Sunday, October 31, 2010

Competition video

Wanted to share this with you -- but now I have to go and try to figure out what time it really is. One of my clocks changed time zones I need to google "time change 2010" and figure out if it is 9am or 8am. Happy Halloween. Time to sweep the leaves off the front stairs.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thank you BRMS

I just picked up C from the Middle School Environmental Trip.

It is an overnight in Northern New Jersey where the children hike 3 miles of the Appalachian Train and do a variety of other outdoor and indoor activities. C did "Colonial Cooking" where she learned how to make apple cobbler - which she said looked good, but tasted bad (she's not big on fruit). She also learned the "Three Threes" (You can live 3 days without water, you can live 3 weeks without food and it takes 3 hours to make a proper shelter) in "Survival Training", and she claims to have hit a bulls-eye in Archery. They also sang songs and got to know other members of their team. C's cabin organized their own spa-night.

C loved it.

Thank you Teachers. C got a lot of fresh air, made new friends and learned something. She didn't mind yesterday's rain. In fact, she loved the trip, rain and all.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elitism alive and well in BFL Cheer...

Someday when we live somewhere far from here, and I am missing Bridgewater, please remind me how elitist this town's stupid parents can be, for no good reason!

This is one of those times.

Julliard admission counselors can be elitist, school districts and cheer coaches should not be!

As long-time readers know, I have never been big on cheer and have actively tried to curtail my own bias as a sport for snotty girls, but the coaches seem to be actively sabotaging these efforts! The squad has two components: game-day cheerleaders who only cheer at football games, and the competition squad which cheers at games and at competitions or exhibitions. Seems like that would be the "elite group", separated based on ability, but the reality is far more silly. All of the girls except two are on the competition (elite) group. Two girls have really been left out. Despite this, the girls have kept very good attitudes even taking on all the optional activities, like extra tumbling classes. If they are bitter, they don't show it. They are actually enthusiastic. (The Moms, less so). That's sportsmanship!

The coaches, on the other hand, have not shown these girls any empathy and in fact can seem spiteful. First there were four girls excluded from the elite group (C was among them, but as "the alternate" she had to learn all the performances without any promise of taking part - when she showed how hard she was working, they made her a full member). Recently another girl was asked to join the team to compensate for a girl who wasn't kicked off, but who refuses to do the basics. Then... there were two.

The meanness continued yesterday when the end of the year party was announced to coincide with an out-of-town competition, which excludes these two girls. If the competition were in the area, the other two girls could easily come for the party, but the coaches intentionally chose to have it when we are at our overnight, in Wildwood - more than two hours from here. Even when the parents protested, the coach refused to do something more inclusive. No parent, no matter how dedicated, should be expected to drive that far for a pizza party, and no coach should expect them to.

If C didn't genuinely love it, I would have pulled her out just on principle. These are her closest friends on the team and the girls who got her into it to begin with. One thing is for sure...

I'm ripping up the headband that was supposed to somehow demonstrate my team spirit. The coaches don't know what inclusion is, so why would I wear red-black and white? I know the coaches' true colors now!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cool-aid overdose

Spent way too many hours at cheer lately and felt like I was stuck in a suburban housewife vortex. Although some of the Moms are very "normal" a few are really getting on my nerves.

Last weekend when I knit the pink headband at a cheer event in Montclair, I told one of the moms that I was hoping to wear it that night at the football game. Her comment wasn't "good for you" or "it's very nice" but "why did you make it pink, you should have made it in red, black or white". These, of course, are the team colors. Instead of a well-deserved rebuke, I explained that I had pink yarn in my stash and a somewhat snide, "and, I didn't have those colors".

Turns out when cleaning the basement this weekend, I found all three, so last night I started to knit a tri-colored headband.

But as I produced inch after inch, I started feeling bitter and wondered, why should I knit something to prove to them that I support C's cheer team? How did I get pressured (albeit very indirectly) into starting a new knitting project when I have about 10 in various stages of completion. Do these moms really yield that much control over me? And why should I even give these ladies' color-code two seconds thought? Would they think for a millisecond about my suggestion if the tables were turned?

Do they realize that I knit almost all the time, but rarely for myself? Or that I actually put consideration into the pink? Brown wouldn't show up against my hair, I wanted something that wouldn't itch but would still stay warm on cold fall nights? So pink cotton was the answer.

