Monday Afternoon

Monday afternoon. We’ve all survived work and school. The first day back is behind us.

We run down to the new trampoline and start bouncing like mad.

Clover, too, is ready for some fun.

And then, when it’s time to put the Boy to bed, I fall asleep with him, and Monday afternoon doesn’t get recorded until Tuesday evening.

Baking for the Kids

Theodor Seuss Geisel said it best:

The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
All [this] cold, cold, wet day.

We were stuck in the house all day. Rain, rain, rain. The Boy entertained himself with making fans through most of the afternoon.

In the evening, the Girl made molassas cookies. The recipe came from a book about the Great Depression she’s reading in class, and she’s been keen on making them all week. Of course E wanted to help, but what is true for many things is doubly true for baking: his help doesn’t.

The Girl, though, has reached a point that she needs little to no help when baking. With experience comes confidence.

“Maybe I could take some to school tomorrow,” she chimed in the midst of the baking. K emailed her teacher quickly, and L got the go-ahead.

So tomorrow she’ll be taking one cookie each — twenty-four total — for her classmates.

The thoughtfulness of that gesture — a proud little moment for us.

Out with the Old

The day began as all Saturdays do: a conversation with Babcia via Skype. The Boy took to showing Babcia several cars, explaining their significance in halting Polish. Babcia speaks no English, and the Boy speaks no Russian, so he has to use Polish if he’s going to speak with Babcia, which he is really motivated to do. It’s a good way, then, to get him using the language.

I spent the morning working on class materials. I’ve decided to use Quizet to hit vocabulary really hard in the second semester to make up for negligence in the first quarter. I’ve always struggled teaching vocabulary, but I’ve discovered a few online tools sure to make my students’ life more interesting.

In the afternoon, we finally got to work on the new trampoline. The first step was to take the old one down. The plan was originally to try to pass it on to someone else via Craigslist: “Free trampoline! All you have to do is come and disassemble it and get it out of your yard!” But I saw how that would end up: it would sit there forever, looking stupid — two trampolines in the backyard = a decidedly redneck feel. So I borrowed our neighbors’ truck, and the Boy and I ripped the thing apart and hauled it to the dump. He was terribly excited at the prospect of throwing so many pieces of metal into the huge dumpsters at the local dump station, and he was just as frustrated to realize that we wouldn’t be tossing them down into the dumpster below us but up into the dumpster. Still, he tossed a few pieces out of the truck with loud clattering, attention-grabbing style.

Once it was gone, the backyard looked so huge. The fence we had installed for Clover closed everything in quite a bit, and there was a moment when I thought about the time years from now when we’ll finally get rid of the trampoline because the kids are too big for it or not interested in it or — gulp — gone, and I smiled at the thought, but only briefly. Who wants to wish away one’s life for such a silly thing?

The kids came down to help out with the assembly of the new trampoline, which took a lot longer than I really anticipated. We all pulled together, though, and got it done more or less as a family. K was in the house, cleaning and cooking most of the the time, but she came down from time to time to check on our progress, help us out with getting the net up, and take some pictures.

And play with the dog a bit. Which, truth be told, was its own form of help: Clover can be really needy when we’re outside but not playing with her. She wants attention. She craves attention. And when the Girl and I were fighting with the springs and canvas, figuring out how exactly the next support system worked, and keeping the Boy from wondering off with pieces and parts, a worrisome dog was just that.

We finaly got it all together and the expected happened: it began raining.

Still, a great day overall.

Eleventh Time

The Girl’s birthday, falling in mid-December, is during a most inopportune season: there’s Christmas, school concerts, church obligations, another friend’s birthday (in early December). There’s just no time to have a party, so once again, we put it off. Last year, we turned it into a New Year’s Eve party with two of her closest friends; this year, we waited until today.

The girls started with a little slime-making — it’s an obsession L has had for some time now, and we’ve gone through countless bottles of glue over the last year.

The interesting thing, for me, was that only one of the two girls from last year was present this year. The other has had a falling-out with L. L explains that it’s a complicated social situation, and while I thought such dilemmas would not be appearing in elementary school, I guess it’s just a harbinger of things to come.

But there are always new friends, new adventures.

Snow Days 2018: Day 3

Today we did a lot of cleaning. Too much for L’s taste. But strangely enough, part of that “too much” was something she chose herself. Deciding that E’s closet was hopelessly chaotic, she took it upon herself to pull everything out and reorganize. And then complain that he wasn’t helping.

At eleven, she’s such a contradiction: she’s a mix of child and teenager, switching back and forth unexpectedly. So mature one minute, so childish the next. Then back to mature: she made her own cake for her belated birthday party tomorrow.

K was there to assist, to advise, to do some tricky parts, but even some of the seemingly tricky parts, like removing the cake from the form, the Girl insisted on doing herself.

I look at these pictures and I can imagine what it will be like when she’s older still, perhaps coming home for a visit, cooking with K and chatting about this or that.

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.

Solo Baking

We made chocolate chip muffins last Monday during our unexpected snow day. I helped a bit — not a lot, but a good bit, especially in the middle.

Today, the Girl decided she wanted to make muffins again, this time vanilla. She found the recipe online, checked the ingredients, made a shopping list, called K to see if she needed us to pick anything up for her while we were at the store, convinced me to go (didn’t take much), mixed, poured, baked, and cleaned up after herself.

This is not to say there weren’t moments of frustration. It turns out she didn’t check eggs closely enough, a fact we discovered after we returned from the store. No problem: she went to the neighbors and asked for an egg, taking them some muffins when they were done.

She wanted to go to the store by herself, to walk down to the CVS about a half-mile down the street, but that was a bit much. Still, all these signs of growing up…

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.