Thursday, February 25, 2010

C.R.A.W.L. - THE COMMITTEE FOR RESCUING ALL WORMS LOCALLY

So, the boy got a bee in his bonnet shortly after reading the chapter in Harry Potter (Goblet of Fire) on S.P.E.W. -- the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare -- in which Hermione begins to organize for the rights of house elves.

Determined to right the world one creature at a time, our own little activist has chosen to begin with God's most revered and intelligent animals, the earthworm.

No, don't ask me why. I can't even pretend to understand how his crazy little mind works.

So, over lunch yesterday, he established the Committee for Rescuing All Worms Locally (or C.R.A.W.L.).

He appointed himself president, of course.

Made me VP. :)

Dubbed Mommy "Head of Security."

And made Saia her Deputy.

He then laid out his three objectives:

1) to eradicate the needless torture of all worms
2) to give every worm a voice (again...don't ask)
3) and to single-handedly free all worms from every baitshop in the area (yes, really. can't wait for that task to begin.)

Cut to school the next day when he decides to tell everyone about his new project. One of the more vocal children in his class thinks it'd be pretty hilarious to taunt Chago with tales of his, evidently, long history of worm homicides. Chago doesn't hesitate for a second and immediately resorts to due process, warning the boy that his Head of Security will be picking him up from school today and that he will have to plead his case to her.

By the time we picked him up today, the boy was nowhere to be found.
...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

THAT'S IT! YOUR FREE TURN-MY-CLOTHES-RIGHT-SIDE-OUT SERVICE IS OHHVVAAHH!!!!!!

I counted 23 today.

Twenty-three items of clothing turned inside out in the hamper.

And did you know that each item takes me approximately two seconds to turn right-side out and sort?

So, that's 46 seconds of my life wasted right there alone.

And that was just this week.

What's the big deal, you say. It's just a couple of seconds, you say. Not even a minute, really, you persist. I mean, come on, Jo Anna, you're flipping out over nothing here. (God, you're a pushy little tart, aren't you?!)

AND...NOTHING?!?!?

Let me tell you a little about this nothing, honey. In a month, that comes to somewhere between 184 and 230 seconds wasted (you know, 'cause of the varying number of weeks in a month).

In a year, at a minimum, that's over 2,392 seconds wasted.

Or 39 minutes and 52 seconds.

And over the next 12 years of doing laundry for these two, that'll come to 478.24 minutes -- or SEVEN HOURS, 58 MINUTES, AND 24 SECONDS!!

W-A-S-T-E-D.

That's a work day, people! Without lunch or breaks even. And, you know what? It's time to pay the piper.

So, the new rule has been instituted. And the penalty is twenty-five cents per item that I find inside out in the hamper.

I figure I'll rake in $5.75 a week. That rounds out to about $23 bucks a month. Which comes to roughly $299 per year. So by the time they graduate, I'll have $3588 socked away (ooooohhhh, yes, that pun was soooo intended). That'll at least buy me ONE round-trip ticket to Milan for a weekend and a not-too-cheap pair of Louboutins.

Damn right.
_____________

NOTE: A special thanks to Mommy for providing all of the numerical data for this post. Just looking at all those numbers makes my head start to bleed through my ears.
...

DRAWING? YEP. WRITING? YEP, YEP. ACTING? EHH...NOT SO MUCH.

Playing animal charades with the kids on Sunday (since our usual game night was pushed out by Chago's new art class on Friday afternoons).

So, Chago's up. He rolls a 3. He chooses a word to act out.

He stands up and starts fanning himself, panting.

"You're hot!" "Sweating!" "You're panting!" "It's summer!" we all take turns shouting out.

Then he goes down on all fours and pants while making puppy eyes.

"Now you're a frog!" "No, he's a little puppy." "You're thirsty." "You're tired."

Then he proceeds to repeat the standing, fanning, and panting. And then repeats the down on all fours, panting.

