I’ve never been happier to lose a Kobo to someone.
Today was a big day for E, reading-wise. She finished lesson 20 of All About Reading Level 2, and even wrote her own book.
See, lesson 20 involved cutting out and stapling together a mini-book about whales. E read it to her stuffies, and then said, “Can I keep this book? It’s the perfect size for these guys!”
“Sure,” I responded. “We could also make more books for them, if you like.”
That’s how we ended up at the kitchen table with E dictating and me scribing for her. She made sure to include a cover and a table of contents, and then wrote three pages about wooly mammoths, elephants, and penguins, respectively. I drew the outlines of the animals and she coloured them in, and then we stapled it all together. Then E brought all the stuffies to the table and read them her book. Mr December came upstairs, and she read it to him, too. And to K, and then again to R.
Finishing lesson 20 before our trip was a challenge I had set for E a couple of weeks ago. Since she succeeded, we had a party to celebrate. Nothing fancy: just lemonade, popcorn, chocolate and butterscotch chips, charades, and some karaoke.
When E came and perched by my shoulder this evening, I passed her my Kobo and said, “Can you just take a look at these books I downloaded and tell me if they’re the right level for you?”
“Ugh, reading AGAIN!” she whined. “I already did so much reading today!”
“I just need you to look at a few of the pages and tell me if the books are okay for you,” I reasoned.
“Okay, fine.” She took the Kobo out of my hands.
The next time I saw the Kobo, she was waving it in my face and telling me that she’d already finished one book. As soon as I helped her open another book, she ran off to her bedroom to continue reading. I didn’t see my Kobo again until she returned it to me at bedtime, saying, “We can share this Kobo but you might not get it very much because I like to read A LOT.”
Okay, then. Guess I’m in the market for a new Kobo. The only question is, before or after we travel?
09:25 “Hey everyone, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes! Be ready!”
09:40 We tell everyone it’s time to get in the car. Some people need to go pee before we leave—because somehow that wasn’t part of “getting ready”—and that takes another ten minutes because they all line up for the main floor powder room instead of taking off their shoes and running upstairs.
09:50 We’re finally in the car… but wait! “Oh, do we need masks?” one child asks. We go get masks.
09:55 I turn on a Freakonomics Radio podcast. Traffic isn’t too bad.
10:10 R pipes up, “Were we supposed to bring masks?” Everyone groans. Mr. December launches into his “you need to be responsible for your own stuff and yes, you should always have a mask with you” spiel. We find R an extra mask.
10:13 We burst into MEC like a SWAT team. Or maybe we tumble into MEC like a landslide—I don’t know. “Footwear is upstairs,” I say, and we head in that direction like a six-headed, twelve-footed monster.
10:15 The shoe department is completely empty. When we announce that all six of us need hiking boots, the associate looks flustered. Mr. December suggests, “Maybe you could call another associate to help too, then we could do this in parallel.” “Oh, yeah. Good idea,” the guy says. A second associate arrives moments later and we begin the process of trying on boots.
10:35 Mr. December has chosen his boots. So have K and R. N, E, and I are not as lucky—so far I’ve tried about six different boots and found none of them comfortable. There isn’t much available in E’s size, so I reassure her that we can look for her boots somewhere else. N is covetously eyeing K’s and R’s boots.
10:55 I’m still trying to find a shoe that fits. Meanwhile, N and E have decided to get the same model of boots as K and R; looks like I’ll be buying colour-coded shoelaces to tell them apart (at least for the older three.) Mr. December takes the kids to choose some good Merino wool hiking socks.
11:05 Oh, for crying out loud… I’m still trying shoes. I’m down to two pairs now. Mr. December and the kids go off to find sunscreen and bug spray.
11:15 For better or for worse, I’ve chosen my hiking boots. Now it’s time for socks. Mr. December takes E to the bathroom.
11:20 Mr. December catches up to us on our way to the cash. “Where’s E?” I ask. Mr. December looks around and says, “I’ll be right back.”
