Saturday, August 29, 2015

Spirit Night

Sports at my school are nothing like what I grew up with.  First of all, we don't even have the same sports (no American football, yes boys' volleyball, no tennis, yes badminton?, yes basketball, but also swimming and soccer, of course.)

But more than that, the community/school spirit vibe is so different. Hardly anyone goes to the games, the gym is bare, there's no cheerleaders or dance squad. No music. There's no 50/50 raffle, no halftime half-court shots, no cake raffle... no kids running around under the bleachers, ignoring the game but loving the excitement.

Last night was spirit night, though, (a double double-header: soccer and volleyball) and let me tell you, it felt like home. 

Everyone dressed up in school colors and cheered.  They had pompoms and noise-makers.  The pep band was playing.  The boys ran off to cheer and play with the other kids and I felt like we could have been in any old high school gym back in eastern Washington.

Whim brought dinner, so we didn't mind skipping the pizza.  I think next time I'll make popcorn!  I wish every game night was this fun.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I am a genius

The other day I made a huge parenting discovery.

As much as I want my interactions with my children to be gentle and loving at all times, I always seem to find myself exasperated and on-edge in the morning, snapping at the boys to hurry up.

The obvious answer is to wake them up earlier so they don't have to rush, but it already feels like a crime to wake them up at 5:15 am to be out the door by 5:45.  I'm not getting them up any earlier.

We have already gotten into a nice routine of laying out clothes, making snacks and lunches, filling water bottles, etc the night before.  It turns out I'm less crazy and snappy when I'm not running around making quesadillas and finding socks 3 minutes before we're supposed to be out the door.  Go figure!

But that's amateur level.  Everyone knows that.  My life changing discovery that has forever protected my children from being shouted at by a mad tyrant at 5:47 is to have them put their shoes on before breakfast.  

Seriously, think about it.  Shoes with laces, in the hands of five- and six-year-olds, have the power to take you from on time to late.  Or from a little late but still ok to pulsing vein in your neck late.  Or from amazingly, totally early to... late.

And you don't want to do it for them because they need to be independent.  And you don't want to sit down and get comfortable and wait nicely because it's just putting on shoes!  They should be done by now!  So you stand there and seethe.

The genius thing is that if they take forever to put shoes on before breakfast, then they eat something they can carry.  And we walk out the door happily.

But if they are quick, they sit down and eat calmly at the table.  And we walk out the door happily.

On Friday, we had the perfect morning.  No wailing.  No scolding.  We were early to wait for the taxi, and look at the sky we were greeted with.

L prayed, on the spot, that every day could be like this one.  Man, amen!

Disney Jr. Videos

We saw our Disney Jr. videos last night!

This video has several clips of the boys, as does "Time for your checkup" (Bonus-Whim!).  

We are also briefly in three others: "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse hotdog dance", "DJ shuffle", and "Jake and the Neverland Pirates."

All our videoes can be accessed from the "related videos" section below the first video.

Obviously, I was cringingly embarassed before we watched them.  But the shots all change so quickly that I'm off screen before I can even really see myself.  Whew!

Inside Out

I'm always a little behind the lastest news, but this time it wasn't my fault.

Inside Out (finally!) began showing in Bangkok on August 12th.  But we were there on opening day.  I had heard wonderful things about it from friends in the states, and every one was true.

It would probably be even more perfect for a family with a pre-teen, who might be going through some of Riley's same struggles.  Even so, I felt like it could give any family tools to use to talk about emotions more openly.

M loved it, and I could just see the gears spinning in his head... that everyone has these complex thoughts and feelings, not just him.

I would caution that L cried at more than one touching/emotional part.  He liked it overall, and there was a good portion of fun and absurdity to balance out the sadder parts, but just a warning that very emotional kids will feel it.

But the biggest difference in our lives after seeing it?

The boys now slide down the bannister every day on way to school.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ch ch ch chia

Just a few years behind the trend (as usual) I have finally tried chia seeds and I'm about as pleased as you can be about something that doesn't taste like anything.

But doesn't this just look refreshing and delicious? 

And totally unlike something a person who was scolded heavily by her doctor for being fat and "eating too much tasty food" would eat, right?


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Substitute cupcakes

L's best friend turned five today, and let's just say there was an enormous cake involved.

It's getting harder for the boys to shrug off missing out on treats.  They never used to care, so I don't know if it's a matter of getting older and being more aware of losing out or if they're just tired of it, but they are mentioning things they had to turn down more often, and today M was even a little misty-eyed about it.

