Monday, December 30, 2013

Growth opportunities

Duchess, even as I type this, is teaching Skipper about the comic possibilities of the planet Uranus. They're both laughing uproariously.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I'm sure she'll enjoy chuckling over photos of this haircut in twenty years.

Skipper's hair has been driving me nuts for months. Her hair somehow is all oriented forward, so it wants to hang in her face, a tendency that she embraces for hiding purposes. I watched her at the mini-show her class did on the last day of school before break, and she turned her head slightly to the side so she could hide behind the screen of hair. It looked like a move she had practiced. 

For days now, I've been showing her pictures of girls and women with short haircuts, and yesterday I finally convinced her to let me chop it off. I bribed her with television during the chopping, and ice cream after. She's not terribly thrilled about the results, but she's been swayed by Duchess's proclamations of approval.* We may have trouble when she goes back to school and every single kid in her class tells her she looks like a boy, but I'm prepared. In the meantime, I'm delighted to be able to see her face, if not exactly delighted with my hair-cutting abilities. And while the haircut is pretty terrible,** there's something about it that nicely fits her personality. Skipper is a fairly puckish character; to me, long shiny princess hair isn't ever going to look quite right on her. I may have to take her to an actual hair-cutting expert to tidy it up, though.

It's peanut butter. I swear.

*Duchess, I'm pretty sure, is mostly just pleased that Skipper is out of the running to have longer hair than her - Skipper's hair is straighter than hers, and doesn't get hideously tangled at the drop of a hat, so Duchess was getting worried that Skipper would end up with the long, silky, straight hair that Duchess wishes she had.
** Putting the kibosh on my great business plan.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

We've been, as usual, slothful. It's been great.

This morning, Duchess came into my bedroom, parked herself next to my head, and announced  "Mom, Santa has super-horrible handwriting." Then she trundled back out to the livingroom, and I said "Hey, what time is it?" and she never answered. The next thing I knew, the kids were merrily tearing into their stockings. Cook staggered out to see what was going on, and came back to report that it was 4 AM.

We had a lot of delightful presents to open and good food to eat. I leave you with this series of pre-present-opening photos, more evidence of Skipper's photo-phobia.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Things Cook has said while watching Breaking Bad

1) "This isn't a show about meth. This is a show about health insurance!"
2) "You know, this show really takes all the fun out of drug dealing."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Another piece of deliciously silly television I like.

I would be more than happy to watch Jonny Lee Miller sit on a couch and read aloud from "Winnie the Pooh," but having him be a main character on an actual show is terrific.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Stuff we like right now.

This is what I like right now:

  • The pope. The pope!
  • The snow!
  • Deliciously silly television (this and this and this)
  • Watching Duchess play basketball
  • Eavesdropping on Skipper's narrated games
This is what Cook likes right now:
This is what Duchess likes right now:

    This is what Skipper likes right now

    • Cutting paper with scissors (not haphazardly - very carefully)
    • Not wearing her winter jacket because it (and all warm clothes) makes her look "puffy"
    • Old-fashioned stuffed animal adventures
    • Singing all the time. All. The Time.
    • Anticipating Christmas

    Tuesday, December 3, 2013

    Dental sentiment

    You guys, Duchess only has six baby teeth left, crowded in among the new, comically giant choppers. The orthodontist thinks they'll be gone within nine months.* I felt unexpectedly stricken by this news. In some deep part of my brain, I feel that when she loses that last bony vestige of babyhood, she will officially Not Be My Baby Any More. This is a ridiculous notion, and I really can't even pretend that I'm enthusiastic about infancy in general,* so it's silly that I'm pining for it in any way. It's surely more complicated than that - grief for my own looming death, probably, plus my anxiety about my girls growing up in the world. She's got a big adult life ahead of her, and those old tiny teeth were obviously not up to the job.

    * Skipper has always been dentally precocious, losing her first tooth (the natural way, I mean - she knocked one out at age two) at age four. She is still in the normal range, though. And, as you may recall, that's pretty much my parenting goal - keep things within the normal range.
    **It's not that I dislike babies. It's just not my favorite part of people's lives. 

    Monday, December 2, 2013

    I can never be a preschool teacher.

    I help out for a few hours in Skipper's classroom every Monday now. Today I asked a kid who was leaning his chair back to please put all four feet of the chair on the ground. He looked at me coolly and said "I do what I do," and turned away, still tipping his chair back. Little asshole.


    Skipper had a play date last week! And she had fun! Duchess and I stayed for a while, as planned, hanging out with the kid's mom and brother, but the time passed more quickly than I'd expected, and suddenly it was time to rush off to Duchess's parent-teacher conference, and Skipper refused to leave. She was having so much fun that she preferred to stay at a stranger's house for another hour rather than come with me and Duchess.  This was a pretty exciting moment for me.

    Thursday, November 28, 2013

    Next year, turkey hats for everyone.

     Cook and I were at a bit of a loss about what to do with Thanksgiving. We don't eat meat, and I'm not very enthusiastic about fake meat, so turkeys were off the table. Skipper remains picky about food, and we didn't want to work on an elaborate meal that she would refuse to eat. Fortunately, Duchess reminded us that we have a tradition of eating burritos and then watching movies and eating popcorn. Neither Cook nor I have any memory of doing this, but it sounds like a good tradition, so we embraced it. This morning, pre-burrito, we went for a walk. It was windy. Then we came home and the girls made a turkey hat for Duchess to match the one Skipper had made at school. Then we had burritos and watched a movie and ate popcorn.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you!

