where rules are not followed because the gym teacher leaves 25 middle school girls unattended...yep ~ you read that right!  I said "25 middle school girls were left unattended," for the entire class.  (Now, to be fair, the male gym teacher was technically put in charge of the girls but he had his hands full watching 25 middle school boys, and according to Claire, he rarely looked in on the girls.)

All I could imagine as Claire told me the story was a bitchslap-fest.  Claire told me the girls were pulling each other's hair and pushing each other down.  Claire said she was pushed down three times.  What a cluster-eff that is.  And who the hell thinks it's a good idea to leave 25 11 and 12 year old girls unattended?  That's a hot mess waiting to happen.

Boy, oh boy, if I didn't know Claire would be embarrassed to high heaven I would have marched my pissed off ass right into the school and done...well, I don't know exactly what I would have done but I do know it was an idiotic move to leave those girls without a pair of adult eyes specifically on them.

I did warn Claire if something like ever happens again I will make sure someone is aware of the stupidity behind leaving 25 girls, mostly, unattended.  Mama bear will come roaring out and the school will know that this mama is pissed off.

Middle school is a fine line to walk and I truly hate these middle school years.  I know I need to let Claire navigate the waters a little without my interference but I'm gonna have to interfere if I hear about hair pulling, girls being nasty and pushing each other down.  I will have to step in then, for the love of my children....    

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Julie's Take on "Giftedness"