11:35 All six of us are back in the car. The podcast comes on again. Good thing, because…
11:38 We’re in line to turn left onto Bayview Ave. It’s a long line, and the drivers are acting like they’ve never seen a left turn arrow before.
11:43 Still waiting to turn left. I hate Toronto traffic.
11:48 We finally get through the light. As I approach the on-ramp, I can see that traffic is moving nicely on the 401.
11:41 Traffic is not moving nicely on the 401. It was an illusion.
11:50 At least the podcast is interesting and educational… and long.
12:00 We arrive at home. The podcast is still not over. The kids take everything into the house without being asked.
12:02 Still sitting in the car, Mr. December and I look at each other. Wordlessly, we decide to call off school for the rest of the day.
We went to our homeschool meetup in the park this afternoon (K, who still feels ill, stayed home.) R was so reluctant to go that she extracted a promise from me to bring along a board game and play it with her; N took along his Pokémon cards; E was very excited to see her friends again.
I was actually kind of looking forward to playing a game with R, but as soon as we got to the park she ran off to see what the other kids were doing (hunting for crickets or grasshoppers, apparently.) She abandoned me! I had to actually sit down and talk to other adults.
(Kidding. My mantra, which you’ve probably heard before, is “You’re the kid, and your job is to play with other kids; I’m the mom, and my job is to talk with other parents.”)
As I conversed with a new member of the group, another parent came to me. “The girls really want you to see how far they’ve climbed,” she said, and led me over to a tall pine tree.
“Hi Eema!” I heard, and looked up into the branches. R was sitting in the tree, but where was E?
“I’m up here, Eema! And I want to climb higher!” E called down.
She clambered up to the top of the tree—effortlessly, it seemed—while I tried to figure out when I could politely excuse myself. Not because I wasn’t proud of her, or because I really needed to get back to my conversation, but because every fibre of my being wanted to yell, “Great! Now please come down!”
It’s a reaction that’s at odds with everything I believe in: I want my kids’ childhood to involve hanging out in the trees. Truly, very few things make me happier than seeing kids get muddy, dirty, and scratched up while enjoying nature and playing with dangerous things like pointy sticks; but when it comes to things that have the potential for real danger, like hiking near deep crevasses and climbing a cliff with no harness, I can’t watch. What I really want is for the kids to do the thing and then tell me all about it and show me pictures… after I know they’re okay.
I don’t need the anxiety, and they don’t need my fears to cloud their own judgment of their abilities. So I generally tell them how awesome what they’re doing is, and then politely remove myself from the immediate area… except when I stay and watch because “I might need to describe this to the ER doctors later.”
On one hand, I can’t believe she’s already ten. On the other, I can’t believe she’s only ten. But if I’m completely honest, I usually think she’s older than she is.
She has her own fashion sense (far better than mine, of course) and loves putting new outfits together. Her sisters have taken to consulting with her before getting dressed up; she has the last word on fashion in this house.
R is sensitive and empathetic. If you’re hurting, she wants to make it better; if there’s conflict, she wants to resolve it.
She’s a born leader and a born teacher. Unafraid to tell people what they should do, and patient enough to teach E when I can’t. She is the self-appointed “student teacher” for our homeschool’s grade one class; E loves it when R takes over the reading lessons.
Most weeks, she makes the challah dough for shabbat. It’s a self-appointed responsibility that she takes very seriously.
She’s also loud, funny, and very active.
And, as I used to explain to people (and to R,) she’s so full of love for everyone and everything that it oozes out of her pores.
Happy Birthday, R. You’re the best surprise I ever got!
Yesterday I woke up with that leaden feeling in my limbs. My brain was fuzzy too.
“Are you okay?” Mr. December wanted to know. “This has been happening a lot lately.”
He was right—I have been feeling fatigued a lot lately. Thinking back over the last few weeks, two major things stood out for me:
We’ve been going to sleep later than we used to.
We’ve had a lot of sweet treats in the last little while.