Back and forth. Over and over. Up and down. And we're guessing pretty much 20,568 variations of the same things we've already said.

"Okay, baby, you've either got to do something else or we just need to move on," I plead just as Amy's head is about to explode into a bezillion tiny little pieces all over the nicely swept rug.

"Alright," he says dejectedly, "I guess we can move on...since no one can guess what I am."

"So, what were you?" asks Saia, as he mopes back to his place on the floor.

"Oh," he pouts, "I was a hot dog."

:D

Go ahead, read it again. I'll wait.

And now, of course, you see it, don't you?
..

Friday, February 19, 2010

TODAY, A CARTOON DRAGON. TOMORROW, PIXAR STUDIOS, BABY!!!

Okay, maybe not tomorrow. But he's on his way. He is.

He's always loved to draw. Always. I can't even count on all of our hands and feet put together how many drawing pads and notebooks he's plowed through over the past 3 years. I could seriously light a bonfire with the boxes I've got stored in the garage.

But today, he started his first real art class. With a real art teacher.

And although she confirmed what we already knew, that he is, of course, a beyond-brilliant child prodigy, it was great to hear it from an objective 3rd party. Well, maybe not so unbiased, as I may have been waving the check in front of her face at the time.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's rewind a little, shall we?

Initially, shortly after registering him for the class online, I became concerned when the address we were supposed to arrive at for class differed from the address on the flyer and invoice. (This is always the point in the movie when Amy leans over to me and accurately and annoyingly predicts the ending.)

Then, when we pulled into the mostly residential area and drove by what appeared to be the correct address just at the very moment that the garage door was opening and the flea market tables and walls strewn with arts and crafts screamed "let us out! let us out!" we realized that this, in fact, was the studio, and that she, in fact, was a lying deceitful pig who was scamming us for what little I could spare from my Starbucks & Stilettos Fund.

And all I could think about was how these people were these big awful pervs. How they must have this huge child porn industry operating out of their uppercrust suburbia home. And how they must've taken one look at my gorgeous little boy and thought, "Cha-CHING!!!"

But no, turns out that wasn't true at all. Or at least not in the way it went down in my head. And this is why you should not judge a book by its cover. Or an art studio by its oil stains and piles of laundry, apparently.

Because, as it turns out, there was no one else who'd signed up for the same time slot as us, so, as luck (or fate) would have it, Chago ended up getting one-on-one lessons for two whole hours.

He sketched and drew, and she talked to him about values (the black and white kind, not the moral and ethical kind). They moved from pencil to paint and blended colors together. He learned to keep his area clean and neat "like a real artist." And they chatted about the kinds of things he liked to draw, the kinds of books he liked to read, the kinds of cartoons and comics and superheroes he thought were cool, and the kinds of stories he liked to tell, ultimately coming to the conclusion that for his final project, he would write and illustrate his own book.

His. Own. Book.

At six.

He's thrilled, and glowing, and anxious for Fridays to get here. And I'm just a proud and mushy mama mess.
...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

G, PG, PG-13, R...PISSHAW! THEY MEAN NOTHING!!!

How many times have you taken your kids to a movie or rented a movie thinking that PG meant what PG was supposed to mean? You know, that there might be a few general concepts which would require some minor additional parental explanation, but that, for the most part, it would be okay for you to drop off your tween with her buddies and pick them up in a couple of hours and not really have to worry that they were filling their heads with inappropriate content?

Or whether or not your 6-year-old is REALLY gonna totally have nightmares for the next 3 days because of the scary-beyond-their-wildest-dreams monsters, or the developmentally advanced topics you haven't had the opportunity or the need to have to discuss with them yet. Thank you very flippin' much.

And this you can't tell from a letter rating. This is the kind of stuff you rely on other friends with children to tell you about. But what if you don't have that? Or you do, but their taste in movies sucks?

Well, then, this website (so far) appears to be pretty helpful for someone like you or me. It's called Common Sense Media, and I'm afraid I don't know too much more about it than that. I'm fairly new to it -- like within the last 8 hours. So, if there's anyone out there with any additional information as to its reliability and accuracy, please let us know what you think.

