Wednesday, April 28, 2010

call me crazy

Is this for REAL?


They had to pass a LAW?

"This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's' love of toys" to sell high-calorie, unhealthful food, said Supervisor Ken Yeager, who sponsored the measure to ban toys from Happy Meals and other high calorie meals for children.

It's true.  Donald Gage, the one guy who voted against the Santa Clara ordinance had this to say:  "If you can't control a 3-year-old child for a toy, God save you when they get to be teenagers."

My own kids don't eat Happy Meals, or Fun Packs, or anything like that.  This family philosophy began in great part because I simply cannot stand having too much clutter around our house.  But to tell the truth, both kids have evolved to the point, that if by some chance they DO order a happy meal, they actually request "a happy meal with no toy please."  That's because they both have come to the conclusion, that said crappy toy will inevitably end up in the garbage, which is bad for the environment, and they don't want to contribute to something like that.  They still like to eat cruddy food - but it has nothing to do with the toy.

This is not to say that we have never partaken of a kids meal, but for the most part I said "no," they asked "why" and eventually came around.

So why in the name of Ronald McDonald is the City of Santa Clara banning toys in happy meals?! Is it because parents are incapable of saying "No, we can't eat here all week - it's bad for us."?  I find it absolutely disgusting that the government is taking it upon themselves to eradicate all possible temptations from children, so the parents never have to play bad cop.

Maybe instead, they should pass a law requiring all prospective parents to submit to an x-ray.  Everyone who has a spine worthy of standing up to a 5 year-old will be allowed to procreate, those who don't qualify can adopt one of those froo-foo dogs and feed them chicken nuggets to their hearts content.

Seriously?  A law?  Against happy meals?

how I found out

"Jesus!" he says. "You really need to do something about that."

"About what?!"

"That ADD - my God it's gonna kill you."

"I don't have ADD."

"The hell you say."

"I don't - really."

He goes on to ask how much I sleep, what I actually do at work, even asks if I can recognize the pattern in my writing - the thoughts racing. He points out the fidgety way I move my hands all the time. He is a psychologist - it's what he does, so I actually listen when he says, "Look honey, I cannot diagnose you at a kitchen table, but I know it when I see it. They have drugs for that."

"So what," I say, "Maybe I do have it - maybe it works to my advantage."

"Possibly," he says, "But the not sleeping can kill you - did you know that?"

"That's not true."

He exhales hard and laughs. Then he tells me there is a reliable website - tells me to take a short diagnostic test, and let him know what happened. I tell him I'll think about it, and then rush to the computer as soon as he leaves.

I take his stupid test. 34 is borderline. Up to 49 is mild ADD. Up to 69 is moderate. 70 - 80 is serious.

I score an 89.
Red letters inform me to seek help IMMEDIATELY.  WTF - and lose my edge? No way.

I tell him that I passed. He laughs again and says, "Oh, OK. So I guess we should add pathological liar to the list."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ap history for the second grader

I am taking the 2nd grader to a presentation by a Holocuast survivor.  Punk is coming as well, but he is older, and has been well versed in the topic.  Then again, Kooka is the only person in the family who was willing to go into the Holocaust museum in DC with me. She walked through silently, solemnly, with knowing looks.  She got it - as much as anybody who never lived through it can  - she did.

Punk wants to know "why and how?".

Kooka is steelier.  "Why" and "how" are not nearly as important to her as "never again."

I will let you know if I made a giant mistake.  I'll let you know if they can sleep through the night.

Friday, April 23, 2010

math phobia

 OK - so we had reached the part of the school year where math drills were coming home in the backpacks.   I, by the way, happen to be totally cool with that. It's a worthwhile endeavor. If Mrs. Fleischer hadn't made me memorize my times tables I would still be counting 7x6 on my fingers.

But Punk concerns me a bit.

His new school allowed for "creative answers." Again - I am totally down with giving credit for somebody who thinks outside of the box . . . but . . . in this class you can actually get credit for coming up with a fantastic theory and still getting a completely wrong answer.

