Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snow Day!

No needs for walks today. She barely slept.

We made a snowwoman (shown above), snow bear, snow dog ....

There were quality control problems.
The coroner attended.  A sudden death inquiry will be called.

Sydney mastered the singles event.

And the difficult doubles.

Couple of snow girls.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dress Up

Dress up used to mean, before my kids got to elementary school, putting on funny hats, necklaces, a tutu and an old pair of swimming goggles.  
I swear, no alcohol was involved.
 Or perhaps a pair of your brother's underwear.
We call this the superhero look.
But then we were introduced to the great fun of dress up days in elementary school.

We have had notices home about crazy hat days, crazy hair days, backwards days.  Those are tolerably easy to cope with assuming someone is at all on top of the laundry situation and we have more than a couple days notice.

I blogged about the nightmare of Twins Day a couple years ago. This is where kids not only have to dress up as something, but the same as someone else.  Wardrobe coordination with, as it turned out, a moving target.

I do not exaggerate when I tell you in the past ONE week we have FOUR dress up days at our school.  Last Thursday was Vancouver Canucks day owing to a member of the Canucks coming to the school.  I won't bore you with the protracted negotiations about who got to wear the one Canucks jersey we own. 

Friday was one year from the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics and "Canada wear" was the order of the day.  By a divine fluke, I had done laundry AND had washed the kids' matching Canada shirts just days before.

Monday was Valentines Day and wear red or pink day -- though my kids celebrated on the couch with red and pink cheeks as opposed to at school owing to a nasty virus.

But what really takes the cake was Wednesday or RED CARPET DAY. Kids were to dress up as a) their favourite star or b) someone dressed up for the red carpet.

For that one girl in grade 5 who dressed as Lady Gaga for Halloween, this was a beautiful thing. The rest of us were scratching out heads.
Disco Dress circa 2009

Sydney had the basis of what I thought was a suitable outfit.  We call it her disco dress owing to excessive amount of sequins.  No one can pull off the look but her.

It is now more of a disco top but I thought with black leggings and boots it could be red carpet worthy.  Maybe just some gloves or fancy hair accessory.

What the FRACCKKKK am I supposed to do with the J Boy?   I may as well be dressing him up as a mythological sea creature.  I followed Husband's advice and asked the boy himself for ideas.  His response:

"I have no idea Mommy, but I have to dress up for the red carpet on Wednesday. It's in my planner".

I swooned at the confidence he had in me.  I did a mental inventory of his clothes.  We have no tuxedo, dinner jackets or even proper button down shirts that look like they should be worn anywhere but the beach.  I was not willing to spend a lot of money on any of these items that will never be worn again.

He does have a white turtleneck. I thought if he wore with navy cargo pants and I could find a bow tie somewhere, we might have the makings of something. Husband suggested sunglasses and {shudder} product in his hair to give him the air of cool.

And so off I went to the mall in search of red carpet wear. 

I was not alone, as I met two other families from school at Claire's, looking for accessories to complete the outfit. One was looking to duplicate Katy Perry and the other Lola, the purple haired alter ego of Hannah Montana's sidekick Lily. Suddenly, looking for a bow tie didn't seem all that bad!

Imagine my astonishment when after circling Claire's only 14 times, I found gloves and a hair band full of sequins to complete Sydney's outfit.

I found some hair accessories with bows on them that I thought I could jerryrig into a fake bow tie for the J Boy.  One of the other moms with older boys said she would LEND us a bow tie which was even more fantastic.

When the day came, the kids spent the morning convalescing on the couch owing to the stubborn virus.  I deemed them healthy enough for the couple hours of school in the afternoon.  Sydney cleaned up nicely for her red carpet look:
A perfect red carpet starlet.
Jackson refused to wear the bow tie.  He grudgingly put on the sunglasses so I could take a picture.  Turns out he looked exactly like a very famous person:
Would you believe, Stevie Wonder?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Heart Day

It was not too many years ago that I lamented the stress of Valentines Day.  It was one of my most popular blogs.

I am not talking about the pressure on couples to find the perfect gift or way to celebrate (do people with kids still do this???). Or even singles feeling the pang of not being in a couple on a day when it feels like everyone else is.

I talked about the stress of getting Valentines cards put together. For school.  And a heart shaped chocolate added.

