Monday, August 29, 2011

Tom Sawyer and Mary Lennox

I don't consider myself a heliocopter parent (smugly so, I might add), and then I notice myself doing things like checking the 5th-grade website five times a day (still not updated for the new week) (I HATE that). In my defense I'll insist that I'm just curious and I have NO INTENTION of discussing the contents/ activities with either my fifth grader or his teacher.

(Total lie, BTW. I'll "discuss" it with Si, and the conversation will go something like this:

Me: Hey, I noticed that you guys are reading ___.
Si: (crickets chirping)
Me: (slightly aggrieved whisper) Si. That was kind of a question.
Si: What? Oh. Yeah, we are.
Me: And what do you think? Do you like it?
Si: (shrugs) Mm hmm.
Me: (kicking self for asking a yes-or-no question) What's it about?
Si: Um. This guy does this thing, and then he has a dog, and then he does something, I don't remember what, and then he does this other thing. He rides the bus, I think.
Me: Oh. What's your favorite part?
Si: (raising his face to the ceiling and speaking in a just-end-this-conversation-NOW monotone): I like it ALLLLL.

Meanwhile, I ask Helen on the third day of school what she did in class today (this is after we reviewed in detail all the important parts of the day, such as recess, the other recess, lunch, and specials). She sighs noisily and says, "We just did the USUAL STUFF, MOM."

In summary: I have NO BLOODY IDEA what either of my children are doing in school. Hence my obsessive refreshing of the 5th grade website.

This is one reason I like reading to them at the end of the day so much. At least that's one thing that's going into their brains that I'm involved in. Also, I've said this before, but reading kids' books is one of the main reasons I had kids. As soon as Si reaches a non-read-aloud-to-age--like, gasp, 11--I'm going to have to insist that he start reproducing, so that by the time Helen is too old to read to, I'll have a read-aloud partner again. Although the catch will be that I'll have to read a bunch of the same books instead of all new material. Already I'm on reread #2 of The Secret Garden--there could be worse books to reread twice in two years, of course, but I find myself throwing longing glances at Pippi Longstocking and the Moomintroll books.

Si and I are reading Tom Sawyer, and we're both more-or-less enjoying it. This is one of those books that I wanted to read less because I lovity-loved it as a child (I didn't, and I still don't--Tom is kind of vain and self-aggrandizing, and the book is a little heavy on the adult-directed cultural commentary for either my taste or Si's) than because it's an Essential Book. You might think, from this statement, that I'm a canon-driven, reading-is-good-for-your-character kind of pedant, and, well, you'd be right. In my defense, I'm doing it because someone has to. His school favors dreary, good-for-you Cultural Context/ Sensitivity Training books, and he favors series. Both of these are fine, but they tend to omit or elide certain aspects of real life. Such as: one of the things I like about Tom Sawyer this time around is that it shows girls and boys living in entirely separate, mutually antagonistic worlds. Sure, Tom likes Becky Thatcher (that part is kind of weird, actually), but they aren't friends. Almost every other kid book in the world is based on a dual girl-and-boy hero/heroine set, and they're usually best pals and completely support each other. Which is a nice model. It also doesn't exist for kids over the age of 6, as far as I can tell.

Also, Tom's friends are both his bosom pals and...kind of based on opportunistic serendipity. They aren't friends because they really understand each other, or have long heart-to-heart conversations, or show up on the doorstep bearing comic books and bubblegum when the other guy is sick. No, they're friends because they happen to be in the same place at the same time and like to play the same things. Or they're friends because they totally envy the other guy's set-up (see Tom's affection for Huck: is it Huck he likes, or the fact that Huck doesn't have to go to school or bed or church? And does he even get Huck? I don't think he does. Camping out on the island with stolen food is a lark for Tom but pretty SOP for Huck, and it's not at all clear that Tom understands that this is what Huck's life is like all the time.) But none of this stuff matters: they're friends, or buddies, or whatever, and that's all they need. Whenever I stare at Si's roster of hero-worship friends, neighborhood pals, baseball buddies and other opportunistic associations and wonder what the hell friendship even means for him, it helps to remember Tom Sawyer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

First firsts

First day of first grade:

First day of the last year of elementary school (ce n'est pas possible):

First photo of the first season of the sideyard garden, of which I am inordinately proud (see also: the nectarine tree behind the kids above. You would think I was sprouting these fruits myself):

Pumpkins, sunflowers, morning glories, beans, a lonely (and late-developing) stalk of corn. A glorious case of powdery mildew on the curcubitae associates.