And this is why I am worried:

Last year, Punk took a big math test - not his first - wasn't like he'd never done it before, so I can't blame naivete'. The question went something like this:

It takes 1 roll of paper to print 15,000 ten dollar bills. Each ream of paper weighs 26 pounds. You have 1,000,000 in the bank, and would like to withdraw it. The trouble is that your briefcase will only hold 11 pounds at a time. It takes 1 hour to get back and forth between your house and the bank. How much money can you fit into your briefcase at once, and how many hours will it take to make the withdrawal?

For a moment let's ignore the fact, that even M.I.T. doesn't even assign problems this convoluted, and take at face value that most fourth graders are going to attempt a logical response.

Not my kid.

His answer went something like this:

"Is it a weekday? Because if it is - who cares - I'll just come back tomorrow, I'm in no hurry. Nothing I want costs more than a hundred bucks, and I know that much will fit. Besides, one briefcase full of cash should be enough for anybody. Is anybody really that greedy? If you have that much money you should just share it - why bother coming back at all? And my mom always says your money is safer in the bank anyway."

This is followed by a cartoon of a man with an overflowing briefcase being admonished by an angry mob.

So not only did he make no attempt to actually solve the problem - he wrote down NO numbers whatsoever, dragged my name into his communist response . . . and still got half credit!

And THAT my friends is why I have a phobia about teaching math.

I don't know how it is that he aces every standardized math test he's ever been given.  Maybe even the computer doesn't know what to do when it sees all of that 10 year-old logic. 

I know I don't.

baby clothes

Oh please, please, please put this on my non-existent baby registry.

Yesterday, as I sipped my mocha and strolled through an unnamed store looking for yard furniture, I stumbled onto a section of baby clothing. Don't ask what the onsies were doing right next to the garden gnomes - it was just that kind of place.

But I digress.

I could not believe the sheer volume of baby camo that is available in the state of Minnesota. It's true - there were at least four racks of it. There was digitized army camo - in case your baby is deployed to the desert, oak leaf camo - perfect for leaving your baby in a decaying pile of forest compost while you stalk a 10 point buck, and even toddler-sized camo backpacks - in case your 18 month old is planning to ambush a government building and needs to lie low in the woods for a few hours with his pipe bomb equipment.

For real?!

Who needs to camouflage their baby? I had enough trouble trying to find mine half the time!

And I can't begin to fathom what this little dress means. It's for a 6 month old, and in case it's tough to read, says, "Daddy's Little Deer." What?! I get the whole play on words thing - but what is it really trying to say? Because let's not forget that anyone who buys this for their kid is the type of person who will, after consuming copious amounts of Schlitz Malt Liquor, spend hours crouched in a tree during a bitter Minnesota winter, just for the opportunity to pop a cap in said "deer." Might as well just paint a bullseye on the back of this thing, and call the taxidermist now.

Unless you hear that baby Yoda is up for a role in "The Hunted 2" - there's really no need to give us one of these - ever - no really - I mean it.

reading lists

People often ask me what my kids are reading. Punk is an avid fiction reader, while Kooka is more inclined to sit with a dictionary in her lap for 30 minutes, just trying to improve her vocabulary.  Regardless, while no means comprehensive, this is an idea of what their year in "pleasure reading" looks like:

Punk - 5th grade:
The Titan's Curse                                                    by Rick Riordan
(Percy Jackson & the Olympians - book 3)

The Battle of the Labyrinth                                     by Rick Riordan
(Percy Jackson & the Olympians - book 4)

Artemis Fowl                                                           by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl - the Arctic Incident (book 2)            by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl - the Eternity Code (book 3)             by Eoin Colfer

Fever 1793                                                               by Louise Halse Anderson

Heck - Where The Bad Kids Go 
                              by Dale E. Basye

Rapacia: The Second Circle Of Heck                      by Dale E. Basye

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (books 1-4)                           by Jeff Kinney

Encyclopedia of Immaturity                                     by Klutz

Encyclopedia of Immaturity Volume 2                      by Klutz

Kooka - 2nd grade:

The Giggler Treatment                                              by Roddy Doyle

