Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I did not sign up for this.

In my last Day in the Life I complained about how Delaney was sitting down to homework for what felt like forever every night, and it was getting to be very frustrating for us both. I was nagging her from the minute she got off the bus until sometimes long after the dinner dishes had been cleared away, and it was not fun.  I decided something had to change.

I finally met with Delaney's teacher a few weeks ago, and we had a nice long talk.  I needed to share my concerns, which were: 1) It was taking her about an hour-and-a-half to complete homework, which typically includes a math worksheet, spelling worksheet, 20 minutes of reading, filling out the reading log, and answering the comprehension question of her choice.  2) I was worried that she would be turned off to the fun of reading and journaling, since the comprehension questions were like torture to get her to do.  3) All the time spent doing homework was leaving her no time to play, and it was stressing me out.  Particularly painful were the nights we had our one and only extracurricular -- at the moment, gymnastics for her and Annie.  Then it was even harder to figure out how to get everything done and still get her to bed at a reasonable hour, which in our house is before 8.  I did my best to convey all this to Miss D without sounding too negative.  That was a hard line to walk.  Believe me, I stressed out about this meeting for days in advance because I needed to let her know about these issues we were having, but I did not want to be demanding or hostile or anything like that.  I think in my email asking for the meeting, I asked if we could maybe try to "find solutions together."

Meanwhile I researched to the best of my ability how much homework should be expected for a first grader (more as a reassurance to me than anything).  A Google search turned up a lot of expert opinions that validated my feeling that she was getting too much.   The "rule of 10" -- 10 minutes per grade level -- came up repeatedly.  I found this great blog post that made me feel a whole lot less crazy.  That post, along with all the comments on it, articulated so well the irksomeness of a heavy homework load for a young kid, and why it is not a good thing.  But again, I had no plans to storm her classroom and tell her all my Internet findings, and demand change.  Tim and I talked at length about what the goal of this meeting should be, what I should ask for, what could make the homework go better -- because we're not going to change her policy.  So I showed up to our meeting with all of that in the back of my mind, and also just praying, please God, don't let me mess this up, don't let this conversation be awkward and horrible, and please, let it be productive.

I am so glad I sat down with Miss D.  I was already impressed with how much Delaney was learning in her class, and I could already see how hard she (the teacher) was working.  But as we were talking I really saw how much heart she puts into her job of teaching these kids.  She works with each student wherever they happen to be and tries to push them to the next level.  Delaney currently reads at level 'k', which I think is third grade, so she wants her at 'l' by the end of the year.  To get there Delaney needs to get better at those comprehension questions, which at the time she would only stare at like a deer in headlights.  Those things really threw me for a loop, so we dedicated several minutes to talking about them in this meeting.  There are about 50 of them at various levels, and I believe one of them incorporates the phrase "critical thinking", which I'm sure I didn't see until at least 8th or 9th grade.  But I guess those were dumber times!  I learned that Miss D and the other teachers had had to make the questions up as a way to comply with the new standards.  I honestly didn't understand half of what she told me because she talked quickly and used a lot of big words.  But I could appreciate how much pressure she was under from people way above her pay grade and how hard she was working to get the kids to where the state is telling her they need to be.  She suggested we could have her do three questions a week instead of four, and maybe nudge her up to four when she was ready.  I was happy with that plan.  Not super happy, but I knew it would relieve the pressure a little bit.  I explained to her that I too wanted to see Delaney pushed and challenged. I am just trying to find some balance between that and family life, play time, and other activities.  As it is, we hardly do any activities, and I'm amazed at the families who are juggling multiple kids with their extracurriculars, two parents working, and still managing to get their kids through this marathon of 1st grade homework every night!  But I did not say that last part, only the part about wanting to have balance.  She definitely seemed to understand that and she agreed that homework should not be a burden for first graders and their families.  She was more than willing to work with me and it was far from being an awkward conversation.

I won't go too much more into the nitty-gritty of what we talked about, because this is already turning into a wordy post.  I proposed to her the idea that Tim and I had come up with, which is we get a kitchen timer and everything has a limit.  When the timer goes off everything gets put away whether it's done or not.  I said, "And if we have to put it away without it being done, then she has to face the consequences.  Speaking of which..?"  And that led to a discussion about what, if any, repercussions there were for incomplete assignments.  Miss D explained that since not all students have a home environment where adults are on hand for help, she doesn't believe it would be fair for her to have consequences.  A-ha!  This must have been a huge part of my frustration all along.  I'M the enforcer!  I remember as a kid the biggest reason to get it done was because I knew I'd have to face the music the next day otherwise.  Oh, the guilt!  The disappointment in my teacher's eyes because she expects better from me!  And having to stand next to her at recess instead of playing.  Any one of these things was more than enough reason for me to get everything done without much prompting from my mother.  She might remember it differently, of course.  Miss D was in full agreement with my plan, as she's a big believer in timers herself.  She also encouraged me to update her regularly on how it was going, and let her know any other suggestions I might have.  She said, "When a kid is always getting it all done, and done well every day, I never know there are any problems."  Good point.

