Saturday, November 29, 2014

I remember when underwear for Christmas was a horrible gift

When I was a kid, we had a next-door neighbor whom we called Nana.  I remember she would buy us Christmas presents every year.  I also remember the feeling of disappointment because she would buy us underwear.  No kid wants underwear for Christmas.  From anyone. Under any circumstances.

And now, I think fondly on the underwear from Nana because I would LOVE to get undergarments for Christmas.  Like a new, well-fitting bra.

They say adults lose their ability to feel joy or magic, but I disagree. I simply think the things they find joyous and magical change.  Like underwear.  Or a new dishwasher when theirs doesn't work anymore.

D's family does a Christmas gift exchange every year so, for any of them who might have my name and might read this blog and might need this information, here are some suggestions of things I could use:

1. a new bra, which no one will buy me (so a gift card to Victoria's Secret or anyplace that sells nice bras would be fantastic so I could apply it toward a new bra.  I haven't purchased a nice bra for myself since almost 11 years ago.)

2. tall socks (the older I get, the colder I get, so I wear tall socks all winter long.  Including to bed.)

That's it.

I did order myself some new Old Navy long-sleeve t-shirts because most of mine are stained, have holes or are stretched out (and have a new life in my pajama drawer).  I called my mom (who, like me, abhors shopping) and said, "Want to give me some of these shirts for Christmas?"

As soon as the weather turned cold, I bought myself some new house slippers because my previous pair, which N had given me before M was born so I'd have something nice for the hospital, were falling apart.

All of this discussion of practical, boring Christmas desires reminds me of why I am such a terrible shopper.  I am so practical that it sucks the fun out of shopping.  I always think, "Is this useful?" rather than, "Is this a great gift?"

For example, one of the best presents I got for Christmas one year was a pair of rain boots.  I would have eventually bought myself some, but I would have stewed over the purchase because rain boots, while not a luxury item, aren't necessities either.  But I use my rain boots a lot.

The only time when "Is this useful" and "Is this a great gift" coincide is when I buy teacher presents.  I always, always buy gift cards, and I try to buy to locally owned restaurants or find out where the teachers get their hair done.

Ok, I have really bored myself to death by writing this post.  I just better stop.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It is easy to find God in the Bible; takes analysis

Again this year, I have had someone "complain" about the texts I've selected for my cottage school students.  This time, however, it is from a student; one of my 10th graders.

It is a difficult tight-rope to walk, selecting novels for homeschooling families, because while most kids are definitely more immersed in secular culture than I expected (all the boys in my middle school class play the aggressive video games or at least know about them), there are some students who seem more sheltered.

When I select texts, I look at whether they are award winners (Newbery, Pulitzer, Nobel), whether they are considered classics, and whether they are taught at other Christian homeschooling entities.  I then consult with my directors for final approval.

Everything I teach is from a Christian world-view, which isn't too terribly difficult to do given how all of them deal with ethically/morally difficult concepts: revenge, murder, betrayal, pride, infidelity, suffering, discrimination, etc.

After I learned about this student's moral problems with The Great Gatsby, I spoke with my middle schoolers and 9th/10th graders about my favorite class from college, a course called Theology in Modern Literature.  We read texts in which characters question God (Walker Percy's The MovieGoer) or struggle to find God within the suffering of life (Albert Camus The Plague).

I asked my students to consider the poor choices of characters they've read about (either last year in my class or this year):
Frankenstein--acting like God
The Count of Monte Cristo--seeking revenge; acting like God
The Odyssey--murder, mayhem, infidelity
To Kill a Mockingbird--racism, gossip
Medea--murder, revenge
The Great Gatsby--infidelity, drinking to excess, manslaughter
Maniac Magee--racism
Nothing But the Truth--outright lying or mismanaging the truth
Hatchet--divorce, infidelity

I then asked them to consider whether all of these poor choices made in these books are also made by people from the Bible.  The answer was a definite yes.

One student said, "Yes, but the Bible tells us not to do those things."  And I agree with her.  It is easy to know what God wants us to do if we read the Bible.