Buddy - Puppy Place Series
                                      by Ellen Miles

The Sisters Grimm                                                     by Michael Buckley

The Wind in the Willows                                            by Kenneth Grahame

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone                      by J.K. Rowling

The Bald Bandit - A to Z mysteries                            by Ron Roy

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective                         by Donald J. Sobol

Half Magic                                                                 by Edward Eager

Zoo School                                                                by Laurie Miller Hornik

Matilda                                                                      by Roald Dahl

Thursday, April 22, 2010

class reunion

I love this guy's homeschool class reunion.  I hope Punk has the same sense of humor (but better memories):

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


We travel often - at least as often as we can.

And although I am a history buff, I don't expect my kids to memorize every little detail.  Actually, I am amazed when they do.  For example, when we toured Ford's theater in DC, Rico looked over the balcony where John Wilkes Booth jumped, and said, "Whoa - that's a long way down - surprised the guy didn't break a leg." At which point both kids turned to him in unison and said, "He DID!" I am not sure what caused that little nugget to stick in their brains . . . but I do have a full explanation for this one:

Driving past the White House:

Kooka: Wow - just think, the president is in there right now. Every single president lived right there - Abraham Lincoln lived there, George Washington lived there.

Me: Well, actually he didn't get to. It wasn't built yet.

And then there was that fire, so this one was built later. So not every president was in there. Most of them, but not all.

Kooka: Whoa - who was in it when it burned down?

Me: Hmmm - I can't recall.

It was that guy that was married to Little Debbie.

Me & Rick:
Little Debbie?!?

Punk: Yeah.

Me: You mean Dolly Madison?

Punk: Yeah . . . that's the one, I knew it had something to do with snack cakes.

(he was right)

in defense of unschooling

Good Morning America recently aired this piece, about the unschooling movement.  Apparently it's raised quite a ruckus. A local radio show discussed the piece, and most of the callers deemed the topic of unschooling crazy.

Which isn't quite fair.

It's like looking at David Koresh and saying "Christians are nuts."

It's like shaking your head at Tiger Woods various misdeeds and muttering "golfers,"  or watching Howard the Duck and proclaiming, "movies suck."

Imagine going into Fleet Farm  (relax -  I said imagine), and meeting up with the guy who's got a lower lip full of Red Man chew, four missing teeth, a pair of filthy Dickie overalls, and hair that has not been combed since a week ago last Thursday.  His wife who has traded the overalls for a pair of hot purple stretch pants and an oversized Tweety-Bird t-shirt, has similar attributes.  Is that "Minnesota fashion"?

Hell no. Nobody I know dresses like that.  Yet Good Morning America felt justified in taking one microcosm of unschoolers and turning them into poster children for the entire community.  And maybe, just maybe it should have occurred to the reporters and network, that this family was not the finest example they could find.

I mean, Balloon boy was homeschooled too  - but lordy!

To be fair, I am not an unschooler.  I am a teacher at a private school who has homeschooled both children, and currently has one child in public school and one who is homeschooled. But I do have friends who unschool, and on occasion we have used this philosophy in our family's educational model.

I speak only about the unschoolers I know personally,  but most of them do not have cable TV, x-boxes, or more than one computer in the house.  They do have schedules and rules about their home lives - there are expectations for the children.   For most unschoolers it is merely the educational aspect of their lives that is less regimented.  And most people I know use a mix of both philosophies when choosing to home educate.  I know we did.

When Punk was 6 years old, he was a die-hard dinosaur freak.  We're talking obsessed.  It scared me a little.  I was afraid that he would grow up and become one of those people that snorted while laughing at some rare-paleontological joke that only he and his 17 cats understood. The kid knew bone structures, and where to find fossils. He knew every era of every creepy nasty thing that ever walked the earth.  Did I teach him that? Nooooooooooo.  But he was interested, so I took him to the library, we went fossil hunting, discussed theories, and for 5 months, that was the only science we did - period.   The result, was that when we went on a real expedition, with a real paleontologist, Punk was able to discuss things on a college level.  Even the pros were impressed with his theories.