There’s no good reason for number one; we haven’t prioritized sleep enough, although we talk about it all the time. We just need to accept that none of the things that we do late at night are so urgent that they can’t wait ’til morning. We also have to stop being the kind of people who say things like, “Just as soon as I’m done this chapter, sweetheart, you can turn out the light,” and then surreptitiously flip into the next chapter and keep reading. “Yes, it is a really long chapter. Sorry about that… but I really want to get to the end of it!”
With all the Jewish holidays, N’s very-belated birthday party, and R’s upcoming birthday, there have been plenty of sugary treats around here. It seems like every day involves a “special” treat, and because I’m currently in diet recovery, I’m deliberately not restricting my eating. I don’t know for sure that the sugar is making me feel icky, but if true it would certainly explain all those times I crashed on a Saturday (i.e. the day after Shabbat dinner with all its sweet challah, kugel, and dessert.)
By the time I was upright and dressed yesterday, I’d decided to avoid sugar for a while and see how I feel. That lasted until about 2:00 p.m., when K made a lemon cake for no particular reason and we all sat down to have some. One small piece of cake in an otherwise no-added-sugar day isn’t a big deal, I suppose, but it underscored just how impossible it is to turn around in this house without confronting another delicious source of added sugar.
I’ve often been resistant to elimination diets because I like food and can’t stand the thought of eating nothing but salmon, rice, and almonds (or, as a friend recently quipped to me, “I don’t want to live in a world without bread.”) Once or twice I’ve been desperate enough to try eliminating certain foods, though; Seven years ago, I gave up dairy in hopes that my asthma would improve as a result. My asthma was the same as ever, but one thing did change—I got pregnant (with E.) I’m not jumping to any conclusions, but the only thing that differentiated that month from the eighteen that preceded it was the lack of dairy. It kinda makes me wonder… but I digress (surprise, surprise.)
I explained to the kids that I’ve been feeling groggy and I think sugar might be the culprit. I hope I chose the right words to use: it’s very important to me that we not make any foods “bad” or “forbidden.” At the same time, I want them to learn to be mindful of the fact that food does affect their bodies, for better or worse, and to adapt their eating accordingly. I’m ignoring all the various studies (some of which contradict each other) about healthy eating; from now on, in this house, healthy food is whatever food makes you feel healthy.
With that said, let’s see how I feel this week before jumping to any conclusions.
I’m feeling pretty cruddy today. In classic mom style, though, I saw a need and filled it: the dishwasher needed to be run, so I started loading it up.
Then around the corner strolled Bob (okay, fine. I didn’t ask his name; I’m making it up.) Also Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna (again, not their real names.) All five of them, with their segmented bodies and six legs each, scattered across the countertop.
“R and K!!! Get down here NOW!!!” I bellowed (as much as one can bellow while feeling ill.)
“What is it, Eema?”
“You two ate outside on the back porch. Fine. Then you left your dishes outside. So I called you to bring them in, which you did. Great. Know what else you brought in? ANTS! When you bring in dishes that were left outside, you have to rinse them immediately to make sure no insects have hitched a ride! Now they’re ALL OVER THE COUNTER! WHAT GIVES?”
By this point, Bob, Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna had been joined by at least a dozen other ants. I didn’t ask their names; it’s probably for the best, since I knew I was about to kill them. Down slammed the executioner’s dishcloth, and the ants were washed away in the sink.
“Sorry, Eema. I didn’t actually know that would happen,” said a child who will remain nameless (but not blameless.)
“Seriously? You didn’t know that if there was an ant inside the bowl when you brought it inside, it would crawl out of the bowl and into the kitchen when you failed to rinse it? Come on.” I huffed.
In a very small voice the child said, “Is there something I can do to help you now?”
An exasperated sigh from me, and then, “Just don’t do it again,” I grumbled as I turned back to the dishwasher. A lone ant marched along the cutlery tray, probably giving me the stink-eye; I popped in a detergent tab and closed the door.
