Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Posts tagged ‘Kids’

Turn of the Wheel

My children are spending 40 days away from home and from me, traveling out west with my parents via motor-home to see Yellowstone National Park; Devil’s Tower (that odd natural structure featured in the closing sequence of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”); the city of Cody, Wyoming; and the Teton mountain range. My mom’s been wanting to take them out west for years, just as she took us out west on a mega, 3 month, summer-spanning, road-trip-of-a-lifetime when we were kids, and this summer, the timing was just right. So we dropped them off at my parents’ motor-home on July 6th and will not see them again until August 15th.

Those of you keeping score might remember that it was but two short summers ago that John was gone in Africa for 45 days – days I thought I would handle like a champ but which instead gave me a weird, unpleasant, and hopefully never-repeated glimpse into spouse-less life, followed a few months later by a bout of full-blown depression. Needless to say, although I wanted the girls to have this travel experience, I was not so sure how I would handle it.

Tomorrow marks the half-way point of the girls’ trip out west, so it is with relief and amazement that I can report that – I don’t miss them! I know that sounds horrible so let me explain before social services comes knocking on my door. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE both my girls and treasure these fleeting years of their childhood. I’ve talked to them every few days over the phone, I will be super glad to see them in person when they get home, and I wouldn’t trade motherhood for anything in the world. But parenting is a job where you rarely get a day’s vacation, let alone more than a month’s worth. I am well aware that this is a huge treat that many never experience – and I’m enjoying it!

The first few days without them were just…weird. Three days in, I was still talking to ghosts.

“Look – here’s the border to Maine!”

“Does anyone need to stop at this rest area to pee?”

“Do NOT run down that path – you’ll fall and get hurt!”

“No, you may NOT fill your pockets with rocks.”

(Apparently, it takes a while for the mental mompatter to subside.)

As sentimental as I am, I have never been one to mourn days gone by. I never pined for my grade school years though I had fun at my 20th high school reunion. I enjoyed college but I doubt I’d have the patience to run the educational gauntlet again. Being single was NEVER all it was cracked up to be – especially when you marry your best friend.  I loved having babies, and I enjoyed every stage of their early childhood, but I was always ready to move on to new challenges. That “baby lust” others talk about? Never felt it. I was and am GLAD to be done with diapers and bulky strollers.

But this extended time without kids is like a complete throwback to our early married days, like we’ve stepped into some malfunctioning time machine that threw us into the past with one foot still in the present.  Our 11 day road-trip trip to Canada without kids was soooo incredibly relaxing. We saw whatever was wanted to see, ate what and where-ever we wanted to without worrying about what was on the kid menu or how late someone would be kept up. We sat on a beach and watched the waves roll up until we felt like leaving. We snacked on the bed and watched TV just because we could!

Twice we were around kids that were not our own. We ignored tantrums, played games, and indulged in silliness without a thought of the consequences. We watched other people being parents and thought, “yep…that’s how it goes. How NICE that we don’t have to do that right now!” It was glorious – a glimpse, perhaps, into potential future grandparent-hood.

Now we are home and here are a few things I never even realized I missed about that former life when we were a childless couple:

1. Eating in the family room on the couch without worrying about spills.

2. Staying up late and sleeping in late to compensate.

3. The quiet.

4. Going out together without worrying about a babysitter.

5. Making a trip to the grocery store that lasted us a week & didn’t involve a list.

6. The quiet.

7. Buying small quantities of food instead of the “family pack” sizes.

8. Doing a week and a half’s worth of laundry in a single day.

9. The quiet.

10. The house only gets messy if I mess it up.

Life seems to have a way of turning back upon itself though. John goes back to work tomorrow and soon the girls will return home.  School will start with its routines, commitments, and busy schedules, and these carefree throwback days will be a distant memory. But this period seems like a tantalizing taste of our “empty nest” future, of what retirement might be like. I think we’re gonna like it!