Why is it never enough? I'm at every game, competition and I do my share of carpooling? I'm giving myself hand-cramps writing checks for program fees, uniforms, t-shirts, extra tumbling classes and private lessons. I'm making an effort to get to know her new cheer friends by having them over to the house and taking them for ice cream.

So why knit what I've been referring to (in my mind) as "the f'ing headband"?

I have a rule - I only knit with love. It might be a while to muster enough good vibes to make this project that should take a few hours. Competitive mothering. It's alive and well... in the hearts and minds of Bridgewater moms. Only if I let it!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Short-sighted cut

You've heard me complain that the board needs to prioritize the library in Bridgewater schools. Now I'm upset that parents are petitioning the Superintendent to close the libarary* at the high school!

REALLY?! Are parents that short sighted?

Bridgewater-Raritan high school only has one librarian for its approximately 3,000 students. I haven't spent much time in the Library and know literally nothing about how it operates or what it offers, but someone knowledgeable explained that the library is closed during lunch because kids were playing video games on the computers instead of doing legitimate work, and the librarian doesn't have the capacity to police this. As often happens a few bad apples ruin it for the high school basket. Students can still visit and utilize the library as needed during either an appropriate class or a study hall - they need a pass - and it is open for an hour after school.

So here, while you might find me stating the obvious:

EVERY SCHOOL ON THE PLANET DESERVES A LIBRARY. I expect every school in Bridgewater to have an excellent library, with a plethora of resources at our kids' (and teachers') disposal. I expect the library to have a knowledgeable and helpful librarian. And while they are a dying breed, I also expect the librarian to have an assistant to help with the hundreds of administrative tasks that need to get done so that librarian can concentrate on meeting your child's academic needs.

I can't believe I am blogging about this. It seems like such a given that I shouldn't have to waste time on it. But apparently, it is necessary for me to speak up to remind people that libraries and schools belong together. Studying is not an extra-curricular activity and a school's library is a right, not a privilege.  

Update: A reader brought it to my attention that students can only go to the library with a pass indicating that they need to use it for a specific purpose - i.e. research. They cannot go there "just to read the paper" or "study" in general. This seems like it is a very narrow - too narrow - definition of the library's use and should be revisited as soon as possible. She suggested that concerned parents should attend the next BOE meeting and voice their opinions.

* NB - I put the link to the high school library, but it hasn't been updated since May and still shows it fully staffed. I don't know who is there today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thinking warmer thoughts

How come a fruitful day is followed by one where I can't seem to even get myself motivated enough to make coffee? Yesterday after cleaning and sorting things for a garage sale, I finished my "not-Martha's" headband. The design is available free online.  Mine is in a thick, organic cotton and fits like it was made for me (it was, of course). It is soft, warm and not itchy.

I  think I'm in love.

It couldn't be more simple in design or execution. So why can't I get the gumption up to produce several to sell? Maybe I like it better because I made it for me? Maybe if I made one for a friend she would like it only because it was made for her, but not because it was just right?

One of the blogs I follow discusses this exact thing. Although she has made a career as a reporter and now as a knitting blogger for our local paper, she still dreams about selling her designs, just as I dream of a little yarn shop in Somerville where I can knit in between sales. Of course I don't actually have enough knowledge of knitting beyond my own limited experience (compare the few stitches I know to the vast world of techniques that people knit every day). However I do believe I have taste and a friendly sales persona, so if it were a viable business plan, I could make it work.

My husband e-mailed me a creative knit that sold for more than $50 on e-bay. He also sent me an explanation that an angry bird is not just any bird. In New York ML and I saw knitted headbands that sold for $100! Shawls cost even more! I could knit those, but who do you know willing to pay $100 for a headband, even in cashmere?

I have knit one baby hat that my friend is buying for her cousin as a baby gift! How do you figure out what to charge for something like that?

So why don't I try to do this? And what message is my impotence sending my daughter and son. Mommy doesn't think she can so she doesn't?

But how many businesses fail in Somerville? Am I foolish and irresponsible if I look into it further?

It seems that each week I have a new plan. Last week I was considering opening a Kumon center (not in Bridgewater since we have one). Another time I was thinking of becoming a teacher. Then there have been the various companies that have received my resume recently. My story is still playing out so stay tuned....

