Monday, October 27, 2014

Trying not to be one of "those" parents

Perhaps the worst thing in all this middle school rigamarole is seeing how precariously close to the edge of "nutso" parent territory I may have been veering.  Acting as if determining the best middle school for N is the be-all, end-all of my existence here on the planet.  Maybe giving it a little more of my energy than it should have taken.

Having been in the classroom and speaking with parents who understandably think their child is awesome but who forget that the world likely doesn't agree with them, I really try to not be annoying.
I try to be 110% supportive of the teachers.  To tell them I am always happy to help, to volunteer, and if they ever have the slightest problem with my child to call me, and I will be up at school pronto to figuratively box my child's ears.

I do attend parent-teacher conferences each time they are offered, even though there is no real reason for me to be.  I don't go to hear the teachers say good things about my kid.  I go to ask questions that generally have zero to do with my kids' grades.

Questions like, "What DRA (directed reading assessment) level are they at?" so I know what books to help the kids select.  Questions like, "Is my kid nice to others at school?  Compassionate?" because there is no category for this on report cards but I don't want a mean girl or boy on my hands.  Questions like, "Do you notice any anxiety?" since N tends to freak out in math, and G is just a bundle of nerves in general.

This year I did introduce myself to N's math teacher when she was having her geometry-related issues in September.  I think the first thing I said to him was, "You know, usually I only drink a lot in the summer when all my kids are at home, but your class may have me drinking a lot this school year."  And then I proceeded to explain how N was acting at home in preparation for the test---crying, moody, confused.  I wanted his guidance on what to do so that I could help her practice more and feel more confident.

This weekend, for some reason, I thought about the spring's written assessment (WA) competition, which N did last year.  I looked on the district's website to find the books they need to read and emailed the WA coach to know whether kids who did it in 4th automatically do it in 5th or if there are tryouts.

As soon as I hit send, I thought to myself, "Oh my god, she is gonna think I'm one of these bonkers parents who expects my kid to make the team because I think my kid is such hot stuff."

When I saw Ms. A today in the hall and she mentioned something about it, I said to her, "As soon as I sent that to you I thought, 'She is gonna think I'm expecting N to have a place on the team and that I have no life because I'm thinking about this in October.'"  The latter is true.  I evidently don't have enough going on to occupy my brain.  But the former is far from the truth.

Fortunately, I think Ms. A knows me well enough to know I'm not a "my kid's stuff don't stink" parent.  She told me I was actually the third parent who had emailed her.  I said, "Well that makes me feel better.  I'm not as bad as parent #1."

I think the one thing that saves me from completely falling into the abyss is that a good portion of the time I don't even like my own kids, so there is none of that "My kids are so fricking awesome and I just know everyone sees this as clearly as I do!"

My kids, like their momma, are good enough.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A strangely busy, but not typically busy, October

It seems like in years past we have done weeks and weeks of fall/Halloween activities in the month of October, but this year felt different.

The first weekend of the month we were busy with M's 5th birthday and a visit to Columbus, IN when the kids were out of school.

We did fit in one Halloween event that weekend at a local nature preserve where the kids got candy, and D and I got to meander with them through a nature trail (which is my kind of meandering).  It was a little chilly and there wasn't much to do after the trail, but that was ok since we were squeezing it into an already full weekend of birthday and road trip.

The following weekend I took the boys to see a children's play, and the next day N and I saw an American Girl fashion show, which is all the evidence I need that we have more income than what is necessary.

Last weekend we visited a pumpkin patch on Sunday with almost every other family within a 50-mile radius of the patch.  It was crowded and.....well, just really crowded.  We have been going there since N was 18 months so apparently the word has gotten out how great a place it is.  Unfortunately for me and D, crowds typically make a place not so great anymore so I don't know what next year will mean for our pumpkin foray.

This weekend we did nothing festive.  I finished up some home improvement projects.  G had his first ever sleepover with his best friend and, in a move that shocked me to my core, did not call during the night demanding to come home.  Apparently the invisible umbilical cord that keeps him waking me every single night at age 7 is severed when he leaves the confines of our abode.

The busier my life gets during the week the more I am happy to stay at home and do a whole lot of nothing or just piddly stuff on weekends.

And my kids get so much candy at their class parties and during neighborhood trick-or-treating that I don't mind not going to a zillion different events in which they get bogged down with treats.