But I asked whether any of the secular texts we read encourage us to engage in these behaviors?  They do not.  They, too, serve as lessons of the pain, discomfort, and moral conundrums of poor choices.

God is in these texts, serving to help us understand other people's choices, their judgments, their weaknesses.  We have to work harder to find God in the works, and that is the point of the tools I give them for analysis.  We have to really think about our beliefs, about world beliefs, about what is right and wrong, what is compassionate, how Jesus would react to these characters.

And that, I think, is what living in the real world is like.  Life isn't black and white.  It is, most of the time, full-on gray.  Complex, difficult, forcing us to really think carefully about our beliefs and how we are going to choose to live.

Reading the Bible is good, but sometimes it causes us to too easily think and act in platitudes, to forget that in real life finding God is not obvious or easy.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson and "The Lady, or the Tiger"

My middle school students read the story, "The Lady, or the Tiger" by Frank Stockton, and we spent our last class of this semester talking about the narrator's suggestion, "Its perfect fairness is obvious."

We talked about how the king leaves the decision up to "chance" except for the fact that he decides who even goes into the arena, which is an act of judgment in itself.

We talked about what fairness means, specifically whether it would be fair for me to divide a meal and give each of my children (ages 10, 7 and 5) each 33.33% of it.  My students argued this would not be fair because the calorie requirements of my pre-teen are greater than the calorie requirements of the 5-year-old.

We then spent time comparing the king's system of justice with the US justice system (Miranda rights, judges and juries, etc).  We discussed which system is more "fair," and whether there are still unfair things that could be in the more "fair" system.

And so, today, in light of the Ferguson decision, the fallout from it, and the comments of FB as to the fallout, I am thinking about this story and wondering what is fair.  I have no answers; I rarely do.  I have questions, considerations.

I am thinking about how difficult it must be to be a police officer, to put yourself in potentially dangerous situations as part of your job, and not shoot to kill (in light of the human instinct for survival).

I am thinking about how difficult it must be to be an unarmed young black man who feels a constant threat and burden from law enforcement, and society at large, simply because he is black.

I am thinking about a community of law enforcement families who want their officers to survive each day.

I am thinking about a community of blacks who feel grief followed by a slight by the justice system.

I am thinking the Ferguson situation seems a lot more like the Frank Stockton story than I'd ever considered.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Here ye, here ye! Be-ist a d*ck to thou parents hath commenced!

Yesterday was a bad, bad day.  D was removing photos from my computer so I couldn't access phone numbers to call and do interviews or edit my articles or blog here to decompress.

It began when I picked up N from her sleepover.  We walked into our home and within 2 minutes she came to me holding her camera.
"Look!" she said, holding it out to me.
"What?" I replied.
"The batteries aren't here!" she responded.
"YOU have to go back and get them!" she said full of ire and snot.

Uh-uh sister.  I don't take commands from a 10-year-old whom I just drove home from said sleepover.  A 15-20 minute drive that I just.made.

I could blame her tone on tiredness or the inevitable fall from having fun to resorption into "real boring life at home" (I seem to remember that feeling when I was a kid post-sleepover at friends' houses).

On the drive home, I had told her she needed to take a shower and clean up her room when we got home.  So I told her that once she had taken her shower and cleaned up her room, I would go get the battery (knowing full-well this would occur hours and hours later if it even happened at all that day since my daughter is a profound procrastinator and putzer).

There was grumbling and eye-rolling and all other unsavory behavior on her part, which resulted in me yelling that her behaving in such a way probably wasn't going to induce me to want to help her.

So I am without my computer, and my daughter has just treated me like a poop dropping.  Good times.

The boys start haranguing me for candy, which I think is their way of saying, "Hey mom, we missed you!  Dad ignores us, and we see your discipline as an act of love and care so please discipline us so we are reminded of how instilling boundaries is a way of showing parental adoration."


