Friday, October 29, 2010

Smart Cookies

So somewhere in a haze of sleep deprived insanity, Probably well before last week, I volunteered to make a kabillion sugar cookies for Phillip's class. See, they have book buddies who are younger kids they read with and for the older grades- since they are too cool to have parties- they have a party under the guise of doing it for their little book buddy friends. It is a tactic employed by most parents- so I  am familiar with it. But since I had the sugar cookie mix in my pantry- really it doesn't take too long, right?

Yet here I am, waiting for the last batch to be done and it is nearly 10 o'clock. Somewhere between batch 1 and 2- somebody was having a costume wardrobe malfunction which needed immediate attention.  And then there was my daughter who felt the need to prance around the kitchen moaning about how HOT she was. Literally fanning herself and giggling each time, waiting for acknowledgement of her hottness. The oven is on- get outta my kitchen is what she got. So despite the fact that I deserve an industrial chef kine oven- I have the whatever piece of crap came with the house edition. It's fine as long as you remember to rotate frequently as the back is much warmer than the front. And really I don't have the chef kine kitchen or space to support aforementioned oven- so for right now- it is what it is. I like to cook, I like making food tasty and presentable- the actual baking bit is a wee bit precise for my liking. I'm more of a pinch of this and a dash of that kind of girl. Baking doesn't like that so much. Sometimes me and baking have an all out throw down. I do not win. It is very sad. I digress.

So somewhere I forgot to rotate- so the front part of the batch a little light- back part a little brown. Phillip walks Um are those cookies supposed to be brown like that?  So here are my top 10 answers- and no I haven't experienced this before- these 10 magically came to me this evening. It is my experience that children eat the good stuff and bring the cookies coated with 12 different colors of frosting home to "share" with mom. Somehow smooshy crumbs in a ziploc means I thought of you.  So yes, son the sugar cookies are supposed to be brown like that.

Are those cookies supposed to be brown like that?
10.  Yes, yes they are.
 9.   It doesn't matter- all you guys do is lick the frosting off em anyways.
8.    They need to be harder, they are easier to decorate that way.
7.    Yes, yes they are.
6.   We love all God's creatures in this house, no matter what color they are.
5.   They've done studies- half of all people like cookies soft and half like em crunchy. I'm a people pleaser.
4.   Yes, yes they are.
3.   It's cuz I made them with brown sugar, they taste the same.
2.   I like my cookies like I like my men. Your teacher will understand.
1.   Yes, Yes they are. Now scram.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The SAFETY dance

An awesome riff, and I can't help but think of it everytime I hear of a new toy, baby product, car recall. Recently a friend posted a link about Graco stroller recalls. Over 2 million strollers being recalled for safety issues. SsssAaaaFfffEeeeTtttYyyy dance. So I read the article, because not only am I currently using a Graco stroller, but I think I have 1 or 2 laying around the garage and this could drastically affect their garage sale-ability. Mind you the one I am using is going through it's 3rd child. I recently enlisted my neighbor's help to jimmy rig a new seat cover because Bella felt the need to rip all of the old stuffing out of it. That or it was the stray cat that sleeps on it at night. I like to blame Bella and only because once when I was walking a piece of fabric and fluff actually hit me in the eye. But this poor stroller has seen alot. Many trips to the beach, many nights accidentally left out back in the rain, long harsh days in the sun, months in isolation at the hospital- not to mention I have totally surpassed the allowable weight limit numerous times- and that was this week alone. The thing has been drenched and washed of fluids I would rather not talk about. It has been climbed on, tossed around and transformed into a rocket and launched across the back yard. It still keeps ticking. I haven't used the seatbelt in it since 2008, and then it was probably only to keep Bella from slithering out and my having to feel bad about running her over before stopping.