Yet, the slow slackening of our Halloween festivities makes me a bit sad.  They, and we, are branching into other interests, finding ourselves asked to other activities that we'd rather do more than a Halloween event.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mindset

I started reading the book Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck because I really want to encourage a growth mindset in my children.

I think I tend to already have it when it comes to most things, although I know there are situations in which I don't.

Life has proven to me that intelligence is not fixed.  Just the fact that at age 41 I understand The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock when it made zero sense to me at age 19 is evidence of this (and I haven't been studying the poem these 22 years).  I think life experience, reading, effort and practice can change a person's ability in most everything.  I try to instill this in my children as well as my students.

One of my students, a senior, sent me an email in which she was concerned that she wasn't seeing symbols and a lot of things I bring up in class to discuss with them.  I had to talk her down, encouraging her to jot down what she thinks she sees and what she feels about a text because students have often shown me things that I didn't see.  I also had to remind her that she is 18, and time and practice tend to make one better at analyzing novels.

I do think people have innate abilities and gifts which are easier to hone and sharpen.  Mine is writing.  The desire to write, the words, come naturally.  This doesn't mean I set the world on fire with my writing, but I am content to perhaps warm a little snippet of the world up with the candle that is my writing (my local freelancing and blog writing, as it were).

I will never entertain the masses with my piano playing, but I am proud of what I have learned in just under 3 years, from not being able to read music at all to practicing a version of Scott Joplin's The Entertainer.

I worry that my children have more of a fixed mindset.  Every time N starts a new piano lesson, she frets that it is too hard!  I'll never get it!  And yet, after two weeks of practice, she not only has it, but has it well.  Plays without error, plays with dynamics and has fun.

I try to stress to them that no one gets better at anything without practicing, without putting effort into it.  You read more to become a better reader.  If math is difficult, you keep practicing, doing problems and in time it will become easier.  You may never love to do it, but you will understand it better.

The book talks about depression and how that plays into people who have a fixed or a growth mindset.  Even during my worst bout of anxiety, I didn't think it couldn't be made better.  I knew I needed help and I took steps to get it.  To do whatever it took to try to make myself better.

Sometimes my anxiety seems to want to reel me into a fixed mindset.  Health/germs/disease are my biggest issues, so whenever a bout of anything comes upon me or my family I tend to think the situation is fixed and there is nothing I can do about it.  That it is the worst thing ever and cannot ever be resolved.

Despite this, though, I still somehow tend to fight against this thinking.  To seek out help, answers to questions, do whatever minor little things I think I can do to resolve the situation.  So even if my mind worries that there is nothing that can be done, I sorta disregard it and plow ahead.  So even in my pessimism, there seems to be an optimist in my depths that spurs me on to at least try.

Reading this book also reinforces my strongly held feelings that education and its focus on tests to determine so much about children and where they need to be is really so very narrow.  I know there has to be a litmus test of some kind, but we (and I sometimes) get so hung up on one little measure.

We lose sight of the importance of the process, of trying, of struggle.  God, we hate to struggle.  But to me, struggle is a lot like change. Change, taxes and struggle are three things one can count on with anything resembling reliability.

When I think of some of my favorite novels, A Room with a View being one, I am reminded how much of a character's struggle is deeply troubling to them but also the thing that ultimately brings them a sense of purpose, a sense of identity, a sense of peace.

We could learn so very much from the characters that inform our imaginations.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A school tour and more on the blah, blah, blah

D, N and I toured one of the middle schools this week (Cro).

Being inside made me feel much better about it being very crowded (1,400ish students).  I left feeling that N, if she is accepted to the optional program, wouldn't be run down like an armadillo on a Texas highway.

However, it did bring up the issue of whether N, who will leave her elementary school kicking and screaming, would be better at the resides school (Car) for no other reason than that it is small (500ish students).  Would N stand out even more and have greater opportunities in what is offered if she truly is a big fish in a much, much smaller pond?  Would she have an easier time trying out for things and making teams if there isn't 3 times as much competition?

After Halloween the three of us will tour the resides school (Car) and see what kind of feeling we get from that.

