labors of love

Not everyone has pieced together that I actually do work outside the home. Every Monday I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom assisting, usually, with an art project and letter and number exercises. Thursdays I return and bring a snack and (sometimes) a little extra lesson to go along with the snack. Sophie’s teacher Mrs. P. is awesome at directing me in a way that corresponds to what they’re working on during the week (this week is the well-loved tale The Mitten as illustrated by Jan Brett). About every other Friday I have a shift at Nels’ preschool. I’m the secretary on the Board of that preschool which involves a sometimes crippling amount of small but very detail-intensive – well, not exactly busywork, but administrative work. You know, the kind of thing a lot of people don’t do until they’re older and realize a lot of quality institutions need volunteer work exactly of this caliber. The kind of work you get little thanks for – except from the others working alongside you. And lastly, the whole family is involved in various aspects of running the program at the 7th Street Theatre which isn’t as scheduled but is definitely detail-oriented.

My favorite job has to be Sophie’s school, so far. I feel it is such a privilege to be able to participate as much as I do in her education and that of her peers. And I have put enough time in to her classroom that I not only feel I know a lot (but certainly not all!) of what goes on during her day, I also know her teachers, her friends, and her world. I never thought of myself as good with kids but my time in her school has made me a kid person, because I see the value in hanging out with children more and more. Each child, to a soul, is treasured by me. Each child is different. Every experience with each child fits them in their own unique way that leaves me storytelling to most anyone who will listen – my parents and husband, usually. The kids make me laugh and surprise me, every day I work with them. I would take any of them home in a minute. I mean, don’t worry mom and dad, I don’t mean it literally. I mean, “your children have touched me in a very special place and I’m pretty sure I’ve touched them”… OK, I’ll stop there.

Today involved a sewing exercise – students cut out two mitten-shaped construction paper patterns, then we adults helped them punch holes in the perimeter of the mitten and directed them to a running stitch to bind the two pieces. Let me tell you, it restored my faith in my favorite craft of sewing. Every child to an instance enjoyed the process. The boys and girls were of equal ability and interest. Each child was proud of his or her finished work in a way that many previous paper-and-glue projects have not quite spawned.

Even more fun for me was the fact that two of the children who typically struggle with the academic and social learning aspects of kindergarten really excelled at the sewing. One has a speech impediment of sorts that over time I’ve improved in understanding. The other spends a lot of time in the “watching chair” (time out). Both of these children completed their mittens quickly. One of them was the only child able to course-correct after doing a whip-stitch error. I just loved in my heart to see them do well at something they enjoyed. Because not only do these students get the consideration / stigma of “special ed” kind of help, I get the feeling they are often treated with that “don’t expect much” attitude by some of the adults in their lives. It would be tactless of me to say a lot more about the situation, so I won’t. Today I was happy to report to Mrs. P. how well each did and how interested they were in the process. I felt proud of them, although they aren’t mine and I only get to borrow time with them every now and then.

On my way out of the classroom I stopped into the library to get Sophie’s new reading book for study. We reward her with a new comic book each time she gets a 100% test (she is currently joyfully swimming in the Boneville series). It isn’t just the comic book reward that keeps her interested in reading; today when I handed her the new book in the car her brows furrowed and she read aloud, perfectly, to her brother. They both simply love to learn and love the world around them. They truly deliver energy and inspiration to the depths of me.

And Nels… “I like your sheets.”

romance is not dead (it’s swayze!)

Today besides the normal drill of fixing breakfast and lunch and getting the kids read for school I cooked a mini-Thanksgiving “feast” of roast turkey, mashed potatoes w/butter, and carrot sticks for Sophie’s kindergarten class – fresh out of the shower at 12:40 throwing potatoes in boiling water for a lunch date at 1 PM (yes, I made it and on time too), deep-cleaned the bathroom, entertained my father during a surprise coffee visit (our conversation actually took many turns for the personal depths, much to my surprise), took the kids to the Sweet Shoppe and picked up some catered bread pudding while there (the only item on the T-day menu I’m not making), took the kids to the Y and worked out, and cut out two dresses and two skirts to sew for Sophie. At my parents’ tonight I realized I couldn’t sew at home; my children / the kitten – someone – had got ahold of my bobbin helmet, a part I truly do need in order to sew. On hearing this my husband offered to haul my Singer 201 down the narrow stairs, put it in the van and drive it to our house to set up; the machine itself weighs 25 lbs. and is in a giant cabinet that isn’t easy to carry even over level ground. I opted instead to come home and tear the house apart for the missing piece to my 15-91. *

Here’s another reason I like being married to Ralph; tonight at 9 PM when I said, “Oh, you should go rent Roadhouse since the video stores won’t be open tomorrow,” and he said “Fuckin’ A’!”, grabbed our son, and left to go do it. So. There are so many, many people who would not have had that response.

