Sunday, March 31, 2013

New Dresses for Easter (courtesy of Mama Big Cook)

 I think these photos express a lot about the difference between these kids at this time.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


1) It has been sunny.
2) The Big Cooks are visiting. They must be shown all our martial arts skills.

3) Antarctic Uncle is also visiting. He must be slashed to death with two-handed swordplay.

4) Easter is coming.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


We're refinancing our house, which means we have to act like adults and try to do things like understand how mortgage loans actually work.* Today an appraiser came to the house, and yesterday I cheerfully web-searched "how to prepare for an appraisal" and was horrified by what the interwebs said I should have done to prepare. I took a look around the house, pretending to be a stranger, and realized that the list of things that we should have done in the last two years is very, very long. We should have replaced all the crappy fake gold fixtures, for starters, and all the other stuff (medicine cabinet, I'm talking to you) that signals that a 90-year-old Croatian man** owns this house. We should have replaced the ugly, battered linoleum in the mudroom. We should have painted the trim in the dining room. We should have painted the porch. We should at least have cleaned the mildew off the porch. We should have gussied up the concrete pad in the backyard to give it an attitude of "patio" rather than "concrete pad." We should have washed the windows - not just recently, but EVER.*** Thank goodness for visits by handy houseguests, without whose efforts the house would look much scrappier.

*There is nothing in my life experience that has so deeply undermined my confidence in my own intelligence.
** He lived in the house, first with his parents and then alone, for 50 years. They liked things to be fake gold.
*** This is the most embarrassing omission. It's just... I don't know, it takes so much time. Time I could be spending watching tv! Or napping! 

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Duchess specifically asked me to tell the internet that she managed, in the classroom contest today, to recite from memory pi to thirty-five digits. She also asked me NOT to tell the internet that she came in second to her friend the Nerd King, who recited it to forty-one digits. I got her permission to tell the internet that, however, because I wanted to write about her academic relationship with the Nerd King.

Duchess is, for the first time, part of a small clique in her class that has persisted for more than a few days. The clique is Duchess and two boys, and the three of them are understood to be the academic champs of the class. They have a lot of nerdy fun, making up secret languages and whatnot. I have the impression that the Nerd King has significant intellectual power, leaving Duchess and the Nerd Earl fairly far behind. This has been unsettling for Duchess, who wasn't used to having her academic superiority challenged, let along trampled. However, lately she seems to be stepping up to the challenge, spurred on by the hope of doing as well as or better than the Nerd King. When the pi contest information was passed out to the kids at the end of the school day yesterday, the Nerd King memorized ten digits during the few minutes they waited in the gym for parents. Duchess wanted to beat him, and she worked pretty hard on it. Thirty-five digits is a lot of digits. The contest was optional, and only five kids participated. The Nerd Earl got to thirty digits, and the other two kids got nine and seven digits. I'm pretty sure that if the Nerd Court wasn't around, Duchess would have memorized nine or ten digits and been very pleased with that. While memorizing digits of pi isn't exactly a life skill, it's just the beginning of how the Nerd King is already expanding her idea of what she might be able to do.** Her friendship with these two boys is making her push herself harder academically, and that's great.

If the Nerd King leaves, for private school or homeschooling or the magic TAG school, Duchess will lose this motivation. She won't have the reminder that she can do more and better, or the competitive push to try harder. She'll go back to thinking that because she can do well without breaking a sweat, she doesn't have to break a sweat. THAT'S why kids who are doing exceptionally well, and kids who are doing exceptionally badly, should be at least somewhat mainstreamed.* There's no reason to try to swim faster when you're already the biggest fish in the pond.

*Okay, not the only reason.
** Not to mention the Nerd King's imperturbable confidence. When the class sociopath taunts him, the Nerd King apparently waves him off and says in a bored tone "...expected..." Duchess, who is unable to brush anything off, is as impressed by this as by any of his other skills.