So, we were debating taking the kids to see Percy Jackson's Lightening Thief. It looks very Potteresque (and I think may have even been directed by the guy who directed Goblet of Fire), but, really, you never can tell these days what producers deem "appropriate enough" just to get their film a certain rating in order to hit just the right demographic and ensure box office gold.

And, seriously, with as much attention as we pay and as much energy as we devote to monitoring what goes into our kids' mouths, how could we not be extra-ultra-mega vigilant about what goes into their brain? So we've limited their TV exposure, restricted their "gaming" to Leapster, and parental-controlled all the computers in the house to only allow Disney.com and Jumpstart.com websites.

But I'm a moviewhore. I am. It's in my genes. And my children have inherited it. And I'll be the first one to admit that I've let them see movies that were way out of their age range because of the spectacular effects, or a great message, or a particularly powerful character. And I get all excited about it, and walk them through every scene, and it's all fine and safe, and well and good.

But the last Harry Potter (and the Half-blood Prince), for instance, scared them more than I'd expected. And they both had nightmares. And although we own it now, they don't ever watch it. Still.

And Coraline just about frightened them to death.

And even Monster House took a while to digest and process and overcome and put into regular movie-watching rotation.

So, I'm trying to be a little more diligent about movie content and messages and adult references, and here's what I found out about Percy Jackson:
The website itself actually further breaks it down by category, so you can judge for yourself if, say, the level of sexual innuendo is tolerable, but the drug and alcohol references are more than you're willing to have to explain. Some of the other categories (besides the sex, drug, and rock & roll) include:
  • role models (good or bad)
  • messages (positive and negative)
  • violence (like just sword play versus decapitation with blood gushing from jugular)
  • language (and not just your everyday bad words, but the use of insults and cut-downs and bullying)
  • and even the level of consumerism (re: product placement)
And I'm finding that some movies that I've kept from them because I thought they might be too violent or too advanced, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, were actually rated better by most parents on the site than even Harry Potter in some categories.

But no, of course it's not an exact science. And yes, every child is different, and every parent has to decide for him-/herself what's acceptable and age-appropriate and worth it. But having a guide like this, if it proves to be even remotely accurate, is gonna be an invaluable resource to movie-fanatic families like ours.

Anyway, it's just my new favorite thing, and I'm kinda excited about the possibilities. I'm a pretty big fan of consumer reviews. I frequent YELP!, use Amazon's and EBay's and just about any other online user review opinions I can find as a major factor in the majority of my purchases, and will leave reviews myself when the spirit moves me.

So, IMHO, I think what I like about this one so far (because I know you were holding your breath) is that it's interface is pretty user-friendly, it's a one-stop-shop for parental/teen reviews (movies, games, websites, TV shows, etc), and the reviewers appear to be fair and honest.

But I guess we'll have to see.

Note: This blog is not affiliated with Common Sense Media in any way, shape, or form. I am not being paid or bribed or schmoozed into reviewing this website at all. Just came across it, thought it looked interesting, and wanted to share. You no likey, no looky.
...

PLAYING BALL AT THE PARK...ON A WEEKDAY?!?! NO, I HAVE NOT (YET) LOST MY MIND

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Mommy had promised them all week that we'd go to the park to practice softball. Ever since her first clinic last Saturday, Saia's been able to talk about little else. Of course, the fact that we ran out and equipped her with a new bag, ball, mitt, helmet, bat, and cleats didn't help either.

All they had to do was have a good week at school. So, the second we picked them up from school today, they were on it. "Are we going? Are we going? Can we? Can we? Can we?"

And they did. And so, we did. And it was good.

[But is it just me, or do they not look like 6-year-olds at all anymore? Aren't they even gonna PRETEND not to be getting older??? :`( ]
...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

WE SHOULDA NAMED THEM JOHNNY AND JUNE

...or at least that was Mommy's comment after the coroner confirmed that Burt, our other African Dwarf Frog, was indeed dead as a doornail.

