Category Archives: School

Graduation and not


With school ending this week, there has been a graduation focus in the air.

The lambs are on their last week of bottle feeding. We are definitely ready for them to graduate.  I’ve been scratching my head about what to do with the leftover milk powder. Feeding longer is not the answer. My latest thought is Christmas. Little packets of milk powder tied up with a ribbon, a note attached about the glories of a milk bath. What teacher would not like that? Grandmothers. Aunts. Why not uncles and brothers?

Girl two graduated from kindergarten last night. She loves the stage so it was a good night for her, even if the school learned by experience why not to schedule an end of year function for 4 and 5 year olds to start at 7:30.  By the time they hit the stage at 8:15 they might as well have been drinking. They were three sheets to the wind, anyway. Whatever they had practiced was lost in short people wandering in circles and yammering to themselves, or shouting to the crowd depending on personality. Mine had a wrestling match for a microphone with another sweet girl in a fancy dress.

The only ones sent back for remediation this week were my husband and I. Last year, after an unusual number of losses, we swore off ANYTHING that would upset the meat birds. Fraternizing ducks had been an issue, but nothing we decided, would ever mix with them again. They bred to grow not to be robust.

Then I caught a chicken eating an egg the other day and threw her outside until I could deal with her. I was pretty sure she was eating an egg she had previously pecked open, but it was also possible she was eating the remnants of an egg someone else had pecked open. Why don’t we put her in with the meat birds overnight, I suggested to my husband. If there’s still an egg eaten tomorrow, we’ll know we have the wrong girl, if not, we can put her on the fast track for a different kind of graduation.

It was not a good idea. We had some worries that the meat birds might kill the suspect but it seemed safer than leaving her outside for the raccoons. It was a bad idea. The eighteen birds we put her in with did her no harm. She on the other hand, pecked one bird to death and left another one dead of a heart attack inside (we debate annually about using this breed or not due to the frequent heart attack issue).  And in case anyone is wondering, no eggs eaten the following days. For reasons we can no longer defend, we protected a lawless chicken from wildlife, then locked her up with some innocents so she could rack up a few murder charges for her rap sheet. Maybe we will pass our classes next year.


Telephone poles

file000196810294There seems to be a revolving door of normal around here. Boy two has stopped being Phil and has taken up counting telephone poles. It takes about fifteen minutes to get to school each day and he counts the whole way there and the whole way back. He was so pleased with himself that he had to get his sisters on board. Now the counting is out loud.

This is problematic, not because of the noise, but because counting out loud makes it obvious that they aren’t doing it right. It is impossible to cultivate inner peace when people that claim to be counting EVERY telephone pole, miss poles at random intervals and refuse to stick to any kind of system. Unlike some people, at least I can at least remain civil in the face of numerical defilement. The day Boy one had no school and came along to hear his sister’s play, he became so distressed at the counting mistakes I thought we might have to sedate him. Threats to leave him in the car were the only thing that managed to calm his nerves enough to stop talking about it. I’m not convinced it won’t resurface.

With the kids on school break, I forgot about counting until we were coming home from our time away at the lake. “Nobody’s even helping me anymore,” yelled an exasperated and exhausted Girl two into a previously pleasant silence. “I’m counting all by myself and it’s too hard.”

“You don’t have to count,” I ventured hopefully.

“But we’re trying to set a record. This is a long drive, so we can go higher than ever before,” said Girl one.

So it’s official, we currently have an issue with telephone poles . . . which may require medication to get all the parties involved through to the next normal.

Gym class

file7261249326359Being in a gym lately has me thinking about gym class.

Gym class is the only place I can remember feeling so ashamed. I stretched myself mightily once and went to a friend’s house to work an aerobics routine for a song from the radio. My friend got sick and my grade six self had to perform the routine alone. Horrific was the agony.

Gym class was also one of the few places so many things were new.  A track to run, hurdles to leap, and a rope to the ceiling to climb hand over hand. Trampolines, parallel bars, balance beams.

I looked forward to gym class and I raised a little bit of trouble. Most of the school day, my sense of humour was restrained. At home, I carried a lot of responsibility and caused no trouble beyond the occasional smart comment. But I knew of no expectations specific to the preacher’s daughter regarding gym class. There (and anywhere there was a substitute teacher) I let loose another side. It was, I discovered, extremely relaxing to be bad.

Twenty laps, the teacher would say. I got to the gym first, so as to begin modifications.

Time for some math, I would yell out as we ran. 2 x 2 is 4, plus 6 is 10. We’re half way there everybody.