By the way - if you were wondering - I made myself some delicious coffee. The caffeine is working and I'm ready to take on the next task on my unpleasant to do list.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Martha and Me

Like most of America I side on the hate side of the love-hate relationship with Martha S. She makes millions of women around the country feel bad about themselves because she has set a bar far too high for normal folks. One year I actually blew out the yokes to paint eggs after watching Martha's show (she didn't teach me the technique - both my Mom and husband prefer that method). My friend MR thought I was crazy. She was right as it is much too much work for coloring eggs with kids.

It is important to remember that Ms. Martha's accomplishments don't happen in a vacuum. She has a sizable fortune (no comment necessary) and a large staff to help her do the leg work that you and I have to do ourselves. If Behind Every Successful Man -- there is a woman, then behind every episode or issue of Martha there is a staff of hundreds plus millions of dollars in advertising. Producers, technical folks, make-up crews, stylists, designers and chefs, painters, planners and who knows what else.

So last year when I got a free year's subscription to Martha, I actually only took it after reminding myself that she has a money and power, and I have neither. My message-to-self was: don't freak out if she makes the impossible seem within reach and all goes wrong.

And so far I have. I haven't made a single recipe in a single magazine - although I have her cookbook and I do use simplified recipes from it regularly. I haven't tried any of her design tips. I haven't cried a single tear because I can't form the perfect hand-made thank you card (and as many people know, thank you cards aren't my strong suit).

But this month's magazine was definitely a keeper. Why??? It seemed like almost every page was just for me! The first food I saw were persimmons - which remind me of my trip to Japan. Then there was a "breakfast for a bunch" with a beautiful parfait that I have the perfect dish for. There were tips on making extra room for guests - I've already done some of the tips, thank you very much! "Revisiting Radio City" - check! Got our tickets last spring. But the culmination of my (to incite her competitor) A-Ha moment proving the issue was a Poppet-issue was "warming trend". It gave an easy hand-knit headband pattern.... but guess what? I'm about 45 minutes away from finishing the one I started SATURDAY! And I like mine BETTER!

There was also a should-be-inspiring, but actually useless section for dreamers like me called "Follow Your Art". Anyone who knits knows there is no money in knitting of this kind, unless you want to make $2 per hour. And finally, there were ideas from Martha's own "collection" (ie a Macy's add)- which I can knit someday.

As with the rest of mass media, it's important to take "the best" and ignore the rest. Usually Martha's magazines end up in my recycling after spending 8 months in the powder room. This one will get stored with the holiday stuff for next year.

It's good to be inspired - in moderation. If I get even ONE of the issue's suggestions made, I'll be happy. The good thing about me is that even if I inspire others, no one is ever intimidated by me! Realistic expectations - and realistic results. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

MoMA, ML and Me

In the never ending magnetic field - work or stay-at-home - I've been trying to embrace my present and stop worrying about my lack of employment.

To that end I called my friend ML on Thursday morning between getting my kids off and told her to drop everything. She did, and we headed into New York. Neither or us have oodles of disposable cash, and both of us had to be home to drive the kids' to their activities starting around 4pm, so we kept it simple: trained to NYC, walked to MoMA, window shopped on 5th Avenue, and headed home.

We talked, gawked at endless diamonds on 47th Street, we drank sparkling wine with our teeny tiny minimalistic MoMA lunch and we looked a designer clothes that we didn't even bother to try on.

At the MoMA there was a wish tree.  Did I wish for a job? No... my wish was more basic than that.

Today I write this knowing that I have done what I can to enjoy the days I have. Currently my life is here, amongst the people I love, and my warm dog (who is lucky I love him as much as I do - as he's had a stomach bug and then chewed my shoe laces AGAIN, maybe these things are linked?). Between knitting my many projects and driving the kids between their friends houses and activities, I cook, surf and dream, but most of all, I try to enjoy life.

I miss working. I miss colleagues, especially those from my favorite job ever, with my title, "Senior Executive Officer" (has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?). Being on a first name basis with the head of a university... I miss the collaboration, the feeling of pride in my work - I even miss the stress of knowing someone is depending on me for something besides a ride and clean clothes or a meal.