Last night D and I attended a 5th grade parent meeting given by the elementary school's two counselors.  It reinforced my feeling that we are doing what is best for N, but one thing ticked me off.  Primarily the divorced parent who asked if her kid could use one address to see if the child could get in one certain school, but then switch back to the other parent's address for the "better" resides school if the child didn't get into the magnet program.

I felt like saying, "I realize this system is screwy, but how about you play by the rules that everyone else has to play by instead of trying to work the system to your advantage?"

It also made me consider my feelings about parents who are only worried about their kid being around the unsavorables.  Even though parents won't admit it, there is a feeling of "I don't want my kids hanging around thugs....um, I mean neighborhood kids."  I suspect this because they ask questions like, "Do the AP students only travel with other AP students?"  Another question that is similar is "Will the 6th graders be around 7th and 8th graders?"  Someone asked whether middle schoolers ever ride the bus with high schoolers.

I have never even thought about that.  I've been all overwrought on what school will fit my kid's intellect and personality.

Do kindergarteners ride the bus with 5th graders?  Yes.
And does all hell break loose?  Um, no.
Are 5th graders sometimes in the hall with 1st graders?  Yes.
And does all hell break loose?  Um, no.

I admit that middle school hall changes are crazy, but I've also been in kindergarten classes and there ain't much difference in the amount of nuts that goes on there.  At least middle schoolers don't wet themselves or cry for their mommas.  I am way more worn out after being around kindergarteners than I ever was around middle schoolers.

As my blog post title indicates, I am getting tired of thinking about and talking about this whole middle school shopping drama topic.  We will be putting this baby to bed very, very soon because I really, really hate shopping.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One hymn and a childhood comes rushing back

This weekend, the church that I've been attending for a bit celebrated its 175th anniversary.  Church members had voted on their favorite hymns which would all be sung/played on this special date.  I didn't vote nor stay up to date on the results because church music, as a general rule, isn't my thing.

Now I do have some church-related songs that I especially like, "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace" being two....both of which were sung this weekend.  But just as I connect with the spiritual in classic literature over the Bible, I tend to find spiritual salve in non-religious music.  Religious music is just too religious for my taste.  Maybe it is my too-analytical mind....if it is too easy to spot the spiritual it just isn't fun and a challenge anymore.

I heard a song that I hadn't heard since I was a child, "Here I Am" by Dan Schutte.  I didn't sing aloud but inside my head I remembered and sang every verse of this tune, which brought up all kinds of weird and mostly unpleasant feelings.

What my head and heart seemed to remember is attending church with my classmates every week, and this was a go-to song since it was easy for kids to sing and remember.  Hearing this song this weekend drudged up how much I felt awkward, disliked amongst my peers, made fun of for my "buddy" shoes, not athletic and therefore not popular.

I remember how, as a kid, I would sing the lyrics almost as a plea to God.  "Hey God, here I am!  Um, I'm happy to do whatever you ask but can you please get these kids to stop being jerks to me????"

Being surrounded each week in church by a whole slew of kids who seemingly hated me (and whom I hated back) didn't really make me love church.  I never could feel the peace of God in the midst of feeling like a pariah.

Of course, as I write this I feel childish because I know my perception of my experience was through a child's lens.  I'm sure it wasn't wholly accurate.  I don't know what my peers actually thought of me.  When I think of my Catholic school experience it is largely through a gray lens of terrible, but in truth I think I had plenty of ok experiences that I have forgotten smattered in with some really crappy ones which I remember larger than life.

It is at once interesting to me and bothersome how so many unrelated things can impact one's spiritual health. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A little closer to coming to terms

Yesterday morning, D, N and I attended the convention of schools in our district.  Every middle and high school has a "booth" and can answer questions, provide information, distribute pamphlets.  One-stop shopping, as it were.

Even though I was most definitely not gung-ho about attending, it did help clarify some things that I already knew about my kid.  I had, though, allowed other people's views to muddy my own original thinking.

N is a bright girl.  Creative and sweet.  She has great test scores.  But ultimately, her personality is not the kind that would allow her to thrive in a setting where there is great competition.  She doesn't want to master any one thing but would rather try a lot of different things.  She admittedly wants to be Peter Pan and is not at all prepared to grow up with anything that resembles enthusiasm.