Nobody ever argued. Sit-ups and push ups liked math too.

Mandatory group showers insulted my sense of decency and public decorum.

Wrap your towel around you, splash water on your shoulders, and go to the bathroom, I told my friends. Come out again when people are leaving the showers. Works every time.

I can’t comment on the blessings incurred by my gym/substitute teachers, but being bad was good for what ailed me. A needed respite from the seriousness of life. Getting caught and extra running didn’t bother me, it made me laugh more.

At a dinner with our school choir once, three teachers got into a discussion about me. Two insisted that I was an angel. A frequent substitute teacher named Mrs. Sims weighed in more to the devil side of things.

“You must be thinking of someone else,” my defenders insisted. “She’s wonderful.”

Mrs. Sims snorted. “Call her over and ask her yourself.”

Although we never said it, Mrs. Sims and I liked each other. She was gruff, smart and not remotely intimidated by me. I enjoyed a good laugh and was staunchly opposed to completing anything smelling of busy work assigned by absent teachers. This put us on opposite sides of the law. It wasn’t personal.

“She’s not exaggerating,” I told the other two teachers.

“But you’re so good,” they said still struggling to believe.

“Sometimes I’m not,” I said.

“Told ya,” said Mrs. Sims.


I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Maybe just to say that I’m teaching some gym classes these days and the kids make me smile. Gyms are good places to not be perfect, to go a little crazy and to run it out of your system.

What we are learning

Inspired by the, “what we are learning,” newsletter from the new school. What we are learning:

Girl one is learning to make a roux and a white sauce. The goal is homemade macaroni and cheese from scratch so she will know how to make a favourite dish. She is also learning by default the pleasure of not being the one assigned to the hard lessons. (Thanks to me, her father also had reason to revisit this pleasant educational state.)

Girl two is learning that no one finds it funny when you take a sharp metal object and scratch large designs on the piano bench. In fact, they are still mad at you every time they walk by. She is also learning how to fake sincere apologies by closing her eyes, and nodding her head with her lips squished together.

Boy one is learning to clean a toilet properly. He has also had his first run at final exams and the concept of extensive studying. Results still to come, he is sure he did brilliantly. He has not yet learned how to fake sincere apologies. We look forward with longing to the day he decides to try.

Boy two is learning that when you fake being sick because you want the a day off to read (while your father is very sick with the stomach flu) your mother does not forgive you for a tiny apology and an offer of $10. A compliment from another adult that would have melted her a week ago (you’re doing well with your French) fails to impress. Maternal ears appear immune to your sweetness, and most uninterested in compliments of any kind in reference to you.

My lesson plans were as follows:

First, when my husband missed the bus that boy one takes to school (because he stopped for gas before dropping him off) the obvious lesson was that late people merit frustrating outcomes. I can’t remember if I shared my insights. Probably not. The lesson was too self evident.

It turns out the lesson was actually that it would happen to me too (undeserving and timely, though I am) if I similarly stop for gas before dropping off. For reasons that are dull (no cell phone, faker sick boy, real sick husband, etc.) my little failure to get the lesson when someone else was learning it cost me the better part of an hour and a half to get everyone to where they needed to be. Husband was empathetic, and warmed to the cockles of his toes.

I also learned about metal cans. I.e. cutting yourself on metal can lids is not hard to do. Even though I cut myself badly on a peach can lid two years ago and swore to never to make that mistake again. In fact, while fighting with a useless can opener, it was possible to cut with even more gusto, deeper and longer on the edge of a massive ketchup can lid.

The Wonder of Education

The switch to a new school was a long time coming, but a difficult decision to make. Girl two was thriving. The grass is always greener. What if. But Boy two’s situation demanded that we find alternatives.

I could do it for the others as well, but here are boy two’s first days.

Day one (visiting day): Hi Mom. Can I stay at this school?

At dinner time, unprovoked (the rest of us were chewing): I learned about molecules today.

We tried to be nonchalant. (Later we discussed. When was the last time he came home and said he learned something? We couldn’t remember.) So what do you know about molecules? asked my husband. How do they work?

A clear explanation of molecules in three states of matter followed. We stopped eating and stared.

Day two:

The boy who does not like morning was out of bed, dressed and ready to go. That day he learned about electrons and began a unit on electricity. He sparkled telling us that there would be a project at the end. One year someone had made their own burglar alarm.

Day three:

At pick up, I could see his cheeks twitching with the smile he was holding in. Staring straight ahead with failed attempts at normal, he held a guitar. He climbed in the car and his grin won. It had been music day. He was required to study an instrument. The teacher said she had an extra guitar and would he like to learn it. He worked excitedly on music theory, then strummed his guitar for the evening.