I had no idea I had so much to say about Delaney and her homework, but it's good that I put it all down so that I have it for future reference.  Since the meeting, that portion of the day still takes awhile but it is less frustrating, and not because we've been sticking 100% to the timer.  I think Delaney's attitude may have improved, but I can't pinpoint why.  She doesn't drag her feet as much.  My attitude is different too.  I feel better having had the talk with her teacher, and I also know that since it's the end of February, we are on the downhill side of this school year.  Next year will be something new and hopefully different.  More on that another time.  I am still inwardly shaking my head at math assignments that are more like art assignments to my detail-oriented little girl.  She will patiently draw 25 little cats with eyes and whiskers when instructed to "show her work."  The spelling word pyramids drive Delaney nuts, and who can blame her now that she's spelling words like educate and sentence.  At Miss D's suggestion, I wrote all her comprehension questions on craft sticks and placed them in a little cup for Delaney to draw one and then set her timer.  I have some misgivings about Delaney having to "beat the clock" as she writes out her answer.  But I remind myself that this IS working, and the object here is for her to prove in writing that she understands what she read.  It doesn't need to be a masterpiece.  She'll get more proficient as time goes on, but this really jump-starts her into doing it as opposed to staring at it for 15 minutes.

Delaney still needs me to stay close by, usually sitting right next to her while she completes assignments.  She needs help understanding questions sometimes, and she needs me to refocus her when her attention starts to wander.  If my attention wanders, hers does too.  I can't help but continue to think of it as OUR homework instead of hers.  This requires me to be proactive with dinner planning and prep, and to be adept at finding ways to keep the other kids occupied and out of our hair.  Lately Annie's been wanting to work on phonics workbooks (which is awesome), but she needs a lot of help with that too, so it's back-and-forth between the two of them, and then Annie's work sounds a lot more interesting to Delaney than her own, she gets distracted again, so it's always interesting.  Then Timmy's at the table, then on the table, and it's a three-ring circus.  Sometimes I can fend him off, other times not.  On a good day there is still enough daylight left when her homework is done for all of them to spend outside playing in the ditches.  (Are anyone else's kids not happy unless they're covered in dirt?)  The daylight hours are getting longer again too, and that will be a good thing.  This is the reality I live with, which although far from what I consider to be ideal, is manageable.  Somewhat.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Snow days

I am kind of a fanatic about checking the weather forecast every day (sometimes more than once), and as of Sunday night, was predicting a typical week in February, chilly with some clouds, maybe some rain.  Then on Monday morning, Annie's teacher mentioned in an email that some more bad weather was headed our way, and there might be more delays/closures ahead.  I thought to myself, 'Nuh-uh,' but then I checked the weather and there it was -- snow and wintry mix on Tuesday.  About 1 to 2 inches of snow was predicted, and I got the call that evening that school was cancelled for Tuesday.  I thought it was a bit of an overreaction.  But on Tuesday morning it started snowing.. and kept snowing.. and kept right on snowing big fat fluffy flakes.  Tim came home from work early, by 11 I think.  It didn't stop until sometime that night, and by the time it was done we were blanketed in an astonishing 9 inches of snow.  

The snow looks pretty but it is such a nuisance.  We are so woefully ill-equipped for it.  Yesterday Delaney said to me, "When I grow up and I'm a mom, I'm going to play outside in the snow with my kids.  And I'll have snow boots and snowsuits for everybody."  I just chuckled.  This is what our snow gear consists of for all three of them: two cheesy pairs of rain boots, one honest-to-goodness snowsuit that the girls take turns wearing, a women's size 8 pair of snow boots (for the one that doesn't get the snowsuit), one heavy duty set of mittens (we used to have two but we lost one), various other hats and mittens, and layers upon layers of everything else we own.  Pile it all on, peel it all off, wash and/or dry, repeat.  It was 25 degrees yesterday and they went outside twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  They were as happy as could be in their cobbled-together snow clothes.  I said to Tim last night, "After the last snow storm I wanted to get them all some more stuff, but you know it would have never snowed again if I had.  The only reason we need it is because I didn't get it!"  But they survived because they don't have the sense to know they ought to be cold and miserable.  They just want to be outside.  

