Tag Archiv: school

Shovelling

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I would explain what is happening with the blog (that I posted on like clockwork for two years and then disappeared into silence for the last months) except I’m not entirely sure. My life does not always feel like my own. I lack a fair bit of control over my time, not to mention the needs of others that I appear tasked to meet. The juxtaposition to that reality is that there is some kind of volcano of desire at work in me these days, daring me to live in ways I long to but have not dared hope for, except in whispers. Little personal time plus risky soul searching has left me without a lot of words.

This weekend I found myself on our pond shovelling. Despite the lack of decent snowfall, it needed quite a bit. Boy two and the girls had done some. Sunday was supposed to be a group effort plus me, but the excitement of my presence lulled them into happy skating while I put myself through my shovelling paces mostly alone.

It hit me as I worked that pond clearing was a pretty good metaphor for the state of my interior life right now – which has similarly required a lot of shovelling. To carve a path where there wasn’t one before. To clear the ice and reaffirm for another season that there is magic worth working for. That underneath the snow, there are possibilities hidden, waiting to be uncovered, discovered, and skated upon with abandon and laughter.

My last post mentioned my shopping intentions. With not a little bit of trauma and drama, I followed through on it. I’ve been told in moments I lack the strength to argue that I’m not finished yet. No comment about that. But buying clothes that fit, feel good, and look nice, has been part of my shovelling. . .  I thought I was going to say a bit more about this, but I’m finding I can’t. Thinking about how I look, as opposed to what I think or believe, is for the time being just a little too threatening to write about. Saying that much is the end of my brave acts on discussing the subject. :)

The pond is easier to talk about. It looks very big when you arrive. But regardless of size, clearing begins with a single shovel full. I start out to clear a section. Then I get bored and start paths here and there down through the middle of the snow. After that I start other sections, which sometimes merge with previous sections and sometimes don’t.

This is my explanation for why the muscles in my soul feel like they’re getting a good workout. Because if the clothes were a section of my pond, the shovelling has certainly branched out. I finished my work on the children’s novel with a good sense of accomplishment. Then realized that although I would love to see it published, I’m just not ready to hang my daily energies on its success or failure. I’ll work at queries here and there, but I’m not willing to die for it.  I haven’t stopped loving words, dreaming of books, or writing in my head while I drive down the road, but I don’t want my success or failure as a person hanging on the validation of a publishing contract. Can one still be a writer and say that?

Crazy thinking had other branches. In December, I wondered what would happen if I went back to school for one of those things I would have given my right arm to do twenty years ago, but I can’t now because it’s too late. The thought was so shocking I almost fell down thinking it. I’m a mother of four. In her forties. My life path is already decided. I knew going to school was unrealistic . . . until I didn’t know that anymore. Until I started wondering if my tiny shovel and a little grace might be able to carve out a path big enough to skate on.

When not despairing at the obstacles, I whisper to myself that there might still be time – that dreams long buried really can come true. Nothing is decided. Nothing is assured. But a few times, when no one was watching I have leapt into the air and laughed on the chance it is possible.

Ash Wednesday’s Transportation

Ash Wednesday, by Carl Spitzweg, 1855-1860.

Ash Wednesday, by Carl Spitzweg, 1855-1860.

I have embarked upon a death by degrees. If I could work in an unheated laundry in the early morning hours with my hands raw from the scrubbing, or make cheese to sell with the milk I had squeezed by hand from the last drips of every neighbour’s cow for five miles, if I was doing something along those lines for my children’s education, I imagine a sense of pride would accompany my labours. Instead, I am nailed to a car for a very extended Lent.

If points A, B, and C, lie on a crooked line, we live at point B, with three of the children requiring taxi service to C, and the child of a thousand activities requiring taxi service to A. By week’s end, the chilly laundress and the determined cheese maker both have something in their hands that proves what they have accomplished. By the sweat of their brow they have obtained their children’s education. While it is true that my children could not attend their places of study without transportation, at the end of every single week, there is nothing to prove that I have done anything. My back aches a bit, my right leg is stiff, my toes at times numb, but only the laundress can decry her chapped hands. It’s not quite the same to say you’re achy because you went from B to C to B to A to B too many times this week.

