Games

The kids stayed home today, and so I stayed home. What to do on a day off? Simple — play games.

First, Sorry. I love how this game teaches patience: you get all your pieces moving around the board, making real progress, and suddenly someone draws an 11 and switches places with you, destroying the work of the last few moves in an instant. Or worse: your opponent draws a Sorry card — back to the beginning for you. Then there’s the opposite problem: you’re right at the entrance to your safety zone, and you draw a 12 card.

“Time to make another lap,” I told E when it happened to him. He was frustrated, but dealt with it well. (Yes, I see it. I choose not to acknowledge it.)

The real surprise for me these last few days has been our children’s desire to play chess with each other. I’ve been teaching the Boy to play chess, and since L already knew, she decided to take it upon herself to teach him the final pieces (king and queen) and start playing with him.

Naturally, she beats him as badly as I would beat her were I to play seriously against her, not pulling my punches, so to speak. Still, Magnus Carlsen began taking chess seriously at about E’s age because his older sister kept beating him and he didn’t like losing. Now he’s the world number one, with an astronomically high rating, and by and large seems unstoppable. Doubtful, but one never knows. The love of the game and the patient critical thinking it encourages are enough .

Slush

We never know when we’ll get snow here in South Carolina. We once went several years without much more than a little flurry that melted the instant it touched the ground, so when we do have snow, we have to make the most of it. We have to get out into it, feel it, hear it (if it’s mixed with ice crystals, which it often is here).

So last night, with dinner done and the kitchen cleaned up, we all took the dog for a walk in the snow. Unfortunately, the snow was mixed with rain, and what lay about the road was a slushy mix that got everyone wet almost immediately. K and the kids turned back quickly; I went with the dog for another mile or so.

Today proved to be better. It was supposed to stay below freezing all night, and there was a forecast for continued snow throughout the morning. And fall it did — big fluffy flakes that floated down delicately that would then transform to smaller flakes that fell quickly. Back and forth between the two forms of snow throughout the morning.

But the kids begin still sick, we were reticent to let them out. The Boy and I decided to play a bit of chess. He’s learning piece by piece. For a few weeks, we played only with pawns until he got the hang of their basic nuance. Then we added bishops — after all, they move in a way similar to how pawns attack. Then rooks. Finally, knights. We spent several evenings just practicing how knights moved.

“Daddy, can we play with rooks, bishops, and knights now?” he asked this morning, and so we went for it.

“Are you sure you want to move there?” became my mantra. Occasionally, he would look and reconsider.

“Oh, no! You can take me there!”

“But can you take me back?”

And so we played. I made purposefully stupid moves for him to take advantage of, but I made a little rule for myself: if he didn’t reconsider his move after I suggested it, I would take the piece, so in the end, I won. (The aim in king-less/queen-less chess? Get one pawn to the other end of the board so that it can’t be taken. It’s how I teach my students at schoool as well.)

Still the snow fell — but almost none of it was sticking to the roads, which were wet and relatively warm.

“Maybe we’ll have a snow day Monday!” L pondered.

“Likely not.”

Still, we have a large district, and we have had snow days when there’s not a flake on the ground here because of what was going on in the northernmost edges of the district.

First Snow

The announcement was simple: “Teachers, please check your email.” Though there was not a word said about the content of the email in question, we all knew, teachers and students alike, what it said. It had been snowing for an hour, and there was only one option: early dismissal.

By the time all the kids were gone, it was only a few minutes before teachers’ normal departure time. Still, with everyone — absolutely everyone — on the road then, it took over double my normal time to get home.

By the time I got home, the Boy and the Girl had already spent a good bit of time in the snow, such as it was.

Mess Up

It’s important to admit to your failures as a teacher, small and large, and so when I realized that I hadn’t actually made the assignment in Google Classroom this afternoon, I muttered apologetically, “Sorry, I mess up.”

“Yeah, you messed up. You messed up my grade,” came a voice behind me. I knew immediately who said it: I’m a teacher, and it’s almost a requirement to be able to recognize students’ voices for any number of reasons, but also the young lady has a distinctive voice. It’s hard to miss C.

She’d just checked her grade while waiting for our work to load, and she discovered that her grade had dropped from a D to a F. The reason was simple: she hadn’t done the work earlier in the week when I was out with a sick little boy, and she hadn’t studied twelve Greek and Latin stems sufficiently to pass a quiz on them.

“I turned in several articles of the week just earlier this week,” she had complained.

“Yes,” I had agreed. “And since you turned them in late, they are a secondary priority when compared to other work that students turned in on time. It wasn’t a priority for you to turn it in on time, so it’s not a priority for me to grade it, I’m afraid. If you turn it in on time, I get it assessed quite quickly.”

It hadn’t been enough, and she’d been fuming, so when I admitted my silly mistake, she used it.

There’s a part of me that says, “What kind of thirteen-year-old thinks she can talk to an adult that way?” There’s a part of me that wonders how she could possibly think that anything positive could come of being aggressively disrespectful like that. There’s a part of me that wonders just what she thought my reaction might be. There’s a part of me that questions if she’ll ever learn how to deal with disappointments more effectively. There’s a part of me that wonders if she’ll spend all her life blaming others — it was my fault that her grade was so bad and not her fault for not preparing for a painfully simple quiz or for not turning in work on time.

What really made the situation frustrating for her was that she, as a basketball player, can’t play if she has grades below Cs. She missed a game because she had a D in my class; now she’s got an F in my class, and the prospect of playing again anytime soon seem painfully remote. And her frustration was understandable but directed at the wrong person.

Playing in the Leaves

It was a job the Boy wanted to do from yesterday morning.

“Now can we rake leaves?” he kept asking.

“No, first we’re putting up Christmas lights.”

He wandered off to play with a neighbor, to have a break inside, to ride his bike, but he came back occasionally to help out.

“Now are we going to rake leaves?” he asked after I finished with the last lights.

“No, now I have to mow.”

“Why?”

Indeed. It’s December. Why should I be mowing now? That’s the reality of living in the south. I’ll likely mow again before Christmas. The primary motivation was to take care of the leaves, but the grass was looking a bit unkept as well.

“Now are we going to rake leaves?”

“No, now we’re going to Nana’s and Papa’s to help with their Christmas decorations and to have dinner.”

So when we got back from Mass just after noon today, we started raking and blowing the leaves. After Scouts today, we finished up.

The Girl joined us, because what was the end goal of it all? Simple: a pile of leaves to play in.