Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Happy to Be a Zero

My birthday was about two weeks ago, so tonight in the cereal aisle at the fairly crowded Trader Joe's, my son said loudly, "Hey, Mommy, you're FORTY, right?" Yes, sweetie. Why yes, I am. "Yeah, I was just thinking about how you're FORTY," he said. Uh-huh. "I forgot that you're FORTY," he said. Heh. I didn't. ;-)


Tonight while reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day together for homework (well, he was doing the reading and I was asking comprehension questions after every couple of pages), the kiddo came across a passage that mentioned Alexander's brother calling him a crybaby. "That's not a very nice name," said the kiddo. "But if you want to call somebody a name and not hurt their feelings, you could call them a crycat."


After our book, the kiddo flopped over on the couch, looked at me and said, "You're number one, Mommy." Melt. "Well, actually, you know an even better number than one? Zero. So you're number zero, Mommy." Aw, shucks. He sure knows how to sweet-talk a gal.


Speaking of sweet talk, my son came home from school yesterday and told me he'd been holding hands with a girl who sits at his table. Well, golly. I thought I had at least four more years before I had to deal with any of this stuff. Anyway, I filed this tidbit away for future reference. Okay, I wanted to process it a little. Later that evening, as my son spoke with my mom on the phone, I heard him say this girl is his "girlfriend."

Heh. More anon...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Tattle-Tale, Picky Nail
Go to the River and Wash Your Tail!

Today at school I got into a conversation with J.'s mom, who is the room parent. Well, I must have blacked out for a minute, because somehow she and I are now co-art volunteers and co-class parents. I still don't know how I agreed to the latter (or if I did), but it's cool because we can do it together and have less work...plus I must admit I was a tad envious of her for volunteering for room parent before I even knew it was up for grabs. ;^)

J. and his mom have had a very rough time. Apparently about a year ago she was violently assaulted and her son saw it, and three days afterward, he flipped out and the two of them went to therapy for the past year. Plus, he has ADHD, so the trauma and the ADHD account for a lot of his behavior difficulties, although frankly I think he's a nice little boy and doesn't need to be punished for most of the stuff he does. There's so much focus on the negative behavior in the kiddo's classroom! J.'s mom sounds like she's on it; she's talked to the office and the school psychologist, and is thinking about putting everything in writing. She's much stronger than I initially thought, and I think I can learn some valuable things from her. She also used to teach preschool! What an interesting person. Said the lovely J.'s mom: "When I'd catch them doing stuff they weren't supposed to, I was like, 'Yo, step off,' and they'd settle down. No need to yell." I am seriously enjoying this school experience, no joke.

In other news, yesterday was my unofficial home improvement day. My brother came over and organized most of the kiddo's toys, which seem to multiply each night. Having them put into all sorts of portable drawers/bins was a huge help, as now the kiddo will know where his toys go and can put them away without direction. Prior to the toy organization effort, the kiddo helped me plant a bunch of flowers I'd bought -- marigolds, dusty miller, hot pink geranium (all in the long boxes) and rosemary (alone in a pot). The kiddo filled a giant pot with soil, and I even put a layer of mulch on top of the dirt, which will help a lot in keeping the weeds down and keeping moisture in. Hey, get me -- I'm gardening. ;^) I kept referring to the rosemary as "Miss Rosemary," which confused the kiddo; he started thinking all plants were either boys or girls (fertilization issues notwithstanding), and decided the geranium was a BOY. (Ha. As if!) ;^) Later in the evening, the kiddo and I went to Target for some odds and ends, and I bought him a foam crown for a buck. He loves it and wanted to wear it to school. I mostly love the dollar bins at Target. Lovelovelove.

There's a minor ant invasion occurring upstairs near my desk, but I fluffed some baby powder in the crack on top of the electrical outlet cover, from whence the ants were emerging, and am hoping it keeps them at bay for a while without poison/stinky/sticky spray. I have clove-scented ant spray, but the smell is still yucky and lingers for weeks. Yesterday I had at least four crawling on me at various times, which is making me a bit jumpy. One ant was, ahem, "found" crawling in a sensitive area when I sat down to check email after my shower. I think you know what I mean. Now I have a permanent twitch.