    Monday, November 25, 2013

    Trip to the library

    The girls are out of school all this week. We took an afternoon walk to the library, in the sunshine.

    At the library, things rapidly went south. Skipper threw a tantrum, and cried all the way home. An hour later, she fell asleep on the floor.

    Sunday, November 24, 2013

    Tuesday, November 19, 2013

    Acorns. Eels.

    Skipper's class does a lot of singing with their Japanese teacher. Skipper's grasp of Japanese is minimal, so when she sings or speaks Japanese to us, we're always skeptical that we're actually hearing Japanese. For example, she was sure that Happy Birthday in Japanese was "Otanja azania." However, it turns out to be "O tanjō-bi omedetō" which is sort of close. I guess. 

    She came home yesterday singing a song called "Donguri Korokoro" which is apparently about acorns. Her singing sounded like gibberish,* so I looked it up. It turns out she had most of it more or less right, with missing words and parts of words. It is also, fortunately, a popular children's song, so there are plenty of videos online. And now the song is completely stuck in my head, and I will be singing about acorns for the rest of my life.

    Skipper, by the way, was very embarrassed to make this video, so I had to promise to sing it with her.

    *While I know absolutely nothing about Japanese, I'm starting to get a sense of how it generally sounds.  I've heard much more Japanese spoken in the halls at Skipper's school in the last two months than I heard in my entire life before. 

    Monday, November 18, 2013

    Fostering competence

    I've been reading about parenting a kid who has social anxiety, and one of the recommendations is to support your child's feelings of competence, by giving them a chance to get very good at something.

    Duchess loves feeling competent, like any 8-year-old kid. Like any human being. Like many human beings, she's not a huge fan of the work required to gain competence. If she's not good at something, she tends to give it up immediately. When she was 5ish, Cook and I identified that we wanted support her to keep working on something, to find out what it feels like to get over plateaus and barriers and get good at something.* We specifically identified swimming as something to push, and we did push it. (By which I mean that we keep signing her up for lessons and swim team, even when her enthusiasm is lukewarm. If she ever said she wanted to stop, we'd certainly hear out her arguments.) Her experience with swimming has certainly given her a chance to persist and improve, and that's been great. What's really been effective on that score, though, is kung fu,** which is a thing she chose herself. She loves kung fu. She loves the community, she loves the physical activity, she loves the required focus (she says "I don't think about anything when I do it - I just do things!"), she loves the orderly progress. (Not to mention the benefits of endorphins - she walks home after class red-faced, sweaty, and brimming with happiness and enthusiasm.)

    All of which isn't to say that she is a kung fu master, or that she has become much more persistent or even much less likely to give up in the face of failure. None of that is true. It's just that it's all good, all of it. I have entirely moved past the things I dislike about the kung fu place. When she walks in there, it's pretty clear that she feels that it is Her Place. The teachers and students treat her with affection and respect, she has a great time with her friends, she is recognized for her commitment and focus, and so on. There are role models*** and mentors all over the damn place. I think most of us want a Place of our own like that, and I'm very glad that Duchess has one.If my kid wants to get endorphins, confidence, community, mentoring, and experience in persistence from this place, I'm there.

    So that's the one kid. I'm a little stymied, though, about the other kid. Skipper also loves feeling competent, being a human being, but she doesn't like trying new things, which is likely to promote competence only in a narrow range of activities she has already begun doing.**** Her revenge-driven approach to extracurriculars motivated her to do a 5-class session of gymnastics at a community center. She resisted going to the class every time, and resisted participating in the class every time, but in the end she DID participate, and she seemed to be really enjoying it in the moment. However, she did not want to sign up for another session. She doesn't want to do anything. Given that a six-hour school day seems like plenty of activity for a sensitive four-year-old, I'm sure not going to push her to do anything she doesn't want to do. As I look ahead, though, I see the value of her finding something she likes to do, and sticking with it long enough to get good at it. I hope she'll find something, or somethings to make her own, and I look forward to supporting her in that.

    Skipper practiced some of her gymnastics moves with Duchess (who is independently working toward a goal of doing a decent handstand), and got pretty good at doing bridges. At the beginning of her third class, she refused to participate for an extra-long time, until the class starting doing bridges, and she realized that none of them were as good at it as she had become. She ran straight over to the group and joined in. Competence is addictive.

    *Without, you know, becoming a scary tennis parent.  I have some natural Tiger Mother tendencies. This week I actually said to Duchess, over her misspelling of one word on her spelling pre-test (for which they prepare by doing language worksheets that include the words), "If you've seen the word before, you should know how to spell it." Being Duchess, she said "That doesn't make any sense," and scoffed right out of the room, leaving me alone to mull over my personality flaws.
    ** It's not actually kung fu. It's some kind of eccentric hybrid of kung fu and karate, practiced by a handful of people in a couple of studios. I have no idea what the rest of the martial arts world thinks of it, though I have watched some impressive fighting demos by black belts. 
    *** There's one kid, a 12-year-old girl who just got her black belt, who is clearly Duchess's role model in all things. She's confident, courteous, academically successful, and has several equally stellar close friends. She's also an accomplished swimmer and volunteers at the library in her spare time. This is not a bad role model. 
    *** Playing babies, playing legos, playing house, coloring (she's an accomplished colorer already, in fact!), and drawing people with rectangular bodies, pointy heads, and stick limbs.