The article says 2 MILLION strollers are being recalled because they have been linked to 4 infant deaths. I think that by all means necessary, if a stroller is dangerous and the company knows of a life threatening defect- they are by all means responsible for making the public aware. Now this is very poor form- but if an infant dies while in the presence of a stroller- technically the stroller is linked to the child's death- is the parent also linked to the child's death? Because the claim is that the multibillion company is responsible and they were not there. Despite the fact that a stroller manual and actual stroller comes with more warnings and cautions than a firearm. I mean after all, it is common knowledge guns kill. After all the aforementioned activities- the warnings are still stuck to my stroller. I could take a blow torch to it and the actual metal would melt before the adhesive on those bad boys. It apparently is not common knowledge(despite all of my and friends FB posts otherwise) that if children are left to their own devices, they will harm, maim, destroy or kill themselves. That's the piece of missing information that renders us caretakers necessary. Darwin called it natural selection, yet we as humans believe in common welfare and that no one should be penalized merely because they are stupid. They are pushed along in school under "no child left behind". They are allowed to continue working under non discrimination acts and ultimately go on to govern our country in what we call congress.

When as a society do we do away with nonsense litigation? A mother left her 6 month old, unbelted in a stroller unsupervised long enough to try and slither out, get her head stuck and suffocate?  Does the litigation automatically assuage the mother's own sense of guilt? I'm pretty sure the warnings next to the seat say "NEVER leave child unattended" and "ALWAYS fasten seat belts when using stroller".  Has anyone noticed that we have to sign releases for everything now a days? You can't blow your nose without having to release Kleenex from responsibilty for irritation that might be caused from overuse of their product. Cotton balls and Q tips have warnings on them! Did you know you really aren't supposed to stick Q tips in your EARS?  It's the ridiculous and abnoxious threat of litigation prevents people from doing the RIGHT thing because Wrong people want to release themselves from responibility and have someone else held responsible for their stupidity.

Yesterday, I bought one of those ginormous Pumpkin Pies from Costco. Which ironically does not have a warning on it. Things that make you go hmmm. Anyhoo, we were waiting patiently(to be read as my 3 girls plus 3 neighbor girls vibrating around me with anticipation) for Phillip to get home from school. I remember being surprised that he didn't beat us home- he rides his bike and is usually waiting for us. But he is very active this week with school activities- so I wasn't worried. Until he walked in and had THAT look on his face. A look that only a mom would probably pick up on. "what happened bud?" My spidey mom sense tingled.  "um nuthin"  Out with it, I tell him. "Um well a kid was upset and I was trying to help him" Yeah, what was he upset about? "Some other kid told him he would never get a girlfriend" Heavy stuff for 6th graders. How did you know he was upset? Well he was kinda yelling and holding 2 knives to his head. Yeah that would kind of give it away. I start scanning Phillip- no obvious injury and hug him. You hear stuff like this and you can't help it. Then the interrogation begins. How? What? Why? Where?

Phillip helped diffuse the situation while other kids went to get help. It was "off campus" which is to say it was right outside the fence at school.  It happened sometime other than when I was driving through getting the girls because I always look for Phillip to make sure he has his helmet on. A school counselor helped get the situation under control. I gave him a quick call this morning.  From what I can tell the situation was handled very well, by kids and adults. 

Here's my problem. School is absolved of ALL responsibility for the children once they walk outside the gates. Technically said, according to liability issues the counselor SHOULD NOT have intervened. Fortunately humans are not all robots and some are rational human beings and realize a situation where children should not be left to their own devices.  I understand that the school can not be responsible for what happens outside of it's grounds and a line has to be drawn somewhere. I lament that I live in a world where a staff member would actually have to consider the ramifications of helping in this situation before helping. This counselor didn't hesitate and no one was hurt. I fully expect to get a memo home today with a "reminder" that bringing weapons to school is a suspendable offense. The kids will be reminded at school. That will be the last of it. Until next time. Had that kid hurt somebody- his parents probably would have sued the school. And the kids parents who were trying to help. Life is becoming no win.

Where do we draw lines around integrity and responsibility? When did we stop being responsible for our own actions and our children's behavior? Sure a company sold a stroller. But the consumer bought the stroller and used the stroller for months. Is the stroller a qualified babysitter- I recently checked mine's references and would gauge it as being less entertaining that TV but safer than something with a motor.  And yes we are behaviorally modifying future generations against the every day use of common sense. I really don't see any negative results coming from that. Insert sarcastic smiley face here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Keoneula Confidential

What goes on at school stays at school. I only recently truly understood why communication is such a problem at my kids' school. Apparently any break in confidentiality is such a liability, it is so highly regulated that no one even communicates out of fear. That sounds like a foundation for a healthy learning environment.

