Monday, January 31, 2011

Grade Four

Starting in kindergarten, I heard about grade 4.

It's a big year academically, with many new concepts being introduced. It is the big year in elementary school. Over the next 4 years I heard about getting letter grades (as opposed to a comment-driven) report card. I heard about homework and the province-wide testing in grade 4.

With my brain always in planning overdrive and my ear keen to the ground, I thought I had a good handle on all that grade 4 would entail.

Day 1 of grade 4 we received an expansive document outlining the responsibilities and expectations (bring materials to class, do homework) of the student, the consequences for failure to meet up with the standard (affects grade). It was two pages single-spaced and required a parental signature. Very serious stuff. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore.

And that was just for music class.

In the prior four years of school, music was a place to go and beat on drums and sing songs. Now there were written expectations, a code of grades and an instrument to master, namely our new nemesis, the recorder.

Students were expected to practice.

For the first couple weeks of school, Jackson didn't yet have his recorder. Then once he got the recorder, he disavowed any notion that he had to practice. Somewhere in October I spied a disturbing trend on Facebook: other parents of grade 4 kids were complaining mightily about having to endure recorder practice. I asked Jackson about this and he steadfastly maintained no requirement to practice. One friend told me that she understood there to be a test the next day. I naturally assumed he had the latent recorder prodigy gene.

The teacher ingeniously has devised (or uses) a system "belts" that the kids can learn for their recorder practice: like the belts in karate which is helpful in motivating the kids to practice. The kids practice a few songs, then play one for the teacher. If they play well enough they get a piece of yarn to tie around their recorder as a badge of honour and start working on the next belt.  Pure genius. Unless you have a kid that is a tad tightly wound who TRIES to earn, say, his yellow belt and nerves get the best of him and he does not succeed and a bundle of stress comes home to Mommy. Not, of course, that I would know anything about this.

Jackson and I have worked hard to maintain an excellent routine about the recorder practice. I will add that the one thing my brain remembers from elementary school is how to play the recorder and it is finally doing me some good. Because he has denied any memory of learning what any of the notes are, that denial on par with a certain 82 year old three decade Egyptian dictator.

Because I know other parents and kids will want to follow our example, here is our well-honed procedure to mastering the recorder:

Step 1: I politely request that Jackson come to practice the recorder.

Step 2: Jackson politely pretends he didn't hear me.

Step 3: I politely repeat request in louder voice.

Step 4: Jackson impolitely refuses.

Step 5: I impolitely threaten to suspend some kind of electronic privilege.

Step 6: Jackson stomps to living room for practice.

Step 7: Jackson picks up recorder and blows with full force until glass chandelier trembles.

Step 8: I calmly point him to music piece he is to practice.

Step 9: Jackson plays one bar beautifully.

Step 10: Sydney enters room to request water/snack/Mommy's attention.

Step 11: Jackson gets distracted and tries to play but odd squeak comes from instrument.

Step 12: Jackson throws book across room.

Step 13: I repeat threat of electronics suspension.

Step 14: Jackson moans that he has recorder disability.

Step 15: I tell him he doesn't and he does not have option of withdrawing from grade 4 music.

Step 16: Jackson grudgingly returns to practice with an "but I'm warning you I am really, really, really, bad at this"

Step 17: In 4 minutes he beautifully masters song and I have dreams of him becoming an international recorder star.

I have repeatedly requested that we skip steps 2 through 16 but Jackson is a stickler for staying with the programme, so it's pretty much the same story every time we practice, which is about 2 to 4 times a week, depending on how much alcohol we have on hand.

More on grade four to follow.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sister Lend Me a Hand.

Some of you may recall my sisters.  They are not the biological kind. They are the kind that found me and despite being spread over two provinces we can always pick up where we left off.  We can laugh at ourselves and each other. We know each others best qualities, foibles, dark secrets and favourite foods.   There is nothing I look forward to (not even the start of school after a long summer) as much as my girlfriend spa weekends.

As much as we like to relax, drink coffee, sip wine, have our toes painted and deliberate over evening meals starting at breakfast, our relationships are not only about the fun.

S is moving to a townhouse from a basement suite with her three teenagers. Now, how do I put this delicately.  S is pack rat-ish.  She may not qualify for an episode of Hoarders  but she does tend to accumulate a lot of stuff.  Having just purged our basement and storage room, I realize I throw stones from my glass house.

N is the anti-pack rat.  She is so organized I am pretty sure her Tupperware lids are alphabetically organized by height, colour and circumference.  I bet if you went into her purse right now you would find all the receipts organized by date, size of purchase, and name of sales clerk.  You get the picture.