And although we were assured by the 12-year-old sales rep that our little amphibian friends were both male so there'd be no threat of waking up one morning to a tank full of tiny tadpoles, we do believe that like the great Johnny Cash, Burt, unable to bear the deafening silence of living without his lifetime companion blowing bubbles in his face, no longer able to tolerate the vast void left by Errol in the spacious 6x6 tank that he'd hogged -- always relegating little Burt to the corner under the rock (and nobody puts baby in the corner), and utterly unable to overcome the grief of of not waking up to Errol's flippers slamming against the side of the glass every two seconds, has, inevitably, followed his June into the great hereafter.

And we wish him all the best.

video

Oh, man, now that I think about it, we could've had a full-blown Mardi Gras funeral for him today, it being Fat Tuesday and all -- beads and jazz and King Cake and burled crawfish and po' boys and ersters and jambalaya and seafood gumbo and daiquiris...mmm...frog legs.

I know, I know, sooo not right.
...

Monday, February 15, 2010

WHO'S THAT HANDSOME FELLOW?

Uploading video clips from the looooooooooooooong weekend...

Two birthday parties on opposites sides of town, one bouncy house, one animal show, two birthday cakes, one softball practice, two handmade cards for Mommy, one game night, one movie night, one Valentine's breakfast at IHOP, and a trip to Costco thrown in for good measure.

So, I'm on my last leg at this point here, running on fumes and exhausted, trying to think of something clever to write, something witty to title it, and reviewing the video for ideas, when he climbs down from doing his homework, sidles up to me, points at the clip of himself unwrapping V-Day gifts and says...

"Who's that handsome fellow?"
...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

HOW TO FORCE YOUR CHILDREN TO DO NICE THINGS FOR EACH OTHER AND NOT GET ARRESTED

With our monsters, especially, it seems to be ever a Herculean task these days to get them to do something nice for one another that doesn't have some sort of benefit boomeranging back on them.

So, partially because I was mostly anti-Valentine's Day this year, and partly because, well, I just forgot to take them to buy gifts for one another, and partly because no children -- NO CHILDREN -- need as many THINGS as these children have, I decided they both could stand a little lesson in humility in the gift giving and receiving arena, and instructed them on the fine art of making coupons.

NO! NOT **THOSE COUPONS**, PEOPLE!! Come on, now. I may cuss a little, but this is still a family show, for crissakes!

So, here's what they came up with (I thought they actually did pretty well -- and with only a teensy bit of "coaching," too):

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video

Thursday, February 11, 2010

IT'S LIKE SNAP, CRACKLE, AND POP ON ACID: INTRODUCING THE KIDS TO POPROCKS

You remember poprocks? Man, I loved those things. The way they tingled on your tongue, and jumped all over your mouth, and fizzled and snapped when you bit down on them.

And everyone would walk around with their mouths open, leaning into one another -- the 80s version of "can you hear me now? can you hear me now?"

And then, THEN, if you added a sip of Coke! Oh, man! It was awesome!!!

It was, of course, at first, an evil plan to try to make someone else's head explode, or, at the very least, make a foaming stream of boogers ooze from both of their nostrils at once. But, alas, the FDA was right about this one. And Snopes, too (but they do tend to have a better record than the FDA already, don't they?). And they were, in fact, safe to mix.

But anyway, the advantage of raising our children the way that we have -- breastfeeding til they were two, making all of their babyfood from scratch, severely limiting their sugar intake -- has meant that we have much more control over their first experiences with things. And this, for control freaks such as we, is vital to our existence. Being able to tell someone -- two someones, in fact -- what to do all day long every day for 18...well, okay, let's be real...for at least another couple of years of their life without the risk of being fired, is the primary reason most people have children. Or didn't you know?