It's been a good week so far. I've heard rumors of kids who dread going back to school and get grumpy and weepy and out of sorts as the ominous day approaches, but I have not given birth to children of this stripe. They were little wound-up springs of anticipation all last week and they have been exhausted but jubilant (and kind of strung out) this week. They both have male teachers this year and while Helen is on occasion prejudiced against boy teachers and boys in general, she has so far given a tentative stamp of approval to her teacher. Silas is thrilled unto death. As he should be. His teacher is young, funny, energetic and smart: he makes me wish I could be going to fifth grade. I have high hopes for this year. At the very least, maybe Si's writing scores won't decline over the course of the year, as they have the past two years in a row. Argh.

One thing that has been kind of--not sad, exactly, but melancholy--is that by fifth grade, we are getting into the time when parents who chose our elementary school for list-y, rate-y, type-A kind of reasons are starting to get restless and look for the next Xtreme Education Challenge. I sound judgy but I'm not, not really; I have certainly played in that tournament myself over the years. However, in a possibly ironic twist, and one which I did not quite anticiapte, the kids who are leaving now tend to be the most interesting and unusual ones--the boy who has already started his own business, the smart, arty girl with the Velma vibe and the awesome glasses whom I maaaybe had had a little fantasy of S dating sometime in the future. I was kind of looking forward to seeing how these kids developed, come middle school and high school; now I see that I won't. They aren't regular friends of Si's, and I don't know the parents, so: chapter finished. See ya. So I'm a little bummed for that.

Overall, though: wow. What a difference a year makes. Last year we were up to our eyeballs in drywall dust, mold, torn-out walls and money panic, not to mention the first prickings of irritation and misgiving about our choice of builders. There wasn't one thing that was easy, from keeping track of school-to-home papers to washing the damn dishes. Now, despite a triple-book schedule of baseball, swimming and soccer (we're like, a sporty family--I never would've thought that, not in a million years), M's four-year review at work and accompanying 80-hour-a-week workweek, things feel smooth.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

For his daily writing assignment so that his writing muscles don't atrophy, I asked Silas to write about what he was looking forward to most about school. Here's what he wrote:

It has been a long, boring summer. Camp, horseback riding, fishing, Legos, a trip to Yellowstone, fishing, playing with friends, sleepovers, a sleepover party, homemade ice cream, homemade popsicles, pool, cousin time, grandparent time, crawdad fishing, biking the neighborhood, zoo, museum, more Legos...

Thank god that's over and he can finally DO something all day. Well, six hours of the day, at least.

Meanwhile, Helen and Mary, her doll, are both looking forward to starting first grade.

We visited the Denver Doll and Toy Museum to celebrate (and also because The Boys went to the Rockies game).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Last days of summer

Summer is such a schizophrenic time for me. On the one hand, I wake up at five thirty and run, shower and go to work, the same as I do every other frigging day of the year. On the other hand, the house is filled with long lazy days and unfulfilled desires and endless, endless fights over who gets to have a playdate or who is touching whose Legos. I get home and the heat and need to loaf hit me like a wave, but then there is no loafing, because however leisurely the kids might feel themselves, they don't really share that feeling with others, and monitoring them is a fulltime job and M has been up in his ears with it for the past nine hours and it's my turn now and also everyone is hunnnngrrry. So like every other mother on the planet I am looking forward with panting enthusiasm to the first day of school. I am also trying to wring every last drop of summer from this month. Thus this weekend I spent in a frenzy of yard work, and then took the kids (and my parents, who are visiting in order to help us with the last critical week before school starts) to do two installments of our summer Park Project.

The pavilion at Cheesman Park

The Park project is where we visit Denver parks, investigate their offerings, and fill out a little survey sheet.

Helen gave the fountains top marks but found the playground average at best.