So we made cupcakes after dinner - chocolate (chickpea) with strawberry sunbutter spread.

I'm starting to think maybe they should have a box of made-ahead treats in the freezer, ready to be pulled out for moments just like today's.  But L and I had a lot of fun working on them, even if they weren't finished until ten minutes to bedtime.  And I like showing them that when I can, I will do what I can to make it up to them.  They've always been so understanding in the times that we can't-- I think seeing the effort that goes along with the treats has kept them grateful.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I love my whole life! I can do anything good.

I love M's teacher. I have such a good feeling about this year for him.

We're two weeks into the school year, and already I see such a huge difference in him.  He is happy, and he is learning.  He is being recognized for positive things in the classroom, and is -joy of joys- expected to stretch himself and do things he hasn't already mastered.

Mrs. D is a genius.  I don't know how she can teach this full and extremely varied class and meet every child at his level, but she does.  

M's first personalized spelling list (last week everyone had the same list just to learn the ropes and try out the word work/homework/test procedure, but from now on they are individualized) has a word or two that I would have to double check, myself.  I love that!!  

Whole group reading instruction is all strategy-based mini lessons, and then the kids work on those strategies on their own by reading books AT THEIR LEVEL and conferencing with her!  It's amazing. She values the fact that M can read (ie isn't making him pretend to learn to read for the third year in a row now) and actually expects him to become a better reader during his time with her.  Let me just wipe this tear from my eye...

Math seems to be straightforward- a lesson a day and a page of homework.  It may never be more individualized than that, and that's fine.  How much can one lady do?  I did notice a lot of links in her website to math-related sites, so I'm sure she has things going on there.

Even Bible has his number.  He's thrilled to be memorizing the books of the Bible in order.  I never would have thought to teach him that, but it's useful and it's just right up his alley.  I may have to brainstorm some good ideas for him to memorize, for when this is finished.

I know I'm counting my chickens before they hatch here, but I just can't imagine these next several months being anything but positive.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The marshmallow trial

Yesterday at chapel, the presenter showed cute videos of "The Marshmallow Test."  I'm sure we've all seen them: adorable videos of kids trying to resist the pull as the marshmallow called their name.

The kids laughed at the little ones who couldn't hold out, and they all raised their hand when the presenter asked how many of them thought they would have the patience to wait for the second treat.

It was fine, a typical chapel overall... until the end, when she presented each teacher with a bag of chocolate-stuffed marshmallows to pass out to the students.

I hate junk food at school.  I just hate it.  I know I was given candy by some of my teachers over the years and I turned out fine.  I know it's normal.  I know other parents don't mind.  I don't care.  I still hate it.

Last year, in my class of 14 students I had 3 with a dairy allergy, one who followed a religious diet, one whose mother didn't allow sweet treats, and one  with an egg allergy.  So when someone sent birthday cake, let's say, there were always 6 who were left out.  Almost half the class-that's a lot! Some kids didn't mind, but others did.

And that's not counting my own two who always have to turn down treats. Why do we have to boil everything down to food?  The kids liked the video.  They liked the songs and the chapel time.  They didn't need marshmallows.  If they loved the video so much that they asked their parents for a marshmallow later, the parents could give them one if they wanted.  Otherwise they'd just forget about it and move on with their day.

I particularly hated that I was the one who had to pass them out.  I had told parents at open house that I don't use food rewards or give treats at school.  In the end, I stuck to my word by giving each parent the marshmallow instead, when they picked their child up in the afternoon.  I told them another teacher had given it to me to give their child, but it was up to them whether or not they wanted their child to eat it.  The vast majority shrugged and handed it off.  But one or two didn't, so I'm glad I stuck to my principle.

Anyway, last night, after the Thai homework disaster when he was already feeling miserable, M mentioned the chocolate marshmallows he couldn't have.  Though he generally handles his diet with maturity, at that moment it just felt like a burden.

Well! I might mess up my kid's Thai homework and make him cry, but I can come through with a chocolate marshmallow in times of need.  

A few chocolate chips, a little incision, and the boys enjoyed additive-free chocolate-stuffed marshmallows this morning.
And since they were already out, we went ahead and followed up on that cocoa promise.

I don't have anything against treats.  I just don't think they should be given to children except by their parents.


Still the worst Thai mom ever

M's Thai homework this weekend is not easy.

Memorize an 8-line poem, copy it out in your neatest writing, familiarize yourself with the definition of any word in the poem you don't already know and then -apparently- memorize the spelling of every word in the entire poem to be ready to fill in any missing word or words of the poem.  By Monday.