Through a misplaced Tweet I found Devil’s Night Radio and I’m loving it. Tonight I heard Nick Cave’s “Stagger Lee” which I haven’t listened to in nine years on account of how much it offended Ralph when I played it in my car.

Oh, and I found out that after working out and not drinking alchool for a little over a week I have dropped six pounds. People, just so you know, this is officially the first time in my life I’ve ever done anything approximating “dieting”. I’m glad to have lost weight but I’m even more amazed at how good I feel.

So yeah. Things are going great around these parts.

* ETA – that was fast. I published my post, walked into the living room, moved one couch and immediately found the little metal part. Good times.

so where are you going to i don’t mind / if i live too long i’m afraid i’ll die

Insomnia. Again. No external culprits: no late-night caffeine, no alcohol. Exercise earlier in the day. No illness. Just nerves. Alone, abandoned, sad. Listening to my family sleeping. At least the cats are outside cold (yes, I’m about to let them in). At night I tell myself that in the morning I’ll feel better. It doesn’t help much but, of course, eventually I do sleep. If I was prone to ulcers I’d have developed one.

My days are good. I have been so busy lately – in a good way. I’ve been working really hard at helping my daughter’s class in their learning and enjoyment of school. Her teacher is awesome in that she will help me integrate a food or food activity into the lessons they do during the week. Ever since we started dong this stuff my little bird-brain gears spin away, bordering on the way-too-involved. Today was pumpkin pie day, pumpkin pie being the food the kids voted on earlier in the week (I’m sad they didn’t vote for the soup, which would have been more fun to make!). Two-dozen individual pies and one large one for the teachers. The kids sat and unfolded a napkin and we listened to a song about manners while they all ate. It was a nice scene.

Next week I’m even worse. I am currently cooking recipes and planning a little school unit on bread-baking which includes book holds at the library, a Sesame Street video podcast, and a book the kids and I worked on today.

I have been putting together my zine (website pending) which I must finish before I allow myself to sew again (post-Halloween resolution). I am on the preschool board and run little errands for that which aren’t rocket science but nevertheless take up a bit of time. Ralph and I have had two meetings each this week (I missed one), being more active in the film / theatre community here. And just trying to keep on top of housework and stay happy with the children and take Sophie to her swim lessons and enjoy peaceful evenings at home. We’re hitting it dead-on this week, for a change. No strain, just fun.

Here’s the thing: anytime someone tells you they’re busy it’s easy to not care, to tune out what they’re doing. But the point is I decided these things were important. I decided I cared about them, I committed to doing them. It’s different than a paid job where someone gives you a formal accolade or a formal paycheck and says, “Yes, that’s what you should be doing.” It’s a good groove though; I’ll admit. Today after baking pumpernickel bread my children opted out of playing together to come back in the kitchen and help me make two-dozen rolls (homemade burgers tonight for my dad’s dinner). One nice thing about having an at-home parent is your children learn so very much from you. It is truly an honor and inspiration to have them as pupils, too.

The hour grows only later and my body does not feel ready for sleep. Nevertheless I shall try.

that new-eraser smell

This morning I had convinced my mother to come with me to Sophie’s kindergarten class for a class project. Mrs. P. has designed a unit this week on pizza (shape recognition, sounds, reading, math – she’s integrated the whole week curriculum). So today she brought shredded cheese and I brought my homemade dough and sauce and we helped the kids, three to a pizza, as we prepped and walked them to the shiny, sterile school kitchen to put them inside to cook during recess.

The project went really well. The kids loved putting their pizzas together – every single kid loved it – and it was almost like gifting the kids with a whole reason to love school. Don’t get me wrong, most of them seem to love school anyway. But it is really special to have several tiny little creatures look you in the eye and say, “Thank you Mrs. Hogaboom” (or as little T. who I suspect has a crush on me shyly gushed when he first saw me, “I’m really glad you came today.”) and really, really mean it. Not only that but, as anyone who is actively involved with their children know, having kids is a way to re-experience things all over again. It sounds trite but it is absolutely true; from the gleaming convection oven to the cooperative efforts of sharing cooking steps together, experiencing it with children is really a gift.