A perfect world

When I was growing up I was labeled a smart kid.  I was labeled by my teachers and my peers.  Back in the dark ages of the 70s, we didn’t have gifted classes.  When I was in fifth grade, a retired accountant came in to school and took five (I was the only girl!) of us out of our homeroom class to ‘enrich’ us.  The only thing I remember from my enrichment was one of the boys, Bobby, blowing up a computer.  I remember the sparks flying out of the wall and the terror that filled all of our little heads.  Two years later, when my brother was in fifth grade, the school district started an official enrichment program for ‘gifted’ kids.  I think it involved more than hanging out in the computer lab.  I vaguely remember him doing something with a bunch of fruit flies.
As a child, I did not like my label because it became my identity and I had a hard time traversing the worlds of smart kids and popular kids.  But I kept my label throughout school, took all my AP classes and graduated in the top of my class.  I went to Notre Dame with all the other smart kids and quickly lost my label that had become my distinction.  During freshman orientation, they laid out the statistics for us.  They told us how many of us were valedictorians and salutatorians. They told us the average GPA of our class.  Basically, they told us our intelligence was not what made us special.  All of the sudden my identifying trait disappeared and I was forced to re-discover myself.
As a parent, I loathe labels.  I have one child who has been identified or labeled by the system as gifted.  I imagine his student file has a big blue GIFTED stamped across it.  I have one child who took the test and isn’t quite gifted yet but we’re hoping things will turn in her favor this year and she will get the big blue stamp on her folder too.  (She did fake a headache during one of the tests and had to come home so maybe this test wasn’t an accurate portrayal of her intelligence.)  Do you sense a little sarcasm?  There is more than a little.  And I will explain why in a minute.
As an educator (I have my Masters in Elementary Education, taught first and fourth grade and now teach preschool.), I see some value in labels as it helps a teacher and school identify children who may need special services.  But I am beginning to think the gifted label, as used by our schools, is unnecessary and not very helpful to anyone.  I believe when they are designating a child as gifted they are labeling their potential and therefore labeling a lesser amount of potential in others.
In fact, I believe in a perfect world we wouldn’t have any gifted education. We would be individuating our instruction for each child  in order to help them reach their potential.  But in our overcrowded and underfunded classrooms that’s not possible.   The state tests force our teachers to teach to the test instead of to the child.
I believe that every child is ‘gifted.’  Howard Gardner, a Harvard Psychology and Neuroscience professor, defines 9 different intelligences.  Interestingly, when I was getting my Masters, Gardner had  only identified 7 types of intelligence.    It begins to be apparent at a very young age which type of intelligence your child may have.  In a perfect world, teachers would be able to help their students find their area of giftedness and realize IQ is not the only determinant of a gifted child.
I also believe that children learn in different ways.  This also becomes apparent at a very young age.
But our schools only test or look at a child’s IQ and they only use one style to assess that IQ.  I think it would be near impossible to find every child’s area of intelligence.  Notice I have been saying in a perfect world we would be able to do just that.  But in this imperfect world, we need to stop labeling our children as gifted and therefore implying that they may be superior to other students in some way.
I know plenty of people who have their kids tutored for the big gifted test.   Tutoring for the test invalidates the test and the term gifted as used by our schools.  The term gifted is bandied about in my zip code.  Sometimes I feel like it is more of a status symbol for the parents and not an accurate portrayal of the child.
My son’s school has a separate parent organization for the gifted students and teachers.  The gifted teachers receive special support throughout the year with things like snacks during faculty meetings, extra gift cards during the year and of course a group of parents willing to help them at a moments notice.   I think all the teachers in the school – gifted or non gifted – are deserving of the extra rewards and support.  Why not give that to each teacher?  Gifted students take Math and English classes every other day while the rest of the school has Math and English everyday.  I do not see the reason behind this system as I know my son could benefit from having Algebra every single day even if it was for a shorter amount of time.
All that being said, my son’s program is top notch.  I truly believe the majority of students would thrive in the program. He is learning things in an engaging manner.  He is being challenged by teachers who are beyond passionate. I am constantly amazed by the enthusiasm his teachers exhibit.  They go above and beyond what they are required to do but I think they would do that no matter who they taught.  He is not being lectured.  There is a lot of choice involved in his work.  For many of his projects he has the option to create things like a video or a Powerpoint presentation or some sort of diorama or 3 D sculpture.  The choice is most always his.  And because of this, he is always interested in what he is doing.  Since material is being presented in so many different ways students with all different types of learning styles benefit.
I just want what he has for every child.  Although I believe all 4 of my children would thrive in the program, I am not sure they will do well enough on the gifted test to earn a spot.  It saddens me and has made me realize that I will need to help them find their area of giftedness. In some ways it makes me think I have to reduce the importance of school while I help them find other ways to learn, succeed and thrive.
I did my Masters thesis on an educational idea called The Project Approach.  In The Project Approach, the kids create the curriculum with the help of the teacher.  This approach is similar to the inquiry method and expeditionary learning.  All involve a student focused type of education.  With the Project Approach, at the beginning of the school year the teacher and students compile a list of topics the kids would like to study in greater detail.  In my first grade class in Chicago, the kids wanted to learn more about their city.  The teacher’s job is to come up with activities and ways to get the kids involved in the learning.  We took walks around the neighborhood and mapped it out in our classroom.  This taught the kids all about community specifically their community.   Community members and workers came into the class and told us about their jobs and life in the community.   For example, we had a city bus driver come in and talk about what he did.  We looked at pictures of the downtown area and for our final project created our own Chicago.  We used recycled items and built our own city in the room.  Then we acted like museum guides and other classes in the school toured our room.  My 28 inner city first graders were empowered and learned meaningful facts about communities.
That’s what I see my son getting from his ‘gifted’ classes – empowerment while he’s learning.  I’m not saying kids in other classes aren’t getting this.  I sure hope they are.  But I do know that his program is designed to give the kids just that and I think that should be a part of every classroom and will then allow us to get rid of the unnecessary and inaccurate GIFTED label.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Race To Nowhere for the "Gifted" Kids

I hate labels...I despise labeling kids.  I understand it, but to say that I am less than a fan would be a gross understatement.

When our middle son, Lucas, was having some behavioral issues in kindergarten our old elementary school wanted him tested, immediately, for ADHD.  I fought tooth and nail to keep any label away from Lucas.  He was a six year old boy, I thought ~ let him be a six year old boy, for heaven's sake!  I fought against having him tested and when we finally had him tested we did so at a child psychologist's office where he put him through rigorous testing.  It was then that found out he did have off-the-charts ADHD.  I kept silent with his school.  I didn't want them ever knowing his diagnosis.  Lucas, himself, didn't even know that he had/has ADHD until he was in fourth grade. I didn't want that label attached to my child.