Oh, back to school news: Supposedly the troubled boy in the kiddo's class got an aide. J.'s mom pointed her out to me at school, but then I saw that person in my condo complex when I came home!! I knew the family three doors down was Russian, so that fits, but if she was here, then she wasn't helping the boy all day, so maybe I still need to talk to the principal for my own peace of mind at the very least. It seems there is something being done (?) but maybe not as much as I hoped or as much as needs to be done. J.'s mom and I also talked about how the teacher yells at the kids. Of course, it's a bit risky to have conversations like this RIGHT OUTSIDE THE OFFICE and sort of outside the classroom, where we could be overheard. Or maybe it's a good thing. I don't want to be hated by the staff, lest I be prevented from working at the school, nor do I want to make trouble, but the teacher's discipline tactics make me uncomfortable and seem over the top. They also seem to encourage tattling. Every single day after lunch there's an "airing of the grievances" and the tattlers are gratified when the teacher punishes the tattlees for kid-crimes committed on the playground -- when the teacher wasn't even present! Um...what? When I volunteered last week, a kid came up to me to tattle, and I told him very nicely to basically suck it up and get back to work. Ha.

Life ain't fair, kids. But it can still be fun.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Letter Perfect

Today for the second time I volunteered at the kiddo's school all day, testing the kids on their letters, numbers and shapes. It killed me when some (many) kids didn't know their letters. Some didn't know ANY letters; I kind of don't know how that could be, unless the parents don't speak English or something. It's sad that they're so far behind the other kids, especially since the media is telling us "kindergarten is the new first grade." Although the kiddo got much further than most of the kids (except one little dude who whipped through a bazillion flashcards) got stuck on an earlier set of letters that normally wouldn't give him trouble, but I had to be fair and mark that down. I gave packets of letters to each student to work on, according to their test scores. I hope their parents are able to work with them at home.

One kid is reeeeeally having trouble. It's like something just isn't connecting in his mind, although he "gets" other things. He wanders around the room, talks incoherently sometimes, has frequent outbursts, etc. The teacher told me later that the reason he hasn't been tested yet is that the school is trying to find a Russian interpreter, because apparently his mom is Russian. She speaks English, and the boy was born in the U.S., but he was sent back to Russia when he was two, and lived there for 18 months. His dad isn't in the picture, and the situation is puzzling. He really has behavioral problems, in addition to language problems. When I asked him what the letters were, he was told me the letter sounds, then he started talking about other stuff. I feel very sorry for him and his mom, and I hope he gets tested soon so he can be in an appropriate learning environment. The teacher has pretty much had it with him, and she speaks angrily to him quite a lot. I wonder if she realizes how she sounds.

Some of the kids seemed to feel bad when they'd miss letters, despite my telling each one that it's okay for them not to know all the letters, because I was just checking to see which ones we had to work on. I'm so used to dealing with the kiddo, though, who's already reading, and was silently willing each kid to succeed. I honestly don't know how anyone can get a crash course in learning letters; the kiddo's dad and I have used daily teaching opportunities (recognizing letters on packages at the store, on road signs, etc.) to teach the kiddo, and by the time kids get to kindergarten, it's almost "too late." Hmm.

Having a smaller class would help, I think. There are 26 kids during the bulk of the day, with only 13 at the beginning at 13 at the end. (The two classes overlap in the middle.) Having more time as a 13-member class would be a good thing.The teacher is trying to figure out what to call me. I said she could call me Ms. _____, as that is proper title, but she and the class call me Mrs. _____, which seems funny because hey, that's my mom, but I guess all adult women around the school are "Mrs." regardless of their marital status. My son was helpful today and told all the kids my full name, including first and middle. They just looked at him like he was speaking Chinese. ;^)

I want nothing more right now than to take a gigantic nap, but I have work to do and my day ain't over. *yawn*

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Gimme a Head with Hair!

Today was picture day at school, so I gave the kiddo a bath this morning and ironed a nice shirt for him to wear. I combed his hair right after his bath, and even put a bit of mousse in it to help it stay neat. I didn't want him to wrinkle the fresh shirt, so he wore a different shirt to school. Then I forgot the ironed shirt at home and had to go back and get it. Since I was bringing the kiddo's shirt to school anyway, I stayed for the picture session so I could comb his hair again.