Plus it's really really fun to get to live vicariously through them, to get to relive that experience through their eyes, to get to be the ones to introduce them to a lollipop, to bubblegum, to chocolate, to creme brulee, even. And now...to poprocks.

Of course, I had to qualify that it was all Mommy's idea. That way when it all went wrong, and there was strawberry flavored mucous all over the floor, I would have someone to yell at. But, much to my chagrin, it was cute and fun and safe and clean and, yes, even yummy.

And did you know that poprocks only have 6 grams of sugar. BONUS!!

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I JUST BOUGHT A SEWING MACHINE AND STITCHED MY OWN MORTALITY TO MY FACE

Ugh. How old am I?

I'm depressed, that's how old I am.

I just got a sewing machine. A sewing machine. And it wasn't a gift either.

I went out and bought it myself. FOR myself. Because I WANTED one. Because I NEEDED one. To sew stars on their ghis. And to hem his pants. And, apparently, to make a Mommy doll. (NO! NOT FOR ME!)

But here's the thing. I SUCK AT IT!!

I do. And I'm woman enough to admit that.

But it makes no logical sense to me...with the bobbin (which I had to resort to letting Amy do because I was about to fling the whole thing through the back sliding door), and the threading and rethreading through the vast maze of hooks and nooks and crannies, and the infinite number of stitches one can choose, and the gazillion knobs and buttons and hidden flip switches.

Ugh, just give me a deconstructed computer...or a box full of TV components with a tangle of unlabeled wires and cables, or any old hand-held device...with no instructions...and blindfolded, even, and I'll be fine.

But this...this is just so FAST! And it's mean. And it scares me. It really does. And I don't scare easily. But I'm gonna have nightmares about this thing.

Saw I-VI, no prob! But this SINGER?!?! Oooey, cu-cuoooey, man!! This is just a whole other level of TERROR!!!!!
...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

R.I.P., LITTLE ERROL, THE AFRICAN DWARF FROG FROM THE ISLE OF BROOKSTONE, 2ND FLOOR OF THE MALL

Alas, poor Errol, he is dead.

Took a lot longer than I thought, too, to be perfectly honest.

But to their credit, it had absolutely nothing to do with the monsters. They were great with them. From day 1. Always remembered their feeding days. Never jostled or harassed the little buggers. And always made sure to say good morning and good night to both of them every single day.

It was surprising really how well they took to them. And, truly, even more surprising to have found poor little Errol upside down at the bottom of the tank yesterday morning.

And Saia, actually, is the one who noticed him first, but it was right before school, and not really something I was prepared to either get into or risk sending her to school carrying on her mind, so I said that I agreed he didn't look well, but we'd give him the day and check in with him after school when it was feeding time, although I wouldn't get my hopes up.

[Yes, that was in fact my feeble attempt at the old "your cat is on the roof" technique.]

And when we picked her up today, it nearly broke my heart to tell her we were right. They both just burst into tears immediately, and cried all the way home. He asked if we could take Errol to the vet. She wanted to know if we were sure Errol wasn't playing.

But once they saw him stiff and pale at the bottom of the tank, the reality of the situation began to set in, and she lashed out at me saying, "Well, maybe if you would've just given him CPR, he'd still be alive right now!"

[Ugh, yeah, babe. That wasn't gonna happen. I mean, I get the whole frog prince story, but in soooo many ways, that's just not my cup of tea.]

So she got some time alone in her room and apologized once she calmed her down. And we scooped him out with slotted spoon into a snack baggie filled with rose petals.

The kids each wrote a little good-bye note and read it at the gravesite. Saia used her little gardening tools to dig the hole before the rain came in. And Mommy even made a little cross with toothpicks.

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Once we got back inside, she cried a little more, some of it genuine, but a lot of it really forced, so I had her write down her experience in her diary. She sniffled, and wrote, and purged, and wrote, and smiled as she drew a little picture of Errol swimming happily in his tank, and she really seemed to feel a little bit better. And then, much like that scene in Poltergeist after Carolanne's goldfish dies, she turned to me and said, "Mama, can I get turtle now?"
...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I'M SORRY, COUNT US OUT, WE WILL NOT BE CONTRIBUTING TO THIS RAISING OF A SOCIETY OF UNDERACHIEVERS

Saia belt-tested tonight. Finally.