N later asked me for my help in cleaning up her room, but when I came in and started giving directives she balked, at which point I told her a variety of the following:
1. Don't ask for my help and then complain about what I instruct you to do to clean up your room.
2. The next time I can't vacuum in here on a Thursday because there is so much stuff on the floor I am picking it up, bagging it and taking it to Goodwill.
3. Silence accompanied by the sound of me turning on the vacuum and rolling it, causing her to quickly throw crap onto her bed.  Ultimately, I just want to vacuum the fricking floor and really don't care about her feelings anymore.


This was followed by the psychotic 5-year-old who wanted me to bring a poster over to him (the poster is on our kitchen floor since the boys like to look at it) while he was making a card for his cousin's birthday.  I refused (because honestly, given the day I've had, I really have no energy left).

I showed him how he could get his butt up, walk himself, his paper and his marker to the poster, and sit on the floor to finish the card.  His response was to scratch out what he'd done and throw a big fit.  My response was to say, "You may stay outside until you can be in the house without screaming" and placed him on the front porch (and locked the door).

I don't spank my children, but I will toss their butts outside and refuse re-entry if they cannot control themselves within these walls.  (I went out and took a walk myself during the day in my own effort to "give myself a time out."  Later I went running errands (another mommy time-out).  I would give myself time-outs within my home but my children follow me and bang on doors.)


Shortly after, we got the kids in the car to head to my nephew's, which resulted in the 5-year-old screaming for most of the ride there and kicking the windows because, according to him, I was mean since I didn't let him finish his card (that he had scratched out and ruined because I wouldn't deliver the poster to his lazy butt).

This is what I went off the pill for?

It was a case of bizarro world because G, the child who normally presses every button, was seemingly normal compared to the other two.

I am hoping that today is a better day.  

Discipline (and my sick sense of enjoying it)

I am not a procrastinator.  If I am told today that I need to do something (and it is due in 2 weeks), it bothers me that I couldn't start working on it yesterday.  I'm totally one of those annoying people, but my editor loves me.

It isn't something I strive for and work hard to be.  Putting stuff off feels painful, and getting it done gives me infinite peace.

Wednesday night we put the kids to bed as usual.  About 15 minutes after turning out N's light, she came downstairs crying.  Full-on "someone just stole my dog" crying.  I couldn't imagine why.

She said her math study guide was due Friday, and she wasn't finished.  We had plans for me to take her on Thursday night to her school's skate party, so I said, "Well, I guess you don't go to the skate party."

Bear in mind, she'd had the entire previous weekend and a full SNOW DAY on Monday when she could have worked on it.  She had mentioned something about it to me, but I don't keep tabs on her work.  In 5th grade, she should be able to stay on top of what is due without me hovering.  My goal is to put myself out of a job as nanny goat for my three children, so helicoptering is not something I'm interested in.

When I said, "No skate party," that resulted in more tears, and I am not sympathetic to crying about a situation you brought on yourself (which is probably how people feel about me when I complain about motherhood and how being around my kids all the time blows).

D, who IS a procrastinator and can understand N's situation better than I ever could, suggested if she could get it done before Thursday at 5:30 then she could go to the skate party (she did have about half of it done, so she wasn't starting from scratch).

I grudgingly agreed to this although I admit to wanting there to be some kind of punishment simply for being a dumb-ass.  She had her fun last weekend and on Monday's snow day, so I wanted her to understand that there is a cost, and she had better learn the art of prioritizing her time and activities.  I told her if she putzed around one.single.second when she got off the bus on Thursday we would not go.

Her desire to attend the skate party motivated her to complete it in a way that I found satisfactory, but I told her if she does it again, she would (without any doubt or hesitation on my part) NOT get to do whatever fun thing she had planned.

Maybe there is something wrong with me but I don't feel any compulsion to save my children from situations of their own making.  I think I lack a sympathy gene or an empathy gene or maybe I don't know how to love people properly?  My heart doesn't break in half at the thought of my children learning a life lesson or having to step up to the plate and take responsibility for themselves.

A month or so ago, when N forgot her orchestra instrument and called me from school asking if I'd bring it, I didn't for one second want to take the discomfort off her hands.  I sorta enjoyed having her squirm a bit.  I was going up to her school for a meeting that day, but I sorta wished that I wasn't so I wouldn't have any reason for bringing the instrument.  To not bring it when I would be there would be cruel, but to make a special trip would be saving her.  I told her, "Since I am coming up there anyway, I will bring it, but I will NOT DO THIS AGAIN."

