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.

Snow Days 2018: Day 1

There’s a price for everything: a snow day when you’ve already used your allotted make-up days means there’s a chance you’ll lose a day of spring break or have to go to school one Saturday. If it’s just one, the state — because then it becomes a state issue — might just forgive that one day. If it’s more, that’s a litter trickier. We’re out tomorrow for sure (hence “Day 1”), so we’ll be two days behind. That’s not too bad, but there’s a good chance school will be canceled Friday as well, which makes it all the more likely we’ll have to make it up.

But even if we do pay for it, who cares? The kids had a great time; the dog had a great time; K had a great time; I had a great time.

Cue: old MasterCard ad tag line.

45

We started by taking down all the Christmas stuff. I rooted around in the crawl space to close up a little gap from the unfinished laundry room into the crawl space that the little white cat liked to use.

Then birthday: the Girl did most of the cake. K made the kwasnica. Great day.

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.

First Day Out

It’s been cold here lately — ridiculously cold for South Carolina. The majority of the nights over the last ten days have been below freezing, which is something here; a substantial number (a majority of that majority?) have been below 20 degrees. In Poland, nothing out of the ordinary; K and I are used to such things. Here? It’s ridiculously cold.

Add to it the tragic fact that we’ve all taken turns getting sick over that same period of time and it’s obvious why no one has done much of anything outside these last few days. The dog is the only exception: she doesn’t really care. The rest of us have done our best to stay warm.

So when we all were home and it was 59 degrees this afternoon, there was only one thing to do.

The Boy and the Girl were happy to jump on the trampoline again. The new trampoline, which should actually have some bounce to it, is still in parts on the basement floor.

“Let’s wait until it warms up,” K encouraged. That was Christmas. It’s still on the floor.

“Daddy! Today it’s warmed up! Can you work on the trampoline?” was the refrain from both the kids, but I was too busy laughing with K as she jumped out of the swing like a teenager.

The dog was thrilled to have someone to play with her again. She’s really such a gregarious dog. She’ll play outside by herself for a while, but she’s always happy to have a companion. And don’t even think about doing something outside the newly fenced area: she’ll stand at the fence and whimper like she’s being abused.

Snowless Snow Day

We haven’t really tried to force the Girl, as she gets older, to learn how to cook. She’s learned how to clean her room, to dust, to wash a window, to clean the hardwood floors in our house, but cooking, we just didn’t really make her. I don’t know about K, but I figured that she’ll learn when she’s interested. That’s how it was with me. Still, as she nears middle school, we’ve been talking about how, at the very least, she needs to begin making her own lunch for the day.

This weekend, she decided she wanted to make chocolate chip muffins. She didn’t want help other than buying the ingredients and going over the recipe with her. The rest, she wanted to do. So when we went to bed last night, it was with the plan of making muffins in the afternoon after school.

Little did we know that school had already been canceled in anticipation of a front that was supposed to bring ice and freezing rain but never really materialized. We woke up, went through our normal morning routine, and somehow, though the local news was on, missed that Greenville County Schools had canceled everything for the day. We found out when L and I arrived at her school only to find an empty parking lot. “It can’t be a two-hour delay,” I thought, “because there would be some cars there. Someone would be there.” We returned home to find that there was no school, so afternoon muffins became morning muffins.

She began cooking, and I, still not feeling 100%, took the opportunity to lie down for a while. I went to the kitchen occasionally to check on the progress, but overall, she seemed to be doing well, with a little help from the Boy. His help with her was much like his help with anyone: only slightly helpful, often less than helpful, but always eager.

L called me in to help her when she was filling the muffin forms. I looked at the dough and had my doubts.

“Did you follow the instructions very closely?” I asked.

“Yes,” she assured.

“And you mixed this very well?” I asked, wondering how she could have done it without using the mixer. It was thick and not easily budged: it would have been a nightmare to do it by hand.

“Yes.”

I took a spatula and found most of the sugar and a good bit of the flour still sitting at the base of the mixing bowl, untouched.

“Oh,” she laughed.

We threw it in the mixer, combined the ingredients thoroughly, and got put everything in the muffin forms.

“Now put it in the oven,” I said.

“Me?!”

The Girl doesn’t deal with heat well. Things that seem only lukewarm to K and me threaten to scald her, to send her to the emergency room with third-degree burns. But with a little encouragement, she was able to open the door, put the pan in, and pull it back out in twenty minutes when the buzzer went off.

And the result? For a first attempt, utterly amazing. For any attempt, really very good. Moist, chocolatey, and perfect. A hit for the whole family.

The upshot of this: the Girl was eager to cook again. When it was dinner time, she wanted to learn to make the rice. Instead of just plain old rice, though, I taught her to cook a quick and easy risotto. After looking through a cookbook and finding a recipe for lemony broiled chicken, she’s ready to cook a full dinner next week.

And the rain and ice that shut down schools? Nothing. The ground was dry until early afternoon. A district spokeswoman explained it to a local news outlet:

“When an alert of that magnitude is issued we have to consider the problems it would present not only for our bus riders, but also car riders, including high school drivers, who travel over bridges and on curvy roads,” Brotherton said. “We considered the circumstances that occurred in Asheville on December 31st when even small amounts of fog and drizzle quickly turned to ice on roadways and led to treacherous road conditions and multiple wrecks. After a week of freezing temperatures and already cold roads, asking parents, students and employees to travel in the predicted conditions was not a risk we were willing to take. Safety always comes first.”