For fifteen months, nobody in my house got sick. It was amazing. I only know this intellectually, though—I don’t remember what it was like at all. We got our first post-COVID cold when the kids came back from camp in August; as of today, three of us have our second cold of the past two years.
Miraculously, I’m not one of the three. E started with sneezing and a runny nose two days ago, and yesterday R’s nose was stuffy (different from her usual allergy symptoms.) Last night K said she wasn’t feeling well; today she’s been droopy and miserable all day. She even napped on the couch this afternoon, which I haven’t seen her do since she had mono in the fall of ’18.
I can feel that my body is fighting it, though, and I can only hope that sleep and rest will allow me to bypass sickness this time around.
R’s birthday party—she’s turning ten—was supposed to be this weekend. It’s now been cancelled, and she’s kind of bummed out about it. “This is the worst birthday ever, and that’s making it the worst year ever,” she said morosely. I can sympathize. I can also remind her that this year is about to turn awesome, since we’re leaving for Costa Rica in under two weeks, but I don’t think that will make her feel any better this weekend. I should probably just get her a cake and line up a whole lot of fun stuff we can do together until we’re past her birthday.
I can’t believe we’re here already: it’s time to make a decision about K and high school.
She has options. She can go to the Gifted program that we’re zoned for; she can apply to an arts-focused high school for visual arts; she can write the entrance exam for a math-and-science focused program. All three of those options are in the public school system; all three of them will put her on a pretty solid track towards university.
There’s also the option of an alternative school that operates on a democratic school model: each student chooses what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, and teachers play a supporting role as facilitators and advisors. To me, this option sounds a lot like homeschooling, but with the added attraction of other students and a wider variety of teachers. To Mr. December, this option sounds terrible. I’ve tried to suggest he consider it as a type of homeschooling option, because right now he’s hung up on the idea that there are no credits and no diploma (students from this alternative school apply to universities the same way homeschooled teens do.)
Of course, she can also choose to homeschool again next year and reconsider high school in Grade 10; but I’d like that to be a conscious choice and not just a default “Uh-oh, didn’t decide soon enough. Guess I’m homeschooling.”
I compiled an email for her with the available options (that we’re willing to consider: there are more high school options in the Toronto District School Board than I thought) and all of the application deadlines. The ball is in her court to choose which open house events she’d like to attend, and then where she wants to apply. It feels like a very small-scale version of the university decision she’ll have to make in four short years.
Wait. What? Four years?!?! That’s not much time. I think I’ll go give her an extra-long tuck-in now.
Our kids’ school careers began at Montessori. Every day N and K would come home and tell us how much fun they had, puttering around the classroom doing random materials with their friends, with no homework whatsoever. It didn’t seem rigorous enough. They needed something more: evenings of tear-filled pointless homework where we’d eventually do most of it for them. High pressure testing to give the school bragging rights. Music pieces that they hated with lots of difficult notes. Remember: if they’re not resisting practice, it isn’t rigorous enough. You’ll need shorter lunchtime and recesses to make room for all the rigor of course.
So we pulled our happy kids out of Montessori and put them into school #2, which was supposed to be more rigorous in both English and Hebrew curriculum. In terms of happiness it was perfect – both kids were miserable within weeks. But it wasn’t working academically. The math curriculum proceeded glacially, with one assignment asking the kids to write a story about 7×3 (true!). Most assignments were so abstract that I could not see what a right or wrong answer might look like (such as: “what are the physical and emotional state differences between two mountains?”), yet alone how I would do the work myself. In one math test, K got every number right and every spelling wrong – final grade: 50%. The best objection I could muster was to write “Grate Work” on her assignment when I signed the test.
Maybe we needed to face the fact that whatever the hell this school was teaching, my kids weren’t good at it. When the school complained K was late 19.0 times, I saw my opening. After asking repeated questions about why a float instead of integer – is there a way to be late 0.5 of a time? – I wrote a (spoof) email asking if she was the most late in the school, saying we were looking to find things she was good at to encourage her. But alas, talking to other parents, 19.0 was nowhere close to the record – several overachievers were late every single day. K’s dream was to be late 0.5 of a time, but they wouldn’t tell us the secrets of how to do so. We tried everything – just a minute late, half a day late, late but didn’t get the slip, late and then forget something in the car to be even later, but nothing worked.
