Friday, February 28, 2014

Vietnamese fan dance

Duchess performed a Vietnamese dance at the neighborhood high school today. They were having a "multicultural assembly" and invited the grade schoolers to perform. Duchess had a wonderful time.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Today Duchess, Skipper and I stopped on our way home from Skipper's school, and chatted for a minute with the kids who live down the block. The older kid is in kindergarten at Skipper's school, and we see him, his sister, and their mom pretty frequently on the walk to and from school. He doesn't see Duchess as often, because her school gets out later. (Today she kicked off the day by throwing up, so she didn't go to school.) He said to me, "who's that?" and pointed at Duchess. It turned out he thought she was an adult. Bundled in a bulky sweatshirt and raincoat, she was convincingly large for a five-year-old audience. Looking at her, I realized that she must have recently reached (and probably passed) five feet tall. I don't remember what it's like to experience such rapid physical change that neighbors think you're a stranger, but it must be weird.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Now Skipper's learning to read!

Perhaps you remember Duchess learning to read. Happily, we have clued in to the Bob Books this time around, so Skipper is flying along.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Small news items

1) The strike was called off! Hurray!
2) I have a (part-time, short-term) job! Hurray! The gig is relevant to my education, pays okay (I will earn enough, though just barely, to pay off Skipper's preschool tuition for the school year, which is a great relief to me), is located nearby, and offers fairly convenient hours. Double Hurray!

Friday, February 14, 2014

The effect of labor relations on fish

Portland Public School teachers are prepared to walk out next week. The union has already taken the strike vote, and the walkout is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. They're still negotiating, so it could be called off (and I'm hopeful that things will resolve on Sunday, actually), but everybody has to prepare for both contingencies.

I'm not taking a strong stand on this; I support teachers as a general rule, but I don't see anything in this particular contract disagreement that's worth striking for. My impression is that they're striking almost as a general protest against the years of cuts, and the way the district is spending the "extra" money they've gotten this year and for next year. This kind of thing picks up its own momentum. If they strike, I'm not sending my kids to school, but it's as much because there won't be anything worth making the trip for (and I'm unemployed! Yay!) as because I don't want to cross the picket line.

We hadn't really talked to the kids about it until yesterday.* Today, the teachers will all be packing up their personal belongings to take home - the union has encouraged them to do this publicly. Many classes in the elementary schools will be having little Valentine's Day parties at the end of the day, so they'll be wrapping up their parties by watching their teachers pack up all their stuff after the bell rings. (And given how much many teachers provide themselves in the way of materials and classroom decorations, this could mean a lot of stuff.)

Yesterday also happened to be a day when I had several depressing conversations with other parents and staff who volunteer or work for various PTA programs. They have all been more or less warned in more or less unpleasant ways that if they try to provide any enrichment activities for kids at school during a strike, they will incur the wrath of the teachers. (To be fair, this message is mostly coming from two people who are exactly the sort of people who you'd expect to go completely bonkers over something like this, but that doesn't mitigate the unpleasantness of the message.) This makes me really sad; I certainly hope the union isn't on board with threatening people (including a person who is paid poorly, with no benefits, by the PTA, on an hourly basis, to provide enrichment services that really make the school a better place) who contribute to the community, just because they want to keep enriching the lives of the kids who are coming to school during a strike, kids who are more likely to need that enrichment than the kids who are being kept home.

Yesterday, Skipper's teacher, Excellent Sensei,** sent home this letter:
"In preparation for a possible strike, teachers will be emptying their classrooms of personal belongings, plants, and classroom pets on Friday. This means that our beloved goldfish Kai and Betty will be coming home with me. 
One thing we know about young children is that they thrive on routine, and do best with lots of advance preparation for any change. With these things in mind, we will be talking with the children tomorrow about the possible strike. Our conversation will be developmentally appropriate. We will not be discussing any of the specific issues involved. 
I will introduce the concept of a strike by reading the book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, in which the cows strike in an effort to obtain electric blankets from Farmer Brown. This book is available at the Multnomah County Library if you would like to read it at home.  
It's likely your children will have some questions for you, and need some reassurance. We will cover the following points, which I suggest keeping in mind as you discuss things at home:
  • A strike is a grownup problem, and grownups will be able to work it out, in time. 
  • If there is a strike, some things may change for a while. There may not be school for some period of time, and/or there will be some new teachers and things to do at school for a while.
  • Betty and Kai will be safe at home with me the whole time. I will come back when the strike is over, and so will Betty and Kai. 
  • One thing that will not change is that grownups will always be able to take care of kids, no matter what.
Thank you,  
Excellent Sensei"

The girls and I read the letter together and discussed it, and Duchess and I went a little further to talk about how strikes can make people very emotional, etc. Everybody seemed comfortable.

I love Excellent Sensei so much. I would strike on her behalf any day.

*With Skipper, we have to balance the need to give her advanced warning of changes with the need to limit the amount of time she has to work up anxiety about changes. Plus, I've really been hoping they would just settle. 
** I realize that I haven't written about how much happier Skipper is at school these days. I also haven't written about how much I appreciate Excellent Sensei, who is kind, perceptive, consistent, and very sensitive to the challenges of social anxiety. When the kids arrive in the morning, she greets every single one in a calm, positive way, giving each kid her complete attention. While a teacher charged with the care of 25 preschoolers cannot exercise mindfulness and be fully present at all times, she comes exceptionally close. She may actually be superhuman.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Too many snow days.