An early Ash Wednesday is catching me up short. The cold of mid-February amplifies the monotony of duties and begs the question of their meaning. I am hesitant to hope for Lent’s promise. Afraid to believe that Easter will dawn in so short a time. Soon the weather station will have to invent a synonym for polar vortex to keep things interesting. Many days are cloudy, but not all. I went out the other day to almost brilliant sunshine. I turned my face to the sun as I walked and pulled the scarf away from my skin so that light could touch more of me.

Perhaps Lent in deep winter is good. Perhaps the effort it takes to believe on cloudy days that the light will come back builds something for which we have no proof. On Ash Wednesday we bow as a claim that what we bow to is bigger than our moods, disappointments, or even our dreams. Faith needn’t be felt at all times. Ash Wednesday accepts it wrestled to the ground, hogtied, and held by a large rock drug from the backyard. Bags of cat litter would also suffice. Light was and is and will be whether we see it or not. A thousand clouds of dull grey today, but tomorrow the sun will tear once again with ferocious glory through the skies.

We may need to jerry rig this year’s Easter dresses with battery powered sections of an electric blanket, but we’ve got forty days to sort it out. Ashes to remind us from whence we came. Ashes to pull us silently up, out of our forgetting and into a grand awareness of Divine transportation. Tirelessly ferrying us from B to A to B to C and back to B again while we learn our lessons largely oblivious to the driver.

Unheeding of thank you’s neglect, Ash Wednesday comes. With Love’s arms open wide, we are invited to march toward Easter’s hope.

Rewarding Risk

What my idea of a robot would look like.

My idea of what a robot should look like.

I was obligated to attend a Lego Robotics tournament all day on Saturday. I confess my viewing of the practice runs for the teams of Boy two and Girl one left me less than enthusiastic. Someone had to explain to me when the Lego robot finished maneuvering whether things went well or not. Since I didn’t get it, I assumed the kids didn’t either.

My fantasies for freezing rain or a last minute illness didn’t materialize, but the kids’ excitement was catching. By the time we got there, it seemed like a nice day. Their eagerness (and my plans to leave them and only watch for the afternoon) had unScrooged me.

To my surprise, the afternoon I thought would be long, proceeded to unfold as a series of revelations to my traditionally low tech self.

Revelation #1:  The place was teaming with grade 4 – 8 kids (including mine) who understood most of what was happening.

Revelation #2: The pedigree of judges and referees giving their time to the event was nothing to sneeze at. People with all kinds of engineering degrees, employed in some of the most prestigious companies in Canada, were there convinced that my kids (and a few others) were the future of Canada’s ability to innovate.

Revelation #3: Nobody there was interested in grooming cookie cutter kids. (One of my biggest frustrations with education today is that inadvertently or not, much of it is designed to spit out kids who don’t think, risk or try new things.) First Lego League (not something I was previously familiar with) is out to reward risk taking, innovation, teamwork . . .

Here’s the list of the core values that teams were marked and rewarded for understanding and exemplifying:

*We are a team.

*We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.

*We know our coaches and mentors don’t have all the answers; we learn together.

*We honor the spirit of friendly competition.

*What we discover is more important than what we win.

*We share our experiences with others.

*We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do.

*We have FUN!

(For more on First Lego League, see  http://www.firstlegoleague.org/mission/corevalues#sthash.Z7mZlLR4.dpuf)

 

Revelation # 4: Waiting for the judging results, they cranked up the music and invited the kids to dance. Seventy five or so geeky kids spontaneously dancing (or forming trains with kids they don’t know) to Cotton Eyed Joe and YMCA is a pretty refreshing thing to watch.

Revelation #5: The world is a big place. Some really good things are happening. I stopped short of a one man standing ovation when one of the extremely accomplished speakers commiserated with the kids about failing, starting over, and not understanding why something wasn’t working. How great is that? When a successful adult talks shop with ten year old’s like they’re colleagues in the big world of innovation and design? When someone teaches by example that failed attempts are merely steps on the road to discovery?

Bake Sale

 

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About a week ago around bedtime, Boy two became desperate for me to call his friend’s mother. It wasn’t clear what I should say, only that I should call her. Oh and sign the paper. The paper has the boy’s phone number on it. Now do you get it? he wanted to know.

Not exactly, I said.

We’re doing a bake sale to raise money to ship boxes to kids for Christmas. Someone else will fill them. You’re signing that you’re ok with the bake sale. Mrs. V says you have to sign.