Happy pi day!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bullying vs Life is Like That

Recently, Duchess has been collapsing into tears after school pretty regularly. This is not all that surprising; Duchess is a creature of highs and lows, and the effort of maintaining an eager, focused attitude all day at school usually yields a whiny, low-blood-sugar slouch home. On the walk home, she reports all the Terrible things that happened to her that day. Usually, she can be reminded to consider all the positive things that also happened, and often concedes that yes, in general, the day was pretty good, EXCEPT for one or two bad things. However, she's been having a harder time doing that lately, and her enthusiasm about going to school is waning. I'm not sure why, but she's definitely reporting more occasions when other kids have hurt her feelings or embarrassed her publicly.

She's not being bullied. I don't think a lot of Official Bullying happens at her school. Mostly what happens, as far as I can tell based on my observations and reports from my very unreliable informant, is garden-variety power plays, the kind that a teacher might not notice, might not be able to easily identify the culprit, or might decide isn't worth the time to address. However, those can be really unpleasant, and hurtful. Duchess is thin-skinned and extremely concerned about her social reputation, and I am increasingly concerned that she is an inviting target for bullies of all stripes. It's very possible that she won't be the middle-schooler I imagine - a six-foot-tall thirteen-year-old with glasses, a loud laugh, and the tendency to burst into tears at any real or imagined insult - but if she is, she'll be temptingly vulnerable to anybody looking to hurt somebody.

I'm probably being too sensitive, not to mention borrowing trouble. Cook, who was a tall, skinny, shy kid with huge glasses and a dorktastic penchant for short shorts,* says that he didn't feel bullied or tortured-by-garden-variety-meanness at any point in school. There is also the school of thought that people are just crappy, and kids need to learn how to cope with it. Sometimes when Duchess describes the small cruelties of her day, I respond with more or less a shrug. People are crappy. We just are. I do believe it's theoretically useful to learn how to cope, because someday you may find yourself working for somebody who enjoys perpetrating garden-variety meanness on their coworkers.**

However, I was subjected as a kid to a substantial dose of garden-variety meanness,*** and the only coping skill I learned, as far as I can tell, was to retreat into my own head. This coping skill, it turns out, isn't terribly helpful for a healthy life, and it hasn't helped me handle meanness as an adult. So...yeah. Maybe instead of letting kids all develop their coping "skills" on their own, we should encourage them to identify and discourage garden-variety meanness. I don't know if it works, but wouldn't it be nice if it did?

Anyway, Duchess is fine. She's not joyfully devouring her life the way she had been doing, but she's still charging along with gusto. I think her coping skills may already be better than mine, for all that they involve a lot more crying.

*Oh, the photos. 
**Or at least, I imagine this is possible. In theory.
*** I was short, fat, liked to read, and had stunted social skills. Either kids in my schools were bigger assholes than Cook's classmates, or his introvert's gift for listening to people (and making them feel heard) was more beneficial to his social life than he realizes. My class in middle school was so dysfunctional that we actually had a therapist (have I mentioned this was a private school in Connecticut?) come in to work with the whole class. The only thing I remember from the group therapy sessions was one girl telling me in front of everybody, as part of some kind of honesty exercise that was presumably supposed to be helpful, that she felt sorry for me because I dressed so badly.**** I also remember that I actually felt this to be a positive interaction, because hey, she felt sorry for me!
**** I have a long, noble history of dressing badly. My very best outfit, circa 1982, was a purple velour tracksuit, worn with a lavender t-shirt with white fringe across the chest, and it's all been downhill from there.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Status quo

Everything is pretty much the same.

  • Duchess has fully recuperated, finally, from her digestive illness, though she still seems a little bit sadder* these days. Fortunately, it turns out that Suzanne Collins has written some enjoyable books for non-teens, so things aren't too bad.
  • Skipper is not sad, and is instead on a streak of generally excellent cheerfulness, marked by nonstop prattling,** running everywhere at breakneck speed, and willingness to eat kale. 
  • I went to the eye doctor, and my retinas haven't fallen off. 
  • I still don't have a job. I'm still feeling pretty sad about that. 
  • Cook is still working hard.
  • Spring appears to be just around the corner. 

*SadDER. She's still happier than almost everyone.
**On the topic of space, or the ongoing Polly Pockets story. A little bit on her new model dinosaur, Pachycephalosaurus, and on exciting events at preschool: "Mom, the play structure had too many kids on it today!"