Our youngest, Claire, is over-the-top enthusiastic about school.  She loves school.  She loves everything about school.  She thrives on the academic challenges set forth by her teachers.  And she has been fortunate to have teachers who taught to her...not at her.  Her teachers have been second to none, each one building on the successes of the last.  Claire took their academic gifts and ran with them.  And then she was labeled..."gifted."  I couldn't keep that knowledge from her because her label meant she was put in a specialized class.  She excelled in her last two years of elementary school, being in the gifted class.  But I still didn't like the label.  I prefer to think of her as a school enthusiast who was pushed in exactly the right way by educators who knew how to get the most out of every kid in their classes.

For the sake of what I'm trying to say in this blog I need you to know that not all of the kids in Claire's classes would necessarily fit what some may consider the "gifted" mold.  Some of the kids were square pegs, but not once did I see the teachers try to fit them into a round hole.  Sometimes that had to be the most challenging part of their day...not stuffing a square peg into a round hole.  These teachers recognized that not all kids who are identified as "gifted" learn the same way...some needed to be challenged a little differently and they were. Claire had one child in her class whose diagnosis was on the autism spectrum.  That child needed to be taught a little differently.  The child was challenged in a way that worked for them and that child succeeded in the "gifted" class...a perfect example of a square peg not being forced into a round hole.  I don't think Claire's teacher's focused too much on the "gifted" label on the children ~ I think they focused on educating the child.

This "gifted" label on Claire is not one I talk about frequently and it's for a few reasons...

The first reason is what I told you above ~ I dislike labeling kids.

The second reason is because I never want anyone to feel I am bragging or that I think my kid(s) is/are perfect or better than anyone else's.  Labels set everyone up for that.  I know. I've seen how it could have swung the other way with Lucas.  Lucas could have easily been labeled a trouble maker or the kid with ADHD or a slow learner.  A label would have been detrimental  and unfair to Lucas.  Claire could face the same type of repercussions, only in reverse.  The nerd.  The geek.  The brainiac.  Those words are tossed around and are fair game for the middle school-er and the high school-er alike

Reason number three for me disliking the label is because I believe all kids have the ability to be gifted in one area or another...we are all given gifts when we are born, it's how they are brought out in us and nurtured that we all succeed.

One last reason I dislike the label is because sometimes it's not accurate.  Sometimes, the label "gifted" is not because it's the child who has this desire to learn more and more, it's the parents who demand absolute academic perfection from their kids.  Therein lies the rub...it's not the kid's label, it's for the parent's ego.

I don't demand perfection from any of our kids.  I want them to strive to be the best they can be, not only in school, but in life as well.  It makes life much easier to just work at being your best rather than to try and live up (or down) to a label.  I don't want Claire, or any of my kiddos, to depend on a label.

I have a reason for telling you all of this...

Things changed this year at Claire's old elementary school ~ not just at her elementary school but at elementary schools across our county.  And to me, they're kind of unnecessary and ineffective changes.  But the directive came from the Superintendent of the School board ~ only teachers who have a specialized certification are allowed to teach the kids who are identified as gifted.  I know these changes don't affect my own kiddos anymore but they affect my friends' kiddos and these changes don't look like the right ones...to me at least.

I'm not an educator.  I don't pretend to know how this whole education thing works.  But what I do know is that the teachers who taught these identified kids for years, and did a fabulous job of teaching them to love learning and encouraging them to push themselves a little harder all the while respecting the individual child's learning style, are no longer allowed to push the kids who strive hardest to learn the most.  Now, in this new school year, there is a new crop of gifted teachers at Claire's old elementary school.  From what I'm hearing the changes are not in the best interest of those kids who have an innate desire to learn but who go about it a little differently than others.  From what I'm hearing, there are instances of square peg kids trying to be stuffed into round  holes.  Those differences in a child's individualized learning style don't seem, to me (and I know I'm just a mama and not an educator), to be supported by the new curriculum. One of my friends, whose child is in the new version of the gifted class, said "There is a difference between a gifted kid and one whose parents are obsessed with their 'success' or the idea of success."  My friend's son is a bright, almost too bright of a kid, but he dances to the beat of his own drum.  He doesn't fit any mold.  He's a square peg and his teachers are not too pleased with him.  And that, to me, sums up why labeling kids fails...he's a square peg being forced into a round hole by teachers who just want to work with the "easy" kids.  Not all kids who are super smart and thrive on challenge are easy.  And this bright kid who has a different way of learning is now being asked to leave the gifted program.  I may not be an educator and I may not know how this whole education thing works but to me this situation reeks to high heaven.

