Monday, February 25, 2013

 I consider myself to be something of a technophobe, more in the sense that I'm lazy and don't care to think about the gadgets in my life than in the sense of being afraid of or opposed to technology. I think it's absolutely amazing that I have a little computer that I hold in my hand and I can watch videos and play games and write emails on it. AMAZING. I am living in the future! But I generally think that it's better for my brain and for my kids' brains to be looking at the actual world, and I have no natural inclination for gadgets anyway.

However, tonight I interrupted the Polly Pockets epic to watch this

and this
with the kids. And that's just awesome. Thanks, technology.

No more zombies.

Duchess is alive! We took her to the doctor today, to make sure that she wasn't dying.* She's been tragic and lethargic for five days now, not eating, barely even stirring herself to read occasionally, and she was starting to look like a doomed consumptive character in a Victorian novel, all eyes and bones and hair. It was all very unlike Duchess, except for the whining. Duchess, as it turns out, is not at all a pleasant patient, and Cook and I were both feeling very frustrated by both her crappy behavior and her failure to bounce back from the illness. When they weighed her at the medical office, she weighed 6 pounds less than she did at her checkup in November. The doctor's verdict was that she has a stomach virus, and is dehydrated. The doctor's lecture, and the anti-nausea medication she gave Duchess on the spot, inspired Duchess to drink a lot of water this evening, and eat a few raviolis, and begin her return to life. She even participated tonight in the epic ongoing Polly Pockets story that Skipper and she have been engaged in for weeks. So I think she's going to make it.

*Well, you know. More than usual.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Duchess is taking this Sick thing seriously.

Duchess hasn't thrown up for nearly 30 hours, but she's still incredibly limp and tragic. In the last 40 hours, she has consumed (and kept down) maybe a cup of water, a few sips each of sports drink and ginger ale, a quarter cup of miso broth, and five saltines. She is, however, reading books today, which is a big step up from yesterday, when she was just lying around looking glassy-eyed and semi-conscious.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sick day

Duchess is sick. She woke up in the night complaining of stomach pain, which Cook and I assumed was gas or constipation. It's pretty hard, with Duchess, knowing if she's dying or just being very dramatic. She likes to look at herself in the mirror while she moans in agony. Anyway, we weren't terribly sympathetic, and I was very grumpy and tired when she finally threw up around midnight. I made her a pallet in our room, which turned out to be super-convenient when I could just reach over without even getting out of bed and hold her hair while she barfed in a bucket on the floor every two hours for the rest of the night.

Currently she's lying on her pallet (she drank a sip of ginger ale, fetched along with saltines and sport drink from the convenience store by Cook on a pre-work trip, and she promptly barfed it right back up), listening to a random story I dredged from the internet.* Skipper is playing with the pretend kitchen, organizing fake food and chanting "Too much, too fast! Too much, too fast, too much, too fast, too much, too fast..."**

Last night I went to a mandatory meeting for the language-immersion school a few blocks from our house. We entered Skipper into the lottery for their preschool program, which she would start in September. What I learned at the meeting is that the school community is much richer than Duchess's school community, presumably because parents have to lottery their kids in, and therefore are more likely to be well-educated and/or affluent.*** They have fulltime PE and music teachers! There is a teacher AND a teaching assistant in every kindergarten classroom of 28! Parents raise over a hundred thousand dollars a year to supplement staffing and materials! As I sat there listening to the principal, I felt both covetous and resentful on behalf of Duchess's school. Why should this public school have so much more good stuff than another public school less than a mile away?