The next time she forgot her instrument at home, I did not get a worried, frantic call from her.  I guess she knew I really meant it.

Maybe when the next math assignment coincides with skate party week, she'll know I mean it then too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The last word on middle schools (maybe)

Last night we visited our resides middle school's Open House (CarMS).  Having never set foot in the building, I didn't know what to expect.

I liked it.

I liked the fact that the halls are wide, and the space feels open.  I liked that the teachers talked about the content they teach.  I like that this middle school is smaller than my kids' current elementary school (by about 200 students) and three times smaller than CrosMS.  I like that they send many of their students to the regional science fair, and that sixth graders make robots in a technology class.  I like that there is bus service to my house.

I liked the "feel" of CarMS more than I liked the "feel" of "CrosMS."

But, I'm letting go of this one.  All my daughter can see is "where is my BFF going."  And that is ok.

I felt something similar when I selected my high school, although mine was "Wherever the biggest assh*les from my elementary school/middle school are not going is where I want to be."

I have made it very, very clear to N, however, that if she wants to attend CrosMS, then SHE is responsible for doing the work to apply.  I'm not asking teachers for recommendation letters.  I'm not asking for grades.  I'm not writing an essay or bugging her to write an essay.

I am perfectly a-ok with her going to the resides where I don't have to do squat to apply.

The onus is on her (which actually feels quite hard on me, but I think that is called "letting go" or "tough love" or something of that sort).  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Snow day for a kid with sensory issues (and a mom with a mood disorder)

Today is a snow day, and though I would prefer my two oldest kids be in school, I was ok.  Not particularly out of sorts.

The boys played video games in the morning, and N was happy watching old episodes of The Wizards of Waverly Place on Netflix.  I went through some school papers to recycle and used the Dremel tool to cut holes in some dried gourds with the intention of having the kids paint them and make them bird feeders.

In a lull, the kids decided they wanted to go outside to play in the snow, which led to the ordeal, from which I am still trying to recover a few hours after the fact.  Parents of kids with sensory processing problems know about the ordeal of winter dressing.

N and M just put on their ski pants, their coats, mittens and boots and head outside.
G is an altogether different matter that involves at least two episodes of tears for him and a surge in my blood pressure that lasts for hours.

I got his snow pants on with minimal squirming because I reminded him that I would pull his inner pants' legs down.  He wanted to wear the liner of his jacket, so I put that on him and then put the coat on top of it.  He became upset because he wanted the liner attached to the jacket; the liner zipper was touching his face and bothering him.  Now this could have easily been done without him disrobing, but the zipper set him off so much that he had to take both off.  Crying ensued, so he had to calm down.

When I got them on again (with the liner attached to the jacket), he then began complaining about his sleeves, so I pulled his shirt sleeves down inside his liner and jacket.

He complained about the boots next because they hurt the inside of his foot, which I had tried to prevent by putting him in high calf socks.

And then it was mitten time.  Even though he is 7 years old, I cannot buy G gloves because getting his fingers inside the slots is just a sensory nightmare.  He still has problems even getting his thumbs into their slots in the mittens.  And then there is the dilemma of fitting the gloves underneath the coat ends so he doesn't get snow down inside his globes.  The coat ends have to be snapped or he gets upset.

After who knows how long doing this, he and I headed outside.  The kids played, and I shoveled the drive.  In the 15-20 minutes that I shoveled the drive G came to me no less than 5 times to complain about his gloves, his boots coming undone, his gloves coming off again, snow in his hood (because he refused to wear a hat because it bothers him), and a knot being tied in the rope of the sled (which he couldn't stand either).

Basically, one minor thing sets him off which is followed by everything setting him off for a good long time.

I know he can't help it.  I totally empathize because I have my own clothing sensory issues.  But I'm never in a good place when my "routine" is interrupted (by a snow day or sickness or anything), and having to attempt to appease and settle a child who is freaking out about how a texture feels is unsettling because sometimes there is nothing I can do to make it not feel weird.