But if and when I go back to work, I'll miss one thing:

The freedom to jump a train to New York! It's great to know I can take a day with a friend in the city. Just because it's there......

That's what keeps me sane between bringing forgotten gym shoes to the Middle School or N to another Tae kwon do class. When the bank account isn't in the red from one too many checks written pay to the order of the PTO, I can take out $50 and head on a train, to a foreign world of sorts. Then I can head home safe and sound to sleep under my own comforter at the end of the day.

Carpe Diem! Carpe New York!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When you have friends like these....

I lost my cool with a 10 year old boy this morning. In front of my husband and me he had the balls to say to my son, "You know, N, you are half good. I like half the things about you." 

It was everything I could do in my power not to throw the kid out of my house (I was helping his mom out by letting him come here before school, so I couldn't really). Instead, I told the child in a stern tone that he is not to speak to my son, or to anyone else like that in my house. I explained he was basically saying that N is half bad. The child may think it is funny, but he is really being quite mean to his host. "I will not tolerate bullying in my kitchen, or anywhere else at my house!"

What makes kids say things like this? Back-handed compliments that serve no purpose? Are my kids saying things like this without realizing it? Has he been saying things like this to N all these years?

N has pretty low self-esteem. I don't need him playing with children who make him feel worse about himself.

So next time she calls for a favor, do I say no? Do I address the behavior or since I addressed it with the kid myself, do I let it slide? Do I have to have the uncomfortable phone call with the kid's Mom?

Parenting: more questions than answers!

I spoke with N tonight. He totally didn't think it was a big deal. He thought the child was joking and hadn't understood why I got so mad. My husband totally got what I meant, so I know it wasn't all in my head.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Big C-cret... and the answer to a 25 year old question

With last week being "family week" I was forced to face a few conundrums of my childhood. One of the biggest themes is keeping family secrets. My philosophy as a parent is that I don't tolerate lies or secrets. I don't care what my kids are doing, I want to know. For better or for worse. We all have little secrets. I'm talking about bigger things.

My mother was a wonderful woman, whom I've praised on this blog many times, but both she and her other family members were great at keeping secrets.

My Mom looks like C. Florida, ca. 1935.
Last year, for example, I found out that my cousin had 2 sons. These are half brothers of DC, whom I met last week. Another "a-ha moment" was hearing that stories I'd learned about my uncle simply weren't true. I also heard "the other side" of a few stories that I didn't know before. Mostly they weren't my business: divorce, money, he-said-she-saids from the Reagan era. Baggage we all carry to varying degrees.

But the biggest secret was one my mother made me keep. My brother's cancer. I guess I blogged about this before.  The reason I bring this up now, is that in 1985 when my father and mother went to visit my sick brother, my sister, grandmother and I spent three weeks in Colorado with my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin. This Aunt visited us on Sunday and it was the first time I'd seen her since his death. (Her child, EC has also died since then). When we stayed with them that beautiful June, my sister and I were under strict orders not to spill the beans about D. Even my grandmother, who lived about a mile away and whom we saw several times a week, didn't know, and wasn't to know. My Aunt didn't realize that when we were in Colorado that both my sister and I knew that D was sick. When he died that December, it was a complete shock to the entire family, the Colorado clan included. She said now that she understand better why we were so emotional (were we? I don't remember that!). Then again, she never lived with teenage daughters... :-)

Did my Mom ever, even for a minute, realize that by asking us to keep such a huge secret that she really was placing a burden upon us? Something I would still grapple with 25 years after his death?

Today I am thinking about this in a very different manner. I wonder if I ask my children to do that I shouldn't? What burdens am I placing upon them? Are my expectations too high or too low for their general success as people? When I yell at my daughter for doing something stupid, is it really misplaced emotions? And how can I know what is best, or change my ways if they really are harmful?

It's easy to identify good parenting practices and bad mothering from the outside. It's much harder when you are in the thick of it. What will C & N grapple with my parenting in 2035? In 2075? Will they know that I love them unconditionally, and hope that I will never ask them to do something that causes them life-long confusion or regrets?

Now that I've seen this Aunt after 25 years, hopefully I can actively forgive my Mom. My Aunt certainly forgave me for not telling her when I could have. How much easier would my life have been if I spilled the beans to this Aunt (or any relative)? My Mother may never have forgiven me, had I not obeyed her. Yet now I wonder, spending the day with wonderful, warm, loving Linda... why didn't I confide in her when she could have been such a source of comfort?