I signed.

The next night at bedtime he again became desperate for me to pick up a phone.

But what am I calling to say? I said exasperated.

About the bake sale, he said a little exasperated himself.

But I don’t know anything about it, except you’re doing it to raise money for the Christmas box shipping fees.

We’re not doing it for that any more. We changed our minds. We’re raising money for The Angel Tree. And we want to do it at the general store. Now can you call her?

I agreed to call the next night on condition he answer important questions like when was the bake sale?

He wasn’t sure.

Who was baking?

Only them. Mrs. V. said they had to take care of things themselves.

What were they making?

He wasn’t sure but could I buy chocolate chips?

When were they baking?

Just call his mom and then you’ll know all the answers.

So the other mom is organizing the bake sale?

No mom, I already told you. Mrs. V says we have to do everything ourselves.

The General Store was more flexible than I was. We stopped by so Boy two could ask permission to do the bake sale on their porch for an unspecified time on an unspecified day. No problem, they said. Angel Tree is a great cause. As soon as you make a sign, we’ll post it and start telling people about it.

Boy two called his friend to work things out. They settled on the friend might or might not be coming over the next day to bake. I broke down and called the other mom. We managed to confirm a date and time. She’s donating some pies. I’m donating some muffins and letting the boys use our kitchen.

Boy two spent last night happily working on a sign. If you’re curious, the bake sale is Saturday afternoon. In addition to pies and muffins, Boy two is doing some bread loaves in the bread machine. The boys are making cookies together and Boy two is cutting up packages of carrot sticks. They’re going in plastic bags labeled, “Halloween Recovery Packages.”

In advance of curious customers, we have also upgraded the explanation of The Angel Tree fund from, “I have no idea but they might be at the mall,” to “an organization that gives Christmas gifts to kids whose parents are in prison.”

For Sale

The One Man Crank

The One Man Crank

 

Bids for this One Man Crank can be sent to countyroad21@gmail.com.  An original invention and the brainchild of Boy two, this masterpiece underwent multiple adjustments and overhauls before completion. It is now in fine working order with all the kinks worked out.  Here’s a close up of the driver’s seat:

That would be dirt in the open trunk, helping the baling twine to keep the shaft in place.

Organic quality dirt in the open trunk helps shaft remain in place. (Keep wet.)  Orange fluffy stuff on handlebars is akin to a giant pipecleaner, providing both decorative color and structural reinforcement.

 

I’m sure his teachers would have stamped genius on his report card if they could have ever figured out what was going in his head. I empathize. This is the child who punched his fist through a glass window in short sleeves when he was eight. It was, he explained (as we waited in the emergency room for ten stitches across two inches), the only way to tag the girls because they were cheating hiding in the bus shelter and they wouldn’t unlock the door.

Here is why you should open the bidding for the One Man Crank now, and bid high. Tricycles are fun, for a while. The One Man Crank is fun for as long as you can fit on the broom, because that is where the driver’s bottom is intended to go. It’s nothing special until you start peddling. As you pedal, the baling twine apparatus works together with the weighted snow shovel in the back to pop you in the bottom at intervals, thereby changing a smooth potentially dull trike ride, into a bottom bumping mania of happiness.

The One Man Crank shown here is the original model and will obviously sell for the most money, however, I am completely prepared to take Boy two out of school in order to manufacture other models as demand requires. This was not an idea that I saw the vision for at first, but after Boy two brought in his testers and had them testify, I was convinced. Girl one and Girl two both swear it is an amazing invention. Even describing how fun it is makes them giggle. Do they think other kids would like it? Definitely, yes. It’s great! And it works, they add.

I’m not sure if Boy two will use the money for something clever or save it for a rainy day. His savings plans have run amok of late, so I am guessing he will spend it. I found him dreary, walking in from the old chicken coop the other day.  What’s wrong, I asked. The squirrels got it, he said. I tried to hide the rest of my Easter candy from you so you wouldn’t throw it away and the squirrels ate it all.

Good on ya, son. Have to say, I wouldn’t have checked the chicken coop.