This morning was another day off school and work.  I woke up feeling kind of grumpy and cabin-feverish, but I couldn't help but smile at them all having fun out there.  What is there to complain about when we all get to spend the day together in a warm house with good food to eat?  This morning it was freezing and sleeting, but now it's warmed up to just cold and rainy.  The snow and ice are turning to slush, and that cute snowman is looking very droopy.  I'm glad I got pictures.  Thank you, snow, for letting us have all this quality time together, but I really hope you won't be back this year.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Mini SC trip

I am enjoying this regular old Monday in a way that I didn't know was possible.  There's been nothing special about this day at all -- just the contentment of being at home, doing the things we normally do at the times we normally do them.. and it doesn't hurt at all that it's 75 degrees out!  

Last week Delaney went to school on Monday, and the rest of the week was called off for snow.  The base was closed too.  The good news was that Delaney didn't end up having to miss a day and a half of school so we could take our mini-trip to Parris Island, SC.  The bad news was that we went right from being cooped up for days in our house to being cooped up for 6 hours in the car, and then stuck in a hotel room together.  Yesterday afternoon I went for a 4-mile run and it was the best.  Ah, the sweet taste of freedom!

Our plan for Parris Island/Beaufort was to arrive Thursday evening, get dinner, and go to bed in our hotel room.  Not suite, room.  Then Friday we had a tour of base housing scheduled.  There are two locations for base housing for anyone going to Parris Island or the Air Station in Beaufort.  We had heard that living on base at Parris Island was the best, but we really wanted to see for ourselves the neighborhoods and the interiors of a couple of these houses in both locations.  Then Friday afternoon we had tours of houses out in town in Beaufort.  Saturday we would just drive around the different neighborhoods, check out the Catholic church, the Y, whatever else might be of interest.  We had a tour of one house scheduled, I believe, in a new development in a highly recommended area (both in terms of schools and neighborhoods) called Lady's Island.  

As we were driving down Thursday, I got a FB message from someone I'd been talking to who lives on Parris Island, inviting me to dinner with her and some other members of the Officers Spouses Club.  I had mentioned to her that we'd be visiting that weekend.  Bear in mind that I have never gone to dinner with the Cherry Point Officers Spouses Club, and we've been here 3 1/2 years.  And this would be for Thursday night, after a day of being on the road ... "You should go," Tim told me.  I knew he was right.  These ladies would be a wealth of information about the area, it would be a kid-free dinner, and I'd have a head start on making new friends since that is something I always have difficulty with.  I replied to Erika that we'd be traveling that day and I'd try to make it, depending on how things went.  I was still hemming and hawing about whether or not to go after we arrived at around a little after 4.  Tim said, "You should go.  The alternative is.." he gestured around our little hotel room, indicating the three little people bouncing off each other and the walls.  So I said, "Alright, I'll go."  This was so far outside my comfort zone to go out to dinner with people I've never met, but I was so glad I did.  They were so kind and welcoming, I had a nice seafood dinner and a glass of wine, and got to pick their brains for two hours.  I took many mental notes of things to tell Tim.  There is no way I would have gone to this dinner had this been 3 1/2 years ago when we were moving here.  I've changed a lot since then, and believe much more in the importance of making connections.  

That first night in the hotel room was ROUGH.  Timmy and I had one queen bed, Tim and the girls had the other.  The air was hot and dry, and I couldn't sleep because it felt like my nasal passages and throat were lined in cotton.  It wasn't until after 10 that anyone was ready to sleep because the kids couldn't settle down.  Being in such close proximity to each other and us whipped them up into a frenzy.  I remembered why we don't do things like this.

In the morning I took a zinc tablet first thing.  That is my go-to remedy when I feel that telltale scratch in my throat or tickle in my nose.  It hasn't failed me yet.  Later we had our long-anticipated tour of base housing.  The first one we went to is the one that the ladies at dinner had warned me to stay away from, and to not get sucked in, no matter what.  It was what we expected.  It's another housing area about 25 minutes from Parris Island (which negates the main advantage of living in base housing, a short commute.)  The neighborhood was pretty ugly save for one nice circle of houses right on the water, which we were brought to.  The house we were shown was nice looking and spacious, and had everything we could need and want in a base house.  But the location sucked as we'd been told.