N is also extremely generous.  She came to Vancouver for a week to help S with her move and she has been working feverishly, along side S and her kids to make the move a reality. She has sacrificed relaxation, her manicure and a teeny tiny bit of her sanity.

Yesterday I went out to help in the project for a few hours and eat some real sushi.  My contribution was meagre.  Husband being away, I could not afford to help much, but I swept and cleaned floors and organized a little.  I was happy to help a sister out. It's what we do.

I drove home at the start of Vancouver rush hour knowing that N and S had hours ahead to finish packing up.  I headed straight for the gas station as I knew I was running on vapours.  Or not running on vapours. I ran out of gas on 16th Street at Granville.  For those of you know familiar with Vancouver, that's a thoroughfare amidst the traffic gridlock that is Vancouver.  Did I mention it was rush hour?

I debated what to do. I was blocking one of two lanes of traffic. I did not want to leave the car.  What do I do????

I called a sister.  S answered the phone, heard my plea and was instantly out the door with N in tow to rescue me.  No thought of the mountain of work that awaited them. 

I waited while sympathetic people pitied my plight, no doubt expecting that our aging van had blown a gasket, a bearing or a cylinder.

No doubt the looks of pity turned to disgust when they saw S arrive with a Jerry can full of gas.  This disaster was entirely my own making.

But what I think may well have raised the disgust to ire was N arriving with a tray of Tim Horton's coffee.   No reason we can't improve this situation with coffee!

I  heart my sisters!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Living In The Moment

For the latter part of 2010, I heard a constant refrain: live in the moment. Be in the moment.

I heard it on Oprah, on The Dog Whisperer.  I read it in books. In magazines.  On blogs.  Our Pastor preached on it one Sunday.  I read it on Facebook status updates. I am pretty sure I even saw it on bumper stickers, in fortune cookies, in gang graffiti and one sky writer.

All that power of suggestion had me resolve that in 2011 I would at least figure out what that meant.

To me, "living in the moment" is actually not a good thing.  Oh, I get that one doesn't want to live in the past. Either reveling in the glory days of college or stewing in the hurts of childhood.  And I get that one doesn't want to live for the future, as if the current life if just the preliminaries and the real life will really start when one finishes college, changes career, gets married, has kids or buys a tropical island.

But to live in the moment is to deny all else. If I were living for today, I might go on a vacation I can't afford.  Watch TV instead of make dinner. Do what I want, instead of what I need to do. Be selfish. Self indulgent.

I am a pathological planner. I research, I investigate, I weigh and I decide.  Whether its vacation, a home improvement project, the kids activities or getting a puppy, it is all about the planning.  To my narrow view, planning is the antithesis of being in the moment. 

But I knew that was not what it was all about.  So in 2011 my goal was to figure out what this means and why everyone was talking about it.  Not really a resolution, more of a personal project.

I had not quite worked out how I was going to figure this out when we returned after the Christmas break to the chaos of school and work and everyday life.  In all likelihood, I may not have thought much about my personal theme until I came up for air, around spring break. 

But on the first day back at school, the community was in shock.  One of the moms who had been, it seemed, successfully battling cancer, was suddenly losing her battle.  Barring a miracle, she had days to live.  Two days as it turned out.

Everyone was devastated at losing a friend and seeing three beautiful children lose their mother.  It was and continues to be heartbreaking.

I remember this special person as energy and optimism personified.  She was the kind of person who lit up a room with her smile and energy.  She cared about people, and how she loved her family.  I think she did live in the moment and made every encounter special.

And so it became clear: whatever I am doing, be there.  Playing with the kids, means playing with the kids, not simultaneously checking email and trying to mentally sort out a problem at work.    If I give my full attention to making dinner, putting in a little extra effort to make it healthy and appealing and maybe breaking out the nice napkins every now and again, good things will happen.

This is a challenge for a consummate multitasker, such as I am.  I don't think I'll give up my habit of 5 balls in the air at a time. But where people are concerned, I will endeavor to be in the moment.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Martin. Luther. King. Jr.

This week on Martin Luther King day, I watched Oprah.  With my children.

This is unusual in that I almost never watch Oprah. And if ever I do, it's over the objections of my progeny who mightily protest the cessation of cartoon drivel.

Oprah was revisiting some of her shows on racism over the past 25 years.  At some point Sydney was asking "why the people were being mean to those kids".  

It was a story about some African American high school students attending a previously whites only high school in the south.  I explained the overt 2 classes of citizenry just a few decades ago.

They were puzzled.

"Why does it matter about the colour of their skin?" Jackson asked "Why does that matter for what high school they go to?"

So we talked about all the irrelevant things about people that don't tell us anything. Height. Weight. Skin colour. Eye colour. Hair colour.

"Because people that have dark skin are good just like people with light skin" Sydney pronounced.