    Duchess is nine! I don't even know how to express what Duchess is like, except the way I described her a year ago, except more. She's a joyful tyrant. She is bursting with life, a state which often feels to those of us who live with her like pure noise. She laughs and talks loudly. She even walks loudly. She tells boring stories and terrible jokes, regardless of the fact that her audience is rolling its eyes and walking away. She doesn't edit herself; she says every single thought that comes into her brain.   She believes that she's worth looking at and worth listening to. While this can make her spectacularly obnoxious, it's also impressive, and potentially a powerful asset for her, if she can hold onto it (and modulate it for reduced obnoxiousness). She remains joyful and optimistic about most things (while retaining the capacity to throw ridiculous tantrums when things don't go her way). Even when I'm most annoyed with her, it's impossible not to be charmed by her full-on grins, and the delighted gleam in her eyes.

    I am reading a parenting book to help me support Skipper a little better, and when I did the is-your-kid-sensitive questionnaire, I checked almost every box for Skipper, but I also noted that many of those traits are true of Duchess as well. She is observant of the world around her, and is sensitive to other people's needs. She, unlike her sister, is enthusiastic about changes, and she dives into things, though only after she has reviewed the scene. She checks the situation out carefully, and then she holds nothing back.

    Duchess is adrift in a new world of social maneuvering, trying to figure out who she is and how she's going to present herself to the world. Last weekend, she attended two birthday parties. At the first one, she knew only the birthday girl, a situation that would be awkward for most anyone. She reported happily afterward that she distinguished herself by making witty* remarks. The way she talked about it, it was pretty clear that she's working out her social identity, and making some conscious decisions about how to present herself in the group. She was very pleased with the success of her Duchess-as-Oscar-Wilde persona. The following day, she went to a party at a bowling alley, and she told me when she came home that a fifth-grader, a boy she didn't know, flirted with her. (On interrogation, she wasn't very clear about how she knew it was flirting as opposed to normal weird-kid-interaction, but she was certain that was what it was.) She's feeling lately like she's losing social clout in her class, in part due to her distaste for Monster High and her general lack of political instincts. She observes the maneuvering, and tells me exactly how every girl in the class "ranks" socially, but she is, to my great relief, not cutthroat enough to really go for a higher rank. She has asked for a pair of skater-style shoes like the ones the highest ranked girls wear, but otherwise she still seems happy to go to school with snarly hair, wearing a dress, capri pants, knee socks, and sneakers.**

    For her birthday, Duchess chose to go to the science museum, to the Sherlock Holmes exhibit, with a friend. This was a strategic decision, as this friend has a slightly higher social rank AND shares her disinterest in playing "Teenagers" and "Monster High" at recess.*** Ergo, a good relationship in which to invest! Plus, this friend is dorky enough to want go to a Sherlock Holmes exhibit in which you try to solve a mystery. As it turns out, Duchess is still dorkier - I had to pry her away from each stage of the exhibit, because she wanted to keep studying the evidence, well after her friend and I had gotten bored and wanted to move on.

    Anyway. Duchess is nine. It feels, of course, like those nine years have both flown by and taken forever. She's a great kid, and she'll be a great adult someday. (In both a really long time and a really short time!)

    *I'm taking her word on this, because the remarks she repeated for me didn't exactly ring witty. Presumably all eight/nine-year-olds have common standards for repartee.
    ** In case you're wondering, this is not a trend at Duchess's school. I don't actually see anybody dressing at all like her, though her fashion choices don't seem to be motivated by a desire to be different, but by the desire to be able to modulate her temperature. She likes the capris-with-knee-socks thing because she can roll down the socks for ventilation at recess when she's running around.
    ***This friend's mom reports that the kid still enjoys watching Dora the Explorer with her little sisters. As Duchess still enjoys watching Dinosaur Train with HER little sister, it's a great match. And I certainly support anything that helps Duchess hold onto childhood a little longer.

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    It's not entirely my fault that we don't send out holiday cards.

    This weekend we attempted, on two separate days, to take family portraits for a holiday card. Skipper, for reasons known only to her, was not okay with it. She got dressed up in her best holiday outfits on both days (as did Duchess), but when it came time to do the thing, she wigged out. This is from the first attempt. Notice how great we all look. (Okay, Duchess actually looks fine, though the pose does not allow you to see her favorite holiday shirt, featuring a picture of a hamster in a Santa hat, saying "Ho Ho Holidays". I hate it.)

    This is the following day, when we tried to get it done earlier, before the post-lunch crankies settled in.

    Thursday, November 7, 2013

    Not a lot to say.

    The rain has begun; the freakishly un-Portlandy sunny October weather is gone. 

    I have realized that the thing I find most interesting and rewarding right now is working with individual kids* at Homework Club. Apparently I should chuck all my educational investment and become a school counselor. Or something.

    Skipper is slightly happier at school, but she really dreads the terrible, unstructured time at recess. Having been known as Track Girl** at a school where I spent 5th grade, I am very sad to hear that she spends a lot of her time walking around the playground alone. We haven't heard anything from Murphy lately, though, and her sleep patterns seem to be settling back down a bit. So that's good. I've been reading a lot of books with titles that combine the words "parenting," "anxiety," "sensitive," and "worry" in a variety of ways. Some of them are somewhat helpful.

    Duchess is pretty excited about turning nine. She's excited about everything, actually, and chooses ways to express her excitement that are calibrated to maximally annoy me.*** She's really good at it.

    I recently applied for a job for which I am extremely well-qualified. I hated doing the application. Every minute of it felt masochistic and terrible. No doubt character was built, but it hardly seems worth it.

    That's the news, mostly. 

    Also, here's what we're reading right now:
    Cook: The Aubrey-Maturin series, when he has time between work and volunteer commitments.

