Saturday, September 22, 2012

6th Grade

 As I've mentioned, Silas is in 6th grade this year, which is revelatory in many ways, not the least of which (so far, after three weeks) is that 6th grade can actually not suck. I'd heard this from other people; my sister-in-law, in fact, said that middle school was her favorite part of school, and then added, peering down to where I'd fallen on the ground, that yes, she'd heard that was pretty unusual.

This is pretty much his approach to life right now.
What most people say about middle school, actually, is that it doesn't matter where you go, large academically challenging school, small intimate school, personally designed and tailored just-to-you school, middle school is hard. It's the time of life. It's just difficult, and also your companions are difficult, and also your parents start getting on your case in the weirdest ways.

But in my experience, it's especially hard if you go from a small comfortable school to a large suburban school, so I was worried for my little snowflake, both for his actual anticipated anguishes and also for things he wouldn't know better about, like those hard-edged big middle school teachers for whom subject material is just so much meat to be squeezed through the heads of this year's crop of meat grinders.

I may have been projecting a little. 6th grade happened to be the worst year of my life. (And I'm compelled by fate to add a hurried so far, just in case, because if that's as hard as I have it, I'm well aware it's pretty good.) But there are areas of convergence in our circumstances: see previous paragraph.

The social elements are still subject to change, of course. Right now things are golden: packs of friends and acquaintances roaming the three or four local neighborhoods on the weekend, walking home from school, stopping at Panera's for smoothies and baked goods. I assume the law of middle school averages means that there's a bad stretch waiting up ahead, but in general, the setup reminds me of the occasionally tumultuous-but-mostly-settled pack of friends I had in middle school, once we left the big urban suburb and came back to Ohio.

The academic elements seem, however, much better. On the one hand, I don't think Silas cares. I myself, when I was closer to the age in question, confidently asserted that it was impossible to learn anything in middle school so you shouldn't even try. (Oddly, I was concurrently criticizing my smaller and much much more pleasant 7th-and-8th-grade middle school for being not rigorous enough. We were learning both algebra and Latin and in our English class read Beowulf and the Iliad.) (Teenagers, man.)

On the other hand: whew.

 They will read real books this year. When I said this, happily, to Si, he said, "What does that mean?" Fair enough. They will read The Red Pearl, The Call of the Wild, A Comedy of Errors. That's what I mean by real books. They'll also read Julie of the Wolves, which comes close. (What do I mean?)

The main things I remember about 6th grade English are that the teacher played in a rock band and kept pointing out that Sting also played in a rock band and taught English; that he spent the entire class, every class, sitting at his desk facing us in our desks, and that he had a thing against one of the students in the class and devoted some of every class period to humiliating him (nice.) We wrote a few stories and must have read a few, too, but I don't remember them; I'm pretty sure we didn't read any book-length books. We mostly studied grammar, and spelling, and sat in embarrassed silence while Mr. Manning lobbed mocking diatribes at poor X.

The other classes were better than this, but not much better. So when I am glad, so very, very glad, that the academics in the middle school seem both serious and like they recognize that there can be joy in learning, that is what I mean.

 Si has also been expanding his extra curriculars. Last week he snapped this photo of the first-ever chocolate cake he baked; he also made mini pizzas for lunch for himself and Helen. (I know, right? I'm afraid even to talk about it in case he hears the note of crowing satisfaction in my voice and shuts down the bakery for good).

Sticky and delicious.

So far, then, 6th grade has been one long compelling argument about why we live where we live, in the expensive part of town, far from the mountains and neighborhoods and, well, vibe that we like. This is not an argument that I like or even quite believe in, but so far it has been pretty hard to find any evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mesa Verde

So, a belated report on the late-in-the-summer vacation we took over Labor Day. Remember: our first camping trip of the year (boo). Also, I have been agitating to visit Mesa Verde for YEARS. Five years, in fact, which was the last time we visited Mesa Verde. (The kids were too small to appreciate it then. Also, it was winter and we didn't get to go on a guided tour.) (I also agitate a lot for guided tours, since M. has a low opinion of them and I happen to think they're worthwhile and also have fond memories of them from when I was a kid.)

So, maybe I had a lot riding on this particular little mini-vacation.

It didn't begin well:

Si's makeshift shrine to Costi.

It was a cloudless sunny day across the entire state, I swear. However, we pulled up to the campsite in this:

Imagine also being starving.
I began to think maybe I had pushed the vacation gods a little too far. I had vacation hubris. I had overextended myself, and now the entire family was going to pay.

Fortunately, it is the desert and the next day dawned warm and sunny. The kids threw themselves into it, as I always knew they would which is why I wanted to come in the first place. It was very gratifying. The adults enjoyed it, too.

We took the "Adventure Tour" with the two 30-foot ladder climbs. I worried about Helen - silly me.

We went on not one, but two guided tours. The kids, poking through the oakbrush around our campsite (okay, fine, shooting each other with airsoft guns), found a kiva.

No matter how many times I see these, I'm always stunned.

We commemorated our trip with lots of gift store purchases, and for once I didn't panic over the Spending of Money. It was a great trip.

Not the kiva we "discovered," but cool nonetheless.
The only low point, other than pulling up in the rain, was that not one, but two (2) separate people on two (2) separate days asked if I was buying something for my granddaughter. Helen. Who is, for the record, seven.

I would have had to be 13 when I had Helen's mother. Or possibly fifteen.

Then M., trying to reassure me, said, "No. You don't look like a grandmother. It's your hair."

My hair?

Wearing a youthful baseball cap. To cover my aged hair.
Still, a very good trip, fuller than it seems possible it could be.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bye bye

 We lost a good friend and loyal barker on Saturday. Thirteen years old and still going strong, felled by what the vet thought was probably a stroke.

Costilla in better days.
The house is so quiet when we get home. I'm still not quite sure she won't be coming back.

Costi, Costico, Costillymostilly, Costernica, Coco, Tida, Coast.
She was thirteen years old and endured the incorporation into the family of not one but two children, whom she came to love in her sweet but understated way. Si's already made a shrine of her food bin, draped in her blanket and with a photo on top. He's taking it hard. Helen is mostly alert not to make him more sad, "because then he starts sniffing."

Costilla, July 4, 1999 -September 1 2013. A good dog.