For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her

If you met me on the street, you’d think I’m a normal run-of-the-mill human being. But don’t be fooled, because sometimes I am two people inside my head. We’ll call them Miss Rational and Miss Emotional.  Well, Miss R and Miss E got into a big ole fight today. I’ll give you a glimpse into the conversation once you have the backstory.

Our 11 year old is in the 6th grade gifted program in our district.  She worked a year and half to get in, usually missing the required standardized test scores by one or two points.  Making it into the program mid-way through the school year last year was a huge accomplishment for her and she was THRILLED.  She was also excited for this quarter’s subject: guided independent research on a topic of her choosing, which was Alaskan Wolves.

The quarter started around November 1st, but by Thanksgiving we got a head’s up from the teacher that 11yo wasn’t turning in stages of the required assignments. We are very hands-off parents with regard to homework, but we stepped in at this point to help guide and coach our chronically disorganized and potentially overwhelmed young student.

Fast forward to today: project and presentation due date when, in the car on the way to school, I discover that the centerpiece of her research, a telephone interview with a gentleman from the Alaskan government who works with wildlife, was omitted from her bibliography.  I was already struggling to keep my mouth shut about the lack of reference to this interview in her presentation, but when I heard it wasn’t even listed in her bibliography of sources, I hit the roof. “Take out the bibliography and WRITE IT IN,” I bellowed.  It was at this inopportune time that she discovered she hadn’t even printed out and included the bibliography, a major requirement of the project.

I cried all the way home, heartsick, while Miss E and Miss R took it to the mat inside my head.

One interpretation of Miss E and Miss R

Miss E: How completely embarrassing.

Miss R: What? Why? It wasn’t YOUR project.

Miss E: It’s incomplete per the rubric, it had PENCIL on the final project info board, it’s uncreative, she’s ill-prepared – and it shows.  It’s a complete DISASTER.

Miss R: It’s not your project.

Miss E: I’m the parent, it reflects on me.  People will think I’m a bad parent who can’t motivate my child to be responsible and follow directions. Worse, I’m a STAY-AT-HOME parent – parenting is my JOB.

Miss R: Every kid goes through this and besides, grades don’t matter.

Miss E: She’s had this organizational “issue” since kindergarten. This isn’t a one-time thing – it’s an ongoing problem. She should have this organizational thing figured out by now.  She has great teachers, involved (but not OVER involved) parents, and all the tools she needs. And grades are only unimportant in theoretical discussions on Twitter. We all know that in the real world, GRADES MATTER.

Miss R: Remember your 5th grade book report and poster on Daniel Boone that you did ENTIRELY the night before? Hmmm? You were the poster child for procrastination. And grades DON’T matter. Learning matters.

Miss E: Demonstrating learning matters.  She didn’t demonstrate it. Don’t tell me grades don’t matter.  Are you saying that 4.0 MBA I have is irrelevant? I worked HARD to earn those grades. And I learned not to procrastinate because the alternative was even more uncomfortable.

Miss R: (amused) So you don’t procrastinate anymore?

Miss E: Shut up.

Miss R: She’s bright, she’s creative, she’s imaginative, she’s kind-hearted, she’s thoughtful, and yes – she’s a bit scattered and disorganized. She sometimes can’t focus because her mind goes in a million directions. Everyone has issues of some sort.

Miss E: (dismissively) Yes, yes – she’s a great kid – but she has FAILED this project.  She did this in some of her regular classes, too, so this will be her worst report card EVER. She’ll never get into the magnet school for the arts to which she is applying with those grades.

Miss R: So what if she fails this project?  The gifted class isn’t graded. Maybe she’ll have learned from it. And a few B’s or lower on the report card aren’t the end of the world.  If she doesn’t get into that school, she doesn’t.  Life goes on.

Miss E: It would have been so much BETTER if I had done the project. It would have been complete and TOTALLY creative and top notch.