    *This is ridiculous, but I had never really thought about how it would feel to get negative feedback on every single thing I did at school. (Granted, I later had that experience in a job, but at least I had some banked-up self-esteem to carry me along through that.) Grading spelling tests for Duchess's class every week has made me recognize how brutal a bad assignment looks after it's been corrected. On some of those tests, I have to write out the correct spelling of every single word. I can't imagine what a pummeling it would be to get back sheaves of paperwork every week that were covered in corrections. I don't think I'd be able to keep going to school, honestly. These kids are brave.
    **I didn't walk around the track ALL the time - in the winter I made a lot of very small snow people and snow houses in the open space inside the track. I did enjoy the snow people, though I would have much preferred having human friends.
    *** It's all about me.

    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    It's a full-time job.

    Recently, Skipper told me that she's not going to have a job when she grows up. "I don't really want to work, Mom. I'm just going to be a liver, like you."

    Friday, November 1, 2013

    No babies here.

    I actually thought Skipper's picture represented her sitting on a throne of human skulls. I could be wrong.


    Thursday, October 31, 2013

    Representational drawings galore

    Note the "teeny tiny little baby."

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Doing things the hard way

    Skipper hates preschool. Her anxiety levels, already not exactly low, are hitting new highs. Lately, she's been complaining a lot about pain, particularly stomach pain. I'm not particularly concerned about the stomach-aches themselves- her digestion seems normal, the pain is generalized, and there is a family history * of not only anxiety but also anxiety-related stomach pain - but it still makes me feel sad that she is in emotional and physical pain.**

    While the regular day is stressful for her, any kind of disruption in the schedule is a source of deep dismay and worry for her - picture day, getting hot lunch instead of bringing it from home, fire drills, etc. I think a lot of her anxiety is related to her difficulty in communicating with peers and teachers. I think she feels really alone at school, like she's completely responsible for everything, and she doesn't have the right or the ability to get support. When I pick her up at the end of the day, she often has a Sadness that she's been incubating for hours and never told anybody about. Yesterday, she burst into tears when I picked her up, because she had misplaced her sweatshirt about an hour earlier, and it had an important piece of ribbon in the pocket. She hadn't told a teacher or done anything else to solve the problem, just sat on the awful feeling of loss while it grew and grew. The sweatshirt,with the precious scavenged scrap of ribbon, turned out to be lying on the floor in a corner. All that sorrow could have been quickly and easily prevented by a quick request of a teacher or peer for help. Most of her classmates wouldn't even hesitate to ask for help in that situation, but she just can't do it. There's nothing blithe about Skipper. That's hardwired in her personality, and I'm afraid that if she can't figure out some workarounds, she's going to have to tackle every challenge in her life alone, the hard way.

    She's working to find ways to comfort herself. She has adopted a security blanket (literally), which is a new thing; she never had any kind of security object before. She also has a new imaginary friend who manifests only at school. His name is Murphy. Apparently, he's not invisible, but "he likes to sit where nobody can see him."

    I don't know if there's a way we can substantially help her. I'm not interested in doing a Grey Gardens thing, so letting her hide at home forever isn't an option. I expect some (good) play therapy, or a really good, really small, really expensive preschool situation, or some other high-maintenance strategy would be helpful. But given our financial and emotional resources, I don't think there's an easy way to help her. In a way, she's right to feel so alone, because she is. She has to do this alone. We can support her, but it's going to be her own work that pulls her through.

    I have some glimmers of hope that she is making progress, between her coping strategies, and her accruing experiences of working through anxiety. This week, she and all her classmates had to do a health screening (courtesy of the county health department), involving quick, painless ear/teeth/eye checks. The teacher told the class about it the day before, and Skipper spent the subsequent 20 hours fretting herself into a state of misery. We talked about it, Duchess told her reassuring stories about her own experience, and I warned the teacher that she was worried about it, but I'm not sure that any of that made a difference (see above, doing it alone). When I picked her up that day, Skipper reported that the screening was not scary, and that she laughed while it was going on. After telling me about it for a few minutes, she paused, and then said thoughtfully, "I guess I didn't need to worry about it so much." I hope she gets to a place where she can apply that earned wisdom, and feel less alone, less burdened.

    *I wrote about Duchess's stomach pain when she was almost exactly the same age.
    ** And, of course, I feel worried that maybe there's something actually physically wrong.

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Humility vs Starness

    I recently read an opinion piece that resonated with me. Okay, it was about the pope, which is not a topic that interests me. But it was also about humility, which is something I've thought about a lot in the last five years.

    I've thought a lot about humility in my own life. I'm not sure that I'm a humble person, but I certainly have never thought I have all the answers, or even any of them. I have been encouraged in my personal life and professional life to do what I consider to be bragging, but what is usually described in language like "owning your accomplishments!" I have a really, really hard time with this. I recognize that I undermine myself personally and professionally by under-emphasizing my abilities and emphasizing my errors and failures. I see that my constant questioning of everything makes me prone to paralysis; I am unable to muster the momentum required to push through obstacles, and I let stuff drop that I probably should have pushed. I see that people who are confident can barrel their ideas to manifestation. However, I resist what the world is telling me, which is that I should be pitching myself all the time. I feel that people who push their ideas or their abilities, without regard to quality, do not always serve the community well. I think that people like me, who are sensitive to issues of quality, context, and unintended consequences, have a lot to contribute to a strong society. I think there should be a place for humility.