The kids had already had recess, so many of the kids were disheveled and there was no comber present, unlike when I was a kid. Remember when there used to be a woman who handed out new combs and provided a mirror and such? Or was my experience atypical? I saw kids photographed with ridiculously messy hair. I would be annoyed if I were their parents, spending upwards of $30 for crummy photos. If I'd brought extra combs, I would've combed the kids' hair myself. (Mental note: Bring extra combs next year.) Luckily the photography company states on the order envelopes that they guarantee satisfaction, so...hello, retakes!

The kiddo was last in line, and I combed his hair yet again, right before his photo was taken. Immediately after the photo was taken, he stepped off the platform and asked if he was done. I said yes, so he messed his hair up with his fingers, shook his head until it nearly fell off, then knelt and rubbed his head on the carpet...much to the amusement (and laughter) of several adults present.

That's the kiddo for ya. ;^)

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11: What I Remember

I had been living with my seven-and-a-half-month-old son at my parents' house in Southern California for about a month. He and I got up on September 11, 2001, after a typically sleepless night, to find the television on and my mom and brother standing silent before it. I think the second plane had already hit the World Trade Center, and every news station was showing current footage as well as prior footage, at least what they had. It was obvious to all of us that the planes hadn't hit the buildings by accident, and I started to cry. My mom took my son from my arms, thinking my crying would scare the baby. I walked away to wash my face and compose myself, then took the kiddo back and fed him as I watched the subsequent footage. It was awful. All of it.

Sometime that morning, the kiddo's dad called to check on us. His voice was tearful, and he asked to come over and see the kiddo. Of course, I said yes. He came over around lunchtime and spent time with the kiddo. None of us grownups knew what to say about what had happened -- about what was still happening. I remember feeling simultaneously numb and afraid, like the world had suddenly become a much scarier place. I couldn't fathom the loss of human life, although it was clear that the loss was, and would be, tremendous.

After the kiddo's dad left, I tried to go about my day. Driving around town, the roads seemed less crowded. Everything seemed quieter. I realized much later that this was partly due to the lack of air traffic. Eventually I wound up in a nearby church. Several people were silently sitting inside, and I stayed until the kiddo began fussing. On my way out, I saw an angel pin in a pew; it was left over from some fund drive. I took it and later pinned it to my car visor.

I don't remember what errands I attempted or accomplished that day, just that I needed to get out, away from the constant replaying of the crashes and aftermath.

Upon returning home, I tended to the kiddo, eventually put him to bed, and tried to work on an article I was writing, but it was difficult to concentrate. My dad was home by then, and the TV played endlessly as he periodically shuffled through all the stations. They all showed scenes of the wreckage. There was no way to escape the news, and I felt guilty for even wanting to escape it, since the people on television couldn't escape it. I felt as though by witnessing over the airwaves, I could somehow help. I knew that didn't make sense.

I finally went to bed, slipping in next to the sleeping kiddo, his chubby cheeks lit by the soft glow of the TV in our room, and watched the few stations I could receive with the set's primitive rabbit ears. Channel surfing, I found a Mexican station, also playing endless footage of the tragedies, but in contrast to American news broadcasts, which varied prior footage with talking heads reporting the latest updates, the Mexican broadcast played one scene only: people jumping from high atop the burning World Trade Center. I didn't want to watch, but I couldn't look away.

The station played the same piece of footage on a loop, and I must have seen the same people jump at least twenty times in a row. I closed my eyes, turned the channel, then turned back. Still jumping, endlessly. I still see them.

Friday, September 08, 2006

You Say You Want an Evolution

So this morning I was talking with the latest mom-friend who is "against" homosexuality and we were talking about buying reading books for kids, either through the school or regular bookstores, or just checking them out of the library. She said someone gave her about 200 used books, which was a wonderful gift, although she did have to go through them and weed out a few that were inappropriate. Were they violent? Sexual? Anarchic? No...

They were about evolution. Which her family simply doesn't believe in.

