Posted in A Day in the Life, parenting, School

The Poetry of Math: Roses are Red, Violets are 4

School was pretty straight forward when I was a student.  You went to school, you sat down at your (individual) desk, your teacher lectured, you practiced running drills based on the lecture, you got food and playtime, heard some more lectures, read a book, went home and practiced running drills based on the lectures of the day.  At the end of the week, you took a test to see how well you understood the lectures.  At the end of six weeks, you tried to explain to your parents that you did really well on the tests, you just didn’t understand why you needed to turn in that stupid homework, and didn’t think it was fair that the 0s on homework made the As on tests average out to Cs on your report card.

Note to self:  Math is ultimate adjudicator.  There is no fair, or unfair, only correct.

Note to Math:  This is why I hate you.  It is also why I respect you and am in love with your sexy younger brother, Physics.  Physics, call me!

School is confusing now.  Maybe not for the kids who are growing up in the system, but for me, and for some of the other bewildered parents I know, it is convoluted and entirely not mathematical.  We’re in good company with Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, though.

[At the school open house] I felt as if I were toggling between a business school seminar and the space program; acronyms alone—seemingly random sequences of letters like MAP and SOL and EAPE—were being deployed more frequently than actual words. To be sure, the teachers seemed as maddened by it as the parents were. Even if we can all agree about the singular benefits of “project-based learning across the curriculum,” I am less than perfectly certain any of us knows what it means.

Last year, we got a letter in the mail telling us that we wouldn’t be seeing “grades” for the duration of elementary school.  No 0s, As, or Cs to worry about.  No math to worry about.  Only the wonder of still progressing toward the standard, having met the standard, or having exceeded it.

At our open house, Thor’s wonderful math teacher (and she is really a great teacher–we’ve had nothing but great teachers at this school, which is why I am not entirely alarmed by all the Big Brother Speak) was explaining how that applied to mathematics.  One father voiced my question, “But how will we know if he knows what he is doing?  Do we have worksheets or anything where we can time him, and see?  How much time should we spend on it every night?”

I knew exactly what he was talking about.  Part of my elementary school torment  drilling was the daily worksheet.  We would get 100 math questions (addition, subtraction, then multiplication, and division, then fractions–damn them to hell!) on a long sheet, and have 60 seconds to fly through as many answers as we could.  We memorized 7+2=9, and 5-4=1, and 6×2=12, and 18/3=6, and 1/2+3/4=1 1/4.  We didn’t have to sit and work the math on fingers, or blocks, or beads, we just knew.

Wonderful Math Teacher tried valiantly to explain that we no longer focus on memorization of mathematics, but on fluency of numbers.  I did not know what this meant, and neither did the father, who asked for clarification.

Fluency of numbers, WMT explained, helped a child be able to solve problems by words I had never heard put together in a sentence before and could not possibly begin to recount to you.  She did give the example that fluency meant instead of a child memorizing 7+2=9, they wanted a child to be able to look at 7+2= and say to themselves, “Well, 7+3=10, so if I take away 1, I have 9.  7+2=9.”

My question was, “How does the child know that 7+3 is 10?  Is that memorized?” Because fluency isn’t an exact science, and math…is.

I am fluent in English and still don’t understand half of what Rush Limbaugh says because his concepts and ideologies are so different from mine, he may as well be speaking a different language.  I turn on Fox and tilt my head like I’m a dog watching television.

I am terrible at math, but I know that I can follow formulas and rules, and plug variables into computations and get exact, binding, non-negotiable answers because Math is Facts.  You can add letters into math as placeholders, but you can’t make those placeholders mean anything without rules.  And the rules are not nebulous, variable things like guidelines for grammar or spelling.

If math ran grammar and spelling, it would be impossible to put an i before an e, or end a sentence with a preposition.  You just couldn’t do it.

I grew up going to school run by Math rules.  My son is growing up going to school run by Poetic License.  It seems scary to me.

When I was taking my teaching certification courses, we were told that the old school Sage from the Stage style of lecturing was passe.  We were told that today’s teachers are Guides standing Beside.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m out in the wilderness, I want the Guide out in front of me because he knows where the snakes are.  And I want that because that’s how I grew up, or I want that because it is the most pragmatic approach?

