Sunday, October 28, 2012


Skipper, who knows nothing of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet other than the stickers she got from the eye doctor, calls them Tuggy Bear and Peeker.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I need a new recipe.

Do pumpkin seeds ever taste good?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Social intelligence

Today I spent some time at Duchess's school, volunteering, and having lunch with the kids. It was a pleasure to lunch with Duchess, who was pink-cheeked and cheerful after running 1.25 miles at recess, radiating happy confidence as she folded herself onto the bench next to her favorite running partner. It was fun for me to watch her navigate her social life. A kid across the table asked her "Duchess, are you a duck or a beaver?" (If you live in Oregon, you have to choose whether to affiliate with OSU or U of O. It's ridiculous. Half the kids in her class have parents who are alumni of one school or the other, and passions run high this time of year.) This is the sort of social situation that terrified me as a kid, because there's no safe answer, and I never had the social chops to finesse that sort of thing. Duchess looked at him calmly, and said, smiling slightly "I'm a platypus." (I was initially impressed by her wit, but I then realized that it must be the standard declaration of neutrality.) Then he said, "But which team do you LIKE?" and she waited a long beat, studying him consideringly, and said "I like your sweatshirt." (He was wearing a Portland Timbers sweatshirt.) And that was that. She never had to commit to a side, she expressed a shared allegiance with this kid without alienating anybody else, she gave him her full attention in a positive way while declining the opportunity to create drama. Even if she never learns one thing in the classroom, she's learning a lot.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You guys. My kids are awful, especially when they're together. Help me. Tell me they're going tp be decent human beings some time in the near future. Tell me I'm not irreparably damaging them in some terrible way.

I'm telling myself that it's temporary, that they'll stop being terrible once our schedule slows down next week, or maybe when I come out of my own not-helpful slog. But I'm not sure. I think that my kids just have slightly dark hearts, like my own and that they just haven't yet learned the utilitarian value of extending kindness to every one in their lives. Truth be told, I am unkind* to them more often than I like to consider. It's so easy to abuse the privilege of familial love, particularly when your heart is just a little dark.

I guess it's reassuring that they usually behave kindly toward other people. And we'll just have to grumble and whine and yell a bit in our dark cave for a while until this phase passes and we can be kinder to each other.

*Not mean, usually, just ungenerous. I deploy cold looks, long lectures, and yelling.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thinking positive

Looking back at photos from the beginning of the summer reminded me of an update I never mentioned. Skipper's eczema was brought almost entirely under control this summer by the judicious application of hydrocortisone (short-term) and ceramide-based lotion (ongoing). I feel stupid for not having brought out the big guns earlier, because those terrible, lingering, raw sores in the crooks of her arms healed up very quickly once we did. Periodically, she'll show me her elbow and say "Look! It's like a normal person's arm!" and I remember how grateful I am that she's not dealing with that any more.It's easy for me to concentrate on what's bad now, and forget what has improved...

Friday, October 19, 2012


Duchess took the screening test for Talented And Gifted services last week, along with every other second grader in the district.

This year I've been thinking more and more about her academic needs. Her first two years of school, she seemed to be learning so much useful non-academic stuff that I really didn't bother to worry about what was missing. Plus, Duchess is bright, and very teachable, but it's not like she's sitting in the back of the class reading Foucault or teaching herself Mandarin or anything. She's sitting in the back of the classroom giggling over fart jokes, gossiping over who's being mean to whom, and doing mostly solid but often sloppy academic work. She's curious and pays attention, but she's not burning with intellectual passion, and she shows no particularly strong aptitude for anything other than talking incessantly.

This year, though, I'm starting to feel itchy about her school experience. So much of what they're doing is hammering on language skills, which are Duchess's bread and butter, and it all seems awfully easy. She's acquiring knowledge* and that's good, but I don't see her acquiring a lot of skills. And because so much of school is easy for her, she's grooving deeper and deeper into the habit of thinking that if something is hard for her at school, it means she's Not Good At It. She's having very little experience of tackling a challenge and working through it to mastery, so whenever she runs up against a challenge, she gives up. That really bothers me.

