Saturday, February 28, 2009

Small Fry

Yesterday my daughters and I were talking about our family. I still have that unresolved yen for a third child and from time to time I gather data on where my two extant children stand on the possibility of a third.

Our youngest loves babies, so her position on the issue is well known. Her big sister loves her younger cousins and the new babies who have recently joined our neighborhood, but her thoughts are generally more measured.

"You're only a little sister right now, but if we had another baby, you'd be a big sister, too," I pointed out to our youngest.

"While you only get to be a big sister," I acknowledged to our eldest. "I was the oldest of all my brothers and sisters, too, and what I always wished for was a big brother."

My five-year-old daughter thought about that.

"I would like a little brother," she offered, "but pretty soon he would become my big brother, because I don't grow very much."

"You are little," I agreed, assessing my munchkin of a kindergartener.

"I know," she sighed. "I am the smallest in my class and all the kids tell me that."

Her 5'3.5" "tall" mother reminded her, "You know, there are some advantages to being small."

"Yes," she grinned, "I'm cute."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fears of Your Life

In a 1999 issue of The Sun magazine (have I told you how awesome that publication is?), they printed a piece entitled "Fears of Your Life," written by Michael B. Loggins. Loggins creates art with other adults with developmental disabilities at a center called Creativity Explored in San Francisco.

I remember both laughing out loud and being deeply touched by Loggins' list of fears the first time I read it. His phobias include:

"19. Fear of toys that comes on by itself without anyone touching it."


"22. Fear of getting in deep trouble. Or going to get in deep trouble."


"40. Fear of getting hit over the head when you carry lots of dough with you. Or bucks."


"62. Fear of fog horn."

When I was a creative writing teacher, I used Loggins' "Fears of Your Life" as a model for students to compose their own lists. Here's mine:

Fears of My Life

1. Fear of bad restaurant smells
2. Fear of merging in traffic
3. Fear of climbing over fences
4. Fear of runaway vehicles
5. Fear of snarling dogs
6. Fear of rotten fruit I’ve bitten into
7. Fear of forgotten sandwiches at the bottom of bags
8. Fear of dying in a freaky way
9. Fear of my mug shot on the news
10. Fear of divorce
11. Fear of falling down stairs
12. Fear of my child being sexually abused
13. Fear of being perceived as racist
14. Fear of anesthesia
15. Fear of amputation
16. Fear of being in deep water with no land in sight
17. Fear of scorpions
18. Fear of children becoming drug addicts
19. Fear of my parents dying
20. Fear of rape
21. Fear of not being able to pay bills
22. Fear of ruining career
23. Fear of sour milk
24. Fear of kidnappers
25. Fear of witnessing violent fight
26. Fear of scuba diving
27. Fear of bad smells, like vomit
28. Fear of my skirt being tucked into my underwear and my underwear showing
29. Fear of cheating on my taxes
30. Fear of getting bad news on the phone

P.S. I conquered "Fear of replacing multi-gallon water bottle on water cooler" last weekend. Yes!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I am the Beholder

Here's something fun to do at work: volunteer to have your Body Mass Index, Body Fat Percentage, and Blood Pressure measured by perky health care provider employees in the cafeteria in front of your coworkers as part of your organization's Strength Challenge.

It turns out strength is my challenge. Once upon a time I did twenty push-ups a day; I was strong back then. But I have never been one for lifting weights and after a few weeks of falling off the push-up wagon, push-ups became decidedly less fun. So I eventually came to eschew anything requiring strength that wasn't part of achieving another objective--like moving a couch or lifting an irate, prostrate toddler off the floor of Costco. I run regularly, but confine my fitness to that singular activity: putting one foot in front of the other as fast as it takes to get me back home before dark.

I am not opposed to incorporating some Strength Training into my Fitness Regime; I am just not committed to it. I would say that I experiment with exercise like others do with new drugs: If you are doing it and invite me to join you, I am open to the experience. While I wait for the next opportunity to present itself, I have time to recover from my last strange trip. In the last two months I have attended one 5:30 AM Boot Camp class at the YMCA and one overcrowded BodyPump class on Valentine's Day. Both times I was in the company of close friends who promised to take care of me and make the experience as comfortable as possible. Both times I had trouble walking for days afterward.

