Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reigning on Her Parade

Bright and early this morning, our first grader started planning today's parade. First, she hand-drew an "American" flag, found a twig in the backyard, and brought them to me to staple together. Then she outfitted the wagon with a blanket and pillow, and when her little sister refused to hop in, a stuffed Snoopy and Strawberry Shortcake doll. Finally, she strung a whistle around her neck, strapped on a crown, leashed the dog, and asked for my support and participation.

Which is how I found myself alternately "halting" and "forward marching," as we circled the block in our own Sunday morning household parade.

Now, I know some gung-ho, down-on-the-floor, every-minute's-for-my-kids kind of moms. And I know others who aren't fans of early childhood and can't wait for their kids to reach some state of intellectual parity.

As for me, I'm somewhere on the spectrum closer to Down in the Dirt Making Mud Pies than Why Don't You Check and See if Jonny Next Door Can Play. But I'll plead guilty to "just a minute, honey" while I finish cleaning the kitchen, putting on mascara, and checking Facebook. And sometimes I just don't feel like playing with Polly Pockets. Again.

But I have enjoyed amazing moments recently when I wholeheartedly give myself over to my daughters' cockamamie schemes and projects. I'm trying more and more to gulp back my reflexive "Do we really need the double-decker fort?" and to not look at my watch when we're on a walk and the three-year-old is literally stopping to smell the roses. Every rose, in fact.

So when Eldest Daughter asked if today could be Parade Day, I smiled gamely and said, "Yes, dear, right after we go to Walgreen's and buy me some hair dye." While she assembled her float and "soldiers," I colored my greying tresses.

Soon we were marching behind our little patriot: the dog, the little sister, the dolls in the wagon and I, as she waved her homemade flag and blew her whistle. Someone recognized us (despite my newly darkened 'do) and hailed us from a passing car, putting a little mid-parade spring in the step of our drum major.

The best was when we reached home, though, and my daughter turned to me with unsuppressed pride and glee: "Mom, our parade was so much fun...and, so...successful!"

Worth it or what?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Here, Fishy Fishy Fishy...

Dagnabbit, I killed our Summer Fair Fish.

This was not the fish we won ourselves at last year's fair; this fish was one of a pair that my sister-in-law generously bestowed upon us after she took the kids to the fair this year, claiming "turnabout is fair play."

Eldest daughter promptly named them Lily and Leona. Leona promptly died.

But Lily? Defying all expectations, predictions, and natural laws regarding goldfish lifespans in our household, "she" lasted through Labor Day. I'll admit, that little survivor grew on me, as she became part of my morning and evening routines: make lunches, feed Lily; make dinner; feed Lily. Hi there, Little Fishy. I can't believe you're still alive! was my daily greeting as I pinched those smelly fish food flakes and let them float down into her bowl.

The longer the lone fish lived, the more invested I became in her well-being, which is why I felt guilty one evening last week as I noted that the water in Lily's bowl was one shade past murky and that I was one more day past when I thought I should probably clean the bowl.

I sure hope fish like fluoride, I thought the first time I filled our fishes' bowl in June, using a carefully-proportioned mixture of hot and cold bottled water from our water cooler. I continued in that vein all summer, until last week, when we were nearly out of bottled water and between deliveries. I knew deep in my soul that tap water could be deadly for fish, but I went ahead and mixed in some good old San Diego faucet water, complete with chlorine, boron, haloacetic acids, and lead.

Lily was belly-up before bedtime.

This wasn't my first mishap with goldfish. In middle school, when we were tasked with conceiving a science fair project, I chose an ill-fated experiment which flew under PETA's radar, thankfully. While other friends tested the effect of temperature on height of tennis ball bounce (requiring only an oven, freezer, tennis ball, yardstick and about one hour), I set out to determine how size of container influenced goldfish growth.

For months, my bedroom was host to a card table with rows of varied-size jars of goldfish. Goldfish died and I replaced them in what turned out to be a seriously flawed investigation. To measure the weekly growth of the fish, I used a graduated cylinder and observed and recorded displacement of water.

That is, when I remembered to put water in the cylinder. More than a handful of goldfish went *BONK* down to the bottom of the dry cylinder or got stuck pathetically to the side of the glass when I was more focused on the task of catching the fish than on preparing my measurement vessel.

Not to mention that any of you with half a scientific brain are by now noting the number of insurmountable variables at play in this experiment, which I made a weak effort to control, starting with amount of food fed each fish. Assuming, of course, all those different-sized fish required the same amount in the first place.

At the end of the experiment, I proved very little, except that 16 jars of fish will stink up one teenager's bedroom in a matter of days.

Instead of swearing off animal experimentation, I went on to torture mice in Genetics Lab in college. I eventually saw the light and switched career paths from medicine to education. The last experiment I conducted was on 9th graders, and they all survived.

But poor Lily, she didn't make it to Veterans' Day.