There are as many different learning styles as there are children, and as many different home lives, which factors in greatly to how a child is able to receive instruction in a classroom.  I’m on a learning curve trying to match up with what my son thinks is a learning straight line.

I still think flash cards are the way to go.

If you need me, I’ll be problematizing cross-curricular content throughout multiple modalities in order to better integrate hands-on goals within the new paradigm.

Wish me luck.

I have to say again and again that Thor’s teachers are fantastic.  

Posted in parenting


 “It is hard to spend all day with a 2-year-old, and they don’t really want to spend all day with you anyway.”  Harvey Karp, pediatrician and author of Happiest Baby on the Block a/k/a Lane’s Early Parenting Bible.

I love the recent wave of articles and comedy stemming from toddler tantrums.  I’ve had a toddler, and he had his tantrums, and while some of them made me laugh (freaking out because I cut his cereal bar into bite-sized bits), some of them made me want to tear out my hair (freaking out because I cut his cereal bar into bite-sized bits–yes, I know it’s the same tantrum.  What is funny the first time is crazy-making the 35th time.)

Like any parent, I wanted to be absolved of a) responsibility for the child’s behavior when it did not mirror my desires, b) guilt for wanting to turn the child upside down, dip the top part of his head into the toilet bowl, and flush, and c) the need to discipline my little cave man.  However, if done, then my child grows up to be some wretched, entitled moron who cuts you off in traffic and gives you the finger for daring to be on the road–can’t have that.  Also can’t have CPS coming to take my child away because of the swirlies.

What was most important to me was to remember that I was dealing with a toddler who barely spoke English, who couldn’t reach anything he wanted to have, who lived in a world full of No, and who wasn’t even allowed to do what he wanted with his own bodily functions.  I tried to remember how frustrating life was for him, and how often I would like to throw myself on the ground and scream bloody murder.  My job was to get him from the point A of doing exactly what felt right, to the point B of controlling himself and channeling his emotions into something that wouldn’t get him arrested later down the road.

While I had days of miserable failure, B and I were both always very aware and careful not to subject the general population to Thor’s worst moments.  Toddlers are going to tantrum, just like haters gonna hate, but meltdowns can be avoided or curtailed, or at least removed from earshot.  So, here are my top bits of advice for anyone with a howler of his or her very own:

  1. Always have some kind of healthy, toddler approved snack available (it helps to trick them into liking healthy things early on by not giving them any other choices.  If they believe apples are the only snack in the world, they will covet the Golden Delicious.  Babies are insanely easy to fool, given they have no idea what all is out there.  I would strongly advise against just springing celery on a kid who has cut his teeth on pop rocks and pixie stix, though.  You think he’s mad now…)  It’s hard to howl with your mouth full.  I know food isn’t a solution, and we don’t want to make our kids associate eating with anything other than hunger, but hunger is frequently part of the problem.  Growing kiddos have different hunger cycles than we do, and having something on hand to fill the belly can help.  That’s also why I advocate for healthy.  You don’t want to hand Junior a Snicker bar every half hour, but a small piece of cheese, or fruit, or a carrot stick–not going to hurt him.
  2. Snacks don’t always work, though, so I kept a rotation of toys in Thor’s diaper bag, and later in my purse.  He loved cars, so I always had at least 3 of them.  When I thought about it, I would grab a $0.97 car and keep it in its packaging.  Then, if he was showing signs of meltdown (for him, it was eye rubbing, snuffling, and scowling–and God forbid I mistook those for sleepy signs!) I would whip out the new toy and he would forget he was upset.  Babies have very limited short term memory.  Kind of like me.  Shiny!  Ooh!
  3. Thor liked pictures of himself and mirrors (also like me.  Dang.)  So I carried a small, soft photo album with pictures of him in action, of him with his daycare teachers, and of him with us.  If I could distract him with the photo album, we could head off a meltdown.  If he was mid-meltdown, I would pull out a mirror and he would be fascinated by the sight of himself.  The wail would trail off into sniffles–until he tried to eat the mirror, then it started all over again.
  4. I also carried finger puppets.  I’m sure that needs no explanation.
  5. Sometimes, nothing is going to work, and you are just going to have to leave the restaurant, your grocery cart, the line at Ross, or the theater and take your kid out of gen pop.  Maybe this is my best meltdown advice.  Here’s why:  Other people will appreciate that you aren’t letting your little air raid siren pierce their eardrums is a biggie, but also, remembering that Suzy doesn’t process stimulation the same way we do will help us understand that being in the middle of a restaurant for her is like standing in the middle of a superhighway for us.  It is loud, unfamiliar, intimidating, and can be frightening.  Once that meltdown has taken hold, getting her to a quiet place can help her focus enough to calm down.  Thor used to freak out when we would go to Chili’s.  It’s one of his favorites now, but we could absolutely guarantee he was going to cry at the table there.  That place was just overwhelming for him.
  6. There will also be times when all-else-fails, and when you are so frazzled and raw that you are having a hard time focusing.  Right at that moment, it’s going to be hard to remember to be a good parent.  Put the child down somewhere safe, and walk away.  If you have a parenting partner, give the child to them and get out of earshot.  If you are a single parent without help, pick a safe place (like you would for a tornado–drill if you must!) to put down Johnny and step away.  It would be better for him to sit in the bathroom and eat toilet paper than for you to do something you’d regret for the rest of your life*. 
  7. Read Happiest Baby on the Block, and Happiest Toddler on the Block, or watch the DVDs.  I swear on these.  They will help you understand where your baby is coming from, and why your toddler is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and give you tools to combat the desire to just let Darwinism take its course.