Two weeks ago, because the word "free" tantalized me in a seductive email, I signed up for our workplace Strength Challenge. There's an unopened envelope on my desk at home with instructions and a resistance band inside. The package arrived just before we departed on a long weekend roadtrip--a long weekend roadtrip to visit my friend and her gym's BodyPump class. The BodyPump class is why I had to hobble to the cafeteria today to find out some things I already knew, including: my blood pressure is fine; my body weighs more than it ever has, unpregnant; my BMI is in the "high" range; the percentage of my body that is fat is about the same percentage of the earth that is land. My sense of humor, thankfully, is healthy.

In fact, I am in a pretty good place to receive all this pride-swallowing news. Despite the fact that I spent a weekend without my tweezers, my razor, and the deodorant that actually works, and then ate junk food and sat on my ever-expanding ass in traffic for an entire day, I am feeling pretty okay with myself. Despite the fact my wardrobe has narrowed to the few items that fit over my thighs and derriere--including a pair of shorts that are size 12--I am not despondent. Despite the fact that hairs grow out of my chin and grey hairs are overtaking my pate, I am keeping on. Despite the fact that I have pimples AND wrinkles and a webbed neck and teeth that are starting to converge even after several rounds of horrifying middle-school orthodontia, I am dealing. Despite the fact that my once satisfyingly size-B breasts have shrunken down to something best concealed by a good padded bra, I'm hanging in there.

Because I know perfectly well that besides the chin hairs and webbed neck and crooked teeth and flat bosoms, I have some control over my appearance. I acknowledge that I have been eating without remorse (for example: I celebrated my high marks in BMI with chocolate!). Apparently the superficial side of my self esteem is fueled by the fact that I like my haircut and dye job and my toes when they're painted and I own some really cute pairs of shoes. By now I know What Not To Wear for my body type and size. I have learned to apply makeup efficiently and that I only need to wash my hair a few days a week. I can actually convince myself I'm pretty darned good looking.

Nevertheless, I am going to the doctor next week for my annual exam/another dose of humble pie, where I suspect I will be told I should capitalize on my health and use it to move my body around more often, more quickly.

And maybe lift something. You know, besides that little body fat machine. Ugh.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lingua Familia

A Vocabulary Guide to What's Going On around Our House:

mermaid (v): to lie down/float in the bathtub to wet or rinse one's hair; as in, "Please mermaid yourself! It's time for conditioner."

M&Micine (n): a placebo

bokini (n): bikini

breftist (n): breakfast

cuvvy (adj): comfortable

mazagine (n):  a publication

jameroni (n, pl.): pajamas

Na-Nas (n, pl.): the crazies; a toddler version of losing it in laughter or sillies. The stage directly preceding a tired, teary breakdown.

nilk (n): milk

bizindheit (? I'm an English teacher, but beats me): Bless you! (German origin)

shnoogie (n): booger

pupcake (n): cupcake

woperation (n): cooperation; as in the lyrics to a homegrown song: "co-op-er-ation, wop-wop-er-ation..."

bum-bum (n): buttocks, rear end, tushy.

cheeriodels (n, pl.): multi-grain cereal.

Hello Ponies (n, pl.): My Little Ponies.

thatawhy (conj.): because; as in, "Why are you climbing up on the counter, my little toddler?" "Thatawhy I can't reach it."

burrito, taco (n): one's choices for towel wrapping, post-bath, for presentation to the other parent; as in, "Mommy, she's a burrito! Take a bite."

cheeken sandwich, finger sandwich, chinken nugget, toefu, tummus (n): The kissable, bite-able parts of one's kiddo's body; as in, "Mmmmm...I'm going to have a bite of cheeken sandwich, yumyumyumyum!"

piko (n): belly button (Hawaiian)

dawgs (n, pl.): feet

mamaholdju (v): Mommy, will you hold me?

beetee (n): pacifier, binky

Eresa (n): Auntie T

snugglebuggle (v): to get cozy and close to another family member

snugglenest (n): the mass of blankets and pillows and sleeping bags which overtakes the living room during a cousin and/or closefriend sleepover

Friday, February 6, 2009

Kindergarten: Not for Babies

The other night our five-year-old came home with a workbook from Starfall, which is a new curriculum I understand is being incorporated into her kindergarten class. First we had to staple together a little story about a rat named Zac (who encountered some ants, incidentally). Next she read the story aloud to me, and then she was to complete some exercises in her workbook.

