Snow Days 2018: Day 2

We woke today to a cloudless sky and a temperature the comes as a direct result. It produces a conundrum: we have so few snowy days here in South Carolina that we want to take advantage of each and every one, but it’s so cold that the prospect itself of going outside is chilling

Still, we bundled up and headed outside mid-morning. That process needs careful choreography: the Boy needs help getting his layers on, and if I get him all bundled up before I even begin my own layering, he’ll get hot.

“Sometimes, when I’m on the playground,” he explained to me today, “I get so hot that I get cold.” So we try to avoid that.

When we finally made it outside, the snow, now frozen over, was like a skating rink. The kids flew down our neighbors’ hill.

They ride together; they ride solo; they ride feet-first; they ride head-first.

And there were a few quiet moments, when I caught a shot of them walking back up the hill, perhaps not quite aware that I’m about to snap a picture.

They’re both growing up faster than K and I thought possible.

On the Proper Use of Time

1

At times, the school year seems to extend endlessly, a pile of days that stretches beyond our sight, under which we all seem to be crushed slowly. If there’s a class that’s an inordinate challenge, the weight of that pile seems to double, and somehow, no matter how well things are going in the year, a few more days seem to be tossed carelessly on the pile as third quarter approaches. “What?! I’m this exhausted, and we’re just now in the back half?!”

Decorating his pinewood derby car

Other times, the year seems entirely too short, something requiring calipers to measure. The list of standards the state requires teachers to cover seems to require twice the days the state allocates for the challenge. Some standards seem as if they might take a lifetime to master in and of themselves. “Assess the processes to revise strategies, address misconceptions, anticipate and overcome obstacles, and reflect on completeness of the inquiry.” I’m still working on that one. “Determine appropriate disciplinary tools and develop a plan to communicate findings and/or take informed action.” Ditto.

An unusually-attentive Clover

In between those two, the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, allocate a certain number of days to testing. In the decade-plus I’ve taught in the States, that number seems to grow every year. In the case of the hard-to-handle classes, it’s a relief in a sense — for the obvious reasons. It’s tiring keeping them focused and engaged every day, and a test is just the right mind-numbing exercise to make the period pass by fairly painlessly. They get little to nothing out of it, and they put little to nothing into it, and everyone knows that’s what’s going to happen, but we do the dance anyway, and everyone goes home with their dance card happily filled. And yet for those same classes, it’s a nightmare, for teachers already feel we’re trying to cram too much into to little.

It just doesn’t seem like the proper use of time.

2

Wednesday afternoons are often when I catch up with school work. The Girl has choir practice, until five and K and the Boy are out doing the grocery shopping as they wait, and so when I arrive home, the house is empty and silent. I make a cup of coffee, get out some papers to grade, or more likely, load this or that website that now holds my students’ work and begin assessing, or I start sketching out my plans for the next week’s activities.

Frustration at the difficulty of cleaning up after an experiment

Today, however, I had a thought: I don’t have anything to do for school that is terribly pressing; my school is quite near the Aldi where K and E are shopping; I could easily pick up the Boy and take him home for a bit of playing. I called K; she asked the Boy; he was thrilled. Home we went, talking all the way about what we might play.

Said clean-up

We settled on cars, with a bit of blocks. And in the midst of it all, out of seemingly nowhere, we ended up building jails for the misbehaving cars. E designed one, which meant he placed the blocks, and I hunted them down for him if he couldn’t find them. Then we tested it, which meant he rammed a big car into the jail to see if it stood. It didn’t; the bad car escaped. So we did it again, alternating who designed the jail. No jail held the prisoner for longer than a few moments when the Boy really set his mind and muscles to the task.

The final jail

We made a big mess. The Boy got semi-hurt as he crashed his car into the pile a bit too hard. I accomplished absolutely nothing for school.

It was a proper use of time.

Memory

The Boy gets on a kick and stays on it for some time. For the last few weeks, it’s been Go Fish. Now it seems to be shifting to Memory.