I'm so thankful that M can at least read Thai- this weekend is going to be a lot less fun for those kids in the class who can't (if their parents can even muster the energy it will take to help their child prepare for a test so far outside of their ability range.)

Even so, so many of these words are not first-grade level.  There are silent letters, diphthongs, obscure words... 

Needless to say, they have not yet been taught to read or spell anything like these words in Thai class (though they did begin learning to blend one consonant with one vowel during second semester last year).

Anyway, our work is cut out for us this weekend as it is.

But, to make it worse, when he started his copy work yesterday afternoon, I told him to write "properly" i.e. to write using the full space between the top and bottom line. It was a long, frustrating process, and I corrected him dozens of times as he wrote his letters over and over using only 2/3 of the line.

When he was done, with a heavy sigh, he showed it to Whim to check for errors. 
Imagine my regret when Whim looked at the page and asked him why he had written it so strangely.

I was wrong.  He was right. You don't use the whole line when you write in Thai. I couldn't believe it.  All that work, for nothing.

He wasn't happy to see those words rubbed out after he had laboriously copied for so long.  There were tears and talk of not liking first grade after all.  I felt awful.  I hate being wrong, and I hate seeing my kids upset, so it was pretty much the worst I could possibly feel.

Last night he got some extra pampering before bed- a long snuggle, a pair of "special" socks, and some plans to make today more fun as we begin the copy work again, along with the rest of the memorizing and spelling practice.  I know hot cocoa and cupcakes were mentioned, along with making videos of ourselves saying the poem, and games where we take turns saying it and I am truly all too happy to oblige.

On the positive side, before he fell asleep he was able to recognize a silver lining- even though he would still have to write it all again in the morning, he had already memorized most of the poem just by writing it out. 

I better get to work on some cupcakes.  Poor boy! 

Edit: Phew!  Whim just realized that the kids don't have to have the definitions and spelling memorized until Oct. 1st.  Only the copy work and memorization is due Monday.  

My perspective has now totally changed. I said I hate being wrong, but I didn't mind being wrong about this.  Instead of this being the most frustrating assignment ever, now I love it.  He is going to learn so much this year in Thai class.

And!  Without me interfering, this morning he recopied the whole thing in less than 10 minutes without a peep of complaint!  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

One size never fits all

If I hear anyone else (I'm looking at you elementary teachers/librarians/people posting on fb) say that kids relate best to books whose main character is their age, I'm going to scream.

I started reading the baby sitters club in third grade, just like half the other little girls in America.  So I was 8, and Kristy and the gang were 13.  If I had waited until I was their age, the series would have been cheesy and laughable.  (Ok, I probably did still read them when I was their age, despite the cheese.  Just the Super Specials!  They were my old friends by then, how could I leave them behind?)

As it was, it was a series that helped me fall in love with reading.  The girls were so cool and free, and I felt like I knew them, even though their "chic" outfits and babysitting jobs were totally outside my own elementary school experience.

The same goes for a Wrinkle in Time.  Meg was 14, and I couldn't have been older than 9 or 10 when I fell in love with that book. I re-visited it many times over the years, and I undoubtedly gleaned more from it every time I read it.  But to be denied those years of pleasure because Meg was 14 and I was too young to appreciate some aspects of the story?  It would have been a shame.

Nearly every book M reads is about someone twice his age or more.  What matters to him is the story, the words, and the feeling of being transported to another place.  Horrible Harry and Junie B will never have any appeal for a child like him who has tasted true writing. 

It's not that I don't want him to read books about kids his age.  There just aren't many at his level.  And chances are, if there is a great book about a kid his age- he's read it!

In the end, I think that rule is just abritrary.  Someone made it up, and it sounds good, and it fits for a lot of kids, so they pass it on.  Plus, then they can feel smug when they see someone else's kid reading a book they are "too young for." No one is using any critical thinking skills or drawing on their own childhood experience.

Look at Roald Dahl- Matilda is a kindergartner, Danny is 9, Charlie is 11, James is around 7, and the fantastic Mr. Fox is an adult.... fox.  Surely a child could enjoy all his books in the same season.

I know it's trendy right now to brag that your child won't read Harry Potter until his eleventh birthday or to claim that books are robbed of their specialness when they are read too early.

Books are special.  But strong readers like M can appreciate their specialness now and be shaped by them from an early age.  Why shouldn't they?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lucky L

L's BFF enrolled in our school this year, and he is thrilled that they are in the same class.