Above all, stay calm and don’t escalate (oh how easy to say and hard to do!)  Don’t negotiate with the little terrorist if the meltdown is in full swing, just get him into a quiet place, love him, and let him know that while it is safe to express himself with you (because it needs to be if you want him to talk to you when he’s 17), he needs to find ways to do it without biting (because that hurts.)  Help him channel the feelings he is having.  Love him, love him, love him, and understand he’s just doing his job. 

I used to tell Thor that out loud.  “I know you are just doing your job being a baby, but let’s work to get you promoted, okay?”  He had no idea what I was talking about, but it helped me keep perspective, helped me keep my sense of humor, and sometimes confused him enough to stop crying for three seconds–long enough for me to distract him with something shiny.

Good luck.  Lots and lots of good luck to you.  If you make it through the toddler years, you’ll have a lot of great stories to tell your kid’s prom date and future grandchildren.

*Bonus:  We’ve all been there.  There is no shame in feeling like you want to do something awful.  You should be ashamed if you have done something awful, and you should seek help so that it never happens again.  If nothing else, or if you can’t afford anything else, go to one of those Safe Place places and tell them you need help–they’ll know how to get you to the necessary resources. 

Bonus Bonus:  If you know a parent who needs help to avoid doing the awful, go help them.  Imagine it’s you and act accordingly.

Posted in A Day in the Life, Explaining the Strange Behavior, Family, parenting, School

Some Days Start Badly

You know, I very rarely just make one mistake.  Usually, when I goof something up, it is a snowball effect of doom as I go into overdrive to try to correct the first error and end up destroying the space around me in true sitcom style.  Just ask Jamie and Wes, whose brand new beige sofa, barstools, and light colored walls I baptized with a large coffee.

I can’t even remember what triggered it, but I sloshed my coffee, and in scrambling to keep it from getting on anything, I splashed it out of the cup, slipped on what I had splashed, managed to toss the cup up in the air and somehow catch it by the handle as I swung in an arc around the living room that slung coffee from the breakfast bar, all the way across their new sectional.  Coffee in the floor.  Coffee on the cloth barstool seats.  Coffee on the sectional.  Coffee in my hair.  Coffee all over the place.  If I’d just stood still, there would only have been a small mess.

This morning, at 7:44, I realized I had missed the special parent/teacher conference that Thor’s teacher had asked us to attend at 7:15.  I panicked.  I waited until I got to a red light, then fired off an email apologizing and asking to reschedule.  The teacher wrote back and I couldn’t really read the whole email as I was driving, but some words popped out at me, including the words “field trip.”  I panicked again.

“Today is Thor’s field trip!” I yelled aloud at myself.  “And you didn’t pack his lunch!  AUGH!!!”

What could I do?  I was halfway to work, it was 7:55, and I couldn’t get back to his school with a lunch in time to beat the busses leaving.  I called the school and talked to the secretary, sounding like a crazy woman.  She assured me that they would send him down to the cafeteria to buy a lunch, and that they wouldn’t let him miss the field trip.

