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September 2014

I Am Not Too Crazy About 5:45 Either

Oh. Well. Oh dear. Scotland.

I have a friend who was once sued for malpractice. Although such cases are often settled out of court, the facts in this instance were so strongly in my friend's favor that the insurance company refused to negotiate and he had to go through a jury trial. When he was subsequently found to be blameless I congratulated him. 

"You must be so relieved," I said.

"Actually," he replied, "I feel numb. All this stress and time and at the end of it all nothing has changed except I feel like [hell] and I am sure [the plantiff] does too."

I expect that must be the way most of Scotland is feeling right now. Like they have the biggest hangover in the history of time. For what it is worth (exactly nothing) I am still impressed by the process and although the romantic in me sighs over The Corries it was difficult to ignore the way the markets slumped and then rallied as perceived momentum swung from yes toward no.

Moving, as one must, on.

Since I spent last summer lying in a hammock with X's for eyes you were spared my daily angst over school choices but from June until late August I was really annoying about it.

At one point I had Patrick and the twins enrolled in schools that start and end two hours apart from each other. This would have meant that not only would I be getting up at 6 (not my favorite time of day. I am really at my best between midnight and two) and repeating the entire morning routine with more children an hour later; but the resulting gap would have left me with four childfree hours a day. Four. That's, like, Mommy's Day Out at a church preschool. So I decided that sucked too much to be borne and I veered in the other direction, placing them at schools that are separated by 14 miles but which start at 9:20 and 9:30 respectively.

Steve said, "So you are thinking about putting Caroline and Edward at A?"

I said, "Yeah?"

"And Patrick will probably go to B?"

"Hope so."

"And they start at more or less the same time?"

"Yep."

Steve said, "Hmmm. How is this possible?"

I mumbled something about mysterious ways my wonders to perform* and went back to trying to rig waiting lists using nothing but the power of my mind.

Surprisingly, this worked. Random Charter School 2 was able to offer spaces to both twins. Patrick Specific Charter School X finally shook free a sixth grader, making room for one more in seventh. The buildings are a (biggish. orc operated) catapult's launch from one another and they start ten minutes apart around the exceptionally civilized time of half past nine.

I spent the week leading up to school all smuggety smug smug as I pondered all of the great work I would be doing at one in the morning now that I did not have to get anyone anywhere until AFTER NINE. Then Edward's OT person offered him a prime early morning slot so he wouldn't have to miss school (um, great. thanks. so much for Tuesdays) and I got the first of a hundred notices from Patrick's new school explaining that all extracurricular activities would be held in the two hours before school starts.

Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.

I know there are parents out there who would allegedly shiv someone in order to insure that their child gets a spot on the junior varsity glassblowing team and I will believe this to be true but I can only assume that the glassblowers do not meet at 7:15 in the morning. There was a reason I did not join the crew team in high school and that was because they met at 7:15 in the morning. Well, that and the fact that they were always rowing and swimming and lifting heavy things and my high school did not have any boats** so the crew team had to run down to Georgetown every morning to borrow one of theirs.

So if you want to do anything beyond punching your timecard at this school you have to get up at dawn and for this reason I have been following Patrick's science bowl team aspirations with a jaundiced eye. Apparently the team was filled at the end of last year but they lost one (an eighth grader - I hope I didn't knock him out of school by accident when my mind tried to free up space for Patrick) and they are seeking a replacement through a process that appears to be modeled after the one used to seat justices on the Supreme Court. First, the interested had to take a pretest (at 8:15 in the morning which left Edward, Caroline and me sitting in the Home Depot parking lot for an hour listening to an audiobook because I couldn't think of anything else to do with them to kill time before their school opened.)

Patrick said he thought he has done well.

"Oh. Great." I said.   

After the pretest was graded they invited four hopefuls to come the following week to a practice (at 7:15.)

"And?" I asked.

"Pretty good!" said Patrick.

I gave him a distinctly limp thumbs up.

Then there was a second pretest (again at 7:15.)

Afterwards Patrick said he didn't think he had done a very good job; too much math that needed to be done quickly. Not his thing.

I brightened perceptibly, "Aw! That's OK! You tried it, you now know that it is fun. Maybe next year! Let's celebrate how far you made it by sleeping in tomorrow!"

Then he got invited back for a second round of practice. At 7:15.

"?" I said.