I hope that my children have plenty of Lindas in their life. Adults whom go to when they can't open up to me. I guess that's my answer - make sure that even if I completely mess everything up - ensure they have people whom they can trust.

It's time to forgive my mother for her huge parenting mistakes. But more than forgiving someone who has been dead more than 9 years, I need to forgive myself! And I need to teach my kids- by example AND by word - how to forgive.

Thank you, Aunt Linda for forcing me to take yet another look at my life, by seeing how well you are living yours. You radiate love.

You always have.

And I hope just being with you I caught a few rays to share with the people in my world.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Family week continues

Even though my husband's family all live abroad (or, well, we live abroad in their eyes, since all 4 generations live in a 2-mile radius) we see them more than we see my family, except my Dad - who is pictured to the right. My family, on the other hand, is spread out throughout the US with central New York as home base.

None the less, I love to see my family so this is a very special week for me. Last Sunday my brother came for a visit, today my Aunt will be here with her new husband. On Thursday I met my cousin's son for the first time, even though he is almost 30.

I saw a lot of similarities to everyone else in my family. DC is clearly intelligent. His Dad, and his grandfather both have larger-than-life scientific brains, and DC seems to have got a cut of those genes. Like most of the family (I'm the exception that proves the rule) he is tall, though not in the top 5, but his greenish eyes must come from his mother. He also has been spared Poppy's (my Mom's Dad) curls. I got a double shot of those! While a lot of the family got artistic talents (not me unless art appreciation is a talent) he seems to be an avid mountain biker - which takes a certain talent too.

But there were other similarities that sometimes run in the family. While I have blogged several times about my successful relatives with very cool jobs (RC is my cousin), there are a few of us who are may be described as professional "diamonds in the rough". At 27, DC is trying to find what he wants to be when he grows up - and since at 40 and still rather clueless on this front, it was hypocritical, but well-meant, when I advised him to finish his degree and not to worry about his major. Apparently he has changed course a few times. I've also gone down the "what do I want to be when I grow up" rabbit hole repeatedly. Let's be honest, I'm still looking for the light!

But the advice worked both ways. He didn't know this, but I also got an inadvertent warning.  DC talked a bit about his mother using terms that could be used about me: overbearing and overprotective. (Maybe every kid feels this when mom repeatedly says no?) I don't think I'm really like his mother. Based on stories, I haven't met her either, we are very different. But his anecdotes came as a reminder that I need to loosen the noose around my kids' necks. Kids know when they need space. I need to let more things go. As he talked about her serious bouts with "empty nest syndrome" pushing her into a new career, I heard my own employment-clock ticking.

And as often happens, as I drove home I remembered things I forgot to say. The one thing I should have conveyed was that it was my Mom's strongest wish that his parents and grandfather (Mom's brother) permanently reconcile. In her final years my Mom started her own peace accords and like every Mid-East diplomat, she had to admit only meager results. Perhaps this visit was a fruit of her efforts as much as it was thanks to a Facebook entry saying "In New Jersey, what should I do?" My response was "meet me for lunch" and so it was.

If my Mom is watching us from heaven (and I'm not sure), I hope she saw me with DC this week sitting at various outdoor cafes in Hoboken, sharing stories and gaining insight into each others' lives.  She would have loved this!

DC - if you are reading this - I promise to scan those and the thousands of other pictures to share with my Arizona family!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fantasy letter... to recipient with deaf ears

NJASK scores came yesterday, C did exceptionally well and it just is another indicator that she is in the wrong math program. She is in pre-algebra (In BRRSD 7th graders are placed in one of three groups: topics is easiest, then pre-algebra, then algebra).  I wrote the following e-mail that I haven't sent. It is a reply to the formal e-mail from the district saying that C didn't make algebra due to the fact that she was making Bs in e-math last year and that some of her test scores were slightly below the minimum requirement.