    I think I'm teaching my kids humility. Maybe. (It's hard to tell, because most kids, in my experience, are prone to announcing how great they are at anything. Skipper told me last recently that her substitute teacher that day told her she was a star, and because of her "starness," she was given first choice of stations at choosing time.) But I fear that I am doing them a disservice, particularly given that they are girls. Women tend to undersell themselves across the board, while men tend to oversell themselves. Anyway, I don't think the future is going to be a place that rewards humility in men or women; the present certainly doesn't.


    Duchess is almost nine. Today she dressed in a surprisingly sophisticated outfit. This is how she posed for me.

    I think that being nine (for Duchess) is a big old tangle of sophistication and silliness. Confusing, but also pretty fun.

    Saturday, October 19, 2013

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013

    Aliens vs Teenagers

    Yesterday morning, Duchess started weeping* about something that happened at recess yesterday. Apparently, many of her classmates have been playing a game Duchess invented, called "Aliens from Andromeda,"** for about a week at recesses. They often play fairly baroque games, with weird wrinkles to accommodate various kids' preferences - one kid has been pretending to be an alien robot dog. Yesterday, though, some of the girls who are increasingly being identified as The Popular Girls decided they're tired of Aliens, and started playing "Teenagers," instead.

    This is what Duchess said, almost verbatim, through her tears: "I don't want to play teenager, and I think it's STUPID to play teenager because we're all going to BE teenagers, and I think we should be KIDS while we still CAN be kids!"

    I said, because I'm very sensitive and generous and never make negative generalizations, "Also, teenagers suck."

    There's a lot going on here - Duchess is beginning to feel worried about her social situation, and she's anticipating adolescence with excitement and anxiety. She's friends with everybody, and best friends with nobody, so she sometimes finds herself feeling isolated when the cliques harden up. She's also seeing that these girls are being identified as The Pretty Girls ("And they're not even the prettiest, Mom!") and she's torn between wanting to be pretty and popular, and feeling like it's stupid to want to be a teenager, or to care about being pretty and popular. Middle school is looming.

    *This is not necessarily a sign of sincere distress, as Duchess tends to plunge deeply into her emotional responses to almost everything, no matter how trivial. Also, she has a nasty cold, which is making her even more volatile.
    **We watched a Monty Python episode a few weeks ago. Now Duchess knows what a "blancmange" is.

    Monday, October 14, 2013


    Yesterday we switched Duchess from her "Park Shark" swim lesson to another aquatic activity she had noticed going on at the same time. Screw boring old solitary swimming; Duchess is taking synchronized swimming now, and she thinks it's the best thing ever. I went straight home and checked to see if this is the kind of obscure activity that has scholarships attached to it, because that's the kind of helicopter parent I am. Regrettably, there are no significant scholarships available, but she can set her sights on Ohio State University (apologies to Papa Big Cook), which spends the most money of any school on their synchronized swimming program.

    Friday, October 11, 2013

    It's summer in Duchess's mind

    The girls have a limited number of matching clothing items.* This morning (it's an "inservice day" with no school), they dug up all of them, got dressed, and went outside to play.

    *Those long shorts (or, on Skipper, short longs) were procured separately - one at a thrift store for 50 cents, and the other as a hand-me-down from the Blonds. The girls were delighted by the serendipity.

    Wednesday, October 9, 2013

    I graded spelling tests today.

    One of Duchess's classmates spelled "prowl" like this: "riarrrr"

    Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Duchess graduated to the next level of her martial arts program last weekend. She was very proud. Some kid kicked her so hard during the sparring she flew several feet in the air and landed on her butt. She popped right up, though, and carried on. This is a bad phone photo of her being ceremonially granted her new blue sash by one of the kind, serious teachers whom she adores. She has requested that we pay her fee for the next tournament, as her birthday present this year.

    What else...Skipper can count to five in Japanese. I still have no job. Also, yes, Mandarin is free! For now.

    I've been thinking a bit about Skipper and Duchess, and sibling dynamics. While I'm still feeling bad about Skipper's school experience,* I remain glad that she's at a different school than Duchess. Duchess is good at everything, and that is an extremely tough act to follow. (I don't mean, of course, that Duchess is ACTUALLY good at everything,** but she's moderately successful at most things she tries, and she tries everything. And because she's four years older than Skipper, she looks to Skipper like she's incredibly good at everything. She also thinks she's good at everything, which is also persuasive to Skipper.) Skipper could use some space to be herself, to try new things and to build skills at stuff that Duchess cannot preempt. I look forward to seeing her explore that space.

    *Today Duchess's principal said to me "Kids who succeed at recess will succeed at life!" and I cringed a little. Poor Skipper and her lonely recesses.
    ** She is not. 

    Friday, October 4, 2013

    Making wise investments

    I am a soccer mom. I never planned on being the kind of parent who is constantly trotting her kids to the next activity, but that's exactly what I am. Duchess's week this fall typically includes soccer, piano, Mandarin, and martial arts. After soccer is over, she's going to do a low-key intramural basketball league based at her school. 
    This isn't quite as terrible as it sounds, though it's still ridiculous. The piano lesson is so close that Duchess goes to and fro on her own, the martial arts studio is just half a mile away, and Mandarin takes place at school, right after school gets out, so no extra travel is necessary.* Soccer practices aren't much further away, and it builds Duchess's character when she finishes a soccer practice in the rain, gets on her wet bike, and bikes home in a downpour.
    I listened to a podcast recently that detailed how extracurricular activities are unconnected to later success, and left the impression that you might as well not have your kid engaged in anything extra. I felt bad about my soccer-momming briefly, but then I remembered WHY Duchess participates in so many activities. It's because she likes them. We have tried to get her to quit both piano** and soccer*** in the last few months, and she begged to keep doing them. (The basketball, however, is something I'm making her do. I think a future six-footer should have at least a passing familiarity with basketball.) So her crazy over-subscription isn't due so much to helicoptering as it is to our indulging and spoiling her by giving her what she wants. Is that better? Probably not. 
    She'll have to cut back eventually, as Skipper increasingly wants to have extracurriculars of her own, not because she likes trying new things,**** but because she wants Duchess to be forced to attend Skipper's things. (Sibling-revenge-motivated extracurriculars! I don't even know what economists would think about that.) Skipper's starting a parks and rec gymnastics class this weekend - we'll see how that goes. 