Only a year after my initial Valentine's blog, I triumphantly blogged about the progress we had made.  Valentines signed, chocolates attached with time to spare.

As one might expect, I got complacent.

In the weeks before February 14, I usually make a trip to the grocery store with the kids so they can pick their Valentines.  I have been thinking that this year, it would be harder for Jackson to find a suitable theme.  Since they don't yet make Valentines with a theme that would entirely suit the world of grade 4 boys e.g.  "world's grossest boogers" or "reasons not to like Justin Bieber", I didn't really did not know what sort of suitable cards we would find.

Then Husband was away for a week, then I caught a bug and somehow buying Valentines slipped my mind. Last week one day, I thought we would go after school, when one of Sydney's classmates informed me she was coming to our house for a play date.  I was too stunned to say anything but yes and that kayboshed the heart buying trip.

On Friday after school, February 11th, I asked them what kind of Valentines they would like.  That's when I heard them. The most feared words in the world of Valentine:

"Mommy, I want to make my own Valentines this year."

Yes, Sydney wanted to go all crafty. The craft gene is obviously passed down by two recessive genes as I am not at all crafty. And by comparison to Husband, I am Martha Freakin' Stewart.   I discovered that we did have a lot of pink card stock and was thinking that maybe we could print out some cute pink and red heart themed pictures and paste them on, when I remembered we just replaced our printer. Our old one was bleeding us dry in replacing the colour cartridges and was smearing. Our new one was black and white because, I reasoned, we don't need a colour printer to print out the odd grocery list or email.

Fortunately (?) Sydney woke up with a fever on Saturday morning.  As Husband was heading out to get groceries and buy Valentines she was extremely lethargic and which I readily exploited and she agreed that she could hand make the TEACHER'S Valentines, but she would use the regular kind for her class.

Daddy left with cell phone charged ready to call and present the myriad of options for Valentines.  Sydney, I know, is not fussy and professed that she would be happy with anything except Dora the Explorer.  Jackson would not commit to anything he found vaguely acceptable. I hoped that Ironman would be popular this year. 

The phone rang and I readied the kids to discuss with Daddy their selections, when Husband said to me the second most dreaded words in the world of the Valentine:

 "They are all sold out."

WHAT THE FRACKK??????  Who runs out of Valentines?  This was Superstore that had run out, a gigantic grocery store that is usually prepared with enough Valentines for the Continent of Asia.

No worries.  Husband stopped off at Safeway where really no one shops anymore. It is so quiet I go there for the spa like quietness and really enjoy shopping (until it's time to pay).  Surely they would have Valentines.


Were all the Valentines buyers too busy watching the drama in Egypt unfold the past 19 days and forget to stock up?

I sent Husband to Michael's the craft store, as I had good intelligence via Facebook that a mere 48 hours earlier they had ample supply.

Forty eight hours can make all the difference.  Sold out.

Husband came home and started a phone campaign over the Tri Cities looking for Valentines.  He feared nothing more than having to listen to me try to make some 55 handmade Valentines with the kids.

Eventually he found available stock at a dollar store and at Save On Foods, another large grocery store chain.  I headed out in the pouring rain for my Valentines-or-Bust tour. 

I asked at Customer service in Save On Foods where the Valentines were. "With the stationary".

At the stationary, I found no Valentines but a manager told me they moved them to "the end of the aisle".

At the end of the aisle, I found chocolates but no cards. And then I heard the dreaded words "Oh, maybe we're sold out."

At that moment I know that someone, somewhere was making a killing on Craig's list, selling $2.49 Hello Kitty Valentines for $40.

But then, a guy on a walkie talkie has a lead.  "What we've got left is by the make-up aisle".

My heart sank as I saw the few boxes left, the ones no one else wanted. The Charlie Brown Christmas trees of Valentines. I see Spiderman (for 6 year olds) Lightning McQueen (for 4 year olds), a glut of Mickey Mouse Club (for 2 year olds). I see a few Tinkerbell which I know will do in a pinch for Sydney. Then I see a couple boxes of Barbie Valentines which will suit Sydney perfectly. Score!

Darnit!! Why didn't I buy these in January. Will Jackson go for Spiderman?