Miss R: It’s not your project.  You had your chance.  And what would she learn if you covered for her?

Miss E: The project would have rocked, and I’d’ve felt better about it.

Miss R:  Not in the long run.

Miss E: Nothing is solved.

Miss R: Nothing ever is.  Correct one weakness and another will emerge.

Miss E: Life sucks sometimes.

Miss R: Yep. Sometimes. That’s life.

Happy Mothers’ Day

In honor of Mothers’ Day, I thought I’d share some good news I read on CNN a few weeks ago. This article states that recent CDC surveys have found that 3 out of 4 new moms now breastfeed their babies, which is the highest rate of nursing in at least 20 years. Overall, about 77% of new mothers breastfeed, up 15% from 15 years ago.

This is great news since nursing is indisputably the most healthy course for both moms and babies. I have great sympathy for the small percentage of moms who cannot nurse due to medical or physical problems and I feel sorry for those who try to nurse but give up in frustration because they don’t receive – or know they can seek – lactation guidance, knowledge, or advice. But I have no words for mothers who don’t even consider trying to nurse because they feel it is inconvenient, cosmetically damaging, or unseemly. Newsflash: children are inconvenient, time itself is cosmetically damaging, and why the heck do you think you have mammary glands in the first place?!

Personally, breastfeeding was the most amazing, incredible experience of mother power I will probably ever experience. The ability to literally sustain another human being on my milk alone for months on end was mind blowing! I nursed each of my girls for 14 months and was honestly disappointed when that era came to an end.

By the way, while browsing the CDC’s website for the original data (which I never found), I stumbled on this website that lists interesting facts about US mothers and motherhood culled from various sources.

Happy Mothers’ Day to all moms out there!

A Hard Week at Home

The last week of parenting has been trying. On Monday afternoon, the 30 minute Suzuki violin practice with the 6 and a half year old took 90 minutes to complete. Tuesday morning, I turned into my usual morning version of Mr. Hyde (as in Dr. Jekyll and) to get her onto the bus on time. This morning, I discovered that the 8 and a half year old has been lying – again, for the last two weeks daily – about eating breakfast. And it’s sneakier now, as she leaves a bowl with cereal remains in it on the counter AS IF she ate something. I love being a mom, but this week, not so much!

For those of you who don’t know the violin story and might be thinking that I am some kind of over-achieving, push-my-kid-into-every-activity-imaginable kind of parent, Megan started talking out of the blue about playing violin when she was 2 and a half. Really. Right after Christmas of 2003, she started talking about asking Santa for a violin the next year so she could learn to play. She also started identifying instruments on an orchestra placemat she had by saying, “There’s a flute, there’s a drum, there’s a bassoon like Aunt Dawn plays, and there’s the violin I’m going to learn to play…” We thought it was cute, but didn’t pay much attention. After all, she was 2 and a half years old and no one we knew played the violin. We figured she’d seen it on Sesame Street or something and was momentarily obsessed.

Six months later, she was STILL talking about learning to play the violin. We decided that there might be something to her interest, so we explored our options and ended up at the Western Reserve Suzuki School in the fall of 2004. We’ve been there ever since.

Now, Megan LOVES to play the violin; she just doesn’t usually like to practice. And Meg has the Schinker family charm in spades. Ever heard the saying, “She could sell snow to an eskimo?” That’s Megan – and the side that most people see most of the time. As a result, very few people believe that she can throw a tantrum (and I mean the throw-yourself-on-the-floor-and-scream-at-the-top- of-your-lungs type of tantrum) to rival ANYONE. And that’s what she did Monday night for the umpteenth time.

And Emily and breakfast – argh!! She started getting up half an hour earlier so she’d have some quiet time to herself in the morning and more time to get ready for school. As a result, she eats breakfast by herself I usually get up 20 minutes or so after her). After eating oatmeal and nothing else for breakfast for literally years, she decided last fall that she didn’t like oatmeal anymore. Totally understandable to me! So we went to the grocery together and she picked out a new cereal – the ONLY thing she found that she wanted for breakfast.