So is this the right path ~to weed out kids who truly want to learn and grasp concepts easily?  Is it a good path?  To me, this whole thing stinks of "The Race to Nowhere" where our kids are pushed harder and harder academically by shoving more and more down their throats, rather than helping them to expand on their own desire to learn.  I realize it's a challenge and a balance to teach all kids and probably more so with kids who have labels but I think, in this situation, this child is being served a big plate of disservice.  I think if schools are going to take the time to test and label kids as "gifted" they need to be given the opportunity to prove their smarts and not asked to leave the program after a month.

I'm not sure Claire would have succeeded in a classroom where respecting individuality wasn't the norm.  She's her own little piece of work.  She doesn't like being forced to sit and do worksheets...she's an all hands-on-deck kind of learner.  It seems to me, this new program is doing away with individuality and focusing more on cookie cutter.  Maybe I'm wrong.  I hope I am but I don't  like the thought of our kids racing to nowhere and then have an opportunity taken away from them because they don't conform to a specific ideal of what they think a gifted child is.

I think the "race to nowhere" and labels are detrimental to our kiddos and I think forcing a gifted label on a kid and then taking it away because they don't fit a certain "mold" is even more detrimental to a child.  So, what is it we, as a county, as a state and as a nation, are trying to achieve with the labeling of kids?  Is it right?  Is it good?  I'm not so sure but I do know I'm not excited to see where the race to nowhere takes us and how labeling kids "gifted" or otherwise is a good idea.  And as far as I'm concerned neither of these things are for the love of my children...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I'm a Work in Progress

Recently, my friend and compatriot in the blog-o-sphere, Julie, and I have been getting together to inspire each other, keep each other on the straight and narrow of the writing world and to come up with some collaborations.  We have managed to do all three of those things but working together means I have to stretch a little more out of  my blog-o-sphere comfort zone...one in which I am more than cozy.

We have three, soon to be four, ideas about pieces we want to work on.  We have each completed two, but for me (I think both of us, really), I feel like I need to work a little harder on these...spend a little more time analyzing what I'm trying to say and make sure it makes sense ~ not only to me but to you as well.

So, in the next couple of days, actually hopefully this afternoon or tomorrow, I can share with you my first piece.  Julie will then be a guest blogger here sharing a slightly different side of the story...mine will be from a mama point of view, Julie will throw in her educator point of view along side of her mama point of view.  I'm looking forward to sharing both pieces with you but for now my piece, just like me, is a work in progress...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Laughter, Tears and Everything In Between

We've been doing some much needed upkeep on the house.  I have Zach painting halls, bathrooms, the guest room and whatever else I find that needs to be painted.  Keep in  mind Zach's hungry for the almighty dollar so he can keep his gas tank full which means he's working extra hard to get paid handsomely for something I would otherwise have to do myself or hire someone...so, it's a win - win situation as far as I'm concerned...anyway, I digress and now...back to my story.  As I was scouring the basement, and Stan's workbench, the other day for a Spackle knife I spied a stack of papers.  Being ever so curious why there might be a stack of papers on Stan's work bench I reached up and pulled them down.  And in doing so, I found a treasure.