Day four:

How was school?

Same as usual. Which for this school means great. It was a really good day.

Day five:

Hi Mom. We started learning a poem today, but I think I’ve got it, except one part, want to hear it?

A recitation of Frost’s, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” followed.

Day six:

What’s that book?

It’s a book on penmanship. I asked the teacher if I could bring it home to work on it. The other kids know all their lower case letters. Some people call it cursive. At my school, we just call it writing. Want to see what I’ve done so far?


Boy two likes school now. He may even be a morning person, we can’t tell. Girl one is more peaceful than we have ever seen her. She also brings home her work with new pride and intent. Girl two remains in love with all creation.

We are optimistic, but honeymoons happen. There are no perfect schools. Time will tell if we’ve stumbled into where they belong for good, or even if the goodness we found can hold its own enough to keep the doors open.

Education either provokes wonder or it lulls it to sleep. Fifteen minutes from our home, in the middle of some farmers fields, is a tiny school who prefers its students awake. To this little school, I say, thank you for the wonder.

Identity Crisis

Country Flags by Bill Longshaw, courtesy of

Country Flags by Bill Longshaw, courtesy of

Spelling is complicated. When I was growing up, I spelled like an American because I was one. And because Americans owned the red pens and the stickers for my spelling tests.

How, I wondered when I first came to Canada, could the people seem so cultured and yet spell so poorly? Then I got a job. I deliberated with myself about the merits of intentionally learning to spell things incorrectly, but I have always been highly motivated by red pens and stickers. At first, the new favourite spelling system was a chore. I would stop half way through a word and sigh before going through with the desecration.

By the time I clamoured to the designated centre to get myself labelled a real Canadian, it was second nature. Far from humouring those for whom I laboured, it had become a matter of honour to spell things as any good Canadian would. I took my own high calibre red pen to work on my students’ papers . . . thirty kilometres south this would be fine, I noted –  here, it’s a misspelled word.

Enter the blog. What now? I say to myself. Most of the time I write in Word, then cut and paste to the blog. My computer, obviously Canadian, spells as I have told it to. When I go back and do my edits, the program that runs the blog, grabs its own red pen and yells, “We own the internet. Spell like an American.”

Dialogue ensues.

Me: Stop telling me what to do. I’m Canadian flavoured now. If you want to get snippy, I’m still American enough to fight about it.

Other Me: There are more Americans than Canadians. Maybe you should spell like an American. If you ever sell something, they’ll be the ones to write the checks.

Me: Blog readers are split half and half and that doesn’t count the people in Europe. When the cheques arrive, I’ll take it under advisement.

Other Me: What about the Mexicans? Or the Koreans? What kind of spelling do they like?

Me: I have no idea. We don’t make our decisions based on what other people think, remember? We don’t colour our hair if we don’t feel like it, even if everyone else thinks it’s just marvellous.

Other Me: Maybe you should spell American. Everybody else you mentioned at least knows that there are various ways to spell things. Americans might have the hardest time coping with something foreign to them. Consider it a meager attempt to be neighborly.

Me: Forget it. This is gruelling. It’ll be half Canadian, half American. Even in the same document. A little of this and a little of that. No rhyme. No reason.

Other Me: This explains why if a group of any ten of your friends were asked what your last name is, three different answers would be forthcoming.

Me: Let’s not over analyse. I’m beginning to feel like an axe.


Sending for Jeffery

I am in a small state of creative depletion. Two reasons. My daughter asked me to write her a book two years ago. It will someday be a gift for all of them. I had hoped to send it to a friend to peruse for the beginning of December. Then I hoped for January 1. Currently, I am a third of the way through my latest round of “final,” revisions. On good days, I knock off another 15 pages. It is a bit maddening. At times I am in tears that I am still not able to offer this gift. Other days, I think that since I don’t end up really running my life anyway, the completion of the book can rest where it belongs, in hands not my own. Lately, I am leaned considerably more towards the former sentiment (tears) and a little further from the latter one of peace, so I have put a self-imposed burn on and am trying desperately to get through this next stage.

(No doubt my need to finish the book is influenced at least in part by the suggestion of a friend that I begin preparing another book . . . one that I would very much love to write. I can’t in good conscience start that book while the latest copy of hacked up corrections sits on my porch waiting for me to finish entering them all.)