That afternoon I asked Patrick had practice had gone. He said that this other kid was better than he is and he thought he should get the spot. I agreed too quickly. Patrick looked wounded.

Do you remember the book Fortunately and Unfortunately? Unfortunately I fell out of an airplane. Fortunately there was a haystack beneath me. Unfortunately it had a pitchfork in it. Loved that book.

Anyway on Monday Patrick brought home a fortunately/unfortunately letter. Fortunately he had done very well! Unfortunately they picked the other kid. Fortunately it was a really difficult decision! Unfortunately, you know, the other kid. Fortunately they have decided to form a second team!

Unfortunately they will be meeting every Wednesday. At 7:15 am.

*I wrote this and then worried I was being sacrilegious. But it's ok. I looked it up and it's just Cowper.

**Isn't that kinda adorable? A couple of years before I got there some kids at my high school started a crew team despite the fact that they did not have a boat.

A year or three later they qualified (somehow) for a regatta in Philadelphia but they still did not have a boat. The story got picked up by a local news channel and a few days later they arrived for their 7:15 run to discover that outside the school an anonymous benefactor had left them... a boat. 

I don't know how much of that story is apocryphal but, regardless, I always liked it. Oh and I know it is called something else (schull? shell? skull? something) but you knew what I meant.  


Kein Ayin Hora

At the risk of sounding like - or rather, revealing myself to be, in truth - a superstitious loon I have not wanted to say anything about the first couple of weeks of school. If I talk about how happy Edward seems to be in his new class it is just asking for a smiting, isn't it? Last week, for example, I started to write a little something cheerful only to get a call saying that Edward was in the principal's office having pointed his finger at the Spanish teacher in a, shall we say, a calibrated manner. Now, we could go back and forth all day about whether it was Edward or the senora who may and/or may not have pretended to poptart the other but the end result was that it's all cool. A big misunderstanding. All better now.

On the plus side it gave me the chance to talk to his teacher who first assured me that it was no big deal and the only reason it even looked like a big deal (what with the principal's office and the phone call home and Edward's resultant capital H Hysteria) was because of the district's zero tolerance policy toward fingers. She then told me that every day Edward was becoming less and less worried and more and more engaged and that everything was going to be fine. Finally she expressed her eagerness to connect with Edward's OT person because she wants to make sure that she is fully supporting whatever he needs as he builds his small motor skills. At which point I flung my arms around her neck and promised to provide her with whatever she needed - Clorox wipes, headphones, black market unbreakable crayons - for the rest of my life.

I love her I love her I love her.     

If you remember how Edward spent kindergarten (curled in a ball with his hands over his ears) you can probably imagine how much I enjoy opening Edward's backpack and seeing that he has written in his daily journal

[Awkward moments in parenting:

In the beginning his teacher wrote the notes in his daily journal for him, Edward tending to boycott such things since he is intensely embarrassed by the fact that he has trouble making the letters and numbers look like letters and numbers. But his teacher worked her magic and one day I saw that Edward himself had done the writing.

"Edward!" I said. "You wrote in your journal! I love it! Come tell me about what you wrote."

Edward looked a little surprised and said, "You can read. Go ahead and read it."

And I looked at the page and thought oh damn it, really? But said, "Ah. Yes. OK. Well, here at the bottom it says, ah, um, mom. Momanddad. Mom and Dad! Yes! Uh. And something 2?"

Caroline, at this point, glanced over my shoulder and said, "It says, 'Sing song to mom and dad.' Nice writing, Edward!"

Edward said, "Thanks! You're a good reader, Caroline."

She said, "I know."

Then they both looked pointedly at me.]

Yesterday Edward told me they were learning about the digestive system and how they did this cool experiment (orange juice and a piece of bread in a plastic bag to illustrate how acids break down food in the stomach - lovely.) Then he said, "First grade is awesome! I never realized we would be learning like this."

So. There it is. Yay! And now I am jinxed, so help me.

PS On a completely unrelated note, I am utterly obsessed with the Scottish referendum and Scotland, you're killing me. No exit polls? I have been reduced to looking at photographs of people entering the polling stations, trying to decide whether they have a yes look or a no look about the set of their shoulders. Over the past few months I have read everything I could find on the subject and if I lived in Edinburgh (or better yet in Stornoway. I could live somewhere close to the sea and learn Gaelic) I would be biting my nails to the quick today trying to decide what to do. Risk! Potential! Risk! Potential!