In my effort to decompress, I did find this, which made me feel better.

His worst and my worst (needing routine and not being able to get out of a bad mood once one has settled upon me) coincide on days like this to make it feel much longer than what it actually is.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The next year is gonna be busy

cause I'm pregnant.

Just kidding....
although the last time I took an online class through the University of Wisconsin to renew my teaching certificate I found out I was pregnant and had to tolerate horrible nausea and dry heaving while studying developmental reading.

If that happens again, a certain urologist is going DOWN.

In January I will take a UW course to acquire 3 of my 6 graduate hours of credit for certificate renewal.  It sounds interesting---Mobile Learning Instructional Design.  I decided to take it to catch myself up technology-wise with my students and learn some cool applications that I can work into my instruction.

Next summer, I will take an adolescent psychology class locally (at my alma mater) to complete the 6 hours of state-required certification renewal, 3 hours of which will count toward my secondary education certification.

Next fall I will possibly take the second class at my alma mater toward secondary ed. certification.  I figure since I have to take graduate classes anyway for renewal (since I don't teach full-time), I might as well put them toward a new certification.  This class will require some field time, but all the kids will be in full-time school then so I won't have to worry about child-care.

Provided I don't get the boot from my current cottage school position, I will continue teaching 2 or 3 literature courses.

Oh, and when the magazine calls, I'll likely pick up some freelance stuff too.

The kids are at an age where they don't really want me to play with them, so I am just around.  Available for stuff if I'm needed, but otherwise just spending my time puttering, and I am generally not good at finding puttering-type stuff to do.  I don't clean clean or any of that nonsense.

Coursework, planning lessons and freelancing tend to be good puttering stuff for me, that I can drop in and out of without too much trouble.  I sit and read until needed, or I search the web for teaching ideas until needed, or I write a bit of an article until needed.

Plus, I don't watch television, so unless I want to go to bed at 8:30 every night when the kids go to bed, I need something to do with a couple hours per night.

I am nervous about all this, though, if for no other reason than that it is transitioning me into life with all the kids in full-time school.  In 2015, I will have been a stay-at-home mom for 11 years.  Even though I'm doing the cottage school gig, I am only away from the house not even 1 full day a week.  Most of my time is still spent with one of my children.

It will feel really weird to have so much time to concentrate on improving me.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

All our kids are weird

My three and however many you have.  They are all weird.

For a long time, it was difficult for me to disengage myself from my kids.  If they acted weird or oddly shy or behaved in a way that was embarrassing, it really bothered me.  I was too tied up in the whole "this child doing whatever he/she is doing is a reflection of me" idea.

Maybe due to G's occupational therapy and his particular oddness, which really isn't that odd or unusual given some of the other kids I see floating in and out of OT, I have let that idea go.  Instead, I have adopted a "my kids are weird but so are everyone else's" idea.

I write a lot about G's weirdness simply because it is 1. so similar to my own weirdness (and therefore very challenging for me) and 2. requires outside assistance in the form of therapies.

But the other two kids are also weird.

One thing I find really strange about N is her self esteem.  She isn't terribly coordinated, limber or naturally athletically skilled, and yet she will do some weird leg lift and say to us, "I am so good at gymnastics" or "I am so limber."  She took one year of dance lessons when she was 4.  She will now do a turn and say, "I am such a good dancer."

I just sorta stare blankly at her.  I might sorta say, "Uh-huh" with a slight questioning tone at the end.

It drives me a little bit crazy, this self-esteem based on delusion.  Not that she couldn't become more skilled and talented in the physical realm with dedication and considerable practice, but she comes across to me like an idiot when she says this stuff (especially since she has shown zero motivation to actually train and practice in order to be more skilled).

Having high self-esteem is great, but sometimes I worry she comes across like a turd if she says this kind of junk very often to other people.  (And I know she does because I've heard her say stuff like, "I am really awesome at this song" to her piano teacher even though she is still clunking along the keys.)