The next year we switched the older two kids into a public gifted program (school #3), which was wonderful socially, but didn’t seem to help academically.
So along came COVID, the kids were home, and suddenly we could see clearly what was going on. Nothing. Nothing was going on. Our kids were terrible at school and did not know their fundamentals in math or writing. Oops, my bad.
Okay, so what to do – I figured the best thing was to back to rigor. Put the “fun” back in fundamentals. S said to forget public school – let’s try out homeschooling. Teach the basics, and once they learn their fundamentals, power them through the grades. And, perhaps surprisingly, it actually worked, in the short term – the math instruction and drills worked wonders, with the kids’ accuracy improving and their processing time cut in half. I was starting to think I could even work in a few humble brags. But then we hit the wall: they didn’t want to do two hours of Kumon every day plus the basics of writing.
Okay, no problem, I thought, I’ll make my own rigorous work. Math was easy: Every last Kumon math problem done correctly, in order, for a certain amount of time each day. That seemed rigorous enough.
Then I got stuck, as it turns out I didn’t know about anything except math. No matter, we created our four pillars of non-incompetence:
Math: A goal of being two years ahead. I figured that lofty goal would satisfy most people and then they’d forget about it.
English: No idea, but that’s S’s problem
Science: I could not remember anything I did in elementary or middle-school science. Did we even do chemistry? Was it just a bunch of digging in dirt? Wait – thermocline – I remembered that word, for when water changes temperature depending on depth. But I think that was grade 9, so I figured I’d wait to teach them that gem. For now, we just joined HENSE*
Everything else not in the other three: This is S’s problem, so I left it to her, with the only condition that it be rigorous
Now that we had a model, I figured I’d start with a math test: what could be better for rigorous evaluation? That would show the parents we’re not total idiots. So I used a New Jersey grade 5 math test, and then my son got 50%. He rushed through, didn’t know some terms, and there was this one question I had no idea how to solve either (see below).
So what should I do now? Punish? Reward? Unschool? Back then I saw unschooling as the opposite of rigor: sprinkle (sorry, strew) some books around and they’ll be 18 and out of the house in no time!
Stay tuned for the next installment of my journey.
Ed. note: Mr. December offered to change the last two words to “our journey”. I declined. The views expressed in this guest post are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent the views of all of us here at SweetCrunchyJewy. -S
We were at the supermarket checkout packing up our groceries. I was showing the kids how to bag items so that nothing gets squashed (“Guys, if you stack all the plastic clamshells from largest to smallest, you have a stack that won’t fall over and nothing will open accidentally.”) Suddenly, I heard a man’s voice behind us:
“Hey, guys? Just remember that you’re not the only people in the world, okay? Other people need to check out, too.”
When none of us even acknowledged his statement, he upped the ante: “Yeah, and that was the NICE WAY TO SAY IT!!!”
Here are the things I didn’t say to him (in no particular order):
“Neither are you.” (the only people in the world, that is)
“Oh! Your Majesty! I’m so sorry—I would never want to obstruct the royal procession! Please forgive your humble subjects!”
“(gasp!) You mean…” I’d look around furtively, then whisper, “there are others?“
“Oh, go love yourself.” (à la Justin Bieber)
“I’m trying to teach my children to be patient, and you’re setting a really bad example right now.”
“There are other people in the world, but no other checkout lines you could have used? How peculiar.”
“OMG, you sound just like my grade ten math teacher! Yeah…he was a jerk too.”
“I just upped my meds, so up yours.”
And my personal favourite:
“Damn! You distracted me and I did this bag all wrong! Now I’ll have to unpack it and start all over again!”
What did I say instead? Nothing at all. I kept my cool, ignored him, and went on with my day.