Don't they look like they could be siblings?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

First day of school 2015-2016

M was off to first grade this morning, and L had his first day of K5.

We had a great day across the board.  My new class seems like a sweet, gentle group of kids. 

M's new teacher is a reading specialist who works with each child at his own level (!!).  We secretly slipped the fourth Percy Jackson book into his desk before Open House yesterday and pretty much set the tone for a perfect year, in his eyes.

L's new teacher is determined to meet her students' individual needs, too, and spent the summer reading up on a teaching method that maximizes small-group instruction and one-on-one time with students.  I haven't clued her in yet on L's math stuff yet, but it will make itself known sooner or later.

Ready or not, here we come!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Crowns and cupcakes

The boys donned their crowns once again this afternoon, and we had our traditional cupcakes (cocoa and chickpea this year!) to celebrate heading back to school tomorrow.

Actually L wears his crown often enough that when it was time to put them on for today's celebration, he couldn't find it and we had to make a quick substitute.

Good enough!

First grade and K5, here we come!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Family circus

Several weeks ago, M revealed to me a relentless desire he felt inside to "do the impossible." He had no particular impossibility in mind, but he felt driven to achieve something unachievable.  Not surprisingly, he was frustrated that he could feel so compelled, when he knew that by its very nature and definition, his goal could never be accomplished.

At the time, I answered that history is full of people who did things that had never been done before. I thought of early NASA engineers, the Wright Brothers, Madame Curie... even a book I read as a child about Koko the gorilla and the woman who taught her to sign.  I told M that based on the understanding of their time, they all had achieved the impossible. And if he cared enough about it, he could find a way to do it, too.

I have to admit I was proud of my answer.  It was one of those rare moments when the right words come at just the right time.  It felt sort of momentous, like a pivotal moment in his life.

Fast forward to Friday: Whim - through a work connection and his unfathomable ability to make friends wherever he goes - got us tickets to the circus.  

It sounded like a fun afternoon for the boys, so I called it a lucky day and didn't ask any more questions.  As we pulled up to Impact, I was thrilled to discover that our "circus" was actually Cirque du Soleil!

(We weren't permitted to take pictures during the show, so we took one of the empty stage beforehand, and some selfies.  Those lighted arches are where all the best parts happened!)

The performances were incredible! Breathtaking stunts kept us all on the edge of our seats, and the surreal, bizarre atmosphere ensured we could walk away saying we'd never seen anything like it.

At one point, L leaned over - eyes never leaving the acrobat as she contorted in the silk curtain high overhead - and whispered a sentence I never thought I'd hear: "I'm not going to be a racecar driver anymore." 

M sat in stunned silence.  After intermission, he slipped his hand into mine, gave me a look and said, "Thank you for this."  He was so touched, I had to ask him to elaborate.  

"They're doing the impossible."

One day my heart is going to break in two out of sheer love for him.

And him!

All of them.

Book talk

On Monday I brought back all of M's summer library books.

Reflection, remembering, and notes to self for future reference:  

(If you have a reader with similar interests, feel free to eavesdrop or chime in.)

- His love of Greek mythology is still all-consuming.  Anything relating to Greek mythology is a sure win for now.

- Celtic myths will not suffice.  Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian.  In that order, and apparently, only.  The Thai mythology never even came out of the library book box.

- He reveled in the way the the Secret
Series author conspired with the reader.  Other, similarly narrated books would probably go over well, too.  I think Pseudonymous Bosch has another series... At least I saw one other book for sure.

- Racso was good.  Get the first one.  Does this author have other books??

- Rump's humor was right up his alley.  Jack, and hopefully Red, will be a good fit.  The Hero's Guide series was similarly themed (reimagened fairy tales).  He would probably balk at the princess ones, but look for other neutral/boyish ones.

- The Secret Garden took a week to finish, by far the longest time of any book, even books twice as long.  The Yorkshire was very appealing to him, but it must have worn him out because he never read it for long stretches. Worth noting: a classic has never let us down yet.

-The Hardy Boys struck out.  I would have bet money on them being a fun read for him, but he tried #1 a few times and never got it to stick.  I think the boys are too old and are not interesting to him.  I will look for a mystery with a younger protagonist. Or maybe the Hardy Boys are just boring?

Say a prayer for his first grade teacher.  On Tuesday morning she's getting M, non-readers, and everyone in between and I know she'll be working hard to find ways to reach everybody.