Then I experienced my February miracle.  One lonely, beautiful box of Shrek Valentines.  What 9 year old would say no to a boxful of ogres? (mine was wise enough not to disagree with "Jackson Shrek is really cool in grade 4, right? That would be perfect?  Ogres are like gross and full of warts, that's good for grade 4!??")

On Sunday afternoon, is was a bit of a full court press to get both kids to sign and label their Valentines.  Jackson had some stressful moments when he realized that he had 28 regular sized Valentines and 4 large. He needed 29 for his class and he could not see his way clear to giving only one kid a large Valentine.  We tried trimming one down.  As Jackson would say "fail".

Jackson's solution was to hope someone would be sick but didn't think through the process of going to school without addressing any Valentines and then quickly addressing 28 Valentines if he were lucky enough to discover that someone was home sick. All while on a field trip.  He eventually agreed that giving a larger one to the boy in the class he spends the most time with, was appropriate.

By bedtime, the Valentines were tucked into their backpacks.  But it was all for naught.

Both kids home sick on the day of love.

Happy Valentines Day!!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Great 4: Great Expectations

Perhaps the biggest surprise about grade 4 is the expectations on the students.

By necessity, the kids at some point need to take responsibility for themselves at school. I heartily endorse this notion.  The kids are expected to kind of be responsible for themselves.  This is a laudable, and for some kids, realistic goal. 

My kid is not some kids.

No one knows this more than me the perils of a child who needs to learn responsibility. Part of my weekly routine is tracking down errant items scattered by the J Boy across the universe. Mitts, shoes, gym strip, library books. I check the lost and found, I check his class. I ask him to do these things but he either forgets or says he did them and did not find the missing item.  It's either conduct my own reconnaissance missions for missing things, or buy gloves, hats, gym clothes by the gross.

One day, for example, he said to me in the drop off lane at school:  "Mommy, did you pack my gym strip in my backpack?  I have gym today".

I said, "it should be there, I'm not due to launder it for 4 more months"

"It's not here. You have to go home and get it."

If you are in grade 4 and you have no strip of a gym variety, you sit out gym. Now while Jackson is fine with gym, I doubt very much he would mind missing it. He does mind being singled out as the perpetrator of the unpardonable sin of forgettage of gym strip.

Fortunately that day, before I went home to get it, I checked the lost and found for the brown bag of stinky clothes. It wasn't there. It was, I discovered, hanging on the same nail that his backpack hangs on.

So of course in music, one has to remember to bring one's recorder, music duo tang and planner to class. Or one gets a mark against. One week in October, a certain unnamed boy whose name starts with J had all the required items IN HIS OWN BACKPACK and could not find them.

You see what I am dealing with. Remembering them seems like a pie-in-the-sky dream when he can't find them in his own reasonably sized backpack.

The homework, as mentioned, requires the students to think about whether the math is done and bring home the appropriate books. Sometimes that is a single sheet, sometimes a duo tang, sometimes a textbook.  Sometimes all three.

On top of remembering to bring stuff, grade 4 brings letter grades and I guess a need for more concrete assessment than in earlier grades. Because they have tests. And assignments. Even pop quizzes.

When we got the note home for the first math test Jackson erroneously believed his parents weren't both overachieving students that went through a great many years of public education and in post secondary programmes (this is peril of having a lawyer and Ph D for parents).  This is what he believed a math test meant:

Step 1: Show up
Step 2: Write test

He was disavowed of that notion as we reviewed the work he had done to find the weak spots.  He practiced those areas until we all agreed he was competent.  Then we created practice tests and tried to mimic test conditions. Except in an effort to keep the J Boy interested, the tests were really more like game shows and we tried to make the subject matter appealing.  For example, in one unit on graphing, we had him create a bar graph which charted who in the family farted the most.

The next challenge to address in grade 4 was the province-wide BC testing.  They do this in grade 4 to get a measure of how the kids are doing across the province.  I sort of am okay with the notion of province-wide testing, I see the merit of it.

I just don't really see the merit of it in grade 4.  The testing is done over 4 days, one day it is almost the entire day. Another is half and day and the other two are shorter sessions.  Do they not know how much recorder practice grade 4's have? And math tests? And have they not heard about the big Map of Canada assignment in socials??

I think this is a lot to expect of kids that for the most part have never written until a few months earlier (if  you don't count spelling tests, which I don't).  Even if the results don't count, it just seems a bit much.  At least for my grade 4 kid.