Santiago...unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon how you really look at it, did not.

It was a discussion we'd had earlier in the week with him when it became apparent, after a couple of orange card incidences, that he was not gonna make it to the end of the week.

But besides it being just a behavior thing, Saia has really earned her opportunity to belt test. He really doesn't care all that much. She listens to the instructors, she makes adjustments, improvements, tries and tries again. She understands what it means to advance and has worked so hard since December to show us and her instructors that she was ready to move on. He, joyful boy that he is, skips when he should be running, twirls when he should be jumping-jacking, and chats with his neighbors when he should be holding his position. And no matter how many times we pull him aside to straighten him up or how many times he gets called on by his instructors, he's really just not as into it as she is.

So the fact that he'd had a pretty rough week behaviorally was really just the push that Mommy and I needed to follow through with what we already knew was right. She got to belt test. And he did not.

He was hurt initially. Threw a minor fit. But we explained our reasoning and that he would have to earn his turn.

And that, honestly, if he chose to continue to never put forth any more effort, he would stay a white belt for the remainder of the year, and we would be perfectly fine with that. Our expectation of him is not that he becomes the next Karate Kid, for crissakes. It's clear that he's really not in love with karate. But we absolutely expect that while he is still enrolled in this class, that he follows instructions, respects his instructors and classmates, tries his very best every single class, and does not ever just throw up his hands and quit.

And, in the meantime, he was going to dress up and sit on the benches with us to show his support for his sister. Which he did. And it was...surprisingly...great.

Saia was able to feel like all the work she'd been doing was actually worth something. That they weren't just handing out belts to any old Joe Schmoe who put in their time (which they were). That we valued her efforts more than we dreaded a disgruntled boy. That we recognized her individuality. And that, at least for tonight, and for the very first time in 6 years, it was all about her.

So, even though he's only still got his white belt, I really believe it was exactly the right lesson at exactly the right time -- for each of them. There's far too much of this non-competition competition going on these days, in my personal opinion. Where everyone gets a medal just for attending. Where everyone gets a belt or a tip or a star JUST FOR SHOWING UP. Where you're not really required or expected or pushed to excel. Where mediocrity is actually being rewarded.

And then we have the nerve to be aghast at how we live in a society of underachievers? We're RAISING them to be that way, people. Where good enough is praiseworthy. And everyone grows up with this sense of entitlement and thinks the whole world is treating them unfairly.

It really is enough already.

If we don't expect the most from our children, why should they expect it from themselves? If we don't teach them when they're young how it feels to fall, how to get back up and try again, how to better themselves and improve, then how are they going to make it through college, through their first job interview, through their first heartbreak? How would they survive in times of crisis? How do they learn not to just roll over and give up when times are hard, when things aren't going their way, when life is treating them unfairly?

And no, I don't think we're doing the right thing all the time. And yes, I'm sure there are times when we push them more than we probably should. But we work, daily, to find that balance -- between healthy competition and feeling comfortable and confident in your own skin. We're working hard at helping them identify the things they're naturally good at, and helping them learn how to better themselves at the things over which they stumble. Quitting is not an option. Finishing what you start is the rule. And being promoted when you don't deserve it, when you haven't earned it, and when you don't really even care, is just not a lesson we want them to learn. Ever.
...

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET A GOOD TEACHER 'ROUND HERE?!?!

Finally had it up to HERE with Chago's teacher and these ridiculous green/yellow/orange cards!