In September of 1996 Stan was still in the Army and got orders to report to Bosnia for the beginning of NATO's peace keeping mission (Operation Joint Endeavor).  The treasure I found were some of the letters Stan had written to me while he was in Bosnia (and right before he left while he was still in Germany).  After reading through them, I went on a hunt through the house to find more and I stumbled across the mother-lode ~ letters from me  to Stan, from his mom to him and letters to Stan from a multitude of friends.  Reading through these letters, some with Stan and some by myself, has brought out raucous laughter, followed by pools of tears, followed by thoughts of "what the hell was I thinking when I wrote that?" and they have also given me a glimpse back in to the mundanity  of my days with baby Zach.  

They've given me such pleasure both yesterday and today I thought I'd share some of them with you.  I won't bore you all with letters in their entirety ~just snippets of times gone by.

I'll start with the one letter I found first.  It's a letter from Stan to me shortly after he arrived in Bosnia.

12, Oct. 1996

Dear Jenni,

....

You need to get on email.  Everyone here is talking to their honey on email daily.  It's quick and easy and keeps you up to date.  Do whatever you can to get on email.  I talked to Jeff Smidt the other day to test out long range email and he wrote me back within 12 hours.  See what you can do.  It's  not as personal but it's quick.

(I thought we were going to wet our pants laughing when I read this out loud...from the "long-range email" to the "he wrote me back in 12 hours"...oh, how time's have changed).

....

Take care & hug and kiss Zach from me.  I love you all of the mud in Bosnia x all of the wheat in Kansas x all of the dust in Ft. Huauchuca x all of the beer in Germany x 100,000 + 1.

(Boy, did that part hit me hard....Stan has been writing me little notes like that since we started reading "Guess how much I love you" to Zach...I had forgotten it started way back then.)

Oct. 12, 1996

Dear Stanley,

Well, we bought a new Jeep on September 30. (mid September, shortly after Stan left us for Germany and then on to Bosnia, Zach and I were in a head on collision in our Explorer, causing the search for a new car.)  I was so tired of looking and ready to make a final decision.

....

At least the car shopping is done - but why don't I feel at all satisfied?  In fact, I feel a little queasy about the whole thing.  It's not that I regret buying a new car...How do I explain this?  I went over to pick up things out of the Explorer yesterday and I got sad cleaning it out.  I guess it's because that car was the first big financial decision you and I made together and I feel like that car is a part of us....kind of like getting rid of the car was getting rid of a part of you.  I saw a burgundy Explorer driving down the street yesterday and I almost got sick.  I know you must think I've lost my mind - but I guess my worry about your safety is manifesting in a need, or want, to hold on to material goods that has our memories tied up in them.  Please be careful!

.....

Here are some things that Zach can now do - he's on his hands and knees (still moves backward, though).  He babbles da-da-da...ma-ma-ma...etc...And today he was sitting on the floor with a basket of toys by his side and toys all over the floor - well instead of reaching for one of the toys on the floor he looked into the basket, saw a toy he wanted and picked it out!  It was amazing!  Right now he's just starting to wake up from his morning nap - it's 10:55 a.m.  He's in his crib talking to himself and laughing!  What a little character he has become!

7 Sept, 96

Dear Jenni and Zach,

Well, I'm here, about 100,000 miles away from you guys and it really feels like it.  I know this has to be the hardest thing about being in the army.  Being away from your family really is terrible, much worse than I thought it would be.  I think it's a combination of loneliness and tiredness that really magnifies the emotion.  But I know that I'm not going to die.  I know that every day from here on out is one day closer to us being together again.

.....

I bought a calling card and it costs $1.54/min to call the US...there's a plan that has something to do with ringback that is only 37 cents/min.  I think you have to have a phone to use it.  I don't think they have a calling card type system.  (WOW, did times ever change...even while we were in Germany we saw massive advances in being able to keep in touch with our family and friends who remained in the US)

.....

Brush up on your German prior to coming over and stop speaking Pig-Deutsche (German) with your dad!  It's really difficult to understand people because they speak so quickly.

I'm going to close.  I love you a lot.  Like a million times a trillion + infinity + 60.  Give my love to Zachary .  I'll keep writing as often as I can.

October 26, 1996

Dear Stanley,

Well, it's been a while since I've written - but it seems so pathetic to write when I know you aren't getting my letters, cards and packages!