But somehow, she doesn’t like that cereal now, can’t find any others to try, and refuses to eat anything but toast with cinnamon and sugar. Even THAT wouldn’t be so bad (though I am generally against lots of sugar for breakfast on a regular basis), except that the child likes no dairy except Nestles chocolate milk and one slice of cheese in her lunch. Letting her eat cinnamon and sugar toast with chocolate milk for breakfast every morning seems wrong to me, but I am coming to think that it might be better than the alternative of no breakfast (which I haven’t let here do), the return of Mommy Hyde, or the lying that I suspect is arising from her determination to NOT eat food she doesn’t like and still avoid yelling mommy syndrome.

I have worked – and continue to work DAILY – at being a patient parent, but this week I am definitely behind in the count. It’s a good thing Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend…(-:

Learning Today

This article on the Taste of Tech blog states, “I worry about how K-12 education can remain relevant and engaging as we continue to filter out anything that’s not on a test.”

The information may remain relevant, but not engaging. I think that’s why kids start to view school as a chore by 4th or 5th grade. (You hardly ever hear kids in lower grades complain about going to school – they almost all start out loving it). We have already seen a dramatic increase in testing and teaching to the test materials this year with our 3rd grader. Grades, test scores, and levels all matter to her a lot more now than they did last year.

The way in which material is typically presented slows down the learning process in an age when there is so much more to learn and so many more ways to learn it. Listening to a lecture IS typically boring. But creating dynamic, interactive, multi-sensory learning is hard within the current school structures of fixed class periods, divided subject matter, and fact memorization. Heck, I can’t even make a one hour Sunday School class interesting to 7th through 12th graders! I can’t imagine trying to do it day after day for a 6 hour school day. (This is why I’m not a school teacher, so don’t get too worried).

What’s worse is that parents are blocking educational progress as much as anyone. The attitude I see weekly is that “if my kid ISN’T being taught the same way I was, there must be something wrong with the school or teacher.” The reality is that if your kid IS being taught the same way, that’s the larger problem. It is hard to imagine a better way to learn than the one you personally experienced. After all, we came out ok, didn’t we? But the world today is FAR different than the one in which we grew up.

My kids are still talking about visiting Plimouth Plantation last summer, where they got to see, taste, smell, Megan Grinds Maizetouch, and live life in 1628. Before they went, they watched the PBS Kids show “Fetch with Ruff Ruffman” where they watched other kids complete reality-tv-show-like challenges in Plimoth. So when they got there, there was huge satisfaction in being somewhere they’d seen on tv.

Then last fall, our 1st grader studied Plimoth at school with the incredible Mrs. Hricik. She taught our daughter and her class even more about that time in history through an interactive game, online research, hands-on building experiment, food tasting, and team activity that captured for the kids the emotional, human side of the pilgrims’ story. It was all capped with a program for parents and relative consisting of a series of short skits interspersed with factual presentations for those kids not as interesting in acting.

The beauty of this type of teaching is that it was relevant to a 1st grader’s perspective, engaged all types of learners in the class, involved all their senses in the learning, used a variety of media, and captured the human experience. You can bet the kids in this class will remember this info in context for years to come – and not because they needed to know it for any test. THIS is TRUE learning.

It’s also why we parents have to be engaged in our children’s education from day one. Children are natural scientists and eager learners. My kids were learning in formal and informal ways years before they started school. Learning happens through play, travel, experimentation, and observation of the world around us. It happens when we talk about something that just happened that wasn’t planned or expected. Learning doesn’t stop after school or in the summer. Learning happens in the tiny questions that pop up unexpectedly as we spend time together. This is self-guided learning; it is this type of learning that is lost when children spend more hours in daycare than they do at home with parents who care about answering the incessant barrage of questions that everyday life raises for younger children.