"Well, what I'm saying is skin doesn't tell us anything about the way people are. You need to see in people's hearts to know what kind of people they are.  See how they treat people and what their actions are."

The three of us talked about a few more Oprah segments.  I was heartened to hear them, like most of their generation, express their disbelief in how things used to be. It didn't make sense in the current paradigm.

After an hour, the show was over and I felt good. About this generation of kids and about how far we've come.  I know that we have a ways to go as a civilization and that I can do more.

Sydney summed it all up for us.

"Mommy, these ideas are really important.   I need to sit and think about them. Over a bowl of chips. Can you get me some chips?"

Friday, January 14, 2011


We started the new year full of optimism and hope. And then it got cold and snowed and our kids needed to take gloves to school.

So in addition to making sure the school backpacks had lunches and snacks and water and homework and planners and home reading books and field trip forms and recorders and gym strip and spare clothes, we had to make sure that each kid has one set of preferably matching gloves.

If there is anything that is more elusive than matching socks and clean underwear, it's matching gloves.  The dearth of gloves is a long standing problem in this house.  Thank goodness we live on the west (wet) coast where snow is infrequent and rain is our winter nemesis.

Now Santa must have know of our glove angst since both kids received a pair in their preferred colour (red/pink) in their stocking.  You add to this the 4 pairs I bought this fall, and we should have been tripping over the things.

Since the new year, it has been a morning ritual for Husband or I to race madly around the house looking for 4 gloves.  It would help if either Husband or I would remember to start the search the night before.

I will add that gloves are a PERFECT chew toy for a teething puppy.  Sydney sometimes puts gloves in the side pocket of her backpack, which is very convenient for a certain white ball of fur to access.  It also did not help that the kids wanted to bring their new gloves to school.

On Wednesday we'd had an overnight snow.  It had turned to rain by the morning and it was a soupy mess.  Husband and I were going to drive in to work together after he dropped the kids off at school.  (I was trying to coax a bowel movement out of the dog, who seemed reluctant to do so on a mushy pile of snow.)

Husband came home from dropping off the kids with the news that Jackson did not have gloves and we needed to find a pair.  With BOTH of us around for the morning festival of hostility and complaint   before school routine (which virtually never happens), we had somehow forgotten to do the glove search mission. 

We started a quadrant search of the basement and found 5 gloves.  This would have been good news if we had managed to find two the same colour or at least size or even a left and a right.  None of them were the red and black pair that Jackson wanted.   I went upstairs and managed to find one that matched one of our singles.  Unfortunately this was the smallest pair we owned, ones that Jackson wore in preschool.

As neither Husband nor I were willing to sacrifice any more of more of our work day in the endeavour, we took our too small pair.  My plan was to stuff them into Jackson's backpack without him seeing.  If he saw them he'd say "I wore those when I was a baby!!!!".  My plan was for him to confront the whole baby gloves when I was not there to receive his vitriol.  I did know that it is not a matter of vitriol denied, but vitriol delayed and we would surely pay later.

On the short drive to school we lamented the loss of the red and black pair of gloves (which we assumed were gone forever) and the fact that we had so many unmatched solos .  Husband looked down and saw a navy and grey glove under his foot that was the mate of one of the gloves in our orphan group at home.  He looked around and found another match.  Well, that's something.  Two matched pair as backup for tomorrow.

I was running to the school with the baby gloves when John called from the van. He had found the elusive black and red pair in a dark corner of the van.  And for one shining moment all was well in the gloved world.  Perhaps with the extra time tomorrow, we should clean out the van.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Travel Advisory



I do not advise that you travel. Home.

Jackson "had the worst day ever" at school. Just exactly why is a closely guarded secret but would explain his hostile demeanor.  We played 20 questions as I tried to divine the reason. I secured an admission that it had something to do with "school". I know, I really earned my detective badge.

The reason I got no further was we got side tracked mid way through 20 question as Sydney either felt the need to empathize or the need for some attention and she recounted a story of when her music teacher told the girls they were being poor sports when they complained that the boys were getting all the turns.

This reminded Jackson of the numerous times in his 5 years of public education that any teacher has ever admonished him or anyone else about being a poor sport. He recounted each one and with a heavy sigh he summed it up with "teachers don't understand what it is like to be a kid"

Thinking I may have stumbled onto something that would explain uncivil tone, I pursued this line of questioning by sympathizing with them but this only led to a conversation that included the following statements "teachers had pea brains" " teachers have TINY pea brains" "no, teachers don't have any brains".

When I got home I checked Jackson's planner and realized he has math and language arts and socials homework. When I mentioned it to him his only remark was that "we had 2 hours in class to do the work and I got 2 of 20 questions done so I have 18 hours of homework this weekend. And that is just the math!!"
I think that mystery is solved.

