Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One of the Top 5 Unexpected Breakfast Conversations

From my four-year-old: "Mom, can I go play with the human head?"

Which sounds very odd even around here, and especially as I'm riffling through my emails and putting off dishes as long as possible. It turns out that she wanted to play with a...toy? ...science lesson? The Smithsonian Anatomy Lab ("Includes 10 Removable Body Parts!"), a human torso with all sorts of interesting secrets.

So the correct answer is, "Yes, as soon as you finish your milk."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

When You Finally Want To Run Screaming Into The Night

...you manage to catch the Banshees' illness and are too headachey/feverish/itchy-eyeballed to go. But no one ever said that life was fair.

I did manage to fix the tea cooler (a modified 5 gallon igloo). With no working ac and 107+ temps we go through a lot of liquid around here. I could fix the ac if the relative who understand ac was standing over my shoulder but he isn't available, and even I know when to throw my hands up and call in a repairman. Except that the dh and I have already decided that the ac unit needs to be replaced and that isn't going to happen until next summer. And that brings us to the bad news/good news portion of the program: the ac isn't working -- but the electric bills are the lowest they've been in the better part of a decade.

The Banshees, by the way, are a bit disappointed that Mom isn't going up on the roof again. My reputation has taken a bit of a hit. I'm making that up to them by repairing the toilet.

The books that we bought at the conference are batting .500 -- LB's book has disappeared into the ether and we haven't broken out the How to Read book yet, but MB's anatomy book and EB's origami book are great hits. In fact, I had to put a moritorium on paper penguins and pianos. So far the biggest spash has been the anatomy coloring book, which MB thoughtfully took to a recent family gathering. While he was there he curled up with a great-grandfather and they went through it together, with MB pointing out his favorite bits. Great-grandfather was impressed all out of proportion, which is understandable since you really have to live with the Banshee's to have the proper perspective. GGF saw all of the fancy words and advanced concepts; MB sees it as a really neat coloring book.

That was a family gathering of disconcertion. GGF asked me what grade-level the anatomy book would be considered. I'm not sure that has a definitive answer. Most people would probably consider it high school or even college level. However, it belongs to my would-have-been-second grader so in our house, it's a second-grade textbook. Great-grandmother wanted to know what grade level the Banshees were. I gave that my best thoughtful look and said that it was an impossible question to answer. There's grade-level according to age, there's grade-level according to learning, and there's grade-level according to school districts. The best answer I can give is that they are way ahead of themselves in reading speed and comprehension, and even better than that, they love to read. They won't write unless forced to or if it's a current correspondence with a friend or favorite relative. Math is very much catch as catch can at this age and can be anywhere from simple addition to the explanation of credit cards and income tax. History and science and politics creep in wherever and whenever there's a niche to put them. "And spelling?" she asked. "Are you teaching them spelling? Because schools aren't teaching spelling these days." Yes they are, actually. I know that because EB's ex-teacher gave me the homework assignment of teaching spelling to EB. It's one of the reasons we're homeschooling now, under the theory of cutting out the middleman. (Or, as my beloved spouse said at the time, "If the teacher is expecting you to do her entire job, we might as well bring the children home.) But no, I don't teach them formal spelling right now. That will probably come later when they get more into writing. GGM looked faintly shocked.

This is the sort of thing that is going to get me the reputation of being the family bore. Creating a common lexicon takes time and most people don't understand why they can't just be answered in public school terms. With a little time and practice I'll be able to tell when they're genuinely interested and when they're just making polite conversation and trim my information accordingly.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Somewhere on the top 10 list of Things To Be Grateful For

The attendance record that I'm required to keep is set up so that only comas and detectable alien abduction are recorded as absences. Which is good for days like today, where all of the children are running triple-digit fevers and no one is much interested in eating, let alone any sort of formal instruction. I'm not sure they would even regard ice-cream with much favor.

It isn't much fun, dealing with a house full of sick Banshees. They aren't bad patients -- they don't even complain as much as I do when I get a garden-variety cold. It's just difficult to see such bundles of energy temporarily sidelined. The house will get cleaned today and stay clean. The hole in the yard that may eventually reach Australia will get not one inch deeper. No one is arguing over who touched who and what may eventually happen to make who STOP touching who. They're just listlessly watching The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe yet again and waiting to feel better.