I'm getting plenty of opportunities to learn to be tolerant of others' beliefs. I am soooo used to thinking in terms of Catholic school, since the kiddo's school experience is triggering a bazillion memories of my own school experience, which was (obviously) Catholic. I don't recall ever being taught not to believe in evolution, although we did study the Bible, but as far as I can remember, the general thinking was a.) that both theories can co-exist, b.) that the story of Adam and Eve was a metaphor, or c.) that God created evolution...but not that evolution flat out didn't happen. Generally speaking, most people's beliefs were similar when I was at Catholic school, but now that I'm dealing with a public school, I'm trying to remember that I will be encountering all sorts of beliefs and backgrounds. I thought I was open-minded before, but I'm being challenged a little now. It's good to stretch, and I'm really trying.

But the conversation this morning reminded me of a Kathy Griffin performance in which she talks about Scientology: "You know how you can be talking with someone and really enjoying the conversation and really liking them and totally into it, and then they say, 'Oh, by the way, I'm a Scientologist,' and you're like, 'Okay, that's over'?"

It was sorta like that (the other day, too), except I know I'll be seeing her all the time. She said she knows her kids will "hear about" evolution in school, and there's nothing she can do about that, but they just don't believe in it. I wonder if they've ever gone to the Museum of Natural History. I mean, holy Louis Leakey, Batman! How does she explain the gigantic dinosaur skeletons right when you walk in the museum door? My personal belief is that God (or the supreme being or force of your choice) is responsible for the Big Bang and subsequent evolution, and I really don't understand how anyone can maintain a Genesis stance in light of all the scientific evidence that exists. For that matter, I don't know how anyone can maintain a strong Old Testament stance in light of the New Testament, but I digress.

In other news, I went to Back-to-School Night yesterday, along with the kiddo's dad. The kiddo himself stayed in the childcare room and had a blast with all the other kids. Remember the kid my son called a troublemaker? Well, J.'s mom is now our class parent (she said she volunteered without knowing what it entails) and I offered to help her if she needs help. She was totally into it, so I gave her my business card. She also called me by the wrong name, probably because she saw the creationist mom's name written on a card in my card case. Presumably she discovered her error immediately upon walking away and glancing at my card; today she was embarrassed. Eh, no biggie.

I thought J.'s mom might've thought I was stalker-esque last night, since I kinda glommed onto her during the PTA introduction. The truth is, though, she looked a little lost and seemed glad to see me (and meet the kiddo's dad, who was standing with me), to have someone to chat with. Her next youngest just started college, so she's been out of the elementary school loop for quite a while. The kiddo is still very keen on telling me J.'s behavior rating (usually red, but yesterday was yellow) at the end of each day. J. sits at the kiddo's table at school, hence all the J. stories. Maybe he's fascinated by someone who acts up in school, or maybe it's just interesting because it happens right next to him every day. Who knows? After the PTA introduction, J.'s mom and I viewed photographs of the school principal getting hit with whipped cream pies by kids as a reward for getting their parents to join the PTA. J.'s mom looked a bit pained and said, à la the low talker from Seinfeld, "And I've been telling my son we don't throw food at the big girls..."

Inside the kindergarten classroom, I sat in the kiddo's tiny chair to listen to the teacher speak during class visitation time. She seemed more relaxed last night than she did on the first day -- possibly that's just my own projection, I realize. She talked about herself a little, which was nice, and she was happy to answer questions, and wished we had more time. She also talked about homework, and specifically said to me, "Oh, and [the kiddo] will LOVE this because he's been DYING to have homework!" It's true.

The kiddo seemed to have fun in the childcare room. I was very pleased to see that each kid had to be signed in and out -- by the same person, of course. The kids got to play with the toys for a while, then they got to sit down and watch a video of "Cinderella," which the kiddo enjoyed. When I picked him up, the room was dark ('cause they were still watching the video) and the kids were calm, which was amazing. It was great that the kids had a chance to settle down toward the end of the evening, right before we took them home.

I signed up to volunteer in the kiddo's class on Sept. 14, which is my 40th birthday. I picked it so I could remember the date. :-) Also, I signed up for the parent-teacher conference in October. The kiddo's dad handed me the signup sheet and said to just pick what worked for me and he would do his best to make it. Of course, I appreciated being given precedence like that. (It's the small things, right?) The kiddo's dad, by the way, was on his most charming behavior. When he's like that, I miss him. Then I slap myself until I remember everything else.

Oh, the creationist mom keeps calling the kiddo's dad my husband. She was slightly incredulous when I mentioned in passing that we were never married (I was for it, he was against it), so she knows, but she keeps referring to him as my husband. I find it amusing in a way, although I suppose it's an understandable mistake (?), given her beliefs.