    * Mandarin is also free, thanks to the Chinese government. Duchess doesn't seem to be brainwashed yet, but watch out if she runs for public office.
    **Because she hasn't been taking practicing very seriously - she sits down willingly to do it, but is sloppy and lazy about it, and announces that she's done after five minutes. She is now required to work harder on it in order to keep her lessons.
    *** Because soccer, more than anything, makes our schedule ridiculous. Plus, Cook and I both have uncomfortable emotional baggage from our childhood about soccer, class, and social status, and we'd be happy to see her leave it behind. Also, concussions
    *** *You will be shocked to lean that she doesn't.

    Saturday, September 28, 2013

    Two photos

    Skipper has moved on to representational drawing!

    Also, Big Cooks are visiting; they have bestowed gifts of baseball caps and legos! They did not, however, influence Duchess's choice of outfit to go with the cap.

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013

    Baby dinosaur steps

    The kids have been getting more screen time lately. This shift is happening at least in part because I'm having a harder time defining what's wrong with screen time. There's a lot to learn from screen time, after all.

    However, some of the screen time they get really doesn't have much redeeming value. For example, Skipper has watched several episodes of a PBS show called "Dinosaur Train"* which she really likes. (Duchess does too, because Duchess likes everything.) She learns a little about dinosaurs when she watches, but it's really just enjoyable to her for the same reasons that "America's Next Top Model" is enjoyable to me - it's silly and it makes her laugh and she doesn't have to think about it too much.

    Yesterday, though, Dinosaur Train did something great for her. Some of the kids** were playing Dinosaur Train at recess, and because Skipper understood the reference, she joined in the game. She joined in! And then she and one of the kids spun off their own game, pretending to be pteranodons flying around the playground. Their own game! "Mom, I think (Pteranodon Boy) and I are getting to be friends now!" she said

    I understand that this is a mundane moment on the playground, and I also understand that she's probably had other moments of participation that she just hasn't reported, but this moment seems to have been significant to her, and it's certainly significant to me. Every morning she says she doesn't want to go to school, and every morning I have to actually physically*** shove her into the classroom. Every morning I walk away feeling unhappy about it, and very aware that this is not something she HAS to do. Every morning I am forcing her to do something that makes her unhappy, and I'm doing it for reasons that sometimes don't seem good enough. Knowing that she had a joyful pteranodon moment yesterday helped me walk away today with a more hopeful heart. Thank you, screen time.

    *Because somebody was like "Hey, what do preschoolers like? Dinosaurs...and trains! That would make an awesome show that preschoolers would love!" and that person was totally right.
    ** All boys, of course, because her class is more than two-thirds boys. 
    *** Not very hard  - I just have to nudge her in. It's not a wrestling match - it's more like a token gesture of protest, like she's just making one last demonstration that she's sure as hell not doing this of her own free will.

    Thursday, September 19, 2013

    Rules for Life

    According to Skipper, the rules of her classroom are:

    1. Do Your Best
    2. Stay Safe
    3. Be Nice

    Wednesday, September 18, 2013

    Social anxiety

    I have informants watching Skipper. L and R Blond attend kindergarten at her school, and they go out for recess at the same time as the preschool classrooms. R asked me the other day "Why doesn't Skipper play with anybody at recess?" Skipper does play with R and L, who like her and are nice enough to play with her at recess. She does not play with anybody else. Skipper told me she either plays with the twins, finds a teacher to stand next to, or walks "steadily" around the playground.


    Skipper still doesn't know how to engage with other kids. She says "the other kids don't want to play with me!" which appears to mean "the other kids don't come up to me and explicitly invite me to play!" She doesn't know how to (or can't bring herself to) invite other kids to play with her, or introduce herself into playing that's already going on. She is capable of playing with other kids - she and Duchess play together a lot, and she plays with L and R when they're here. She prefers older kids in general, but she'll play with younger kids if they're not too destructive.

    Nothing is going to change at school. They don't have the staff capacity or training to do one-on-one social skills training. I'm not even sure that this can be taught. Regardless, it's going to have to be Skipper herself who makes the change, and I'm also not sure she actually has it in her raw ingredients to do this. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that a more social classmate will take the initiative to reach out to her.

    In the meantime, I'm trying not to feel too sad about it. It's nice to have my informants keeping an eye on her.

    Tuesday, September 17, 2013

    More ranting

    You guys! It's happening again! Not even two weeks into the school year, and I'm already finding myself weeping (WEEPING!) in conversations about the state of public education, and the way in general that we fail, as a society, to support kids. Ugh.