For the 38,000th time in my life, I call for Jeffrey. If Jeffrey would only come, I would speak the corrections to him as he typed madly, or better yet, hand him the sheaf and let him come to me when he couldn’t figure the arrows and notes. Jeffrey is my servant and has been so for years. His talents are many. His only shortcoming is his refusal to materialize from my imagination into a real, live, working assister to my needs.

The truth is, the book gives back at least as much creative energy as it takes away. It’s more the allocation of the time. The real creative depletion comes from making such big decisions recently. I don’t know if this is a common human ailment. For me, it is real. I can study things objectively, engage situations that pose conflict, and make decision not everyone will understand. But when it’s all over, I’m finished. All the considered risk taking, all the change . . . it takes it out of me. I need recovery time.

Last week, we decided to move the three youngest kids to a new school. It was a good decision. I’ll write more later. All the meetings and questions and more conversations have taken just about all the energy I have. I would like Jeffery to come now. Make breakfast. Eggs Benedict perhaps. Give the house a once over. While he’s at it, use the magical dead mouse sounder to find the decomposing bodies in the wall. Then use the carcass vaporizer to remove them. Thank you, Jeffery. That will be all for now.

On Signatures

Boy one was recently applying for a passport. We came to a part of the documentation that required his signature. Perhaps it is worth explaining that by 13, I routinely spent time practicing my signature, up and down rows on lined paper. Just in case I was ever famous. I studied the signatures on the American Declaration of Independence. I noticed my parents signatures. And I practiced.

I understand that boy one is not me. Good news for him, I say. Reviewing his documents, I did not expect that he had laboriously practiced his signature, only that he had one. He did not.

Son, it says to write your signature on this line.

I did.

That is not a signature. That is a poorly printed name.

That’s how I do my signature.

That may be how you print your name, but that is not a signature. If that actually was your signature, you should make certain never to tell anyone that this is so. No, son. You must write. Cursive. Script. A signature must be written. It must be yours. It is your name.

Five. Full. Minutes. Later. Boy one returned with paper in hand.

Is this good?

I could tell he was trying. Before me was a name written in the fat, double size, extra tall cursive letters typical of nine year olds. There was nothing to say. The fact that his best was deplorable was at least as much my fault as his, I the guardian of his education.

The next time we had a free hour, I called them all. Ages 5 to 13, bring paper and pencils, I said.

We sat at the kitchen table. Playing with different script styles of capital letters. Comparing the look of size and slant for the lowercase letters. It took them about thirty seconds to be so absorbed they were hunched over their papers writing intently. Girl two usually only writes her first name. She practiced the others, while everyone else did cursive. Examples and more samples were eagerly pushed my way. The level of pride in the room rose as signatures began to take on shape and style. One child went so far as to get samples of famous signatures so everyone could see what they liked or didn’t like about different ones.

This is actually kind of cool, but can you imagine telling your friends, said Boy one. Like, what did you do yesterday? Oh, I learned to write my name. They laughed but they were proud. As well they should be. They are now people with signatures. People who know that their names are important.


Signatures matter. Enough said.

Mercy made known

Yesterday, the first day back from Christmas holidays, was a snow day. More accurately a rain and freezing day. The thought of a quiet house had grown to full blown longing when we saw the notice that the busses weren’t running. Alas.

Monday was also death day. I love the farm. I believe in animals that are happy and well cared for. It matters to us to know where the meat on our kids plates came from and what kind of quality of life those animals had. That doesn’t make the day the lambs go to the butcher any easier.

Everything about the send off was complicated on the icy narrow path that is our driveway at present. It wasn’t possible to get a truck out to the barn like usual. It wasn’t possible to do it all while the kids were at school. We worked together to make the driveway navigable. We worked together to get the sheep in the trailer. And we hissed and spat and growled at each other.

Afterwards I went to my room to plan boy one’s execution and to figure out how to get the house partitioned so that none of us had to live together. Eventually common sense and mercy found a crack large enough to get through. None of us had handled it perfectly, but we weren’t mad, we were sad. The first time I remember figuring this out, I was 18. It was a strange revelation. I felt like someone had struck me dumb. Sssso nnnnow what? I wanted to stammer. If it’s not sarcasm and rage that’s dying to get out, what then? If I’m sad and not mad, exactly am I supposed to do? Just sit here and cry?

Well, yeah.

I thought I’d already learned that lesson, but yesterday I learned it again . . . and helped my son figure it out too. Naming things correctly doesn’t change them, except it does. Understanding what I’m dealing with changes how I treat the people in my life, including me. Understanding what’s underneath somebody else’s mad, changes how I feel about them.

Sometimes being sad means you don’t do anything except let yourself be it for a little while. It feels like getting out of prison again.