The survey sheets are more to make it official than anything else (well, I think Silas secretly loves them. They fulfill his need for order). Otherwise we're just visiting parks and testing the playgrounds. These were our second and third parks; last time we went to Observatory Park, which still earns top marks from both kids (the observatory. Not many parks can boast a functional observatory, and the fact that it was closed on the day we visited probably made it even more desirable. The mysteries of the stars, etc., as opposed to the pain in the neck of peering through a telescope at tiny swimming pinpricks that, we're assured, are VERY IMPORTANT.)

Si tested the pavilion for scooter worthiness.
The playground was serviceable. Although less so for proto teens.

I'm hoping to visit at least one more park before the summer's really done (probably not before school starts, though, which means not before baseball and soccer start in earnest, so really, who am I kidding? Life, which has been pretending to be busy all summer, is about to crank into high gear.)

Smith Lake at Washington Park.

For me, the Park Project has been an excuse to visit places I've meant to go for three years and explore the city we sort of live in a little more. It's both satisfying and sad. I wish that I could have been doing this all summer, for one thing. And it makes me think of all the other things I wish I was doing with the kids, and how I desperately wish I could have the summers off, and how the kids are growing up and already Si is almost too old to be read aloud to (one of the main reasons I had kids, already phasing itself out! Why go on?). I get this rushing, panicky sense of needing to do it all now and maximize this day, this week, this time of their lives.

I have to forcibly sit down sometimes, and remember: in twenty years (in five years), the details won't matter. Their childhood will have become just that--the thing they have, imperfect, marked by expediency and what-we-happened-to-have-on-hand-at-the-time-ism--and it will be enough. Really. It will. Even if they don't learn Spanish.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I survived my son's first sleepover party

and all I got was this little frisson of social anxiety.

Si's birthday celebration choice was to have seven, or eight, or maybe nine--"let me look through the school directory again real quick, Mom"--of his closest friends over for a sleepover. On his actual birthday, which did fall on a Monday this year, meaning, for the record, on a work night, and for the record let me also come right out and admit that I agreed to this arrangement. I'm not sure where in this process I conveniently forgot that this was insane.

Luckily--luckily--only four friends plus his cousin actually attended, so we had a total of six boys, who created a din that even a sleep-deprived and increasingly c-r-a-b-b-y adult could talk over when necessary (and oh, was it necessary). The night's first plan, the campout, had to be abruptly called off at 11:30 pm when the boys could not stop hootling (but there was toothpaste! in our tent!!). Plan B, which would have been nice, involved boys sleeping on couches and rugs. One solitary boy opted for this plan until 12:30 or so, when he gave up trying to sleep and asked to go home (M walked him home). Plan C involved legos, the basement, me trying to lay down the law and Silas protesting, "But it's a sleepover, Mom! That's what we DO on a sleepover!" and a very loud fan in our room. I was glad that the house was still standing in the morning and I reminded myself that Si and his friends will probably *not* be the types you can trust not to hold a Facebook rave at your house when you're out of town. Just for future reference, self.

However, now that I have caught up on my sleep and can reflect in peace, what the sleepover was the most was educational, with the topic of learning being pre-middle-school politics. Whenever the boys were eating they would talk, mostly trash talk, mostly about girls. ("P--- totally has a crush on me. It's so gross. Whenever I'm like delivering papers to her house she's all like, 'Hiiiii, I---, how arrrrre you.'" "Oh, I know! M--- has a crush on me! It's like awful! She's always asking to be in my group and stuff!") It was all chaste, thank GOD because if it wasn't I'd have felt pressured to intervene in some way. As it was, it was interesting to see who in the group held social dominance, who was observant enough of other kids' behavior to report on it and speculate about motives, and what they thought those motives were. It was also interesting to see who listened with big ears but didn't really participate. Si, for example, while he seems to have a relatively middle-to-high social status (this was a little hard to read at the party, since he was the host), didn't chime in with the trash talk at all. Oh, he listened, and laughed and groaned in all the right places. But he didn't have any stories about girls having a crush on him. (And although the fact that his MOM was washing dishes five feet away may have influenced the stories he chose to tell, this behavior tallies pretty well with the Silas I know and also my own personal growing-up self. I've never been very good at gossiping--oh, I can say the offhand snarky thing and/or put my foot in my mouth just like anyone else. But I've never been able to rivet others with stories of known-to-both third parties. In fact, Silas's game cluelessness about social snarkiness felt so familiar that for a little while I forgot that I'm a grownup and my own cluelessness doesn't matter any more.)