I volunteer at the weekly Homework Club at her school, and the kids who participate are all struggling in various ways with their academic work. One kid with whom I often work seems to be a lovely person - friendly, pleasant, well-behaved - but she struggles so hard to grasp ideas that I find it almost impossible to help her. I nudge her along in small increments, which is the way I'm accustomed to tutoring, based on the assumption that at some point she'll make the jump across the remaining gap, but she never makes the jump. We get to the answer, but only because all the tiny increments added up, and it makes me crazy that I can't figure out how to help her meaningfully. I can't figure out if she's just straight-up really limited in her intellectual capacity, or if there's something else going on here. Working with her reminded me of an interesting article I read recently, about doctors prescribing ADHD drugs to kids who don't have ADHD, but who don't have the resources to improve their academic performances another way. It's like spending your dollars on research to develop new cures for cancer instead of on preventing cancer in the first place - a very American approach to solving a problem, and it's really, really sad. I would guess that Adderall would make my frustrating Homework Club kid at least somewhat more likely to be able to grasp and master new skills, and since her academic experience isn't going to improve any other way, why not?

I imagine what it would be like to have Duchess in a class alongside this kid, and trying to teach them both. I don't know how you even begin to do that, but I can tell you that neither kid is being particularly well-served right now.** And while I'm looking into the kinds of services TAG-identified kids can get***, I'm also thinking about what it costs a school district to serve kids who are ahead of the game or who have potential to be really ahead of the game, and what those services cost the kids who are behind the game. I haven't yet heard any good solutions. And I have all sorts of cascading ethical questions, too, like what does it mean for the community as a whole if we decide to pursue transferring Duchess to a magnet school?**** What if every kid who was bright and/or advantaged transferred out of Duchess's school?

Then I remember that kids extract from life all sorts of things you don't expect, and fail to even notice some of the stuff you expect them to pounce on. Duchess is learning a lot, and so am I.We'll figure out some kind of jury-rigged solution for her, and continue to try to contribute to efforts to retrofit a system that serves every kid.

In other academia-related news, today I taught Skipper a few things about trees, and then felt very proud a few hours later when she shouted "Mom, that tree is DECIDUOUS!" She may stand around in public picking her nose with two fingers, but the kid knows her conifers.

*For example, one of the books in her book box now is about Area 51. She has many theories about aliens. For example, it's silly to think that aliens would inject people with anything, because how would they know about human biology?
**  I do not mean to disparage teachers here. I don't think it's possible, when you're teaching 28 kids by yourself, to meet all their needs, even if you're some kind of superhero.
*** While remembering that Duchess isn't necessarily going to be TAG-identified, because she isn't, in fact, a genius. And being TAG-identified in Portland doesn't actually mean you get any services - it just means that the teacher has to come up with a plan to meet your needs, which, depending on the teacher's interest level, could mean a little or a lot.
**** It's also worth noting here that one of my biggest objections to having Duchess attend a magnet school is that it would be a pain in the ass to get her there every day. Ethics, schmethics - I'm just lazy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The art of negotiation

O Blond and Spruce are here today, because it's a school inservice day, and the four kids, after an hour or so of happy play, came to an impasse. The girls wanted to play House, and O wanted (according to Duchess) to play something loud and rowdy, like Avalanche. I left them to it, and five minutes later, they started playing a game in which the girls are a family in a house... A house occupied by a NINJA GHOST!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I want you all to know that the leafy pile behind sleeping Skipper is the yard waste compost.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I am still here.

There's nothing particularly interesting going on, but life has been busy, and I have been struggling with my work situation. I've been avoiding mentioning it here because it's, you know, public (and I'm not going into details now), but it's been taking a toll on my mental health. Which I also wasn't going to mention because I of course want everyone to think my life is at least closer to peachy keen than it actually is, plus it's definitely a classic first world problem and it's just embarrassing to be so stressed out by a job that pays pretty well, gives me lots of flexibility, and is related to my education and interests.

But then I remembered how I secretly love reading about other people's problems, so I figured I might as well come clean. So there you go. My life is making me crazy right now, which is why I haven't been posting much. I'm tied up in anxious knots, and way too self - absorbed to pay attention to, let alone be nice to, other people, including my poor kids.

However, everything ELSE is fine, for real. The kids, in spite of having a psycho mom, are doing really well. Cook is piling up professional successes (though he is very sad about failing to paint the whole house perfectly). The weather has been eerily gorgeous. Today Skipper (home with me and Duchess because we are sick), actually took her nap in the yard.

Also, I have a marvelous new toy, a small tablet on which I am typing RIGHT NOW. (I'm using a spooky typing prediction app that reads my mind.)

So things aren't so bad. And just like I know it will rain soon, I know I'll work out a way to live with my work issues.