Things here are OK - nothing to write home about...Oh, that's right, we're homeless! (Zach and I moved in with my parents while Stan was in Bosnia and before we went to live in Germany so we didn't have a home of our own at the time.)

......

Zach is my pride and joy!  He's so good-natured right now and I'm thoroughly enjoying him.  He's everything a baby at eight months is supposed to be....personable, charming, easygoing and beyond that he's SO smart!  He picks out different things on the pages of books - his newest accomplishment is to point out the pretty flower.   ....  He's also a great imitator.  If you show him how to do something, he'll do it the exact same way you did! ....  He's amazing!  I'm going to enjoy him now because in the not too far off future, he's going to become a holy terror!  (What a self-fulfilling prophecy that was!)  He'll be into everything faster than I can blink and his favorite word will be no!

......

Anyway, that's life here in Manhattan.  Things are OK.  You've been in Bosnia 22 days - no more than 342 remaining.  Everyday is on day closer!  Before we know it the days in Bosnia will far outnumber the days remaining!

I love you and miss you like crazy.  Please take care - Zachary needs you - I need you!

With love ~
Always,
Jenni

I guess I finally did get on that email thing Stan was talking about.  The handwritten letters dried up around the end of November.  What a shame ~ these letters are my unexpected treasures inter-mixed with a pile of monotonous household chores.  In these letters are laughter, tears and everything in between, for the love my children...


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"WHAT! YOU TOO? I Thought I Was the Only One"

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What!  You too? I thought I was the only one.'"  C.S. Lewis

When I first started this blog it was to chronicle a time of milestones in my kiddos' lives.  What it has, in part, evolved into is a realization that I'm not alone, and I'm not completely crazy in this great big world of parenting.  I love hearing back from you all when you tell me your stories and they so closely resemble mine.  I love knowing that I'm not alone ~ that I'm not the only one.

Yesterday's blog proved to me, again, why this blog is so important to me. I heard back from so many of you about Zach's decision to leave the football team.  And I couldn't be more grateful for all of your responses.

I know sometimes I over-share and sometimes I may be overly critical but I always try to tell the story as close to truthful as possible ~ at least my truth.  Everyone has their own version of a story, yesterday was my version.  So yesterday could have been one of those times when I was overly-critical and overly truthful in my opinion of how things played out with Zach and how I felt about his decision.

I'll explain...

The kids love it when I read my blog out loud to them.  They say they love hearing my inflection in voice when I read my blogs.  It makes it real, they say, to hear in my voice how I feel about the stories I write.  So yesterday I read "Zach and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Decision" to them.  And here are their responses...

As soon as I finished reading my blog, I looked up to find Claire with tears welling up in her eyes.  I thought I had royally screwed up and had crossed some type of line where she thought I was the meanest mom on the planet for telling a story like that.  But her tears started flowing, she said, because she misses watching Zach play hockey and my blog brought it all back.  What a charming way for me to add salt to her wound ~ by reading her a story critical of her big brother whom she loved to watch play hockey.

Lucas told me I was a little harsh in my assessment of the situation.  REALLY??  I was a little shocked Lucas would think that but I guess, in looking at the title of my blog, I could be seen as being more than a little critical.  

Stan said as excited as he was to have Zach want to play football, he realized the path of football was not the right path for him.  Stan went on to say as soon as Zach said he was afraid of getting hurt he knew football was not right for him.  Stan told me he was never afraid of getting hurt in football.  He just bull-dozed his way through each and every play.  When a player feels tentative or nervous about playing that's when injuries happen, Stan said.  He went on to tell me that if we had forced Zach to finish out the remainder of the season and he got hurt the guilt we would feel would not be worth forcing Zach to stay with something he was nervous about doing.  (It was as Stan was telling me this I realized he is a little right.)

And Zach...well, he has no idea (from me at least) that yesterday's blog was a criticism of his decision making process.  When he finds out, I'll be sure to use my friend Chris' advice.  She said I should "carefully listen to Zach's reasons, all of them. Becoming an adult means he will change as a person too. Try to set a parameter for making major decisions that he will tell you first next time; not so you can talk him out of it, but so you can be a sounding board. It probably won't change the future decisions, but it does keep you informed."  Thanks, Chris!  Maybe part of Chris' advice is why I felt so negative and critical...I wasn't told of his decision until after Zach already left the team.