    • Duchess is missing her classmates who have gone off to the magic TAG school. She is once again on the top of her class, academically, and ready to coast along for another year of not trying too hard. I'm ready for another year of feeling sad about her schooling.
    • I saw one of the Homework Club kids I worked with a lot last year. She's excited that this year she's going to be early to school instead of late every day, because a different adult is dropping her off. She's a decent kid. I want her to make it.
    • A friend of mine has taken in foster kids who have some developmental delays - nothing serious, and it all seems like the consequence of early neglect, rather than inherent deficits. The little one, after just a few weeks, is making huge strides - she's still young enough that her elastic little brain can compensate. I don't know about the big one. I want them both to make it, too.
    • I met a new parent at Duchess's school who actually transferred her kids there from another district on a No Child Left Behind waiver. (The receiving school has to accept the waiver, so she couldn't get her kids into one of the better PPS schools, but she still felt that getting into our school was a huge improvement from where her kids were.) She is amazed by the level of parental involvement, the quality of teaching, the attitude of the kids, and the general feeling at the school, and is thrilled to have her kids there. This reminded me that, in spite of my feelings of despair about Duchess's school, there are many, many, many (many) schools where kids are much (much) worse off.

    After all the Talented and Gifted hubbub last year, we decided not to push to get Duchess nominated for TAG identification. However, this fall, I have reversed myself, and decided to go ahead and nominate Duchess. I had three experiences that led me to the decision. First, as part of my Big Volunteer Thing I've been doing at Duchess's school, I've been calling enrichment programs, and I spoke to a staffperson at one excellent, super-expensive program who said "Oh, we do lots of classes at your school, for TAG kids!" Second, I recently learned about a cool-sounding math class, offered by that very program, that took place last spring in mornings before school. Duchess would have loved it. It was only open to TAG kids, and it was free. Third, I had a conversation with a woman, a parent of older kids, who has worked with Duchess in school, and respects her reading and analysis chops. We talked about the ethical ugliness that is TAG, and her experience as a teacher and a parent, and she said "You've got to get Duchess identified as TAG."* So I went and picked up the forms. There's a nomination and testing process that will unfold over the year in some mysterious way. I told Duchess (from whom nothing like this can be hidden, as she is way more persistent than Harriet the Spy) that no matter how the test identifies her, we will continue in the conviction that she is awesome-identified.

    It just all, as you (very well) know, makes me furious. Nearly every kid in the school would benefit from a cool math class at least as much as Duchess's TAG classmates. While the TAG screening test is explicitly designed to be accessible for kids who can't read English well, so in theory it's a great way to identify kids from all backgrounds who have intellectual aptitude, the fact is that the kids in Duchess's grade who are receiving TAG resources are all middle-class-or-richer kids. TAG resources are offered not just to TAG-identified kids, but also to kids identified as "TAG-potential" which means that they didn't get a qualifying score but had strong "advocacy" scores (as rated by their teachers and parents) and work samples. Guess which kids are likely to have strong "advocacy" scores and work samples? I know plenty of kids at Duchess's school whose parents, for many reasons,* aren't going to nominate them for anything and aren't supporting their homework and school activities to encourage them to produce strong work samples. Those kids would benefit from cool math classes as much as any kid. The program should be called Talented and Gifted and Having Pushy Parents.

    And now I am a Pushy Parent, and I'm feeling pretty shitty about the ethics of being a Pushy Parent. I hate that I am trying to extract more resources for my own already-very-lucky child, out of a limited pool of resources. My kid has everything she needs to thrive, and I'm greedily grubbing for more, because I can, and because I want more for her. This goes against my belief that not only is it in our benefit to support all the children in our community, so that they will thrive in our community and make it a better place, but that we have a moral obligation to help them flourish. I go around and around on how to address this. I can't not try to get Duchess everything I can -  I'm a primate, after all, and this is a competitive world. As with most things, the current situation means that my refusal to take stuff for her just means more resources for OTHER privileged kids. But I have an obligation to do something about that current situation. I just don't know what, yet.

    Anyway, Duchess is determined to be rich when she grows up, TAG or no TAG. We recently listened to a podcast identifying the most lucrative college majors. She listened to the top ten majors, and decided on naval architecture (#7, I think), as it is the best fit with her already-identified career hopes. She's going to be a naval architect during the day, and an author at night (writing great books while cuddled up with her husband and her Great Dane - she's fairly detailed in her planning). Skipper decided that she'd go for #1, petroleum engineering, since she has no strong preferences yet. I didn't say anything about how I feel about petroleum engineering; I'm pretty sure I won't have to worry about it. Of course, Skipper is also planning to have seven children,*** so she's either going to have to be rich or not work at all.

    * Note the language. I've got to get her identified - I think that zeros in on everything wrong with the system right there.
    **Stress, language barriers, cultural barriers, poor health, lack of time, and other factors, including the assumption that it doesn't make that much difference, which is the assumption under which I've been operating.
    *** Duchess is holding fast to her determination to have no children at all. Having watched Skipper be born, she definitely doesn't want to give birth, and she says it's clear that kids are a pain in the butt. I feel kind of bad about this, as I'm the one giving her this impression with my apparently negative attitude about parenting, but it seems that Skipper has no such qualms.

    Monday, September 16, 2013

    Portrait of a Young Reader

    These are the items Duchess chose to check out from the school library today. I think it would be hard to come up with a more succinct depiction of her right now.

    I think Skipper's brain is going to explode.

    Skipper has learned a handful of Japanese words this week. I just picked her up from school, and on the walk home, she said "Mom, does Japanese have pictures in it instead of words?" so I promised to look up the history of Japanese characters when I got home.

    And I found this: and oh my lord. And that led me to and apparently this is EXTREMELY complicated.

    Saturday, September 14, 2013

    More words

    Tonight Skipper called Duchess an "ass-pain-butt" and a "topsy-turd."

    Book review: Hoot, by Carl Hiassen

    "Mom, this book is really good! It's only the second chapter, and there are already alligators and portapotties!"