We visited the book fair after the talks, and the kiddo's dad bought two books for him. I wasn't planning to buy any, but the kiddo's dad decided to buy them, and he told the kiddo he could take them wherever he wanted (Mommy's or Daddy's house), which I thought was very nice. Then he threw a ton of books on my deck later. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! OH NO HE DIDN'T! THAT WOULD BE RIDICULOUS! NOBODY DOES THAT!

Oh, you mean I didn't tell you about that? Maybe another time.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

School Daze

The kiddo and I are going to kindergarten together, I think. Honestly, I feel like I'm in school, learning new rules, becoming familiar with a new place, meeting people and making friends, and trying not to exclude someone inadvertently. The other day, four of us moms gathered by the playground fence to chat and watch our kids as they played at early recess. Later, I went for a drink (soda! hello!) with one mom. We chatted for a couple of hours, and at the end, somehow we got into a conversation on homosexuality. Well, she's a Christian and is "against" homosexuality, and although I was raised Catholic, I have a more liberal outlook on all this (I'm more concerned about people being loving with each other in general, regardless, and don't even get me started about kids who commit suicide because they feel unloved and like they can't talk about their sexual orientation, because I am all about kids' feelings and I will get on my soapbox and never get down), so that all went over "like a fart in church," as the expression goes. Oh well. I like her, and I guess we'll just be staying off certain subjects unless I'm in the mood for a debate.

I had to laugh afterward, because I was reminded of the sitcom, "The New Adventures of Old Christine," starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whom I love. Monday's episode had Christine going back to her "activist roots," trying to achieve racial diversity at her son's school by sponsoring an African-American family who were applying for admission. She thought she was being all liberal, and assumed the African-American family was liberal as well. She succeeded at getting them into the school, then chatted with them later over dinner and discovered they were major homophobes. Specifically, she asked the father why they were transferring out of their prior school, and he said, "It was a nice school, but there were way too many fags," to which his wife replied, "Amen!" Later, trying to somehow assuage her guilt over "bringing hatred" to her son's school, Christine sponsors a gay couple, and later finds out they're anti-Semites. Ah, lots to think about here.

Oh, I met the mother of the kid who seems to get in trouble all the time, and with whom the kiddo had a thumb fight last week. The school uses a green-yellow-orange-red way of gaging behavior, with little green strips of paper representing the best behavior (following directions, being helpful, etc.) and red representing the most troublesome behavior. ("The teacher has to CALL YOUR PARENTS if you get a red strip!" says my son.) The other boy apparently gets red strips more often than not, and my son is way too interested in keeping tabs on this boy's behavior than I'm comfortable with, mainly because I don't want him to have the idea that it's his job to tattle on the other kid to me every day. I'd rather that he tend to his own behavior and be loving toward the other kid, and not take joy in the other kid's misfortunes.

Anyway, the kiddo was playing in the school yard while the moms were chatting, and when he came over to the fence to ask, "How's your talk with the moms going, Mommy?" I told him, "This is J.'s mother," to which he replied, "Oh! J. is a BAD BOY and a TROUBLEMAKER." The kid's mom looked a bit pained, and like she already knew this about her son, and I was mortified and just wanted to hug her. I apologized and felt genuinely bad, especially since just last week, my son had somehow kicked a girl in the ankle while I'd been trying to meet with the art volunteers, and I'd felt awful for bringing the tornado into the room. (Isn't everyone in this position at one time or another? Tell me it's so.) I said something to J.'s mom about "that little boy energy they all seem to have" and we talked for a bit. Her four other kids are all over 18 (the oldest is 30), and she's separated from her youngest's dad, and I think she and I should get to know each other better. I like her already.

I know I must sound like a dork, talking about all this, but this is like finding water in the desert. I've lived here for three years and spent way too much time by myself (largely due to my solitary work), with little bursts of a social life here and there. Now that the kiddo is in school, it's so freakin' great to meet people every single day. I've signed up to generally volunteer in the kiddo's class, and am signing up to be an art docent at least once a month. Tonight is back-to-school night, and I'm sure there will be other volunteer opportunities mentioned there, too. Good stuff.