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.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Saturday afternoon at our house.

Remember Dutch's beer wench dress? It doesn't fit quite the same, four years later.

First Day of PreK

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Out it was.

I love the way my daughters talk. I love the way they pick up vocabulary, and the way they're always asking me what words mean, and I love hearing them deploy words as they go about their lives. They're both very  verbal kids, interested in narrative, eager to accumulate and use new words, and they both talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. One of Skipper's current favorite activities is sitting down with a picture book, preferably a newly-acquired library book she's never had read to her, and "reading" a completely invented story about the pictures. As she makes up the story, she falls back on classic oral storytelling techniques like repetition - "The sun is rising. It rises to rise! It glows to glow." - and it's pretty hilarious to listen to her. (From the next room; she doesn't like to have an audience for this activity.) They use good words with each other, too. Duchess suggested the other day that Skipper should "shed one of the blankets" she was wearing in their pretend narrative game (orphans escaping an evil orphanage, as usual), and Skipper referred casually to a "makeshift" set-up for a game. Skipper recently called me her "scornful mama!" and then, to my relief, asked me what "scornful" means.

My favorite recent language moment with the girls, though, happened about a month ago, when Duchess unexpectedly lost a tooth. (Molars, apparently, don't do the prolonged wiggling-around thing that front teeth do.) Her note to the Tooth Fairy described how she didn't know her tooth was loose, and "I was eating dinner, and kapooie, out it was!"

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Growing up

Duchess, as usual, had an excellent first day of school. She was delighted to see old friends and meet the handful of new kids in her class. She has some of her favorite kids in her class this year. She will have a fulltime PE teacher AND a fulltime music teacher this year, which feels to me like a minor miracle. Her teacher talks very quickly, speaks with a Chinese accent, is very strict, and has strong convictions about the way kids should dress and eat and behave generally (this was communicated directly to the kids as well as to parents in the extensive paperwork that came home with Duchess today). This is totally fine with Duchess, who loves rules and (while not actually being at all tidy in her person or environment) already follows all the teacher's preferred practices of hygiene, behavior, and school-supplies management. The teacher seems very warm, actually, and I'm also fine with rules as long as they come bundled with kindness and generosity.

Third grade is a new world of freedom, as it turns out. This year, Duchess's classroom is in the older kids' wing of the school, so she doesn't have to dodge unruly kindergarteners in the hall. She doesn't have to be transferred to the custody of an adult at the end of the school day, but is just released into the wild. There are other small liberties that are very exciting for an 8-year-old. She actually hopped up and down in excitement when telling me that third graders are allowed to sit ANYWHERE THEY WANT at lunch.

Meanwhile, Skipper is preparing anxiously for her first day of school on Friday. Her first day will be abbreviated, ending just after lunch, and only one-third of the class will be there. Monday will be her first full day of full-on school. Skipper is worried about it. She's working very hard this week on growing up; answering strangers and acquaintances when they speak to her, brushing her hair without being asked, mopping up her own spilled water without being asked, and generally trying to be more responsible. I really mean it; she is working HARD. We've talked a lot, too, about how she will have to advocate for herself, and ask for what she wants and needs, something that has always been hard for her. I'm feeling pretty anxious about it, too. I was excited to get her into the preschool mostly because of what it represents in terms of her academic future - six years at a good public school with a language immersion program. I didn't think at all about whether it would be a good fit for her right now. And after the orientation meeting last week, I'm a little concerned about that. There are a lot of kids and not very many teachers, and it all feels more like public school kindergarten than it feels like the kind of swanky, semi-hippie preschools that she's attended in the past. The teachers seem perfectly nice, but I think it'll be very easy for Skipper to just disappear there. When she's under any stress, she pulls everything into her shell and shuts down all outgoing communications. Standing in the classroom full of kids and parents at the orientation, I watched a kid climb onto a painting-drying rack and bounce enthusiastically on until it bent, and I felt a pang of worry for my little snail child. In a classroom of twenty-five kids, the furniture-wreckers are going to demand all the teachers' attention and trample the other kids. I don't want her to spend the whole school year in her shell.

But I'm borrowing trouble by thinking along these lines, and that's something I frequently (and wisely!) tell my kids to try to avoid doing, so I'm trying to follow my own advice. During the schmoozy part of the orientation, I stood for a few minutes near the Japanese teacher while Skipper pressed her face against my legs and aggressively refused to look at anybody. One of her classmates, who is apparently not a snail, was happily interrogating the teacher about how to say various things in Japanese. Half an hour later, Skipper accurately and spontaneously told me how to say "hello" in Japanese, which she had apparently learned while hiding. I felt somewhat comforted by the notion that Skipper, even if tucked into her shell all year, will still be learning some things other than how to hide. I also have to remember that this kid is very tenacious, and I hope that the challenges of the school year will show her how to use that stubbornness to her benefit.

First Day of Third Grade

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Summer is over.

We went on our last camping trip of the summer - we had planned the trip around a living history event at a little history museum in a state park not too far from home. Given that, you would think this would be a post full of photos of people in pioneer costumes churning butter. However, the camera died about 20 hours into the trip, so no such luck.
When we arrived, we walked two miles down the bike trail to a touristy store (the longest-continually-operating store in Oregon!) to get ice cream. Skipper took a hilariously long time to eat her ice cream. (I have many, many more photos...)
Then we walked back to the campsite, braving the looming dark (no flashlights!) and the potential for scooter crashes.

Duchess read Skipper's bedtime book in the tent.

We woke up. Have you realized that Duchess's legs are approximately ten feet long?
We went for a walk. Along the way, a stranger offered to take afamily photo, which was a little weird, but made us all laugh a lot.
We found a fallen oak tree at the "Oak Grove" picnic site. This provided quite a bit of entertainment for the girls. (You can see Cook in the background of some of these photos, too, if you look carefully.)

Then, after the camera died, we had a terrific time at the "Farmstead Days" event. Duchess was absolutely thrilled with everything, Skipper was surprisingly absorbed (at least for the first few hours) and I was completely amazed by the ladies making lace - holy schlamoly, you guys, making lace is insane. I'm not sure how Cook felt; what with the heat and the sheer weirdness of the whole weekend, he may have entered an altered state.
At any rate, it was an excellent end to an excellent summer. Now, to school!