One of the assignments was to examine a picture and circle the objects with short vowel sounds. Now, my husband and I have had to learn the distinction between short and long vowel sounds, since it's obviously not intuitive (Me: "Honey, long vowel sounds SOUND long, you know, like treeeeeeeeeeeeee." Him: "Huh? What about baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?" We've since surmised that long vowels say their name, a helpful way for at least the parents to remember). I watched our daughter circle ants and the rat and a bag and grass in the illustration. Then she put a circle on part of the tree.

"'Tree' has a long vowel sound, honey," I offered helpfully.

"I know, Mom," she concurred, circling the flag and a mat.

"And 'leaf' has a long vowel sound, too, right?"

"Yep," she agreed. "But that's a braaaaaaaaaaanch, Mom. Branch. Short vowel for branch."

Duh. Thanks, kiddo.

The last activity was to write a narrative based on a picture related to the little stapled story starring hapless Zac. The workbook helpfully provided a Word Bank (I had never heard of one until I became a teacher) for this writing venture so that one didn't need to worry so much about spelling and could also practice writing and using all those words with short vowel sounds.

But of course, my daughter didn't want to write about flags and mats and ants and bags and grass. So she ignored the Word Bank and used her own invented spelling to write about the playground and swings--which, to be fair, were present in the picture, so who can blame her? Off she went writing whatever the heck she wanted, basically, and I didn't feel like stifling her long-vowel narrative. And when she wanted to write the word "were," she sounded it out: "w," "e," "r"...pause. "Oh yeah," she nodded. "There's a silent 'e' at the end of it." Her tongue popped out of the side of her mouth as she added that "e" on to the end of "wer."

Meanwhile, I was shaking my head like a dog does when it's about to shake water from its entire body. Like, "Silent WHAT?"

So my daughter knows what "Silent E"s are and the difference between Short Vowels and Long Ones. What the heck are they teaching in kindergarten these days, anyway? It turns out I don't even know what my kid knows. I don't know what she knows, and I don't know what she knows, if you know what I mean. It's crazy. I'm pretty sure this kindergarten is not my kindergarten. It's both heartbreaking and reassuring.

Here's what's reassuring: all this focus on No Child Left Behind means someone has to be paying attention to every child's ability to learn. Conceivably, gone are the days when nice children who try hard can slip through the cracks and make it through 12th grade without knowing or showing much. According to NCLB tenets, each child will be achieving at grade level standards by 2013, or ELSE. Educators all over our state are working hard to make this happen. Children are learning about things and using terminology invented since our grade-school years. What's more: they're learning about their learning. It's impressive.

But it's heartbreaking. As a school administrator, I have sat in many meetings about Accountability and Achievement and Mastery of Skills, and the theme is always We Must Get Every Kid There. It sounds really noble but also simple: We Can Do This! However, any ONE of us who has sat with ONE kindergartener at the kitchen table doing homework for ONE evening has to wonder how ONE kindergarten teacher gets 20 kids through ONE activity successfully in ONE day, while identifying who needs extra help and then providing it. And here we are the fortunate parents of a well-prepared kindergartener with no special needs. She is well prepared because we have books and read to her but also because she is just That Kind of Kid who wakes up in the morning and wants to go write stuff.

Frankly, she's the kind of kid who delights so much in the structure of school that she almost needs breaks from it. Which is not to say that the children who struggle with the structure of school--or for whom structure is a foreign concept in and of itself--don't need those breaks too. I worry that No Child Left Behind makes assumptions based on every child's ability to learn that are spot-on and important--but that don't account for the magic and beauty of a child's spirit, which can get lost somewhere in that shuffle of standards and vowel sounds. A spirited teacher can help make sense of standards, and put them in their place. Our daughter is fortunate to have such a teacher.

Every so often, we've got to back off Zac the Rat and the Word Bank and just laugh at how silly is his picnic at the playground. We've got to search for the meaning--and the joy--in short and long vowel sounds. We've got to continue to challenge children, showing them and ourselves just how much is possible, but we also must allow them to show us what is relevant. Every child can learn; every child can achieve at standard. We are banking on that. But I am not sure every child's talents and gifts will properly emerge and fluorish in this institution of schooling as it is currently designed.

We all know people who sucked at school and who thrive at life.

The question is, are we properly prepared to listen and respond to the Children Left Silenced?