It’s not the first time something like this has happened; it won’t be the last. But we’ll always make the most of such days.

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.

Hard and Soft

We were at Nana’s and Papa’s this afternoon, and I asked the Boy who he wanted to ride back with.

Learning dominoes

“Mama!”

“That’s right — no one loves Tata!” I laughed.

Helping the Boy set up

Later in the evening, as the Boy was nestling into his covers for the night and I lay beside him, he stroked my cheek and said, “Daddy, you’re the best daddy. And I always love you no matter who I ride home with.”

Final game of Memory before bed — just after the snack

He paused for a moment, then added, “It’s just that Mommy is soft, and you’re a hard chunk.”

Scientific Go Fish

The Go Fish obsession continues. Someone plays with the kids every night, and they occasionally play together by themselves. We’ve yet to tackle a four-player game, though I’m not sure why. The kids don’t seem to eager for whatever reason, and so perhaps that’s why we haven’t tried.

Go Fish last night

Tonight, as I was playing with them, I stood to get something from the other side of the room, and I accidentally glanced at the Boy’s cards. (He has them spread out in a chair beside him, so the natural gesture to avoid seeing someone’s cards — looking down when passing — doesn’t work.) I did notice that he had a yo-yo (we play with a picture-based card set), and since I had a yo-yo, I thought I’d do a little experiment.

“L, do you have a yo-yo?” I asked during my next turn. E was set to go next, and I was ready for him to ask me if I had a yo-yo. He had been a little distracted, though, and asked instead, “L, do you have a yo-yo?”

L looked at me; I smiled back at her.

Afternoon reading

“E, I just asked her that,” I laughed. “You should have asked me that just then. Now, I’m going to ask you for it next turn.”

Playing with dough after dinner

He just smiled.

Last Day of Break

“Daddy, I don’t understand. On Sid the Science Kid, the teacher calls all of the children scientists.” The Boy paused for a moment: he’s learned how to pause to heighten the moment just a bit. “That can’t be right! They can’t be scientists!”

We were on our way home from shopping, leaving the girls at home this last day of break. K stayed home because of a lingering illness, so we were together for the morning, but the Boy and I headed out after lunch to do the week’s grocery shopping.

“Why can’t they be scientists?” I asked, wondering what he had in mind.

“They’re just kids!”

“So?”

“To be a scientist, you have to have a job. That’s your job. A scientist,” he explained still frustrated, though sometimes with him it’s hard to tell if the frustration is real or just pretend, as if he’s trying it on for size.

I thought about his definition and reasoning for a few moments, thought about why the teacher would be calling children scientists — obvious for an adult, not so much for a child.

“Well, E, it’s a question of scientific thinking. She’s calling them scientists because they’re behaving like scientists. They’re thinking like scientists.” This satisfied him for a few moments, but it didn’t satisfy me. I was wondering if he would ask what it means to think scientifically, hoping he would ask. He didn’t, so I prompted him. “Do you know what that means, to think like a scientist?”

“No.”

“It’s a process. You observe. You think about why things happen. You make predictions about why things happen; you check those predictions…”

I fear a lot of Americans really have no clue what it means to think like a scientist.

The other night, while on a walk, I was listening to an old sermon by a religious leader, and he was railing against “intellectualism.” He never really defined it. He never really explained why it was so bad other than to say it was vanity. He was upset about how some Biblical scholars will spend so much time picking at the smallest little detail, and as he said that it occurred to me that he really didn’t have a firm grasp of what those scholars were doing, how they were examining the text, their methodology and the justification for it.

I think this is a common thread in America, this anti-intellectual position, and it’s directed at all sciences. People dismiss all sorts of things they, were they taught like Sid the Science Kid to think scientifically, they likely wouldn’t dismiss, and they accept things that, were they taught like Sid the Science Kid to think scientifically, they would dismiss out of hand.

So I was very pleased when E later spoke of thinking scientifically. And as he played Go Fish with the girls, it occurred to me that here is a perfect opportunity for some basic critical thinking: observe (listen to what others are asking for); test (ask for a few things in a systematic way); repeat.

Decisions

“I want a flat egg. No, no, I want a bagel and some Cheerios. And some milk.”

The Boy’s breakfast decision process is similar almost every day. I feel fortunate that we are in a position to provide him with so many choices, but at times, it exhausts us.

This indecision spills over into all parts of the Boy’s life. When given a choice for clothes, he can dither similarly. When given options for how to spend the afternoon, he can flip-flop similarly. It’s only a mild inconvenience, and probably common for his age. I can’t remember L being like that, but perhaps that’s just selective memory.

His indecisiveness comes into full bloom (to thoroughly mix my metaphors and split my infinitives) when he as a little money to spend, which has been the case for the last few weeks. He’d earned money with various chores and received some from aunts and neighbors, so for the last few weeks, he’s been playing out his options for how to spend his $30.

“I think I want a new log truck,” he said one day.

“But you had a log truck, remember. You lost all the logs, and now you don’t know where any of it is.” That probably wasn’t quite accurate: don’t know those things are, which is not to say that he doesn’t know.

“Well, still, I think I want a new one.”

A few days after that, it was a new Nerf gun.

“Son, you have two Nerf guns.”

“But they don’t fire that well.” Don’t they? I wasn’t aware of that.

He toyed with a few other ideas, but when we went to the toy store tonight, he’d finally settled on a Nerf gun.

And then he had to choose which gun…