Our poor child can't BREATHE for fear of a card turn. And not even because he's being disciplined in the classroom for whatever nefarious crime he'd committed that day either. Because that would be too much to expect, wouldn't it? -- that she hold him accountable for his actions right then and there when it's fresh in his mind, when it would make sense, when it would actually have an impact -- pull him from recess -- or assign him some menial task? No. No. She leaves it up to US to punish him. At the end of the day. When the "crime" he'd supposedly committed (and I say supposedly because after only a 10-second conversation with him, 85% of the time the real story reveals he'd actually done nothing to warrant the card change, but that would mean she'd have to invest 10 seconds in him, and it's beyond obvious that THAT'S too much to ask) is long gone and any possible positive affect of discipline is wasted and counterproductive.

So, she just doles out the big red flag and then let's us do all the dirty work, so that it's gotten to the point where he could be having a really great day at school, and then suddenly bursts into tears when we arrive to pick him up because he knows he got an orange card waaaaay back at 8:30 that morning for play fighting or something similarly benign.

And I'm just fed up with it. Fed up with her. Fed up with always being upset with my son for being nothing more than himself! And something needed to change.

So, because my efforts to speak with her directly were obviously going unheard, I decided to speak with Saia's teacher instead. A more seasoned, well-rounded, self-confident teacher, who, I later found out, was actually the 1st grade lead teacher, it seemed the most sensible and least confrontational approach. (And Lord knows I certainly don't have a problem with confrontation, but I do recognize that she's new, and still learning, and if some coaching from a more experienced teacher could help her turn things around without my having to stomp into the Principal's office, then by all means, let's go that route.)

Really meant for it to be just an informative Q&A session and ended up bursting into tears myself within the first 2 minutes of conversation.

I just didn't realize how much it had been affecting me. How truly horrible it was making me feel. How it was eating me away from the inside to have to continually ride his little behind for this or that or the other, practically every single day -- most of which I wasn't even directly witness to. It's been an exhausting and totally futile exercise in faux behavioral modification because all it's really done is shake his own confidence, make him less trusting of his teacher, fearful of us, and when you're 6, that only translates into more lashing out, not less.

Saia's teacher was a rock. Completely calm and competent. Made suggestions based on her own personal experience as a mother of boys, as well as doling out advice from an educator's perspective. She wasn't offended or taken aback at all. Didn't immediately jump to the other teacher's defense. Just let me state my case, make my own suggestions, and plead for help. She asked to mull it over and we agreed to meet again later in the week.

The very next day, she pulled me aside and said she had a plan. She asked if I was comfortable enough recommending to his teacher that we change the behavior monitoring system? That the card changing was obviously not working, and that maybe something that made him more responsible for himself, like a little smiley/no smiley checklist where he could color in the appropriate face after he checked in with his teacher every two hours or so. So that if he was kind of having a bad day in the morning, he could recognize that and try on his own to alter his own behavior and straighten up for the rest of the day. So that he essentially could wipe the slate clean and start over. So that he could feel like he had a CHANCE to change, at least.

This we implemented immediately. And it's working really well so far. For every green smiley face he earns, he gets 5 minutes of computer time at home. By the end of that first week, he had 45 minutes!! He spread that out over the weekend playing chess, I Spy, and his Leapster, and was in total heaven!!!!

Her other suggestion, that we pull him from his afternoon for an hour and put him in someone else's class did not go over quite as well. But instead of pushing it, I asked if we could kick up the level of instruction in the class, bring in more challenging projects, save all the damn cutting and pasting for the pre-k group, and actually begin to prepare these kids for, oh, I don't know, maybe 2nd grade. The following week, Chago's teacher changed some of the learning centers, but only on the days I volunteer, and did begin incorporating some of the really great educational games that Saia's teacher had been using, but wouldn't even explain it to the class, and instead would turn to me and say, "You should be familiar with this one from Saia's class." But, as I expected, and to my great pleasure, the kids loved it. They were so much more engaged in the games and activities than when she just had them coloring and cutting and pasting. They were challenged and working together to solve problems instead of making noise and picking on their neighbors. And even the ones that she insists have learning issues, responded positively to the new interactive projects, listened, and followed directions. I was completely vindicated. They were bored. They want to learn. And they're all bright and capable children who are sick of being talked down to by a Carnival Cruise Lines Director.