If you found this posting because you have a child in e-math or are considering e-math for your 6th grader, be warned - if you child doesn't make an A in e-math they will be ineligible for advanced math in 7th grade.  Placement for your 7th grader is vital as it will preclude your child from taking the highest level math in high school. Unless you send your child to summer school - or perhaps take 2 math classes in a year in high school (if they allow that, I'm not sure) - you will be able to take honors math classes, but not the highest offered classes. And if your child is bright and strong in math, they may be bored in pre-algebra. Here is the general information on placement, but there are actual numbers that the children have to reach not listed on this form. If they place even slightly below the requirements they are not allowed into the program. So far I have not heard of a single exception - although I have heard anecdotes about children being reassessed and placed in e-math in 5th or 6th grades. 

On the other hand, one of her friends just dropped algebra because it was a bit too challenging. My theory is that kids ought to be given the chance to try the challenge and change to a lower math if it doesn't work out. The child who dropped is extremely bright but was not in e-math last year. She is in advanced language arts, so it might be just as well as the workload for two advanced classes might require a lot of time.

The e-mail below is a response to an e-mail in which she has just shot down C for algebra placement in 7th grade. Since it is mostly a list of my daughter's scores, I have not included it here. Her last line said, "I assure you that the curriculum in PreAlgebra is not a repeat of the 6 E-Math curriculum." In respect for C's privacy, I'm not including her NJASK scores in this posting, but I am proud of how well she did on a test that "doesn't count" except in NCLB.

Dear Ms. Cadwalader (BRRSD math supervisor and advanced math gate keeper):

We will have to agree to disagree that only children with straight As in e-math deserve to be in algebra, especially since this is beyond the scope of grading required to stay in e- during the school year.  (I believe she had to have a B- or better to continue in e-math).

So far my daughter confirms that everything she has done so far this year was covered last year in e-math. She has not had any new material. While I appreciate that teachers generally review or assess in the first few weeks of school, and it is only October 6th, I will definitely get back to you in a few weeks should the program not cover any new material as promised.

I also emphatically disagree that parents do not know the ability of their children and that children should be allowed to try - and perhaps fail - to manage the hardest classes. It is far too elite! I would much rather see her get a B in an accelerated class than an A for which she did the bare minimum of work! The fact that your parameters rate children in regular 6th grade math classes on the same par as children in e- is completely unreasonable. It favors children in non-e classes to get into algebra. Had I known this at the end of 5th grade, I would never have put C in e- as I had no idea an A was a requirement for entry to algebra. YOU NED TO ALERT PARENTS OF THIS WHEN THEY SIGN THE LETTER ACCEPTING PLACEMENT! E-classes have no bearing on what colleges kids can apply to, unlike the algebra kids who now have a significant advantage over the non-algebra 7th graders as they take the most challenging classes in high school. And unless we send C to a private program in the summer, she cannot catch up now that she is not in algebra from the get go.
Competitive colleges ask students "have you taken the hardest classes offered in your district". C cannot answer yes to this question based on numbers in 5th and 6th grades!

I know there are
plenty of parents  in our boat who have children who placed just slightly outside the parameters for e- or algebra or other special programs and are equally as frustrated.

Finally, her NJASK results came yesterday and while they are only an informal indicator, it indicates that C is a very strong math student! She scored a ....! Her raw score was  X out of a total of 49 points. 

While I am not so naive to think that you are willing to change her placement as you have not done so before, it is my right and responsibility as my child's advocate to point out what I believe is an error in both general policy and specifically to my daughter. 

Best regards,

Bridgewater's Soccer Mom...

So readers - do I send this????

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Do as I say, not as I did????

I love "Modern Family". It was a breath of fresh air in a TV landscape needing a kick in the funny bone. I really enjoyed turning on this week's Modern Family, called "The Kiss".

It reminded me of the blending of cultures. Sometimes my husband is just as bewildered by my loud, outspoken, overly-warm, Southern-European-blood relatives as I am by his Scandinavian family. There were several lines of the program that could have come directly from my in-law's living room! Others could have been from either my mother "honoring through cooking" (I do that too). And, yes, I remember my mother beating a chicken breast (or just as likely veal, which I don't cook) - but not to rid the house of ghosts. My Mom was even a beautiful woman named Gloria, too!

But what really touched home was the conundrum that Mom (Claire) navigated. How much of your past do you expose to your teenage daughter? Is it better to straight out lie about your less than perfect past? Claire wants her daughters to think that she was a goody-two-shoes to have her girls live up to that fantasy, "and when they fall short" it isn't such a big deal. But her father breaks that idealistic image when he tells an anecdote about how Claire was brought home by the police half-naked (after she and a boyfriend went swimming in a pool without an invitation...). She had to admit that she wasn't always so perfect.