I had to break the news to our daughter, who had helpfully written up the following guide to fish care in June:

Daughter was bummed but forgiving, and participated in a bowl-side "burial" in the bathroom, a ceremony also known as "Fish Flush."

Since I am confessing to some killings here, I might as well mention that we're offing pumpkins and bees lately, too. But not ants. The ants are staying away.

For now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2009

Last night we received an auto phone call from our daughter's school that the student body and staff would be observing Patriot's Day on September 11th by wearing red, white, and blue. We laid out an outfit and carefully explained the importance of the day.

Our daughter is in first grade; she wasn't born yet on September 11, 2001. Like many five- to eighteen-year-olds in school today, she doesn't know about or remember the events of that day. She grows up in her present, which is our post-9/11 world. Now, we bear the responsibility of teaching our children about that day and its aftermath. The facts. The possibly whys. And, of course, our own interpretations.

One of the seniors at my school worked all summer on a memorial tribute to the people who died on September 11th. He ordered 3,000 flags and carefully handwrote each victim's name, age, and place of passing on a tag attached to every one. With the assistance of his family and a group of friends, he placed the flags on a hill in our quad, in gridded sections representing the Twin Towers.

At the end of our first class period, this student read a speech he wrote about September 11 and its significance for him and for all of us. He noted that our freshmen were first graders--my daughter's age--in 2001. He reminded us that on that day, regardless of nation of origin, we were all Americans.

The principal invited everyone to gather on the quad for the pledge of allegiance, and firefighters from the station across the street joined us as students filed silently out of class and observed the ceremony.

I felt a chest-swelling connection to my fellow humans as our Navy Junior ROTC students paraded the colors down the hill between the two towers of flags. I was proud of the young man who conceived our school's tribute to September 11th, and that he recognized and seized this opportunity to teach his peers. I was proud of our students and their reverence for the moment and respect for one another.

While I vividly recall the difficulty of sorting my own emotions and of understanding others' after 9/11/01, this morning was uncomplicated: I was moved by the American flags at school and those in our city flying half mast. I felt comfort in the unity of Americans and citizens of other countries taking time today to honor the lives of our innocent victims.

Politics, partisanship, personal issues were absent. I felt part of something good.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Daily Bread

This morning I drank my coffee and read this lovely account of his typical workday, written by the cousin and son of dear friends of mine. My journey to Africa began when a friend and I studied African history together in college, and it was his family's connections to a Kenyan school which landed me a teaching job there for a year in 1996-97. My friend's cousin--the author of this piece--and his family became my home away from home in Kenya, and I am forever grateful for them.

It seems appropriate to post this link today, on Labor Day, as Eston thoughtfully describes his job, Kenya and its people, and the evolution of work in that country brought on by climate change and political upheaval.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

School Rules!

Most people assume that in my job as High School Vice Principal I spend my days contending with unruly students, garnering confessions and meting out punishments.

The truth is, at our smallish school with students and staff members who generally genuinely respect and care for one another (and there are rainbows! And unicorns!), we have it pretty easy in the discipline department. I get to spend most of my days out on the quad cultivating positive relationships with students, and they get to have fun at my expense and notice each and every change in my appearance.

Over three years since leaving the classroom, I have gradually come to terms with my new role. I even have fun.

Which is not to say that some aspects of being The Enforcer don't suck. I'm not fond of searching students; I don't like being lied to; I wish I didn't have to invade students' space--while they invade one another's space--on the dance floor; I am not a fan of discovering that students have made poor choices.

And every fall, I dread the Back-to-School assembly where I explain The Rules to the student body. The privilege of presiding over this presentation has been passed down over the years, vice principal to vice principal. It is I, a microphone, a PowerPoint of slides on What Not To Do, and a captive audience of restless teenagers hoping to be entertained.

I'm pretty sure that scenario is an archetypal Worst Nightmare, except that I am wearing clothes.

My first year, I gave the same dry warning speech six times, once per period, to students in the English classes. Never again, I swore, after boring even myself to tears. Thereafter we began dividing the student body into two groups, upper- and underclassmen, to deliver the Message of Doom.

This is what educators call "Frontloading" at its best:

Don't smoke or drink or possess intoxicants or even lighters or matches. Don't give away your--or your parents'--prescription drugs. Horseplay could get you suspended. Gum is the Devil. No spaghetti straps. Watch out for plagiarism. Here's what will get you a Referral to the Office. Turn your cell phones OFF. What you post on Facebook and MySpace could come back to bite you. Stop stealing each others' stuff.

Or ELSE. And don't say we didn't warn you.

This year, in an attempt to soften our statement, I enlisted the support of a talented student filmmaker, who graciously offered to record footage over two schooldays' time, because that's what he had, and stay up all night editing a Rules Video for the assembly.

I tend to claim that the students ARE my job, and that my job doesn't exist without them, and it's true. Without them I wouldn't have work, and without them my work wouldn't work.

PROOF of this, and of the brilliance of teenagers:

He'll be famous someday. Watch.