Last week I finally was able to attend a volunteer orientation so that I can volunteer at my kids' school. I am all for orientations, screenings, and regulation of appropriate behavior where my kids are involved. I know that although I mean no harm and have not only my kids' best interest at heart, but their classmates as well- not all parents are as dedicated or as moral. I am also not so naive to believe that we live in a world where confidentiality agreements don't exist or aren't necessary. Yet I have learned that the venues they exist in usually involve politicians, lawyers and celebrities- all of which usually have something they are trying to hide. Hence the innate need for confidentiality.  Do I think gossip should be allowed- no it's harmful. But I do believe in accountability. There can be no accountablilty without retribution or responsibility. One of my favorite quotes is in reference to integrity- doing the right thing even when no one is looking. That is a main tenet in my life. Another is a sister belief- Doing things well because you should- not because you want awards or recognition.

I understand that gossip and talk about a student's behavior in class can lead to embarrassment. But it begs the question- why would the student or parent be embarrassed if the behavior was appropriate to the learning environment? The volunteer handbook goes so far as to discourage any discussion of any events that occur, even if they are "cute" because that could embarrass the parents. Even if a parent asks specifically- employ the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Also refrain from asking anyone but the appropriate parties about your child's behavior. Well accountability just went out the window. And don't fool yourself into thinking the kids don't know this. Just like lil johnny knows if mom says no, go ask dad- it's filed under the same principle as kids misbehaving as soon as the phone rings.

I can tell you I was utterly surprised to find out that one day in school, Lily hit not 1, not 2 but 3 children. In my day- it was not tolerated. At all- except but the nuns who were the only ones allowed to do the hitting and even that was being undermined as I went through school. Of course I was embarrassed- but mostly I was angry. I am glad she has a capable, experienced teacher who doesn't need to call the principal or parent in for every disciplinary problem. But I am disappointed at the lack of communication unless initiated by me and then only in a CYA fashion. I am proactive- I asked about her behavior because I know she has been acting out at home. And although her meds make her aggressive and her dad being gone are reasons, they are not excuses- rather they are reasons for me to pay closer attention- which I did. She needs to be disciplined at home as well as at school- there needs to be a partnership. School is not an island- it is a stepping block for the world. Newsflash- you don't get a paycheck for doing nothing, you are accountable for your behavior, and if you don't work hard- there will be no award or certificate just for participating.

It reminded me of a day 5 and a half years ago, finding out through another mom that my son had been bullied at school. No one knew names, and if they did they couldn't tell me because of confidentiality. When we moved here, I put him in the public school closest to our neighborhood. These were our neighbors. Military moms warned against the school. Locals at my husband's work commented they wouldn't even send their kids "there". But I had faith. Faith that was crushed when one night I was checking my son's hygiene and found purple bruises all down his back. He refused to say a thing. I marched him into school early the next morning and told his teacher. She said she would look into it but knew nothing about it. That didn't make me feel better. What drove me insane was finding out the principal's attitude was "kids need to learn how to solve problems". That afternoon, one of Phillip's friends was playing over at our house after school. I asked him if he knew how Phillip's back got bruised. The child blanched. Blanched. Had no idea what that meant until I saw it. He didn't want to look at me. He stared at his feet. I reassured him he wasn't in trouble, I just wanted to know. All I got was "they said they'd kill us if we told" and they were in 4th grade maybe 5th. I was outraged. I marched right in to his teacher the next day (and had I had more confidence or experience I would have marched right into the principal's office) and demanded to know what had been done. Well, they took Phillip and his friend around to all the classes to see if they could identify the offenders. Ironically enough they didn't seem to recognize them. Maybe they would have if they had any faith in the adults there, maybe they would have if they had not already learned they were outsiders and would always be treated as such. Maybe if things had just stayed at school like they were supposed to - I would have a severely battered child contemplating acts of violence of his own just to make it stop. Instead I pulled him from school and enrolled him in a school 15 minutes further down the road that's motto was safety safety safety. I never had to sign any confidentiality form and was always encouraged to be on campus to help out or just have lunch with my kids.  The only thing I didn't like about the school was the drive. 