Sydney for her part has been in a good mood, pausing only to commiserate over the size of teacher brains. But when we got home she asked if she could have some "healthy chips". I said there was no such thing. She asked if she could have "some of those chips that are not as bad as other chips". I said not for an after school snack since she just had a donut ( from one of her classmates, as a birthday treat) .

So I suggested that she eat something that is not in the "crap" portion of the food pyramid. She stormed off. Astonishingly she was back 10 minutes later to ask the same question. I thought she knew me better. When have I EVER changed my mind on pesterment??

She stormed off and started slamming the door. I gave her my signature "one more time .... just ...  one... more... time ... and you're going to your room!!!!!"

She brought me a note that read "to mommy I want to have chips now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

There were 26 exclamation points. I counted. Who knew she has my genetic propensity to excessive punctuation ????????????????????????

This is all to say, you are coming home to a minefield and I cannot recommend travel here. I recommend travel to place where you might have a hope of watching the hockey game in the absence of hostility, hysteria, incivility or tantrums.

On the other hand the longer you wait to come home the further my mental status will have deteriorated. If you believe at all in the maxim "happy wife happy life" I would suggest you hurry.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Do Not Adjust Your Sets

Going a little green for the new year!

Well, I Never ...

... thought it would happen. But parts of our basement are actually usable. 

Regular readers will recall last August, we decided to make a grown up office in the former (but little used) upstairs playroom.  The kids already had a play area in the basement. So we consolidated in the name of having the people who actually pay the mortgage, enjoying a little more square footage.

But we never quite got the new basement playroom organized.  My Dad has some problems remembering his PIN numbers, and then we were in the fall busy season and finding time to shower and brush my teeth was a challenge.

At one point (Thanksgiving??) when my family was coming over, I shoved everything in baskets, drawers and boxes.  But successive play dates undid that and it looked like a gigantic pinata has exploded leaving toys everywhere. You couldn't even walk. It was so demoralizing.

Then just before Christmas we had our old Nanny for a couple days. She and the kids managed to stash a lot of the toys back into basket, drawers and boxes so it was little more encouraging. I spend December 31st making it look like this:

You have not idea how this makes my heart sing.

Though the real challenge was our storage room.  It has moved beyond disaster and right into death trap.  It is a room we never really organized when we moved into the house in 2006.  Or since.  More and more stuff accumulated.  The kids, though expressly banned, would sneak in to play with the Halloween costumes because "our cousins wanted to have a spooky party, really Mommy, it's not our fault".

Eventually, every mission to retrieve the coffee urn  or extra chairs became a dangerous adventure. Partly because there was precious little floor space. So you pretty much had to stand on something. Half the time that was a battery operated Halloween decoration which would make ones heart jump when hearing a manically "HA HA HA WELCOME TO MY LAIR".  If you tried to grab onto a shelf full of boxes to catch your balance, you would realize that it was, owing to the negligence of former owners, not attached. More than one time I suffered near fatal crush injury as a slide projector, guitar and boxes of Christmas ornaments came down on me.

So Christmas was the perfect time to dig into this storage room.  Husband brought me some new Rubbermaid totes and I completely revamped my Christmas box organization.  Then I organized the Halloween boxes and Easter before I realized that seasonal decorating has really got out of control in this house.   

Husband and I emptied out the storage room (by "Husband and I" I mean I pointed to stuff and Husband moved it). We realized that well over half of the stuff was designated for sell/giveaway/throwaway.  I mean what are you going to do with that many baby clothes when you have your sights on your 50th birthday.  A little quality time, me with my label maker and Husband with his drill (to attach the shelves to their brackets) we were ready to reload the room.

No one was more shocked than me at the room we have left over. Or that we didn't even need new shelving units to stack all the stuff:
We actually have empty space.
It turns out, we are not hoarders after all.   Just extremely lazy.  We only have our seasonal decorating items and a few things that are used infrequently in this room. Husband and I have each one box of "nostalgia" where we keep treasures from our childhoon. I'm pretty sure that gold painted eggshell vase or macaroni art bible verse I made in elementary school is going to work into a decorating scheme one of these years.

For those who may be jealous and think my entire house is now organized and I can finally put the kids' baby books together, this is what our guest room looks like. It's mostly stuff to give away:
But in the good news department, I found the one box I never got unpacked from our move  of 2006 and we are officially moved into our forever house.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Years!

As is our family tradition, we each has a gift to open on New Years Eve:
 Yes, even Finny.
The gifts are generally games, so we played together. The Game of Life:
To a great 2011!
Maybe next year, Finnegan can hold her own glass.