After that we went to Parris Island for our next tour.  I thought Erika had been exaggerating when she told me how nice the neighborhood is, but wow, it is really nice.  The below picture is the view from one end of the neighborhood.
The next picture is the view from the other end of the neighborhood, about a quarter-mile away (taken on different days, of course).  It blows my mind that there is one road that divides the officer family housing from 4th Recruit Training Battalion, the female battalion.  I was there myself, it will be 16 years ago this summer (I am oooooold!). When I was there as a recruit, I believed myself to be as isolated from any kind of normal civilized life as possible.  But I was a stone's throw away from houses where families lived!  I couldn't get over that, and I kept taking pictures as we drove around.  Tim was there 20 years ago this summer, and we were both trying to remember where we were when.  We thought the barracks at the rifle range looked different than we remembered.  As we passed the base pool I said, "Look, kids, the pool!"  As soon as I said that I then caught sight of a building directly across from it that said "Depot Laundry."  I said, "I was a laundry recruit and I remember throwing the bundles of linens off the truck and being jealous of the kids splashing and playing in the pool!"  But other than that I barely remembered anything.  It all looked the same to me!  And I have no memory of seeing a civilian anywhere until Family Day.
I love the juxtaposition of these photos.  It was totally unintended.  On Friday there were no recruits outside for me to gawk at.  But on Saturday when we came back just to drive around, they were all over the place.

It was a very long morning that involved talking with three different individuals in housing, as we wanted to have the best chance possible of getting a four-bedroom house on Parris Island.  There are far fewer houses available on Parris Island than that other place, and they really want to fill up the houses in the other place.  After that we had lunch and then coffee/smoothies in lieu of afternoon nap.  I took this picture and posted it to Instagram and Facebook to let everyone we knew what fun, fun, fun we were having with our adorable kids.
Then we decided to cancel our afternoon house tours out in town.  This was partly due to the fact that I'd been warned away from this development, and Tim had also driven by it and been less than impressed.  It was also due to the fact that the kids were exhausted, cranky, quarrelsome, and driving us and each other out of our minds.  We knew it would be a challenge to see what we wanted to see with them in tow, but wow.  It was even harder than I had been prepared for.  In one house on base, I closed them in a corner bedroom so they could run around while we tried to talk in the kitchen.  Then the thuds and the screaming ensued.  Tim talked to the base housing lady while I kept running off to deal with the kids.  We didn't imagine that would get any better as the day progressed.  We were satisfied with it having been a productive morning, however, and we'd pretty much made up our minds by then that we definitely wanted to live on base.

We went to an outlet mall near Hilton Head to get Timmy new shoes, and then Tim made the mistake of sending me into the Coach store.  We had ended up returning a Coach bag he'd gotten me for Christmas because I didn't think it was me.  He just wanted me to look around and get an idea of what I wanted.  I found a bag that suited me, and it was 75% off the clearance price.  I had them put it on hold while I went to find Tim to talk about it.  He had taken Timmy out of there to walk.  He thought it was an impulse buy and was inclined to disagree.  After a lot of back-and-forth (and maybe a little bit of pouting on my part) he wound up going in and getting it for me.  It is lovely, and even with the deep discount, costs at least five times as much as any purse I've ever owned.  I am spoiled.  Tim is a 'browse, go away, analyze, come back and browse some more' kind of guy.  He will think twice before he sends me into that store again! 
After that we had a nightmarish dinner at a Japanese place, during which I almost marched out with Timmy, growling stomach be damned.  It was one of those horrible times when you do nothing but threaten your kids with gritted teeth every few seconds, and then feel like a monster for it.  It turns out that all this togetherness -- in the car, in the hotel room, in the booth at the restaurant -- is like poison to our family.  The two of us felt like the worst parents ever, like we were at our lowest point.  The only thing worse would be to just be swatting at our kids while everyone looked on.  I was in tears as we drove away and Tim was asking me, "What would make you feel better right now?  Do you want a drink?  I'll get you a drink."  He went into a convenience store and came out with a little brown paper bag.  Inside was a can of Bud Lite.  I had to laugh.  My brand new designer bag was now sitting on my lap with my beer zipped inside as we drove up to the gate of the air station.  I said that it probably wanted to scream, jump out of my lap and run back to the Coach store.  This bag is very roomy, and will hold up to a 6-pack, should that ever be necessary.

We decided we'd leave in the morning after driving around Parris Island one more time, and looking around Beaufort.  We cancelled the tour of even the nice house in the nice neighborhood, deciding it would be a waste of time and energy.  Besides, Tim was reeling from all the money that had been spent in the last couple days.  Another meal out would break us.  The good news is, we all got a good night's sleep the second night in the hotel, and I successfully warded off a cold with the zinc.

I am glad that we went and I am glad to be back here.  We have a few months of normalcy before things get crazy again.