When the new school in our neighborhood opened, I hoped for a similar experience. It was- similar to Phillip's first year. Fortunately he was older and more confident and didn't have to deal with bullying. But the school was the same- parents were not only not encouraged- but discouraged from being on campus. I found out from my kids that since there was no playground equipment or shade- kids ran around and pushed each other for recess and there had been a rash of injuries. Parents asked to help monitor recess. They were told no. It was a liability. The explanantion was that some parents had drug problems and therefore it was easier just to shoo parents away. One bad apple. You could let it ruin the bunch or you could toss it out of the bushel and let the others enjoy the harvest. I and a few other parents have worked hard in the past 2 years to try and change things for the better. We have had some success and a few setbacks. Often I believe the administration looks at us as a nuisance- knowing most are military wives- they are biding their time until another big PCS. But there is no PCS in my future and their "Old school" is full. By being on campus and offering to volunteer- I also found there is a contingent of moms who faithfully volunteer their time behind the scenes.  I believe parent involvement is the single most important indicator of educational success- especially in public schools that lack funds for basic necessities. Even private institutions require a chunk of parents' time as part of their contractual obligations.

On the other hand- I am so tired of hearing parents say "I had no idea it was going on" . Now I understand. How can they be accountable for their children's behavior if they are not informed of what is going on? Sure you will run across the odd (or not so odd) parent these days who won't do anything or expects the school to deal with it and hold the school responsible for teaching morality (as long as it doesn't involve God, or prayer, of course) appropriate behavior, or just excuse morality and behavior and still try to give them an education. Education is not given, it's earned. I don't envy teachers and the land mines they deal with daily. Even with the best administrators- their jobs are some of the toughest in the nation. We have generally lucked out with teachers- which helps me overlook some of the administrative shortcomings. When Lily was going through treatment- both kids' teachers were very supportive and often had the class make Get Well Cards and Posters for her hospital rooms. I appreciate their kind gestures even more know knowing they were risking censure for their blatant violation of confidentiality. I mean it is completely unacceptable to talk about a child's personal life in school. right.? I mean (god) forbid anyone know of a child's hardship so that they might offer help or kind words, or a card. It would be entirely unacceptable for children to see a ray of light through the darkness. Come to think of it- I have NO idea why bullying is a problem in schools and why kids just seem to be getting worse behaviorally. It's got to be the red dye.

So I am not yet sure how I will handle this new dilemma. I know how I want to, but sometimes you catch more flies with honey, right? I know I spend more time asking more specific questions of my kids. I am not afraid to call the school and ask questions. I let them know when I think there is a better way or if something is wrong. I also let them know when I see good.  I try to show my face around school and help out whenever humanly possible. I generally share my opinion and as long as I haven't been volunteering lately- it's technically legal.  All I know is that when people are held accountable for their actions- their actions are more accountable for good. By hiding, the good, the bad, the ugly- a lot of good is being missed out on.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


My kids are at that astonishingly frustrating age. What did you do at school today? Nuthin.  What is that? Nuthin? What did you do to your sister? Nuthin. What do you have for homework? Nuthin. What's wrong? Nuthin.

There is a whole lotta nuthin goin on up in here. And if I learned one thing in my vast(11 years and counting) experience as a mom, it is that "nuthin" always means somethin.  "Nuthin" means I don't want to talk to you about it right now. "Nuthin" means I'm busy. "Nuthin" means I hit her back because she totally deserved it.  "Nuthin" means I will take care of it as soon as you forbid me from watching anymore tv or playing any video games or god forbid ask that I do something like take out the trash. "Nuthin" means everything.

So today I woke up, get the kids out the door to school. They were relatively presentable, which is to say the only stains on their clothes were related to breakfast or brushing their teeth which is permissible because oral hygiene is very important and what's a little breakfast smudge? It's nuthin. I was going to take a long walk, but abbreviated it so I could run some errands. I have a package to mail and desperately need to buy some food that will not withstand a nuclear holocaust.  I am pretty sure the kids would be ok with eating Doritos for a few more days, but the overall benefits to that diet are- yeah you got it- Nuthin. Yet as I return a few emails and provide some mutual support to my fellow life challenge group members and create a few more emails, I have a little redhead who is sitting next to me gently petting my arm. "Whatcha Do-in?"    Nuthin she tells me. Of course. Yet she keeps petting my arm.  Maybe she's on to something. The package can wait and I think I have chicken frozen and a vat of sour cream- I'm sure I could Mcgyver some sort of dinner out of that. So let's do nuthin together.