 That is the kind of thing unschooling can accomplish - the chance to delve into things, and follow your bliss.  (because let's be honest - wouldn't we all be happier that way?)

Unschooling is not about gorging yourself on Captain Crunch and the latest online version of Dungeons and Dragons. It's not about do-nothing lives and lazy parents (on the contrary, it can take intense amounts of work to help your child follow their dreams).  Shame on GMA for airing such a one-sided story, and shame on everybody who was so quick to judge.  Don't believe the hype.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

intermediate homeschooling

It wasn't easy telling our friends and family that we intended to homeschool. "What about his socialization?" "Are you trying to turn him into a freak?" "Are you going to shelter him for the rest of his life?" "Is this because you can't afford private school?"

Although I have yet to meet a homeschooler who choose their path for these reasons (then again - it's been a while since I've frequented any compounds in Utah), this seems to be a consensus among the general population. And try as we might, there was really no getting our point across when the kids were younger.

The main reason we chose homeschooling - was exactly the opposite of what everyone was so concerned about. We thought it a bit freakish, that our 5 year old - who read at a 4th grade level would be practicing his abc's all day. It was freakish to think that this kid, who had been surrounded since the day of his birth, by kids of all ages, would be plunked in a room full of other 5 year olds for the better part of his week. In the real world - decisions are not always made by somebody three decades your senior. In the real world, you are surrounded by people of different ages, abilities and attitudes. We wanted a kid who knew how to live in the real world.

And the real world facts are thus: Nobody out here is sheltered. We are not all winners. You have to work hard to get what you want. A D in geography doesn't mean you're can't be a great accountant. Likewise, being an A+ English student doesn't guarantee you more than a job at Starbucks and a well-written blog. Sometimes cheaters win - but you still shouldn't be one. Even though you are really interested in Star Wars, not everybody at the table wants to discuss it at each Thanksgiving meal. Learning is not a chore - it is privilege. You are as capable as you imagine yourself to be. Most people have less than you. Mommy won't always be there. You don't have a real life Jiminy Cricket - develop your own conscience.

These things are all true - and they are the root of why we chose to homeschool.

Yet, despite knowing all of this, despite my best efforts, something was changing in Punk. "Life was so much more exciting when I was younger," he'd say. "The whole world was exciting. Now, even when I play legos, it's just because I need something to do." I wracked my brain. Nothing seemed to be wrong per se - he did his homework, built lego contraptions, caught toads, had his friends over - average fifth grade stuff.

Average fifth grade stuff.

Which got me thinking.

My average fifth grade stuff included being dropped of at Disneyland alone with a friend, and being told to meet at a restaurant by six. It included being sent to the grocery store two miles away, and flying across the country sans adult - with a little brother in tow. Even my first grade stuff included a two mile radius of bike riding freedom.

Punk and his friends do not have this kind of lifestyle. No 10 year-old I know has this kind of lifestyle.

Furthermore, Punk had never been an average kid. He was public speaking by age 3, lobbying for animal rights by 4, shooting commercials at 5, discussing paleontology theories with professionals by age 6 . . . the kid got around. He had an pretty interesting life - even by adult standards.

But not so much anymore. He had turned into an average kid - an average kid with grown up ideas - and it was becoming increasingly obvious that he wasn't happy about it.

So I came up with the best solution I could.
I'd push him to the next step.


Because while there is a certain satisfaction in completing any task - a perfect spelling test, setting the table, performing in a play - there is a quiet triumph in doing something wholly and completely on your own - like an adult - like a mature, independent person.

And that, I decided, is what this kid needed. He needed to keep growing. Giving two miles of bike riding freedom was an option - but a cruel one in February. I had no reason to put him on an airplane - and furthermore no one to send him to. So I chose the only bit of freedom I thought I could give - dinner.

He was quiet for a minute when I mentioned it to him.

"Punk, after school today I am going to give you 20 bucks and drop you off at the grocery store. You get to buy and cook dinner - whatever you want."

He looks at me like he's expecting more - like a catch.