But it was when I got your responses, though, that I knew even though I was a bit hyper-critical of Zach and his decision making and shared a story of our lives I wasn't exactly proud of that I had struck a chord with some of you and we were able to say "What!  You too?  I thought I was the only one!"  From that story some friendships were born and others were cemented....for the love of all of our children as we all navigate this crazy, zany, out of this world experience we call Parenthood!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Zach and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Decision

Zach is 16 now and in the throes of making decisions, some good, some bad and some downright awful.  It's a learning time for him, I know, but I cringe like a dog headed into the vet's office...fearing what's coming next.

That's where I am right now, thinking and feeling Zach just made a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad decision.  It's not a life or death decision or one that will affect his ability to move forward in his life.  It's just a decision I don't think shows the type of person Zach is looking to become.  He has big dreams and aspirations...this decision, to me, doesn't show that's what he's looking to be.

Yesterday he quit the football team ~ in mid season.  That's not what we've taught him to do...to quit in the middle of something.  I know he's frustrated by being sidelined with mono.  I know he's had the fear of God put in him by our doctor and us about the potential of rupturing his spleen if he gets back in the game too soon.  And I know he doesn't feel like he's contributed in any way to the team.  What I do know is that a big part of me regrets his decision for him.  He's not a quitter ~ really.  Even though he left hockey last year, he stayed with his team for the remainder of the season, went to tryouts for this season and made his decision based on how he felt after tryouts.  He didn't make a commitment and then back out...he just never signed on.  The football decision is different...he left mid-season.

I know he's worried about being out of shape and out of condition.  I know he's worried about injuries because of being out for so long with mono.  And I know he doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize his lacrosse season but I think the coach would have totally understood if Zach had gone to him, told him his concerns and worked together with him to find a conditioning plan to help him get back into shape, maybe even better shape, before lacrosse season starts.

I know his coach was, and is, disappointed...not only with Zach, but I think us as well.  Stan sent him an email yesterday and this was his response...

"Stan,
Thanks for the email.  I gave Zach a hard time for two reasons: 1) I can't stand anyone who quits and doesn't finish what they started.  2) I think Zach has a lot of potential as a football player.  He was starting to do very well and I think he could have still done well, even being out so long.  Zach is a good kid and we need him in the program.  I wish he hadn't quit!!"

I know it's not my decision to make and I know Zach has to learn from his decisions and mistakes but the quote that keeps playing through my head today is "Quitters never win and winners never quit."  I wish I had been here yesterday when Zach made the choice to leave the team.  I wish I could have looked him in the eye and told him that.  And maybe I would understand a little  more if he had told me his reasons for himself instead of just assuming, later, that I was mad at him for quitting. Disappointed in his decision, yes. Mad at him, no.

This growing up thing is killing me.  Life was so much easier when the kids were in diapers and cribs.  I knew where they were.  I knew what they were doing and I could make most decisions for them.  This "letting go" thing is for the birds.  But I guess that's just what I have to do as my kiddos grow up and sometimes make some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad decisions.

Oh, for the love of my children....

*Title borrowed and amended from the children's book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day"

Monday, October 8, 2012

Judgement Day

So, I've been silent for a while because I'm struggling and struggling hard to keep my blog as far away from judgmental as possible...except for judging myself.  And lately I feel like I've sunk into a judgmental low ~ judging others.

The other day ~ it was the day after the first presidential debate to be exact ~ I got angry.  I was driving through my little end of town when I really started noticing how many homeless/panhandlers I was passing.  I notice each and everyone of them every time I see them but this was the first time I noticed how many there are.  My anger is not directed at the panhandlers.  My anger is directed at the fact that I don't see how the economy could possibly be improving when the number of panhandlers in our area seems to have skyrocketed.