We snuggle on the couch. Pretty soon lil Miss Nuthin is hungry. I start trying to rustle up something quasi nutritional and come up with a bag of caramel corn. I start sifting through my recipes hoping there is some long lost recipe for chicken that coincidentally includes copious amounts of sour cream. And I find one. Bella is content with nuthin and I am content not going anywhere so I call my neighbor over to imbibe in our nuthin-ness. She agrees. She also agrees to supply some of the ingredients for the dinner - since I am out of most. Which is to say, other than chicken and sour cream(and doritos and caramel corn) I pretty much have nuthin. We try to watch a movie, although seinfeld episodes would have been more apropo. We end up talking and taking turns snuggling with the monkey until it is time to get the kids from school. The after school rush begins- snack, homework- whatcha got? Nuthin.  I start baking dinner and my husband calls. What did you do today? He asks. Nuthin I tell him.

That's awesome! I wish I was there doin nuthin with you. Don't you know it.
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We had a really nice visit with Uncle John and Aunt Theresa. I think my favorite was when Kiera tugged on my arm after a half an hour and whispers "Uncle John looks like dad! Just a little lighter." I hope that we rectified the last bit with a week in the sun!  It was also pretty darn hilarious when Phil called the other night as I bathed Bella, so the other kids did the rounds on the phone. After a few minutes of conversation with Lily, I ask for the phone. She holds up a finger, making me wait. "Ok, bye! I love you!" She pauses, almost hands me the phone and puts it back to her ear- "Is this dad or Uncle John?"  I bust up laughing. I don't know if Phil felt it was as funny as I did. Although all the kids kinda sound the same on the phone anyhow- so he probably did.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Race You!

Apparently the US Government is tired of us Americans checking "other" on all of our race and ethnicity questionnaires. It sure does put a great big kink in their pigeon-holing- I mean statistical analysis of demographics.  It started last year. I decided that when asked ,in all race related questions- I would check "other". They usually want you to select one and it is written like this ONE. Well newsflash- find me someone with only one race in this lovely melting pot I call home and I will show you a person who has got a couple of secrets in their genetic closet.  We kinda did away with the acceptability of racial "purity" with Hitler. Or so one likes to convince one's self.  Nowadays we call it inbreeding.

Last year I get a notice home that since I checked "other" on my son's race - I was relegated to fill out this form to specify which races he is. It had more selections than before and a separate spot to check "primary" race. I refused, did not check any boxes and wrote that I was offended by the form and if they needed a box checked, check one themselves. Immature- sure. Did it make a difference? Apparently- this year I get the form- with a letter stating the reason for it- the McKinley-Vento Act. Well that makes no sense because the MV act is to ensure homeless kids can go to school wherever their parents/guardians choose. I returned the form that stated we in fact have an address- what's race got to do with that?  I also notice a new section on the survey that states " I understand that if I do not provide this information, a school representative will designate the ethnicity and race categories for my child".  Oh reeee-heeeee-heeee-heee ly?  GOOD. LUCK. WITH. THAT. Please make sure to compare my children side by side. And please let me know which day this will be done so I can dress them appropriately as to provide ethnic attire because ethnicity is pretty darn impossible to tell based on physical features.

I look up DOE Ethnicity/Race Surveys online and get a slew of hits from various(reputable) educational organizations explaining they are mandated by the federal government to perform this survey and it is unrelated to immigrational status and that there was an influx of people checking "other" which made demographic statistical analysis impossible. One site went so far as to claim the government wants to celebrate diversity by having people participate in this survey. I think the celebration lies in the fact that so many people are CHOOSING OTHER! That people are no longer seeing themselves as ONE race or ONE ethnicity. And why is this relevant to my child? SO the school can publish data on what percentage of white/black/asian/pacific islander/hispanic students go there? Why do that? So people can choose which public school to attend based on racial distribution? That's pretty forward thinking.

Race is a very useful identifier. Various races have unique features. Although in the melting pot of even my own little family- we have seen a wide range of features that can be attributed to the exact same racial make-up. As the pot gets even more melty- the lines will blur even more. But what does this have to do with my child's education? And who is this representative that is so skilled in distinguishing ethnicity and race? And how is that OK??? So after careful thought, I crumpled the paper up and threw it away.  Because after careful thought- that's exactly what I think it is- rubbish.