Sophie took an AR reading test administered by her teacher and I got the results today. The test put her in the top 99 percentile nationally of her “grade” (is kgarten a “grade”?). Moreover she is now on a program of selecting absolutely-quantified books to work on for homework, then take a reading comprehensive quiz at the end of the week. It was an odd, and then deeply satisfying, prospect to bring home homework for Sophie that was designed to her abilities and that will challenge her. Homework! Honest to goodness, actual homework. Yeah, I really am re-living childhood.

divide by the cosine of grape jelly

This year for my eldest’s kindergarten I started work (unpaid) as an assistant to my daughter’s classroom every Monday morning while Nels is in school. Let me tell you, getting to know one’s child and other children within the school system is a great opportunity and I’ve been delighted to discover how much I enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I like my friends’ children but it has to be admitted these children (and my own) could often be viewed as obstacles to my socializing time with their mommies and daddies (anyone who’s been an at-home mommy or daddy of young children knows how much “quality time” with your children is instantly available or forced upon you; hanging out during the day with other parents of young children affords at least some adult-level interaction and pasttimes). At school however there are goals for everyone, there are rules in place and a neutral set of enforcers and pace-setters rather than the children’s parents. I find myself really enjoying being an educator rather than a parent or babysitter.

This week the children are “studying” a story about peanut butter sandwiches. I think the exercise focuses on reading comprehension (I have noted that classroom reading exercises are well below what my guess is Sophie’s second grade reading level – AR test pending; however, for the median classmate the academic exercises feel spot-on and all the children are attentive and seem to love them). While helping yesterday Mrs. P. asked me if I could come the next day and bring bread, so we could make peanut butter sandwiches (part two of the scientific experiment?).

So this morning with Nels in bike I brought homemade bread, Mrs. P bought the PB and J and we made sandwiches. I took a picture of the little kids freaking out joyously when Mrs. P. announced our project. During sandwich-making time (which coincided with other “stations” of art project and academic work on the letter “P”) Nels participated at a very good kgarten level, working so hard on a drawing / sticker exercise we were forced to take the sandwich with us on the bike trip to the bus station. Next week Mrs. P. tells me they are doing pizza and if she’s into it I will likely bring the dough and sauce, she can do toppings, and we can cook them in the kitchen. As you can imagine I am well-loved in that class. And I like each and every kid, and really feel like I’m getting to know them. Even The Little Sweet Psychotic (a beautiful, precious girl who scares me with her non-confrontational yet extremely confrontational behaviors) gave me two hugs before I left.

After class time Nels and I biked to the bus station to take the bus to Aberdeen’s LYS. After a very nauseating trip (I am very prone to carsick on our busses, sadly) I had Ralph meet me at the downtown shop and take Nels on a photo walk while I learned how to pick up the heel flap and inset to make the sock gusset. I was really irritated to discover the lack of “exact science” in picking up the stitches. However from here on out it looks like super easy sailing and then being walked through kitchener stitch by my fabulous local mentors. Yay socks!

Tonight: library date with kids, board meeting for the preschool, dinner at my ‘rent’s while watching 300 with the associated rifftrax. A little slice of heaven for me, well except for that Board meeting.

"just go in and do it really half-assed… that’s the American way!"

When you spend your time with a series of mentally non-challenging and thankless (as in, you get directly acknowledged for around ten percent of your) tasks – a huge, bottomless series that swallows you up – it feels one thousand times worse when you screw up. Because it’s not like you fail in something that was really difficult or time-consuming or even Big Picture Important. You screw up on some tiny thing that most people might think, “What’s your problem? Pull it together!” or maybe, “Who cares?” about.

In this case I’m speaking of Picture Day, which is today at Sophie’s school. So for either Ralph or I this involves filling out a form and writing a check and dressing the child and making sure they’re clean, presentable, and / or cute. Well, I completely forgot. So this morning Sophie went without money, without a form, and dressed “like a boy” (her words; sometimes she chooses this costume) which included a hand-me-down camouflaged longsleeve t-shirt. When I got back from dropping her off – actually ahead of the timeline, thanks – I checked my mail and discovered my error (thanks, GCal, for being on the ball!). This meant going back to the school with abovementioned details sorted out. The one neat thing about this annoying, small-potatoes quasi-waste of my time was seeing my daughter light up when I arrived. Not just happy to see me as she put her hand trustingly in mine, but I saw that she viewed my surprise visit not as evidence I screwed up (as an older child might) but purely as evidence that I take good care of her. Awwww.