When we first moved to Richmond six and a half years ago, there was one guy.  The same guy stood on the same corner nearly every day.  He wore the same clothes every day I saw him.  He wore a worn out khaki jacket with jeans and what looked like some type of safari hat.  His hair was long and gray with a huge, long, gray beard.  He didn't look like some spaced out junkie.  He just looked like a guy who was down on his luck and he looked sad and lonely. Some days I would pass him a couple of bucks and some days I would grimace to myself because I had nothing to give him.  He was polite and always said "God bless" when I'd hand him some money.  He always gave me a smile, even when I had nothing to give him.  Him.  He was that one homeless panhandler who worked the street in front of McDonald's and Target.

As an aside to this story, I always wondered what he did with the money he collected from passing motorists, so one day I followed him...yep, you read that right, I followed him as he left his corner.  I watched him as he walked into to Target and the cynical side of me popped up saying "I bet he's going to the wine and beer aisles."  I skulked around target looking down nearly every aisle, hoping to spot him.  I don't know what I would have done had I found him but I kept looking.  I was just desperately curious to see what he did with the money.  Finally, I spotted him as he was at the checkout counter.  He was buying a box of depends underwear.

He has long since disappeared but so many others have taken his place.  There are now too many to count.  It was in the transitional time period between the one guy working his corner and emergence of the throngs of homeless panhandlers sitting in the medians at stop lights that I started hearing the stories of the scam artists.  You know the ones I'm talking about...the preacher who ran out of money as he was going around the country as an Evangelical minister and he just needed a couple of bucks to put in his gas tank so he could get to his next stop.  Or the one with the college students who ran out of money on their way back to school and could they get a few dollars so they could get back to school.  Or the one of the young couple who were on their honeymoon and ran out of money so could they please have a couple of bucks to put some gas in their car.  Stan was a magnet for these folks.  They flocked to him like bees to honey and I was the one who inadvertantly put a stop to his "falling victim" to their schemes.  Stan used to give money to these folks until I told him they were probably scam artists...goodness knows being snowed by a scam artist is not what any of us want.  It was right after all of these scam artists appeared, with all of their wild-cockamamie stories, that the streets in my little pocket of Richmond became flooded with panhandlers.

And it was then that I became a bit desensitized, detached and maybe just a bit judgmental...always wondering if they, the panhandlers, weren't just another form of master scam artist.  I still gave money, sometimes grudgingly, when I could and I still looked at everyone of the people sitting on the corners but part of me wondered and got a little irritated thinking they could just be taking me for a ride.

I mentioned above that it was the day after the first presidential debate that I got mad.  As I said above, jobs numbers were in and supposedly the economy is improving.  It was as I was leaving Costco that I really noticed the massive uptick in the numbers of panhandlers.  For the first time since we've lived in Richmond, I was approached on foot by someone needing money.  Things like that don't happen in my little suburban bubble...things like  that happen in the city but not here ~ at least not until now.  So I guess someone needs to tell masses of the panhandlers in our area that the economy is on the upswing and jobs numbers are improving...now they can get a job and quit their begging...said with a huge amount of sarcasm in my tone.  And someone definitely needs to tell to the young couple and their baby, who approached me in the Costco parking lot asking for a few dollars because they needed to feed their little one, that the economy is getting better.  They hadn't eaten in two days, they said.  They used all of their food to feed their baby.  It was then that my heart softened and I realized it's never up to me to judge whether or not someone is really needy or is a master scam artist. Judgement day will come for all of us someday and I need to only worry about how I've treated others, it's not my job to judge.  My job, I decided is to see every person with compassionate eyes, to treat others as I would want to be treated if I had nothing, to get a little angry on behalf of those who have no voice and help them when I can.

I'm not trying to make this a political piece.  My political views are uniquely my own.  I've voted on both sides of the aisle and I don't care if you are a democrat or a republican, black or white, male or female...what I do care about is how many people are out there and are hurt because sometimes I've turned a blind eye or decided to judge when I have no right to...so for me, for today and hopefully all of my tomorrows I can pass along to my kids that judgement day is not my area and politics are not my thing but being compassionate is.

Oh, for the love of my children....