Bidding for original closes at midnight. Orders for other models open indefinitely.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

Making progress

Admiring the ship

Admiring the ship

At our house, we specialize in “S,” for Satisfactory on report cards and “progress” reports. (We don’t tend to progress in these things.) Organization: S. Responsibility for personal belongings: S. Initiative (this is for asking questions about your homework when it’s recess time): S or N (Needs improvement). Etc. etc. etc. I want to tear up the paper. Go up to the roof and let tiny pieces cascade down in onto the lawn, preferably in the rain.

At home, I find the kids bursting over with a life and possibility not even remotely reflected in their report cards. I was a teacher once. I get that some parents want to ignore the failings of their children. This isn’t that. It’s a philosophical position about what report cards have to offer. Report cards say a little about language and math literacy and a lot about whether or not a child fits in the picture of a model elementary school student.

 

I found the following in the front of boy two’s notebook. It  was an assignment from the beginning of the year. With boy two’s permission . . . his assignment:

Why I am Unique

Being outside is very important

I love to be outside

I love to read and read and read

Stuff I like to eat is homemade yogurt, muffins, eggs, melon

I own a chicken named Tailless

I like to fiddle and make stuff

I like to draw and make comics

I love to collect bugs, frogs, salamanders, snakes

I like to ride my bike

I make stuff with Lego

I like to climb

I like to be gross

I like to be with Misty the pony

I like to play with my sisters

I like to sing

I am flexible

I have a good spatial sense my mom says, so I am planning on being an architect

I am short and proud of it!

My ancestor was Sir Francis Drake. He was the second person ever to sail around the world.

The End

I have a friend who swears by the theory that we shouldn’t spend our emphasis trying to fix the weaknesses we see in kids. Instead, we should figure out how to support their greatnesses. (He read this somewhere but I don’t remember where. I’m sourcing, “Conversations with Barclay.”)

I care a lot about the joys to be found in math and language literacy. But even above that, I’m going with creativity, a willingness to try new things, and deep respect for the gifts and proclivities every child finds growing inside themselves. This is what kids need nurtured.

I thanked the teachers for the progress reports. This is what my heart said.

Dear Teachers,

Apologies for the barely satisfactory social development. Boy two is related to Sir Francis Drake and cannot keep his desk tidy, as he is getting ready to sail around the world.

Sincere thanks for your efforts,

The people financing the voyage

 

Chasing perspective again

Boy one is coughing again. Boy two has been down for the count since Saturday. We got home from picking out the Christmas tree and he disappeared. We found him sound asleep in his room. He’s been see through white and pasty ever since, hacking like an old man. Girl one is coughing and complaining of an ear ache. Girl two is tired and also coughing. After wracking her whole little self, she breathes in again and smiles at me through watery eyes. Whatever the weather of our lives, this one smiles. Her eyes say, it’s ok, mom, life is good.

My grandfather tells a story about two brothers at Christmas. The first opens a large expensive electric train set. “Hopefully it doesn’t break,” he says. The second boy opens a small box filled with poop. “Hurray!” he yells jumping up and down. “When do I meet my pony?”

My grandfather says that’s the definition of an optimist.

It reminds me of girl two.

The frustration of kids that don’t get better and limp in and out of health for months is really starting to get at me. A musical evening to sing at each other isn’t the only thing on hold while I try and figure out how to help them beat this virus. We cancelled and postponed and sent regrets this week and last. The kids are sick of me pushing hard on bedtimes and healthy eating. They want candy and late nights NOW. I’m sick of pushing too, but I want them well.

Common-sense-me says to stay the course. Life happens. Paranoid-me is fretting that school teachers, and music teachers, and cub leaders, and the grand everybody will think we don’t care, that the kids couldn’t possibly still be sick. Perspective is a little mouse loose in the kitchen. I have a pot lid and have reached to catch it again and again. Just when I think I’ve got it, it squiggles out. Soon, I will get a broom, I tell myself. With nothing else in control, at least I can send that uncatchable mouse through the kitchen window.

Girl two has recently shared her long term vision for the future. She loves our home so much, she says, that she is never leaving. When she is a grown up, she will hire a special builder to come and make a new kind of bed. This way, she and I and her father and sister can have our own beds but have them hooked all together. (I imagine the neighbours will want to take a look someday but that’s another story.)

For girl two, nothing really matters as long as we’re together. Construction plans aside, it reminds me to take a deep breath and let it go. With sore throats, ear aches, and coughs abounding, we’re in this together. That’s a pretty good gift.