We have an animal-themed version we brought back from Poland, and it has a ridiculous number of pairs. I haven’t counted them, but I’d say it’s close to forty. I can say this because we were organizing them for a morning game and E wanted more than the fifteen pairs we played with yesterday. I pulled out twenty pairs and there seemed to be just as many still in the stack.

“Why can’t we play with all of them?”

I thought of how playing with fifteen went. It was a surreal experience. I wasn’t really trying to remember anything, to be honest; I was turning up cards, letting the Boy see them, then turning them back over. But somehow, as if by instinct, I was turning over cards to make pairs. It’s not that I didn’t want the pairs; it’s not that I was trying to let the Boy win. I just wasn’t putting forth much effort myself, or so I thought.

We compromised on twenty, but it was a bit overwhelming for the Boy: after several minutes, he’d only found one pair, and I’d found two.

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 .

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.

Long Saturday

Saturdays these days start with soccer at 9:30. Today, it was tough to get him out the door. K had surprised him the night before with a bunch of Star Wars toys from my childhood that Nana and Papa had saved. He complained about his busy schedule, about his inability to have any time “just to relax.” He just wanted to have some time to rest and play with his new toys. And it grew to a fuss-fit. So I gave him a simple option: “You don’t have to go play soccer today. We can spend the time packing up all these Star Wars toys and taking them back downstairs.”

Needless to say, he was very willing to go after that.

Soccer was fairly typical: after a twenty-minute practice session, the kids played a game. And the Boy played as he usually does, drifting around the periphery, watching, not quite sure whether he wants to engage with the other players. That’s a fairly accurate description of many of the players, to be sure, but for me, knowing him as a parent, it’s a natural outgrowth of his personality.

It’s not something I’m really interested in trying to change. It’s part of his personality. While I think a little more assertiveness might be beneficial later in life, it’s not something I’m terribly worried about for a five year old.

Besides, there were certainly enough assertive players out there today, enough that E’s team won 4-1 (though one goal wasn’t counted, I believe). Again, I don’t care whether his team wins or loses — and E even less so — but I find it ironic that, given all that, his team is so far undefeated.

When we got home, though, the real fun began.

And in the evening, a rarity. The Boy wanted to play instead of reading — nothing really new there. What was surprising was that the Girl wanted to play.

“I thought you hated Star Wars,” I asked.

“I do. But the toys are great.”

So the three of us played for a little while.

“Daddy, is this a good guy or a bad guy?” was a common question. We didn’t really worry about it. Han Solo battled Luke and the Empire collapsed on itself in a grand civil war.

Thursday Evening

We get our shoes on and head down to the swing. Mama has kicked us out: she can only do two things at a time, and she’s currently baking and helping L with something, so we’re on our own.

We play around a bit, here and there, but a hard-workin’ fella can play only so long before he grows restless. He’ll pick up any sort of tool he can find and get to work, because what’s the point of doing otherwise?

You might protest and suggest, “You’re just a kid. Take it easy!” But you’ll get a protest in return.

Eventually, I manage to get the hard worker to take a break and play a little bit. We go exploring, looking for more honeysuckle. It’s all dried up. We head to our favorite spot in the creek. But nothing’s really satisfying.

We head to our hideout to spy on our neighbors, but they leave soon and we sit there.

“What do you want to do?” I ask.

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?” he responds.

“Whatever you want to do. I just want you to be happy.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

What makes us both happy for a time is to carry on with such silliness, but it’s getting late, and soon, the Boy will need a bath. Tugging off his shoes, he notices how dirty his ankles are at the sock line. Smiling, he repeats his favorite saying: “It was a good day.”

K is still baking when we get back in the house. The cake didn’t turn out as she wished, so she’s doing it again. She’s like that. A perfectionist. I’d probably just go buy something, but not our K.

In the house, the Girl is being silly. I take the camera and snap some closeups. Instantly, the silly faces appear.

A satisfying Thursday evening.