* My tablet is reading to her, you see, while I ignore her. Technology is a great parenting resource!
** I don't think I said anything along those lines to trigger the phrase, but you never know. Actually, that's kind of Skipper's feeling about the world in general, so it may be a kind of protective mantra of hers.
*** If you lottery into a slot in the preschool program, your kid is guaranteed a slot in the kindergarten the following year, so you're more likely to get into the school than if you try to lottery into kindergarten. The preschool, however, has tuition involved, so if you can't afford to pay for that, you're screwed. (There are scholarships, but it's pretty easy to be too rich to qualify for those but still not have extra cash to pay for preschool. For example, if one parent is unemployed. Ahem.) This makes it even more likely that the kids entering kindergarten are richer than your average bear.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mama days

Skipper has begun her Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule at preschool, and yesterday was her first "Mama Day," in which she learned that the twice-a-day commute to Duchess's school is pretty central to the scheduling of Mama's days. It was, however, a beautiful day, and Skipper agreed to have her enormous sheepdog bangs restrained in ponytails, which made me happy.

Also, please enjoy this photo of my beautiful daughters. I believe they were complaining about being hungry.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I've spent the last week thinking WAY too much about the terribleness of the education Duchess is getting. I've even been thinking that I should homeschool her for the rest of the year. This is not a suggestion I would have taken seriously even a few months ago, given how much we squabble even when I'm not trying to get her to do something, but now I'm unemployed, and my primary occupation is trying to make the school a little better. And she's not learning anything academic at all. I've been helping the 4th and 5th grade kids in the homework club with stuff that Duchess already knows or could master with an hour of work.* The school district has no social studies curriculum for K-5, so the only history/geography/politics she gets comes from the terrible Scholastic magazine they get once in a while. Science seems to barely happen at all. For "technology," they go to the computer lab and play typing games. I am being forced to face the fact that I am just warehousing my kid at school every day. She would learn a ton more if I apprenticed her to the bike shop we walk past on the way to school every day. Or, heck, the bakery. She would learn more from reading on her own from books she chose herself for an hour every day.  

Today, though, I'm thinking about gender in the classroom. I went on a field trip with Duchess's class this week,** which included riding public transit with 24 2nd graders. Today I helped with a class in the after-school program I'm coordinating. In both of those contexts, I saw the same dynamic play out that I see repeated one way or other in most of my interactions with groups of kids. The boys are (generally) loud, and disruptive, and they physically or verbally interrupt activities. The girls are (generally) less aggressive. The boys get reprimanded, but they also get recognized, and they get heard, and they often get away with taking more resources. Today I watched a group of mostly girls sit down as directed on the floor with the teacher. Four boys, who had been horsing around and ignoring the directions, then barged right into the middle of the circle and sat down, laughing. The teacher had them scoot back, which meant that the girls all had to move, and the boys all ended up with prime seats in the front for the activity. The teacher made it clear that she disapproved of their behavior, but they still ended up with a positive outcome, plus the attention of the whole group.

I've been hearing about concern that girls are outperforming boys academically. My initial response was "So? In my experience, men get more breaks than women do outside of school." But now my response is "So? Everything else they experience in school supports the idea that boys deserve more attention and are entitled to be more disruptive without serious consequences." It seems to me that we're busy training these kids that girls are well-behaved and get good grades, but boys STILL get all the attention. And the girls do all the cleaning up.

Anyway, in my home school, girls will always get the best seats and have the loudest voices. Nobody will clean up.

* Division, fractions, antonyms, reading comprehension. Duchess has been attending homework club with me, and she is surprised by how easy the 4th graders' homework looks, and how they don't know who Martin Luther King Jr was, or what the word "pleasant" means. Now I'm worrying I'm raising a snob.

**Duchess has banned me from ever chaperoning again. Apparently I was too strict, and all the kids were looking at her "with disgust." The teacher, on the other hand, asked me with apparently genuine feeling if I would please chaperone every single field trip.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Follow up

Cook's non-polluting bike trip yesterday was to buy clothes (he only had two pairs of work-suitable pants, both of which have comically worn patches on the butt from his bike seat) and groceries. He could have walked, actually, given that the trip was only maybe 3 miles round-trip, but he had limited time and anyway you don't get funny wear patches on your butt by WALKING everywhere.