Some of us had very colorful pasts.  Unless you married your high school or college sweetheart (and sometimes even then), you probably have a past that has nothing to do with your spouse and likely nothing to do with your current existence as nun-like Mom. It's a long time since anyone I know sneaked out of the house? But plenty of my friends did. When we talk about sex or drugs or alcohol with our teenagers, the pamphlets tell you that you should answer their questions about your seedy past with an evasive, "this isn't about me, this is about you!" But what if that doesn't work? What if they push, or worse, assume you are lying to them, or omitting something intentionally (which, of course, if you say that, you are) and decide that they don't need to listen to the rest of what you have to say? I don't have any answers to these questions and I'm petrified that my daughter is going to do as I did.

I guess I have my work cut out for me. Maybe there is no right or wrong answer. Here are a few links for a start - I am kind of afraid to read them! I would rather stick my head in the sand and wake up when they've graduated college. Here's an NIH pamphlet about talking about alcohol. Here's Planned Parenthood's info on talking to your kids about sex. Here's the DARE program's info on speaking about drugs. (At least the rhetoric would match what they get in school). There are plenty of other subjects out there too! After the incident at Rutgers we all watched with shock this week, I think I'd share this with my kids too if they were gay or maybe confused, or being teased for any reason (but now re-watching it, I realize they need to be older than 12 to watch it - one line is particularly racy)! It's about being gay, but the message can cross many fronts: hang in there if you're being teased or tormented or just miserable. Your life will get better.

Talking to my kids about any of these things seems like a daunting task. Maybe you have better ideas? Maybe your Mom had just the right words. Maybe you know because you've avoided exposure to drugs, alcohol, members of the opposite sex or bullies of any kind that your kids are going to be fine.  Maybe you're not a parent and therefore have an outsiders point of view to share. Parents and friends need to share their best-practices. Parenting is about learning. I've clearly got a lot to learn.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A very bright spot in the Middle School

I am one of those parents who consistently talks about how much better education was "back when I was in school".  I am happy to give a lot of examples, as you might be too.

There is one thing that I am liking better (so far - we're only a couple of weeks and a couple of chapters in) now: that is the Latin textbook!

I remember my first 2 days of Latin class very well! We had to memorize the verb to be (essere):

(I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, you (pl) are, they are)

But it was taught as straight memorization. No context. Of course it is the basis of the entire language and vital to learning anything. Why do I remember this first lesson in particular? Because it is the only time I remember ever cheating in school! We only had one assignment on that first night: memorize "essere". On day two, I sat down, saw everyone else reviewing for the quiz I had forgotten and promptly wrote it on my desk! I felt so guilty that I never did that - or anything like it - ever again.

C is learning that Latin = Rote Memorization and hates that part of it. But she doesn't know how good she's got it. Unlike my dry book with lots of grammar and little real-world relevance, my daughter's textbook focuses on a real family who lived (and eventually died) in Pompeii. It was a husband, wife, their son and their "servus" (slave). Earlier this week she had to translate a passage about a friend of the slave who stopped by and helped himself to the dinner that the cook had made (without being invited). In the last sentence C learned how to tell someone off in Latin!

 Mrs. Mix was my favorite High School teacher bar none. She was a tall Canuck who was married to a professor of classics at the local college. She made sure we all got a strong basis in grammar - and rewarded us with awesome class trips to Toronto. (Some kids went to Rome, but my parents wouldn't let me go since I went on exchange instead).

And while I LOVED Mrs. Mix, C's teacher has something that Mrs. Mix didn't have: A PhD. I think it's in archeology! How many kids in public school have middle school teachers with cool PhDs. Not nearly enough!!! It was great for C to hear that she had been to "college for 10 years" and know that she "wrote a book" (which I tried to explain was a dissertation). She shares stories with them about digs she's been on and expands the kids' horizons beyond the classroom or the curriculum! Built in enrichment. I love it!

C may not be loving Latin yet - but I hope that with time and insight she will appreciate what a great opportunity this is and learn to enjoy it - after she gets used to actually having to work!