From a purely selfish point of view, these are days when I'm so glad they're home with me on a full time basis. I no longer have to contact schools and explain that no, my children are not coming in with 101+ degree temperatures. I don't have to listen to some well-meaning teachers chirp about how they can send the missed schoolwork home for the children to work on so no one will fall behind. These people aren't sadists but they do have clockwork to mind; if a 6-year-old can't color his worksheets on time there will be very large irritating grains of sand in their oyster of a world.

I don't have to rearrange my plans to accomodate the sudden advent of children, either. I just have to tweak them to deal with unenergetic children; no field trips today and we'll go light on the history of chicken soup. (Although it can be fairly said that chicken soup in my family has a bit of history; I'm a child of the suburbs that has actually plucked the chicken that went into the stock pot.) We've had a bit of discussion on Celsius and Fahrenheit and the merits of home-made bread and that's been about it. EB is concentrating on knitting a bear for a friend whose birthday party she's probably going to miss. They're all a bit wary that I'm actually going to try to feed them the hummus I've been experimenting with. And Narnia plays in the background (Mom, how do they get the wolf to speak like that? Diction lessons, honey.)

What's a Diction?

A horrendous pun your mother should be ashamed of.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I Survived Expo

And the kids did too, so that's all right.

I'm remarkably proud of myself for limiting new textbooks to just four, three of which are slim little tomes picked out by the target audience. The last is a how-to-teach-your-kid-to-read book that I'm hoping my nearly-five-year-old will humor me about.

Vendor halls are tricky places, mainly because their very existence will dredge out the second-guessing and worrying that normally lives stuffed under a mental waste-paper-basket with a very large and heavy brick making sure escape doesn't happen often. It usually happens in vendor halls. How am I ever going to exist without xyz gadget? How will my precious bundles ever figure out science without this latest doohickie? Goodness knows they're going to turn into cretins if I don't get that doubles-as-a-doorstop math text. And while I don't know what use we have for beakers in this house, it's hard to say no to those big, begging eyes my son developed. Being the next thing to paupery is usually what saves the household from finding yet more shelf-space.

This Expo was more about reassuring the Banshees that I wasn't going to drag home just anything a salesperson waved under my nose. It took two circuits of the hall before I got through to them that just because I thought it was interesting didn't mean I was going to foist it off on them. My efforts at conversation, God Save the Mark, were all about finding out what the Banshees were interested in. This was followed by an impromptu lesson on the art of negotiating with Mom. Nobody is rioting quite yet over the choices, although there were a few skirmishes over the origami book.

Most of the Expo I spent spinning, or knitting, or fishing various Banshees out of nooks and crannies and inquiring as to whether they were having a good time. I didn't attend a single session although I had meant to. I'm learning, however, that going to sessions and looking out for three wiggly children are a bit incompatible, even for such family friendly places as a homeschooling conference. The debate is not whether I'm going to the next one, it's whether we are going to the next one. I may decide to treat it as a mini-vacation for a mom who desperately needs one.

The other fun part of Expo was my first experience with feeding children out of a cooler for three days. It went remarkably well, nobody died of food poisoning, and I got to play with my new obsession over Bento lunches. Most of the time the Banshees think I'm dotty if well-intentioned but they really like the new hobby. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, they also picked up my prediliction for the pretty little boxes. I outgrew that when I accidentally found Lock & Lock boxes; those unpretentious little bits of plastic are now my Bento box of choice. The Banshees think that this is all well and good, but prefer the cute little boxes that are either hideously overpriced on Ebay or sold in local markets that have no online presence and therefor are generally invisible to me.

I can't really explain the new obsession. Part of it is my...er, shall we call it persistance?...when confronted with something that I think I ought to have access to but don't (call it the whaddaya mean I have to pay $40 for a $1.50 piece of plastic?!? syndrome). Part of it is also the weight I gained over multiple pregnancies that has been notoriously hard to shed. Some of it is about having to cook everything from scratch because it's 1. cheaper and 2. healthier. A lot of it has to do with a recent medical diagnosis (nothing life-threatening, just altogether prosaic and boring) which is greatly influenced by diet. So, for the first time in my life, I really have to think about what I'm putting on my plate. Bento is all about balance, proportion, and beauty. If I have to play with my food, I ought to have pretty stuff to play with, right? Like every other interest under the sun, there is an online community that supports those of us who find ourselves wondering how to parse up the rice and properly present the broccoli. It's turning out to be the best cook-book experience ever. I'm sure if I really want to lose weight I'm going to have to dust off the clothes-hanger (also known as the treadmill) and go a few rounds, but eating better is a good start. And the Banshees are going to learn something about diet, not to mention the genetic component behind...er, persistance.