Cook suggested to Skipper that if she want to make a difference for the environment, she should stop eating dairy, and it was pretty clear from the look on her face that she doesn't care about polar bears THAT much.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Skipper asked Cook, who was preparing to go out to run errands, "Daddy! Are you going to ride your bike?" and he said "Yes," and she said "Good, because I really don't want you to make air pollution. I'm worried about the polar bears."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I have discovered how to make a child smile for the camera. I will make a million dollars!

Skipper, in the photos below, is entertaining herself by saying "We are going to outer space! Outer peanut butter! Outer cheese! Outer FART! Outer butt cheeks! OUTER POOP!"

Davy Baby Space Bear

Duchess was assigned to write a "persuasive letter"

First thing Skipper said this morning:

"Mom, can penguins fly?"

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Skipper is into space this week.* She has been asking lots of questions and poring over an old Click magazine issue about space. She dug up an astronaut bear stuffed animal given to her by a NASA fan a few years ago, renamed it "Davy Baby Space Bear," and given it Most Favored Animal status.** However, when Cook delivered a bedtime story (an installment in the six-year-long Pippa and the Penguin series), in which the child heroine and her avian companion were SEPARATED from the parents and accidentally caught a ride on a spaceship, Skipper freaked out and had to hide under her pillow until the family was reunited. Apparently, we will all have to come along when Skipper makes her first space mission.

Today we took the girls to an open house at a local dance/theater/music education nonprofit, where they were offering free half-hour classes. Skipper was excited in advance, but when we got there, she didn't want to participate. ("I don't like this class because you have to talk," she told me.) Duchess, however, got to participate in an improvisational theater class, which (of course) she adored. Cook and I watched the whole thing, and we were both really struck by how much any 8-year-old (or human being of any age) can benefit from some improv training. The primary rule, more or less, are that you say "yes" to any idea that is tossed your way, that you listen and respond and not "block" your teammates' ideas by changing the storyline too drastically or by refusing to go along with their ideas. Funny but irrelevant non sequiturs are discouraged. There are no mistakes. It's all about paying attention, being generous to yourself and your partners, enthusiastically diving into ideas but still keeping an eye on the big picture to make sure things aren't veering too far off course... doesn't this sound like a recipe for success in conversations, relationships, projects - just about everything? I've decided that every second-grader in Portland should have a weekly improv class.

While I'm fixing up public education, I've decided that math needs an overhaul, too. This week my curiosity overpowered my budgeting willpower, and I purchased a ridiculously expensive ($6!) math game app for my awesome tablet. Duchess has been playing it as much as she is allowed, and it appears to be more or less teaching her algebra.*** It's pretty cool, and I think the school district should have all the kids learn algebra by playing a video game for a few hours. I'll include that in my overhaul.

And, for your last item of miscellany, I took Skipper to the dentist last week, and she LET THEM DO AN X-RAY. She cried quite a bit throughout the whole experience, but the incentive of getting screen time ("Wonderpets" again) was enough to make her power through. She may be actually growing up. For a bonus, the staff lavishly praised her excellent oral hygiene, she got a sticker, and she has no cavities. Huzzah!

* Hey, NASA. I assume you're aware that Sunita Williams is a fabulous ambassador for the space program, but having her/allowing her to host a 25-minute video tour of the space station was a really great idea, particularly if you were wanting to add "astronaut" to the career wishlists of girls around the country.
** Eat your heart out, Punghy.
***Though it's not perfect, and occasionally the presence of a coach with some grasp of math is very helpful.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Things Skipper wants to know about outer space

Are there bad guys in outer space?
Can people pinch you in outer space?
Are there jails in outer space?
Is there not enough room for jails in outer space?
Do people get hurt in outer space?
Can you cuddle in outer space?

And she would, if she was awake, want you to be informed that ''Davy Space Bear used to have to tape a bag to his butt to poop in outer space, but now he can use a space toilet.''