Today I – yet again – watched a friend’s child for a few hours. This was a shift from 11:30 to 2:30 and I took the child C. along with Nels for a long walk to a local cafe and back. C. is loved especially by Nels and my husband. She is a very sweet, social, direct child. She has a few quirks that make me laugh, one of which is that most of the time her speech is like the Weekend Update guest suffering from voice immodulation; the other is that when she’s upset about something she descends into a sort of silent hangdog standing / crumpling / threatening-to-cry / series of events that is quite distinct (my children scream or do this crazy phoney hyperventilating thing which is filling me with rage even as I talk about it) and I only notice it after a few minutes when I realize she hasn’t spoken for a while. Nels loves, simply loves it when I have extra children to care for. Besides some kitten-torture (today Harris was banished outside our entire duration of in-home with C.; one of the reasons we went on the walk was to allow our Regal Prince his indoor naps) Nels and his (lady-)friends get along wonderfully.

Tonight’s family events: Abbi’s fingerling potatoes, our first Rifftrax (LOTR:FOTR), (hopefully) my brother over for dinner again.

Quote of the day: Sinead O’Connor, referencing Britney Spears:

“I think to attack someone as a mother is very dangerous. I would say that’s what puts a young girl on a precipice which is very, very dangerous, in my opinion. Some people may end up really regretting the way they’re treating her.”

i’ve got one more silver dollar

It’s fun biking in this town. For one, it’s mostly me and guys who had their driver’s licenses suspended or can’t afford auto upkeep, with gaunt cheeks and shaggy hair over their neck that flies out the backside of dirty baseball caps as they lean forward and pedal intently to their next errand or social call. These men are almost always riding BMX-style bikes, often the bikes too small for them, in a half-cocked sitting up squat. This is such a typical scene in the area for years I thought these men existed everywhere, and I guess to a lesser extent that, besides small children, those were the people who rode bikes.

So anyway, it’s them and then me. Yesterday was my first trip to and from Sophie’s school (Ralph had accompanied her on her first day in the truck). Since I am riding the bike until weather permits (and if I get rain and safety gear before rain season – doubtful I can afford it – throughout the year) I was hoping for an auspicious start. The weather was lovely, we were about two minutes late in leaving, and the iPod favored me with the Allman Brother’s “Midnight Rider” which was just my speed.

Less than two minutes later I directed my Sophie to her playground (so many children!) and exchanged her place for my friend’s daughter E. who immediately accepted the giant pink helmet and stuck her thumb in her mouth, smiling around the thumb. Kids love the bike trailer. Adults gawk (which usually looks hostile, even if it’s not meant to be) and I fear some judge the “Bonerhead Bike” (ask my brother about that), but children look wistfully or downright ask for rides – then ask their parents to procure a trailer of their own. After buckling in E. I ran the children on errands: to my parents’ to steal some stamps, to the post office, and then along a main route to find an espresso stand and buy the children chocolate milk (E. after hearing my beverage plan proceeded to ask incessantly, “Where’s the chocolate milk?” over and over, I mean even during intersections as if the next gear change would produce a cold cup of the stuff). I was later told by E.’s father he happened to look out the window at his workplace when we rode by. I think it tickled him a bit; happening on the sight of my children when they’re out with someone else always gives me a tiny, warm, yearning glow.

The pickup scene at Sophie’s school is intense. E.’s mom calls it “The Circle of Terror”: a leanly managed and designed but intensely operated traffic flowthrough that my bike does not immediately make sense of. Yesterday I scuttled as far out of foot- and car-traffic as I could and waited for my daughter. As I waited More and more parents started to surge in from all sides, drifting from the parking lot in a steady trickle and making me more and more claustrophobic. At 2:48 children started trickling out of the front door, and to the point, not my child. I talked to the grandparent of the boy Sophie had an insane crush on last year at preschool. Finally my daughter emerged, carefully extending the handle on her ladybug backback to roll it towards us like the world’s tiniest stewardess – composed and professional. I buckled her in and was out of the traffic circle and home faster than any car. In town, indeed, the bike is faster.

Another day without heckling or driver intimidation. Fresh air and happy kids. Life is good.

on enjoying raising educated children

I should visit my local library daily. First, it is a relatively safe and brief bike ride for us. Second, there is a lot to do at the library even when I have my children in tow and don’t necessarily want to spend all my time there working with them. There are not only books and toys for kids, there is a puppet theater, coloring sets, board games, and displays (dollhouses and animal habitats – currently gerbils and Australian stick bugs). The area for children is located next to the areas I most often frequent. I can find a book while leaving my children to their occupations in safety and within earshot.

My daughter’s ability to read really floors me. Today we picked up a pamphlet entitled, “100 books every child should hear before starting school.” What immediately struck me is my daughter, pre-kindgergarten, can read these books herself, with very little stumbling. Not only are her reading skills impressive, but her ability to concentrate and figure out words she does not easily recognize has improved.