No Books to Read

This article on CNN today was supposed to be a quick read, but it stopped me in my tracks. This man from Ethiopia received a $1200 grant twenty-two years ago to buy books for the children in his home country – but he couldn’t because there weren’t any books written in the language. Can you imagine that? NO BOOKS written in that language, and no books relating the stories, poems, songs, history, and culture of an entire people. That boggles my mind.

So what did he do? He became an author! Bravo. He has since established a children’s library of 15,000 books in Ethiopia.

This story reminded me not to take for granted the vast wealth of knowledge and access to knowledge that my family and I enjoy every day.

Baby, You CAN Drive My Car!

We need to redefine “education” in this country and we need to do it NOW.

Education in the 21st century must NOT emphasize memorization of facts and figures. Back in the 19th century (and even into the early 20th) information was not easily accessible – books were still a cherished sign of wealth – so it made sense for schools to drill facts and figures which might be needed later into children’s heads. Plus, far fewer people were formally educated, so there were fewer people able to personally pass information on to their children.

Society and culture have changed dramatically in the last 100 years. Information is readily available in books, at libraries, and online. Facts don’t need to be memorized, but they DO need to be retrieved efficiently. Education needs teach people how to retrieve the information they need and assimilate it with what they already know. In other words, education needs to teach people how to learn.

I touched on this subject back in August in my blog post titled “Old School Skills” when I argued that though learning to alphabetize is an important foundation skill, being able to look words up in a dictionary isn’t.

Now, I do believe that a certain basic body of factual knowledge is necessary for efficiency. Kids need to quickly recognize by sight commonly used words so they can spend their time comprehending the meaning of the text instead of sounding out. Knowing basic “math facts” quickly allows you the freedom to do more complex math more efficiently. A grasp of a general timeline of basic American and world history helps you see the bigger social picture. These are still “facts” that education should teach.

But over and over again, I interact with adults who rely on their knowledge of facts and have never learned how to learn. The “Taste of Tech” blog has a fantastic entry on this topic.

As an educator, I LOVE teaching people and seeing the virtual cartoon light bulb appear over their heads as they “get it” – that is, when they take a new piece of information, fit it into what they already know, and make it retrievable for them in a new context. But as the “Taste of Tech” blog points out, “If you are writing down step-by-step directions to do things, and blindly following them, you are hopelessly lost in this society. If you cannot do something you’ve never done simply because no one has taken your hand and shown you how to do it, I don’t want you teaching my kids.”

Six weeks ago, I was demonstrating some new software to a small group of people. One person in the group had been using the software for several weeks, had sat with me one-on-one for training, and had attended three other demonstrations in the past two weeks. She asked a very specific and completely off-topic question. So as not to derail the entire group, I mentioned that she could find the answer using the help menu or help icon . This person actually came up to me after the demonstration and asked to be shown the help icon – then tried to write down in her pages of long-hand notes where “help” was.

This person has her own laptop, has been using computers and Microsoft software for years, and was even a long-term school sub and high school teacher – yet she had no idea how to access the help menu. This person does not know how to apply old knowledge to new situations. She does not know how to truly learn.

dodge-charger-rt-2006-20060503040316497.jpgTo me, this is as ridiculous as saying you can’t drive a car because you’ve never driven THIS PARTICULAR car before. Most cars are so similar that 60 seconds of orientation is all you need to be able to drive someone else’s car, because you have a basic body of facts and general knowledge you can apply to this new situation. The key goes in, the ignition is ignited, you shift into drive, and you drive. I can even drive my parent’s 1/2 ton semi truck because the basic principles are the same. Sure, I won’t be as comfortable in an unfamiliar car – just as I’m not as comfortable in a new or different software program – but I know where the steering wheel is, how to work the pedals, and how to use the turn signals.

“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler

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