Most of all I am just impressed by how civilized it has all been. Some vandalism, some name calling, a few times I thought Alex Salmond might grab his foot and rip himself in two just like Rumplestiltskin, but, overall, what a model for political discourse. Scotland should be very proud, I think.

PPS Edward really was not miming a gun with his fingers. He is not a gun kind of a kid. Now, if he had been caught with an imaginary broadsword...

PPPS Now that I have said that I hope Scotland doesn't riot or do something awful. I seem to be worried about jinxes all over the place today.


How I Spent My

Hello, strangers.

For what it is worth I have felt guilty every moment since mid-July. Well, maybe not July but by August, definitely. Every day I would ponder writing a little something and then the laziness would grab me by the ankles and drag me back into its sweet, soporific embrace. It was a little like sleeping really, really late. Like, hours past your normal wake up time. So late that you aren't even remotely tired anymore but it feels so good to lie there with your eyes shut that you resist all of your brain's attempts to point out that the cat is throwing up on the rug and it sounds like the children are using chainsaws to murder a parrot. 

So hiya and I am sorry but I kinda really enjoyed blowing off writing for two whole months and thank you for checking on me and on the plus side - in addition to the fact that all of that nothing has left me feeling refreshed - you didn't miss anything.

We stayed near Big Sky in Montana, which is a ski resort but so outrageously beautiful in the summer that it is hard to understand why everyone in the world does not live there all of the time forever.

IMG_6350

Lots of conifers, carved rocks, high meadows and waterfalls. This part of Montana is now a close second to my favorite place, ever, which is the Valley of the Ten Peaks near Banff - a location well worth a visit, by the way. Steve and I were so impressed with Montana that we considered moving to Bozeman; a fantasy that lasted the entire drive home and only faltered when we saw our garage and realized that if we moved we would have to pack. And that? Is just not going to happen.

So we will die here and be buried - literally - in one of the piles in our garage (maybe Empty Amazon Box hill? it's so pretty there in the gleam of the headlights) and it is probably all for the best.

After Montana Patrick did some JAVA programming thing and I put the twins into Chinese immersion day camp. To be honest I had only meant to register Caroline but Edward overheard me and said he wanted to go, too, and what was I supposed to say? No, Edward, Caroline is the language one; you, in turn, are the best damned detective on the force but you're a hot-headed maverick, a good-looking rebel who plays by his own rules, and no one wants to be your partner let alone your Mandarin immersion teacher? Of course not. That would be pigeon-holing and that is wrong.

So I signed them both up and was pleasantly surprised when Edward not only went but enjoyed it. And then something about seeing a cheerful Edward clutching his carefully inked interpretation of the Qinling Mountain Range and telling me that his favorite part of the day was the green tea and shrimp crackers (shrimp crackers?) had a galvanizing affect on me. Edward. In a classroom. At the end of the day. Happy.

It just struck me so forcibly that Edward was able to spend a delightful and engaged day in a school-like setting (yeah, camp, but it was A LOT like kindergarten and conducted in Mandarin to boot) and that next year (um, this year) didn't have to be a repeat of the previous one. Kindergarten was a miserable experience for Edward (no blame to the teacher or the school or his classmates or anything - it was just a horror show for him for whatever reason) and I failed to intervene [blame there, certainly. we should have done... something, I dunno, anything sooner.]

Our intention had been to switch Edward's classroom and give him and Caroline some space from each other but after seeing him all Leo-like and blooming under the gentle glow of kicking around his own jianzi I thought, huh, I wonder if I can find some entirely new school for him? A clean slate. A place that does not already know Edward as The Kid Most Likely To Curl Up In A Ball With His Hands Over His Ears For Months. Preferably a school that served shrimp crackers but, you know, I'd accept smaller class sizes because what Edward really liked about camp wasn't the Chinese (that actually kinda freaked him out and as far as I know he never spoke a word of it) but the fact that the group was tiny, he was given lots of time to work on projects and he felt like his teacher liked him.

Fair enough, right?

So I started looking for a new school in July and it seemed utterly, utterly hopeless since a) there aren't that many schools out here; and b) most school registrations closed in February but I slapped them onto every waiting list that made any sense whatsoever and lo (and behold) two weeks ago Caroline and Edward got spaces in a fairly convenient charter school. Yay. Before you ask I know absolutely nothing about this place - I mean nothing. like, I cannot even remember if this place is really into common core or really against common core or really into being somewhere in the middle on it - other than the fact that they shoot for a max of 19 and hard cap class size at 21 and it is located 6 minutes away from Patrick's (new*) school.