Wednesday my friend A. pointed out Sophie would likely be far more advanced in reading than the other children in her class. As a way of illustration, A. brought out the kindergarten workbooks her own daughter had used the year before at the school Sophie would be attending. I was quite surprised at the level of academia, which was such that might be more appropriate for where my three-year old’s interests and abilities lie (yes, letter recognition and simple word structure is “academia”, whether you’re comfortable using that word in a kindergarten setting or not). Of course I see the sense in teaching at a level that is inclusive of all children. I was in gifted or advanced classes my whole life but I don’t remember feeling “bored” in the regular classes, although my father often says I was.

Ralph and I are fully aware our participation in public school precisely means we are not requiring that our children receive special dispensation and kid gloves. Why this early-and-proficient reading is relevant to me is that I always worried about teaching a child how to read. It seemed like a painstaking process and I thought I was going to have to learn how to teach them. But as I’ve watched my children I see that the mechanism for reading and motivation for reading exist inside them. I did not aggressively work on teaching my first child to read. If anything, the primary measures in my household facilitating their reading are passive: we do not have television in my house, and I myself read quite a bit.

While looking up typical reading timelines for children today I fell across this treatise on “spoiled children”. It just made me depressed. It’s like reading what a childfree person might write, or a more old-school parenting style that surely gets results – and at what cost, I wonder? I lump the term “spoiled” along with the various other put-downs I hear older folks sometimes level at children – “throwing a fit”, “trying to get his / her own way”. I can hear my FOO’s voices in my head. They thought children were a subspecies – delightful when they were doing things right, suddenly denigrated when deviating from what made life easier for the adults in the room (“bossy”, “slow”, “ugly”). Yuck.

a breakdown of how it goes in more detail than you care about

We are broke, and it ain’t no joke. Ralph gets paid on Monday (direct deposit, yay!) and until then, we have no cash. Guess what I mean by “no cash”? Zero. Yesterday we stole over to my parents’ house and scored $19 for their quarter jars (we Hogatrash secretly love this kind of scavenging). So I fed the family with $6 last night (black bean burritos with garlic and jalapeno, steamed broccoli, carrot sticks). It would have been less than $6 but we are also out of gas – hee hee! – so we shopped at the mom ‘n’ pop which is a bit expensive. Tonight’s fare:

Calzones with spinach and homemade ricotta*
Dipping sauce (red sauce w/garlic and basil – yay canned tomato products!)
Sweet and sour asparagus salad

Today I ventured to the somewhat ghetto, rather hilarious, and always thrifty Canned Food Outlet today for our groceries (side note – this was after biking the kids up to my daughter’s last-day-of-school picnic at Sam Benn in Aberdeen – up hills!). My aim: the produce section. A bit scary: “Fresh lemons”! the sign reads (needed for my ricotta) and well, a good 15% of the lemons are moldy. But here’s a life lesson for you: amongst moldy lemons are very ripe, juicy lemons. Then spinach – a huge bag of it reduced to 49 cents. w00t! Asparagus, young and fresh-looking with decent savings of $1.29 for a large bunch.

All told these groceries came to just a little over $3. Yes, I’m awesome.

After Ralph got home (biking the cool seven miles that is his commute, addendum: sometimes getting yelled at for being on a bike: “Jackass! Fucker! Faggot!”), he cleaned up and took Nels to their shift at the 7th Street Theatre working concessions for the movie (which had, I believe, the highest attendance for the film program yet). Sophie helped me fashion calzones and we had a mellow dinner together before our boys got home. I was so, so pleased to see that my produce was fine – no slimy spots, no wilty brownness. Saving pennies is fun but eating partially-spoiled food is not really an option.

Yesterday was also my daughter’s preschool “graduation”; she received a diploma and a special award for “Knowing the Names of Lots of Dinosaurs”. At our picnic I ended up talking to moms I hadn’t previously spent time getting to know (Chris, Kim, and with me being a Kelly we have an oddly unisex parental nomenclature). It was a happy occasion but as these moms are sending their children to different kindergartens (they live outside HQX) I also felt the tinge of “goodbye” which is something that speeds up and hurries along more and more as you raise children. Sophie’s teacher, after seven or eight years at this school, will be moving on to a new position. Both of my children gave her a tender hug before we left. This teacher was a very inspirational and amazing presence in our lives, all the more appreciated as acclimation to our new township.

Summer break has officially begun!

*A friend brought me some raw milk from the creamery in Sequim; sadly, as I thaw out each half gallon they seem on the verge of spoilage.