I hung up, starting to cry because a) I had forgotten my son’s p/t conference and I feel awful about that, b) I was afraid he was going to feel thrown away because I had forgotten to pack him a lunch, c) I was afraid he would feel weird because the field trip bus was waiting for him, and d) because my mistake had delayed an entire school full of 2nd graders.  I mean, that’s 100 kids on busses who are delayed because one mother forgot a lunch.  Have you ever been on a bus with a 7 year old?  Have you ever been a 7 year old on a bus?

I was just getting to the point of really worrying about my mascara when my phone rang.  It was the school.  The wonderful secretary had called to tell me she had spoken with Thor’s teacher, and the field trip is not until Thursday, so I hadn’t missed the boat entirely.  I laughed a crazy person.  She laughed like a concerned person.  I said, “Thank goodness!  At least I’m not THE worst mother in the world.”  She laughed again, uncomfortably, and we said our goodbyes.

Then, I was laughing and crying at the same time, and making like Alice Cooper with the mascara.  I crazy laughed for a solid minute before shaking out of it (when I missed my exit.)  So, while Thor might not know how close he came to 2nd Grade level trauma, his teacher absolutely, 100%, without any question knows where all of his shortcomings originate.  Maybe we don’t need a conference at all now?  Maybe she’ll just look at his tendency to forget things and feel sorry for him, given that it is a genetic flaw.

The kid doesn’t have ADD.  He has Related to Me.

Posted in Howling Sea Lane, parenting

Where are the Parents?

[In which she is judgmental and foaming at the mouth.  Be warned.]

I keep reading these stories about teens raping and recording, and I find myself asking the same question over, and over again. 

Where are the parents?

Where are the parents when boys are carrying a dead weight, limp girl across town, to party after party?

Where are the parents when fifteen year old girls are drinking themselves into oblivion at a slumber party?

Where are the parents when boys are at a fifteen year old girl’s slumber party?

Where are the parents when text messages containing photographic evidence of criminal activity are being sent through phones paid for by those parents?

Where are the parents when those photos and videos are being uploaded onto personal computers within their homes?

Where were those parents when those children were developing social awareness and social consciousness?

Where were the parents when the truth came out, and why didn’t we see them on the news apologizing*?

These parents are people who should be about my age.  Maybe a little older.  Maybe a year or two younger.  But these parents are from my generation.  We are the jackasses who are responsible for what is coming up now, and I cannot fathom why we have allowed it.  Then again, I didn’t have cool parents, and I certainly am not one.

Why, for one second, would you provide your teenager–whose brain is still developing–access to alcohol or drugs?  Why would you provide an evironment that encouraged other children–CHILDREN–to come and indulge**.  16 year olds aren’t known for their excellent decision making skills, or their ability to self-regulate as it is.  Why would you want to further impair their already under-developed sensibilities?!  Why?!  What do you expect will happen?***

Kids are stupid.  That’s a fact.  They can’t help it.  This is why we don’t let them run for President.  The worst thing about teenagers (and I say this having been one, and having known several personally) is that they think they know everything, and believe in their own immortality.  They aren’t able to put two and two together to understand that rape, plus bragging about rape at 16 can mean being 46 before you’re out of jail.  Teenagers under the influence of alcohol…  Even worse.  That’s what they have parents for.

We are supposed to be there to keep them inside the lines until their little frontal cortexes are developed enough that they can tell the difference between a good idea and something that sounded good at the time.  We are supposed to provide them with structure and examples of good ideas so that they have a solid basis for comparison.  We are supposed to punish them when they miss the mark so that they understand consequences, and so that they are less likely to make mistakes that would cost them dearly.

We aren’t their friends.  We aren’t their buddies.  We can’t be afraid that they won’t like us.  We have to be the grown-ups so that they can make it through to adulthood.  And when they screw up, we have to enforce the rules. 