    Friday, September 13, 2013

    Only 14 more years of school to go.

    The first week of both-kids-at-public-schools is over. I am exhausted. I'm actually temporarily grateful that I don't have another job besides logisticking my kids. This month, I'm picking up all the Blonds from school three days a week (O is in Duchess's class, and L and R are in kindergarten at Skipper's school), so I spend a lot of time trudging between my home and the two schools with children in tow.*

    I also spend a lot of time preparing lunches and then cleaning lunch containers. I had forgotten how much I hate that. All those damned tiny containers! And those moms who raise the bar by preparing their children adorable and healthy lunches! Duchess is always coming home talking about her friends' delicious lunches.** I managed to pull off a reasonably successful lunch program this week, thanks to the discovery that if I cook a whole heap of leftover-grain/tofu pancakes and freeze them, I can send them in Skipper's lunch with a little ketchup on the side. Win-win! She eats something moderately healthy, and I don't have to scramble every day.

    Next week we'll be back to peanut butter sandwiches with sliced apples and carrots on the side. I may just start flinging all the food, without containers, into the lunch boxes and let it all rattle around together...

    Anyway, I have been told that girls stop eating food at school altogether in middle school - what a relief!

    *The five kids are physically similar enough, and variable enough in height, that we look plausible as a family. People give me pitying and/or condescending looks.
    ** When she's not talking trash about friends who bring junk food in their lunches. I have mixed feelings about this - I feel that it's good to choose healthy food, but I also feel that it's bad to judge other people for THEIR choices, given all the complex factors affecting food choice. Once she said to me "Kid X's parents must not love her very much. She gets cheetos in her lunch!" and I cringed in shame. She's gotten better about it, but I dread to think what she says to kids to their faces.

    Thursday, September 12, 2013

    As an aside.

    I love Jasmine from So You Think You Can Dance.  So much. I want her to come live with us so we can have dance parties all the time. Or we could watch her dance. Or we could just hang out. Whatever works.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013


    Skipper's first day of preschool went fine yesterday. I think. We didn't get a ton of information out of her. She seems to have talked to at least one person, and she doesn't seem to have cried at all. Success! She didn't want to go back today, and she says she hates the entire Japanese language, but I'm not worried about that yet.

    I put a note in her lunchbox for her to find. I thought maybe an adult or a classmate could read it to her, and I included a big drawing of a heart just in case she had to go wordless. When I picked her up, she said, puzzled, "Hey, Mom, somebody put a note in my lunch! It had my name on it!"

    The Problem with Portland

    I wrote this a few weeks ago, and didn't post it because it's such a huge self-pity wallow, but now I figured, what the heck. Skip to the photos if you don't have the stomach for a huge self-pity wallow! 

    I'm looking for work again. And I got onto Linked In this morning. Now I'm feeling overwhelmed by a very familiar feeling of inadequacy. When I tell people that I have been looking unsuccessfully for work for years, they tend to wave it off and say "Oh, you're smart and educated; you'll get a job."* But... I don't have a job. I haven't been offered a job in FOUR YEARS. I'm smart and educated, but in Portland, smart and educated is a baseline. The place is brimming with people who are smart and educated AND __________ ( Fill in the blank with at least one of the following: adjectives: creative, charming, energetic, skilled, persistent, confident, ambitious, attractive, etc.). I don't have any ands. I need an and!

    This also applies to my non-working life. Portland is also brimming with people who are doing amazing and interesting things in their spare time. They may not be making money off it, but they're gardening and building robots and woodworking and pickling and painting and brewing and sewing and cooking and canning and learning trapeze tricks and learning to code and whatnot. Portland makes me feel like I'm performing inadequately at every single facet of my life. I can't even identify a thing I'd like to do - I have no dreams, no visions, nothing I really love to do.***  Damn you, Portland! If I wasn't surrounded by people who are so obviously doing cool stuff, I'd be much happier being an essentially inert person. Or if I was at least making money, even if it was at a boring inert-person kind of job. As I'm not earning any money, I'm at a bit of a loss for sources of self-worth.

    This is obviously a seriously counterproductive line of thought. As I wisely tell Duchess, there's always going to be somebody who's better than you, and that's not a bad thing. I certainly enjoy spending time with people who have cool stuff going on, and they make Portland a wonderful place to live. And, you know, I'm smart and educated. I'll get a job. I'll work on my and.

    Anyway, check out this only-somewhat-uneven haircut I just gave Skipper! She initially angrily described it as "stupid short!" and said she hates me for cutting it, but she's coming around. So I'm pretty good at giving my family not-terrible haircuts for free. That's almost like earning money. Hurrah for me!

    Also, here are a few crappy photos of our last car-camping trip. Duchess was off at sleepaway camp (which she loved), so Skipper got us all to herself, including our college friend GG, whom she adores.

    We went to the Bonneville Dam fish hatchery, where we visited Herman the Sturgeon, and a stuffed bear in a box.

    So, you know, things could be a lot worse. When your biggest problem is being surrounded by interesting, dynamic people, you really don't have a problem. And when you get to do stuff like visit enormous fishes and walk around in a forest with friends and family, life is pretty sweet. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to start an exciting small business called "Not-Terrible Haircuts for Kids," and I need to set up my Pinterest account.

    *Pro tip: Don't say this to your unemployed/underemployed friends. We know you're trying to make us feel better, but it actually makes us feel even shittier.**
    ** Hey, maybe I should start a business providing advice to people about how to talk to their unemployed/underemployed friends!
    ***Except reading. I really love reading. If only I could get paid just to read. No, not to read and then write about it. Just to read. That's all.