In conclusion (of all things grade 4), this year is as big as I was always told but never really believed. But in  more and significant ways than I thought.  I have warned Jackson that he needs to either cotton on to the responsibility gig, or find a way to hide me in his locker in middle school -- the year after next.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Grade 4: Homework

Jackson came home with the happy news in September he had the "no homework" teacher. I am pretty sure she did not actually say that, but that is the impression he came home with. Although I did not believe that Jackson would come home with no homework for 10 (long) months of grade 4, I admit I let this assessment temper my expectations of how much homework there might be.

I knew that we were in for a long ride when in September, I read in Jackson's planner "Math, p. 257 #1-6". I too easily jumped to the conclusion that the notation meant that Jackson had homework to do. In math. And that it was on p. 257.

"You have math homework today?"

"No, I don't"

"It says so in your planner".

"It does?"

"Here, isn't this your handwriting?"


"What does this mean?"

"I have no idea."

"Does it mean you have math homework?"


I think that is what we in the legal profession call implausible denial.

A further cross examination, elicited the admission that he had worked on math in class that day. He may or may not have finished the work in class. It was all a little futile anyway, since Jackson did not bring home a textbook or anything with 257 pages in it.

On reflection, Jackson grudgingly acknowledged that he may have unfinished business on page 257. He then expressed some anxiety over the fact that they were not allowed to take the math textbooks home. Which created, for him, the impossible situation of having work he did not get done in school that he could also not do at home.

So I sent a note to the teacher in the planner asking which one of the incompatible statements was untrue:

1. He had math to do at home.

2. He could not bring home the math textbook.

Unfortunately, the teacher was away and the substitute did not read my message or did not know the answer to my question. In the planner, however, was a more urgent message "Math Math, p. 257 #1-6 due TOMORROW!!!!!!" All the excessive punctuation did nothing to calm the feathers of mother or son.

Fortunately, his teacher was back in the saddle at school and solved the great math text mystery and confirmed that he is allowed to bring home the textbook.

We then went through a period where the following exchanges would happen:

"Do you have homework?"


"It says in your planner Language Arts finish questions"

"I finished that at school"

"Then why is it in your planner?"

"Because it was on the board and we have to write it in the planner even if it is done"

"That doesn't make sense"

{sigh} "I just do what I am told Mommy"

It turns out he was right. More often than not he got his work done in class and the notations in the planner are solely for the purpose of testing the J Boy's memory and vexing the J Boy's Mother.

Since then the homework came home only infrequently. I think Jackson's distaste for Mommy's homework harangues motivated him to use his class time wisely.

In mid October Jackson had his Cubs' camping trip, the only weekend Jackson was busy all fall. This of course was the weekend a boatload of homework came home. I could not complain given the dearth the previous month, except for the really unfortunate bad luck of trying to accomplish one of these impossible tasks:

(a) get Jackson to do homework right after school on Friday (as likely as getting Charlie Sheen into any kind of meaningful rehab);

(b) get Jackson to do homework on Sunday afternoon when he'd had about 90 minutes sleep and I am in the middle of cooking a turkey dinner (as likely as Mel Gibson ever successfully completing sensitivity training);

(c) get Mommy to forget the homework was due (as likely as my being invited to Prince William and Kate's wedding in April).

Until Christmas the homework was pretty tolerable. After Christmas the pace has picked up. This Christmas to spring break period, I have come to know, is the 'meat' of the school year. I can tell you so far that I much prefer the bun.

Last weekend alone Jackson had math, language arts, socials, music, spelling and a speech to finalize. This of course coincided with the longest trip Husband has ever made in 11 years of marriage. Admittedly some of this work was making up for work his missed when he was in some extra (computer!!) classes he was able to attend. But still!

Jackson and I are learning to cope. I have learned to give lots of notice, to let him pick what he will work on next, to do it in small chunks, and to keep Sydney busy with the dog so neither interferes. I have learned to let Husband take over when the mother-son interpersonal dynamics become toxic.

And finally, sometimes letting the J Boy break a pencil is surprisingly therapeutic for him. An HB pencil broken into four pieces lets him purge his homework demons and we can get on to the important work of three digit subtraction, learning the eighth notes in recorder are twice as fast as the quarter notes, sorting out Jacques Cartier's three explorations to Canada ..