Done and done.

IMG_6566

Titled: Edward Contemplates the Lake

He likes his occasional solitude. Who am I to argue?

Today was the second day of the new school and frankly it was a like a freaking circus but I expect things will get better. Pickup and dropoff were... you know how much I perseverate on carpool protocol so don't get me started but! the new lowest of the low that I have ever seen was the car that was facing the WRONG WAY at dropoff this morning. Picture, if you will, forty cars pointing this way, waiting to deposit our children and the one car driving in from the opposite direction - the mind it boggles.

Where was I? Oh right, Edward and Caroline started a new school and I am optimistic. Mostly because it could not possibly be any worse for Edward than last year and nothing makes Caroline happier than an opportunity to spread her sunshine to new horizons.

*We had applied for a space in a different, math-y and science-y charter school for Patrick for last year. He wound up being 73rd on the waiting list for sixth grade and that was fine because he was happy to finish elementary school where he was. This year he applied again and, although I think our local junior high would have been great, too, this place is a perfect fit and we were pleased in March when he got a letter saying that he was first on the waiting list for seventh grade. First. A gimme, right? Obviously some family or other would be transferred to Malaysia and some other kid would move to Jamaica to pursue her Olympic bobsledding dreams and some child would finally convince his parents that he hates both math and science and, truly, he wants to go to junior clown school.

March became April became July and still we did not hear from the new school. I actually checked in with them mid-summer to see if he was still on their list; an act of insecurity that reminded me uncomfortably of the days before call waiting in which you (I) would pick up the phone reallyquickly just to make sure it was still working because Someone still hadn't called you. (me)

In August we made our yearly visit to Steve's birth family in Vermont and upstate New York and the day after we got back Caroline and I departed for Milwaukee to hear several of our favorite Gaelic-speaking bands perform Live! at an Irish music festival to which the Scots had been invited. My mom and Edward came too (Caroline asked them both. they graciously accepted) and although neither of them care very much for the music of the Gàidhealtachd it wound up being the MOST splendiferous time. The four of us stayed in a fancy hotel and had great meals and Edward fell in love with a Kadinsky exhibit and the Milwaukee public museum has a butterfly room where the butterflies land all over you and only twice did I have to wag my finger at the three of them and say HEY! this is MY trip to see MY bands so sit down and eat your sugar-coated giant pretzels and shut it for another 43 minutes .

And Caroline got the opportunity to speak to the band to whom she has listened nonstop for the past six months (Mànran) and she announced "I am a HUGE fan!" Whereupon the one guy promptly replied, "And naow we're huge fans of yers." Then they all signed her festival map (with LOVE she pointed out before she had me frame it) and let her take a picture with them; the result of which speaks for itself.   

2014-08-15 19.12.28

That is one ecstatic Caroline.

We got back from that trip and a few days later Steve and Patrick left for a mountain backpacking excursion in Colorado that they have been planning for months. Every year until fairly recently Steve and a bunch of friends have strapped twenty-five pounds of stuff onto their backs and disappeared into the Sangres for a week or so in late summer. Steve cites me and the children as the reason why he no longer does this annually (I personally think it is because of his k-n-e-e-s. whatever) but he has not been in a while and he thought it would be great to return and take Patrick with him. I was a little less sure. After all, I am the one who packs Patrick's lunch and I am quite certain that there has never been a freeze-dried meal included but hey! who am I to stand in the way of a man, a boy and their desire to be as physically uncomfortable as possible?      

They spent weeks weighing toothbrushes and carrying bags of flour up the hill in our backyard and it was really pretty charming and then right before they were set to leave Patrick got offered a space at the charter school. Great! But then he left and was completely off the grid and I had to field questions like can he come in for math placement testing? No! Does he want to do Lego robotics? Um, yes? Does he want to attend the mandatory laptop session on Tuesday or Wednesday? Neither! How's his Spanish? No es bueno?       

I attended the back to school night information session for new students in his stead and I felt like a complete fool when they asked who was the incoming seventh grader and I raised my hand. Also, I had to get help when they gave us a chance to try out the lockers and I was completely unable to make it open. Stupid lock.

OK. That's it. More to say but... done.