We have to love them, nurture them, treat them with dignity and respect, set expectations for them, encourage them, drive them, require that they meet standards of decency, be there to catch them when they fall and help them back up, and hopefully get them out of high school and into college with self esteem, self respect, respect for others, and a desire to be something more than they already are–no matter how awesome that “already are” is. ****

We have to own up and apologize to them when we are wrong, and set that standard of taking responsibility for them.  We have to model the behavior we expect, which sometimes means having less fun than we’d like to.  This makes me think of a poster that hung in the nurse’s office of my high school.  It read, over a pregnant belly, “Having a baby is like being grounded for 18 years.”  That is no lie. 

We have to accept responsibility for our own actions, and accept responsibility for our own parenting choices, and not try to blame the video games (we bought them), the movies (we took them to see), the music (we gave the allowance that purchased), the television (we used to babysit them), or the government (we voted into office.)  If our kids are sociopaths from birth, it is our responsibility to deal with them so that others aren’t dealt with by them.  If we’re the ones who screwed them up?  Listen:  We brought them into this world.  They didn’t ask to be here.  We OWE them good parenting.  We OWE them.  It is our job to bring them up through this world.  We did this to them, not the other way around.

*I know the answer to this one:  They were following the advice of their defense attorneys.  My kid would have already pleaded so guilty to get away from my wrath, that his attorney would have been begging me to go on the air and tell the world what hell I had wrought on him, so as to soften the jury’s hearts.  

**Don’t ever try to lure or offer these things to my child.  I will scalp you and wear your forehead for a hat.  Try me.  I look amazing in hats.

***No.  Don’t go there.  Don’t try to tell me that kids who are denied the ability to party at home, go nuts with the frat boys when they start school.  I didn’t.  None of my sheltered girlfriends did.  My close guy friends didn’t.  I think it depends on the kid, depends on the level of expectation the kid was raised with, and depends on how successfully the kid navigates stress and peer pressure–which has a lot to do with parenting.  Which brings me back to this:  WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?

****This is effing exhausting, by the way.  And it never ends.  Oh my god, it never ends, not even when you are trying to go to the bathroom.

Posted in baseball, Family, parenting, Women, Women Worth Knowing

But She’s Just a Girl

My mom and I were watching Thor’s batting practice tonight.  As always, she was watching the coach with one eye, and Thor with the other, muttering praise, or worry as the coach did this, or that.  With most mothers, that would be some armchair quarterbacking, but with mine?  Mine knows her baseball from the inside out.  My mom played baseball for years.

She was squinting at how Thor was standing and I asked, “Which team was it that came and scouted you?”

“The Cardinals,” she said.  “St. Louis.”  That turned her around in my direction.

“I always get that wrong,” I said.  “I always think it was one of the sock teams And tell me again how they found you?”

“My coach.  Coach Ball.  He was talking about Jo Young, telling them how good this Joe Young was, and they thought he was talking about a boy.”  Now she was squinting at me.

I smiled at her.  “And tell me what the scout said.”

“He said I was amazing.  He told my coach that everything he said about me was true, and I was one of the best they’d seen.”

“But you couldn’t play.”

“No.  I couldn’t.  He said, ‘She’s everything you said, but she’s just a girl.'”

I have zero body intelligence, as we’ve discussed before.  I can barely do yoga.  So, the idea that I might not ever be allowed to play sports professionally has never bothered me.  I don’t care that I can’t play baseball professionally because I have XX chromosomes because I can’t play baseball anyway.  You would have to Bionic Woman me to even get me on a playing field with the AAA rookies.  But what if someone told me I couldn’t write professionally because of my sex?  The level of devastation would be overwhelming.  If you’re good enough, what’s your junk got to do with it?  Why should your gender stand in the way of your earning power?  And I say earning power because ARod makes a helluva lot more money than Crystl Bustos.  Who?  Exactly.

At dinner I asked my mom, “How did it feel to know that you had the same, or better ability than some men, but weren’t going to have the same opportunity to make a living doing something you loved?  That you weren’t going to have the same opportunity to create wealth for yourself doing something you were born with a natural ability to do?”

She shook her head, “It was hard.  It was always hard.”

How different, how much better, how much more fulfilling could my mother’s life have been, had she been afforded the opportunity to play professional ball?

I told her I wanted to do a video interview for the blog.  She squinted at me some more, then cocked her head to the left.  She said, “All right.” And went back to her dinner.

Thor went home with her, where he’ll be practicing the drills the coach gave him to do.  No one better to show him the way than the Mighty Jo Young.