We are having her take the gifted & talented (G&T) test again next week, but even if her score goes up, D and I determined that the G&T program at a downtown school is not for her.  Even if intellectually her brain is capable of G&T stuff, her spirit and her esteem are not.  She is not a competitive person in the least, with herself or with others.  Grit may come to her as she matures, but she struggles with it now.

All of this means that she will be staying close to home.  She wants to apply to an optional program (Cro) only because her BFF is, and we will let her (even though it rubs me the wrong way).

I would be totally happy if she didn't apply and went to our resides school (Car).  Honestly, after talking with the folks from both schools I really didn't see anything substantial enough between them that I think, "OMG!  Cro offers SO MUCH more stuff and should be an obvious choice!"

There is a 3-point difference in these two schools in state test scores which says more about Car than Cro because Car doesn't hand-select a sizable chunk of its students.  It is a resides school and gets what it gets.  It, like Cro, is in the top 10 middle schools in the district.

If N is admitted to Cro there is no bus transportation, which means we will either have to carpool or D and I will have to take and pick-up every day.  For three years.  Even if Cro does have like 2 additional bells/whistles that Car has, I personally would rather have bus service to my front door.

What all this does is make me yearn for a district in which bells & whistles are offered at all schools so there is none of this rigamarole.  Where there is no hype and no grandiose efforts to make a minor benefit seem like or feel like some GREAT BIG HONKING DEAL.

But I am coming at this from a "my kid is AP" place, and a lot of parents are coming at it from a "my kid is not AP" place.  Ultimately, I have two more kids coming up the ranks, and so their experience will be different from N's.  They might not test into AP classes, and so then I will face a different kind of challenge, although I think there is also tremendous fear and hype about having one's child in a comprehensive or honors class.  It's not Rikers Island, for pete's sake.

I will talk myself down from that drama when the time comes, I guess.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Middle school decision is a lot like ice cream

Something happens to me when I go to Kroger and stand in the ice cream section.  I become paralyzed by indecision, mouth agape.  So much to look at; too many choices.  Trying to manage in my head what is on sale while coordinating conversation with my stomach as to what flavor actually sounds appealing.  (This doesn't often work; I once bought blueberry-pomegranate chocolate chip.)

There is also the dilemma of considering what I think D would like.  I'm not making a decision for just one person, I'm making it for two (and possibly 5 since sometimes the kids like to try a flavor that isn't sprinkle-infused).

Sometimes, if my freezer is particularly full, I also have to wonder about size of container.  Will it actually fit once I get it home? Whether I have a coupon for it or not also comes into play.

I hate buying ice cream.

And I hate this damned school selection ordeal.  (And I say that knowing full-well it is a minor ordeal in the grand scheme of things.  Ebola in Liberia=really, truly big deal.)

In my lazy, ornery, "I don't want to play the game" heart, I want to do absolutely nothing.  I want to send N to our resides school and be done.  Allow my antidepressant to cease working overtime or to just work on Ebola-anxiety.

But, like the ice cream section, it gets complicated when one's child did test into the gifted & talented (G&T) pool, has awesome state-test scores and grades.  When one asks the teacher at conferences, "So, do you think we ought to apply for a magnet or optional program for N?" and are met with the statement, "Oh my g*d, yes!"  When other teachers bring it up to me in the hallway, suggesting we try to get N into certain schools.

It makes me think that I might be a bit of an idiot not to apply for a program that could potentially give her a little something extra, especially when the cost of doing so is her writing an essay.  (There is a slight cost to momma in "playing the game," but I need to get beyond that.)

What makes it more complicated is that N is 1-point away from applying to a special downtown G&T program, and though her school gives the G&T re-test in a week, there is no guarantee she will bridge that 1-point margin.  It seems a little too gambly to me to bet on something like this, a little too assumptive, and I'm highly risk-averse.

So we are left with considering the school that she has a really good shot at of getting into; not a magnet, but one that offers a little more than our resides school.  (This middle school is also the one that lots of parents at my kids' elementary school want to get into because they think it is head-and-shoulders better than the resides school, and that is the rub for me.)

This optional school is the one N wants to get into because her best friend is applying there, and though the adult part of me thinks wanting to go where your friends go is dumb, N is 10 years old, and I would be dumb to not recognize that this plays a huge role for her.

So that is where we stand today, 11 days since my last post on middle school decision-making.

I will be glad when rigor mortis sets into this horse.