And then lo and behold, the very next thing we noticed is that she began to comment more harshly and more often on his homework. Which, although not entirely unexpected, was a little sad to see. That she had to take out her ire for me on my son's work. But we explained to him that this is exactly what we expected from her, that she's paying attention to him, that she's challenging him to do better, that she expects the best from him -- just like we do, and that he should be looking at this as an opportunity to show her what he can really do when he applies himself.

And yes, we thought about moving him. In fact, Saia's teacher's eyes lit up at the prospect of getting her hands on his little sponge of a brain, but we are not willing to risk all of Saia's growth and progress by introducing her brother into her environment.

So, in the meantime, he's doing 3rd grade level homework at home with me, plows through a Magic Tree House book in one sitting, and is well on his way to becoming the youngest author/illustrator ever.

I know the caliber of teacher you get in public schools is really just a roll of the die. And I know our teachers are sadly compensated for being the primary sculptors of our next generation. I'm more sympathetic towards and so much more appreciative of educators than I ever have been because I clearly see the direct impact they have on each and every child. It's a huge weight and responsibility to bear. It's an enormous task to undertake. And it's one of the most honorable jobs anyone can perform.

But dear God help me, do we really have 4 more months to go until this school year's over? I don't know how much longer I can grit my teeth around this woman without strangling her.
...

STUDENT OF THE MONTH -- SAIA!!!!!

So, we were at karate tonight, and the kids had all gathered in their circle to hear the master instructor's lesson for the day. And he talks about the value of being a good student, and a good family member, and a good friend. And he goes into his explanation of what their Student of the Month award means.

And I'm thinking in the back of my head that it's Saia, it's gotta be Saia, of course it's Saia, but then I don't know if that's just because we've been seeing such growth and passion in her develop over the last few months, or because, you know, she's MY daughter, or because she's actually deserving of this -- objectively.

I wasn't certain enough, nor did I want to be sooo presumptuous as to already have my FLIP out and rolling when...THEY CALLED HER NAME!!

And I gasped. Out loud. And all the kids turned around, including Saia. And she gets so embarrassed, but in a good way. And she stood right up and walked up to the front of the group, as though she, herself, were expecting to hear her name, too.

But I did get the rest of the informal ceremony here:

video

And she was just beaming!!! And now she gets to wear this really cool red, white, and blue belt with the words Student of the Month embroidered in gold. And regardless of who's higher ranked in the class, she'll get to be the first in line all month long, outrank everyone, and essentially be teacher's pet.

And yes, you'll notice, it's hard not to notice, Santiago's big pouty face in the video. But we talked to him afterward and explained to him, first of all, why she earned it, and, secondly, why he should be a good sport, a good brother, and a good friend and support her -- especially in front of everyone else.

It was really good timing for her, and positively reinforced (for both of them) so much of what we we've been trying to teach them. And although, in general, the dojo could be a little more strict, a little less generous with their tips and belts, and a little harder on the slackers (and the chatty cathy parents on the sidelines who have absolutely no volume control), the fact that they seem to be so in sync with us, and work so well with us to reward or help straighten up behavior has been a really nice surprise.

So, yay, Saia!! CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR STUDENT OF THE MONTH BELT! You really worked hard to get it, and you deserve all the goodies that come with it! (One of which is a pizza party for 10 of her best buds this summer!!)
...

NO, MAMA, NO! WHY CAN'T IT BE SPRING?!?

After a brisk sunny walk down to the lake this weekend trying to soak in whatever sunshine could eek its way out from behind the seemingly neverending wisps of clouds, it was heartbreaking to hear Punxsutawney Phil's prediction for 6 more weeks of winter this morning.

There was a collective BOO! throughout the house. And then a gleeful Saia says, "So, can we still go to Tahoe?"