With the kids home for their second full snow day, I am beginning to feel somewhat grumpy about the snow experience in Portland. About five inches of snow fell in two separate storms, and it's been 48 hours since it stopped snowing. Temperatures have been above freezing all day today. Not only is nothing plowed (except the freeways), making the streets a sea of slushy misery, but fewer than 10% of homeowners and 30% of business owners bother to shovel their sidewalks (let alone clearing the storm drains on the street), making the sidewalks a slick of slushy, slippery misery. I know these people are not ALL physically incapable of shoveling. They may just not grasp their civic responsibility. Or they don't have snow shovels. Or they're just assholes. The residents of several properties we crossed on our walk to the library today had cleared their driveways, shoveling the snow onto the sidewalk.

We also realized that our snow gear is woefully lacking. When it only snows for real once every five years or so, your preparedness is minimal. We do have a snow shovel (because we are not assholes, and we clear our sidewalk), which has mostly been used to shovel mulch. We do not, however, have anything else, as we don't do any snow-related sports of any kind. So we set off for our family sledding expedition on Saturday all wearing rain pants (with cotton leggings underneath, except for Cook, who owns actual long underpants) and rain boots. We did not have a sled, but the pieces of cardboard we brought worked pretty well. (The leaky camping air mattress we brought as an additional "sled" did not work as well.) The kids were thrilled. Take that, fancy plastic sleds!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

It's snowing again.

This is the third round of snow, which is likely to be capped off with a layer of freezing rain.

Friday, February 7, 2014

It's snowing again, you guys.

It's really weird. It feels both familiar - I spent most of my life between ages 7 and 22 in places where snow is normal - and alien - I've lived in snow-lite or snow-free places for ten years.

Today, Portland was completely shut down, which is what happens in Portland when three inches of snow falls. Cook had the day off, even, so it was a true snow day. And it started snowing again in the afternoon - we're likely to get three MORE inches! SIX INCHES OF SNOW!!!!!

Here is a video in which Duchess learns a critical lesson in snowball fighting strategy.*

Here is a video in which Skipper learns nothing about snowball fighting strategy. Note my hysterical  laughter and complete lack of sympathy for my children's suffering.

* Duchess had not really grasped until now the ramifications of Cook's childhood (in Maine with a slightly older brother), during which he learned how to snowball fight the dirty way.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

free ranging

Duchess walked home from school alone one day this week, for the first time. She attended a dance practice after school, and she still wasn't home 45 minutes after the practice was supposed to end. I tried hard not to be a helicopter parent, but I still got pretty freaked out, and finally I cracked and got out my bike. I rode out the driveway, imagining her lying under a car in the middle of an intersection, and I immediately saw her non-imaginarily turning the corner at the end of the block. She was perplexed  to see me. Apparently, the practice ran late, and then her friend's mom didn't show up to pick HER up, and so Duchess hung out with her for a little while, looking for the mom. "If I had a phone, Mom, I could have called you and then you wouldn't have had to worry," she said casually.

She has, of course, been talking to her friends about her new once-a-week solitary commute. One of her friends said she's not allowed to walk home alone until 6th grade, because her parents are afraid she'll be kidnapped. Duchess seemed slightly aggrieved that I'm not worried she will get kidnapped. We discussed statistics and availability heuristics, and she seemed appeased.

Other parents have one of two reactions when they find out we've started doing this. They either say "Oh, good for her! I was thinking it was time for My Kid to start walking home alone," or they say "But she's only nine!"

Duchess is careful and cautious by temperament, and is well-trained in defensive pedestrianing.  She looks for turning cars, she makes eye contact with drivers, and she always assumes that drivers are stupid, distracted, AND drunk. Also, she knows that her brain isn't yet able to gauge distance and speed accurately, and she should never fully trust her perception of oncoming traffic. It's a straightforward walk, routed mostly off busy streets; she has to cross twelve minor streets, and two major streets (at lighted intersections). She knows the area very well, including the homes of family friends where she could go for help if necessary. I'm home when she gets home, so the window of unsupervised time is pretty small. We've talked through a number of scenarios that could arise (most based on things we've actually experienced - a guy standing on a corner screaming profanities at passing cars, sidewalks unexpectedly blocked for construction, etc.). We did NOT talk about the possibility of a friend wanting company. We're going to go over social scenarios before her next walk home, so I don't have to panic next time.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Encouraging endorphin addiction at a young age

My moms group met the other day to plan the upcoming year of mother-daughter activities, and the conversation got snagged on weight and body image, as it tends to do when a bunch of thinky women start talking about parenting 8-10-year-old girls.

I've written a few times about fatness and parenting girls, and it's back at the front of my mind because I've been reading lately about research suggesting that kids who are overweight early are pretty much screwed with a lifetime of being overweight. I hope to set Skipper and Duchess up for a lifetime of physical activity in a way that will survive the travails of adolescence. I really don't know how to do this, so I'm casting around in the dark.

Luckily, Duchess really likes doing stuff with people. And she likes endorphins, so my current angle is to point out how great she feels* after she exercises. Which she does a lot; without exactly planning it, we have created a situation where she gets about an hour of fairly vigorous exercise six days a week. Plus, she walks miles and miles, like the rest of us. Oh. and PE twice a week, and recess.** (Though it's worth noting that even that level of activity, which is fairly high for her peer group, still just barely meets the physical activity recommendations for kids.) So that's all working pretty well for the moment. We'll see if it lasts. Even if it does, there will probably have to be a totally different angle for Skipper, because there always has to be a totally different angle for Skipper. Usually it's a strange angle.

*Expressed in a continual stream of happy chatter emitted while bouncing Tigger-like along the sidewalk all the way home.
** She's taken to playing basketball at recess. BASKETBALL!