I don't talk to her about it because I don't want to knock her down; life will do that on its own.  But I definitely don't praise her for things that don't honestly deserve any kind of praise.  Wow, you can sorta lift your completely bent leg up into an Elaine Bennis like dance move.  Bravo!

M is newly 5, so his weirdness is just now coming to fruition.

Next week he'll be screened for speech therapy (having both our nurse at the clinic and his preschool teacher ask two days apart, "Have you ever looked into speech for him?).  After taking our preschool music class since August and being in his second year of preschool, he is just now (in November and after being talked to about it) starting to participate and talk to his teacher when asked a direct question.  He has a strong embarrassment streak and takes an unusually long time to warm up to people, which is unlike his siblings and therefore weird (at least to me).

Accepting their weirdness has made me both more accepting of my own children for who they are and who they probably won't ever be and more understanding and compassionate to other parents whose kids are differently weird from my own.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Our visit to Appalachia

The week has been a blur (hence my lack of blogging) due to our visit this past weekend to Appalachia to see Papaw Chester's two sisters.  I have been playing catch-up.

Papaw will be 90 next month.  His sister, Barb, is 85.  His youngest sister, Juanita (whom everyone calls Dude because the kids in the family could never pronounce Juanita), is 84 and in poor health.  I'm not sure what her official diagnosis is, but it is in the realm of dementia/Alzheimer's.

The sisters never married and live in the house in which they grew up.  Papaw lived in that house as a child, and when he married Mamaw Mollie, he built them a house directly across the street from his childhood home.  Straight up from the house he built is a mountain.  There is no yard; only rock.  Mamaw (D's mom) lived in Island Creek until she was 13. I think she was 10 years old before they had indoor plumbing.

The house that Papaw built, and the house that Mamaw (my MIL) grew up in.

I had been wanting to visit there for years, to see where Mamaw and Papaw Chester grew up, to get a sense of what life was like in the mountains.  I have been hearing the stories for 17 years, and I also wanted the kids to have a chance to see where part of their family is from.   My children are so very fortunate to have a living great grandparent and great, great aunts.

Having never been to Appalachia I didn't know what to expect, really, although I anticipated quite a bit of podunk.  It wasn't as bad as I thought.  They did watch local channel gospel music shows all day on Sunday.  At one point, G leaned over and mouthed out This is terrible! to Mamaw.

It was cool to learn that Papaw Chester's parents are buried at the top of the mountain down the road.   It was cool to see the church where they attended and see the spot where Mamaw's 2-room school was (it is now a valley filled with trailer homes).  It was cool to hear Papaw tell of how he would cross the creek by horse as a kid.  How he climbed the mountain on which his parents are now buried to mine coal.

Papaw Chester's childhood home, and the mountain right behind it.

The house that Papaw Chester's mother had grown up in, just a little ways down the road.

I was already in love with Papaw Chester, and this visit just upped my "I adore Papaw" feeling.

However, as much as I loved learning about the family, there was sadness too.

Barb, at 85, is struggling to take care of Dude.  Dude said repeatedly most of the time we were there, "Theys some pretty fellas."  She forgets that she has eaten and insists on eating more.  She fell (or slid off the bed) 2 times while we were there.  The first was Sunday evening, and EMS had to be called to get her off the floor (since Barb, Mamaw, Papaw Chester and N couldn't do it; me, D and the boys stayed at a hotel).  On Sunday morning when the four of us arrived back at the house, Dude was on the floor again. D and I got her back up, but it was awkward and tiring.

The house is, more or less, falling apart due to its age, the age of its owners and their lack of money to pay for repairs.

Sadly, I took the opportunity to visit now because it probably won't be available too much longer.

The kids, despite the gospel tv show and the smell of cat litter and the ceiling plaster falling in and no toys, were well behaved and even had fun.  M and G goofed off outside, playing on a decrepit swingset, smacking tree stumps with sticks and crossing over the small creek that runs beside the house.  N was happy to dress her dolls.

Playing with rotten apples.

It brought me great happiness to watch G and M playing on the living room floor with their great grandfather, who had also played on the floor with his brother (now deceased) when he was a boy, watching them.

Returning to the roots of a family is always both a happy and sad journey.