"What do you mean - drop me off?"

"I mean what it sounds like. Kooka and I are not coming in. Go shop for what you need, and I'll pick you up when you're done."

"Really? Wow! Like - whatever I want?"

I hesitate here. Because every cell in my body is screaming "Balanced meal!" "Not Captain Crunch and root beer!" "And for the love of god - please not fishsticks." But all that comes out of my mouth is "Yep - it just has to be a meal - because you are making dinner tonight - alone."

Both he and Kooka look thrilled with the prospect. But even little sister bites her tongue - she knows this is big - knows this is Punk's opportunity. Uncharacteristically, she doesn't even give any advice.

So, 1:00 rolls around, and I pick both of them up from school. Punk is ready to head to Cub Foods, and I am dying inside. What if some seedy boxboy tells him there are more Fritos in "the back room"? What if the entire store catches on fire and he is trapped in the corner by frozen foods with no ventilation and no escape? What if somebody notices my beautiful, charismatic child shopping alone for taco spice, and decides to bind and gag him, and nobody notices their struggle down the ethnic foods aisle? God! So many possibilities, and none of them actually end with him coming out with a bagful of groceries. It's a wonder I even unlock the car door to let him out.

But I do, and he has the biggest smile on his face when he waves to us - and says, "See ya!"

I am positive that this is the last I will ever see of him. I take a mental picture of what he is wearing so I can describe it to John Walsh during our teleconference this evening.

My god. What have I done?! Teaching multiplication was one thing. Teaching independence is going to kill me.

Twenty five minutes later, Kooka and I pull up to the front of the grocery store. Punk is absolutely beaming - pushing his shopping cart, as he mimes for me to pop the trunk, he actually walks his cart all the way the little corral in sub zero weather. He slides into the back seat, breathless, all smiles, and says "That was AMAZING! Here is your change."

He hands me eight dollars and seventy two cents. "I spent under twelve bucks," he says, "I shopped the deals." I am so relieved that he is alive, that I don't even care that we might be eating expired deli meat and week-old bread for dinner.

"Mom," he says, "It was weird at first. When I grabbed my cart, I just kept thinking 'my gosh, this place is so big', but then, once I started shopping, nobody looked at me weird - they just treated me like a person mom, like a real person. They said hi to me, and the checkout lady, treated me like I was supposed to be there!"

He hands both Kooka and I snickerdoodles that he had taken from the free cookie bin. "I ate mine while I was shopping," he tells us, "and then I told the cashier, that these were from the free bin, and she said it was ok, and let me bring two for you guys." He pauses to catch his breath, and I can't help but giggle at how happy he is. "You know mom," he says, leaning forward in his seat, "my friends at school thought you were crazy. They didn't believe it when I told them. They had so many ideas about what I should buy. They were all really jealous of my adventure."

My adventure. That's what he said. My most dreaded, mundane task of grocery shopping was an adventure to my 10 year old.

We arrive home, and without any prompting, he unloads the groceries (which he bagged himself) from the trunk and puts them into the fridge. He sits himself down to do both his spelling and math, with no complaints, finishes his quiet reading, plays some math games on the computer, cleans the dining room table, sets it, and starts to make dinner. All without a word from me.

Dinner is absolutely perfect. Hot dogs broiled to perfection, on succulent, enriched white rolls, and array of delicately spiced corn chips to choose from, cool, frothy root beer floats, and for dessert - shortbread dipped in a rich milk chocolate.

He says he wants to do it again tonight - maybe tacos. I had to explain that we can't do exciting things liker grocery shop every day - but maybe soon, he'll get to pay the water bill, or haggle with the cell phone people in India to straighten out my bill.

all you really need

Since we just beginning to get rolling on this site, we are going to be posting some of our favorite stuff from the original daydreamers blog.  Here is one of our absolute favorites:

I love this - really love it. And after watching, have decided that the truly talented people live in Kosovo, Madagascar, Ethiopia, the Philippines and of all places - Israel - who knew?

Monday, April 12, 2010

the quest

When we first began homeschooling, I couldn't find what I was looking for.