And when the kids were not eating, they played games, which was almost worse. Cops and robbers, mostly, only the group was lopsidedly distributed and COINCIDENTALLY the smallest, most outsiderest kids were the ones who had to be the cops when everyone played NOTIT and also had to use crutches and sticks as weapons instead of real nerf dart guns ("If this was real, the cops would TOTALLY have real guns," protested one cop-by-fiat, to which the robbers said, "But this is just a game." Which seemed to be kind of missing the point in a deliberate way.) In fact, the cops and robbers game was so on-the-edge with leftoutness that I called it off early (by using my sweet-yet-strict teacher's voice to instantly quell the meanies--I mean, ha ha, by ordering pizza. I had no other trick in my kid crowd control repertoire--clearly mistake #53 of the evening.)

Ugh. Basically it was fine. The kids were overall well-behaved and mostly followed directions and it is always illuminating to see which kids have the best manners training. I would do it again. In ten years or so.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Holy Horse, the Kid is Ten

As of seven minutes ago, I have officially been a parent for a whole dang decade. That's a lot. That's also, as Si will soon be but is not yet irritated with me enough to point out, me making someone else's big event all about me.

When it's obviously all about this guy.

I left the house this morning before he woke up, but I've been in touch several times since then to a) wish him a happy birthday; b) receive last-minute instructions on what to pick up as party favors on the way home; c) receive modifications of those last-minute instructions based on a late-breaking cancellation; and d) receive notification that his great-aunt's birthday card had arrived in the mail--"She said that she's going to retire this year and come visit us," he announced. "I want to see her again."

"Me too, kiddo. I hope she does come visit."

"...And? She sent me a gift card? Not just to a place but a visa card? For one. zero. zero. In my haaaannnnd!"

"That's awesome!"

"I know. That's all I had to say. Bye, mom."

For someone who's been keeping close watch on his earnings lately and making plans as to how to best invest those earnings in Lego products, that's a whole lot of present.

When I did become a parent all those years ago, and in fact for several years before, this was the time I imagined. The ten-year-old times. This is the age when, according to Dr. Spock (I think), kids have the personality that most closely matches who they'll be as adults.

If that's the case, Si as an adult will be the kind of guy who says his idea of a great Friday night is to spend it at home with a close friend and a good book. Or a good video game. He'll like things to be neat and organized, although he will continually be surprised and vexed when they don't get that way on their own. He'll be good at getting his work done efficiently and going home--I'm guessssing he won't be an 80-hour-a-week kind of guy. He's not really a striver--somewhat at odds with his tendency to insist on being the one with the remote, but hey, that's what his teenage years are for. To work out the kinks.

He'll be kind, and funny, and not a complainer. He'll like making people laugh, but not necessarily being the center of attention. He'll be a man I'm glad to know.

Happy birthday, kiddo. It's been a good ten years.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

So much to say, so little of note

Sometimes I let this thing lag for so long I wonder if it's even worth it trying to catch back up.

Didn't care for the mineral water smell

And then I'm like, who am I kidding? What else would I do with all our pictures if I didn't have a blog?

Awesome glasses from a geocache

Where else would I get to talk about how we went to Yellowstone and saw four measly bison, petting-zoo elk (technically they were wild, in the way that squirrels are wild), lots of bubbling mud, some waterfalls, and a bear? It was rushed but fun.

The kids enjoyed it, more or less.

I think they liked the legos they brought along the best, and then the lake options at the cabin where we stayed, and Yellowstone Park features came in a dusty third, but, well, they can say they've been there.

And then I could tell you about how we've been back for a whole week. How I am a fresh expert on the return-to-work experience. First two days: learning how to do your job again. Second two days: putting out all the fires that erupted while you were out. Last day: whoo, it's Friday. Or how on Friday I rode my bike to work, which is almost becoming a Friday habit. Or how tomorrow we have eight boys ten and under arriving for a sleepover. On a work night. I am crazy.

There. All caught up. Now in my next post I can talk about how I can't get my mind around the fact that I've been doing this parenting thing for a whole decade.