Though I scoured the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and Googled until my fingers bled, I couldn't find anybody like me. Actually, to be honest, "like me" isn't exactly what I was looking for.  I didn't need somebody with adult ADD who drank too many mochas, mindlessly tap danced while waiting in line at the grocery store, and had a secret hang-ups about both Donny Osmond and the BeeGees.

I wasn't looking for that at all.

I needed some peeps -  a crew - a homeschool posse if you will. And while I had a hard time specifying what kind of faction I was looking to create, I was pretty certain about where I didn't fit in, and decided to start there. Because even though I still don't know what kind of homeschooler I am, I certainly knew what kind of homeschooler I am not:

A) The kind typically found on a Warren Jeffs compound.  These are the moms wearing homemade denim jumpers, whose children wear ties to breakfast, always say "yes sir,", and are capable of raising a barn by the time they are seventh graders (which is good because they'll need somewhere to house the wife and kids in three years). These children always do their chores, never watch TV, and as result can't tell the difference between Nick Jonas and the guy on the Quaker Oats box. Their homeschool experience is designed to help them create more little homeschoolers - like a breeding ground for a G-rated Children of the Corn.  And while there are aspects of this lifestyle that do appeal to me (the 'yes sir' and the barn raising), none of us really fit the bill where this lifestyle is concerned.

B) The parent whose two year old gleefully translates Goodnight Moon into the binary code. I can't keep up with that.  I know - because I tried.  Thinking there was no other niche for us, Punk and I joined a gifted homeschoolers co-op.  It was early elementary kids - nobody over the age of 9. Punk started reading when he was 2, so this seemed to be an obvious choice for us. I got a heaping dose of reality on our second visit, when the father of a third grader was giving away a pre-calculus book, because they'd finished it last year. He also had a college level chemistry text that was passe' and a global economics book that "didn't delve into the complexities of various blahbitty blah blahs nearly well enough for little Sam."

No joke.

No other parents would take the books from this guy, they looked at him like he was nuts .  .  .  . because they'd already finished them too.

Not kidding.

So they gave them to me, saying I'd need them sooner than later.  Punk was 3.

He's smart. So is Kooka.  But nobody in my house is going to MIT on a full ride before they hit puberty.  That's a fact. Doogie Howser he ain't, which left me with option number . . .

C) The Indiana Jones homeschoolers. You've heard of these guys -  hiking through the mosquito infested jungles of ancient Peru. Mom's backpack contains 6 pounds of organic/fair trade granola, and a set of 8 month old twins. Born on the summer solstace they can already identify which of the jungle fauna is edible, and gurgle in wonder when a rare blue morpho butterfly lands nearby.

Mom, her surgeon husband and precocious 6 year old are fluent in both English and the native Witoto language, which comes in handy as they offer medical service in exchange for for a dry hut to sleep in, and a daily helping of quiona with crushed grasshopper.

This is the kind of homeschooler that makes me feel like a complete failure.  How can these people be keeping down their indigenous dinner, fighting off poison dart frogs, escaping malaria, and teaching their children to read?  I can't carry my kid in a backpack through the mall, let alone the uneven terrain of South American ruins.

Where did I fit in?

So began my real quest:
Wasn't there anybody who homeschooled simply because they loved being with their kids? Who wanted to be the one who taught them to read, caught toads in the pond, and saw the light go on when long division finally made sense? Wasn't there anybody who went to church on Sundays, ate at McDonalds - (or worse yet the gas station) more than she'd like to admit, sometimes forgot to do spelling, listened to the Jackson 5, taught their 2nd grader to use a cell phone, and occasionally bought her kids clothes at the mall?

Wasn't there anybody normal?

And yes,  God forbid - the thought has occurred to me that maybe everyone else is normal, and not only is my freak factor off the charts, but I am inadvertently spreading my weirdness to my unwitting children who will grow up to be social pariahs with bad haircuts, who are forced to buy all of their clothes at the truck stop by using their "frequent fueling card."  I realize that this is a distinct possibility.

But, I hope I'm wrong.